There have been certain writers that I have read that I just plain love, and have changed my life.
They are pretty much my “rock stars,” and if I saw them at a reading I imagine I would react like a teenage girl would when seeing the Beatles: screaming, yelling, tearing my clothes, fainting. High up on my list of writer rock stars is Anne Lamott.
It was Lamott who wrote perhaps the best book on writing ever called Bird by Bird. She has helped me, as a writer, be more honest, funny, and hopeful.
Needless to say I was thrilled when her new book of essays called Plan B came out, I was one of the first people to go buy it. And after finishing it, I can now say she’s still in top form.
For those unfamiliar with Lamott’s work, she is very self-revealing in her writing, be it writing about growing up in an alcoholic family in Marin, her father’s death of a brain tumor, getting sober at age 32, being a single mother, or finally becoming a liberal born-again Christian.
She became well-known after writing a popular column for the online magazine Salon, from which many of these pieces originated. Plan B is no different, telling stories as she tries to keep her faith when her mother dies, friends become sick, and the beginning of the Iraq war.
The essay about her mother’s death is titled “O Noraht, Noraht,” because the mortuary misspelled her mother’s middle name.
After having a difficult relationship with her mother, Lamott honestly says, “my life has been much better since she died, and it was liberating to be so angry, after having been such a good and loyal girl.” Yet she talks about her sadness as she goes through her mother’s purse to find her wallet, cookies and “her house keys, which made me feel such grief…”
In the essay, Lamott writes about the difficult relationship with her mother, but also writes well about how she wants to forgive her mother, and move on with her life.
In “Holies of Holies,” Lamott writes about starting a Sunday School at her church, but finds herself sometimes burned out by the experience in incredible funny details as when a child makes fun of her dreadlocks: “‘…please don’t say critical things about me. It hurts my feelings.’ He gaped at me, and said, ‘You’re freaking me out, Octopus Head.’” And yet, Lamott can describe taking the children in the school to the beach by saying “The ocean is so female… and the waves and sand scour you like a mother with a washcloth.”
Being a liberal Democrat, Lamott is less than thrilled about the current president in the White House, saying that President George W. Bush “[is like] a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman, or Osama bin Laden.”
Although the details can be funny, Lamott’s continual bashing of Bush can be considered the only flaw in Plan B. Although I’m no fan of the president myself, even I wanted to say to her, “Um, Annie? Can we give him a break? Just this once?”
But Lamott can make it up by talking about how at age 50 she feels like she has found true happiness in her life, and how “I have survived so much loss…your heart will be badly broken…but there is also good news.”
“The person lives forever, in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up… you learn to dance with the bandaged up heart.” Reading this brought tears to my eyes. That is Lamott’s gift: To tell how grief can always hurt, but it lessens.
If you’re looking for something funny, yet serious, you cannot go wrong with Plan B. And trust me, when you are done, you will be like one of those girls that loved the Beatles: Laughing, crying, and then thanking Anne Lamott for telling her story yet again.