Tag Archives: Anne Lamott

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not-Hate Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day, Part 1: I Have Issues

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep
with them that weep” has been so hard for me
on Mother’s Day, just starting with myself
because I always felt both the yin and yang
of the day—deep gratitude for my amazing son
and mother and grandmother and so many others,
but not that by itself, because I also felt
trace elements of the grief from all the years
we were trying to get pregnant and could not.
Then so much hurt for the motherless, the ones
who never got pregnant who wanted to, the ones
who had mothers who hurt them or children who died.
And this word: miscarriage. Or this one: miscarriages.
And then so many who are childless by choice are told
so many times that choice is the one invalid one
of all our choices. And so I hated Mother’s Day
the first few years I was one and I still
would just as soon ignore it but I won’t.

On Hating Mother’s Day (and other days)

I posted, on Facebook, for two or three years running, this diatribe against Mother’s Day by Anne Lamott. It always got such a strong response, positive and negative. The positive is relatively easy for me to understand and explain—there are a lot of us for whom Mother’s Day is not all sunshine brunch and flowers, for a lot of different reasons, and until Lamott’s piece, I don’t remember someone writing about “I hate Mother’s Day.”

In that, Mother’s Day is different from other holidays people tend to hate. Someone ambivalent about Christmas? Or angry about it? We might not agree, but we’ve seen repeated complaints about the commercialism of it, they way people who practice other faiths feel excluded, the way the war-on-Christmas-craziness asks us to pretend “happy holidays” is bad (when wishing someone a holy-day is pretty religious actually).

If someone were to write about being the adult child of an alcoholic and how Christmas was always tense when they were a child because maybe Dad would be drunk and abusive or maybe he’d just be gone, and either way, it was a relief when the day was over, we’d be sympathetic.

I think most of us are open to complaints about Christmas, even as we put up our tree and fa la la through the season.

Same with Valentine’s. If your romantic life is anything other than where you want it to be, this is probably not a great day, and we all get that.

Here are some holidays it would be harder to complain about and get general sympathy:

I imagine that if you’re a certain sort of conservative Christian who thinks demons are real, Halloween pretty much sucks. I also imagine that if you’re a pacifist, Veteran’s Day is difficult. Thanksgiving is all football and family and feasting, right? Unless you are a Native American. Or even if you’re just thinking about the way Native Americans might view the first Thanksgiving and what came pretty soon after.

In my experience Mother’s Day is more in this second group—just not something people are terribly open to hearing complaints about (especially from someone like me, with a living mother I adore, and a 9-year-old son who’s just awesome).

So that explains the positive responses—people who have ISSUES with Mother’s Day but have antipathy that dare not speak its name (a small version of saying “Voldemort” out loud).

And it explains some of the negative responses—people who just can’t imagine why someone could possibly hate such a lovely day that honors women who’ve blah blah blah.

The other negative responses have to do with the fact that Lamott is being pretty crabby and diatribey and not terribly logical (which she mostly never is, not terribly). My friend Jenny explains that well in her latest post.

She says Lamott’s  “vitriol is off-putting, and I disagree passionately with parts. By the end, I feel like I’ve been served what might have been a lovely soup were it not peppered with flies.”

Rejoicing With Them That Do Rejoice Or Not

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Ambivalent as I am about the man, I have to admit he just nailed it sometimes (am I remembering right that someone theorized he was short and ugly or did I just imagine that? I picture him that way, regardless).

Here’s why that verse is hard:

Times I’ve been unhappy with whatever portion of my life, I haven’t always done well rejoicing with those who were getting what I wanted but didn’t have.

And, I have to say, those who have so much aren’t always awesome about being sensitive to those who have less.

It’s not just a matter of holidays, either—it can be any random status update, or even that terrific practice of expressing gratitude regularly (some do it daily)—if someone’s expressing gratitude for something terrific, and I have something less than terrific, it’s hard not to snark inside my own head “well of course you’re grateful. I would be, too.”

I’m guilty of both sides of that—I don’t rejoice sometimes for those who are rejoicing.

And then sometimes when I’m rejoicing, I forget (entirely, utterly, blithely) to weep with those who weep. Or even that there are people weeping.

It’s something I’m trying to get better at, and I guess I’m writing this only to ask that we all remember both sides of Mother’s Day—that it’s wonderful and awful both.

Let’s weep with those who weep.

But also rejoice with those who rejoice.

(How can we do that all at once, every moment? I haven’t got a clue—for me it’s just the awareness and the attempt.)


On Hating Mother’s Day Less

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that part of my own ISSUE with Mother’s Day stemmed from a long list of “shoulds.”

