Tag Archives: Anne Lamott


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Many reading this right now will not have heard of him, fewer still will have read any of his books, notably his Pulitzer Prize-winning 700-page geology anthology, Annals of the Former World. But make no mistake about it, John McPhee is a legend in the literary world for a few reasons, one of which is his “obsessive process.”

In an article for The New York Times titled “The Mind of John McPhee,” Sam Anderson visited the reclusive Mr. McPhee at his home and has now written about this experience as well as the man himself – and there’s a lot to take away from it, even if you’re not a hermit (“shy to the point of dread”) or a writer.

As Mr. Anderson writes so eloquently:

“Every book about writing addresses, in one way or another, the difficulty of writing. Not just the technical problems (eliminating clutter, composing transitions) but the great existential agony and heebie-jeebies and humiliation involved — the inability to start, to finish, or to progress in the middle. This is one of the genre’s great comforts: learning that you are not alone in your suffering.”

He then goes on to quote other literary figures on the same subject:

William Zinsser: It was hard and lonely, and the words seldom just flowed.”

Annie Dillard: “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.”

Anne Lamott: “Your mind has become a frog brain that scientists have saturated with caffeine.”

For anybody who enjoys reading and learning about the process that goes into the craft, this is a rare behind-the-scenes look at one of the art form’s great masters.

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The Wholeness of Friendship, The Imperfection of Loss

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“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. … We possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases.”
 — C.S. Lewis on the death of Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien’s grief

I like people thoughtful people. Not thoughtful in the sense of being kind – although that’s also nice to be around – but thoughtful in the sense that they take the time to consider some of life’s more difficult, morbid or unpleasant issues. I believe losing a close friend, especially one you look up to as a mentor, qualifies for this category of thoughtfulness.

In a post wrought with naked emotion, a clearly devastated Benjamin Sledge (@SledgeHS) wrote about this subject in a piece called “The Beautiful Awful of Grief and Loss.” He did so not by wearing his heart on his sleeve; his words bleed off the page with sincerity, his heart firmly sutured into his skin and soul.

To quote part of Kahlil Gibran’s own thoughts on friendship, the great sage of the 20th century had this to say: “Your friend is your needs answered…And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart; For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed…And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.”

Death sucks. Losing friends stinks. Cancer’s a fucker. Put them all together in one package and there’s not much more to do than find an outlet for your emotions. Otherwise, it’ll surely beat you down to a pulp and rob you of all hope just as sure as shit the sun will rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow.

So to you, Mr. Sledge, I say good on ya. While I’m sorry for your loss, I believe that by sharing your experience it will only serve to help you – and all those people whose lives your friend touched – plant new roots in the soil of life, knowing that, as always, the spirit of the dead will remain in the memory of the living.

And just as storyteller, veteran and creative liar Benjamin Sledge ended his piece, I’ll also quote the American writer Anne Lamott, who once wrote:

“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 heal 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.”

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