Lured by all the buzz, I just finished reading Dani Shapiro’s latest memoir, Devotion. As usual, I was reading on two or three levels. First comes the story. For the most part our stories are entirely different, and I was fascinated by this inside glimpse inside the secret life of a blond Jew raised Orthodox, nearly a generation younger than I.

Beneath the surface, perhaps they aren’t so different. I relate to her sense of not quite fitting in anywhere. I relate to her patchwork, grab a little here, add a pinch of that spirituality and constant search for answers. I won’t tell whether she shared her answers or not — I don’t want to give away her plot.

Perhaps I should say, what little plot there is. That takes me to the next level of reading, exploring her structure. The 243-page book is divided into 102 chapters, some as short as half a page. Many are fully developed scenes, replete with dialogue, description and tension, more are not. Reading it is much like a conversation with a friend — it jumps across time and topics like a grasshopper. Perhaps  the structure can be seen as a metaphor for the recurring Monkey Mind phenomenon that constantly asserts itself during her yoga and meditation practice. A few times it seemed as if she should have mentioned things much earlier. For example, she tells of events occurring near the time her son was preparing for his bar mitzvah and a couple of chapters later she writes of something else that occurred when Jacob was three.

Conversation is like that, full of “Have I ever told you about the time …?” topic changes. The difference here is that we can’t ask her questions to ease the transitions.

I love that the book is warmly and intimately written without a trace of arrogance. I love its ring of Truth. In spite of the jumping around, it does fit together like a finely crafted puzzle. I like the simplicity of giving each vignette, no matter how tiny, its own chapter rather than trying to clump them together. I like that she didn’t limit herself to a formal story flow. And I admire that within this seeming chaos, a certain story thread does emerge. Recurring themes do become apparent and develop. I have a hunch that it may be even more challenging to weave together this casual sense of organized chaos than to use a narrative approach.

There is no way to use her book as a template, but I am encouraged and motivated by her unstructured structure.

I’m back to writing fee-standing stories again.


The constant snow storm we’ve been living in has played havoc with my writing. I’m in great shape — my muscles are stronger, my endurance greatly enhanced. I’m amazed that I’m enjoying suiting up and slinging snow around. I look forward to it. Who would have thought? I’m discovering muscle memory of earlier times in my life when I took hard labor for granted. Interesting!

It’s not that I’m not thinking about The Book. It’s much on my mind as I chop massive snow banks into blocks with my trusty cookie sheet and toss them aside. But my energy is going to snow, not to writing.

Last night I reread the initial chapter I wrote last month. It’s full of flashback memories I had as my husband and I drove through town in late August, 2000, shortly after the near-fatal Cerro Grande fire that devastated the area in May of that year. As I read my account, I realized that the order of our drive effectively surveyed my life there in reverse order.

I went to bed contemplating the idea of writing a reverse timeline, of digging through the layers to discover a small girl. I didn’t contemplate long — all the fresh air and physical exertion of late sent me into dreamland within minutes. When I woke, I picked up where I left off, and soon determined that this is not a good order. My story does not end with finding a diamond in piles of poop. The only manure in my tale was at the stables I almost never visited, and the diamond appears much later as insight.

That is not to say that using the drive to as a device for linking loosely related flashbacks won’t work. I want to place a major emphasis on place in this story, and what better way than to revisit it? Using the visit as a platform for rest and contemplation between dives into the past could give me a way of connecting insight with early events and experience. My story pales to insignificance if it’s a simple chronological account.

In the process of searching, I also found the now forgotten mind map I made several weeks ago. I posted it on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing. It’s good. It’s really good. I printed it out. I will use it as a checklist to ensure that I embed these key elements within appropriate flashbacks. This gives me a sort of grid, with columns of environmental features and columns of experiences. The challenge is to have at least one check in each column.

I am literally weaving a story!

I have a desktop full of tools now.

I’ll assemble these pieces and continue to cogitate. I’ll also cross my fingers that tomorrow’s second round of cataract surgery will not slow my writing. But that’s a story for a different time and place.