  • Since I struggled to get pregnant, but finally did, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my mother’s alive and wonderful, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my husband does laundry and dishes all the time, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my son routinely makes me laugh and smile, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.

Never mind that early May is always exhausting—the end of a semester, the end of an academic year.

Never mind that every role I love (mother, daughter, wife, sibling, aunt, cousin, gardener, professor, friend, writer, colleague, community member) is a role that also conflicts at least once every freaking day with every other role I love. Sometimes I feel like the guy in Too Many Hats when the monkeys start giving him shit.

I actually enjoyed Mother’s Day last year. As I remember, it was because I told people ahead of time precisely how I wanted to spend the day, and they let me do it the way I wanted, and I went into it with very low expectations—the first few years I think I wanted the day to look like a commercial put out by Hallmark if they sold both cards AND coffee—perky and happy and everyone smiling WHICH IS NOT EVER HOW THE DAY TURNED OUT.

(When my son was still in diapers, for example, he almost never wet through—I think we had to change sheets maybe twice his whole diaper-hood from a leaky diaper. But one of those times was EARLY Mother’s Day morning.)

So my plan is again to tell people precisely how I want to spend the day, and spend it that way, and acknowledge that I will likely feel lucky and grateful and exhausted and conflicted in varying measures and times through the day, the way I do most every day.

And I will be trying, on Mother’s Day and other days, to rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.


Mother’s Day, Part 2: What I Want

To sleep a little later than I usually do.
To sit and watch my mother’s freckled hands
as they tremor just a little holding a cup
of coffee we’ve gone out for, just us two.
To snuggle with my son and watch TV.
To have someone else decide what we’re going to eat.
And then fix it or bring it or take me somewhere.
And then I want to go to bed and read.
And then I want the day to end. Amen.


Looking for Wow

First Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin (where I no longer officially belong but will always, in some way, BELONG) once hired a youth minister who had a nose ring, so, I liked her immediately. Then also she has a son the same age as mine. And then she quoted Anne Lamott in a sermon and called her the writer of the fifth gospel. BOOM! That’s one of the ways I know I’m in the same tribe as someone—massive respect and affection for Anne Lamott.

I read her latest, Help, Thanks, Wow, on the iPad, with the Kindle app, and I liked the book a lot. (Also liked reading digitally–If my son hadn’t essentially taken over the iPad, I might be reading more books that way. )

I like her definition of prayer:
“It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding.”

I am charmed that this might annoy, unnerve, or offend any number of people I care about, who see prayer differently than I see it–all across the spectrum from pretty conservative-evangelical-fundamentalist Christians who’d be bothered not to see God in a definition of prayer (if they haven’t hidden me entirely on our social-media-in-common sites) to my atheist friends, who politely avert their eyes when I get going on the Jesus talk.

I particularly like this paragraph:
“Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy—all at the same time. It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being psychically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe miraculously, we just release our grip slightly.”

Oh, does that resonate with me–both the need to release my grip AND the way that prayer helps me do that.

Her categories of prayer are helpful, though of course she’s not the first to come up with these. There’s “help,” for which we have the formal name of “intercessory prayer.” And then “thanks,” which some would call “prayers of thanksgiving,” and then “wow,” which I would probably call praise, but seems to be the official category of “adoration.”

Or is it?

This article, “Prayer and Subjective Well-Being: An Examination of Six Different Types of Prayer” lists these: “adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, reception, and obligatory.”

Here’s how Whittington and Scher define prayers of adoration: “prayers focused on the worship of God, without any reference to circumstances, needs, or desires.” This is partly what Lamott means by “wow,” and it also coordinates with my new favorite song “Bring Your Praise,” by Trin-i-tee 5:7 (and if the fact that I love this song isn’t proof the Lord works in mysterious ways, well then….)

“If you want to see amazing, all you got to do is praise Him,” they sing. And also, “he can do anything, but he wants you to praise him.” (Which makes God sound a little needy and high-maintenance, frankly, which makes the Gnostic idea that Christianity’s creator-God has some issues. I always figure he was a second son, based on his dismissiveness about primogeniture in Genesis….)

Here’s the definition Whittington and Scher use for a prayer of “reception.” They quote another researcher, who says reception is “characterized by a contemplative attitude of openness, receptivity, and surrender, resulting in experiences ranging from peaceful/quiet to rapture/ecstasy.”

Sounds more like WOW, doesn’t it?

So I’ve been singing that song, “if you wanna see amazin’, all you gotta do is praise him” and essentially looking for wow.

I wrote one “help” prayer and posted it recently: “Prayer for a New Semester.” And of course there have already been school shootings, so immediately there’s the issue of “when God says no” and the question of whether my lack of faith is why my requests don’t get granted 100% of the time. (I found this sermon very comforting–I’ve long made the connection of “if faith is a gift, it’s not my fault I don’t have it.”)

