Dani Shapiro
July 20, 2009

On Being Open

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be open–specifically what it means to be open to other writers. I’ve been on the receiving end of amazing acts of kindness over the years, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of the sort of parched, sour behavior that really says: there’s only room for one of us out there, so get out of my way, I’m not going to even talk to you, much less help you. I’m going to horde all of my limited resources for myself. It’s easy to see which of these two types of people behaving in these two types of ways is happier. Openness and generosity is the product of an unclouded mind–a mind at peace. And the nastiness comes from fear, anxiety, envy, competitiveness. I have tried to learn, over the years, from the former, and to understand the latter as a cautionary tale.

Our friend Frank McCourt died yesterday. Not only was he a brilliant writer, an unparalleled storyteller, a funny, droll man who at the same time knew how to wring every possible emotion out of a situation–but he was also astoundingly kind. He had time for everyone. He gave of himself, and gave, and gave–and guess what? There was still room for more. More great writing. More political fund-raising for our local congressman. More hours to show up for events such as this one, which support a community after school arts organization. He was a special person, one I feel lucky to have known. His loss is tremendous and will be felt across the many lives he touched.

What is this thing, this openness? Who do some of us naturally lean in that direction, while others slam the door closed? Why does it seem, to some of us, that being open will cost us something of ourselves, when in fact, what it really allows is more room? Frank rarely said no. His answer to most of what was asked of him was a resounding yes–whether that yes was to an invitation to a book party for a younger writer, or a benefit where his presence would be helpful, or a comment for the back of a book jacket, or just simply a fun evening out. I have no doubt that those yeses–that spirit–fed his work. Openness, kindness, generosity of spirit. Something to remember and keep remembering.