In her writing, Anne Lamott has a wry and gentle way of pointing me in a good direction. She doesn’t want to be the object of attention, although she garners radical amounts of positivity when she posts. Rather, she is like a signpost that says “try going over there instead.” In her first TED talk, she identifies 12 things she knows to be true, as informed by her 60-plus years on earth (which she celebrates, she says, because she’s glad to know longer be in the death throes of late-middle-age). Here are the truths that mean the most to me:
Insisting on helping people all the time is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Stop getting your helpfulness and goodness all over everybody.
Nothing outside of you will fix you. It’s an inside job. (Her parenthetic exception: unless you’re waiting for an organ.)
Food: try to do a little better. “I think you know what I mean.”
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it in a few minutes, including yourself.
Quoting Ram Dass: When all is said and done, we’re really just all walking each other home.
Earth is one big forgiveness school. (My parenthetic truth: I’m pretty sure I’m not a star student.)
Grace bats last. I read this in an essay and I don’t know what this means. Even so, I hope it’s true.
This book from Lily and, along with Anne Lamott’s Small Victories, I am inspired to write again, after a long dormant spell. The change of scenery helped as well — a week in the desert with views like this every day:
Here is what I wrote poolside at the Desert Hot Springs Spa, courtesy of Lamott and triggering a vow from me to leave them behind: Resentments are wire-monkey mothers, something to hang onto because we believe we have — or deserve — nothing better.
Anne Lamott (again!) about her tendency toward “victimized self-righteousness” which she calls “my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable.”
I love Anne Lamott. Bird by bird, the most encouraging essays for spurring on writing. Traveling Mercies, for feelings about faith. Crooked Little Heart, for its every page.
Once, with Merrie, we tried to find her house in Fairfax (I think, upper Marin anyway), driving around, looking for a wiry white woman with dreadlocks.
And now I read she is turning 60 and has, characteristically, some thoughts about that, starting with her “not ideal” slathering on of baby oil under the California sun when a child and smoking two packs of Camels every day until she was 32. But she says this, which I love:
My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.
This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe. When my son Sam figured out at 7 years old that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.” That says it for me. It’s hard here, and weird.
Oh gosh I’m just going to paste the whole thing and remind myself to read it on my every birthday, as a comfort and a remembrance of those who don’t get to have another birthday cake with candles (Merrie and Laurie). I won’t look for an updated photo of her, even though “looks like” was my pledge. Doesn’t matter in her case:
This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn’t moving to the left or to the right. I don’t feel or look 60. I don’t feel any age. I have a near-perfect life. However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32. I had a baby and then forgot to work out, so things did not get firmer, and higher. So again, not ideal. My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine. My feet, however, frequently hurt. My skin broke out last week. I filed a new brief with the Fairness Commission, and am waiting to hear back. My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness, and self-care. I’m pretty spaced out. I don’t love how often I bend in to pull out clean wet clothes from the washer, and stand up, having forgotten that I opened the dryer that’s above, and smash my head on the door once again. I don’t know what the solution to this is, as I refuse to start wearing a helmet indoors. I don’t love that I left my engine running for an hour last week, because I came inside to get something, and then got distracted by the dogs, and didn’t remember I’d left the engine on. It was a tiny bit scary when a neighbor came to the front door to mention this, and I had to feign nonchalance, and act like it was exactly what I had meant to do all along. I backed into an expensive truck in the parking lot of Whole Foods last month. Boy, what an asshat THAT guy was. My bumper had fallen off in the mishap, and I had to tie it back on with the shoelaces from my spare running shoes. Sigh. Wednesday, the day before I turn 60, I am having a periodontal procedure that Stalin might have devised. How festive is that? But that night, my grandson and niece will pelt me with balloons, and we will all overeat together, the most spiritual thing we can do. Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I’d be all well by now. Maybe I’m 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable. My friend Jim says, “I don’t judge. I diagnose.” That’s me. Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God. Politically, I am still a little tense. I love that Obama is president. I love Obamacare. My great heroes at sixty are Gloria Steinem and Molly Ivins. Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully, “Just let go and let God,” I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, like a baked potato. This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe. When my son Sam figured out at 7 years old that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.” That says it for me. It’s hard here, and weird. The greatness of love and laughter, the pain of loss, the bearing of one another’s burdens, are all mixed up, like the crazy catch-all drawer in the kitchen. This doesn’t really work for me. If I was God’s West Coast rep, I would have a more organized and predictable system. So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, just for today. I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Charged, electrical with life’s beauty and light! Wow. Then I will probably buy the new issue of People magazine to read on the couch before my nap, and a sack of the black plums at the market that seemed overpriced yesterday, but not today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.