I went to the LA Times Festival of Books today, at UCLA. I went mostly because I wanted to hear Anne Lamott speak. A few years back, a friend gave me a copy of Lamott's book, Bird by Bird
, which I absolutely loved, and I thought it would be interesting to see the author in person and hear her read from her work.
She was the last main speaker of the day, following Walter Mosley, whose work I haven't read, but I think I just might have to, after attending his reading. I liked him too, I mean as a person. Not that I met him, but I liked his presence on the stage, the things he had to say. I also liked his sense of humor. And I was oddly struck by what he had to say about truth: that everyone should strive to tell the truth--the real, gut-level truth--about something important to them at least once every day.
So I think I might check out his book The Man in the Basement
, because he described his characters like this: one is evil but not bad, and the other is innocent but not good. I'm a sucker for paradoxes, what can I say.
But about Anne Lamott. When she finally came on the stage at 4pm, I was surprised to see that she was older than I'd thought, from her book jacket pictures. This always happens when I see authors in person. (Except maybe for Michael Chabon, who looked almost exactly like his picture when I saw him at a reading at Cody's Books in Berkeley years ago.)
One of the first things that Anne did when she got to the podium was get tangled up in her microphone wire and her Festival of Books badge. I liked this about her, that she started off in a bit of a mess; it's the sort of thing that would probably happen to me if I was a famous author and was about to read from my latest best-seller in front of a huge crowd. (Maybe someday it will
But then she began to talk, and the first part of her talk wasn't about writing, or faith, or even about the book she had just had published (which is called Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
), it was about politics and how horrible Bush is, and all his cronies. Not that I didn't agree with her on some level, but then again, I don't ever think that the political situation is as black and white as "we're bad, they're good." no matter which side of the political fence you stand on. It's just not that simple, and I find it hard to relate to people who express a one-sided hard-line point of view, even if I happen to agree with them.
So I thought about getting up and leaving, because I didn't drive all the way to Westwood to get diatribed. I came because I wanted to hear about writing, to be reminded why I do it, and maybe to find out if I really am a writer at all, because I'll tell you what, some days I don't feel much like it. Well, in spite of my misgivings, I stayed, and I was glad I did, because eventually she did actually read from her latest book, and she told the story of how she was feeling angry and helpless about all the crap going on in the world, and she asked her priest friend what on earth she could do about it. He said there were needy people all around us, and that you didn't necessarily have to go to Iraq to find them. So she asked God to make her more giving, or loving, or something. Then she went to the supermarket, and won a ham. She didn't like ham, so she was a little perturbed at God, but then she figured that if God gives you a gift, even if it's a ham, you better take it. On her way out to the car, in the parking lot, she accidentally ran her shopping cart into a rusty old wreck of a car, and then she saw that inside was a friend of hers who had been in rehab with her, and Anne said, "Hi! It's my birthday!" The friend said, "Happy birthday," then started crying because she needed gas, and she needed food and she had no money.
Guess who got the ham.
Isn't that a great story? I think so, and it reminded me of why I decided to like Anne Lamott, way back when I first read Bird by Bird
. And it's why I think in some way we are fundamentally alike, even though we would probably disagree on a great many things, and maybe even annoy each other a lot, if we knew each other personally. But I like her because she talks about life from personal experience, not dressing it up in fancy literary terms and metaphors, but just describing it as it is, filled with messes and sadness, but also a lot of grace and humor, and I think I do want to be a writer after all, if I can write just a little bit like that.
So thanks, Anne, for being yourself, for giving a good read, and for being a better writer than you seem to think you are. I like your work. Keep it up.(PS: You know, I really liked the ham story a lot. I liked it because it showed the way God works. We tend to get angry at him for not "doing his job," when all the time he is trying to help us do ours.)