Still Writing by Dani ShapiroScars

I grew up the only child of older parents. If I were to give you a list of all the facts of my early life that made me a writer, this one would be near the top. Only child. Older parents. It now almost seems like a job requirement—though back then, I wished it to be otherwise. A lonely, isolated childhood isn’t a prerequisite for a writing life, of course, but it certainly helped.

My parents were observant Jews. We kept a kosher home. On the Sabbath, from sundown on Friday evening until sundown on Saturday, we didn’t drive, we didn’t turn on lights, or the radio, or television, and I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike, or play the piano, or do homework. This left me with a lot of time to do nothing. Most Saturday mornings, I walked a half-mile to synagogue with my father while my mother stayed home with a sinus headache.

Our house was silent and spotless. Dirt, smudges, noise—any kind of disarray would have been unthinkable. Housekeepers were always quitting. No one could keep the house to my mother’s standards. Every surface gleamed. Picture frames were dusted daily. Sheets and pillowcases were ironed three times a week. My drawers were color-coordinated: blue Danskin tops perfectly folded next to blue Danskin bottoms.

Dani Shapiro credit Kate UhryReally? Three memoirs?

I know.

 

So what is it? A narcissistic disorder? Or do we need a new category for this in the DSM-IV?  Memoirmania, maybe? 

You don’t pull any punches, do you? Okay. So I wrote three novels. Then a memoir. Then another two novels. Then another memoir, which was a total surprise. That one—my memoir Devotion, nearly knocked me over. I literally almost fell down when I realized what I was doing. A spiritual memoir? Really? After that book, I thought I was done with the form. But now I’ve gone and written yet another memoir, sort of. I say sort of, because Still Writing, my new book, is about writing.  But stories of what formed me as a writer found their way in there. So, yeah.

 

This week, a writerly round-up related to geography, working spaces, and literary retreats, with an emphasis on the idyllic.

We begin in Sirenland, an exclusive annual writers’ retreat founded by American author Dani Shapiro and conducted in the absurdly photogenic seaside village of Positano, Italy.  From a profile by Maria Shollenbarger in The Financial Times:

 (The Merry-Go-Round is Beginning to Taunt Me[1])

 

1. Author As [not circus] Dog Trainer (Cris)

You can’t lie to a dog. Or you can’t lie badly. While training dogs, you need to be “telling” them, with both body-language and voice, that they are the center of the universe to you, and that what they do for you—and what you’re doing together—makes you happier, and means more to you, than anything else in the world. They can tell if you’re lying. If you’re unconsciously communicating to them that you’re disappointed or upset because you’re thinking about something else, something offstage—whether your life’s true dilemma or your most current disappointment—they take it on as stress. To dogs, it’s all about them. So the trainer has to be able to convince the dog of that, whether it’s true in the trainer’s larger life or not. Problem is, the dog can usually tell. A good trainer doesn’t have “a larger life.” It’s never “just a dog” and therefore easy to lie to.

Dani Shapiro is the author of two remarkable memoirs, Slow Motion and Devotion.

Slow Motion is the story of a twenty-three year old woman’s late awakening to adult responsibilities. When her parents have a terrible car wreck in New Jersey, Shapiro is at a health spa in southern California, a jaunt paid for by her lover, a married man twice her age. Shapiro emerges from her alcohol and drug addled life to discover that the blessing is next to the wound.

Devotion is a “spiritual detective story,” a personal exploration  of varieties of seeking and different kinds of devotion — among them, motherhood and daughterhood. With its appropriation of wisdom gleaned from spiritual resources as diverse as Shapiro’s Orthodox Jewish upbringing to yoga shalas and Buddhist meditation retreats, Devotion tracks the dialectical movements from fear to human faith. For her readers, Dani Shapiro’s spiritual journey home is uniquely hers and yet somehow universal in the way it opens a space to let our own lives speak.