ANNE OF MEAN LABELS
I went to hear the very good writer Anne Lamott read from her new book tonight. Packed into the Beverly Hills Duttons with a few hundred other folks, I spent the night milling between the shelves, listening to Anne's wonderful turns of phrase, and marveling at the relationship between having a really screwed up life and being a great writer. (I used to think sin was necessary to making a great writer. But, then, a good woman I met in Ohio straightened me out, saying, "It isn't sin that makes someone deep, but rather suffering. It's just that the worst kind of suffering is that which has the aded burden of remorse.")
The coolest thing about Lamott is how much she loves Jesus. He's perpetually just a thought or two from her frontal lobe, and so keeps slipping into every anecdote, as the other half of the inner dialogue Lamott lives in.
I thought, as I leaned into the foreign language book shelf, "There aren't a lot of writers I would stand around a bookstore listening to for a couple hours." It gets more impressive when I add that I couldn't even see Lamott from my vantage points at the outskirts of the crowd.
Still, I wonder if Lamott's work will last. Her writing is so reliant on pop-culture references and on having some kind of understanding of the historical anomalies that all come together in her prose: the baby-boomer's clawing through the last half of the 20th century, flailing around protesting everything, going on marches, doing drugs and having lots of unmarried sex. I would like to think that in a few decades, people won't "get" Lamott, because we'll be past the groundless search for meaning that propels Lamott's musing and ranting.
But, regardless, her writing is wonderful. Fabulous eye for detail combined with self-effacing vulnerability.
That's why it almost physically hurt me, when this woman - my sister in Christ - and someone whose craft I absolutely admire - started raging against "right-to-lifers" and ridiculing "rightwing Christians." She animatedly detailed her hatred for the President at nauseating length, noting that she spent weeks after the election choked with such antipathy, that it almost drove her to a kind of madness. But she really seemed to enjoy the madness. When she gave herself over to her disdain of religious conservatives, Lamott morphed from being a compassionate and attractive disciple, to being a cliched, bitter paradox. It made me very sad, because unfairness and ridicule are awkward on her.
Lamott is great now, but she will be fabulous as soon as she gets honest about abortion. She aborted one or two of her kids in her pre-Jesus years, and she keeps obsessing over it, mainly trying to convince herself that she did the right thing - "I had to do it! Pro-lifers only care for fetuses and not for starving poor unloved children who would be born without abortion!" Her self-defense here fuels her gnashing of teeth political diatribes. If she lives long enough to confront the fact that abortion is evil, the BIG ONE, in her hit parade of personal mistakes, Lamott could be a great saint.