Monday, October 28, 2013

The amazing Anne Lamott talks about Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, loss, life, and so much more

Aces and diamonds. That's beloved author Anne Lamott. I've read and loved every one of her amazing novels like Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. I learned how to raise my son reading Operating Instructions (and I'm learning how to let go from reading Some Assembly Required). Writing woes? I turn to Bird by Bird. Spiritual Ones? Help, Thanks, Wow and now Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, which I think is her most profound and powerful book yet. This is the book that explores how we can best live in the midst of a deeply troubled world, how we can make sense of tragedy, or at least get through it. Glinting through this wondrous book is wisdom. Help one another. Be Kind. Wait for the real meaning to reveal itself, because it could be a gift.

You can watch Annie on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday and please come hear me interview her in person at Word Bookstore in Maplewood, November 9th, Saturday at two. 

Annie, I remain so grateful to you, and I am so giving you a huge hug when I see you on the 9th! Thank you for being here.

I’ve read and loved all of your books, but this particular one felt different to me--the power was much rawer, the language more beautiful and poetic. Were you aware of this? And why do you think this is?--
I don't know!  I started it the day after the slaughter at Newtown, and was filled with fear and grief and being stunned.  I never lost faith in the greatness of God, and of people, but I thought, Where do we find meaning now, after this appalling tragedy?  I have seen so many people come fully back to life after literally unsurvivable loss, one day at a time, through love, profound loyalty, maybe...dare I say it?  Grace.  I mean grace in the sense of buoyancy, when you think you are going down under the waves--but it turns out the Love is like water wings.

Newtown was uniquely awful, but every day, we live with terrifying images, of polar bear cubs floating away, and all these shootings, and the crazily wailing roaring addictive sickening pace of our lives.  I wondered, where is the meaning for us ow, in the modern era?  

The opening struck a chord with me, where you talk about how anything can and does happen. You find love and there is a school shooting. The baby you lovingly raised turns out to be a stripper. How can we go on in the face of this? In a way, this book, your attempt to find meaning in the face of terrible tragedies like the school shooting.
I think the question is not so much, How do we go on, because life naturally wants to stay alive.  But how do we live again fully both in the face of devastation, AND in the modern world's chaotic technological frenzy?  In this bizarre, new science fiction world?  How do we stay, or become,  who we were born to be, when we are pummeled with both feelings of loss and confusion, AND the information bombardment--to which we are often magnetically drawn?  And to which some of us feel somewhat addicted?  

What actions do we take to insist on a rich, present human life, where we are not strung out over meaningless multi-tasking bullshit, helicoptering, or unresolved grief and damage from possibly VERY crazy childhood situations?

How do we trust that God or Life has something better in store for us?  And how do we begin or sustain this process and path of Seeking?

As I said in the book, I think these questions are worth asking.

I also loved what you said about grief, how the books are all wrong, how it does not go away--no, not ever--but you learn to live with it alongside you and even find meaning, whether it’s by honoring someone who has died by living in a way that they might have, with grace and kindness. 

I started to have a suspicion ten, fifteen years ago that we may NEVER get over the hugest losses of our life, contrary to what society and family tell us--that time heals all.  When you can't "get over" someone's death, is it you that is crazy?  And are we even SUPPOSED to?  Who got this meme started?  Maybe I am willing to pay for sorrow in my heart that my dad and mom and Pammy's deaths caused, because they are very much alive to me.  They're right here, and maybe that has to do with my lack of willingness to "get over" their death.  To tell an older person that time heals all, and they will "get over" their spouse' death or dementia, seems abusive to me

“We live stitch by stitch.”  I know what this means, but can you talk about it for readers?  

