“I accidentally wrote this book on hope,” best-selling author Anne Lamott told the audience.
But it wasn't funny to Lamott when she started writing her newest book, “Almost Everything.”
She described the hateful mood she and her friends felt after Donald Trump was elected president, and she recalled of the horror people felt, including her grandson Jax.
“My grandson has brown skin, and he was convinced during the election that Trump would separate us because all children in America with brown skin believed it. And it seemed possible,” she told those who gathered recently at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
She wrote the book, she said, to instill hope in her grandson and niece.
But first, and throughout the program, she charmed, telling people in the balcony they should have purchased tickets earlier to get better seats and chiding the overuse of air conditioning.
“I feel like I’m in a little igloo," Lamott said. "You Southerners. This is why no one likes you because of the air conditioning. And the grits. We cannot abide.”
And then there was her thoughts on Stormy Daniels, the porn star in legal disputes with Trump over a nondisclosure agreement and their alleged affair.
“Who thought that Stormy Daniels was going to lift our spirits so high?”
She said Daniels' "tiny" response to Trump “gave me a new lease on life. I literally felt I could go on.”
But, the author reminded, hate can be a habit-forming emotion.
“I kind of find hate exhilarating. It’s very addictive. Who would you be without your hate? It’s hard to even know," she said. "It’s mood altering. … But it turns you into them, so you have to be very careful."
Lamott talked about the hate she felt after the presidential election, recognizing that the way to leave it behind was to speak about it.
She said talking about it out loud helps break the trance and frees her to take action, so she sends money to causes and marches for them. And recently the marches have brought hope because young people are getting involved.
“We go to every march we can, and the young people have gotten aware of how urgent it is," she said. "For 10 years, you weren’t seeing teenage girls and young women. Now you do. … That gave me so much hope. … I felt like between the youth and science, we’re going to be fine.”
What became her book, she said, started out with her writing “everything I could think of that was true that might of helped me when I was young,” and posting it on Facebook.
They were personal stories meant to demonstrate her truths.
“When I was young — in the '50s — no one told the truth ever," she said. "I think it was considered unseemly.”
There were marriages that seemed "good," she said, but the wife would visit the Lamott home intoxicated and sporting a black eye and the well-liked husband would pick her up a few hours later.
These attitudes led to children, including herself, trying to be perfect.
“One of the truths that I would tell the kids: It isn’t out there — what you are seeking or are hungry for."
Despite being an overachiever — “I was 35 when I learned a B plus was a good grade” — Lamott said the goalposts kept changing.
“I and all of my girlfriends became these incredibly tense perfectionists,” she said. And perfectionism, she added, is “the voice of the enemy.”
What is truth?
“There’s a chapter on paradox," Lamott said. "All truth is paradox. If you think for sure you know something, it’s really possible that the opposite is true.”
She quoted theologian Paul Tillich who said the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. The insistence by far-right Christians about how right they are is a problem, Lamott said.
“The far-right Christian voice of this country — this is going to sound harsh — has destroyed this country and the world," Lamott said, adding "So, there I said it.”
But she also pointed the finger at her own views and her own certainty.
“So I can look at the terrible damage done by the very far-right Christian elements," she said, "but I can also look at myself, because I am positive I’m right about really almost everything.”
Lamott also touched on several other topics in her talk:
- Writing: She noted that she included a chapter on it in her book. Everything she teaches adults about writing also can be taught to children, she said, adding that her own inspiration to write includes debt, mental illness and the desire for revenge.
- Reading: The secret to a good life, she said, is reading. “I want to tell them that I found religious salvation in chapter books. I was raised by atheists, (and) I was a really anxious, bright sensitive child. When I found a chapter book, I could breath again.”
- Chocolate: She said, “81 percent cacao is not actually a food. It’s best used as bait in snake traps. Also as a shim to balance wobbly chairs. It was never meant to be considered as an edible. Don’t let others make you feel unsophisticated if you reach middle age preferring Hershey’s kisses.”
- Death: Lamott suggested that living as if death is near might make many of us change our ways. She encouraged people to use hospice when available and to not hide from the topic of death. And while she has learned to be with dying people, Lamott added, “I hate it and resent when people get sick and die, have accidents and die, or have some stupid death. This is terrible to say: My best friend died at 37 with an 8-month-old baby and Henry Kissinger is still alive. What kind of system is that?"
- A truth: “Everyone is screwed up and don’t know what they are doing.” She described the beautiful, seemingly perfect, rich people she grew up around. “They had great teeth or soft hair or whatever, and, it turned out, I can't tell you the number of suicides and overdoses and institutionalizations” happened to these “perfect” families.
- Her one-sentence chapter: “Almost everything can work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”