“Hey World, Look How Flawed I Am”: Why I Love Reading Anne Lamott

I need to call our vet this morning, and tell him I may be calling him again in the next few days to put our sweet malamute, Juni, to sleep. She hasn’t eaten since Tuesday morning, and I think she’s telling us she’s done.

We went through this exactly 11 months ago with our other malamute, Molly. But Molly was 15; Juni just turned ten. I thought we’d have a little more time with her, but cancer thought otherwise. I am sad.

So I’m doing what I tend to do in this situation: not thinking about it. I can’t WAIT to get to work, where my brain will be too full of bread and pastry to think about big furry dogs and how much they may or may not be suffering.

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At the same time, I’m ignoring another unpleasant (though in a completely different way) set of thoughts. (Yep–I’m a multi-tasking avoider!) Apparently the Kindle version of The Flying Burgowski is riddled with formatting errors, which I only discovered this week, a month after the Kindle upload, because of the kindness of a friend. Not my own scrupulousness in CHECKING the Kindle version THOROUGHLY, which any normal author would do. I don’t particularly like Kindle, so I managed to avoid doing that too. So now I’m…let’s see: humiliated, aggravated, fearful (of the work I’m going to have to do fixing the formatting, AND of failure, AND of the inevitable buildup of aggravation/desperation/self-loathing that will ensue), and…sad.

This is why I was so comforted by reading myself to sleep last night in Annie Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

I know, her author name is Anne, but everyone in the book calls her Annie, and that’s how I think of her too: like this crazy, loving girlfriend you can call when you’re feeling sad or down on yourself or both, because, girl, she’s been through way worse than you.

She’ll make you laugh. She’ll say stuff like, “bananas are great, as they are the only known cure for existential dread” or mention emergency errands “for milk and ice cream sundaes.”

She’ll comfort you with advice, all of which comes directly from the people she credits with the strongest guidance in her life, Father Tom Weston and Veronica Goines, the pastor of her church in Marin City, California. If, for example, you’re feeling put upon by the world, or a co-worker, or your partner,

I tried to look at each person kindly, because I believe that we are family. I don’t always feel it, but I know it. My pastor Veronica often quotes whoever said that it’s not what we’re looking at, but what we’re looking with, so each crooked smile could be like a minimal dose that, however small, helps the healing. Just as a doctor can help you relax for a moment during a spasm, and you remember you’re going to be okay at some point.

See? Helpful. Annie is my kind of religious person.

Her greatest gift, though, to a multi-tasking flaw-avoider like me, is in the way she holds out her flaws to the world. She has many, many struggles (some of which can be handled by her friend’s suggestion, “Drink a glass of water and call a friend,” or her father’s most “spiritual” advice, “Don’t be an asshole.”). The most poignant of the essays in this book, I found, are about her struggles as a parent. In “Samwheel,” where she suddenly–and for the first (and last) time ever–slapped her 17 year-old son in the face during an argument, Annie takes us with her on the drive she immediately took, running away from the house and her shame and rage and fear.

I wept at the wheel on a busy boulevard. At first people were looking over at me as they passed in the next lane. I wiped at my face and snorfled…I started calling out to God, “Help me! Help me! I’m calling on you! I hate myself, I hate my son!” I wanted to die. What is the point? What if the old bumper sticker is right and the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?

Me? I barely have the courage to admit publicly that I don’t properly proofread. I can’t imagine the kind of guts it takes to write about feelings like that. So I went to sleep humbled, and grateful, and woke up ready to think about the things I don’t want to think about. I stroked my dog for awhile. Soon I will call my vet for that first, sad, preliminary conversation. Then I will start working my way through the ultra-polite advice of the Kindle rep and my friend Michelle, who have emailed me instructions to fix my mess.

But I may take a break to re-read another one of Annie’s thoughts on faith, on flaws, on dealing with being human.

How about sharing some of yours? Not flaws, I mean, but strategies for dealing with them. “Drink a glass of water and call a friend”? Go for a walk? Take a nap? Write? Maybe I can steal from you too.

