I first found Anne Lamott's books when I was stumbling around a Borders book store when Liv was an infant. I was exhausted, wanted badly to find some sort of book on motherhood that could engage me, but not try to instruct me. I already had a bookshelf full of how-to books. Basically, I was feeling like the only single parent in the world and I wanted to read someone who could relate to my situation.
I found a whole trove of books, all of them asinine. Titles like How to Raise A Strong Child, Be Your Child's Advocate! and Girls, How to Raise Them were screaming out at me from all sides.
And then I saw one called Operating Instructions. I read the back cover. Aha. Maybe a kindred spirit? I read the first few pages. More ahas.
I bought the book and gulped it down fast. For the first time, I felt totally understood. Here was someone who knew exactly how it felt to feel burdened by the sheer work of a baby, yet was also unabashedly madly in love with every part of her child even when she was leaning over him in his crib crying from exhaustion and anger because he would NOT sleep and she wanted to scream.
After I inhaled Operating Instructions, I went on to read everything she had written. My favorites besides that book have been Rosie and Traveling Mercies.
I could read Anne Lamott all day long and never want to put her book down.
So, when I heard that she was coming to speak in Omaha, I vowed to go see her. I asked my sister to go with me. She was less than thrilled. Anne Lamott's books are frowned on big time by the Catholic Church because she is just fine and dandy with abortion and assisted suicide. But...I had went to see Jodi Picoult with my sister when she was in town and she owed me and knew it. I threw in a trip to a fancy restaurant to make the whole trip sweeter.
Patrice agreed to go with me. We ate our dinners and walked to the Holland Center to get our seats.
And there they were walking up and down the block in front of the building. Picketers. You know the ones. They like to carry around gigantic posters of bloody fetuses. Their signs say lovely things like "God hates Anne Lamott."
How charming. But, it was their faces that really interested me. They looked almost sick with excitement. Like they were going to see Tom Cruise on the red carpet at the Academy Awards or something. They looked so eager. I recognized one man immediately.
I call him the creepy pee butt peeper man. When Liv was an infant, I sometimes went to mass at a large church mainly because I loved the music. This man was always standing in front of the church handing out pamphlets about teen pregnancies, keeping Terri Schiavo alive, or his favorite: the evil pro-choicers. I hated his face, his smug, smashed nose face. He looked incredibly self righteous and arrogant. This all changed when he spoke, as he had a lisp. It sort of ruined his fire and brimstone facade.
Once, channel surfing, I had stumbled on some local access channel and there he was, talking in his lispy, but I-AM-RIGHT! voice. He was talking about how parents must protect their young daughters from being "tainted by wily boyth." The look on his face became absolutely voracious. His voice dropped to a raspy whisper as he said, "Theth girlth, theth ripe, young girlth...they need a firm...hand to keep their refined virginity thafe from thoth men who want them for tawdry thrillth. I am alwaths available for counthel..." Spittle formed on the sides of his mouth. He could barely contain just how BADLY he wanted to save him some tender shoot girls. My first thought was that I would DIE before I would let him come near Liv.
I never went back to the church, although I often passed his home on my way to work. It had ABORTION KILLS all over his front windows. His house was junky. I saw a woman working in the yard once and two young boys playing on big wheels nearby. He was often outside waving as cars went by and pointing to his signs.
And there he was at the Anne Lamott speech. He was holding a big glass jar in the air holding what I was sure was a fetus. He was shouting something.
My sister tucked her head down, embarrassed, I think. Probably hoping that no one from her church would recognize her. I walked by with my head up but not giving any of them what they wanted: eye contact and an argument. Arguing with such idiots is pointless.
And, hey, I wanted a good seat.
But, I did note how loud they were and the weirdly excited look of hate on their faces as they brandished their signs. They were in heaven. This was invigorating to them.
We went in and sat down. Patrice refused to comment on the picketers except to ask if I noticed the tacky looking flip flops one of the women wore. I asked her if she had noticed the signs (including one sign that read ABORTION IS RONG.) She looked away from me.
"I am not going to let you pull me into an argument, Maria," she said. "I'm here. Count your blessings."
So, I shut up.
The lights came up and Anne Lamott came out and gave a lovely talk about faith and writing and dignity and joy. She spoke from her heart, smiled and commented that she had heard that there were several people planted in the audience with the sole purpose of disrupting her talk. Could they just do it now before she got started?
Silence. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Here was this woman who had helped me through parenthood, whose books I had sent to my sister when she was battling cancer and needed something exquisite to read. Anne Lamott was joyful and spirited, funny and dead serious. She was a true delight to listen to. Even my sister commented on the way to the the car that she thought her speech was wonderful.
There were no picketers on the streets when we left. They had all left, probably to go to their sanctimonious little homes where they could put their hideous posters in their basements to scare their children the next day. I'm sure that when their heads hit their pillows they felt as if they could sleep the sleep of the righteous, that God would be in their dreams handing them gold medals.
And me? I slept well too. My soul had been fed beautifully.
Thank you, Ms. Lamott. I loved listening to you talk. I felt the joy, warmth, and acceptance of your personality wipe clean all the negative jackass air that the creepy pee butt people had forced me to walk through to get to you.
I slept. In peace.