The audience trickled into the conference room, unimpressive in size, considering the guest of honor. There were high-brow literary elitists ticking off how many books they published and the courses for their next Ph.D. There were devoted readers, kindred spirits, sharing life experiences that forever cemented a bond between their heart and the author’s. And then there was me, a journalism teacher who just likes to sit down with a good book and at best, a fledging “writer” who puts her “dear diaries” online and calls it a blog.
But it’s Austin. And one thing I love about Austin is you never know what kind of crowd you might draw. But what we lacked in size, we made up for in enthusiasm. With her signature dreads and plastic frames, author Anne Lamott took the podium as we sang an impromptu chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Lamott, now 57 and almost 25 years sober began her reading as if she was sitting down for a cup of coffee with an old friend, taking a swipe of vanilla frosting from her birthday cupcake mid-sentence.
The “reading” didn’t turn out to be much of a reading at all. Her sixth night in a row on tour promoting the paperback release of her latest novel, Imperfect Birds, Lamott opted for a relaxed Q&A — the audience voted of course, living in a democracy and all. The first and only question prompted a string of responses, and as Lamott chased one rabbit trail after another with an uncanny sense of humor, they all seemed to wind their way back to the beginning.
As soon as Lamott uttered Q&A, the middle-aged woman sitting next to me shot her hand up. Holding her pen and red composition book, the woman stood and shared with the petite figure behind the podium that she too has son, she too had a tumultuous experience as a parent and with a hint of weariness in her voice from what I’m guessing was a lifetime of hurt, she asked, “So how do you let go?”
With complete candor and bared-boned honesty, Lamott shared thoughts on forgiveness, relationships, facing her demons of a dysfunctional family, perfectionism and addiction and how trusting God plays out from day one to day two.
“I think life is forgiveness school. Forgiveness means you have to go back into the wound,” Lamott said. “How do you let go? When people tell me to ‘let go and let God,’ I find it infuriating. If it were easy to do it, we’d all be doing it. If I were God, I would give everyone a magic wand, but that’s not how we find anything of real significance.”
Lamott, a writing instructor, equated the art of pen to paper to living life.
“You do it one day at a time, and you do it badly. And you don’t ever want to do it.”
I loved that. I live life one day at a time, and most days, I do it badly. Sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it’s sweet. And as for letting go? That is a work in progress. I might have a couple of things that I am white-knuckling and my guess is you do to. Maybe it’s a person or a fear or a hurt or a plan. And boy, do I like to be in control. But if God, who is all-knowing, all-powerful, my creator and sustainer said, “Alright Jamie, have at it. You know best, here’s your magic wand,” then as Anne said, where would I find anything of real significance? There would be no growth, no depth in my soul. I would be like the spoiled kid at Christmas who tears through all the gifts and says, “That’s it?”
A dear woman explained it to me this way, much like Lamott did. I might relinquish my control over X, Y or Z for a minute and then snatch it back. But perhaps the next time, I can release my worry, anguish and fear to God for a whole 24 hours before tightening my grip. And then the next time, maybe I go three or four days, and then a week and then I reach a point where I can release the said “issue” into the hands of my Redeemer, completely trusting that He’s got it figured out just a little bit better than I do.
— Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)
Lamott, is the author of New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually), Plan B, Traveling Mercies and Operating Instructions, as well as seven novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. She is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, former writing professor and now a grandmother.
Lamott used to write regularly for salon.com. Article listing here.