Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Anne Lamott: Notes on Hope

How did we all get so screwed up? Putting aside our damaged parents, poverty, abuse, addiction, disease, and other unpleasantries, life just damages people. There is no way around this. Not all the glitter and concealer in the world can cover it up. We may have been raised in the illusion that if we played our cards right, life would work out. But it didn’t, it doesn’t.

I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. 

What comforts us is that, after we make ourselves crazy enough, we can let go inch by inch into just being here; every so often, briefly. There is flow everywhere in nature — glaciers are just rivers that are moving really, really slowly — so how could there not be flow in each of us? Or at least in most of us? When we detach or are detached by tragedy or choice from the tendrils of identity, unexpected elements feed us. There is weird food in the flow, like the wiggly bits that birds watch for in tidal channels. Protein and greens are obvious food, but so is buoyancy, when we don’t feel as mired in the silt of despair.

We all know the horror of having been Right with a capital R, feeling the surge of a cause, whether in politics or custody disputes. This rightness is so hot and steamy and exciting, until the inevitable rug gets pulled out from under us. Then we get to see that we almost never really know what is true, except what everybody else knows: that sometimes we’re all really lonely, and hollow, and stripped down to our most naked human selves. 

It is the worst thing on earth, this truth about how little truth we know. I hate and resent it. And yet it is where new life rises from.

You can either practice being right or practice being kind.

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.


Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. 

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

— 

You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.

It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.


These quotations are compiled by Michael Simms from the following books by Anne Lamott: Almost Everything: Notes on Hope; Grace (Eventually); Operating Instructions; Plan B; Traveling Mercies.

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Anne Lamott (born 1954) is an American novelist and non-fiction writer. She is also a progressive political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher. Her nonfiction works, marked by their self-deprecating humor and openness, cover such subjects as alcoholism, single-motherhood, depression, and Christianity.

2 comments on “Anne Lamott: Notes on Hope

  1. S.J. ALFORD
    November 17, 2019

    I vote for kind over right, but don’t always succeed. Keep trying.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kloydecaday
    July 23, 2019

    Hello, thank you for this! I just wrote a survey about Anne Lamott on my blog: https://kloydecaday.wordpress.com/2019/07/24/books-on-faith-terrify-me-until-anne-lamott/. I hope you like it!

    Liked by 1 person

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