December 22, 2008KR BlogWriting

Not Leaving the House


I haven’t left the house in days, because of the snow that has just now stopped. I was born in a blizzard but have lost my snow-muscle since moving to the Northwest and so I stay in, looking and baking and padding about in silent disrepair, marveling at the erasure. The sound of the road, the birds, our neighbors have all lifted and instead there is just this lovely light reflecting in. I feel a little bit stir-crazy, a little bit new. Though I haven’t been writing poetry during this particular Storm of the Century, this kind of fast-hearted trance reminds me of that place we go to when we write. It makes me think about the writers who really never leave the house–there’s an Austrian poet I just read about who hasn’t left the house in years, and there’s always good old Proust. It’s interesting to me how staying in the house can turn you wild, can un-domesticate you. That venturing out is what keeps us tame, that we are each other’s tethers, but that staying in one place for too long is unmooring. As writers we are always talking about the importance of finding a balance between this interior world and the outer one. A true balance usually means the souvenirs from the circus show up in our poetry. The danger of being too much in the world, of course, is not writing. And the danger of not leaving the house usually is not having anything to write about. A couple years ago I moved with my husband to Los Angeles for his job, and for the first time in my life I had the option of writing full-time. My version of discipline: I told myself I wasn’t allowed to leave the house each day until I’d written a poem. A good poem. And read a significant part of a good book. I could smell the orange trees through the window but I stayed at my desk, and each day it got harder to write what was increasingly a lifeless poem. Eventually I went back to work full-time, and my writing slowly came back to itself. I was so angry at myself for not being able to make better use of those enormous interior hours, and it’s that challenge–how to let the wildness of isolation inform rather than silence one’s writing–that draws me to writers who’ve made good of it. What beautiful wilderness there is in the same four walls.