Anne Lamott: 'God's in the Struggle With Us'
Best-selling author Anne Lamott on growing up atheist, being a left-wing Jesus-lover, and what she's learned at 50.
BY: Interview by Wendy Schuman
I was wondering in what way you think you've grown spiritually in the last few years since "Traveling Mercies." What's changed for you?
I think the main thing was I really got forced to deal with the fact that usually you don't get what you want-you get what you get. "Traveling Mercies" was written during the Clinton administration when I was generally speaking in a much better mood politically. "Plan B" was written post-9/11 and also toward the end of one whole term of what I consider to be the most dangerous administration in the history of the republic. So it forced me into new ground and new challenges. It really made me consider what it is I hope to accomplish with my work and what it is I can offer, which is a voice of hope and a voice of belief that alchemy is a spiritual truth for us. On the spiritual path, all the dreck and misery is transformed, maybe not that same day, but still transformed into spiritual fuel or insight. So I think that's the main difference-places I've had to go to since Bush became president. That really challenged my faith.
Toward the end of the book you were trying to spend some time forgiving George Bush and seeing what that felt like. Did you succeed?
That's why [the essay] is called "Loving Your President Day 2." Day 1 went so well because I was in church and feeling inspired by what the pastor had to say-this incredible, loving, compassionate environment of church, where your heart would just get so soft and tender and all things are possible. But at some point you have to leave and go back home and turn on CNN.
So it's about loving your president on the second day when you're not at church but in your own home and your own mind. I would say I feel less hysterical about Bush, but I'm never going to get anywhere with this guy. And I'm just now considering what my plans are in beginning to work for the midterm elections and getting these people out of the Congress and the White House.
What's it like now that Sam has become a teenager?
I tell you, it's a brand-new world, it's as radical as having an infant. And I'm as clueless. And it turns out there are no operating instructions and no owner's manual that come with a teenager either.
It surprised me that you call yourself a strict mother but you're also very open in letting Sam see who you are. How can you be strict and authentic at the same time?
I'm strict in that I'm fierce about manners and I'm fierce about the fact that families really aren't democracies. And I really do get to be in charge of my house. It's my values and I'm the parent. He can't be trusted to make good decisions about his own safety and even his own body. So I get to be in charge of those things. So I'm strict that way, but I'm lenient in terms of being very available to listen and to try to get the outside help I need so that I can hear what he's saying instead of what I wish he were saying or what I'm sure he's contemptuously hinting at.
It's almost like learning to meditate to learn to hear what your kid is actually saying. And maybe the need that is being honestly shared with you.that could be a need for more boundaries or a need for more trust, that he can set his own healthy boundaries.
I didn't feel it was appropriate to write about Sam, he's a teenager, it's very private and intimate. He needs to come through without worrying about being spied upon or used for material. But at the same time I really wanted to capture some of the most significant events of our lives since "Traveling Mercies," and that has involved getting to know his father and getting older and getting to be more challenging and mouthier and needing to begin his own faith walk without my own influence and the influence of the church.
For instance when he turned 15, which is not in the book, I didn't insist that he come to church any more with me.