Anne Lamott | Seeing Love in Everything

Anne LamottEvery time I talk with Anne Lamott, I just feel like I’ve been embraced by kindness, humility, love and a whole lot of laughter. 

Anne is a multi-time New York Times bestselling author whose latest book, Somehow: Thoughts on Love, offers profound yet practical wisdom that can help transform our lives. In our conversation, she shares insights from her seven decades of living, loving, and learning as she turns 70 and releases her 20th book, rich with stories, humor, reverence, love and insights, told in a way only Anne can do. 

Despite her success, she describes herself as an “unlikely elder” who has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of insight through her experiences. In Somehow, Anne compiles her most important learnings on love and leaves them as a parting gift to her son and grandson. She explores the power of compassion, community, and our inner lives to anchor us through life’s turbulence. Anne’s wisdom is humble yet illuminating, blending wit and candor that speaks to the shared human experience. And she shares a deeply moving story about how her dad, in his final months, became her makeshift first-reader and editor for a book that told her side of their shared story.

You can find Anne at: Website | Episode Transcript

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photo credit: Sam Lamott


Episode Transcript:

Anne Lamott: [00:00:00] To live a good life is to decide to stop living unconsciously, and to make a decision that you are going to wake up to all that is beautiful and holy and that still works. And to remember that if you want to have loving feelings, you need to do loving things, and you just keep doing these actions that are about awareness and that are about love, and that somehow are helped along by learning to breathe, you know, left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. And when we breathe, we’re sort of spritzed into awareness. And when we breathe, we’re so deeply nourished. And it creates an umbilical cord between the beauty of life, the awareness of life, and the beauty of the people who, against all odds, just love us more and more with every passing year. A good life means that you get outside every day, that you somehow get outside and you look up. You look at the stars, you look at the moon, you look at the sun, you look at the sunrise. Those are the things that to me constitute the good life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:08] So every time I talk with Anne Lamott, I just feel like I’ve been embraced by kindness and humility, love and a whole lot of laughter, and is a multi-time New York Times best-selling author whose latest book, Somehow Thoughts on Love, offers profound yet practical wisdom that can really help transform our lives. In our conversation, she shares insights from her seven decades of living, loving and learning as she turns 70 and releases her 20th book, which is rich with stories and humor and reverence and love and insights, all told in a way that only Anne can do. Despite her success, she describes herself as a kind of an unlikely elder who has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of insights through her experiences and in somehow, and compiles her most important learnings on love, and leaves them as a bit of a parting gift to her son and grandson. She explores the power of compassion, community and our inner lives to anchor us through life’s turbulence, and Anne’s wisdom is really humble yet illuminating, blending wit and candor that speaks to the shared human experience. And she also shares a deeply moving story about her dad in his final months, and how he became her makeshift first reader and editor for a book that would eventually tell her side of their shared story very early in her career. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.. It’s funny, I was catching up a little bit. And when you, Neal got married, that you’re sort of like your song Leaving the Grove was Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, and I was literally just talking to a friend, and we were describing to each other. What’s the feeling of a song that you would love to be? The feeling of your life. And that’s the song that came to mind. There’s just something that’s kind of so easygoing about it, especially in this day and age. I feel like I almost want to have that on repeat.


Anne Lamott: [00:03:06] I know I have been listening to that song as medicine for about 40 years now. Literally as medicine.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:13] Yeah, you and me both. I was also catching up. I know you’ve written a couple of pieces in Washington Post recently. One of them was a superpower of old age powerlessness, and you shared a story about a call from a friend who was upset, and it sent you into this kind of spin about like, how do I fix it? How do I fix it? How do I fix it? And then you have a couple of sentences further on in the piece that read, by 60 or so, you’ve had enough of participating in the Punch and Judy show of trying to get things to turn out the way you’re positive they should. You’ve learned to surrender. Otherwise, always be pissed off and exhausted. Yeah, and that’s no way to live out whatever years you have left. And I feel like so many of us would love to be at that place where we can surrender to that, but we struggle so much with it.


Anne Lamott: [00:04:05] I know what you’re talking about. I do too, left to my own devices. You know, there’s a saying in the recovery movement that the willingness comes from the pain, i.e. the willingness to stop drinking or to try to find another way of living, to stop bingeing on food or dieting or whatever your addiction is. The willingness comes from the pain. And that’s been my experience. And when the pain of making myself so uptight and judgy and fixated on manipulating people into doing what I’m positive would help them have a better life, I surrender. I put down my weapons, and I come over to the winning side, which is that state of releasing people to their own hero’s journey. You know, their own destiny and their own consequences of their behavior and their bad choices, so that if somebody has embarrassed themselves or done some kind of damage enough times that it’s really hurting their being, they might be ready to fill in the blanks, start to consider sobriety, or start to find a path out of gambling addiction, or start to whatever start to get the writing done. You know, when you get to the pain of not having ever gotten around to getting your writing done, maybe you’re going to take a look at that. But for me to release people is contingent of me having made myself just nuts by not releasing them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:40] I’m sure so many can relate and I’m raising my hand right along with you. It’s so easy to write that we know that this is the way to sort of like peace and ease, but to actually do it in the moment. Completely different story. It almost requires like, you know, surrendering over a piece of your humanity, not realizing what’s actually happening. Yeah, it’s interesting because this feels to me, I want to dive into some of the, you know, the specifics, but it feels to me to a certain extent, like this is almost like a compilation of so much of what you’ve written and shared, and both in books and pieces and articles over a period of so many years. And it was all brought together into this one, almost like piece of advice that you would hand over and say this if I could leave you with something that really matters most, this that’s what it felt like from the outside reading in, was that the intention on the inside out?


