What's your theme?
Writing has helped Dani Shapiro make sense of everything she’s ever been ashamed of - an atheist mother, an Orthodox Jewish father, a tragic accident while she was having an affair with a college roommate’s high-profile attorney father, a baby with a near-death sickness, a strained relationship with her mother, and having her father die before she'd done the things for which he'd be proud.
While she calls herself a fiction-writer, her last five books have been memoir. She can’t stop the pull to make sense of all of the above. Secrets and family have become her obsession. Making sense of them is the theme of every book she’s written.
She brought the idea of theme to the This is Fifty event in the California redwoods where 400 women (and a few brave men) gathered to consider their second half. Since the theme of the weekend was, “The stories we tell ourselves are what make our dreams come true,” she reminded us how writing can shed light on our obsessions, maybe even our "theme."
Fortunately, you don’t have to write a memoir to make sense of your madness. You don’t even need a computer for that matter. It’s the act of moving your hand across the page that provides the illumination we’re after.
All you need is a notebook and a pen. Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages have been helping people recover from their deepest, darkest addictions and obsessions for thirty years. She started teaching them after they helped her with her own recovery and has taught countless others this daily practice of rambling three pages of what feels like nonsense out of them. What happens is magical. This seemingly meaningless task somehow moves us past what's keeping us stuck, separate from our innermost, vibrant spirit.
Our issues don’t even need to be sorted. The goal is simply getting the heaviness out of us so we can experience lightness.
People ask Dani how she can share so much. Doesn’t she feel exposed? She says her process isn’t about confession. It’s an attempt to see the lessons and shape it into happiness. Yet what inspires her the most, time and again, are the responses from readers with lives very different from her own, who thank her for telling their story, for the peace that comes from finally being heard.
While it’s not necessary, let that be a gentle nudge to share your story, or at least let it shape a specialness about you. Because it might brighten someone’s life.
I’d say my theme is around finding my voice. Which means, clarifying what's important to me, finding a way to express it without diminishing or justifying it, then standing up for it, creating routine around doing those things. I don't feel so bad about how challenging this has been after learning about apoptosis and how wide open space, like life without children at home or having to work, can affect us.
Now tell me, what’s your theme?