Hieroglyphs on a Rock

I endured these (childhood) fantasies and premonitions by writing about them. The stories I made up were medicinal. My inner life was barbed, with jagged edges. Left untended, it felt dangerous, like it might turn on me at any moment. Intuitively, I understood that I had to use it. It was all I had. By writing, I was participating in a tradition as old as humanity. I was here. Hieroglyphs on a rock. I was here, and this is my story. Dani Shapiro (Still Writing)

Novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro often writes about the way her childhood influenced her writing. The only child of older parents who “fought constantly” and “whose greatest source of conflict was me," Shapiro says she “felt as if she were navigating the world on a borrowed visa.” She turned to writing as a way of coping, of marking her territory, of staying safe. 

I was here, and this is my story.

I can relate to Shapiro’s sense of danger and unease about her place in the world.  As the cherished only child of over-protective parents and grandparents, I was treated more like a china doll than a normal little girl. Ever fearful of my getting broken, my mother tried her best to keep me in a safe cocoon. In her eyes, disasters lurked around every corner like potential land mines waiting to explode.  I often had bronchitis and asthma, and so many of the activities my friends engaged in were off limits to me. Things like running (which made me short of breath), swimming (chlorine in the pool aggravated my asthma), ice skating (I might fall and break something), overnights with friends (their houses might have too much dust which would set off my allergies) were all verboten.

I developed a sense of fragility about life in general and my own in particular, a belief that I should never put myself in harms way- even if the potential for harm was practically negligible. So I learned to be content with quiet pursuits like writing stories, many of which were potboilers about young girls in dangerous situations - locked in haunted mansions, being pursued by ghosts or kidnapped by gangs of thugs. Interestingly enough, I rarely finished these epic tales, probably because I couldn’t conceive of a way to reach the happy ending I wanted so desperately.

I think I was in fourth grade when I first heard about the cave paintings in Lascaux, those images etched into the walls of a dark cave that appeared to be a form of primitive communication. I remember a chill running down my spine as the teacher explained how scientists believed these drawings to be early man’s first efforts at leaving a message or telling a story. Preserved for eons, these odd images were proof positive that some sentient being existed, one who was compelled to leave a message for posterity.

From that moment on, I became fixated on the idea of using words and images to leave a lasting legacy. My belief in the power of our individual stories was born on that day. No matter what might happen to me  (a fatal asthma attack brought about during a secret playdate in my friend Lisa’s dusty basement!) my mark on the world could be ensured through writing.

I was here, and this is my story.

This year I will publish a book called Life In General, a collection of essays from the past 8 years. These pieces will tell the story of my here and now, my life in this 21st century - what makes me smile and laugh and cringe in fear. They are the compilation of my hopes and dreams, my thoughts about family and home and reading and writing. They are the shared stories of women I know, those of us who struggle to balance our lives with the needs of children and grandchildren, spouses, aging parents, and employers. They are all aspects of my story, each one a hieroglyph on the wall of my cave.

I was here, and this is my story. 

And I’m excited to share it with you.