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Book Talk

Anne Lamott Asks: What Would Soul Windex Look Like?

Sam Lamott

In her book Dusk, Night, Dawn author Anne Lamott talks about her faith, climate change, late-in-life-marriage, and how to keep the courage.

“What would soul Windex look like?” author Anne Lamott asks in Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage. She’s preparing a Sunday school lesson, but the idea sums up the themes in the book nicely. How to see ourselves and those around us with more clarity. How to know God’s love and trust that we are perfectly imperfect. How to move through hard times, and trust for another shot. It’s a beautiful book.

Lamott is the author of the bestselling nonfiction Hallelujah Anyway; Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; and Operating Instructions, in addition to seven novels. From her home in Northern California, we spoke with her about Dusk, Night, Dawn.

S&H: When were you working on Dusk, Night, Dawn? In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump, we are wondering how all of this was or was not affecting your writing.

Anne Lamott: I started all of 2019 when the terrifying things with Trump were happening, and the Australian fires [starting in September 2019], and then the UN Special Report on Climate Change. It’s about love, soul, and restoration during catastrophe or dark times, and all of the sudden there was COVID. I didn’t want to make it a COVID book, but I definitely wanted to include the desolation and heartbreak that we were all going through.

With President Biden taking climate change so seriously, how do you feel about the future?

I’m always a cranky optimist. I feel like it’s both a miracle that we have somebody in charge who’s so deeply rooted in both science and spirituality, and at the same time, it’s just going to be very, very hard to turn this around, but as I said a number of times in the book, we’re good at hard, we can do hard. We have this generation of super scientifically trained young people to whom we’ve turned over the most extraordinary environmental data ever. I just trust that one day at a time we can turn this around. I have to believe that.

You’ve taught a lot of writing and wrote the classic book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Is there one thing you wish people would get over about themselves when they come to your writing workshops?

They come to my writing class wanting to publish instead of wanting to write. They want to publish and become famous, and it doesn’t happen that way. Publishing is not a gift. Publishing makes you even more mentally ill than you already were, but the writing can heal you, and center you, and help you find your purpose in life, help you find out why you’re here at all. I try to help them set aside the desire to publish and to develop the habits of sitting down at the same time every day and writing for a couple of hours and to let themselves write badly because that’s where all good writing begins.

In Dusk, Night, Dawn, you talk a lot about duality, how we all have this membership in a club of thinking we’re terrible inside. Everyone thinks that we are somehow damaged goods, and then no one else is—everyone else is just great.

Yes, the dual citizenship. We have these personalities, and let’s say peccadilloes, and let’s say tiny control issues, and there we are also children of the divine. We are part of the great oneness that is grace and that is the divine. That is what I might call the love energy that surrounds us and dwells within us.

You also write a lot about sobriety. Can you discuss how sobriety is still part of your daily experience?

Well, everything beautiful and true, almost everything, has come from getting sober and staying sober. I used to have a massive eating disorder, too, and 34 years after recovering from bulimia and totally disordered eating, I still struggle with it ... Every day I’m still working on my recovery, I’m still working on doing the best I can. We’re talking about forgiving myself and letting myself be completely beautifully hilariously human without being in shame.

“We’re talking about forgiving myself and letting myself be completely beautifully hilariously human without being in shame.”

Many of your fans are thrilled that you have found a soulmate and gotten married, to Neal Allen.

In my fifties, I got in touch with stuff that was keeping me from being well enough to receive Neal when he finally came. I began to be my own priority. When I became my own priority, I became an infinitely different mother. I became an infinitely different woman in the world. When Neal came along, I guess I was 62 … I was available. Because I’d never been my own priority, so when I found somebody for whom I was going to be a priority, I said, “Wow, that looks good!”

What have you discovered in being married?

There’s this writer, David Roche, and he has this great thing, like a mantra. Like if you say, “My darling, I'll love you unconditionally for all eternity,” it’s a lie because people are annoying. Sometimes, if Neal, is eating bacon a certain way and I feel I can't stay in this marriage because I'll have a nervous breakdown, [then I use David’s mantra]. The mantra is, “Darling, I will love you all the way through dinner. I will love you unconditionally through dinner.” I live by that. That 80 percent of anything is a small miracle.

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