SLOW MOTION: A Memoir of Life Rescued by Tragedy by Dani Shapiro

I encountered Dani Shapiro by leafing through a Kirpalu magazine. She wrote an article about the risks of the writing life.

There is only one reason to [write]: because you have to. Because a still, small voice inside of you is insisting that you have a story to tell. If you heed that voice, it will lead you to scary places, and to beautiful ones. It will show you yourself, and what matters to you. It will be your beacon and your mirror, your torture and your salvation. It owes you nothing, but it will teach you everything. 

I fell in lust with her for this. I’ve heard similar thoughts from Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron, but something in Shapiro’s voice resonated in a deeper way. Possibly because I’ve been on this writing journey for what feels like an eternity, and only at this moment, do I sense enough courage rising to jump into a ring of fire—one that will either purify and expose my true nature on the page, or snuff out the embers for the rest of my life.

The article in Kirpalu sent me to Dani Shapiro’s blog. Her posts are raw and insightful. I treasure them, like a child savors Halloween candy, reading only one entry a day. I’ve been doing so for over a month now. Soon I’ll come to the end of her archives, but I won’t experience sadness for I can reread. Her posts are so layered with truth and nuance, like Shakespeare, they will provide fuel for years to come. Whether she’s specifically examining writing or a moment in time, what she shares soothes my own frazzled nerve endings that cry for expression. She’s my means where by I reconnect with the page.

Her blog stimulated my itchy book-buying-finger. I placed all her books on my wish list, except for her first memoir: Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy arrived in the mail last week.

What is Voice? How does a writer find it? Develop it? If a writer’s voice is elusive to them and unrecognizable to others is there any point in writing on? These are the questions I’ve wrangled with over the last few years. They’ve ignited a nightmare that haunts every rewrite, and makes it impossible for me to quit. Dani Shapiro speaks of her own doubts and fears, but I’ll go to the mattresses with her if she says she ever struggled with voice.

Reading Slow Motion is like a child falling into a conversation with an imaginary friend—the transition is so effortless you can’t imagine living your life without her. Her writing is so personal, with every nugget of emotional and physical pain laid out on display, I want to crawl inside her body and wrap myself around her heart.

When I think of anything that’s ever harmed me—cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine, Lenny—they’ve all had one thing in common: revulsion, the nausea that I’ve had to fight past before I could take them in.

Shapiro’s willingness to expose the inner workings of her heart and mind make me realize what my own novel writing is missing—me!

Slow Motion centers around the family tragedy that forced Shapiro to shift her trajectory and become the writer she is today. But her story is much more, it’s a poem for life. Her words flow with tenderness and ebb with jagged reality. Her realizations and choices prompt us to place a magnifying glass up to ourselves and ask, Is this, in fact, how we want to live our lives? Is this not the mark of a powerful poet—someone who places the focus on what we have missed and urges us to stay present.

It was clear that I needed to wrestle my past to the ground. I needed to pin it in time, to capture it as if it were a wild animal that I could domesticate—or at least put behind bars.

Dani Shapiro wrote these words for an essay in the Los Angeles Times after her memoir came out. This passage reflects the action of the book better than I ever could. Each page shows a small conquest or defeat along her journey. The courage it took to endure what she did and share it with us is a testament to Shapiro’s devotion to her career as a writer, and an inspiration for all of us in the trenches.

Slow Motion: A Memoir of Life Rescued by Tragedy.