After I shared this news in mid-December, a dear friend sent me, as a thoughtful congratulatory gift, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Now, I know this was published in 1994 and lots of writers have probably long leaned on Lamott’s wise advice. In other words, I’m sixteen years late to the party here. But, yeah. I’m reading it for the first time ever. And I love the below excerpt so much on so many levels that I’m going to share it today. And then—while we’re on the subject of glorious imperfections, which we will be—I’m going to follow it with a novel excerpt Eisha once shared with me years ago in a card she gave me, which I also love so much that it’s been hanging in my kitchen all these years.
(And, since Lamott mentions addictiveness, I’m picturing my addiction-of-choice above.)
This post is sort of like a cheap Dollar-Store copy of the kind of goodness you get at John E. Simpson’s blog on Poetry Fridays — interrelated poems, excerpts from novels, song lyrics, even videos/music, etc., though I’ve just got some book excerpts here and though this post doesn’t deliver half as well as John’s do. (Here is but one example.) His cyber-bungalow can be one of your best Poetry Friday visits.
From Anne Lamott’s chapter on character in Bird by Bird:
Now, a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likable. I like for narrators to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I. Preoccupation with self is good, as is a tendency toward procrastination, self-delusion, darkness, jealousy, groveling, greediness, addictiveness. They shouldn’t be too perfect; perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting. I like for them to have a nice sick sense of humor and to be concerned with important things, by which I mean that they are interested in political and psychological and spiritual matters. I want them to want to know who we are and what life is all about. I like them to be mentally ill in the same sorts of ways that I am; for instance, I have a friend who said one day, “I could resent the ocean if I tried,” and I realized that I love that in a guy. I like for them to have hope—if a friend or a narrator reveals himself or herself to be hopeless too early on, I lose interest. It depresses me. It makes me overeat. I don’t mind if a person has no hope if he or she is sufficiently funny about the whole thing, but then, this being able to be funny definitely speaks of a kind of hope, of buoyancy. Novels ought to have hope… We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.
Still yet it is a fine place. I know every man jack that lives here, know their wives and younguns, know the insides of their houses like I know my own trailer. I set and drink coffee with everybody and they tell me their troubles. Wouldn’t you know, the folks that has the most problems makes the best coffee. It’s funny the way life works out.