Anne Lamott is back with a collection of beautifully written essays. Her goal here is to illuminate how we can go on in spite of all that is difficult. Her voice is wry, humorous and laden with wisdom. I lost count of the number of quotes I circled. This is the book we need from a voice we love.
From the bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow comes an inspiring guide to restoring hope and joy in our lives.
In Dusk, Night, Dawn, Anne Lamott explores the tough questions that many of us grapple with. How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? As bad newspiles up—from climate crises to daily assaults on civility—how can we cope? Where, she asks, “do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back . . . with our sore feet, hearing loss, stiff fingers, poor digestion, stunned minds, broken hearts?”
We begin, Lamott says, by accepting our flaws and embracing our humanity.
Drawing from her own experiences, Lamott shows us the intimate and human ways we can adopt to move through life’s dark places and toward the light of hope that still burns ahead for all of us.
As she does in Help, Thanks, Wow and her other bestselling books, Lamott explores the thorny issues of life and faith by breaking them down into manageable, human-sized questions for readers to ponder, in the process showing us how we can amplify life's small moments of joy by staying open to love and connection. As Lamott notes in Dusk, Night, Dawn, “I got Medicare three days before I got hitched, which sounds like something an old person might do, which does not describe adorably ageless me.” Marrying for the first time with a grown son and a grandson, Lamott explains that finding happiness with a partner isn't a function of age or beauty but of outlook and perspective.
Full of the honesty, humor, and humanity that have made Lamott beloved by millions of readers, Dusk, Night, Dawn is classic Anne Lamott—thoughtful and comic, warm and wise—and further proof that Lamott truly speaks to the better angels in all of us.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:1954
Place of Birth:San Francisco, California
Education:Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write
Read an Excerpt
I got sober in the darkest summer of my life, more than half my lifetime ago. I woke up sick on an already hot morning in my minuscule houseboat in Sausalito with gulls and pelicans taking off and landing outside my window and a clear view of Angel Island. I wanted to die. My best idea was a cool refreshing beer, to get all the flies going in one direction, as my late friend Jack once put it. I do not know what possessed me to call him that day, but I did, and he came over, we talked for a few hours about our alcoholism, and somehow I haven't had a drink since.
My body felt better after a week of sobriety, but it took a long time for my soul to be restored. First I needed to learn to pay bills, take care of my teeth, dispose of a shoe box filled with sedatives and speed, clean up the moral and financial wreckage of my past.
Defeat has been, for so many of us, the portal to soul.
I have a friend whose daughter accidentally killed a man a few years ago, and then tried to run. Ali was driving home drunk on New Year's Eve and hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I could have easily run over someone, too. I ran over a dog or a cat one night forty years ago, on the way to the only bar in the hippie town where I lived, but I did not have the courage to stop the car. Maybe it was a raccoon. At any rate, I drove on, electrified with fear and guilt. I was twenty-four at the time, almost ten years younger than Ali when she killed the man. My dad was dying of brain cancer in our tiny cabin up on the Mesa, I had just sold my first book, and in terror, I couldn't do any better than to speed on. Ali sped on, but a witness got her license plate.
I had been on the same road a few times already earlier that day forty years ago, to teach a tennis lesson and clean a house. The road was curvy, above the beach, lined with eucalyptus and nasturtiums, a constant interplay of light and shade, and teasing glimpses of the ocean. There was a monarch butterfly grove there, veils of black, orange, and white clutching the trunks of trees, at rest or clustered together for warmth, fluttering, undulating. In the past few years, drought and climate shifts have caused them to stop landing there during their migration.
Ali lived near a famous monarch grove, too, in Huntington Beach, with her mom. Everyone liked her a lot, but she was always finding fault with her own creative efforts, her studies, her body, and she had become directionless since dropping out of college. She hung out with her friends, smoked dope, worked odd jobs, went to outdoor concerts.
She was caught, convicted, and sentenced to two years in a prison two hours' drive from her mother's cottage in Riverside. It wasn't Robben Island, but it was hideous enough, all concrete blocks and isolation. A short, slight woman in her thirties, with dimples, Ali was nearly catatonic when she entered prison, except when she was in sheer terror.
I told my kids at Sunday school about her because the prison restored her soul.
"You've all had incredibly sad things happen," I said. "You've all had disappointments. Maybe you've shut down a little, or had to pretend you were just fine all the time. This can make our souls feel cloudy, like a streaky crystal ball."