Anne Lamott: [00:06:30] The intention was to compile everything I know that has ever worked before, during really hard patches and difficult futures that have arrived that I could leave for my son and grandson when I’m gone. And I could say this has always worked. Community. Love has always worked. Taking care of the poor always feeds our own souls, let alone feeds the tummies of people. We may be able to help, have delicious meals. Certain things have always worked, and so. And I’m positive that they will again for my son Sam and his 14-year-old Jax. And so I just started telling stories about gatherings or by the same token, ways of being very silent and inward, in ways of being in nature and ways of of this radical self-care and all of them, one way or the other, had to do with love. And so I started to think of it as the love book. Although I didn’t, I really didn’t know much except that I wanted. There to be, as you put it, a compilation in one place. Everything I know that may come in handy no matter what their future holds. And by all accounts, it’s going to be really rough. It’s going to be really hot. The UN said four years ago that we had 12 years to radically turn things around, and of course, we haven’t at all. And who knows what the election will bring and what kind of democracy they’ll be living in. And I just thought, there are things that are outside of circumstance, you know, that have to do with the soul and the spirit and what fills and comforts them in dark times. It feels to me like one last book, and I always hate publication. I’m always a nervous wreck, and I don’t like traveling. I’d spend the rest of my life on the couch if I could get away with it, but that’s what it feels like to me. It feels like a bookend, right?


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:38] And it is to release it sort of like at this moment in time. Yeah. And I love the notion of you sort of writing this in a way to Sam and Jack’s to your son and to your grandson, knowing that, like, these ideas, these insights will be relevant to just the broader readership. I’m curious when you write, do you find yourself do you normally write to one person or to two people, or do you write more broadly?


Anne Lamott: [00:09:00] No, but you made me remember there’s a chapter in Bird by Bird, my writing book on called Writing a Letter. And the first book I wrote, my novel called Hard Laughter, was a love letter to my dad who was going to die of the cancer I wrote about. He had a brain tumor, but he got to read it before he got too sick with the brain cancer. And it was really I mean, it was funny and snarky and kind of dark humor and also just really intimate because no books like that existed in the 70s. Like, what do you do when an atom bomb drops on your family? And my dad was the center and the soul of our family, and we weren’t going to have him for long. And I went to the library and there was just nothing. I’ve always told my writing students, write what you’d like to come upon, and I would have loved for someone to say, you are going to be okay, although a lot of time you’re not going to believe that for a second. And what’s going to help is telling the truth with each other and sharing how you really feel, instead of how you think you’re supposed to feel, or what would be most inspiring if you felt. And you’re going to have days where you just see nothing but grace and mercy and and all the reasons for having been born. And other days they’re just going to be too long and there’s no way around it.


Anne Lamott: [00:10:20] And I did the same thing when my best friend got sick, which I wrote about in, um, operating instructions. That was another time when I went to the library. I was a single mother. I didn’t have a cent, and I wanted books that were kind of funny, but really honest, that talked about how bored you could get, talked about how you suddenly realized you don’t like children, you know, or how how you get in touch with your anger when you’re a parent because you’re so exhausted and just so pushed beyond anything you’ve come through before. And there weren’t books like that. There were books, all of which could have been made into hallmark movies, and I wasn’t experiencing that. So I wrote that book, and in about three months into having an infant, my best friend got sick with a cancer that she wasn’t going to be able to get over. And so I wrote the book as a love letter to her. And so I very specifically wrote this new book somehow to my son and grandson. I wanted it to be like an owner’s manual when I’m no longer here to tell them, oh, this too shall pass. Or you know what we need to do, we’re going to all have a cup of tea, and then we’re going to go to Target, you know, or whatever. But in general, I mean, it’s my 20th book and it’s out on my 70th birthday. And all the books I think have somehow or other been about the themes that you and I have talked about so far, like coming through, how do we come through when life gets really lifey and without giving up, without losing faith, or without losing heart, or without doing damage to other people by our efforts to save and fix and rescue and manipulate them.


Anne Lamott: [00:12:04] But I don’t really sit down with an audience in mind. I know who my readers are, and I have a sense of what is universal. What you and I, with completely different biographies, share energetically and in terms of our hearts and in terms of how hard some of it has been since we’ve been here, and how surprising and delicious life can also be when you are paying attention to that. You know, I think I mentioned three years ago when we were talking, um, this priest, in AA, started in 1935, who was not an alcoholic, but he was a real mentor to Bill Wilson. And he said to Bill, sometimes I think that heaven is just a new pair of glasses. And so a lot of my books have been about what happens when you have the awareness or the best friendships to remind you to put on a better pair of glasses, to see what is still beautiful and can only be beautiful, to see what will nourish us. To see what is just so silly and and fun that it can’t help but lift you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:24] So beautifully said. I’m curious now. Also, since you shared that the book that you wrote for your dad and he was able to read while he was still with you, did he know you were working on that for him?


