Dani Shapiro
January 3, 2010

On the Noise in my Head

How do we find the quiet space we need in which to write? By this I don’t mean finding rooms of our own. I’ve written before about rooms of our own, which are important, if not essential. But physical space isn’t the whole story. In order to write, by which I don’t mean dashing off quick, half-thought-through emails or addressing envelopes, but rather, the process of being led to the page by the words and thoughts themselves, we need quiet inside ourselves. Emotional, psychological, spiritual, mental silence. A snow globe comes to mind; shake it up, watch the flurry of whiteness until finally it’s all settled at the bottom and the thing itself–the image, the symbol, the panorama, is clear and visible.

Lately I have been having trouble with the noise in my head. There’s so much of it! When I unroll my mat to practice my yoga, it’s there. When I sit in meditation, it’s there. When I’m at my desk, it seems to be coming not only from inside my head but from the world around me. It’s on the internet, in my “in box”, in the ticking clock, the ringing phone, the piles of papers and books and travel schedules. I developed many tools over the years to turn down the volume — everything from yoga and meditation to a good strong cup of cappuccino to reading bits of Virginia Woolf’s diaries (always, without exception, a tonic) but still, sometimes… all there is left to do is make peace with the noise. I tell myself that it’s necessary, like a mountain I have to climb before I can see what’s on the other side. After all, what else do we have but the contents of our minds? And how–as writers–can we possibly know ourselves, be our own best instrument–if we can’t hear what’s in there?

Sometimes it’s appalling to listen, to really listen. Some of that mental chatter is inane. Embarrassing. Mortifying, even. Really? I think to myself. Really–that’s what’s in my head? Like an overflowing wastebasket, I try to empty it, a bit at a time. And truly–after all the other tools, the yoga, meditation, breathing, cappuccino, after the room of one’s own, the closed door, the desk full of talismans, the best way I know to do this is to write. To write past the noise, to the other side of the mountain.