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Anne Lamott's advice for life

Author shares pain, struggle and loss in her books
/ Source: The Associated Press

Liberal quantities of rest and laughter are writer Anne Lamott’s best advice for a successful, happy life.

“There’s something about crossing that line and you just give the big shrug,” Lamott said during a recent interview in the living room of her modest home, about 20 miles north of San Francisco. “I want to live. I want to be present for the moments of my life. I want to care less about the stupidity.”

Lamott, 49, sounds much as she does in her books: Snippets of wisdom are tucked into sarcasm.

Through her writing, the best-selling author has revealed her pain, struggle and loss. Millions of readers have learned about her alcoholism and single motherhood (”Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year”), her born-again Christianity (”Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith”) and her insecurities as a writer (”Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”).

“I think people are just so hungry for truth and for people to make it funny and make it more playful instead of it being so defeating,” she said.

Lamott finds it easier to write truth than fiction. But even her works of fiction are steeped in truth.

In her latest novel, “Blue Shoe,” protagonist Mattie Ryder, an overweight mother of two who is still having sex with her ex-husband despite his new, young and pregnant wife, is neurotic, funny, religious and broke. Her life is a mess: She’s falling in love with a married man, her young daughter refuses to speak and her aging mother is losing her mind.

When Mattie finds a small, blue rubber shoe left behind by her dead father, she uses it as a talisman to get her through life’s frequent rough patches.

Lamott was inspired by a similar shoe she got out of a grocery store gum ball machine in 1982 when she was in a deep depression. It soothed her, she said, just to hold the worthless bauble.

“I couldn’t put it down,” she said. “Everywhere I went, I shoved it into my pocket; the friend I was staying with used to sort of laugh at me, but one day, something very sad happened in her life, and I left the blue shoe with a note for her by her coffee cup, that said I wished I could take the pain off her or carry it for her, but instead, I could just promise that I would walk through it by her side. She couldn’t put it down.”

Lamott and friend passed the shoe back and forth for years.

“It seemed like a great plot device,” she said. “To show a long friendship over the years, two friends sharing this little blue shoe that meant nothing to the world, that was a symbol of their commitment to help each other through life’s hard times.”

As in most of her books, Lamott tackles big topics in “Blue Shoe” — losing love, finding love, being a good mother, being a good daughter, chasing old demons, finding new ones. When she taught at the University of California, Davis, and at writing workshops, she told her students to write books they wanted to read.

In recent years, Lamott has been criticized for her books about single motherhood and her born-again Christian faith.

Her 1993 best seller, “Operating Instructions,” was released shortly after then-Vice President Dan Quayle’s famous “Murphy Brown” speech in which he criticized professional women for “mocking the importance of fathers” by bearing children alone. Lamott made best-seller lists for the first time and was invited to talk shows — things she said wouldn’t have happened without the controversy.

In 1999, “Traveling Mercies” caused a stir among conservative Christians who objected to Lamott’s unique brand of religious fervor.

“I think people are inherently spiritual,” she said. “There are a lot of atheists who like my work and they kind of overlook this Christian thing. It’s my little blind spot. There are a lot of Christians who are a lot more fundamentalist than I am and they either love me anyway or they don’t come back.”