Anne Lamott Some Assembly Required

Anne Lamott Some Assembly Required

I have a crush on Anne Lamott. A serious crush. She had me at Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

She has a (relatively) new book out that I’m super excited to get my hands (and heart) on. It is the story of how her 19 year-old son Sam and his girlfriend Amy blindside their families with the news that Amy is going to have a baby. Lamott chronicles her rather unenthusiastic reaction to this news honestly and goes on to describe the turmoil and struggles these two young people face as they negotiate a relationship with frequent rocky patches and the added responsibility of an infant. Not my usual genre, but if Anne Lamott wrote it, then sign me up!

I’m hardly the only person who has a major crush on Anne Lamott. Recently I came across  a super blog called Gypsy Ink written by Leeana Tankersley. Leena wrote a Silver Lined blog post identifying the 10 things that she has learned from Anne Lamott. When I read it, I found myself nodding my head…and nodding…and nodding.

Leeana kindly agreed to let me share her insightful words with The Silver Pen readers. As Leeana says, “hope there’s something in this list you need to hear today that just might change everything, or at least something, for you.” …sounds like a Silver Lining if I ever did hear one!

  1. “we thought they’d be a little more like cats” – AL says that she had assumed having a child would be mostly like having a cat. turns out, the whole motherhood enterprise is much more complicated. i think of this line all the time. how our expectations are so often a world away from reality, especially when it comes to the realities of motherhood. this line makes me feel like i’m not the only one that got blindsided by motherhood in most every way. it also makes me laugh.
  2. “sometimes you’re not blocked, you’re empty” – if you are an artist of any kind, or if you are trying to get any kind of large-scale project accomplished, you know that “writer’s block” is always at your heels, that jinxed feeling that the gig is up, and no matter how long you stare at the blank screen, you’ve got nothing. less than nothing. AL reminds me that sometimes the problem isn’t that I’m blocked but that I’m empty. perhaps I need to spend some time filling up again, engaging in the small moments of inspiration that provide energy for the work. a walk outside. a conversation. using ultra fine tip sharpie markers in a journal. rest. etc. this is some of the best advice i have ever heard. instead of trying to push past the block, perhaps the best thing to do is go about filling up.
  3. “you’re self esteem is not going to arrive by email” – in other words, there is no big news coming your way that will deliver a rich inner life. our wholeness doesn’t come from anything “out there.” it is nurtured “in here” . . . through our faith, our community, the work we are doing on ourselves, the work we are allowing Christ to do in us, our art.
  4. “there isn’t enough out there” – a follow on to #3. there isn’t enough notoriety, fame, money, self-tanning spray, beautiful clothing, perfect accessories, great hair, teeth whitening, home decor, twitter followers, or book contracts to make me feel worthy. period. my shame is not healed by any kind of success. my shame is healed by something else entirely.
  5. having a child can help you slow down, which is one of the first steps toward paying attention” – love this, though, I will admit a certain level of agony in the slowing down. makes you feel mental, like you are forced to crawl through life stopping to look at every last rock, leaf, ladybug. perhaps AL is saying, yeah, that’s the point.
  6. “guilt free afternoons” – we work hard in the morning, getting our writing (or your own equivalent) done and then it is time to play. we do not work always and forever. we work hard when it’s time to work, and then we have a guilt free afternoon. we put the work aside and we enjoy another aspect of life. in other words, we have limits and we need to accept them. time for a glass of prosecco. enjoy it! time for a nap. take it! guilt free.
  7. “wearing out the perfectionism” – perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, AL tells us. and she’s so right. it kills us—our creativity, our childlikeness, our freedom. how do we wear out the perfectionism? she says that writing bad first drafts and becoming a mother were two of the things that helped wear out the perfectionism in her. allowing herself to do things poorly, however painful, helped her to just get past the perfect. and, motherhood, for so many reasons, just does not allow perfect in the door. you’re too tired and too spit-up-on to even think perfect visits your neighborhood anymore. this, AL says, is a good thing. good reminder for me today.
  8. “publication has nothing for you; the gift is the writing” – i don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a dream or a goal of publication; however, if we are expecting that publication will heal us in some way, then we have gotten it all wrong. the writing, AL says, is where the gift is. publication is not what centers us; the time spent in the chair, reflecting, expressing, telling the truth – this is the gift.
  9. “the material knows what it needs to become; create a safe space for it to arrive” – we cannot strangle the good stuff into existence. We must sit down each day, do the work, and believe that the beauty will arrive. especially if we don’t need it to look perfect on arrival, if we can let it evolve and if we can turn off the inner-editor that needs it “just so.” if we can give ourselves permission to let the words and ideas arrive as they will, being diligent to keep track of them when they do show up, magic can happen. bad news: all of this often takes longer than we’d like. and is certainly always much messier than we’d like.
  10. “wasting paper; staring off into space” – efficiency is not the way ahead. the way ahead is printing out drafts of our work so we can see it on paper and mark it up, not worrying about how much paper we’re using. the way ahead is staring off into space and letting our subconscious kick in even if we’ve been told that such behavior is a waste of time. efficiency cannot be the #1 priority of the artist. so true.


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  1. says

    Seems like a message that I find your wonder-full blog and learn that we are reading the same book (with the same reaction) at the same time. Makes me smile. Hope you're having a terrific day!

  2. Glitterina says

    "We thought they'd be a little more like cats" had me laughing out loud. My best friend since 3rd grade had her first baby when we were just 18. That baby was a joyful present to our entire family. She was a very happy baby until she started teething. That was a whole new ballgame. Once we were all staying at the beach, the baby was teething and fidgety, her pacifier kept popping out of her mouth and she'd start wailing, so we ( brilliant minds) took two little Band-Aids and sort of taped the pacifier to her little cheeks, so she could not spit it out. Well, my Mom noticed the baby was quiet and when she saw our invention gave us an earful. When that child (now 38 and with babies of her own) had her first baby, she teased us saying "Oh, no! You can't go near my baby! You may have some Bandaids on you!" I hadn't thought of that weekend in a while, thanks for the memory and the laughter!

  3. says

    I'm so glad for the update! I read operating instructions so many years ago, I hate to admit how many as it seems like yesterday. I heard her speak when she was in NC after her book on faith was published. Can't wait to read this next one. Hollye, thanks for all of the silver linings!

  4. Carrie Riley says

    Love it, love it, love it. Especially the part about "perfectionism"…oh that dirty devil…shackles on the feet…it is an amazing feeling to break through the need to be perfect; especially those of us working moms..thanks for the inspirational recap of these wonderful lessons. Just what I needed today…silver lining once again!

  5. Marlene says

    I have loved Anne Lamott for years. Bird by Bird was the first of hers that I read and it just hit home. Got the newer book and getting ready to start it. Can't wait. Her writing is so down to earth!!