Anne Lamott on Starting Where You Are
This Week on the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
This week, we flash back to when best-selling author Anne Lamott joined us for the release of her last book Dusk, Night, Dawn. We discuss how to move forward from the pain of the pandemic, a life-changing night in a Miami hotel, and what her sobriety can teach us about healing. Wise as her writing suggests, Lamott champions “the ordinary life” and the power of forgiveness. At age 66, she shares her love of service, her impulse to write it all down, and the grace of getting older.
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From the episode:
Sam Fragoso: I wanted to jump into the prologue of your new book, Dusk Night Dawn. You write at the top:
“Where on earth do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back? Where can we again find belief in redemption and confidence that our new grandchildren will have breathable air and dry land on which to thrive and raise their own families?”
What does this book mean to you in this moment?
Anne Lamott: Well, my last book was called Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. I had originally called it Doomed: Thoughts on Hope, but my publisher wouldn’t go for it. At any rate, a few years ago, I was traveling around the country giving talks at bookstores and churches and mosques on this hope book, but everywhere I went, people were just so discouraged and defeated by the four years of Trump. And the UN climate change reports were just coming out, and those are just devastating— really end of the world. People just felt like, where do we even start? Will our kids wear gas masks? Just so many heartbreaking things were going on. We were all a little tenser than the average bear, and I wanted to answer that question of, where do we even start?
Sam Fragoso: After writing this book, what do you think that answer looks like?
Anne Lamott: Well, the answer to where do we start — whether it’s with getting sober, or starting a new book, or a new relationship, or getting over one — is you start where you are. You don’t start in the fantasy of what you hope it will turn out to be, or in a grudge and resentment about how difficult it’s been. You don’t start in the fear of how hard it’s going to be. You start where you are; you start where your bud is. You breathe. Breathing consciously or intentionally connects you umbilically to something greater than your own pinball brain. And then you do a little bit at a time, and you let yourself do it badly. You let yourself flail or fall or get stuck. You do it afraid. You do it kind of cluelessly.
With my writing students, with Bird by Bird, I always had them put a one inch picture frame on their desk and kind of squint through the empty picture frame and see a passage or a memory or a possible opening section. And then, of course, write a really god awful first draft of it. Everything good springs from really terrible first drafts. You figure out one small thing you could do today that would be helpful, rather than more defeating, and you see how it goes. I don’t want to sound like a Nike ad, but you just stick with it.
Sam Fragoso: I think you’re at no risk of sounding like a Nike ad.
Anne Lamott: [laughs] Thank you.
Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Hallelujah Anyway; Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; Bird by Bird; and Operating Instructions. She is also the author of seven novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.
Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.