Lessons from Lamott

Some people worship Vonnegut or Salinger, Lewis or Tolkien, Didion or Atwood, but me? My human soul bits belong to Anne Lamott and her years of dishing out solid advice.

Some people worship Vonnegut or Salinger, Lewis or Tolkien, Didion or Atwood, but me? I’m an Anne Lamott person. I may have a Tolkien tattoo and I could read Atwood’s Cat’s Eye a billion times with my English major-y heart all aglow and never tire of it, but my real human soul bits belong to Lamott.

She’s on quite a roll recently with her new Stitches and Small Victories essay collections, but she’s been playing a long game over the years with her work in terms of dishing out solid advice, and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve gleaned from her over time. What’s the use of finding something helpful if you can’t share it, right?

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“One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.” Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

In the face of hard, soul-crushing moments, it is always a welcome relief to read that someone I trust as this font of wisdom feels that small wriggling insanity that (maybe) we all feel from time to time. At least, if Anne Lamott does, I’d like to think we all do. It is comforting to feel like maybe this urge to scream into a pillow every so often is way more normal than it feels in the moment, when I wonder, “How does everyone else keep it together so well?” The answer is: maybe everyone doesn’t.

We all have our triggers and our broken parts. That parenthood makes these things feel more powerful and raw and real is perhaps because the sheer exhaustion tied with all the emotions makes some of us–most of us?–more vulnerable to the things that were easier to hide when there was less our plates. It’s easy to feel like you’ve done a good job healing your broken bits when you have enough sleep and only have to worry about your own well-being.

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“This family business can be so stressful–difficult, damaged people showing up to spend time with other difficult, damaged people.” Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son

Every family has its struggles and its sore spots. We are all so very broken, and I can’t expect anyone to be less broken and damaged than I am. So go easy on your broken family, the way you’d like them to go easy on broken old difficult you. This also applies to friends. Maybe especially to friends. But also especially family. Basically, this applies to everyone.

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“It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.” Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

I think I am going to get this cross-stitched and hang it in the kitchen so everyone in my family sees it every day. Saying no doesn’t stretch any muscles in one’s life.

Once, I moved away from my husband for a few months to take a job in a new city. It was a hard and uncomfortable time. That job ended up being in a place that wasn’t right for my family long-term, but the experience was still really good for me: it stretched me in ways I needed stretching (I had never lived entirely alone before!) and I have several new, good friends I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve tried to take on things I might not be entirely comfortable with, in the hopes that I stretch myself a little.

Go forth and try something uncomfortable. Open a window and see what light comes in. It might turn out OK, or even more than OK. In the words of Calvin’s Dad, doing hard things builds character.1

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“Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible. If you say, ‘Well, that’s pretty much what I thought I’d see,’ you are in trouble. At that point you have to ask yourself why you are even here. […] Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.” Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

I’m not keen on people telling me to be “mindful” of every moment of my life. The idea of being “open for business” is one that’s much more appealing to me. Go into things with few set expectations and you’ll be more surprised by what happens, rather than disappointed or, perhaps worse, unfazed and unchanged by what occurs. I want to be open to the possibility that things might go any number of ways. My baby might love the bunny I got her, but she might fall head over heels for a sock instead. You can’t plan everything, so it’s better to go into things open for whatever, rather than what you have charted out on your map.

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Whoever is present are the right people. Whenever it begins is the right time. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened. And when it’s over, it’s over.” Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son

Parenthood doesn’t come with day planners. I mean, children sort of do, hitting milestones at certain ages. But beyond that, there are a lot of things that people just have to wing and leave up to the wind.

You can’t force people to be part of your inner circle; you have to accept whomever steps into that ring, and it might not always be who you envision. We have the choices we have, and we make the choices we make, and move onward. Whatever happens is the only possible outcome because that’s the outcome we got. It’s taken me some head-turning to get that one in my brain, but I think I’m getting there. All we have is what we have. There is no alternate reality of other choices or lives I could have made or be living. This is it.

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If there’s one overarching theme I’ve tried to take away from Lamott, it’s that we’re all just trying to get to a safe haven of sorts, and it’s best to try and practice being kind to our fellow swimmers, instead of hitting them with our paddles. Sure, some people are mean and want to set fire to everyone else’s metaphorical safe haven, and they are probably about to hit you over the head with their paddles while you’re reading this. But aside from Those People, I’d like to think many of us are trying to swim ashore with the best intentions–with or without children aboard, with all our crazy insane minds and broken bits and souls in whatever shape they’re in, shipshape or smashed in pieces or sewn up, and that whatever state we’re in is the state we’re in right now, and that’s OK, and here, let me lend you my paddle.

  1. I’ve been thinking about getting a Calvin and Hobbes tattoo for years, but maybe I really need a Calvin’s Dad tattoo because I feel like I get him, man. 
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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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