“This whole book is about finding your center. The center does hold with a couple of good friends.” Anne Lamott recently joined Zibby’s Book Club to discuss her latest book, Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage, and answered questions from book club members. Anne talked about those she looks to for inspiration, her experience watching her son’s journey to sobriety as a former alcoholic herself, and how she seeks forgiveness every day, especially during the pandemic.


Anne Lamott: Hi.

Zibby Owen: Hi. Thanks so much going coming.

Anne: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me. How long will we be doing this for?

Zibby: Six hours. Does that work?

Anne: Like mothers have time for that.

Zibby: Thirty minutes. We’ll be done at three Eastern.

Anne: That is so perfect. We’ve had power outages, and so none of the clocks work. I’m infinitely confused, which is not usual. I am here at your service.

Zibby: Thank you. Thank you so much from everybody here at book club for coming. We’re so thrilled. You have so many super fans here in this Zoom audience. Thank you so much for coming.

Anne: Is this live, or is it Memorex?

Zibby: It’s live. We’re all here.

Anne: Oh, my god.

Zibby: I’ll remove your spotlight for a minute in case — was that making it hard to see? Can you see everybody? I don’t know if you can see the crowd here now. Here’s everybody.

Anne: They’re the participants?

Zibby: Yes, all these people. I’m Zibby. I interviewed you a long time ago, but you probably don’t remember. Here’s all the book club people eager to hear your every thought.

Anne: Cool. Hi, everyone.

Zibby: We have so many questions. We were actually just talking about how this book seems so hopeful despite the fact that your last book was called Notes on Hope. That was in the subtitle. That book really felt so helpful to all of us. There was this sense of optimism that pervaded this book that I don’t feel like was there as much in the last book. Did you feel that way when you were writing it?

Anne: I started writing it because when I was on book tour for the book on hope, everywhere I went around the country people were just completely hopeless and defeated and scared to death. It had been a couple of really troubling years politically, let’s say. Scary things were happening at people’s dining tables. The UN climate change reports had just come out. I started writing a book on where we start with so much bad news that was not so much about hope, but about restoration and renewal. That’s the subtitle, Renewal and Courage. I really wrote it with the intention of offering hope, hope 2.0, to the people that had come to my events for the hope book.

Zibby: By the way, I meant to say that, like you, I have also taken my dog’s medicine and lived to tell about it.

Anne: Oh, my god, I’m not the only one.

Zibby: I have, and I was pregnant at the time, so I was freaking out.

Anne: The medicine I took from my dog had been banned for human use by the FDA. I’m sure yours had been too.

Zibby: My OB who I called frantically told me to call her if I started barking. I relaxed. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone in that. One of the women here wants to know what your new husband Neal thinks about this book and how he feels about being written about like this.

Anne: I run everything by everybody. I run it by Sam. I run it by Neal. He loves it. It’s stuff that everybody can identify with. You know that. We’ve been married two years, and one of them was in quarantine. I took my vows almost two years ago. I’ll be sixty-seven next month. I mean, next weekend, oh, my god. I’m still sixty-six. We got married April 13th, 2019. One of those years has been in lockdown, which I did not know was going to be part of the deal. It was a little bit unusual, I think, and I should get credit for. We’ve been talking about all of the stuff that we find annoying about each other since the third date, so he’s really okay with it. You really have to run stuff by the people you write about, though. That’s my agreement with everyone. I’d never write anything that it was embarrassing or private.

Zibby: You have a saying with him about the cat, “Is the cat in the living room?” for when you’re feeling very hopeless or stressed about something. I was wondering if you have had any of those moments recently where you’ve needed to say that to each other.

