Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Anne Lamott talks about her new book, Hallelujah Anyway, why it's important to flirt with old people, how mercy can change the world, how to fail better, and so much more

First up, I have two wonderful Anne Lamott stories I have to tell. The first was over 20 years ago, when I had lost a baby three and a half months into my pregnancy and very unhelpful people were saying things to me like, "Well, at least you didn't know the baby yet." I cried a lot. I don't know why but I got it into my head that Anne Lamott would understand. I didn't know her but I tracked her down and wrote her a letter and I felt better, never expecting a reply. But one day, a few weeks later, I cam ehome to find a smoky voice in my messages, soothing, calming, making me laugh. It was her. 

Fast forward to a few years ago. Over the years, we've emailed. Anne interviewed me for my novel Pictures of You, and then I got a chance to interview her. I was, I admit, a little scared, but I got in her limo and the first thing she did was rifle through her purse and take out half a peanut butter sandwich. "You hungry?" she asked. Then she asked me how I could see without glasses because she couldn't see a bloody thing..

How could you not love a person like that? She makes you feel like you are home--and not in your old dysfunctional home, but your new home, where everyone takes care of everyone else and showers you with attention.

Annie is also the  New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; Operating Instructions, and the forthcoming Hallelujah Anyway. She is also the author of several novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

Annie--thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Love, Caroline.

Ha, ha, I’m about to ask “why now? Why this book now?” but I certainly know the answer and how deeply a book like this is needed, but I want to ask you anyway. And why do so many people resist mercy, kindness and all the great nouns?

It's always a great time for mercy.  It is always hard here on earth, and in our heads.  It's so easy to get caught up in the culture's manic, competitive energy, and to forget that there is nothing out there that can fill the Swiss Cheesey holes inside.  So to begin by offering welcome and kindness to our annoying, disappointing selves can begin a transformation of believing there is kindness and mercy within us and all around us.

I wrote this book during the year when I thought 100% that Hillary would be president, so I wasn't thinking of the bizarre fever dream of the Trump presidency, but ay-yi-yi, I double down on everything I said in the book.

What little acts of mercy can people do every day? I love the whole notion of radical kindness. Can it be as simple as telling a very old lady that her hat is gorgeous? (Because no one pays attention to very old ladies, but you can…)

My Sunday school kids came up with a Lent contract, because we talked about how easy it is to be kind and forgiving to other people, but how hard we are on ourselves. So:

1) be friendly with yourself.

2) Fill a box with art supplies for children, to take to thrift shops and homeless shelters.  Then take the time to ask the kids their teacher's name, and to tell you about their best friend.

3) Flirt with old people.  Tell at least one old person everyday that you love their clothes, purse, or pet.

 Tell me about the title, the “anyway” added to Hallelujah?

It's the name of a gospel song I love.  Trump is president, my feet hurt, my kid is scaring me, I loose my ATM card....but Hallelujah Anyway.  We have each other, some food and cool water, a book I can't wait to start, and the sky is always so beautiful.

 I’m deeply curious about how you wrote this particular book. Did you make discoveries as you wrote, or had you already been pondering the question of mercy for so long that you had to just spill the words onto the page? Did anything surprise you.

Even way before Trump, I could see how frightened people felt about the world, how hostile and dangerous the world is, our country is, how scared for our kids.  But I noticed that if I said the word mercy, or merciful, it would change people's whole day, to remember each other's good hearts exuding sweetness and generosity, no matter how unpleasant the "outside" world.

 At one point you write, that “every species on earth has to be a little afraid in order to live.” But do you think, in some way, that fear is testing us to be our best selves, to come to our best solutions, to step out and try something? And isn’t there also the fear of having something incredible that we want—like love—and having it taken away from us?

My only fears are that something will happen to my son or grandson.  I could lose everything, if they could be okay.  I have, at various times, lost just about everything, but I have come through, by the love of my closest people(and what I would call grace, or Goodness, or some sort of spiritual WD-40.  So when I am afraid, I notice how many dire consequences I'm spinning in my head, like cotton candy, that I just made up, because of my fear of the unknown AND POSSIBLY CATASTROPHIC.  So I change mental channels to what I know, which is that I am never alone, in the love of my pit crew, my higher power, and my own radical self-care.

 I also loved your comment that sometimes, instead of trying to be “better” people, we should try to be worse. That means, not always saying yes, when you want to stay home and read, not agreeing to things so people will think you are nice, etc. Can you talk about this please?

Oh, that's from the Day of Atonement section of HA.  We've all been half ruined by our perfectionism, our ceaseless striving to be better and more impressive, and above all, to not make any mistakes.  So it's wonderful to encourage each other to screw up more, be MORE vulnerable, MORE human.  And that's where all good writing comes from--messy piles of notes, false starts, shitty first drafts. Like Samuel Becker said "Ever tried, ever failed.  Try again, fail again; fail better.

What’s obsessing you now and why? (Ha, ha, again, I think I know the answer!)

Publication!  The Amazon Sales rankings.  How many desserts I've been eating on book tour.  Let's see, what else?  Oh--how many months till impeachment proceedings begin.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have? 

Oh, you did a great job.  I love talking to you, and the people at your blog.  xoxo and God bless you GOOD!


Jessica Keener said...

Fabulous interview between two wonderful writers, and much needed right now. Thank you.

LitPark said...

Love you both. This interview was good for my soul. xoxo

billie hinton said...

Wonderful interview - so love every word! But especially the part about when feeling fear, noticing the mind spinning its tales and catastrophes. This nugget is imo the key to mental health - figuring out our own individual way of spinning and learning how to disengage. Thanks so much - can't wait to read the book, which is such a gift during this crazy time.

Sandi Shelton said...

What a great interview--and such an important message. My copy of this book is arriving tomorrow--and you know what that means. I'm going to be sitting on the couch reading it all day long...even though my own book is due next week. But this book is something I need to read right now. Thank you, Caroline, for this! And thank you, Anne, for sharing all these wonderful truths in such a funny, insightful way. We need you both very much right now!

elli said...

So excited she has a new book!