I think the time has come for me to make peace with Anne Lamott. I am pretty sure that I am the only writing Christian in the 21st century not awestruck by the woman’s writing. Throughout the 90′s I picked up her books and put them down without finishing them. It could be that those were the days when I was reading very good writers on writing; things like Habit of Being, Mystery and Manners, One Writer’s Beginnings, Alphabet of Grace, or Dakota. I thought Lamont was, I dunno, shallow? When friends enthusiastically tell me that I need to read her, I shrug and say that I never could get into her writing and the conversation moves on.
I spent yesterday cleaning up my most recent blog posts, changing the theme (I am going on record stating that I will not willy nilly change my theme in 2014 without good cause, however changing color schemes doesn’t count, but I’ll try to keep that to a minimum as well). I am in the process of owning writing in my life again. Perhaps in a bigger, truer, more certain way than I ever have been. And that’s saying something. But more about that later.
Around 9 last night I looked over my Facebook feed and one of my friends liked a post that one his friends had shared from Anne Lamott’s Facebook page. She wrote on perfectionism. It was good. It was insightful. It was spot-on. And it was smartly written. And I hated-loved or loved-hated her in a way that only crazy jealous female writers can feel about talented awesome female writers who have nailed it. It’s a hot mess of inspiration, admiration and annoyance that makes you want to sit down and write until dawn. It’s the real deal.
So today I asked my daughter who works in a used book warehouse, to keep her eye open for Bird by Bird. I’m pretty sure she thought it was bird watching guide until I started spurting incoherently about what had here-to-for been my opinion of Anne Lamott. My daughter’s allowed to take home unmarketable books (this title would no doubt have to be covered in grease or missing a cover to be be deemed unmarketable, but hey, it could happen). Then I read some of Anne Lamott’s Facebook posts, looking in particular for the post she mentions where she got 500 snarky comments in response, but all I found was the hallelujah chorus. Checked her street cred: Kirkus Review, NYTimes, Christianity Today–nothing short of a love feast to be found anywhere. So Bird by Bird is on my reading list. I know what she says about perfectionism (the topic of her Facebook post) and I related to it in a way that I probably couldn’t have back in the 90s. It was weirdly apropos to where I’m at. She puts some store in ‘fulfilling your artistic destiny’. I groan, inside and out. O dear Lord, does such a thing exist but in the minds of your totally self-consumed children, of whom I am chief? And the Spirit says, don’t ask rhetorical questions, ask real ones. I tend to sniff something of a cliché and freak out because I have struggled (like every other contemporary writer I have ever met) in my quiet thoughts with a core question: “Is this writing thing nuts?” Normal people don’t do this. I know, I think by the Spirit perhaps, that the real question is just simply, “Should I write?” Don’t decorate it with superlatives or grand designs. I believe this about destiny: destiny isn’t our future, it’s our total. It’s our past, present and future all lumped together. So when I read the words “fulfilling your artistic destiny” I want to run–in both directions. It’s sounds so New Agey and me-ful, and yet I want to embrace it. So the real question for me is, “Should I write?” I have written in the past, I am writing in the present, I will write in the future. Because I write, it’s my destiny. As for using ‘artistic’ as an adverb, sure, why not? So if from here on I run in only one direction, embracing the work, won’t that be a lot easier? I think it will. Lamott doesn’t convince me of destiny, but reminds me of it. And in reminding she is also confirming what I already know to be true. And she pairs it with a clear plan of action, telling us to make lots of mistakes, expend all the effort you have and then some so that the real stuff comes out in your work. She says what every writer knows, but needs to hear on an almost daily basis.