I followed that up with a “thanks” prayer, “Grateful for my Crazy Life.”

Here are a couple of stabs at wow:

Stopping in Lone Rock

If I lived in L.A. traffic would drive me nuts,
And I don’t like Chicago’s bus-to-bus-to-el routes,
But yesterday’s commute sucked big-time, massive
Sucking—whereas usually my rural drive
Is lovely—how many eagles this week? A pileated?—
Yesterday it was snow-slick on the way in
And on the way home I nearly went snow-blind.
Today I worked from home, fever-breathing with a cold.

At one point I thought, “So this is zen driving” because
Really, I was guessing where the road was.
In the distance, there simply was no road in sight.
Up close, you could hazard a hypothesis.
I had to stop in Lone Rock to buy sunglasses—
My eyes were exhausted from staring at white on white on white.

All right, so it’s also a prayer of complaint (not a problem–there are whole Psalms that do that, right?), but the last six lines I was trying to convey the wow I felt, even though it wasn’t a very blissy wow.

I’m not such a fan of winter.

But I do use these cold days and nights (it’s supposed to get down to -11 tonight) to practice wow. One of the ways I do it is looking at frost on windows and seeing how many images are there that start with the letter “f.” Feather, flame, fire, fractal….By the time spring gets here, the list is usually pretty long. It’s not gratitude. Gratitude, from me, about winter–almost never going to happen. (MINUS ELEVEN.) But I can, occasionally, get to wow about it.

Frost in my bedroom window

Frost in my bedroom window

Two Week Sonnet, Day 7

Riding the line between abundance and chaos,
My stupid focus is on lack, lack, lack.
I try gratitude, but follow the switchback
Back toward loud whiny-assedness:
Too much. Too much! There really ought to be less
Except of course when there needs to be much more.
A good friend named my mountain bike “Pathfinder”

Well, that’s it. It was a sestet after all. Moving on! With the same basic back and forth theme. I’m piggy-backing “less” on the ABBA rhyme scheme from the first quatrain. So, once again, I’m in the land of nonce sonnets (a sonnet that meets the basic rules of the form but doesn’t follow a famous/established pattern). I’ve always been pretty noncey. It’s the “ballpark” notion of prosody–my first prosody teacher would say fairly often, “Well, let’s call that a ballpark sonnet,” as in, it’s in the same ballpark. I try to be a little more precise than that, but for me, a poem has to follow some sort of rules, even if the rules are brand new. There has to be some kind of surface tension holding things together. I wonder if it’s surface tension I mean?

In any case, once I said “switchback” in line three, I was back in Missoula, so the mountain bike was bound to show up.

Terrific picture NOT taken by me--go to this website: http://www.mesenko.com/Landscapes/Missoula/14933008_mVjHV3/1904593193_MZGcfRk

Terrific picture NOT taken by me–go to this website: http://www.mesenko.com/Landscapes/Missoula/14933008_mVjHV3/1904593193_MZGcfRk

Two books I’m reading, well, three, are in my mind in terms of content or theme here (beyond the basic back-and-forth theme, which is more of a structural principle): Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow, Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ. Instead of being all monkey-minded, whiplash-mooded, and spiritually spastic, I’m aiming for some measure of mindful equilibrium. “And how’s that working for you?” I say to myself…. I’m tentatively calling this poem “Sustainable Chaos,” even though I already wrote one other poem called that. Listen. If George Foreman can name every child “George,” I can use the same title more than once. But “Sustainable Chaos” appeals to me in terms of how I want my life to feel and be.
Decisions, decisions. Today we reach the end of a sestet–a little six-line cluster. If we’re going traditional Petrarchan, we’ll push on for a couple more lines to complete the octave (8 lines, if you didn’t know) and THEN shift gears. The rhymes seem to indicate I’m in an octave, not a sestet. I was kind of mis-remembering, forgetting I’d set up “whiny-assedness” to rhyme with “abundance and chaos,” only remembering that “less” rhymed with “ness.” I thought briefly about trying to rhyme with “less” so this could decide to be a sestet.

I’m a little worried that the two less/more lines are too obvious, but I like having them as end words there in the early-middle of the poem.

Well, really, it’s tomorrow’s decision, where to go from here. Just feeling the impendingness of it today.

p.s. I told my husband last night what I was up to with this and he totally got it, how hard it is for me to do this just one line a day, since I often write a sonnet, or most of a sonnet, in the car on the way to work.

