Anne Lamott has been dishing out irreverent, devout and intensely honest narratives for more than 30 years. Though she’s penned seven novels it’s her nonfiction books—Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Grace (Eventually)—that have made her a frequent resident of the New York Times bestseller list.
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Lamott’s newest release, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son, brings her full circle with her 1993 runaway bestseller Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Here she contemplates the beauty of grandparenthood and the grace of growing older.
How has your son becoming a father changed the relationship between the two of you?
Infinitely and not all that much. All truth is paradox. From Sam’s perspective he all of a sudden gets what I was talking about all of those years! I don’t think kids have a clue how tired you were the entire time you were raising them. [Becoming a parent] shatters what the grown child thought it was like for you. They say something as though it’s the first time a parent has gone through it, and you just roll your eyes.
Has being a grandmother helped you—to borrow a phrase from one of your previous books—be where your butt is?
Yes. When Sam and Jax get here [in a little while] we’ll go across the street with the dogs, and we’ll throw some sticks, run around and we’ll have some projects in the park—getting the dogs water, picking up after them. Jax will absolutely be in the wonder of it all. I’ll have one foot in his world, and that, to me, is about as good as it gets.
Unfortunately I’ll also have one foot in, “Oh! How is my book going to do? Oh, I have to call the PR people. Oh my God, tomorrow’s garbage; I have to do recycling!” Blah, blah, blah. But to have one foot in wonder and the eternal present, to me is a miracle, and I love it so much. It’s easier to be where your butt is when your butt’s actually on the floor, and you’re playing with plastic horses, giving them bites of Honey Bunches of Oats and laughing with a little person.
What you’re describing sounds a little like the monastic ritual of work. Kids somehow get the transcendence of that, don’t they?
Heaven is being in that kind of playful, grateful state and grandchildren elicit that for me. Any chance at all to do this kind of radical playfulness and the making of more messes as a radical act: more mud, more dirt on the couches, or more mess in the kitchen because you’re baking and everything’s gotten away from you and the cat’s gotten into the flour—that to me is what heaven is like because it does bring you in to the present.
How has your Christian faith changed since you wrote Traveling Mercies?
I think that the main thing is that I have become so much more forgiving of myself. Little by little, I started to be kind to myself and began to love the really awful, disappointing parts of myself that I’ve been trained to reject and mostly trained to pretend aren’t even there. Over time I think you just give up. You feel like there’s too much in the plane and you don’t want to keep flying as low as you’ve been flying, so you start tossing things out.
What do you mean when you say “flying low?”
Having that horrible malignant magnet of self-consciousness. That’s one of the wonderful things about being with Jax is that he has none. To me, the darkest, ugliest mirror we look in is that horrible self-consciousness and comparing your insides to other peoples’ outsides. As I’ve gotten older I kind of celebrate the grace of myopia. I don’t see as well, and that inability to be the sharpshooter I was and the guard at the gate I was has been just a huge part of my spiritual growth.
You didn’t use any feminine pronouns in this book when you were talking about God. Was that conscious?
I felt like in my previous books I had a point to make, which is that God doesn’t have a gender. And that’s another blessing of being older—you have less points you need to make. I really relate to the feminine nature of the divine, and I still experience God as a mother/father.
What’s next for you? Have you already started another book?
I have, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. I can share this with you: If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say I want to be a person who doesn’t write novels anymore.