On Being Yourself

I’m writing this from the air –– somewhere between New York City and Phoenix.  It’s been a bumpy flight so far.  The guy next to me just spilled his plastic cup of water all over his jeans.  I’ve gone through my usual air travel routine of leafing through guilty-pleasure type magazines (it says something about my stage of life that these are along the lines of Us Weekly) .  And now it’s time to turn my attention to the week ahead.  I am anticipating this week with a range of feelings, the most complex of which is this:

Joy.

There is a sentence in Still Writing in which I explain that I have not, nor have I ever been joyful.  Modestly happy, yes.  Content, certainly.  But joy?  Not so much.  That sentence happens to be in a passage that I’ve been reading aloud at some bookstore appearances.  And each time I get to that line, it strikes me as no longer true.  I am joyful right now.  Even on this turbulent flight, in my cramped seat, hungry, run-down, tired, I am filled with this unfamiliar abundance.  This slightly uncomfortable, brimming excitement that it’s difficult to contain.

I’m on book tour for Still Writing.  Phoenix tonight.  San Francisco tomorrow.  Los Angeles on Friday.  On Sunday morning, I will be alone in my hotel room in Beverly Hills.  I will order a room service cappuccino, turn on the television, climb back into bed and settle back into the pillows, and here is what I’ll see:

5 24 2013-SSS- Dani Shapiro

Life seldom grants us our dreams as we dream them.  Life rarely shocks us with good news.  We do our work.  We labor alone.  We follow the line or words, one at a time, like breadcrumbs that might, just might, lead us out of the forest.  We expect nothing.  Or perhaps I should speak more personally, more directly.  I have spent my writing life practicing the art –– to paraphrase Colette –– of waiting.  I have waited between books.  I have waited for books to emerge.  There has been no master plan.  At times I have longed for a plan.  I have felt a crisis of identity.  Am I a novelist?  A memoirist?  An insult was once passed along to me (a questionable act, disguised as being helpful):  Dani has only one subject.  It stung.  It stayed.  But secretly, I wondered if it was true.  Was my subject myself?  And if my subject was myself, how might I take that singular, tiny, idiosyncratic self, and make it larger –– much larger –– so that I might have something to say that would resonate with others?

When I wrote Devotion I had no role models.  What literary novelist swerves into spiritual territory?  I was told I was making a mistake.  That I ought to keep writing fiction, where I was starting to make a name for myself.   But –– obstinate, willful, and most of all unable to pick and choose my obsessions –– I traveled to this strange new land.  There were lessons I needed to learn.  Questions I longed to address.  These questions haunted me.  They burned bright.  I spent a life-altering couple of years writing Devotion, and when I finished the book, the path did not end.  There were more questions.  More lessons.  I hope there always will be.

When I got the call inviting me to be Oprah’s guest on Super Soul Sunday, my initial response was disbelief.  The next morning, I thought I had dreamed it –– literally.  In the weeks that followed, I kept thinking it would somehow be taken away from me.  I mean, why wouldn’t it?  How could such a miraculous, beautiful, fortunate thing happen to me –– to me?  But in the weeks leading up to my conversation with Oprah, something interesting happened.  I began to grow clearer and clearer about what I needed to do.

I didn’t need to think.

I didn’t need to rehearse.

Rather, I needed to grow very quiet and centered, and arrive in Chicago for that conversation with an open heart, a clear mind, and a joyful embrace of the extraordinary opportunity.  And on that day, when one of the producers put her arm around me and said: “All you have to do is be yourself,” the words went through me like a shock.

All you have to do.

Is be yourself.

It has been a lifetime, people.  A lifetime of running away and returning to myself like a child playing tag with a tree.  And, like a stately old tree, roots spread deep in the earth, my best self –– all of our best selves –– has always been there, ready, silent, observing, waiting.

It’s hard work to be ourselves.

That hour with Oprah was one of the highlights of my life –– right up there with meeting my husband and giving birth to my son.  In part because she is utterly amazing, in part because I was filled with the awareness that our conversation has the potential to reach many, many people –– but more than anything, because the stakes were high, and I rose to them.  I sat in that chair and told the truth of myself, the truth of my life.  The girl I was –– the woman I’ve become –– my losses and grief, my pleasures, the lessons I’ve learned.  I was myselfI was in the moment.  When I left the studio on that beautiful day, I called my husband and told him this:

Every word I said was true.

 

  • Kimberly Wapp

    Beautiful, simply beautiful.

