Apr 07

“Dusk, Night, Dawn”: Anne Lamott Copes

“Here we are, older, scared, numb on some days, enraged on others, with even less trust than we had a year ago,” Lamott writes of such challenges as the pandemic and threats to American democracy and to the planet in general. “Where on earth do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back?” Kirkus Reviews regarding Dusk, Night, Dawn by Anne Lamott

As Hope Reese points out in her Boston Globe review of Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage, a collection of short essays, this is the 19th book by bestselling author Anne Lamott. Several have been previously covered on this site (see here for one of the all-around best).

Reese describes Dusk, Night, Dawn as “digestible and uplifting, conceived and packaged for the chaotic times we are facing. Although touching on a few broadly exterior topics (climate change), it mainly focuses on the human interior, Lamott’s specialty, with a particular emphasis on forgiveness of ourselves and others, acceptance, and unconditional love.”

An important aspect of coping is knowing what we can control and what we can’t. More from Reese:

What life throws at us remains very much out of our hands, Lamott reminds us. She cites a study showing that around 80 percent of people believe they are in control, while the truth is that we are only in control about three percent to seven percent of the time.

Some of Lamott’s tips, from the Publisher Weekly‘s review:

Concentrating on being more intentional and focusing on small changes in one’s personal life, she writes, allows hope to grow and to serve as the first step to larger societal changes. Lamott argues that people too often block themselves from love through perfectionism, self-loathing, cowardice, and the fear of being vulnerable with others. She also weighs in on domestic matters, including problems both weighty (alcoholism) and trivial (how one’s new spouse does the laundry). To her credit, Lamott turns a pessimistic mindset on its head with the difficult question: ‘What holds when you and your family are walking toward extinction?’ Her answer: kindness, humility, words of love, and stories of when the worst seemed possible, but it turned out okay.

Below are some quotes I culled from Goodreads reviewers who’ve posted their favorites:

My comedian friend Duncan Trussel once said nine words onstage that changed me. He said that when you first meet him, you’re meeting his bodyguard. I wrote it down and later taped it to my bathroom mirror, where all truth resides at least briefly. His bodyguard is smart and charming, and keeps people out. Deep inside, his true self is very human, which is to say beautiful and kind of a mess –needy, insecure, judgmental, like most of us. It is full of love, warmth, and rage.

Even now we aren’t in charge of much, and it is exhausting to believe or pretend we are.

We rise up to help the best we can, and we summon humor to amend ghastly behavior and dismal ongoing reality.

Kindness anywhere gives me hope; it changes us.

Seeing is a form of pure being, unlike watching or looking at. Seems why we’re here.

I know the secret of life. If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things.

Some poet once wrote that we think we are drops in the ocean, but that we are really the ocean in drops, both minute and everything there is.

Dec 11

“Almost Everything” by Anne Lamott

Those who enjoy Lamott’s consistently self-deprecating humor, vulnerability, and occasional nuggets of positivity will enjoy her latest; others will be adrift. Publishers Weekly, regarding Almost Everything by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott‘s newest book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hopewas written “as a gift to her grandson and niece,” notes Kirkus Reviews. This particular series of essays, states Kirkus, “is an obsessively inward-focusing hodgepodge of life stories, advice, and ramblings.”

Although not for everyone, Lamott is certainly loved by many. Here’s a sampling of quotes from Almost Everything:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Could you say this about yourself right now, that you have immense and intrinsic value, at your current weight and income level, while waiting to hear if you got the job or didn’t, or sold your book or didn’t? This idea that I had all the value I’d ever needed was concealed from me my whole life. I want a refund.

There is almost nothing outside you that will help in any lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ.

Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you. Horribly, what this means is that it is also an inside job for the few people you love most desperately in the world. We cannot arrange lasting safety or happiness for our most beloved people. They have to find their own ways, their own answers.

We believe that we are all in this together. This was the message of childhood, that being together meant connection, like an electrical circuit — think school recess on the blacktop, summer camp, and all those family holiday gatherings. Ram Dass said that if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.

The world is Lucy teeing up the football.

This country has felt more stunned and doomed than at any time since the assassinations of the 1960s and the Vietnam War, and while a sense of foreboding may be appropriate, the hate is not. At some point, the hate becomes an elective. I was becoming insane, letting politicians get me whipped up into visions of revenge, perp walks, jail. And this was satisfying for a time. But it didn’t work as a drug, neither calming nor animating me. There is no beauty or safety in hatred. As a long-term strategy, based on craziness, it’s doomed.

Certain special people of late have caused a majority of us to experience derangement. Some of us have developed hunchbacks, or tics in our eyelids. Even my Buddhist friends have been feeling despair; and when they go bad, you know the end is nigh. Booker T. Washington said, “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him,” and this is the most awful thing about it. Yet part of me sort of likes it, too, for the flush of righteousness, the bond to half of the electorate. Who would we be without hate? In politics, breakups, custody disputes, hate turns us into them, with a hangover to boot, the brown-bottle flu of the spirit.

Haters want us to hate them, because hate is incapacitating. When we hate, we can’t operate from our real selves, which is our strength.

I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.

I have taken the path of liberation: kindness.

Apr 29

“Congratulations by the way”: Now a Book

Last week saw the publication of a small volume by author George Saunders called Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindnessthe 2013 convocation speech he gave at Syracuse University, where he teaches creative writing. This speech eventually was posted on The New York Times website and quickly became a viral hit.

The 64-page book’s official description tries to answer the question of why the speech has been so widely appreciated: “Because Saunders’s words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, Congratulations, by the way is an inspiring message from one of today’s most influential and original writers.”

Kirkus Reviews says of the book:

…(I)ts self-deprecating tone is as pitch perfect as one would expect from Saunders, and the advice it imparts seems sincere and ultimately more helpful than the usual platitudes, as he explains how ‘most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving’ and as they mature, perhaps become parents, begin to see how soul-deadening selfishness can be and how the struggles of ambition can put one on a seemingly endless cycle. There’s plainly a spiritual underpinning here, as the author writes in favor of ‘establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition—recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.’ The loving selflessness that he advises and the interconnectedness that he recognizes couldn’t be purer or simpler—or more challenging.

A Sampling of Quotes

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you—and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

Buy it for an upcoming graduate, as suggested by Kirkus. And/or watch (some of) it. With the release of the new book the publisher has arranged for this abridged animated version: