On the Right Book at the Right Time

Last winter, when I was in Seattle for a conference, I spent time in one of the great indie bookstores.  Whenever I’m in a city I don’t know well – and if I’m in a semi-balanced state of being – I remind myself that I become grounded and less weirded-out by travel if I a) take a yoga class, and b) seek out a special bookstore.  So I was wandering the aisles of the bookstore when a particular book caught my eye.  It was written by  Anne Truitt, a sculptor with whom I had crossed paths when both of us were at Yaddo in the mid-1990’s.  At the time, I was young – though I didn’t believe myself to be – and I was writing the second chapter of Slow Motion, while also being very social, and single, and careening around Saratoga Springs with some of the other equally young, energetic, and hopeful artists who were in residence.  Still, Anne Truitt, who was well into her seventies, made a lasting impression.  She seemed, to me, formidable, contained, dignified, disciplined, and I remember that her eyes were both warm and wise.  She kept to herself.  She wafted into dinner, then went back to her studio straightaway.  She seemed at home at the venerable artists’ colony, where I – still in the early years of my life as an artist – felt like an interloper, lucky to be chosen, as if somehow I had slipped through the gates of Yaddo, unnoticed and undeserving.

The sculptor’s warm and wise eyes gazed at me from the book’s cover, that afternoon in Seattle.  I bought her book impulsively – I was, in fact, in the midst of a self-imposed moratorium on adding more to my to-be-read pile – and brought it home with me, where it sat buried in a small stack on the desk in my study, obscured by other books I needed to get to, piles of papers that either were, or seemed, urgent.

Months went by.

Last week, I cleaned off my desk.  I always think of September as back-to-school time, not only for my son, but for myself.  And there she was, once again, gazing up at me.  She seemed to be following me around.  So I began to read her, with shock after shock of recognition.  She died a decade ago, but I felt as if she was in the room with me.  I have spent the last week communing with a woman I never knew, across time and space.  She has joined the short list of women throughout centuries who I feel are kindred spirits, guides to this perplexed, middle-aged writer.  As I navigate motherhood, marriage, community, the passage of time, the financial instability of the artist’s life,  the conundrum of the heart and the head, domesticity and creative ambition, as I grapple with my own history and its scars, my wounds-cum-obsessions, it feels like no less then the hand of grace – by which I mean, the hand of another reaching across the impossible – that makes my pulse quicken, my heart soar, and that feeling, once expressed so beautifully by Jane Kenyon, that others have walked this path before me.  Me too, Jane Kenyon once wrote.  I’ve been there too.

 

Sitting with Ann Truitt

Sitting with Ann Truitt

In exploring in her journal what constitutes making art, Truitt writes: “What did I know, I asked myself.  What did I love?  What was it that means the very most to me inside my very own self?”

So simple, no?  What do we know?  What do we love?  What resides inside our innermost beings?

And this:  “It takes kindness to forgive oneself for one’s life.”

As artists – hell, as human beings – if we are lucky enough to endure, with that endurance we have the option of hardening or softening.  Of residing in judgement or embracing curiosity.  Of diminishing or growing.  Each and every moment, we are moving in one direction or the other.  It takes a while – perhaps a lifetime – to begin to understand  how any of it makes sense.  But every once in a great while, the tapestry grows stronger.  Threads wind together.   A visit to a bookstore on a rainy day in the Pacific Northwest led me to a new and very dear friend and mentor.  I will never have tea with her.  We will not sit together in her garden.  But I love her nonetheless.  She is lighting the way.

 

  • http://confessionsofanimperfectlife.com Katie Devine

    After Provincetown, I wrote this down in the little notebook I now carry everywhere: “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.”

    I have wanted to learn more about Anne since seeing that written in Stephen Cope’s book, and I love your memories interspersed with her words above. Thank you for this. (I have also been popping into religious bookstores-because that’s all I have found here so far-and googling, “yoga in Krakow” in an attempt to ground myself in Poland, so I really appreciated reading that I’m not the only one!)

    Katie xx

    • Danishapiro

      Katie, I love thinking of you googling “yoga in Krakow” and where it might lead you! We never know where all of these moments will lead us. I hope you’re having a wonderful, meaningful trip. xx

  • Starla J. King

    Dani, I often re-believe in magic (the Universe, God, whatever we wanna call “it”) when I listen to the particular book calling me… and of course your essay explains exactly why.

    It’s so easy to forget WHY we write, when we’re in the whirlwind of trying to get published, or to write the next best thing, or to find a way to stand out the crowd of word-whisperers, but your post reminds me that we write in order to feel connection and offer connection to others (our readers) across space and time.

    We read for the very same reason, don’t we? To fall in love with the soul of another and follow that glow.

    Still Writing was one of Those Books for me.
    xo
    Starla j

    • Danishapiro

      Big hug, Starla. This is why we read, yes. And why we write. xx

  • http://candidkay.com Kristine

    I tweeted you this but I’ll say it again (because I really love this thought of yours). I felt the same about you when I read “Still Writing.” And warm, wise eyes are the best. They never lie. Love these thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

    • Danishapiro

      Oh, thank you, Kristine. This warms my heart.

