The first time I encountered Anne Lamott, I was in college. I was living on campus during the summer but there were no classes so I was able to finally read for the joy of it all. I’d decided to pick up a copy of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz because that’s what everyone was reading on Christian College Campuses in 2005. I was entering a phase where I had no more patience for Sunday School answers and stories that turned out to be analogies about God’s love for us. I wanted a story for the sake of the story. I wanted to hear about people’s real life without it turning into a lesson. In that way, Blue Like Jazz did not deliver for me. But I did like Miller’s writing style, so I kept with it. And I’m glad that I did because he introduced me to Annie. He quoted her within that book somewhere and I’m sorry to say this, Donald Miller, but it was the most true thing within those pages. I can’t remember the quote—just that I put the book down and went straight to the internet to look and see if she had any books for me to read.
“I woke up full of hate and fear the day before the most recent peace march in San Francisco. This was disappointing: I’d hoped to wake up feeling somewhere between Virginia Woolf and Wavy Gravy.” Anne Lamott
Initially I was bummed to see that Anne Lamott was an older Christian lady because all the experience that I’d had with older Christian ladies at that point was… not exactly progressive. Combined with the fact that two of her books were available in the library at my conservative school, I wondered if this one quote (and I don’t even remember what it said) would be all she had to offer me. But I checked out Traveling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith, and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith anyway. And it unlocked something deep inside of me. If I’m not being clear, Anne is so much more than “an older Christian lady”. I mean, she is one of those too. But the image that conjures up is useless in describing her–much in the same way that basically any label isn’t a thorough descriptor of a person.
“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott
At this point in my life I was comparing myself to the people around me and compared to them, I felt like the ultimate mess. Everyone that I knew at my school seemed to have all of their shit together. They seemed to have a plan. They were content and uncomplicated and they always had the right answers at exactly the right time. I couldn’t relate to this. I felt like a complete raging, complicated, ball of worry and confusion. Once, in a class called The Novel, we were reading The Bell Jar and I felt like I’d finally happened upon someone like me. Esther Greenwood understood the way I felt about myself and my experience among my peers. I was so excited to get to class and talk about the way that I loved and appreciated this character but before I could say anything everyone else described her as “troubled”, “scary”, “completely unrelatable”, and “sick”.
I’m not sure I ever said anything out loud in class about The Bell Jar after that but I remember writing a paper about how I had related to her. It was completely off topic but it was all I could get out at the time. I would take a zero or I would write the only thing that was willing to be written. I wrote that it worried me because none of my classmates understood Esther the way that I did and it made me wonder if I’d end up with my head in an oven at one point, the way that Sylvia Plath did. My professor wrote a note on the back of my paper telling me that my honest struggle will serve me better in the long run and to not worry about having it all together at 21. Also he gave me a 100% even though I didn’t even write about the proposed topic at all.
So, finding a decent collection of Anne Lamott’s essays was a breath of fresh air. Her perspective on her life changed everything about my own. It was good to feel so “me, too” about someone who hadn’t gone on to kill herself. It was refreshing to see there were options and one of the options is to live a life with a zillion questions and barely any answers but a pocket full of coping mechanisms.
“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.” Anne Lamott
Yesterday I was listening to a podcast featuring a conversation between Linda Siversten, Glennon Doyle Melton and Anne Lamott and I wanted to weep through the whole thing—not because they were saying anything particularly moving but just because I felt understood for the first time in a while. It’s a powerful, powerful thing when you can feel known without saying a word. It’s a feeling that “these people are my people”. Truth be told, Anne and Glennon are probably more Jesus-centric than I am but I still know that they would welcome me and love me and not ask me to explain myself. That’s really all anyone wants—to be accepted without explanation or expectation.
In that conversation, Anne said, “Left to my own devices I would be Steve Bannon: utterly paranoid and reckless with my hate. But thank sweet Jesus I’m not left to my own devices.” This is the kind of thing that makes me want to politely ask her to stop talking about me in ways that feature such identifying characteristics to a broad audience. But she’s right and I’m not left to my own devices. I’m in love and I’m in family and I’m in friendship with people who keep me grounded. I’m a citizen of this earth and my duty is to love and try not to be an asshole and this keeps me from grasping at all of my own straws.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Anne Lamott
I don’t know how to end this but that’s okay because this really doesn’t end anyway.
6 thoughts on “Feeling Known”
Thanks for reminding me that I need to pick up my copy of ‘Traveling Mercies’ again. Great post!
That’s great! It’s always important to go back every now and again.
That was the best way to end that.
& I love you so much.
Thanks so much, James. ❤
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