Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Lamott Report

Anne Lamott appeared at the Allen Theater at Playhouse Square last month as part of the William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series. (Another good reason why it's great to be a writer in Cleveland, OH.) 

I went because, like most writers I know,  I was encouraged by Anne Lamott to write when I could not bear my own self-imposed belittlement in that area.  She encouraged me as if she were my best buddy in the world and sitting right there on my couch.  That is a really bad iPhone photo of her famous encouraging book to the right of this sentence. >>>>>>>>>>>>>  See?  

I took along my heart, which was bursting with gratitude, and it turns out there was a big theater full to the brimming over with folks bursting their hearts just like I was.  (I thought it was going to be just her and me, like on my couch, back in the day.  But it was fantastic all the same.)  

When I got home, inspired and re-energized,  I emailed a bunch of people about what it was like.  And now I'm sharing that email with you.  Enjoy.  Pretend you were there with Anne Lamott and me, on a couch in a big auditorium with masses of other potential and actual artists, listening to her tell you how to respect your dreams. 

Here's my report on what I did on my Anne Lamott Vacation. 

Beginning with a (related) digression: I remember reading somewhere about Elvis (Digression, Capital D) that the inevitable, debilitating effect of having all that attention -- the energy of all that undefined wanting focused on him all the time -- caused him to self-destruct and blah, blah, blah.  

I don't mean to suggest that Anne Lamott is self-destructing.  To the contrary.  She seems essentially well put together to me.  But I was struck by that little, sort of raggedy (it's the hair, which is awesome) woman, standing up there in the spotlight all by herself, wise and welcoming and glowing like she does -- and just receiving waves of hungry, frustrated creative energy and the desire of hundreds of people to be just like her, plus a raw abundance of pure worship and admiration -- and gratitude, of course, weeping, blubbering, speechless gratitude.  And then sitting there, after all that,  signing hundreds of books.  Wow. Remarkable.

She was great.  She was human.  She encouraged everybody.  She reminded us that if we want to write we need to put our butts in the chair at the same time every day and write.  She said nobody needs to watch the 10 o'clock news and that if you don't, you only miss where all the fires are, and that if you're the fire chief's wife, maybe you do need to watch, but if you're not, right there is 45 minutes when you can write every day.  And for investing that 45 minutes you'll get  maybe 30 minutes of actual writing time.  And the first paragraph will be crap.  She said that nobody needs you to write.  And that as a matter of fact it isn't even in the best interests of the people around you for you to write.  I completely get that because it's a miracle Bill has made so much space for me to do that.  Lucky writers such as I have supportive loved ones, but I can see how it doesn't really pay folks to have us do this craziness.

I believe what helped the audience the most was how uncompromising she was about her confidence in our capability to lead the lives we want and how unflinching she was about sharing her own fears, doubts, and shortcomings. 

She is stunningly generous. She delivered her presentation in the manner of someone who's just tripped over something and is willing to proceed to give you what she has that she thinks you need, without trying to find her balance. It appears to me that, as a person who has but exactly the same insecurities, terrors and dark, dark thoughts that I have, she trusts something to bear her upward when she's fallen too far -- trusts without proof, without insurance, without any particular peace of mind. (I suspect this confidence -- given the considerable testimony -- comes from her spiritual core -- as someone who says her prayers go, something like, "Hi. I guess we both know we have a problem here.")

Plus, she was wonderfully funny.  Just adorable.  End of story. 

Except that I keep thinking of things.  She quoted Shirley Jackson as saying, "A confused reader is an antagonistic reader."  True.  I believe this.  She recommended Middlemarch.  I do not want to read that.  And Salinger's Nine Stories, which I've forgotten.  And Ram Dass's The Only Dance There Is, which I remember.  

I'll pass along anything that occurs later.   In the meantime, I am channeling Anne Lamott to remind us all:  Put your butt in the chair and write.  (Or dance.  Or sing.  Or paint a picture or a room.)  Listen to the Anne Lamott in your bona fide creative soul and just do it   Do it every day.  If you skip the 10 o'clock news, you'll have time.