Anne Lamott: [00:13:37] Oh, he told me he came to me when he was diagnosed. He had a metastasized melanoma and it had gotten in his brain. And in the 70s, no one had recovered from that. He said, I’m going to tell my version because he was a writer, Ken Lamott. He said, I’m going to tell you my version of this story. Why don’t you tell yours? So I mean, he was, you know, I’d been watching how to be a writer since I was a very small child. And what you do is you sit down every day. He sat down at 5:30am every morning, rain or shine or head cold or hangover. And at 530 you’d hear tap, tap, tap, tap from downstairs on his old Olympia typewriter. And he taught me it was a habit, that you do it by prearrangement with yourself. You don’t hope you’re going to get around to getting some work done today. I would never have written a word. I sit down at the same time. And so he had taught me how to be a writer, and I’ve been writing for a few years, but I didn’t really have a story, kind of a necklace of a story. I had lots of beads. I had written like vignettes and moments and insights and dreams and whatnot. And when he said, why don’t you tell your version of this? I just started. I remember I had an opening line and I may have it a tiny bit wrong, but I think it is.


Anne Lamott: [00:14:55] There were many three-legged dogs in the town where I live because when our family was hit with this, there was an amputation in our sense of security, and our identity as a family was was shaken. And then I just started writing these short chapters that captured what it’s like. I was 23 when he got sick and, um, what it was like one day at a time. How do you not go under? How do you not try to just keep trying to pump the other person up with like, nice bumper sticker, you know, platitudes? How do you get real and not just lose your mind when you’re going to lose someone that you literally can’t live without? So he definitely knew. And then I published it while he was still doing really well. He had a year. He had two years from the time of diagnosis till when he died. And he was very, very mentally, cognitively sick for about the last eight months and then really for the last three months. But he was well, when I sold it to Viking, you know, it was like this miracle we had both just dreamt of. And he had read it. It was just so fantastic, the way it worked out. And literally at the end of the world when he died.


Jonathan Fields: [00:16:07] What was it like for you to give him? Like, I would imagine he saw the manuscript before it was a book, but. Or maybe not, but.


Anne Lamott: [00:16:15] Oh, he was reading a chapter by chapter. Oh, wow. Yeah, yeah, because he was my editor and he was my of course, you know, you have to have a reader, you have a main reader. And he was my reader and he just loved it. You know, he could tell I would need to be edited because I was so young. And he could also tell that I’d found my voice, which was heartful and deep and intimate, but also really funny or could be really funny. My first review was from Publishers Weekly, and it came in the snail mail, because that’s how your agent communicated with you then, right? And they couldn’t text you. It was what was it, 50 years ago? And Publishers Weekly said something like, whatever meager charms this book possesses are ruined by her constant show offy overkill. Now I was 25. Luckily I was still drinking because otherwise I don’t know what I would have done. However, Jonathan, for the rest of my life I’ve been super conscious of show-offy overkill and if not trying to be funny just so that people won’t think I’m a buzzkill. So I needed, and my dad knew I’d find an editor who would help me find the balance between being, you know, seeing seeing that things are absurd and kind of lovely and sometimes funny. And our family really had. Great gallows humor without having to be funny, or to shoehorning in something funny, you know, so that people would think how witty and ironic you are. So I mean that that review probably changed the trajectory of my writing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:54] It’s amazing. I mean, what an incredible gift for him, for you both to see each other in that way. I mean, he saw you not only was on your heart and your mind, but also he saw your voice emerge as an artist and was able to not just be a witness to it, but be a participant in it.


Anne Lamott: [00:18:12] Exactly. And he saw that we were going to survive. We were going to come through now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:18] So beautiful, so powerful. There is this theme of just deep and enduring love, no matter what comes your way, that has woven through pretty much everything you’ve written. I want to say I’ve even seen it show up in like parts of Bird by Bird, you know, the latest book, so this comes was about four and a half, five years since you and Neal got married? No.


Anne Lamott: [00:18:41] Well, Neal and I got together seven and a half years ago, and we are coming up on our fifth anniversary in April. Yeah, three days out, I married, we got married three days after I started getting Social Security.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:55] But perfect. Yeah. I’m curious whether you feel like that relationship that sort of like New Season of Love has influenced what’s ended up flowing into this book.


Anne Lamott: [00:19:06] Oh, I love that question. Well, one thing I’m not sure if that, you know, is my husband is a writer too, and he’s recently been out on tour for a book called Better Days Tame Your Inner Critic. And he does this work with clients. But from about our third date on, he started teaching me about this parasite that we’ve had whispering to us since 4 or 5 years old that did keep us alive. It kept us from running out into the street. It kept us from swimming out too far. And at 70, I’m really very good with traffic safety and and I know my limits in the surf, but I have had this voice in my head that has kept me worried about my value and about the horrible possibility that I might make a mistake, God forbid, or that people might get to see who I really am deep down beyond my persona. And so I can honestly say that that work, the inner critic work, changed me so dramatically because he taught me how to notice it. Because before I’d always think, oh, that could be true. I shouldn’t say that, I shouldn’t write that, I shouldn’t try that. And he taught me just to go, oh, it’s you again, and I’m fine, but thanks. Why don’t you go read now? I’m going to try my hand at you know, I’ve written these five pieces at the post actually on getting older, and I was kind of insulted that they wanted me to write about being older because I’m so youthful, but ha ha.


Anne Lamott: [00:20:40] But I decided to give it a try. And it was partly because of Neal’s work with me on noticing this externalized voice that keeps me ashamed or small, or just afraid of making a mistake that everybody will see. So he’s also become a great reader for me, and he’s a wonderful writer and he edits all my stuff. He’s my first read now, and some days that really works. Other days he’ll some days he’ll come in and say, oh, I love this. You are just so brilliant. And they’ll say, there are a couple tiny things I think, you know, then you got her, and other times he’ll come in and I can tell he likes it or that he’s going to love it. And then I feel extremely nervous, and I doubt whether I should have married him to begin with. But he always, 100% of the time, makes my work better. So, you know, and it’s just changed me. I mean, I’ve been in a couple of long-term relationships, but I hadn’t ever made the I always knew I could leave before, I’d never been married, and I always knew that I could go back to my house or get a new house or or whatever. And now I’ve made this commitment. And it means that when I’m unhappy or typically when I don’t get my way, or when his view of things is completely different than mine, his view of our life, especially then, wow, I have to do the deep dive.


