Anne Lamott overcame addiction, fear and illness to become the extraordinary author and creative force that she is today. Here, she shares her lessons from a life on and off the page.

Wheat Field

Anne Lamott

AUTHOR

2018

WRITING / FAITH / ADDICTION / BIRD BY BIRD / GOUCHER / RAM DASS / SAN FRANCISCO / TENNIS / MIGRAINES / MADELEINE L'ENGLE / DINOSAURS / PIPPI LONGSTOCKING

The writer Anne Lamott was deemed an oversensitive child, one with a heightened awareness of and vulnerability to the world around her—and yet she went on to prove that what society dubs a weakness can in fact be the raw materials of a brilliant career and life.

Moreover, she shows there’s beauty in the cracks: “My heart was always a big, open heart, and the world and my parents and my teachers and the culture didn’t succeed in closing that, for which I am deeply grateful. And the places that were closed off were cracked back open by hardship and loss and grief, and for that I’m deeply grateful. I love and often quote that wonderful Leonard Cohen song that says, ‘There are cracks, cracks in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ Any light that has come through me that I feel like communicating to my readers came through me in spite of everybody’s efforts to keep you quiet and looking good and achieving more.”

As for her craft, it does not come easily to her; she hacks through draft after draft after draft, carving a mountain with a pocket knife—proving that even for someone considered a master creative, the work does not always emerge fully formed.

Through it all, perhaps her most important lesson, simply, is this: A creative life is best lived on its own terms.

As a purveyor of words, Lamott’s tend speak for themselves. So here is a collection of 19 of our favorite Anne Lamott quotes, drawn largely from her books.

—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief

//

“This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” (Bird by Bird)

//

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” (Bird by Bird)

//

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” (Bird by Bird)

//

“I had to stop living unconsciously, as if I had all the time in the world. The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode. So one day I stopped. I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood: I wasted more time, as a radical act. I stared off into space more, into the middle distance, like a cat. This is when I have my best ideas.” (Oprah)

//

“Life is a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift. … And it [is] filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.” (Facebook/Salon)

//

“It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.” (Plan B)

//

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life. … 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.” (Bird by Bird)

//

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.” (Operating Instructions)

//

“I’m here to be me, which is taking a great deal longer than I had hoped.” (Plan B)

//

“It’s such a relief when people tell the truth. I know it is for me in that when I read a book, when somebody is really just putting their cards on the table, and especially if they can make me laugh about it, I feel grateful in the same way I am grateful for the ocean.” (PBS)

//

“This is our goal as writers, I think: to help others have this sense of—please forgive me—wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious. Try walking around with a child who’s going, ‘Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!’ And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, ‘Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!’ I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world—present and in awe.” (Bird by Bird)

//

“Rule 1: When all else fails, follow instructions. And Rule 2: Don’t be an asshole.” (Plan B)

//

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” (Facebook/Salon)

//

“Life is like a nice fresh batch of Swiss cheese. Note to self: Savor the holes, too, like the spaces between musical notes.” (Some Assembly Required)

//

“I think that is why we stay close to our families, no matter how neurotic the members, how deeply annoying or dull: because when people have seen you at your worst, you don’t have to put on the mask as much.” (Traveling Mercies)

//

“We aren’t a drop in the ocean, but are the ocean, in drops.” (Some Assembly Required)

//

“I thought the secret of life was obvious: Be here now, love as if your whole life depended on it, find your life’s work, and try to get hold of a giant panda.” (Hard Laughter)

//

“If we stay where we are, where we’re stuck, where we’re comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying. You’re saying: Leave me alone; I don’t mind this little rathole. It’s warm and dry. Really, it’s fine. When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing—we had this all figured out, and now we don’t. New is life.” (Help Thanks Wow)

//

“These are the words I want on my gravestone: that I was a helper, and that I danced.” (Grace, Eventually)

 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman