An Evening with Anne Lamott

IMG_0157Anne 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.

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9 thoughts on “An Evening with Anne Lamott

  1. Lovely, moving post, Emily. Have never read Lamott but got to “know her” through your post. Hard to believe the Newtown horror was almost two years ago. And what have we done about gun control since? Shame on our legislators, the NRA, and the rest of “them.”

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    • Bob, yes, shame on all those who refuse to do anything about guns in our country. Amazing how willing we are to come up with all sorts of complicated solutions when the easy solution is right there before us (a little hidden, I know, because it’s hard to see through all the money the NRA and gun manufacturers are throwing at it, but there nonetheless, for those of us who aren’t blinded by money disguised as “freedom”).

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  2. I adored Bird by Bird. She comes across so fantastically well in that book, it’s a delight to know she’s just the same in reality. Of course she is; you couldn’t fake a voice like hers. And I know exactly what you mean about that ‘me, too’ thing, or to put it another way, ‘me too!’

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  3. Emily, how wonderful that you got to see Annie Lamott LIVE! She is one of my favourite writers too. I have read Bird-By-Bird – I’m about to start it again – it’s such a good book and down-to-earth about writing. I’ve just added two of her faith books to my to-get list for Christmas, Help, Thanks Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, and Small Victories, Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. How fabulous you got to see her live.

    I’m happy she talked about Newton. Like you, I had to stop talking about it also, most of my friends after a few months didn’t want to discuss it any more. It matters, what happened then. I still feel like that now. I hate that no change in the gun laws has happened yet. How terrifically sad. I wish I lived closer, I could get together with you and we could have a long talk about things, though I’m not funny like Annie Lamott at all! I do like to laugh though. I’ll have to see if she ever comes up here. Meanwhile, hugs, and if you ever need to talk, just email me.

    Susan – You Can Never Have Too Many Books Blog

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    • I wish you lived closer, too! The only bad thing about blogging is getting to know all these people and then not being able to chat in person, which is so much easier than always having to type out everything you have to say. Maybe, one day. Meanwhile, thanks for letting me know you understand (I know what’s happened up in your neck of the woods this year has been hard for you, too), and yes, email is always a good option (since, you know, you must have figured out by now what a terrible pen pal I turned out to be!).

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