Anne Lamott: [00:22:07] Like, um. When I first got sober in 86, when I was 32, there were people would say, if you got a problem, go look in the mirror. And before I was married, I never had to do that before. I would just have to be able to, to really artfully describe what a jerk the other person was and then help them understand that they were doomed without me. Those were usually my two fallbacks, and now they won’t work, you know, because we really have crafted this beautiful life. It’s real life. And that means there’s conflict, there’s disagreement, and we’ve had to learn to find a way to work through that. And every time we do, it deepens our relationship. It deepens our love. I mean, there’s that one story you’ve read and somehow that where I describe what typically happens, like I stomp away and I won’t go into it here, but it’s changed me as a person. You know, there’s that whole last chapter and somehow that talks about William Blake’s great line that we’re here to learn to endure the beams of love. And Neal really kind of boxed me into the corner of having to learn to endure his love. And so, yes, yes, to your question.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:21] Yeah, because I was wondering, even in the opening of the book, you know, the overture, you talk about love being, you know, the concept of love being present in everything around us. And like you said, that’s certainly it’s shown up in so many different ways in your writing over the years. But it felt in some way more, more present day in the way that you were describing it, almost like in a state of of wonder, like you don’t need to. It’s just all around you in the simplest things, everywhere you go, like you don’t even need to look for it. You just need to see it.


Anne Lamott: [00:23:51] It’s true. It’s a better pair of glasses that I’ve developed the habit of, you know, fishing around for. I think also Covid changed us and dusk night dawn I think I’m not positive came out in 2021. Right. And that was a year into Covid and I was starting to already really feel like we’re going to come out of this a different people. We are going to be more introspective. So much of my sense of myself and my value as a human being had been racing around, getting a lot of things done and being all things to all people and, you know, having a to do list. And when we had in the first two years of Covid, you didn’t race around mindlessly, you didn’t race into stores, you didn’t suddenly think, oh, I have to do that today, and you couldn’t go drop in on people just because it was on your heart. You had to find a different way to show them some healing love by. Usually by listening, you couldn’t sit with them and listen. So don’t you feel that Covid changed us?


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:54] I absolutely do, I know it changed me in a lot of ways. It just made me so much more aware of how fleeting everything can be, how impermanent. You know, just that literally every relationship, every person, every moment. And of course, like you’re human, you know, so you forget it, like nonstop. But at the same time, I think it lets you drop back into that remembering a little bit more readily. I’m curious what your take is on this too. I wonder if the further we drift away from it being such a profound crisis, if that sense of the importance of really drinking in the moment and seeing it and who knows, you know how long this will last, I wonder whether it’s going to leave us at some point and we’ll sort of like fall back into.


Anne Lamott: [00:25:38] Yeah, to be revealed, you know, more will be revealed. But I feel that a lot of it, it changed me like molecularly it changed me. It did make me more introspective. It did. Instead of going to very beautiful places, I mean, outdoors, I could always go find a cathedral or a, you know, a glade of of serenity and beauty. But it meant that I started to find and create little altars inside. I started to find little altars inside of my own self, let alone on the bookshelves and on the windowsills. But there was so much more puttering time, so that you might pick up something that you had been on in the same place, on the same bookshelf for 15 years, but you hadn’t really even noticed it because we were so busy. And so now. And I’ll tell you another thing, we all cleaned the bad drawers right during the first two years of Covid, when you couldn’t figure out what else to do, you cleaned out the junk drawer.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:40] You’re looking for new bad drawers. Like maybe I missed something somewhere.


Anne Lamott: [00:26:44] Exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:45] That’s funny. Yeah, I think that ties in nicely. Also, with one of the themes and somehow where you write about the notion of shelter, you know, exploring the theme of spiritual and emotional shelter and this idea of inner shelter, also provided by faith and love and community. Take me a little bit more into your thoughts around this.


Anne Lamott: [00:27:04] Oh well, I grew up thinking or being taught that everything was just out there, and that if you did well enough in school and you just burnished the surface so that everybody wanted to be around you and would offer you things because they enjoyed your company or your prowess so much that you would be provided with this or that, or the degree or the money. Typically the money came with that, and with money you could get a better house or apartment or whatever. And it was just the great palace lie that it was out there, and it could be achieved or bought or leased or or married. And little by little, and especially after I got sober, I just realized it was an inside job and that this respect I’d been longing for my whole life wasn’t out there. By the time I got sober, I’d published, I think I published four books, novels, and there were a lot of hits, you know, of, of, uh, over caffeination of getting a good review or getting the right interview or getting the right review, because there used to be a lot more places that reviewed you when I was coming up, but it would wear off. It might give you a really great day and a half.