Anne: The piece is about, there was a cat in our marriage which was that when he asked me if I would marry him, I thought he was going to ask what color patio pebbles we wanted to get because he put in a little garden. He said, “Will you marry me?” We’d been living together for two years or something. Our cat had either run away or been stolen a few months earlier. I said, “Can we get a new cat?” He said yes, so I said I would marry him. Then we got a five-month-old kitten. Of course, she immediately disappeared into the wormhole that only cats can see. Of course, if you grew up around alcoholics, you learn to prepare yourself for the worst, it’s one of the ways you have any control at all, or around the mentally ill. After about an hour of looking everywhere, literally everywhere, and I mean that literally, inch by inch, we couldn’t find her. I knew the kitten was dead. We did what we did to try to stay centered and faithful and together in it. Then all of a sudden just a couple hours later, I felt this furry little whisper of presence that then began to nibble on my toes. I realized the cat — they’re almost always in the living room. They’re very, very rarely dead. I wanted to get pins for everybody like me who worries more than the average bear. The pins would say “The kitten is not dead. The kitten is in the living room.” I really live by that in lots of different circumstances. We say it to each other, “The kitten’s not dead, Annie. Neal, the kitten’s in the living room.”

Zibby: I love that. One person wanted to know, who do you look to for inspiration?

Anne: I love that question. I’m in recovery, so I have a lot of twelve-step people at beck and call, but I never call them, or mentors, horrible Bonnie, unless I’m completely boxed into a corner. I’ve tried to self-will myself into figuring it out. I want to say “figure it out” is not a good mantra. Then I call one of them. I’ll call and say, “I hate everyone and all of life.” They’ll say, “Oh, I’m so glad you called. I was there too. Let’s go to Target. We’ve got leftover Easter candy. Why don’t you come over or I’ll come over there? I’ll make you a nice cup of tea. We’ll eat all of my child’s Easter bunny.” Spiritually, I have a lot of One Day at a Time meditations that come. They really break the trance of my own pinball machine toxic thinking. Richard Rohr, you all know Richard Rohr, I bet, R-O-H-R. He’s so lovely. I think he’s a Franciscan, but I could be wrong. He’s from Santa Fe. He has a contemplative ministry. If you google him, you can get a tweet or an email or text or something every single day that is about quieting the pinball mind and getting centered and back into life and into the understanding that life keeps supporting us, largely, for me, because we have such incredible — we have two or three best friends. The reason I have so much faith in life and God is because I have such incredible best friends. The Richard Rohr is a great one. You can get daily things from people like Byron Katie.

My son Sam has a website called was taken, so he’s It’s free. I think you might have to join for four dollars, which is a cup of Starbucks. He does interviews with people like me and Jack Kornfield and Byron Katie and Paul Williams and somebody I love so much, but I’m so sorry, my mind has gone blank. Just go there. There’s a hundred interviews on people that will help you break the trance of misery and fearfulness and faithlessness, Paul Williams, the great composer. Julie Cameron, The Artist’s Way, you can listen to her for an hour talking about how she writes, how she gets fully human when she feels at her most freaked out. I’ll tell you the thing from Paul. If you go to Paul Williams today, he and Sam are both in recovery, but he said something that I live by. Most of my books are about how I’ve tried to seek peace or affirmation or respect outside of me, from The New York Times or from Oprah or finding the right guy or finding this or achieving that or whatever. Sam and Paul Williams were talking one day. I mean, not one day, on Hello Humans.

Paul told him the story of having gotten the Oscar one night thirty years ago. I think Paul is clean and sober thirty-some years. Sam is clean and sober nine and a half years, the greatest miracle of my life. Paul said to Sam, “I stood there. A hundred million people were watching me. Received the greatest accolade you can receive.” He said, “It bought me twenty-four hours of good self-esteem and respect and self-love.” If I listen to these interviews, I remember over and over again, it’s not there. It’s not out there. It’s an inside job. It’s radical self-care right now, right here. It’s a cup of tea. It’s a best friend. I just went in and told my husband something so humiliating that happened this morning for me at Kaiser in the dermatology waiting room and then bathroom. I got to tell him. He didn’t run screaming for his cute little life. He’s a year younger. “Oh, honey, that happens to all of us a couple times a year. I hope that you are taking radical self-care of yourself right now because that is something universal after the age of sixty. It will happen.” Don’t cough, don’t sneeze without preparation. That’s what brings me inspiration. It’s telling the truth to people and sharing how embarrassing life can be and how life-y life can be some days. That’s a great question.

