Dusk, Night, Dawn

Is there anyone quite like Anne Lamott?

Her latest book, Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage includes her answers to the questions many of us have but may be afraid to speak out loud. 

From the book jacket: “How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? How can we cope as bad news piles up around us?

And within these pages, Ms. Lamott gives us answers. Glimpses into the big and small. Rays of light and hope. 

Here are just a few of the many gems I marked with sticky notes while I read:

“I told them my stories of mess and redemption, because stories can be our most reliable medicine. I told them that, yes, it was going to be really hard to turn the environment around, but that we can do hard and in fact we have done hard before — World War II, vaccines, antibiotics, antiretrovirals. We are up to this.”

“So to answer my earlier question of where on earth we begin to recover our faith in life, in the midst of so much bad news and dread, when our children’s futures are so uncertain: We start in the here and now. That’s why they call it the present. We start where our butts and feet and minds are.”

“We excel during tragedies, bringing our best selves to serve the suffering in a devastated world, nation, community, family. We keep each other company when children or pets are missing, when our last auntie or old dog dies, while waiting for prognoses. Our human response to each other’s hurt and loss is what gives me hope, along with science and modern medicine. We rise up to help the best we can, and we summon humor to amend ghastly behavior and dismal ongoing reality. Help and humor save us.”

“Friends save us, service to others save us. Books, nature, community, and music save us.”

“People like to say all sorts of stupid bumper-sticker things that aren’t true and that in fact can be shaming, such as that God never gives us more than we can handle. What a crock.” 

“It is too much. You steadfastly love and serve everyone, see people through tribulation, savor the relief, and give thanks. Then boing — a new setback. It’s like tucking an octopus into bed at night: new arms keep popping out.”

“When people know you too well, they eventually see your damage, your weirdness, carelessness, and mean streak. They see how ordinary you are after all, and that whatever it was that distinguished you in the beginning is the least of who you actually are. This will turn out to be the greatest gift we can offer another person: letting them see, every so often, beneath all the trappings and pretense to the truth of us.
But can you love me now?”

“Love will have to do, along with bright and dim memories, some that still hurt, others that we savor like Life Savers tucked away in our cheeks.” 

Why I Read

I bought myself a present. The print you see in the above picture created by one of my favorite novelists, Katherine Center.

I love this quote, because I agree whole-heartedly.

There are so many reasons to read. And those are the same reasons I write.

This week, I thought I’d take inspiration from Ms. Center and share a book I have read for each of these statements.

Read for Fun.

This one is easy. I recently finished Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. The pages flew by as I read this fun, delightful novel. And now I want to read more of Abbi Waxman’s books.

Read for Pleasure.

Beach Read by Emily Henry was pure pleasure. Just one of those novels I disappeared into and stayed up later than I probably should have just to read one more chapter.

Read for Comfort.

A disclaimer – one of my essays is published in The Things We Don’t Say: An Anthology of Chronic Illness Truths. What most strikes me about this valuable anthology is the universality of the feelings written about. The medical conditions may be different, but the emotions are the same. And it is so comforting to know there are others out there who “get it.”

Read for Wisdom.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird may be one of the most popular books about writing. It’s a book I have read multiple times, and each time I find some new nugget, something that strikes my fancy and warrants a sticky note. 

Read for Insight.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Honest, moving, inspiring. And what makes it even more special is that one of my best friends gave me this book about one of the best role models out there. 

Read for Hope.

I discovered Danea Horn’s Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with Stress of Illness in what can only be described as an act of serendipity. I have read this important book more than once. It is a book that I highly recommend to anyone living with a chronic illness.

Read for Adventure.

Scott Kelly’s memoir, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is a true tale of adventure. It’s highly unlikely I’ll travel into space, let alone live onboard the International Space Station for one year. Yet, by reading Mr. Kelly’s memoir I could get a sense of what it would be like to be that far away from planet Earth.

Read for Laughs.

Matilda by Roald Dahl has a special place in my heart. I always read it to my fourth graders – a little bit after lunch each day. Once we finished the novel, we’d watch the Danny DeVito film. (A touching side note – my students thought I resembled Miss Honey. I took it as a sweet compliment.) And I’m so glad my son enjoys it too. We’ve read this book many times. And we laugh at all the same parts.

Read for Possibilities.

Kicking in the Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts, and Quotes to Help You Break Through Your Blocks and Reach Your Writing Goals by Barbara Abercrombie should be on every writer’s desk. So many great prompts to use for 5-minute writing exercises. And I never know when I start writing which of those prompts, which of those “exercises,” will actually be the seed for a whole new essay.

Read for Joy.

There is a new edition out, with a beautiful cover, for Katherine Center’s Everyone is Beautiful. It was the first novel I read by Ms. Center. It was one of the few books I can say had me hooked from the first sentence. And I knew after reading this book, I would read everything and anything else this author wrote. 

Taking It Day By Day

When someone asks how we’re doing, I answer, “We’re taking it day by day.”

But what I really want to say is, “We’re taking it bird by bird.”

My second answer is a reference to what is considered a classic writing book, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. 

I’ve read this book in the past, but now seemed like a perfect time to take it off my bookshelf and re-read it.

While it’s especially valuable for writers, I do believe much of the book can be applied to readers and artists in general.

During these challenging, scary, unchartered times here are some words from Bird By Bird that I hope help get you through your day-by-day.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off.”

– “I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world.” 

– “My deepest belief is that to live as if we’re dying can set us free. Dying people teach you to pay attention and to forgive and not to sweat the small things.”

– “To live as if we are dying gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children.” 

– “Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.” 

– “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

A Hopeful Read

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott is “an exploration of hope and the place it holds in our lives.”  That phrase alone was enough to make me want to read this book.  And then in an act of serendipity, because I had never mentioned this book to her, a very good friend of mine gave me this book for Christmas. 

I just finished reading it a few days ago and would love to share with my readers some of my favorite passages.

“…life lasts so briefly, like free theater in the park – glorious and tedious; full of wonder and often hard to understand, but right before our very eyes, and capable of rousing us, awakening us to life, to the green and very real grass, the mess, the sky, the limbo.”

Almost everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, and yet designed for joy.”

Adults rarely have the imagination or energy of children, but we do have one another, and nature, and old black-and-white movies, and the ultimate secret weapon, books.  Books!  To fling myself into a book, to be carried away to another world while being at my most grounded, on my butt or in my bed or favorite chair, is literally how I have survived being here at all.”

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”    (That one line makes up the entirety of chapter four).

Hate is such an ugly word.  How about loathe for the verb, abhorrence for the noun?  (I agree.  When I was a teacher, “hate” was not allowed to be spoken in my classroom).

So, writing.  What a bitch.”  (And this begins my favorite chapter of the book).

In my current less-young age, I’ve learned that almost more than anything, stories hold us together.  Stories teach us what is important about life, why we are here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination.”