Anne Lamott: [00:28:21] And then you would need more. It’s like any drug, you know, it’s great. And then it wears off and you need more and you need it sooner. And, um, the respect that I had longed for, fought for, dedicated my life to wasn’t out there. It was going to have to be me feeling that way about myself because I work hard and I try to be really loving and generous person. I try to share what I have been so freely given and God. It took a long time because inner critic that Neal writes about would say, oh for Pete’s sake, that’s ridiculous. That’s navel-gazing, or that’s just new age. That’s like carrying around teddy bears or something. And sometimes in the recently when I’ve written about stuff that is about the inside work of respect and acceptance and love, like, oh my God, I got a review. And it might have been for Dusk Night Dawn in the Chicago Tribune. So luckily 500,000 people got to read it. That said, the book was like being in the backyard with a Kardashian, you know, talking over the fence in the backyard, you know? And so it’s kind of worrisome. But for me to accept that this is how I see the world, this is what matters to me.


Anne Lamott: [00:29:36] These are the stories that I overhear or create or patch together that come to me, that I feel might be valuable to you because I believe almost anything I have gone through or feel you will understand if I say it. If I tell you it like off camera, if I say, oh, have you ever lost hope, lost the faith, lost the reason that keeps you going and creating one? Or have you ever? You go, oh yeah, yeah. Me too. I know exactly, you know. And so I patched together those stories. It’s like putting together quilts with every book. And I, I amass these stories and I see things. I think of stuff. I talk to people, I interview people, I do these riffs with people, and then I sew them together. So I had to accept that not all critics and all people were going to like that or be even comfortable with that, because it’s way too real for a lot of people. It’s way too heartful or exposed. And the thought, and I’m sure you’ve been through this, the thought that not everybody loves what you do is just existentially threatening, right?


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:48] Always. 


Anne Lamott: [00:30:49] Right? I mean, devastating.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:50] As much as you try and talk yourself out of it. You’re like, hmm, why do I keep feeling this over and over and over and over?


Anne Lamott: [00:30:56] It just gets under your skin and it makes you doubt yourself. So I had to work on the shelter of that came from accepting myself. It’s kind of like a funny little roof over me that I accept myself. This is who I’m going to be this side of eternity. You know? I’m going to have the same body and it’s, you know, it’s it’s aging and things, systems are failing. But I’m going to have pretty much have the same body. I’m going to probably keep seeing the world pretty much kind of no matter what the way I do, I’m going to have faith. I go to church. I’m a Sunday school teacher. I, I’m in recovery. I spend a lot of time talking to people about spiritual stuff, and that’s my shelter. Truth is, my shelter and the heart is my shelter. And accepting my beingness is my shelter. And I’m going to be attacked. And I just trust me. I’m going to get some really bad reviews for this book. I always do, and people are going to ask me questions at my gatherings and readings that are a going to be completely stupid, but b that are going to really get to me in front of 800 people, you know, that are going to not be understanding of what I’m up to, and I have to just be able to rely. I have to go into my center and just release that person. They get to think whatever they think about me. But I don’t think that it’s.


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:23] Interesting, as you’re saying, that I had this quick, very short term flashback not too long ago, just a couple of months back, actually, David Sedaris was making a pass through Boulder. So we we saw him. And, you know, as he often does, he was reading a whole bunch of stuff that he was working on. He was kind of like workshopping it in front of an audience of about a thousand people. And I bring that up because I remember sitting in the audience laughing and crying and feeling absolutely ashamed at the fact that I was laughing at something that that was just absolutely awful. Yeah. And then the thought occurred to me, you know, like, he’s standing on stage, he walks out in this comme des Garcons outfit with these super fancy shoes that he immediately described as clown shoes. And he seemed utterly without shame, standing in front of a thousand people, saying things that were just melting people’s minds. And he seemed completely at peace with it. And I was just thinking to myself, how does one get to that place? Because I am so far from that. That’s why I think especially curious about this notion of of shelter and it being an inside job and just really knowing yourself and being honest with yourself at a level where you’re just like, this is who I am, and it’s okay and I’m okay with it, and other people are going to say and receive me in all different ways. Good for them. Um, that is, uh, it’s it’s quite a challenge.


Anne Lamott: [00:33:47] It is the hardest work we do that in forgiveness. And I think Earth is forgiveness school, and it’s why we’re here at all. But this thing of just being who you are and being out there and being in public or even not being in public, but just insisting on the right to be who you really are. It’s the hardest work we do, but when he does it, people are thrilled. It’s thrilling to listen to David Sedaris. It’s thrilling and you laugh. And as I’ve always said, laughter is carbonated holiness. So suddenly you’re in church, you know, and you’re getting truth and you’re getting joy. I mean, he’s unique, I think, in that way. But he discovered 30 years ago that it’s thrilling for people to join him in that kind of truthfulness.


Jonathan Fields: [00:34:34] Yeah. No, indeed. You know, one of the other things that you write about is the notion of, um, hinges and doors sort of as a both literal and metaphoric to explore the themes of transition and containment and the passage between, I guess, different states of being is how I might describe it.


Anne Lamott: [00:34:53] Mhm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:34:54] Were you thinking about particular hinge or particular door in your life that really became the foundation of the conversation around it?


Anne Lamott: [00:35:03] That’s funny because there’s no reason you particularly remember this, but the very end of that chapter is about how the dogs have eaten the doors and how Neal had to put up these metal plates. And then I was saying, what kind of person eats their own door, you know? And then I understood people who want you to open it and let them out, or people who can’t understand why you’ve closed it and won’t let them in. And I thought that sort of says it all. And as soon as I started thinking about doors and hinges, well, you know, the my salvation, like other people’s salvation, might have begun with Jesus, but mine began with opening the hinges of a book, and I was an early reader. So at about four years old, I could open a book, a chapter book eventually and enter a world that someone had created for me, and I could get completely lost in the book. And then that was the way I first got found. You know, it really is how I got found in Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web and Beverly Cleary and whoever else, and how my son and grandson got lost and found in Harry Potter. But so then I started to think about that kind of hinge.


Anne Lamott: [00:36:13] Then I remembered I was a little girl, like four years old, in this house where my little brother was born. So he didn’t live there too long, but there was a door that had a screen door, and it had this torn bit at the bottom that my dad was always trying to prepare, that always came loose, and it always caught me by the pants or the legs and it like it was grabbing for me. That was painful. But when you opened that screen door, you entered literal heaven. You entered a great backyard that had a little tree house in it, a very primitive tree house, and it had tall grasses and it had an orange tree. And our dog would always be back there. And so it was like the cost of heaven was getting opening the door. And then all of a sudden, you know what it’s like, all of a sudden you’re off and running, and then you remember another door, a member of the door that I looked through and saw my son’s father standing on the other side of it. And I thought we were just getting more and more together. And he had come to say that we were not going to be together because he was so busy.


Anne Lamott: [00:37:20] But what he’d it was one of those doors, they call them lights. It has like eight panes or something, but they call them lights. And I could see him through it and I could see that he looked distressed and I had just no idea. And so I set about trying to make him feel better about his life. And I ended up pregnant. And then he was outside that door again not long after to tell me that I couldn’t have the baby. And he was six foot four and it was very scary. And of course, I didn’t want it to lock the door and push the furniture up. Don’t you know, go away, go away, because I was going to have the baby and all of a sudden realized what a central motif doors are, you know, doors that have been slammed in anger, the symbol of shutting you out, or the symbol of the great shalom of welcoming you. And come in, come on in. We want you. We have what you have. We have something that may interest you or help you. Come on in. Let me get you some water. And so then I couldn’t shake all these doors that started coming back into my consciousness that I wanted to write about.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:26] I love that it’s interesting as as I was reading the vision or I guess, a story, or actually it was a movie at one point. The notion of Sliding Doors also came to me like, you know, we think of doors as being these doors and hinges, but the notion of sliding doors, whereas, you know, but for the fact that you showed up a heartbeat before or after, you know, like this thing came in front of you or not, or opened and closed, you know, this tiny little insignificant thing or seemingly insignificant in your life in that moment could lead to profound change in direction. And this is kind of what you talk about also is like that. You know, part of this notion is that it’s a combination of barriers and gateways. Yeah. And that how and when you either choose to or don’t choose to walk through. And what’s on the other side if it’s now versus two seconds later, you know, that that tiny little change can lead to such profound difference as it starts to ripple out and magnify and amplify into all the different ways in your life.


Anne Lamott: [00:39:23] Mhm. Yeah, I love that. I mean, I love it metaphorically and I also love it in terms of memory, you know, and barriers. I climbed over barriers. Other women pulled me over, you know, where women reached for me and pulled me. Over, and then where I went and reached over it to pull other women over, you know, to safety or to freedom or to new life. So, yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:39:46] Um, one of the other topics that you dive into is this notion, and I’ve never heard this phrase before, and I imagine this, this is your language minus tide. Uh, it was interesting because I grew up on the water. You know, I grew up sitting on beaches on the shore, just kind of sometimes for hours, watching the tide come in and go out. And then seeing as it receded way out. And sometimes on those, you know, like pre-storm days where it would go out so much farther than you ever imagined, and it would reveal things that you never knew were there, that you were just like, you know, walking on top of, swimming on top of so many times. Yeah. The concept of minus tide. Yeah. How would you describe the notion of minus tide?


Anne Lamott: [00:40:26] Well, I wrote about Minus Tides because a very close friend who was younger than I am named Karen, who had been a runner in an athlete all of a sudden got an idiopathic lung disease that was going to kill her. You know, this terrific runner. And it didn’t seem like there was going to be a solution. But for two years, everybody, including me, tried to help her get well. And then finally, it wasn’t going to happen. And she was just so sick and she couldn’t walk even any she couldn’t take our walks anymore, and she couldn’t do hardly anything that had defined her before. She’d been very busy, very active. She had grandchildren, she had a career. She had this wild, hilarious life of friends and family, and all of a sudden she was just a very sick person. She couldn’t breathe very well. And I started to remember my dad’s sickness and that that happened with him too, that he had been so brilliant, such a great speaker, such a great raconteur and friend, and very involved in our our family and our extended family and my aunts and uncles and cousins. And he really couldn’t do much of anything. And I started to see it as the minus tide and the when all of the beautiful surf has rolled back and all of the everything that makes you want to go stand at the ocean has rolled all the way back nearly to the horizon. What is revealed is kind of shocking at first.


Anne Lamott: [00:41:58] You know, when your surface is rolled back and I saw Karen’s surface rolled back and you see sea anemones that are ten, 20, 30, 40 years old. I mean, everything that has been there forever. But you never get to see it till the surface rolls away. You see colonies of of mollusks and algae and keyhole limpets and crabs and tiny little creatures that I can’t even think of the name for. It’s everything is exposed, everything shows. And when somebody that you love and can’t live without gets that sick, you see that they’re just exposed. You know the persona doesn’t help them have a better day. The the old lines they’ve used a thousand times don’t really help anymore. What helps is what is really there. And it can be fascinating and fill you full of wonder. And you learn the beauty and the holiness of what really is, not what you wish it was, not what it used to be, but what it is now. And so when you have someone to keep you company in that and to gaze out at it or to walk amongst it, or in her case, she had a wheelchair that she could use in the sand. Sometimes it’s like, well, you’ve seen the mining sites. It’s like being on Mars. It’s a completely different landscape and waterscape and envision scape. But if you have somebody to be on that new land with, you can just be blown away by its beauty and the great mystery.


