Few authors of any era have earned the kind of unstinting devotion that attends every new work by Anne Lamott. Her wry humor and instinct for telling home truths about this difficult thing called life offer a buoyant alternative to cynicism and despair without ever lapsing into platitudes or sentimentality. In her latest volume, 2018’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Lamott argues passionately that each of us deserves to be seen as a spiritual being in human form despite our ever-present doubts and shortcomings. On Thursday, January 14, at 5 p.m., Lamott will participate by Zoom in UCSB Arts & Lectures’ House Calls series. It was my great pleasure to speak briefly by phone with Lamott last week. What follows is a portion of that conversation, condensed and lightly edited for publication.
We’ve all had to get by on a lot less direct contact with other people this year. How’s that been for you? Do you still teach Sunday school?
I haven’t taught Sunday school by Zoom, but I go to church by Zoom and I wave frantically and call out every child that gets dragged along.
Everyone is still processing the events of the last two weeks, and in particular what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. What are your thoughts? Has the recent unrest yielded any kind of revelation for you?
What I feel is, and I know we can’t say “shit” in your newspaper or whatever, but holy shit. Holy shit! I mean, my mind is literally blown. And I very rarely use that phrase from the ’60s. My mind is literally blown, and as a recovering addict and alcoholic, I know that every single person I’m close to who ever got clean and sober got to some point, some unimaginably bad bottom of behavior and madness, before they started to wonder if maybe their thinking was leading to devastation — their own personal devastation. And I think as a nation — or half of a nation, right? — it gives these people the opportunity, she said generously, to look at how their beliefs have lined up with the lie machine that began four years ago when Sean Spicer misstated the number of people at Trump’s inauguration. It began on day one, and now people are hitting a bottom — this is where their best thinking got them. And here’s what recovering alcoholics say to newcomers: “Look at what your best thinking did — it got you to jail.”
I know it makes me a bad person and a terrible Christian, but I can’t help but love that so many of these people [who stormed the Capitol building] tweeted their own violence and theft and are now going to charged by the feds, who are not as friendly as county cops. You know the feds are a little bit tense about stuff like this, about sedition and violence and burglary and cop-killing. So I think that this really is like a national bottom. This is where it brought us. This is where our best — or their best — thinking brought us.
So, now what?
Well, the miracle for both an alcoholic on his or her third day of recovery, or in this case a nation, is to say, “I don’t know. I have run out of any more good ideas.” And that’s where the resurrection or the restoration begins. And so for people who have passionately supported this guy, because they’re quote, unquote “pro-life,” or whatever, it’s time to say, “I don’t have a clue what we do next, or what is right. I don’t know what Nancy Pelosi does; I don’t know what we do. I don’t know.” And so you stop adding to the madness. You just stop. And you breathe, and you wait. And you always, always, always take care of the poor. And then, you know, as we say in the recovery community, “more will be revealed.” So that’s what I know — that this is a great dawning and an excruciating bottom that this nation has hit, and as a result of it, I believe that the barge will slowly begin to turn around.