Saturday, April 12, 2014

Anne Lamott

Today's my first day/month missing the bible study for which I've written most of these studies. I will miss it terribly! But it was an amazing opportunity for community these last dozen years. Partly as self-therapy and partly to share, I wanted to write about seeing Anne Lamott last night.

Anne Lamott is one of the few non-math people I follow on Twitter. She is laugh out loud funny, and spiritually insightful. Her book, Bird by Bird is amazing, and I have loved everything of hers I've read, with plans to read the rest. So when we heard she was coming to Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing 2014, we put together a group to go. (Why didn't I take a picture of them?) We had good feasting together before, and good discussion of the evening heading home.

When I attend a professional seminar, I try to live tweet it. I'm a natural note taker, and it helps me to remember as well as share. If you think of Twitter as a celebrity thing, that's one side of it; the other side of it is allowing like-minded people from all over the world to find each other and form community.

So here's my tweet-guided reminiscence of the evening. She was pretty stream-of-consciousness, but built on a couple of main themes throughout. She layered reminiscences, writing advice, insights on sobriety and professional comedian level delivery of jokes and one-liners.
 Turns out she had turned 60 the day before. Not a good birthday - she attended the funeral for a young man who was a friend of her son and a former Sunday School student of hers.  She had notes for her talk, but at the end of an hour of riffing, she hadn't used them much. Why talk about her recent book Stitches, for which she couldn't remember the subtitle? Because...
I love this principle. Transfer of understanding, finding connections - these things lead to deep understanding.

Building on the senselessness of the funeral she attended:

We're not going to be able to figure out what's in God's head or what Her plan is (Anne flip flops pronouns for Him, regularly). We can receive Her grace. But we have so much going on in us that prevents that reception.
Later, talking about what can you do for parents at a funeral for their child, she commented:

This was a big part of her writing advice, too. Go to the desk. Write today's pages.  They won't be good, mostly. But you need a first draft. How does she edit?
 What are the overwrought parts? They're where you're being particularly clever or erudite. She quoted Jessica Mitford, "You have to kill your little darlings."

So how do you learn to receive the grace? She connected it to her favorite movie, a documentary called From Mao to Mozart . It records Isaac Stern (She says: I figure God either looks like Isaac Stern or Bette Midler.) on the first visit of a western musician to China in 1979.
This connects for her to the oppression of perfection, and how it keeps us from even showing up.
 Probably true for anyone in a creative field, maybe just plain old true for anyone.

 Cycling back to the funeral, and connecting it to showing up, and then often failing...
 She gets to her own work. Surely she can have a break now. Surely she has nothing to write about. But, because she's still living and showing up there are things to write about. However, there's a warning:
 In other words, be truly present when you show up. Later she picked up on this theme of excuses again. This weekend she doesn't need to go to church. (Her failing, 30 member, Presbyterian but secretly Baptist singing church.) She had the funeral. She was in Grand Rapids. She would be tired. Her pastor was away.  So many reasons not to go. It's like if you don't want to get gas, you don't have to. But wait - then you won't have gas for your car. You have to show up to get hugged within an inch of your life, to have a chance to sing loudly, to get what you need.

How to deal with the young man's death with her Sunday School kids?

 You do not have to do that to be loved. No preconditions. But it's what we do when we show up.

And again, we won't be able to figure it out.
But that doesn't mean that what we know isn't important.

When you're at church, or writing, or serving, you're going to be faced with your own brokenness.
 She talked about sitting down to write, all your little psychological problems are going to come with you, and sit on the desk. "And, frankly, they're worried." Later, when you want to go to bed, there they are in the bed. And they've had too much caffeine.
It was a great night, awesome sharing. She was very present. One of her standard lines is:

And, as she hoped, we got a good spritzing.

P.S. She was definitely reaching out to anyone in need of sobriety, so I want to include this short video, which does a good job of touching on how she talked about stopping drinking and starting being a Christian.