Dani Shapiro
February 26, 2013

On the In Between

I forget every time the feeling that hits me when I have finished one book but have not yet begun another.  This between-books limbo is, for me, like a long, slow leaching of color from the world.  A steady decline of mood and connection to the universe until one day I wake up and hardly know who I am.

Because the way I know myself is through the written word.  The ways in which I am able to access any understanding of what makes me tick, how I see the world around me, what I feel, what I know, is through the daily practice of grappling with the page.  The grappling itself is the point.  Ideally something comes of that grappling, eventually.  Every story, novel, essay, memoir begins with that dive, that free fall, that willingness to not know.  We begin with the barest of ideas, a flickering image, a phrase, just outside our grasp, and we begin to try to capture it by sitting with the page and seeing what emerges.

When I’m not engaged in this process a depression settles in.  This time, I think, this time it’s different.  I become convinced that my imagination has taken leave of me.  That I will never become obsessed with a character or a story again.  My mind starts spinning all sorts of stories–and not the good kind of stories.  I feel as if I have split in two, and part of me is on a small boat without oars, drifting slowly out to sea, carried by the tide, watching the other part of me standing on the shore, watching.  Writing brings these two aspects of my nature together.  It weaves the observer, the story teller, the thinker, the dreamer, together into one woman.  It silences my demons by putting them to good use.

As I write I am in a quiet hotel room.  Room service coffee is cooling at my side.  My laptop is balanced on a pillow.  Light streams in from the floor-to-ceiling windows facing east over New York City.  But even this––this small act of thinking about the in between––brings me back inside myself.  I am not aimlessly drifting.  The room sharpens, comes into focus.  My interior life becomes heightened, once again making itself known to me

Do you know those lists of how much time we spend, over the course of a lifetime, brushing our teeth, or taking out the garbage, or talking on the phone, or grocery shopping?  I want to diminish the time I spend in the in-between.  Like Virginia Woolf’s cotton wool, the in-between is a muffled, deadening place.  It is soul-eroding.  You would think it might be a time of gestation — roots beginning to form beneath that frozen ground — but you would be wrong.  The real gestation happens on the page, just so.  A writer’s fingers moving along a keyboard, a pen scratching words.  The next word appears, then the next.  And the next.  And suddenly the sky brightens.  The day beckons.  The simple, elusive act of beginning.  The practice itself, the very point of the thing, and suddenly the in between is revealed for what it really is.

It is all we  have.