If I had to pick one author whose words stay with me, inspire me and haunt me, it would have to be Anne Lamott. I have devoured every word the woman has ever written and I am as enamored as much by her attitude and subject matter as I am by her actual writing. So I was extraordinarily disappointed when I was invited to meet her and another of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed -- ON A DAY THAT I WAS LEAVING TOWN!
Thanks to publicist Lydia Hirt, I was able to send over some questions for Anne to answer about her new book, Help, Thanks, Wow. In signature Anne Lamott style, this is a small, simple, no-nonsense, no-holds-barred guide to the only prayers that matter. The book is a must-read, a must-share, and the perfect gift for everyone this holiday season. For many people, it may be a life-changer.
I still hope to meet Anne in person one day but, meanwhile, I'm grateful for the chance to host her here. Not surprisingly, there are sentences in these answers that are as beautiful and meaningful as any in her books.
Lois Alter Mark: To say I'm a fan of yours is a major understatement. I often feel like you are reading my mind. As someone who says please and thank you to God - or Howard or Ralph or whatever you want to call Not Me - many times a day, Help, Thanks, Wow resonated so strongly with me. You make faith so practical and accessible that it seems fitting that you've cut out all the blah blah blah and come up with a simple, perfect treasure that gets down to the heart of prayer. Why did you decide to write this?
Anne Lamott: My editor and publisher at Riverhead heard me speak on spirituality and how most of my prayers spring from these three simple prayers, and they brought up the idea. I've actually been working on a book on grief and coming through, called As In Life, but first my editor pitched the idea of a follow-up journal to Operating Instructions, called Some Assembly Required. So I did that for a year with my son, did the book tour with him, got back to work on As In Life, and then pivoted to writing Help, Thanks, Wow very quickly. I wanted to write a sort of Bird by Bird of spirituality -- distilled, sensible, encouraging, no b.s. Now I am on a promotional tour for Help, Thanks, Wow and someday will get back to As In Life.
LAM: One of my favorite parts of the book is when you suggest to an atheist that he just act as if he believes in a higher power. The fact that belief itself causes miracles is, in itself, a miracle. What are some of the miracles that belief has brought you?
AL: Oh, god, way too many to mention. Every week, something happens within my family or galaxy or public life that seems SO amazing, where you can't get from where we were to where we have arrived.
LAM: I was with you this whole election season and did a lot of asking for help (uh, along with writing op ed pieces and ranting on Facebook). I also said "wow" a lot but, unfortunately, that was more in reaction to the Republicans' rape comments than to anything awesome. When my family did our What I'm Thankful For lists on Thanksgiving, number one was that Obama is still President. How did your prayers calm you during this wretched Presidential campaign?
AL: Well, it was prayers for serenity AND taking the action, of being on Facebook and Twitter a lot, helping people keep the faith in the decency of the American people, and raising money. We raised $70,000 on my Facebook page. I always believe that you take the action and then the insight follows, so I'd make a pitch for more fundraising for Grassroots Obama, and people would respond with such generosity that it would completely lift my spirits and calm me down.
LAM: I cried reading about putting your dog, Jeanie, down because we had a very similar experience with our 12-year-old Newfoundland, Jessie, this year. Very similar. You do a great service for pet owners when you say, "Jeanie hit the lottery when she got me as her person for thirteen years, and the bad death was only ten minutes." I don't really have a question here but I do want to say a heartfelt thanks to you for this.
AL: You are welcome. I just got back from the vet with my two high-needs dogs - one elderly and arthritic, one injured during puppyhood by abuse, with consequent trauma six years later - and it cost a fortune, and I couldn't care less, because pets are the world to me. I think they are the most obvious manifestations of divine love that we are going to see this side of eternity.
LAM: What do you think about keeping a gratitude journal?
AL: I don't do that but it sounds like a good idea. I don't keep a regular journal, either. It's just not my way.
LAM: You wrote one of my favorite lines ever: "She lived in fear of ironic endings." That line haunts me. Do you live in fear of ironic endings? What are you afraid of?
AL: I remember after I got sober, I got very worried that I would get run over by a drunk driver, after I had driven drunk and stoned for so many years. But I don't live in fear of death. I believe it will just be a change of address.
LAM: As a fellow crabby optimist (my crabbiness seems to have come a la premenopausal hormones. Yours too?), I'm looking forward to the fourth great prayer, "Help me not be such an ass," about which you say, "Perhaps we will address at another time." Any quick words of wisdom about that?
AL: It's something I have to pray for in some way or another every single day. Left to my own devices, I have a giant ego and terrible self-esteem, so I need to hit the re-set button fairly regularly - to get into presence, and humility, and being right-sized.