A hand shot up. I smiled. When you've been teaching Sunday school for as long as I have, you know when you've hit upon a great topic.
"What is our snack today?"
Oh, well. Cherries and chips. Three thumbs up.
The kids in my class have had significant challenges: a crazy mother, absent fathers, a disabled brother, depression. Some of the older teenage girls who have passed through our Sunday school have already been through rehab, and some have been cutters. And when there aren't actual hardships in a child's life, it's still just damaging here on earth. Someday they will also feel smudged by the detritus of addictions, regrets, obsession with finances, chronic guilt about having failed their grown kids, sorrow over the state of their current marriage or guilt about earlier ones. Even now, they know that the world leaves grubby fingerprints all over everything: our hearts, minds, hope.
What would soul Windex look like? This is what I wanted to talk to the kids about. Who are we, and why aren't we being that person? How would we know? When I was a kid, the grown-ups in charge conveyed that we were our manners, what we succeeded at, failed at, looked like, how we obeyed, how we measured up.
What was so threatening for our parents that they avoided mentioning soul? The concept may have been too woo-woo and esoteric, and inefficient. And they couldn't control it or grade it. It was spacy and daydreamy. I was, too, and I was chastised for that. We got hijacked into socialization. Maturing meant conforming to a million rules set by our parents, away from a more seamless participation in life. We had to be herded back to the road from the hedgerows, where, if we were not careful, we would still be living out our days, mostly trying to avoid driving into ditches or being late for important appointments. Ali and I shared a struggle with perfectionism, the most toxic condition for the soul. The next most toxic is the ensuing and chronic contempt for oneself, the belief that one is secretly defective and less-than. The next is the obsession that one is right and better-than.
I told the kids about Ali, what an ordinary person she had been, and then what she had done. The girls put their hands over their mouths.
"Do you think she can ever forgive herself?" I asked.
They agreed, oh, no, absolutely not, not only for killing the man, but also for running.
"Well, would you forgive her?"
They looked at one another.
"It's okay if you wouldn't, especially if you knew the guy she killed. So how could she possibly begin to forgive herself?"
"I'll tell you. She made a friend."
These kids' friends are their entire lives. All they want is to be with them, or on the phone, talking or texting. They don't particularly want to be with their parents anymore; horribly, they don't even want to be with their grandmothers as much. Yet hanging out with their buddies downtown instills them with friendly watchfulness and curiosity, the very qualities of soul.
All those years ago I'd made a mess of my life, although unlike Ali's, the outside package was successful, and even inspiring, with beautiful views. I betrayed my core values, and women friends who stayed at home with their kids while I partied with their husbands. I thought that I was beyond redemption, but I became friends with a few wild sober women, who insisted that my mind was not always to be trusted: half the time it was for entertainment purposes only. My mind was not who I was. I thought I was nuts and pathetic. The sober women said we all were. They said my soul was fine inside the rubble. They would help me clear it away, and when my cup had begun to fill again, I would pay it forward.
The soul is the lighthouse from which we see the vast celestial ocean, a kiosk from which we observe whatever passes by, the purest expression of our being alive, the one part they couldn't wreck, in the paranoid sense of the word "they." Charles Bukowski said, "If you don't have much soul left and you know it, you've still got soul." Plato said a soul is immortal and imperishable. My new husband-who still reads Plato, if you can believe it-is prone to the random Obi-Wan pronouncement, and he says that the soul is made of friendly awareness and the awareness of that awareness.
One of my Sunday school kids, a twelve-year-old, recently said she sees the soul as being like Pikachu, "a cat-bunny creature, kind and curious." The other twelve-year-old saw it as Casper the friendly ghost. A fifteen-year-old boy with acne said it's a tiny golden snow globe. I wrote all these down, for myself as well as for my own belief that the soul is a location, T. S. Eliot's still point, with a lorgnette.
Is the soul damaged by acne, political madness, rigid or unloving parents? I think so, damaged but not mortally so. It becomes callused, barricaded, yet it's always there for the asking, always ready for hope. Some poet once wrote that we think we are drops in the ocean, but that we are really the ocean in drops, both minute and everything there is.
Certain qualities are of soul, and not mind or culture. Curiosity is one way we know that our souls are functioning. So is a deep goodness. So is presence. When the soul is functioning properly, it tugs on your pant leg to slow down, but otherwise it observes, mostly quietly, but sometimes with its mouth hanging open and a wiggly fascination and sometimes with outright bliss.
I met my beloved two months before the election of 2016, so these years since have been a mixed grill: peaceful and joyous, romantic, crazy and hard. Marriage has helped me feel safe, in having been found by a kind man whom I love to talk with, my soul free to relax into the ploppy comfort of being known-of someone being so on to me, except when I am fixated on the fate of the earth or Neal's suspicious mole and imminent death.
I have several soul-mate friends, but living with my best friend gave my soul permission to surface in a new if sometimes tentative way. It has made me softer, less armored, way less of a perfectionist, since Neal sees me in my natural state almost all the time, slothful, gluttonous bear that I am. I can't even pretend to be my impressive public self. No wonder some of our parents forgot to mention soul, as it is apt to distract one from Serious Goals and Aspirations. It is as playful and inefficient as a kitten, as watchful as God or a baby. It rubs its back lazily against trees. It stops and gasps at beauty and is bathed in it. And sometimes it begins to weep.
The soul is the thing underneath that is so hard to express, because it is so far from regular expressable human endeavors. Rumi comes consistently closest. The teacher Adyashanti said that the part of you that sees that you are afraid isn't afraid. It's that watchful part in our consciousness that knows, that remembers to look up from the bar and the computer desk, the schedules and the phone.
I had one of the Sunday school girls read Mark 8:36, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" Jesus says the soul is more important than the entire world. It is essence, pure love, our candle, our participation in the illimitable, our goodness.
One of the kids said the soul is no color and every color; another kid said it was clear. I have felt my soul go gray. The drinking and eating disorders, the deadening relationships I couldn't escape, the regrets about my parenting. My closest friends all have guilt and pain about their grown children, and financial anxiety, and existential sorrow at how quickly it all goes, how in a blink the children have grown and can still be mean to them-to adorable martyred them-after all they've done for them!
My Sunday school kids love how quickly life goes. They can't wait to be older and older. They love things to go faster-my story, for example. They're getting bored now. They want a chase scene, but as they also want their snack, they will hang in with me a while longer.
Marcus Aurelius said that we are little souls carrying around corpses. This is my understanding, but it's too scary for these kids, and besides, no one looks less corpsey than the girls in the class. I might ask them about places they've been where beauty has made them catch their breath. A mountaintop? The ocean? The redwoods? Where inside them does awe arise?
Soul is a place, the innermost Russian nesting doll.
I promised that after our snack we'd go outside and have soul time. Deal? I asked. They sighed: Deal.
So, I continued, Ali made a friend, a lifer in the same cell block, who happened to have gotten sober in prison. The friend was tall and strong and kept an eye out for her, shared books with her, and took her to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ali explained to the other women in the first few meetings that she was not actually an alcoholic, just a social drinker with bad luck. I love this in a person. I was just the same. The other prisoners nodded politely.
On one visit from her mother, when she shared with her this belief and her attendance at meetings, the mom said the most amazing thing a mother can say. She held back her scared, controlling opinions with her. She nodded politely and said, "Huh."
Ali kept going to meetings with her friend, because it got her out of the cell for an hour a few times a week, and the women at the meetings laughed and hugged. She was still depressed, flattened by what she had done, how it had damaged her victim's family and her own; by the year left to serve and the dismal future.
How could life possibly degrease Ali's soul? The same way it has always degreased mine, although our circumstances are so different. Yeats wrote that soul might louder sing "for every tatter in its mortal dress." You want mortal dress? Try prison garb.
But on the day Ali said she might just possibly be an alcoholic, when she said who she was, or might actually be, something flared: the pilot light, a watch fire. Ali still smelled the terrible smells, heard the clang and cacophony of captivity, but a switch had gone on. She looked up, away from the grime of her floor and plastic prison slippers, to the window.
Her blood alcohol level had not been that high at the time of the accident, .12, definitely above the legal limit but probably not drunk-drunk. I drove hundreds of times with higher levels than that; all of us bon vivants did at the time. I never got a DUI. I did get two fix-it tickets while in blackouts, as I discovered the next day. In our childhoods, the local police drove our drunk fathers home, handed them over to us at the front door if our mothers were asleep. But Ali was born in a time when we throw the book at drunk drivers, especially those who kill or maim, and that's a good thing. Ali's sentence almost seems extreme, given who she is, but she killed a man and left the scene of the crime.