Jan 27

Anne Lamott, Perfectionism, Oppression, and Faith

The highly popular book by Anne LamottBird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, addresses the issue of perfectionism so well that she has helped both writers and non-writers the world over lower our unreasonable expectations of ourselves. And she does this with these three little words: “Shitty first drafts.”

Lamott states that just about all writers, even the very successful, first have to face a “shitty first draft” before it becomes something better through the process of revision. Usually there’s a second, a third, a fourth draft, and so on—whatever it takes until you feel ready to put it out there.

But if you’re not aware of this and you in fact imagine that everyone else is capable of whipping off a highly polished, i.e., “perfect,” specimen right from the get-go, you’ll probably agonize over taking the necessary first steps of your project—and probably never get anywhere. Lamott’s words:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

Perfectionism. Except for that “ism” part, you might think it would be a good thing—I mean, come on, it’s perfection. But, as Anne Lamott points out, there’s something oppressive involved.

In addition to writing this applies to many other things we try to accomplish in life—maybe those pesky New Year’s goals, for example. Could be an addiction you’re trying to kick. Lamott herself is in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. As heard in 12-step programs, it’s all about “Progress, not perfection.”

Lamott’s interpretation of the origins of perfectionism:

 I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

For Lamott, a big part of getting beyond perfectionism involves her faith. Not to worry—she conveys even her spiritual beliefs with her usual humorous irreverence. Nonfiction books she’s written on this topic include Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (2000), Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006), and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007).

If you’re interested in seeing more of Lamott, click on the following link to see an interview she did several years ago with fake-conservative funnyman Stephen Colbert.

Jan 25

“The Fault in Our Stars”: Young Woman with Cancer

A novel about a young female protagonist with cancer entitled The Fault in Our Stars and written by popular YA author John Green came out recently to rave reviews.

The Amazon description of this book:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16 years old, the novel’s narrator, is diagnosed with terminal thyroid cancer. Augustus Waters has osteosarcoma.

Entertainment Weekly observes: “Green’s legions of fans — self-proclaimed geeks who’ve adopted the tag ‘nerdfighters’ — will be pleased to know that the author’s unique brand of brainy, youthful humor shines in his latest novel…the gut-busting laughs that come early in the novel make the luminous final pages all the more heartbreaking.”

From the review by popular and prolific author Jodi Picoult: “Filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy, The Fault in Our Stars takes a spin on universal themes—Will I be loved? Will I be remembered? Will I leave a mark on this world?—by dramatically raising the stakes for the characters who are asking.”

Jan 24

World Happy Day Is Coming: Watch Roko Belic’s Documentary

Roko Belic, the creator of the documentary Happy, wrote on The Huffington Post last week about an event to occur on February 11th that he’s calling World Happy Day. (More info is available at the film’s website just mentioned above.) On that date, people around the world will be able to attend planned screenings in various locations. You can even apply to host a screening of your own–in your very own living room if you so choose.

In Belic’s recent post, he elaborates on what he learned from Ed Diener, of the University of Illinois, a happiness researcher:

He told me that a person’s values are among the best predictors of their happiness. People who value money, power, fame and good looks are less likely to be happy than people who value compassion, cooperation and a willingness to make the world a better place. That astounded me — but it somehow made sense. People who express their love — who rejoice in the health and happiness of others — are more likely to feel loved and happy themselves…

I asked Ed Diener if there is a single key to happiness, a secret happy ingredient that every happy person in the world possesses. He said that the formula is different for everyone, but the one constant is good relationships. He said every happy person he’s studied in over three decades of research had someone to love and someone to be loved by.

How about you? Does this ring true? And, speaking of happy, how happy are you about the possibility of being able to see this documentary someday soon?

Jan 23

Storm Large: Whether to Become “Crazy Enough”

First, a musical based on her life—and a CD to include its songs—and now, her written memoir. The title of all three? Crazy Enough. The performer/singer/author? Storm Large.

I saw Storm Large front the fantastic musical group Pink Martini last summer when their regular lead singer, China Forbes, was sidelined for a spell. One reviewer who’d seen a similar show on their tour aptly stated that Large exhibits an “over-the-top-yet-remarkably-on-point style.”

The book, which was released on January 10th, is described on her website:

Storm spent most of her childhood visiting her mother in mental institutions and psych wards. Suzi’s diagnosis changed with almost every doctor visit, ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder to multiple personality disorder to depression. As hard as it was not having her at home, Storm and her brothers knew that it was a lot safer to have their beautiful but unreliable mom in a facility somewhere. Then one day, nine-year-old Storm jokingly asked one of her mother’s doctors, ‘I’m not going to be crazy like that, right?’ To which he replied, ‘Well, yes. It’s hereditary. You absolutely will end up like your mother. But not until your twenties.’

OOMPH.

Maybe you can already imagine what happened next. Besides not actually becoming her mother, that is…

“Knowing” that she would be “crazy” herself someday, she lived on the edge from an early age, growing right into her real birth name of “Storm.” (She also grew into her given surname of “Large,” developing to six feet tall in her early teens.) She did in fact develop a heroin addiction and an eating disorder; she did in fact develop other kinds of “craziness” and issues.

What eventually saved her in her 20’s? Music.

As told by her book publisher, Simon and Schuster:

…with nothing to live for and a growing heroin addiction, Storm accepted a chance invitation to sing with a friend’s band. That night she reconnected with her long-term love of music, and it dragged her back from the edge. She has been singing and slinging inappropriate banter at audiences worldwide ever since…With tremendous honesty and tremendous dirty language, Crazy Enough is about an artist’s journey of realizing that the mistakes that make, break, and remake us are worth far more than our flailing attempts to live a life we think is ‘normal.’ It is a love song to the twisted, flawed parts in all of us and a nod to the grace we find when things fall apart.

Publisher’s Weekly: “…her memoir boils down to the tension inherent in her relationship with her mother, who used her sickness as emotional manipulation. In her gutsy, shrill way, Large exhibits an engaging insouciance in delving into very real, scary, emotionally weighty issues.”

Kirkus Reviews: “The author’s prose is casual and vernacular, rife with descriptions that are not for the faint of heart. Though not necessarily likable, she comes across as authentic and unapologetic.”

It looks like the most popular YouTube video of Storm Large, by far, involves the song “8 Miles Wide,” which was part of her one-woman show. It’s basically a tribute to her vagina, which her lyrics indicate is only “…a metaphor for [my] super vigantastically mystical feminine goddess core.”

My selection below, on the other hand, has her performing with Pink Martini, in what is possibly the best example of her least out-there-ness:

Jan 20

Smoking Not Allowed in Group Therapy: “ER” Episode

You know what they say: Where there’s baptism by fire, there’s smoke. Or smoking.

Or something like that.

In the tenth season of the long-running TV series ER (1994-2009), Nurse Manager Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney), now in her fourth year of medical school, is doing her psychiatry rotation. Unexpectedly, her supervisor tells her she can run the group therapy session all by herself.

Abby, who’s an on-again, off-again smoker, later tells another character, “I started smoking in the middle of the session today to get their attention. Pity I couldn’t finish that cigarette.”