Zibby: Thank you for that answer. It makes me think of when you say, “Can you love me now?” the way that you always are just wondering if there’s something you could do that could finally turn him away. Can you hear me now? Can you love me now?

Anne: That’s based on the fabulous TV commercial — I’m not even sure if they still run it; I think it was for AT&T, but it could’ve been for Verizon or any of the phone companies — where you’d have to walk all over the property or the street or the pavement or the house trying to get decent reception and say, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” What this piece in Dusk, Night, Dawn is about is telling each other stuff. It’s not the beautiful, loveable stuff that is hard to tell your closest people, but the stuff that you feel sort of ashamed of or you just can’t believe everybody does it. Then you keep thinking, can you love me now? Okay, well, what about now? Wait, I haven’t told you this one thing. What about now? Can you love me now? Of course, the person just loves you more and more because they tell you the truth, which is, they’ve done it too, thought it, almost done it. They did this morning. Then you get to laugh about it. As soon as you can laugh with somebody about it, you’re halfway home. Laughter is carbonated holiness. There is a question here from Karen Phillips that I would love — can I ask myself a question, Zibby?

Zibby: Go ahead. Yeah, take over.

Anne: No, you take over. I saw this question I love. What would you say to caregivers who are trying to keep it together for two households struggling? Oh, god, what I would say to you is we are thanking you for your service. I had my hardest years when I had a baby thirty-one and a half years ago as a single mother with no money and no dad around. It is hard to capture the existential exhaustion of that. Plus, I had to try to make a living for us, which I was not able to do. I had to do one of the hardest, hardest things we do, which was to ask for help, to ask for the rent, and so I did it. I was afraid a lot of the time, so I did things afraid. I did things badly. There’s a chapter in my writing book, Bird by Bird, on shitty first drafts and on writing stuff really badly and doing it like the Nike commercial and doing it afraid and doing it badly. That’s what I did. That’s what I would say to you when you’re struggling. There’s another chapter in Bird by Bird that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. It’s the voice of the enemy. It will keep you cringy and small and bitter your whole life.

The secret, if you have the perfectionism, you’re trying to do it beautifully and perfectly, is to do it badly. I wish you could all see my office. I can’t pick up my desktop and show you. It’s just bits of paper everywhere that I hope and pray and assume will turn into something. Those are just the two things that I can reach. Here’s something you’ll love. That is an index card on which I spilled 7UP, so all the writing bled. You know what? I can read it through the bleed. That is really the best advice. Thank you, Karen. I’m so glad that you’re doing it. You do it badly. That’s the secret of life. No one told me that when I was a child. In Operating Instructions, I wrote that I was thirty-five, had a baby before I realized that a B+ was a good grade. No one told me. I grew up to do perfectly in school and to be a perfect daughter and reader and conversationalist. No one said that a B+ is actually a fantastic grade. What they said was, how much harder would it have been to get an A-? The trick was, if you got an A-, was there still time in the quarter to get an A? That’s a cross I had to bear.

I sort of lost my train of thought. The thing I know is shitty first drafts and small assignments, with writing and with your morning and with your afternoon, with your little ones and your job and your aging parents. We do what’s possible. That’s awful news. With my writing students, I had them get one-inch picture frames and only write as much as they could see through that one-inch picture frame. Then the bad mind, the critical voice says, well, where’s that going to get you, one passage, one paragraph, one what? It’s going to get you to the next one. It’s going to get you to feeling really, really amazed that you got some writing done this morning or you got your work done and the kids were entertained. You let them watch a little bit more TV or be online a little bit more so that you can do a little bit more and you can be there for your parents who are struggling, who are older, who are scared. We do what’s possible. These questions are so great.

Zibby: Just keep going.