 

 

6 thoughts on ““Hey World, Look How Flawed I Am”: Why I Love Reading Anne Lamott

  1. I fine it helpful to remember that, no matter how hard or sad or painful something is, at the same time All Is Well. It seems incongruous or paradoxical but I know inside that it’s true and it comforts me.

  2. I’m so, so sorry to hear about your pup. That’s a much more difficult problem than a stubborn Kindle doc. Books can be fixed. Love up on Juni and don’t worry about your manuscript for now, unless, of course, it helps take your mind off it. And don’t be embarrassed. My first manuscript had plenty of errors, too. It took many hours/rounds of trial and error (and Google searches) to teach myself formatting. I didn’t know to plug into a supportive group at the time. I almost never read a perfect Kindle doc anyway–indie or publishing house. So put the ms on hold a few days and give your Juni a whole lot of love.

  3. Gretchen,
    Sending you and Juni oh so many hugs and snuggles as you make this difficult transition. I can tell by her picture that she’s a love. Losing a family member is always traumatic, and I don’t think there’s any shame in struggling with all the emotions it brings forth. Kneading and baking seem to me to be therapeutic approaches.

    The book? Ah, that can wait. It’ll be there, when you can get to it, and nobody’s perfect. The same thing happened to another writer I know, and she’s bounced back well enough. We all have our mistakes, and our woulda shoulda coulda- didn’t’s.

    You wrote a book. You published it. You did it yourself.

    Even today, there’s only a tiny sliver of the human population who can say that. You have every right to hold your head high and say, “Well, I learned that I need to address the proofreading and formatting aspects differently next time.”

    As for advice to get you through the tough times –

    I was an abused child. I don’t say that as an indictment of my parents, who were also abused (my mother quit horrifically). I say it because it’s true, but I didn’t know it when I had my own children.

    My son had the misfortune of being a toddler (22 months), at the time his bother was born, and, 12 days later, died. And to still be a toddler a few moths later, when we got pregnant again, and, a few months after that, when we learned that our baby girl was high-risk, and I was put on bedrest.

    Grief and stress can do very ugly things when someone hasn’t got the skills they need to cope, or an understanding of lifelong patterns…

    My children used to flinch when I raised my voice or my hand. I know I caused them damage they will live with through their whole lives.

    I could feel horrible about that, and damn myself, because what I did when they were small was not right, even a little bit, and there’s absolutely no way to go back and give them the mom they deserved to have, during their first years, when they were so vulnerable.

    But that wouldn’t help. Not them, and not me. It would just keep us locked in a place of guilt and regret that would eat away at joy and connection, and prevent growth.

    The journey I have made to become the mother and friend I am to them both today is the thing I am prouder of than anything I’ve ever done in my life (or likely ever will). It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it’s cost me my relationships with my parents and two of my three siblings, because I dare to speak and write about it openly – a clear violation of the code of silence that surrounds abuse. But that code of silence perpetuates the abusive patterns, and, although I wish things were different, I’m not willing to offer my children up as the sacrificial lambs to maintain those relationships.

    So I claim it all – where I’ve come from, where I am, all the points between, and all the growth still to come. I do it because maybe there’s another mom out there just realizing how her childhood affects her parenting, and wonders if there’s any way to break free of that cycle. I want her to know that there is – for herself, and her kids.

    You’ve really touched me with this post, Gretchen. I want to hug you, listen to you, be with you.

    I can leave you with advice form one of my favorite sources – a Vulcan.

    When an apparent misjudgment causes the death of thousands of colonists, and the cancellation of the ship’s mission, Captain Archer is feeling deep regret and guilt. He’s ready to give up, to accept all of the blame for what happened (which wasn’t his fault).

    This is what T’Pol says to him. I think it’s profound, yet simple:

    “You are very adept at listing the questionable decisions you’ve made. But there have been other decisions – many of them – that no one would question. ”

    Yes, you’re having a hard time accepting the failing of a second beloved companion in a short span of time. You’re embarrassed that you didn’t get an important project just right. You can’t quite handle it all at once, so you’re taking some space.

    Sometimes that’s necessary to allow the space for adjustment. It’s not shameful; it’s human.

    Sending all my love, and many peaceful thoughts.

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