Anne Lamott and other thoughts

Do y'all remember when I blogged EVERY day? For four straight years, if memory serves, I submitted a quotidian offering. How did I do that? And why?

I think I thought I had to, as if daily posts were a precondition for "successful blogging." And in many ways, I am so grateful I wrote with that frequency because, having no formal writing education on which to fall back, committing something to page on such a regular basis taught me that writing is the training of a muscle as well as the fanning of a creative flame. 

It is rare now (minus the February lulls and periods of political malaise) that I sit in front of an empty page without what feels like magic starting to percolate. Even if my thoughts go nowhere or read as awfully mundane, there is some shift internally that draws me always back like moth to light, like me to sunshine.

Last night, I met a group of women at the Strathmore arts center to hear Anne Lamott talk about mercy and grace and present her newest book, Hallelujah Anyway.

I have been an enormous fan of Anne's since first reading Operating Instructions more than a decade ago. It's one of those books that legitimately made me wheeze with stomach-cramping laughter and cause Tom to repeatedly ask, "What is going on over there?" It also made me think and tear up and feel grateful that slightly-zany Anne of the smart, progressive, troubled parents found her way to writing and got clean.

Then I read Traveling Mercies and thought as deeply as I'd laughed in Operating Instructions and highlighted and notated with the mad desire to not forget the wisdom she seemed to be spilling on every page and wondered about her devout Christianity even though she explained it so well. 

Other than the timbre of her voice not sounding precisely how I'd heard it in my mind, Anne was so totally herself last night, and I found that marvelous. Barbara Kingsolver was, many years ago at the National Cathedral, not at all what I'd imagined, and I remain crushed. Because The Poisonwood Bible

But anyway, Anne. Her hair was lassoed with both ponytail holder and hair band, but I could nonetheless discern the wild, blond frizz she's described so many times. She talked about Pammy, and her Jesuit friend, and Sam, and Veronica, and I felt myself nodding, as if she were talking about mutual friends. She was funny and deadpan and loopy and candid. She despises Trump and teaches Sunday school and told us to care for the poor more times than I could count. She is smart and anxious and beautifully imperfect, and as through her pen, wisdom spilled from her voice.

It is both powerful and comforting to encounter such an open, authentic being. I felt the sort of gratitude that comes when you can really trust someone, not least someone who has so bravely shared her flaws and fears with the world. I am always drawn to her sort of honesty and lack of pretense. Really, it's the way I want to go about in the world. It seems both efficient and connective, and I appreciate both.

Just before she opened the floor to questions, she read a passage from Hallelujah Anyway about a friend's son committing suicide. I want to leave you with this tonight as I found it a truly profound reframing of what is often considered a heinous, selfish act and also a truly profound use of writing to teach and provoke. 

Then Ann, at peace and in grief, stood up trembling and shared the note he had left for her. Like most suicide notes, it said, I have to do this. I'm sorry. Please forgive me and release me. Don't be sad. And I love you; love you. Then she called forth Jay, in baby baths, at the beach, on a trike, at the prom, and here, smoking and resting among the flowers. She gave thanks for the gestational period of ten months they'd spent together at what turned out to be the end, for the communion and care he received and gave to Ann, for that time they had needed so badly, an intimacy most of us cannot imagine.
In the garden, where he had walked, paced, rested, we were holding him and releasing him, inside the ring of trees, ferns, rosebushes, a cherry plum. ...How could this have happened? How can such pain exist? ...How could doctors not help him, with all those meds and treatments, not help him get free of that bad brain any other way? He was at the mercy of it, of bad brain, yet he held out so long, for Ann, to help her. So mercy has claws, too, that don't easily let go.
...Every release inside us releases whatever energy inside us tethered Jay here, to this realm that was just too awful for him. We were saying, This is hard, but not as hard as it was for you here, weighed down by the anchors of so-called reality. So go now, go, unfettered.

Stunning, huh.