Anne: The problem is, I don’t have a lot of . If you could go up to the question above, “This book seems close to perfect,” which is a great question. There was a question about forgiveness, that it’s the hardest work we do. The whole book is about forgiveness and soul. I don’t know how to raise the chat.

Zibby: It says, “The hardest thing is forgiveness. How do you continue to dig deep for that?” That’s from Daphne.

Anne: I’m just so glad my son isn’t here because he’s just mortified by my lack of technological skills. He goes, “Oh, my god, Mom.” Anyway, I also want to talk about, somebody wanted to know about Sam’s sobriety. I’ll do these two questions first. Forgiveness, this is forgiveness school here. It’s hard because it’s hard. People say you can’t forgive anyone until you forgive yourself. People just like to hand out nice Christian bumper stickers. I don’t find them all that helpful. I do practice radical forgiveness. I have learned in my sixties to do this with myself and to say it’s okay. If somebody did something really awful to me or, even worse, to my child, it’s really hard. I try to figure out through that one-inch frame if there is any aspect of it where I can do forgiveness. I call it forgiveness-ish. I might call them. I sent someone a book who I’m not even sure if they’re speaking to me. I wrote a really sweet note. I said, “There are a couple stories in this book that I thought you might really love. I hope you’re well.” That’s all. It’s so subversive to do something nice to someone with whom you have a real conflict. There’s a piece in here, so I won’t wreck it for you, about forgiving our parents even though they’ve been dead forever. This self-forgiveness, it’s an action. Figure out is a bad slogan. What’s the action you can do?

You know what? I bought a pair of pants that I saw on Amazon. No, I saw them on People magazine with a link to Amazon. Katie — who is married to Tom Cruise? — Holmes was wearing them. They looked so cute on her. I’m twenty-five years older and probably thirty pounds heavier, but I went and ordered them because I do believe it’s out there and that I can buy it, achieve it, date it, lease it. I got them. I got a medium. I’m a medium. I’m 5’6″. I’m 140. I’m a medium. The buttons were five or six inches apart. They weren’t even close. They weren’t where you could take them to the seamstress at the dry cleaners. I just felt sick. I felt so mad at myself because I really do eat a lot more in COVID. I’m bored. It was Easter and the whole thing. I have so many excuses. I was going to stick to them. I had to send them back. You know what I did? I said out loud, fuck it, who cares? I’m here in forgiveness school. My best friend’s son died three months ago. My grandchild who lives here has been at — he’s in sixth grade. He’s missed his friends for over a year. We have a friend here today. They’re six feet apart in masks. That’ll be fun, but it’s not the same as roughhousing and grab-assing and shoving and pushing and sitting together and being silly, but we do what’s possible.

I thought, almost anything I can think of is more important than whether I can fit into pants that Katie Holmes looks cute in. I got myself back. Once I have myself back — this whole book is about finding your center. The center does hold with a couple good friends. Someone, I can’t see what her name is — Ellie is touching her center around. She’s going . If you can touch right here, collectively right now with Ellie as our leader, touching our center, breathing into that center, you’re way more than halfway home. You breathe into it. Ram Dass calls it the heart cave. If you have a higher power — you definitely had a little girl, a little child who might be scared and lonely and worried that she’s not enough or not doing well enough or not a good enough mother or daughter or spouse or whatever. Just touch that solar plexus and breathe right into it. Breathe into that heart cave. Then believe me, oh, my god, I got those pants back by that afternoon. I had those pants returned. I got the welcoming pants. The world has enough opinions about it as it is without your pants getting in on it too. Somebody wanted to ask about my son’s sobriety and the miracle of that. The miracle of that was that I’m in a twelve-step program for people with tiny, tiny control issues and people who are trying to get their teenagers and their young adults to do what the parent thinks would be a very excellent idea for the child. I.e., my child was a meth head and an alcoholic. He had a baby at nineteen. It was very, very hard. It was not what I had in mind. He had been to rehab. He was dealing now. Things had gotten worse.

