Review of Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

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Review of Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

During the 1990s and early 2000s, my critique group loved Anne Lamott and read all her books and discussed them and laughed together at her humor. After that, she fell off my radar, though I still reread Bird by Bird (her book on writing) periodically. (I own two copies. Yeah, I misplaced my first one and couldn’t live without it, so I had to buy another.)

A few months ago, Lamott made an appearance at a nearby arts center, and my friend Linda emailed the critique group and suggested we go. So, Judy and Linda and I got to see her in person for the very first time. And I bought Almost Everything, her latest book.

Linda, Judy, and me

Authors Linda Carlblom, Judy Robertson, and me

The appearance was a week after Lamott’s 65th birthday and a week before her wedding (her first wedding!), a time of great transition for her. She whined a little and philosophized a lot. She told stories about her recent life and also recapped her whole life story. We left there feeling thoroughly entertained.

A few weeks later I settled in to read Almost Everything. After not reading any of her books written since 2005, I expected to be wowed. It’s her eighteenth book, consisting of twelve chapters on different topics. (She’s also written seven novels.)

Almost Everything

But by the time I was three-quarters of the way through the book, I was getting nervous. I expected great wisdom, but what I found was familiar stories from her old books. And you know what? This is a skinny book, only 198 pages. (Plan B, which came out in 2005, was 320.)

Thankfully, I found some of what I was looking for in the final two chapters.

Chapter 11 is about food. Here are a couple of paragraphs that resonated with me:

There is the $66 billion American diet industry whispering sweet nothings everywhere you turn. There is your family’s jealousy or mortification about your body. There is our own dispirited stance toward ourselves, designed to protect us and advance our potential. There are also the convincing voices of mindfulness, coaching us to eat slowly and to savor taste and texture bite by bite; but to be blunt, this isn’t going to happen. While I am not advocating for the school of Shovel and Stuff, to sit chewing so methodically starts to argue a wasted life.

Maybe some of us can try to eat a bit more healthfully, and walk a bit more, or wheelchair dance, and make sure to wear pants that do not hurt our stomachs or our feelings. Drinking more water is the solution to many problems. Doing a three-minute meditation every day may change your life: It is the gateway drug to slowing down. Naps are nice, too.

Chapter 12 is titled “Famblies.” Here is the opening:

If the earth is forgiveness school, family is your postdoctoral fellowship. Family is hard hard hard, a crucible. Think Salem witch trials, or Senator Joseph McCarthy and House Un-American Activities Committee, great pain from which great transformation arises. The family is the crucible in which these strange entities called identities are formed, who we are and aren’t but agreed to be. Even in what might pass as a good family, every member is consigned a number of roles intended to keep the boat of the family afloat, which because of the ship’s rats—genetics, bad behavior, and mental illness—is not as easy as it sounds. It’s the hardest work we do, forgiving our circumstances, our families, and ourselves. Parenting is hard, and so is old age. And every single teenager is hard—even twelve-year-old Jesus drove his folks crazy. (And no word at all on the high school years; like Obama.) Babies are hard. In-laws are hard. And forgiveness is hardest of all.

I was given the role of perfect child at an early age. . .

And she goes on to describe her childhood, and how it shaped the woman she became.

If you’ve never read any of Anne Lamott’s nonfiction, you could read this one book, and it would be representative of her entire body of work. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is not a bad book, but it recycles a lot of old material.

On the basis of my disappointment with this book, I decided that from now on I’ll borrow Lamott’s books from the library.

Then a supermarket in my neighborhood held a going-out-of-business sale, and I scored a copy of her previous book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy for $1.50. (Isn’t that a great title, by the way?)

 

Monday Morning Wisdom # 211

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Monday Morning Wisdom # 211

MMW“I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.”–Edgar Rice Burroughs

From the Creator’s Heart #207

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Image 6-18-18 at 1.58 PM

ICAD 2019 Weeks 1 & 2

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ICAD 2019 Weeks 1 & 2

This is my fourth year participating in the Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD) Challenge. Theoretically, every day in June and July I will create a piece of art on an index card. (I’ve already missed a few days–I’ll tell you a little more about that in a second.) I plan to post my cards every Saturday.