  • Raymond Cothern

    I am not sure I can add to anything said about the process of connecting, but what struck me was a quote: “It takes kindness to forgive oneself for one’s life.” It takes kindness, yes, no doubt, to forgive for choices made. I think those who write well unveil a self-forgiving kindness and that is what so strongly resonates with readers.

    • Danishapiro

      This is lovely, Raymond, as always. Thank you.

  • http://readingtothecore.wordpress.com/ Catherine

    Life is full of such serendipitous moments if we’re on the watch for them. I don’t now remember how I found Still Writing, but I feel the same way about your lovely book. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone as I find my way; thank you for strengthening my tapestry.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, Catherine. For me this is what it’s all about.

  • Marci Rich

    Oh Dani…reading this gave me the chills. The universe gives us what we need, if we only ask for it; I have always found this to be the case. Ann sounds wonderful. Having met you, having read you, having heard your gentle measured voice in your excellent workshop, I can see how you’d find Ann to be your kindred spirit. Her questions are so right and wise…I will curate this found wisdom in my little notebook. And one of your commentators took the words right out of my laptop, so I’ll put it another way: What Ann is to you, you are to me. Blessings, Marci

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, thank you, dear Marci. These words are music to my ears. And for all of you, I want to mention that the divine Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) has just written a beautiful essay about Anne Truitt as well. Speaking of curated wisdom:)

    • Claire G

      “What Ann is to you, you are to me.”
      Dani, I feel the same way. Because of your deep honesty and wisdom, it’s as though you are in the room with me, a dear friend coaching me along, when I read your books and your blogs. I feel disappointed when the last page is approaching, because I don’t want it to end. I certainly look forward to what’s next on your plate. Still Writing really resonated with me, and I thank you for letting us in through your blogs until your next book surfaces.
      Namaste,
      Claire

      • Danishapiro

        Oh, Claire, thank you. This kind of encouragement means the world, even though people often don’t think I need it. I do. Thank you.

  • Virginia Mohlere

    Laurie Colwin is like that for me. Her books are like conversations with a wise old friend. I count her as my friend, even though I never met her.

    • Danishapiro

      She’s one of mine, too:)

  • lemead

    Thank you for being on MY shortlist of women who feel like kindred spirits, who are lighting the way for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. xox

    • Danishapiro

      I know how much this means. Thanks, dear one. xx

  • Lauren Carter

    Needed this today. Thanks 🙂

    • Danishapiro

      You are so welcome:)

  • http://www.ordinaryservant.com/ Pilar Arsenec

    I love your writing. I know I must sound like a broken record, but honestly, I truly love your writing. It’s so beautiful. The way you feel about Ann Truitt is the way I feel about you. Every morning, I read a chapter from your book, Still Writing. I read it slowly, savoring it for all it’s worth and then ruminating on it throughout my day. You inspire me. I long to be able to write as beautifully as you do.

  • Elizabeth

    Dani,

    I just found you today, and I don’t really know what to say exactly.

    I love your title here–“the right book at the right time.” I’ve gone through a lot of changes in my life recently. I’ve gotten divorced. I’ve questioned my chosen career (teaching), and I’m just now beginning to grapple with and accept that what I really want–what I desire most–is to write. I’ve always written–ever since I was a child–but I’ve seen it as “wasting time” when I should be doing other things. I think that’s been a defense of sorts. I think I’m terrified of jumping wholeheartedly into a creative life, so I’ve looked for excuses not to. I’ve de-legitimized it.

    Last night I took my third yoga class in a series of beginners classes. The teacher began telling us about her style–Kripalu–and I was interested and wanted to learn more about it. So I read some today, poking around the website, Googling various people. Then my day went on. I answered emails, I talked with students, I graded papers. Later, I was reading a blog I enjoy that often reviews books, and I came across a review of your newest book Still Writing. Again, I was interested. I poked around your website; I Googled. I saw that you are heavily involved with Kripalu, and I counted it as a sign.

    A sign of what? That I’m to attend your session at Kripalu? That I’m to read all of your books? That I’m to quit my job, go teach yoga, go hole myself away and write? I don’t think so. I don’t believe signs demand those sorts of extremes from us. I think the subtlety of signs is directly proportionate to the small changes we are being asked to make. But I have these two seemingly disconnected interests in my life–a newfound yoga practice and a new author–and the two conflate in the most unexpected ways: basic time-wasting on Google. It moved me to writing, and I immediately sat down to write a blog post about this “coincidence,” this sign.

    Coming back to your idea of “the right book at the right time.” I plan on getting two of yours today–Still Writing and Devotion. I’m excited for what waits for me there.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks for this, Elizabeth. I’m always so touched by the way we find the writers and the books — the teachers — we need. I hope you enjoy Devotion and Still Writing. And do come to a workshop some time, if the spirit moves you! Best of luck with your work.

  • Cathy Roberson

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    Thank you for being on MY shortlist of women who feel like kindred spirits, who are lighting the way for me.