Jonathan Fields: [00:43:35] Do you ever wonder what it would take, or if it’s even possible for us to strip ourselves bare in front of those we love, at a level where we reveal that that level of sort of like bone-deep truth about ourselves without having to be brought to our knees.


Anne Lamott: [00:43:52] Yeah, well, I think we do. I’m sure you have with your beloved people, with your most beloved people. People get forced to do it when they get a terminal diagnosis. Then you really have to get pretty real and pretty present. And it does strip you down past your all the jackets that we wear to cover up who we really are, because the inner critic and possibly the public might find fault with it or shame us about it. But I’ll tell you this probably too much information. But about a year into my romance with Neal, we both got stomach flu within the same hour in a smallish house, and you just want to take care of the other person, right? But you can’t predict what’s going to happen next for you. And it was so weird. And it was kind of so lovely to have both of those things going on that I wanted to care for him and I could, and then I had to take care of me, and then I had to. I had to be alone, and then I had to sit with him, and then he had to sit with me. And we just had no effective mental defense against being who we were very sick right then and then also what we were talking about earlier. When you have a terrible disagreement with somebody, you’re really revealed, you know, you say stuff or you stomp in a way that just shows that you’re not this highly evolved spiritual being who has the answers you’re just revealed to be as just another screwed up human being who doesn’t really have a clue how things are going to shake down.


Anne Lamott: [00:45:31] But it’s miserably uncomfortable in the moment. And sometimes I’ve seen Neal there when we’re having a disagreement, and I’ve seen that he is miserable and he’s ashamed because he’s who he is, is showing he is a self-admitted know it all, and he has to be right. Those aren’t what my things are. Mine are different, but I need to be seen. And I kind of need. I prefer to be right. Like the Buddhists will say, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? And I want to be happy. But at the same time I prefer to be right. So I’ve seen Neal when he has felt that shame of having been exposed, of having behaved like a jerk, having really hurt me, and I have felt such incredible tenderness towards him, and at the same time, I’ve had to take care of my own self because my little scared little kid is experiencing all this. But I have been able to say, you know, I so love you and I need to be alone.


Anne Lamott: [00:46:36] I need to get sorted out right now and I love you. And then that releases him from The Terror of Exile, and it releases him to, as we started out saying, if you got a problem, go look in the mirror. But, you know, I think a lot of us, when we were children, especially children of unhappy parents, had like knew why we should be exiled because we were imperfect and we made mistakes and we disappointed them and we acted out. When I am in a difficulty with Neal particularly, but with my closest friends or son, I’ve become that child who knows exactly why she should be exiled. She’s a huge baby. She’s so needy. She’s hypersensitive. You can’t get away with anything. Then I cross my arms and I. And I cry, but I weaponize my silence, all that stuff. And so Neal can see that in me. Those like being sick or beaten up. And we’ve all been beaten up by Covid enough times, you know, where you were just sick. And the horrible thing was you couldn’t save or fix or rescue yourself. I could you can’t get yourself well when you have a disease like that, and you have a cough that you have a month later and you can’t self-will yourself into getting over it, you have to surrender and you have to lay down your weapons and you have to let yourself be weak.


Anne Lamott: [00:48:07] Oh God. I mean, everything I was taught as a child was, don’t let people see how weak you are sometimes. Don’t forgive them. That makes you soft. Don’t do this. It makes you soft. It’ll be used against you, right? That’s my best answer, is that people that are terminal get forced to discover who they really are. People who are, you know, diagnosed with a really scary illness or forced to Covid really forced a lot of us into discovering the the strength of how surrendering and just letting go and, you know, closing down the office, shutting down all the things that had made us feel good about ourselves before, all the things that we could do that made people be really impressed with us. And all of a sudden, I’m really sick. I have a cough that I at this point don’t think I will ever get over. So letting a few people see you at minus tide is all it takes. If they’re like, I bet it’s the same for you. There are three people who I can let walk out onto my minus tides with, and you know, who are never going to leave me 100%.


Jonathan Fields: [00:49:17] And it’s not like you need a lot of those people one, two, three, like 2 or 3, right? You have them there. You know, I think that weaves really beautifully into there are these other two parts of the book, Song and Cowboy. We’re kind of talking about all of them really. You know, it’s like song is around the notion of how love emerges during these situations where. Or things like. Everything is bleak, everything is exposed and raw and somehow like this seeds compassion and love in ways to bring grace to the toughest moments. And a cowboy you really dive into. And this is where community often becomes such an important part of the conversation. And I feel like, you know, as we emerge from the last four years, we’re really trying to figure out what is community in our lives right now. Like, what does that look like? How do we make it happen? And I feel like so many of us have realized how important it is in a way that we took for granted before. Is that your sense?