Fortunately, this isn’t the only writing I’m doing.
So, no Babe the Blue Ox in the Slough of Despond yet. But there’s time. We’re only five lines in. A whole universe of crap can happen in 9 lines in a sonnet. Right now I’m thinking the next line will begin

Except for when

but I could totally change my mind by tomorrow.
I decided I’d try to write a sonnet over a two-week period (14 days–seemed liked fate), one line a day. Curious if I’ll do it–I’m trying not to anticipate what I might write the next day or later, though it occurred to me this is kind of a version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which made me think of Paul Bunyan, so they might show up, with Babe in the slough of despond or something. Or not.

Derailing the Train of the Perfect Semester

Welcome aboard, students and friends, yes welcome to
The Train of the Perfect Semester. I’m your Engineer,
Conductor, Coal Shoveler, and the Happy Waving Guy
In the bright red caboose.  See the circus animals?
I clean up after them and feed them.  (And unlike
SOME professors, no, I don’t think my students
Are animals. Or vice versa.) See the tracks
Below us, flying past? Learning outcomes
Set by the department.  Or wait, no,
The learning outcomes are our destination.
Yes, that’s right. So those rails, well, they must be
The syllabus. (I thought the train might be the syllabus,
One car per week, but that doesn’t work.
Why would you move through a moving train like that?
And I need the lounge car more than just one week.)
I’m in constant contact with other trains,
Most are far ahead of us, a few behind,
And we are all converging on the station,
The depot with its train-font, “Finals Week,”
Where you will disembark and I’ll post grades
And tend to the train for a month or so until
We load her up again in Spring and head for May.

Except, oh Christ, it doesn’t work that way for me.
It never has. And even there, in that happy stanza,
I fucked it up—the destination was “Learning  Outcomes,”
Not “Finals Week.” The hardest thing for me
In everything is how to keep things straight.
So yes, it would be lovely if you’d climbed
The folding step and taken your seat and toured
Each depot along the way in an orderly fashion
Set up by me, “Here is the town of Paraphrase,”
Imagine my having said, “Next stop, Quotation Sandwich.”
Only those stops required, in order,
With me as your energetic tour guide.
(Oh great—engineer, conductor, shoveler, happy guy
animal wrangler and tour guide. I needed more work.)
And I guess your ticket for each stop would be a quiz
Or an essay. Your luggage is all your prior learning….
How much grit did you pack? You’ll need a fair bit.

Let’s talk about those circus animals.
They’re well treated, of course. They’re escapees
From other circuses, if you really want to know.
I thought you might enjoy them. I thought you might
Even learn a little from them, but no,
They aren’t exactly on the syllabus.

So here’s the thing. I lied when I gave you the schedule
For the semester. I should have told you then
“Here’s where we’re starting out, the first few weeks,
and then here’s a list of everywhere else we’ll go,
but no, I’m not committing to exactly when.
I promise we will get to the destination. On time.
And we will stop at all the absolutely necessary stops.”

Beyond that, I should have told you, who knows?
Will I ever be brave enough to say that?

Will I ever be brave enough to say that
If I see a pond I’ve never noticed before
And it occurs to me we could go fishing there
For topic ideas or movie reviews that bring up
What we’re reading from the 19th century,
We’re stopping. We’re always going to stop.
We might even abandon the train. Don’t freak—
I promise we’ll get where we’re going. We always do.
But I will not promise by what conveyance.

If you’re the sort of student who needs the train
To run on time above all else, my class will make you nuts.
But if you’re focused on the destination,
(I will give repeated updates about how close we are),
and able to be a traveler, not a tourist,
and able to enjoy the scenery and the side trips,
I can promise you  a punched ticket in 16 weeks.
You might even get the opportunity to shovel coal!
Or animal shit! I’ll even let you wave from the caboose.

Also there might be small robots or sushi or kazoos.

Here at the Sunday morning gathering of Zen Baptists at my house (Today’s Attendance…1), the reading was from St. Anne (Lamott) about the prayer of “Help.”

I came away thinking–why do I persist in seeing my semester as a mess when the weekly schedule I set up becomes something fictional? Why not work on making sure we hit the necessary stops but otherwise just say to students, why not say TO MYSELF, “Sure it’s a mess. But it’s a GLORIOUS mess.”

Because that’s what life is. At least that’s what my life is.

(And yes, I was thinking of those leaders who were praised with “at least the trains ran on time.” It isn’t logical, of course, to equate an on-time train with evil, but it’s also not logical to equate a meandering journey with educational malpractice, which is what those EXEMPLARY PROFESSOR CRITICS in my head say to me. I’m telling them hush. I’m telling them, enjoy the freaking ride, and here’s some herbal insect repellant. “For what?” say the EXEMPLARY PROFESSOR CRITICS. “For the bugs up your collective butt,” I say.)