I'm so thrilled to host Anne Lamott here. But first, some personal stuff.
This is what I know about Anne Lamott:
Many years ago, after I lost a baby 3 1/2 months into my pregnancy, I wrote Anne Lamott. I didn't know her. I had never met her. But somehow, in my grief and pain, I thought she would understand and I needed to write her. Imagine my shock when I came home to find this compassionate, funny, smoky voice on my answering machine talking about what I had gone through and how I would be okay. THAT IS ANNIE LAMOTT, folks.
Fast forward. Algonquin had a series where they had really big, famous authors, interview not-so-big or not-so-famous ones. Annie agreed to interview me. The place was packed, but what I remember most was getting in a limo (!) with Annie and she dug into her purse and pulled out half a peanut butter sandwich and said, "Hungry? Want this?" THAT, TOO, IS ANNIE LAMOTT, folks
Through the years, we've stayed in touch. I've read everything she's written, and this book ALMOST EVERYTHING got to me in a way nothing she's written before ever has. Of course, I was laughing, but I was also weeping in parts. About grief, death, politics, kindness, family, cookies, and so much more, this is just an extraordinary book, and I'm thrilled to host Anne Lamott here.
This seems like such an important book for now. At points, I was weeping (I was also laughing, too, so there is that.) Let’s talk about Almost Everything. Why the almost? Why do you think almost is necessary? I mean, what if we knew everything? Could there really be no growth?
The original title of this book was Doomed: A Book of Hope, but we changed it to Almost Everything because it is really Almost Everything I know of any importance that I can pass on to my 15 year old niece and 9 year old grandson. I wanted to pass along everything that would have been so helpful to me along the way—that everyone is a mess deep in, and it just hurts to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. That families are hard, hard, hard. That all truth is paradox. That writing never goes well, but here are some tips I know about how to get it done very day.
It’s “almost” because some of the stuff I know something about—ie how to stay sober over time, how to survive the loss of a dog—is material I’ve already written about, that might not be relevant to the young people in my family or the public at large.
These are dark political days, and for a long time, I clung to the Mr. Rogers’ quote, about “looking for the helpers.” I feel like your book really is doing the same thing. Instead of hating, which is easy to do, AND it sometimes feels good to do it, we need, instead, to get rid of it so we can focus on what we can do—and sometimes that’s just the smallest thing. Can you talk about this please?
You devoutly believe in God, yet you welcome all those who do not, which is really generous and wise. But why do you think things have gotten so worse for us as a whole people and a whole planet? Have we not been tested enough? And what do you think is the best way for us to not freak out about statistics, like our planet has ten more years, or the GOP want to do away with preexisting conditions on health insurance?
The best way not to freak out is to offer warmth and light to oneself, and then to the world, through small acts of generosity, and creation. I love the quote of the priest who helped AA get off the ground, that sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. So we take off the bad glasses, that see and fixate on the deterioration and conflicts everywhere, and we look out through the good glasses, through which we see the beauty all around us—look up! At the sky, the tree tops, the moon and stars. We see how beautifully, lovingly people are taking care of others. We see a few things that are actually working, that help us keep the little flames insight us lit. We see people to serve. We see the help and comfort that surrounds us.
Your chapter on families did me in. Families do indeed live imprints on us when we are young, and to survive, we become those, but we don’t have to stay that label. That felt ridiculously freeing. I also loved your advice on not trying to save or change a family member. I spent years trying to “fix” my mom and the only thing that happened was she became increasingly resentful and angry and she never changed. And when I let go, we had a better, richer deeper relationship. This is such a hard lesson to learn! We can offer help, but if asked. Do you think that trying to fix others is actually trying to fix ourselves?
Having lost my mom a year ago, your chapter on death was really moving and helpful and full of hope. It actually made me cry, maybe because it didn’t have a bit of woo woo to it. Can you talk about how hard won this knowledge must have been?
So hard won! I had two unsurvivable losses—my father died after two years with brain cancer, and my best friend died after being diagnosed with breast cancer. And both times, I was so incredibly close to them, and never left their side, and I learned that death was not like it is in movies. It’s very natural, excruciating, and beautiful, filled with grace and holy moments. Both dad and Pammy had Hospice helping them, and they are like the cavalry! Hospice nurses are like midwives, so tender and caring and knowledgeable, and they taught me how to show up, listen, and savor the time I have with my most beloved. Ever since, I’ve shown to help people who are going to die, and again and again, I see the miracle of life, the miracle of the precious community. I see grace everywhere, even when my heart is breaking. All truth is paradox.
“Why is rarely a useful question,” you write. I want to dig into this a bit. Does this mean that when in discussion with people who have vehemently different political beliefs than ours, knowing where they came from won’t change things? For example, if a person has grown up in a white enclave in a rural area and has never met a Muslim and is terrified of them. That’s the why. They’ve had no experience. But what if they learn that that guy they always say hello to when they gas up their car, the one who always asks about the family, etc. etc. is Muslim? They might change their views now that they know someone. So wouldn’t the why be important there?
I’m sort of grounded more in action steps of entering into difficult emotional states and predicaments--i.e confronting my own prejudices and fears. I always wanted to know why why why when I was a child, and of course I still do. We had a family friend when I was growing up who used to always answer, “Because that is it’s nature.” I was raised by intellectuals, and believed there were codes I might break, or things I might achieve, after which I would be whole, or happy. But it turns out that “figure it out” is not a good slogan. So, to answer your question, I think figuring out why why why is always fascinating and sort of addictive for me, but not ultimately useful. What’s useful is doing the deep dive into the ways I am ignorant and/or self-righteous, followed by radical self-forgiveness. Then I carry that into the world.
You found love! You’re getting married! What’s the lesson here?
My son Sam, who is 29 (!!) has “We never give up” tattooed on his forearm. I’ve raised him with this battle cry and together we are teaching his son this. About 4 years ago at a big fundraiser in a church in San Francisco, the interviewer asked me what dream I still held onto, after all the blessings and accomplishments of my life. I thought about quietly, and then in front of a thousand people, I said, “I’d like to be married.” It was kind of shocking moment, to admit to such a deep longing. And then a couple of years later, I met this lovely man, brilliant and funny and kind and good-looking, and...two years later, a month ago, while we were watching the US Open tennis matches on TV, he asked me to marry him. So never give up. God is SUCH a show-off.