Anne Lamott: [00:50:14] Yeah, definitely. I was hesitant to write about community and the love of community and the blessing and nourishment of community, because I’m really a loner, you know, and I’m kind of a lone wolf. I love to be alone. I spend a lot of my time alone in Neal wanders in and out. My son or grandson wander in or out. But I really was saved by community. You know, I when I was still drinking, I, I wandered into this little church in which I had no interest except for I loved the music. It was a black church with a lot of the old hymns of the southern churches, and a lot of the people had come from the Great Migration and the music. A lot of it overlapped with the civil rights movement, which was very important to my parents and then to my brothers and I. And I just sat there. I didn’t, and I left for the Jesus part because it made me so nervous. But in that crummy little room, that really ramshackle little room, they didn’t hassle me. They didn’t try to get me to join their community and understand what they understood and believe what they believe. They just could see I was really alone and hurting and scared. And so they got me water, and I sat there for as long as I could every week. And then I joined a year later. I am an alcoholic and I was really going down. I mean, the elevator only goes in one direction, and it had finally landed at a floor where I didn’t think, you know, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I didn’t think I was going to live.


Anne Lamott: [00:51:43] And so I found another community of sober women, and that was when my life began. I was 32. So almost 37 years ago, I mean, it was 37, so almost 38 years ago. And so I can write about the miracle that somebody like me would let communities of people get to know me and let them love me, and let them help me learn to endure the beams of love. You know, you’ve read somehow more recently than I have, so I can’t quite remember what the story in somehow is. But I can remember I mean, in song is. But I know it had to do with the Passover right at Baker Beach and had to be with the hell happened to, um, it happened to involve the miracle of community. The song we sing when we gather together. This song of love, this song of. Please help us, please, please come by here. Please. You know people now, Kumbaya is like a way to attack Democrats like they’re so New Age or something. But it’s a Black gospel spiritual song of come by here, God, we’re crying, people are crying. Come by here, Lord. People are dying. Come by here, Lord. And then you sing the joyous songs, the songs of praise and the songs that you can’t harmonize with yourself, you know? And so I really wanted to write about community, and I really wanted to kind of nudge people into even considering that there might be a community out there. That would be a great blessing for them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:53:21] And that resonates so strongly with me because I am very much an introvert. I am a creative spirit as well. I’m really good with solitude. I love just sort of holing up in my creative cave and writing, or making art or working or thinking, and I’m really content with that. And yeah, but it was interesting and it’s helpful for me to hear sort of like your frame on this. Also, as we’ve moved from after living 30 years in New York City and then dropping into it like a new small town in the mountains about three and a half years ago, and then getting here at a time where it was pretty much, you know, we weren’t building community then. We were we were just kind of on our own. We were our own little mini-community. And then at some point, we started to wonder if this was, quote, our place or not. And then we started to realize, you know, the only way we’re really going to know is if we pretend it is and invest in actually being a part of this place and see who else is out there outside of our house, that might be friends and like-minded and, you know, chosen family. And we became really intentional about doing that in a way that wasn’t supernatural to us. And it’s a little uncomfortable, you know, like, admittedly. But the blessing in return has just been. Astonishing. You know, it’s like compound interest times a thousand. And I was glad to see you write about, actually.


Anne Lamott: [00:54:43] Mm. Good. Thank you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:45] You effectively. Um. You nudged me to remember that I have to keep doing it.


Anne Lamott: [00:54:49] So glad. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:51] That was nice, because it doesn’t come naturally, I think, to a lot of people. Also probably to a lot of people who are listening in, I think we tend to think about it more when times are tough, but, you know, when it’s already there, I think it just it’s so much easier to rely on it in that moment. Yeah. You wrap up sort of a combination of general instructions, kind of bringing it all together. I honestly don’t remember whether this is the place that you wrote this or whether it was early on in the book that there’s this line, the main instruction that I would leave my family and my swag bag of spiritual truth, be goodness with skin on. Mhm.


Anne Lamott: [00:55:26] That’s at the very beginning, but I’ll just tell the story. I always told my Sunday school kids about this little girl who’s really afraid of the dark and afraid to go to sleep, and she keeps calling out for her mother, and her mother keeps coming in and going, oh, don’t be worried, you know? You know, God is right here with you. You’re not alone. And then the mother leaves and little girl is still frightened and calls for the mother. And the mother comes back. And just to make a long story short, at some point when the mother says, oh, don’t be afraid, God is right here. The little girl says, I need someone with skin on. And I really believe that that’s who we are called to be in the world is goodness and and attention and listening and all goodness but with skin on.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:09] Mhm. Yeah I just love that imagery and I love the, I love the fact that from the mouths of, of kids.


Anne Lamott: [00:56:15] Yeah, yeah yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:16] It’s like yep that is exactly what we need. Yeah. This feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Anne Lamott: [00:56:28] To live a good life is to decide to stop living unconsciously, and to make a decision that you are going to wake up to all that is beautiful and holy and that still works. And to remember that if you want to have loving feelings, which would be my definition of a good life, you need to do loving things. And that might mean that you fill up a bag with food, and you take it over to the food pantry and the poorer part of the town. Or it might mean that you call somebody who you know is lonely and who can be annoying, but you take the action and the insight follows that you really feel tenderly towards this person, and you just keep doing these actions that are about awareness and that are about love, and that all both of them somehow are helped along by learning to breathe. You know, left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. And when we breathe, we’re sort of spritzed into awareness. And when we breathe, we’re so deeply nourished. And it creates an umbilical cord between the beauty of life, the awareness of life, and the beauty of the people who, against all odds, just love us more and more with every passing year. For me, it’s a good life means that you get outside every day, that you somehow get outside and you look up, you look at the stars, you look at the moon, you look at the sun, you look at the sunrise. And, um, those are the things that, to me constitute the good life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:58:08] Hmm. Thank you.


Anne Lamott: [00:58:10] Thank you. Jonathan.


Jonathan Fields: [00:58:12] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode, Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Anne a little while back. You’ll find a link to that episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me. Jonathan Fields Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

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