Tonight I basked in the inspiring glow of self-proclaimed “savage reader,” Anne Lamott. I really wish it had just been the two of us swapping life stories over a cup of coffee, but, due to a rather inconvenient turn of events, half of Nashville also showed up to hear her speak at the public library. I can safely say that 99% of the people in the room would consider themselves her biggest fan. I can also safely say that not one of us left without being touched by what she had to say.
You see, the thing about Anne Lamott, both in her books and in person, is that she is the most down to earth, honest, genuine human being you may ever encounter, which is why I haven’t run across a single person who has read her books and not deeply, personally connected with something she has written.
If you are not familiar with Anne Lamott’s writing, I cannot recommend her books highly enough. Topics include faith and spirituality, being a mother, being a grandmother, instructions on writing, and several novels that are also very much worth reading. Her books on faith do not alienate those who do not believe. Her book on writing inspires the average mess of a person to pick up a pen. And her books on motherhood and being a grandmother will make every woman sigh in relief for not being the only one who thinks the job is terribly difficult at times.
Anne talked about how the women’s movement was her source of salvation when she was in her teens. She talked about rights for women and being a feminist, how she still feels like we have so far to go, that when she reads articles about women’s rights we are still fighting for, it blows her mind. She is very passionate about getting young people to vote so they are involved in the decisions made in our country.
In speaking about her generation to younger women, she says, “We fought for you to have the freedom of choice, and our feet hurt and our backs hurt… you have to mobilize people and get them to vote. Nothing will work except your passion for doing the right thing.” Anne’s passion made me think about Sheryl Sandberg, a woman who is loudly proclaiming this same message in her new book, Lean In.
One of the questions posed to Anne was for advice for people who love to write. She replied by saying there are only two topics that she is ever asked to speak on when she does lectures, faith and writing. She said that her notes for each topic are the same. I was frantically scratching phrases in my little notebook and this is what I caught:
“If somebody will write about the mess and have a sense of humor, I’m in… A great novel for me is a sacred object…We are a species that is fed and livened by stories and chapter books… When you write a small passage, it’s like ‘thank God’ because something exists that wasn’t there before.”
“Not one of you knows how much time you have. Not one of you has the kind of time you think you do.”
She spoke about the importance of being faithful to writing, of sitting down and creating a rhythm out of it. Then she told a story about her best friend, Pammy, who died at 37. She and Pammy were out shopping a few weeks before she died and Anne asked her if a dress she was trying on made her hips look big. Pammy’s response to Anne was, “You don’t have that kind of time.”
Anne looked at the audience and said, “Not one of you knows you’ll still be alive in June. Not one of you knows how much time you have. Not one of you has the kind of time you think you do.” In other words, use the time you’ve been given to be productive, to elicit change in the world, to care for people who are hurting, to write a masterpiece. I sat there with tears in my eyes, thinking about a dear friend who is battling a “non-curative” type of cancer at the moment, and these words rang true in my heart.
The evening was moderated by Ann Patchett, also an incredible writer in her own right. The conversation between these two women was fascinating to listen to because they are both voracious readers. They do two things. They read. They write. And maybe they eat in between, but it was like watching a ping-pong match, except they were hitting books back and forth to each other. “Have you read…?” “Yes, and I loved it, but did you read…?”
I wrote down a number of the titles they mentioned, and I want to share them because when a talented writer tells me to read a book, I’m on it. I haven’t read any of these, but I will add them to the Women You Should Know Goodreads Reading Group so we can have the adventure together.
Both women enjoy the New Yorker immensely and Anne also mentioned that she loved the stories she grew up on by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, Louisa May Alcott stories, and the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. She said these were the books that nourished her love of stories.
I wish I could have a recording of everything Anne said. There were volumes worth of wisdom in what she shared with us and I left feeling inspired to go change the world, or at least my small corner of it.