  • kfuphoto

    oh I am so proud and excited for you.

  • Rudri Patel @ Being Rudri

    Dani, powerful words. I look forward to hearing you speak tonight. Thank you for encouraging us to feel comfortable in our skin.

  • katrinakenison

    Oh Dani, I read this with goosebumps, literally, shivering up and down my spine. I’m so glad you feel joy! And you know what? That joy is infectious. Your friends all feel it, too. I think I must speak for about a million people when I say, “We are THRILLED for you.” Go forth and enjoy every blessed moment. You’ve earned them all. Can’t wait to watch on Sunday!

  • wendylerman

    Thank you to the powers that be for showing me exactly what I needed at this very moment and for guiding Dani to provide it.

  • Mara Saperstein Weissmann

    How authentic and spiritual. Thank you for sharing and mazel tov on all your success and all around beauty.

  • Mara Saperstein Weissmann

    So authentic and spiritual! Thank you for sharing and mazel tov on your success and all around beauty.

  • “I sat in that chair and told the truth of myself, the truth of my life. …Every word I said was true.” – This is beautiful. I’ve felt this way only a few times, but they’re so sharp in my memory that I can’t wait to experience it again. Thank you for expressing something so true.

  • Susan Morgan

    Lovely. Can’t wait to watch on Sunday. Congratulations! I got a similar snide comment once long ago when I was writing regular newspaper columns. The very macho editor turned to the publisher and “joked” that he was waiting for “Susan’s latest column about what she had for lunch.” Ouch! I was writing about being a young journalist who was also a mom and all that went with that — and that’s what he took away from it. Those cruel remarks leave a mark.

  • Allyn

    I have tears streaming down my face. This was lovely. I loved the part about a lifetime of running away and returning to yourself. I recognize that and isn’t it lovely when we find ourselves. I look forward to seeing you on Super Soul Sunday.

  • Chris

    I live in Mexico and the TV channel isn’t available to me. I’ve asked my sister in Canada to tape the show for me and I’ll get to see it next visit. I know it will be brilliant. And darn it all, I’ll be in San Francisco next week, a week too late to attend your book launch. Congratulations, you are an inspiration.

  • Eva

    You are amazing.

  • Katrina

    Crying here, too. So happy for you. I’m savoring Still Writing.

  • maggie may

    The most profound truths are so simple. Finding how to believe, to have faith in that, is the thing. Beautiful!

  • ayala

    So happy for you. Your words honest and powerful. I love your last line…every word was true. Beautiful.

    Looking forward to watching you and again congratulations!

  • Danishapiro

    Thanks, everyone, for these beautiful, heartfelt words. I’m on the road now (Phoenix) and one of the lovely, devoted readers of this blog came over to me to say hello last night — and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me. I’m on the West Coast all week — schedule is up on the appearances page of my website — so come see me before watching Super Soul Sunday!

  • Priscilla Warner

    I am kvelling. xxx

    • Danishapiro

      xxx, Priscilla.

  • gail

    dear dani – i’m not a ‘comments’ person – but love your blog and have bought all your books and passed them along and kept some. I had no idea you were going to be at mrs. Dalloway’s tomorrow night! I work nearby (uc Berkeley) and would love to come but it’s my night in a painting studio to do my real work (no, not budgets and meetings, thank you very much). I love that store – it’s like being in a garden – you have a huge treat awaiting you! keep writing – love your work and know you are touching lives and feel appreciated!

    • Danishapiro

      I’m not a comments person either, Gail. (Funny, isn’t it?) The Mrs. Dalloway’s event was lovely. If you want to come see me in the Bay Area I’ll be at City Arts and Lectures in April. I’m so glad you read me.

    • Gail GANINO

      Hi Dani – Thank you so much for your reply. I just finished SLOW MOTION and oh my god – you are so incredibly brave. Love that. I’d love to hear you at City Arts & Lectures in SF – but must admit – I really don’t read/follow Ayelet Waldman – why in the world they’d couple you with her is puzzling…Will watch your Oprah interview at lunchtime today! Thank you for your work – it’s inspiring and relate-able (that a word?) at the same time. You’re a peach!

  • lisaworthhuber

    Dani, this is a glorious post. Joyfully glorious. And brave. You may have come recently to joy, but in all your writing you’ve always been brave. Blessings on your beautiful head.

    • Danishapiro

      Lisa, you are the loveliest. Thank you.

  • Nicole Tilde

    This is just perfect. You said everything I need to hear today.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, NIcole!