Yeah, I know, I missed posting last Saturday.

That’s because on Wednesday, June 5 I went to the hospital for what I hoped would be outpatient surgery. Unfortunately, there were complications, and I didn’t go home until Sunday.*

I love this challenge because the demands are small. As in 3 x 5. It also motivates me to try new things.

I’ve always wanted to learn calligraphy, but it seems so daunting. You have to learn how to hold the pen or brush so that it consistently makes the thick-and-thin strokes that are characteristic of calligraphy. There are alphabets and flourishes to learn and practice. Carumba! 

But I can start small. I don’t have to learn a whole alphabet. I can just write stuff and embellish it a little. So I decided to combine the ICAD challenge with another project I’m working on–memorizing scripture.

Day 1:

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My son Andy gave me a set of alcohol markers. The lighter colors are very suitable for backgrounds on the index cards. I can mark on top of it with pencil and erase it and it doesn’t get messed up.

Day 2:

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Day 3. I experimented with a Pigma Brush pen instead of my usual micron pens. The brush pen is tricky to control. It will take practice to make it look nice. I added some flowers to dress it up:

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Day 4. This is my favorite so far, I think because of the colors:

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Day 10:

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Day 11:

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Day 12:

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Day 13:

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Day 14:

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*(Everything’s good. I had a mass removed from my abdomen. It had infiltrated the blood vessels to my small intestine, and the doctor had to cut out a section. The tumor was not malignant.)

Creative Juice #142

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Creative Juice #142

A collection of creative genius.

In the Meme Time: Try

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Try

Guest Post: What Does it Mean to be a Writer AND a Perfectionist? by Colleen Story

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Guest Post: What Does it Mean to be a Writer AND a Perfectionist? by Colleen Story

Thank you to Writers in the Storm and to Colleen Story for this very balanced article on perfectionism and writing.

Google “perfectionism” and “writers” and you’d think perfectionism was a deadly disease.

Pages pop up offering tips for overcoming the “disorder,” warnings for avoiding the “dangerous” tendencies, and help for “dealing” with it.

Even the beloved Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird) is quoted as saying:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life….”

I’m not one to question the wisdom of Anne Lamott, but that quote does make me wince a little. I mean, cramped and insane? Is it really that bad?

What if you are a writer who happens to be a perfectionist? Are you doomed to failure before you even start?

Why Do We Pick on Perfectionists?

We all have unique character traits, and they can have both positive and negative sides to them. Someone who is very detail oriented, for example, is likely to shine at carrying a project through to a successful conclusion, but may have a hard time seeing the bigger picture, or envisioning the overall end game.

On the other side of the coin, someone who is a brilliant visionary is likely to have difficulty remembering everything that needs to be done on a project, and without help, may miss something really important.

The problem (or blessing) is that most of us can’t change these inherent characteristics. Not completely.

Studies have shown this to be true. According to the New York Times, for instance:

“The largest and longest studies to carefully analyze personality throughout life reveal a core of traits that remain remarkably stable over the years…”

Paul T. Costa Jr., scientist emeritus at the laboratory of behavioral science at the National Institutes of Health, found similar results in his studies:

“It’s not that personality is fixed and can’t change. But it’s relatively stable and consistent. What you see at 35, 40 is what you’re going to see at 85, 90.”

So to be so hard on perfectionism, above all other traits, seems to be a little unfair. After all, the perfectionist can’t really stop being so. Not entirely. To ask someone to do that is like asking a visionary to swap and become detail oriented, or the detail oriented to suddenly take on the visionary attitude.

They can try, but they’re likely to end up frustrated, and worse, to lose confidence in their abilities as a whole.

Yet there’s no doubt that though there are some good sides to perfectionism (really!), it can also have a damaging, negative influence on a writing career.

So what’s a perfectionist writer to do?

To continue reading this article, click here.