I'm in Berkeley, close to the campus,
trying to find a place to park. It's been raining steadily all evening,
the roads are wet and shiny, and I'm having
a hard time seeing street signs. I'm looking for the First Congregational
Church of Berkeley,
so I'm hoping I'll see some religious looking building around. Anne Lamott
is speaking there tonight, in my mind, a curious venue. By the time
I'm done listening to her, I realize that appearing at a church makes
When I finally find the right building, I notice that people have left their
umbrellas outside. They stand like little damp soldiers lined along the wall.
I lean mine against the wall too, hoping I'll recognize it later. I'm later
than I'd hoped, and the pews are already packed, so I'm grateful that I came
The inside of the church is lovely, with its tall ceiling and royal blue rosette-style
stained glass window staring down. The woodwork glows a soft
honey color. The seats
are lightly padded;
on stage and a light shines down upon a podium. How long has it been since
I've stepped inside a church?
A tall, white-haired woman approaches the microphone and introduces herself
as a minister of the church, a church which will be celebrating its tenth anniversary
She proudly tells that audience that her church accepts
everybody - gays, transgenders, transsexuals - anyone who wants to worship.
The audience applauds with grateful appreciation.
A young poet introduces Anne Lamott, by reading us a short, moving passage
by Bird, and then Ms.
Lamott steps up to the microphone. She's smallish looking, and seems a bit
hidden behind an oversized sweater and comfortably faded blue jeans. A rose
shawl is draped around her shoulders. Her blonde-brown hair
is deadlocked and pulled back from her delicate face with a piece
of fabric. A few frazzled tendrils of hair have escaped and fall in front
of her large, soulful eyes.
She tells us about her day, one most of us can relate to in one way or another.
Root canal in the morning. Root canal! Her teenage son is home sick with the
flu. Driving to the church, she got turned around and lost and had to
ask some garbage men for directions. Her latest book, Plan
Further Thoughts on Faith had been reviewed that morning by Terry Gross
she listened to it on a little FM radio provided by the dental assistant as
she was getting the anesthetic for her root canal.
She tells us that she
has to wake up early the next morning to fly to Milwaukee. I immediately identify
with her hectic schedule and appreciate her ability to gently laugh at herself
and her circumstances.
She reads a long selection from her book, an essay about her son, Sam, and
a hike they take along Mt. Tamalpias in Marin County, California. In the story,
she's able to intertwine her deep affection for her son, her awe and love
for nature, and memories of her father, who would take the same walk with her
when she was a child.
She recalls studying up before these walks with her father, so that she could
hold her own in literary conversations with him. She always felt the need to
impress him, to acquire his approval, which never seemed to be easily
given, in apparent contradiction to Anne's joyful appreciation of her
own child's spirit, full
of restless energy and male exuberance.
When she's done reading, she takes questions from the audience. She waits
patiently for people to gather their thoughts. One woman, a bit shockingly
for this liberal
leaning crowd, asks if she has any black blood in her.
Anne doesn't quite hear the question at first, or maybe she does and can't
believe what she's heard. But
she says "No" and goes on to acknowledge that she does look "ethnic" with her
large eyes, and frizzy hair, and lightly carmel skin. She uses the question
as an opportunity to tell us about the church that she attended, made up of
who wondered, too, "Is she one of us?" They took her in and saved her life.
She's been sober and drug-free for three years now, and so, all at once, the
church setting seems perfectly appropriate.
She talks about all her insecurities as a writer. She says that when she started
to "do better" she was always worried
that she was just a fraud and that others would find out. She always felt like
she "had to perform," but at the
same time was terrified of doing okay.
She believes that the American culture
has a tendency to tell women to stay small and not take up too much or display
any power. She felt that everyone was doing better than her, and she was jealous
The long, positive review by Terry Gross is affirming for her and gives her
self-esteem a boost. Yet, she still feels shame over her ambition and her
anger. All too soon, Anne Lamott reads a last brief passage and says, "Good
As I pick up my umbrella by the door, I marvel at the recurring theme of insecurity
among artists, even ones who have achieved the level of success
that Anne Lamott has. Somehow, her vulnerabilities and normalness are reassuring.
And I feel comforted knowing that
people, just like me.
Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott
Plan B: Further
Thoughts on Faith
by Anne Lamott