  • It’s not so much hard work being ourselves as it is scary….for we are a competitive, narcissistic, violent lot barely removed from the 2 year-olds we once were. That’s the secret all of us carry, so when a moment, a perfect, translucent moment of triumph and validation arrives (at least the first one. For a favored few, I suppose, it’s nothing more than ordinary expectation) one experiences a glow as if one has been divinely lit. Really, it’s as good as it gets, right up there with great sex, a 1959 Bordeaux, and one’s first reciprocated love.

    This is, it seems to me, especially true of the arts. A writer (or performer) who’s openly competitive is at best seen as “colorful,” yet all of us compete, and most of us struggle to keep those feelings self-contained lest they spill out.

    So when the occasion finally comes, and one is lifted into the top tier of what one does, it is the fierce, feral, violent, surging, utterly redeeming joy of competitive triumph one experiences. It’s the true self, after all, that same 2 year old who so wanted to win, and finally discovers it’s not only allowed, but encouraged.

    So, Ms. Shapiro, you’re at the top of the heap (where you’ve been for years, but it’s different when someone else notices…..) but now at a visible summit so few will ever achieve. Such an intoxicating elixir, merits savoring again and again while one can. Triumphs are earned. after all, otherwise we’d call them “gifts.” No one deserves it more than you, and it’s so much fun to see you having *so* *much* *fun*

    I’m just sayin…………

    • Danishapiro

      Oh, EMS 1944. You made me cry. And smile. xxx

      • The connection was established at the Mater vs. Mater Annual Seder Truck Demolition Derby. I’ve never relinquished it. Often wish for more, but life is life, after all.

        Fox hole buddies and all that………..

  • Beth Kephart

    Tears in my eyes.

    • Danishapiro

      :)))

  • Anne Marie

    Although I had a bumpy relationship with my Dad, he always said, “Honesty is the best policy”. As a child I took that to mean, don’t lie. But as an adult, middle-aged I guess (actually I know, but it’s hard to say), I think he meant, be honest with yourself, true to yourself. I’m better at doing it now than I used to be, but I keep working at it everyday. Thanks for explaining it so eloquently. New to you, and so happy I found you.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, thank you. This is all a lifetime’s work.

  • Michele

    Thank you for following your questions and your interests. I just finished reading Devotion ( that I picked up yesterday). Full of insight, courage and vulnerability. Thank you. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, Michele! Blessings to you too.

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  • Beautiful, Dani! I’m celebrating right along with you. Wish I could have seen you in LA (I live here, but was in Carmel teaching). LOVING Devotion so much. Have had it for over a year, and finally got a chance to start it this week. It’s so brilliant, I can’t believe it took me so long. We share dear friends in common, and retreat gals, too. So looking forward to sharing the literary love in person one day soon! xo

    • Danishapiro

      Same here, Linda! Thanks.

  • shawnene

    Best line if have read in a long time. “Every word I said was true.”
    Just watched you on Super Soul, and I believed you.
    Wonderful.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you!

  • Sandi

    Dear Dani
    Watching Super Soul Sunday, I felt a joyful moment that I had met you at a book signing during a difficult time in my life. I will always remember your courtesy and compassion. May you have health, happiness, success and many joyful moments.
    With much appreciation for being a teacher when this student was in need.
    Sandi

    • Danishapiro

      Sandi, I”m glad. I always like hearing about these connections. I’m glad you enjoyed the conversation.

  • wonderful. “every word i said was true”

    at times, i have wondered if it’s possible to tell the truth

    no half-truths allowed

    your conversation with oprah today moved me. i was ready to be moved. the combination was winning. and frightening. because i can’t un-hear or un-feel the shift

    i left my job of 7 years in vc 6 months ago. the decision took up 3 years of thinking space in my head, a hospitalization for depression masked behind the most calm cheerful face and 2 minutes to finally make the decision. on the other side of the conversation with my boss – freedom …

    and wow, what did i do? and what will i do, now?

    for the first few weeks i was high on all things new. the timing was perfect, spring in new england. impossible not to feel a warming, an opening after the coldest season that begs for hibernation

    with the intensity of summer’s heat, the question returned

    What Will You Do Now?!

