Annie Dillard, Anne Fadiman, Anne Lamott. They are filed in my "mind" in the same bin. Maybe it is something so superficial as the fact they run variations on a common first name, but probably it's coupled with the fact that I started reading them at the same time. The other thing is that they write really well, I fact I've reflected on before in the case of Dillard and Fadiman. Now is the time for a bit of parity of esteem for Anne Lamott who is the most difficult of the Trinitanny. I think the only book of hers I've read is Bird by Bird; some instructions of writing and life, which is both insightful and a stitch. It's also holding its original price on Amazon better than Ex Libris [Fadiman] or Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek [Dillard].
Bird by Bird's title comes from an anecdote about Lamott's father and her younger brother who, as a teenager, was experiencing writer's block over a daunting essay on ornithology. The father's advice was "Bird by Bird, Buddy" in the sense that all great journeys start with a single step but that without that first step you'll spend the rest of your life unfulfilled on your sofa. Addressing a massive entangled problem by finding a small knot and tugging - just to do something - is what I have called a Javi Problem. Lamott, like many women, had an uneasy relationship with her mother whose was uniquely infuriating to her daughter. But their relationship softened a little when Lamott became a single parent in her mid-30s: granny and grandson were besotted with each other and that helped Annie-in-the-middle see more virtue in the older woman.
That boy Sam, features in a brilliant anecdote in Bird by Bird which I'll defy copyright by quoting here in full:
“My son, Sam, at three and a half, had these keys to a set of plastic handcuffs, and one morning he intentionally locked himself out of the house. I was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when I heard him stick his plastic keys into the doorknob and try to open the door. Then I heard him say, "Oh, shit." My whole face widened, like the guy in Edvard Munch's Scream. After a moment I got up and opened the front door.
"Honey," I said, "what'd you just say?"
"I said, 'Oh, shit,'" he said.
"But, honey, that's a naughty word. Both of us have absolutely got to stop using it. Okay?"
He hung his head for a moment, nodded, and said, "Okay, Mom." Then he leaned forward and said confidentially, "But I'll tell you why I said 'shit.'" I said Okay, and he said, "Because of the fucking keys!”
I hope that makes someone go and get her book out of the library and read it. You might then be ready for an hour-long interview which is, by turns, confessional, insightful, laconic and funny. Her boy Sam became a father at a ridiculously young age [why a year younger than me] and Lamott wrote a book about the coming of the wunderkind called Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First son. Here Lamott reads sections with Sam to rein her in.
If you're not [yet] a fan, you might try 12 truths I learned from life and writing which is a) TED and b) only 16 minutes long . . . and nails world peace. Here's an even shorter piece [5 mins] anout how she got sober with the help of Jack "Why don't you come over and we'll talk" and God.