Writer Anne Lamott’s Insights on Turning 61
Inspiring nuggets from the noted author’s viral essay
Happy birthday, Anne Lamott!
The beloved writer of novels, essays and nonfiction turns 61 today. If you’re familiar with her work, you already know that Lamott writes about life — her own and others’ — in all its messy, ugly, beautiful fullness.
To read Lamott is to know that she has struggled with alcohol, relationships and crises of faith. It’s her openness and willingness to be fully human and share her struggle that her readers love.
Lamott also inspires, and on the occasion of her birthday, she posted on Facebook “every single thing I know, as of today.” So far, 63,718 people have “liked” the post and 53,335 have “shared” it.
Below are a few of our favorite gems from her piece, and here’s the Facebook link to her page with the entire post — well worth the read.
The Whole Truths
Part of what makes Lamott so readable is the easy and funny way she moves from deep and spiritual concepts to daily life.
In her “61” essay, the first thing she knows is: “All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”
This is followed by the second thing she knows for sure: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Another big truth: “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe.” Don’t compare, she reminds, and don’t try to fix and rescue people, because you can’t save them.
That, and “Chocolate with 70% cacao is not actually a food. Its best use is as bait in snake traps.”
The Spiritual Side
Lamott’s bestselling books include Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. So, naturally, much of what she knows at 61 is what she has learned in her spiritual explorations.
“There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of last way, unless you are waiting for an organ. You can't buy, achieve or date it. This is the most horrible truth.”
And: “The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, "Help!" And then buckle up. Grace won't look like Casper the Friendly Ghost; but the phone will ring, or the mail will come, and then against all odds, you will get your sense of humor about yourself back.”
On faith, Lamott knows: “The love of our incredible dogs and cats is the closest most of us will come, on this side of eternity, to knowing the direct love of God,” and she knows that all of us are lovable, even the meanest and most horrible. You’ve “gotta choose” your faith, she says — and that means seeking.
“My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don't look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.” Look up.
Death and missing those who are gone is hard. “Grief, friends, time and tears will heal you.”
The Writing Life
The first of Lamott’s books that I read was Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I was a graduate student in a writing program at the time, and her thoughts on simply getting your work done, word by word, bird by bird, helped me through a challenging program. Not surprisingly, her essay upon turning 61 includes advice to write bad first drafts, and this Lamottism: “Butt in chair. Just do it.”
But there’s more. Creative successes, she says, “kill as many people as not… Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you… It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.”
Your Physical Self
Yes, Lamott says, we should eat right: “Food; try to do a little better.”
And: “If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this.”
And I love Lamott on families. “Earth is forgiveness school,” she says when writing about the relationships that form and hold us. “You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.”
Thank you, Anne Lamott, for your wise birthday essay — a gift to your readers and fans.