I finally set a boundary. His baby and his baby mama were living with me. Sam was showing up drunk and stoned. I finally said, “You know what? It doesn’t make any sense for you to show up at our property for your two-year-old to see you. Come back again when you have a little time under your belt.” It was awful. It was the worst day, literally, of my life. I held a sharpened pencil to his throat. I said, “You can’t be here on this property. You’re too crazy. Go get help. I love you. I love you the same, but get off of this property.” Ten days later, because I got my sticky fingers off the spaceship and released him to the care of his own higher power and at the catastrophe of his own behavior, which are the only two things in human history that ever got anybody clean and sober — I did that work in my twelve-step group of Al-Anon. I released him. Ten days later, he called and he said, “I’ve got a week. These guys in San Francisco County have shown up and taken me under their belt. I haven’t had a drink in seven days. Can I come back?” “Of course you can come back. We miss you more than we can capture in words. Can you come for dinner?” That’s the story. I’ll tell you my favorite riddle. What’s the difference between me and God? Anybody know the answer? God never thinks he’s me. Once I realized I was not God in my child’s life, I’m not my child’s higher power, I’m not even my own, I’m a retired higher power, then all sorts of miracles happened. The miracle that my family got was that my son hasn’t picked up a drink since September of 2011, I guess it would be. Yeah, 2011. We have time for a couple quick more questions. You’re in charge of all things.

Zibby: Yes, we are in charge. Let’s see if there are any other questions here.

Anne: Here’s a question I love from Carolyn Platt. “I love your exchange with the Texan with the bouffant hairdo and when you said to her, ‘I can’t ever repay your kindness,’ and she said, in a thick Texas accent, ‘Can’t never could.’ That line, those three words.” This is a story in the book when I’m in Miami. I’m one year sober. I’m a mess. I’m very, very high up on the twentieth floor. I’m thinking of jumping because I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted by my condition. I’m exhausted by staying sober. There are forty little, tiny bottles of booze in my refrigerator. I did the hardest thing I do. I picked up the two-hundred-pound phone and I called a hotline. It was almost midnight. I said, “I’m a sober alcoholic from California. I’m scared. I’m alone. I don’t know what to do.” This young man said, “We’ll send you someone. Don’t worry. Just stay there. Don’t do anything until — she’ll be there in twenty minutes.” I was like, “What? You’re sending someone to my hotel room in twenty minutes?” She was like, “Yeah, yeah.”

This elderly woman, much, much older than I was who had thirty years clean and sober shows up. It turns out she’s in a pink Cadillac, so I believe I’ve seen the car of God. She comes into my hotel room. We have a cup of 7UP or something from the mini bar. She calls the front desk and asks them to please take away all the booze. We share our experience, strength, and hope, and our terrible stories of early sobriety. She makes me laugh. The line with the bouffant is that — it really was up to here. She said what Ann Richards always said. The higher the hair, the closer to God. That’s when I said, “I can’t ever repay you.” It was late. She was old. She said, “Can’t never could.” I rarely say can’t anymore. Okay, one more question. Let me look and see what I have at this end, Zibby. I just don’t think I know how to move the chat, unfortunately. Do you have one more question at your end, or do you have a way that you want to close up?

Zibby: I would love to unmute everybody. Everybody can unmute themselves and maybe just say a quick hello to you because everybody was so excited to meet you. I seem to have monopolized this conversation.

Anne: Yes, say hello.

Zibby: Everybody unmute.

Everyone: Hi, Ann. Hello. Love you. Miss you. Thank you.

Anne: God bless you. God bless you. You’re like a little advent calendar of people. Thank you for the work you’re doing. I gave away the gift bags that you sent to the woman struggling with a little one in a tough marriage, a little child. I gave her a candle that said Moms Don’t Have Time. I gave her the book. I give her the jump rope. I gave her lotions. The plate of the earth beneath her shifted to be given that understanding. It’s hard to make time for that radical self-care. When you do, buckle up. Thank you, everybody. I loved being here.

Everyone: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, Zibby. Have a great day. Thank you for coming.

Anne: Bless you. Thank you again.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Thanks for everything.

Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott

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