Anne Lamott talks about the "crack cocaine" of grandchildren, her faith in God and how writing a novel is like spinning plates.
Anne Lamott knows how hard it is to bring up a child, and, thanks to her 1993 memoir, "Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year," we all know how hard it is, too.
Lamott's best-selling memoir about the first year in the life of her son, Sam, stood out for its honesty and humor, as well as for her refusal to sentimentalize what can be a very difficult and tedious job.
In one memorable and desperate scene, it occurs to Lamott that she could finally get some sleep if she just left Sam out on the porch for the night. If he survived, she wrote, she'd bring him back inside in the morning.
Exhausted mothers everywhere applauded. (And no, of course she did not actually do this.)
And now, guess what? Sam is all grown up and has a son of his own, and Anne has written a journal about Jax's first year. Her honesty, humor and fears are intact, but one thing that "Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son" makes abundantly clear is this: It's a lot easier to be a grandmother than it was to be a mom.
Lamott will be at Barnes & Noble Galleria on Monday.
Q What's it like being a grandmother?
A It's so much easier to be a grandmother. There's that line in the book from my friend who said when she comes back, she's coming back as a grandmother. Another friend of mine says grandchildren are crack cocaine.
That endless being in charge is gone -- you get to kind of relax into the moment of it. I savored Sam's early childhood but it's so hard, it's so hard to be a parent. You feel really blessed, but it's the most difficult and challenging thing that we undertake. When someone hurts your kid -- rejects them or bullies them -- you really, literally, want to die. With a grandchild you don't see all that. It's infinitely easier because it's most of the good stuff without the devastating stuff.
Q What was the writing process for this book? Small parts of it are written by Sam and by Jax's mother, Amy. How did you collaborate?
A I gave them complete veto power. I took out anything that made people feel worried. I wanted it to be a book that everyone in the family would love that I'd written. That was what guided me. I absolutely did not want to write a book that made anyone feel sad or that misrepresented the year. It's a full and true book between the parameters of there being a whole family being involved.
I don't ever write about my family in any kind of confidential way. I don't talk about my brothers, or their families, for instance, even though I totally have the goods on everyone.
Q In this book, you struggle with issues of control -- you want Jax near you, you want him baptized in your church, you worry that Amy is going to move away and take him with her. Did these strong feelings surprise you?
A My whole life is really about that lesson. And it's really specific when it's your grandchild -- they're crack cocaine and you want your fix. I would say, in general, that is my issue in everything -- trying to figure out how to release everyone to the course of their own destiny and higher power and to surrender my own destiny. Also, just in terms of personality -- some of us, I won't name names, but, me -- have a tendency to be a control freak.
I'm infinitely better, and I have a path of working through the absurdity of thinking that any adult is going to do what you want because you're sure it's a good idea. It's a hard issue for me. I do secretly think I have excellent ideas. I kind of have to grab myself by my wrist every day and say, No, Annie, stop.
Q You've written a lot about spirituality ("Grace (Eventually)," "Traveling Mercies"), and it's clear that you rely a lot on your faith and your church. Yet in this book you are constantly exploring new faiths and new ways of being spiritual.
A I just believe that there's one mountain and many, many trails up the mountain. We can't know much about God. The fundamentalists believe that what they believe about God is true. My friend Tom the Jesuit said that the opposite of faith isn't doubt, but certainty. And I absolutely believe that. And so I am a Christian and I pray and I read the Bible and I go to church every Sunday and I just love Jesus and I understand next to nothing.
I'm a very simple believer. If somebody is immersed in God as love and gentleness and forgiveness and inclusion and freedom, I'm in. And if they can tell me something that's going to throw the lights on for me a little bit -- Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, it doesn't matter.
Q You are well known for "Operating Instructions," and for "Bird by Bird," your memoir of becoming a writer. But you also write novels. What is it like to go between the two?
A Fiction is a lot harder for me. It takes a lot longer. With a novel, it's going to be three years, including one year of literally not knowing what I'm writing about. I have always believed that the material is inside me. If I'm quiet in that realm and patient and receptive, the material will begin to tug on my shoulder slowly, and little by little I'll start seeing pieces of it, like mosaic chips. A novel is much, much harder, like keeping six plates in the air.
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302