February 17, 2019

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Anne Lamott, Leftie Guru of Optimism

Anne Lamott, Leftie Guru of Optimism
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Lamott aphorisms now blanket the internet, on pinterest boards, blogs and a Twitter account, Anne Lamott Quotes, set up by Dean Dauphinais, the father of a recovering addict who found Lamott’s words like an elixir, he said recently. You can see how Lamott might forget a book title or two, given the regularity with which she delivers a new collection. Bound in Easter egg colors with sparkling celestial graphics and interchangeable subtitles, the books have branded their epigrammatic author into a tidier, more wholesome package.

She has been giving TED-like talks in book stores and churches for years, long before that fame-minter was invented. Her actual TED Talk, in 2017, has been viewed more than 2.8 million times. Lamott has her own Twitter feed, and a rollicking community of mostly supportive followers, though the occasional troll will gripe about her left-leaning politics or her stance on abortion. “Every other day I get something hostile about my face, or my politics or my enthusiastic baby killing,” she said, noting that she has been told more than a few times that she will burn in hell. “The rule on Twitter is you can disagree with me, but if you are an idiot, I will block you.”

At 35, Lamott was a well-regarded novelist with a Guggenheim to her credit, three years of sobriety and a passionate faith — she was hooked by the gospel music, and social justice sermons, coming out of a tiny Presbyterian church in Marin County — when she had Sam. Her memoir, “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year,” out in 1993, recounted Lamott’s life as a single mother with a colicky baby, not much money and a dying best friend. It was very, very funny, and laid out some hard truths that veered sharply from the Hallmark version of motherhood. It became a touchstone for many new mothers.

She wrote of circumsizing Sam for aesthetic reasons, noting that in her experience the uncut unit, as she put it, looked sort of marsupial, perhaps like a rodent trapped in a garden house; the umbilical cord, when it fell off, reminded her of something the cat might get stuck in its tail; and she wrote, marvelously, of wishing she could just put the baby out on the porch for one night. “Nicely bundled up, of course,” she said. “I talked about the rage that you experience when you’re beyond zebra exhaustion and you realize you don’t like children.”

“Operating Instructions,” was her first best-seller. The title of her second, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” came from the advice her late father, Kenneth Lamott, a well-known writer and editor who died of cancer when he was 56, gave her older brother when the boy was in fourth grade, and paralyzed by a school report on birds. “Bird by bird, buddy,” the elder Lamott famously said. “Just take it bird by bird.”

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