Anne Lamott came to Lancaster Saturday night, and I was fortunate enough to get to go see her at the sold-out event. I find it kind of sad that authors have to tour like rock stars in order to make any money these days. It must be so hard for so many of them since writers tend to be shy and introverted. I mean, we write because we want people to hear what we have to say, but we don’t want to get up in front of crowds of people and speak, right? Nevertheless, I’m glad they do tour, because it means that in the past three years, I’ve gotten to see three authors I adore: David Sedaris, Sarah Blake, and now Anne Lamott.
I haven’t read all of Lamott’s books, only five of them, but she’s like comfort food (forget those facile “chicken soup” books. This is the real deal). I know I can go to her and never be disappointed. I can count on her to tell it like it is, to make me think, to see old things in new ways, and to laugh. I tell people who are interested in writing to forget all other writing guides, because there are only two books they really need to read to inspire them to write. One is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (the other is Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write). Anne Lamott knows you, the aspiring writer, knows you so well and will make you feel so much better about all your insecurities, all the ways in which you hesitate. She attacks your “what-ifs”, gives you practical techniques to try that have worked for her, and she inspires you. I dare you to read that book and not to want to sit down for an hour and write. In other words, she hears you and says, “Me too.”
And that’s one of the things she talked about Saturday night (in her lovely, frank, down-to-earth, I’m-just-having-a-cup-of-coffee-with-you-and-chatting, but also very passionate and compassionate way), that human need to go to others when you are in the depth of despair, and to sit with them, to have them listen, and to have them say “Me too.” Isn’t that so true? Isn’t that what connects us as human beings, that feeling that we’re not alone? We’re not weird to be feeling this way, because there’s someone else out there who can listen to us spill our guts, listen to us cry, listen to us tell them we think we’re crazy, and they will turn to us and say, “Me too.” And if you manage to find someone who will not only say “me too”, but will also make you laugh, the way Lamott does, well, hold on to that person. He or she is special.
One of the “me too”s she said to me was when she talked about her reaction to Newtown and the Sandy Hook school shootings. We’re coming up on the two year anniversary of that horrific day when I sat at my computer, waiting and waiting for more news, more responses to my phone calls and emails, desperately worried about everyone I knew in my former home town. I was a mess (and, truth be told, still am when I think too much about it), but I got the feeling that many people thought I was crazy, that I was making too big a deal out of it. Someone actually said, “How much do we have to hear about Newtown?”, so I stopped talking about it with most people. You can’t imagine how it made me feel when Anne Lamott, an author I so admire, stood up on that stage and told us how devastated she was by the Newtown shootings. This woman who lives all the way on the other side of the country, who probably doesn’t even know anyone who lives in Newtown, was saying to me “Me too”, and I suddenly felt, “No, I’m not crazy to be so emotional about this still. Maybe the crazy ones are the ones who made me feel crazy.”
Anne Lamott is the goddess of “me too”, really. I think that’s why those of us who are her fans love her so much. She laughs at herself and, in laughing at herself, helps us laugh at ourselves. For those of you who don’t know her, she’s a recovering addict who’s been in 12-step programs for over 20 years. She was raised by atheists but became involved in what sounds like a wonderful Presbyterian church out in Marin County, CA, and she often writes about her faith struggles. She tells you how taking a walk with a dying friend is maddening, because it forces you to stop focusing on your physical flaws and to focus on what’s important in life, and you laugh. She tells you about her issues with control, calls herself a “recovering higher power”, and you laugh. She tells you how she has to edit her work by taking out the lies, and you laugh. Meanwhile, she interrupts herself to tell you why her scarf doesn’t match her sweater, and you laugh.
She walked out on that stage, and I felt a small sense of awe. I know she’s just a human being, but she seems to be such a special one, despite all the flaws she’ll happily point out to you. It was a mesmerizing evening. If you ever get the chance to see her, I highly recommend you do so.