When we have a huge change, or loss, empty nest or divorce, or a public catastrophe, like Newtown, it's so daunting. It leaves us stunned, raw, speechless, feeling like little children.  It seems hopeless.  Our minds tell us that we can't get over this, or make peace with that, or have a big rich trusting life again; let alone joy and laughter.
But all around us are people who can and do help, who rush to our sides, like white blood cells.  I love that Mr. Rogers' mother told him when he was a boy that after a tragedy, he should look towards the helpers--that's where we'll see the miracles.  And all around us are people who did lose their spouses to death or divorce or Alzheimer's, who did resurrect, over time and with infusions of grace, and the revelation of life's difficult, gorgeous truths.  And one of these truths is that we just have to make a knot in a piece of thread, and make one stitch, in fabric that will hold a knot, and then figure out one place on the other side of the torn fabric, that will hold one stitch.  How can that POSSIBLY be enough?  I just know that it is.

The book is also about all kinds of other stitches, not just emergency ones but ones we take in creating beauty, and connection; and in helping lost causes find their way back to cool lives, and in finding very surprising patterns and connections, where we had thought none existed.

My favorite part of the book was the most devastating, about your friend Pammy and her blouse and how you wore it until it was a rag and then you had to let it go. But even in letting it go, you still carry Pammy inside of you. This felt like the truest metaphor for grief that I’ve read in a long time. 

Thank you,my honey.

I also loved your line that comfort and isolation--the ways we try to protect ourselves--comfort and isolation are not where surprises are, because that’s where I feel safest, I’m sorry to say.

I completely hate this, too, and am most comfortable in isolation.  I also hold resentments, and hold my breath, and hold onto the old ways, even though over and over again, when I let go, here and there, Life surprises me, and God is such a show off.  Left to my own devices, I am positive that if I get what I think is best, then I will be happy and safe....but (horribly) this is just not true, or at least, the feeling doesn't last very long. And thank God I am NOT left to my own devices.  I have friends!  The greatest miracle and gift of all.  At the same time, I can't get safety from something outside, that I can buy, lease, date, or manipulate.  Safety is an inside job.  Safety comes NOT from clinging and holding on to what I love, but letting go, breathing deeply, practicing radical self-care, repeating and affirming myself.  Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.......

The search for meaning is where we find meaning is a lot like the whole idea of the journey being more important than the destination. I hate thinking this is true, but it is, isn’t it?

I think so.  I hate when people say cheerfully, "Life is a journey."  I find that I want to attack them.   And yet, I read Cavafy's  "Ithaca" several times a year, and to me it is one of the greatest, truest, loveliest poems ever written, and it totally convinces me that fully engaging in our own unique journey is the greatest way to live this one precious life we've bless with.

What surprised you in writing this book? What were the discoveries you made? What do you hope people will bring to it? Or have it bring to them?

It surprised me that I wrote it at all.  

It sounds so depressing, especially after Help, Thanks, Wow, which was pretty cheerful--the search for meaning, like something you' should think about in college.  But it is exhilarating stuff to ponder--why are we here?  How can we become more awake, more alive, and break the trance of being so busy, yet so shut down and small?  How can we become big and juicy?  How can we possibly come through the dark and scary times that are inevitably a part of each human life, and help those we love, too?

I hope this book is very nourishing for people, and that they find it funny, and encouraging, that we can and do come through it all, together, one day at a time.  And that we do grow, and our lives can become more expansive, and immediate, and sweet.

What’s obsessing you now and why? 

Publication!  I think you know the drill. The whole month before is such a nightmare.  I'm so positive that if this or that happens, with reviews and sales, that I'll be completely healed of all my self-doubt and Swiss cheesey-ness.  

1 comment:

Sher Davidson said...

Thank you so much to both Annie LaMotte and Caroline Leavitt. I can't wait to read Stitches. The last line in the interview, where Annie said something like after publication and reviews, she hopes to get rid of self-doubt and Swiss cheesyness really rang a bell for me, on the verge of publishing my first novel and filled with self-doubt. I know I will just have to go on "stitch by stitch" and trust in the goodness all around me that it won't go "kerplunk" but bring some new meaning to some lives! Writing it has certainly been meaningful to me: it's about finding meaning in one's life with a last act of compassion for two people less fortunate in Latin America.