Dani Shapiro
February 5, 2009

On the Ebb and Flow

Yesterday was one of those days. I couldn’t get traction. I felt like I was scrambling up a muddy incline. Not only couldn’t I get traction, but somehow I couldn’t even try. It was a hopeless, spirit-bruising day. I most definitely did not practice what I preach. I did all the things I say not to do: I surfed the internet like a lunatic, looking for…what? I went on Facebook multiple times, hoping to…what? I checked email literally dozens of times an hour. Why? All that happened was that my brain became fuzzier by the minute. Crackling with useless information and way too many people. While on Facebook, I discovered that someone I went to high school with just lost his twenty-year-old son, a college student who was found dead on Saturday. That tragedy haunted me for the rest of the day. I hadn’t seen these people in decades. I had never met the boy. I didn’t know them well enough to go to the memorial service, which is today. But their tragedy became a part of my consciousness.

I never left my desk, and by the time mid-afternoon rolled around, I realized that I should have. Anything would have been better for me, more nourishing, than what I was doing. I always tell students to ignore feelings of inspiration or lack of inspiration, and just sit down to write. We all know that sitting down is the hardest part. But sometimes, sitting down is counterproductive. Sometimes, a drive, a walk, a bath, a phone call to a friend actually makes more sense. Yesterday, I would have been better off driving to my favorite cheese store (an hour away!) and listening to NPR. Oh, well. I continue to live and learn.

But it was a useful day, because it reminded me that I’m not in control. Sure, I can sit down, and I do. I can create conditions optimal for writing. The good coffee, the quiet (at least sometimes) house; the clear surface (sometimes) of my desk. The ringer turned off on the phone. I can do my yoga and meditation practice, which always helps. But still, we writers aren’t machines. We can punch our time clock, but we can’t always produce. But the days we don’t produce can still be productive.

Here’s a great quote Michael sent me yesterday, from Richard Ford: “This is actual life now, not a stopover, a diversion, or an oddment in time, but permanent life, the one that will provide history, memory, the one I’ll be responsible for in the long run. Everything counts, after all. What else do you need to know?”