    since leaving my job, every monday i dial in for a 2-hour call with 4 women i have yet to meet in person. appropriately, we talk about our callings. i have known for years, for most of my life (if i am telling the truth) that i need to tell stories, i need to spread stories for others – through writing, photography, interviews through the lens of curiosity. where does culture (how we live) and design (the choices we make) intersect. where does culture (where we live) and design (our personal style) intersect. and so on

    it was clear from the beginning, the stories would be told under the umbrella of my grandmother’s name. a strong name with meaning for every woman. perfect? i thought so. how could i not feel joy (finally!). this was my calling, damn it

    as i planned for launch, the joy felt out of reach, blurred. i was disoriented, battling new-to-me daily headaches

    the headaches told me Stop Hiding, You Make Choices, Make Room In Your Body

    i knew but couldn’t admit – one story was blatantly omitted from my plan

    i wanted to keep separate from this journey, My Story

    the reasons/excuses were many but i was certain that i could get creative enough that i could fill myself up with this calling and helps others

    no one would know that i was purposely hiding My Story

    but i would never be able to say “every word i said was true”

    because the unspoken words in this case are loud

    thank you for illuminating my resistance.

    • Danishapiro

      No half-truths allowed — says it all! Thank you for sharing your insights here. I’m glad the show resonated with you:)

  • Jaqueline Ligaard

    Dear Dani
    I just finished watching Supersoulsunday with you all the way from little Copenhagen, Denmark. You made me weep because you touched something so deep in me. I feel lighter I feel more hopeful then before discovering you and your wisdom. I can relate to so much of your searching and my son who will soon turn 6 is also asking these questions and I have failed with my answers. I feel closer now to knowing what to tell him. I can’t go to a bookstore down the street to buy your book here in Denmark but I just ordered Devotion on amazon and will have it delivered in a few days.
    from my heart I thank you for being my teacher and for the AHA moment you gifted me with today!
    Jaqueline

    • Danishapiro

      Oh, thank you, Jaqueline! So glad the show resonated with you. All the best!

  • Pamela

    I have been reading your books for almost 20 years. The first of yours I read was your memoir. So I always thought you were a memoirist who wrote literary fiction:) Potato Potahto. I am so, so excited that you are waiting for me on my DVR. I love Super Soul Sunday and you have so much to say about the soul. And I am so happy you are feeling JOY. I so know that feeling of guarding against too much joy, of not allowing myself to feel it because of ideas of deserving or fear of something awful coming next. But more and more I think that joy is a birthright, rather than something earned or attained. Congratulations and Enjoy!

  • Jen

    I was welling up with tears throughout the show on Sunday and your last sentence about every word being true, hit me incredibly hard as well. I’m surprised by the emotion, but I suspect it’s because so much of everything you talk about resonates with me deeply. I bought your book Devotion on Sunday and I’m loving every word. Thank you.

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  • Pat Thomas Johnson

    I just finished reading Slow Motion and Still Writing. I loved them both. I had never heard of you until I saw that you were going to be on SuperSoul Sunday. I have no idea why I wasn’t aware of you, why I had not come across your writing in some of the other dozens of books I had read on the subjects of seeking and spirituality, but I think it may have to do with the saying “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” One thing I have become aware of is that the right book, or author, or program is presented to me just when I need it. When I heard you were going to be on Oprah, I had to find out about you because every single guest that Oprah has presented on SSS has had lessons for me…..So between the time the show was advertised and the actual airing of the show, I read Slow Motion and Still Writing. I have just started Devotion and so far it is as if you are writing about MY journey. You speak for so many of us on this path….looking for what we know is missing but can’t put a name to. So thank you. And keep writing.

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  • Hallie Sawyer

    I just watched the show (TG for DVR’s!) and can I tell you that I’m exactly where you were when you felt compelled to write Devotion? I don’t what the deal is with turning 40 but it hit me very hard. Not because I’m getting older necessarily but because I felt the whoosh of time catch up with me. Half of my has happened and what do I have to show for it? What the hell am I doing? Why do I still feel like I’m not a grown up yet? Why do I feel like I’m on the hamster wheel of life? Is this all there is? These are daily questions that keep me up at night and paralyze me during the day.

    I want to make every moment count but mentally I don’t know how. You said so many things in your conversation with Oprah that resonated with me. When you said “existential panic”, I got goosebumps. That’s exactly how I feel. Am I living the life I’m supposed to be living. Why am I here? What good am I to the world? Sure, I am a mother and raising my children is a very important role but who am I without all of that? What’s my legacy?

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing Devotion. I just know that reading it will be a guiding light for me in finding my own truths and meaning in my life. Thank you for being the teacher I’ve been so desperately searching for.

    Peace be with you, Dani!

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