My good friend Lynn Rosen asked me if I would be a “minder” for author Dani Shapiro during an Open Book event at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA. Author and fellow podcaster Gretchen Rubin interviewed her about Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love for an episode of Shapiro’s podcast Family Secrets.
As a minder, my job was to take care of the author, making sure no one monopolized her time or approached her when she wasn’t signing books.
For the most part it was an easy job, I just followed her lead. If she was still signing the book, I let the person talk. When she was done, I asked them to let the next person move up. Most readers were respectful of the limitations of her time. She was headed to the airport directly after the event to fly to San Francisco, her next stop on the tour for her paperback release. It was an emotional afternoon. People told her about finding out they were donor-conceived, or they were adopted, or they had been a donor and were concerned about children coming forward. What would they want? I couldn’t help but wonder if Shapiro felt psychically and emotionally drained at the end of each tour date. But she was patient, kind, genuinely curious about their stories, and, when possible, she offered helpful ideas and connections.
I was touched by a few readers, who dropped handwritten letters on the table, saying they understood how busy she was. They wanted to share their stories with her, but also thank her for writing the book, for making them feel not so alone as they dealt with their own family secrets.
After Shapiro finished signing and was getting ready to leave, I, inspired by those other readers, took the opportunity to thank her. Her memoir Devotion, about her spiritual journey, changed my life path. As a result of reading it, I began meditating, pursued mindfulness, and now devote my time to teaching mindful writing. Shapiro literally changed the trajectory of my life. She was the teacher I needed at the time I needed her. She said to me, “You sit alone in a room writing and you don’t know…”
As writers, we rarely know what the impact of our solitary efforts will be. With Inheritance, it is very clear the effect Shapiro has had on readers’ lives. She’s become an advocate for donor limitations. She’s spoken at Stanford, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins about the bioethics of sperm donation. But it was her sitting alone in a room, writing Devotion, that gave me a new way of living, a tool for dealing with the loss of my husband, and inspiration for how I write and teach.
If a writer’s work has touched you, changed you, or thoroughly entertained you, take the time to write them a letter or email. The object is not to start a correspondence. The object is to use your writing to tell them how much their writing has meant to you.
And why not write to all those people in our lives who have made a difference. What are we waiting for? Spread the adoration!