Dani Shapiro
November 5, 2010

On the New Normal

It has been a while since I’ve written.  In the last six weeks I’ve been to Chicago, San Francisco, Columbus, Los Angeles and Milwaukee–in that order.  In the next two weeks, Houston, New Orleans, Detroit, and Miami.  I’m not used to this.  Oh, I’ve become a bit like the character George Clooney plays in Up in the Air.  I keep a plastic bag full of two ounce toiletries at the ready, and I’ve gotten very good at negotiating upgrades and making my way quickly through security lines.  But.  I wasn’t built for this.  I was built for solitude.  I require a tremendous amount of time and space in order to know myself.  To know what I’m feeling, thinking, believing.  To access my inner life.  Maybe not everyone needs this.  A lot of people are perfectly fine not accessing their inner lives.  But for writers, what goes on inside of us is all we’ve got.  And when we’re on the road, overstimulated, sleeping in hotel rooms, drinking room service coffee, texting with our children, away from our routines and our rooms of our own–it becomes harder to see what’s really going on.

Harder, but not impossible.  This morning I curled up with Zeke in my reading chair in my office and read a bit more of Emerson’s long essay on Self-Reliance.  “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”


Perfect sweetness.  The independence of solitude.

I am learning, always learning.  Writing Devotion taught me to keep my eyes open.  To keep my heart open.  Many times a day, more than I can count, I realize that I’m living in my racing mind, and I return to my breath, to my body, to feel rather than think.  Can I move through this time softly, with sweetness, maintaining my independence of solitude while in the midst of the crowd?  Why is it so hard to hold on to ourselves?  I know this much.  When I am writing, all the pieces come together.  The head, the heart.  The thoughts, the feelings.  A channel opens–it doesn’t always feel good, nor is it meant to always feel good–but nonetheless it opens and I am able to follow the line of words.  I’ve started a new novel (there, I’ve said it) and I have not had the luxury of endless stretches of days, a lit fire, the dogs curled up, the ninety minutes of yoga and meditation, the silent house.  I have learned to write in hotel rooms.  I have learned to write if I have only an hour.  Because I’ve realized that I’ve been waiting for life to return to normal–and normal is constantly shifting.  As my friend Sylvia says, we are always accommodating to a new situation.  The challenge is to not hold onto the way it used to be.  Instead, to adapt.  With courage, with softness, with sweetness.

To find the counsel of solitude, of refuge, within myself.  Wherever I might be.