Humor and poignancy

Author Anne Lamott signs books at Malibu City Hall following at a talk at the Malibu Civic Theatre. Lamott's book "Help, Thanks, Wow," 

In the hands of a writer like Anne Lamott, life’s troubles are to be met with self-deprecating humor and unflinching honesty, a striking mix that has made her books accessible and relatable to countless readers. And it was that same “laughing from the heart” style she brought with her last Thursday as the special guest of the Malibu Library Speakers Series at the Malibu Civic Theatre.

A capacity crowd turned out to hear Lamott’s trademark humor, laced with hard-won wisdom on parenthood, faith, womanhood and acceptance of life’s hard realities.

Lamott, 59, has been called “the People’s Author,” in part because of her fondness for and presence in social media—she is an unabashed tweeter and blogger—which has allowed her to expand the reach of her political activism, as well as strike a more personal chord with her readers, especially among women.

“A lot of my political fights I don’t win,” she said. But she still fights—for human rights, women’s rights and the rights of the individual in this ever-shrinking free world.

“I’m a screaming bleeding-heart liberal,” she admitted freely. “Where do we start (being politically active)? We start where we are. When we look around and say, ‘This can’t be right.’”

But she is also a contradiction, at once judgmental and tart, while also a champion of free will and acceptance. Her lifetime of experience has given her latitude—through alcoholism and single-motherhood, through the naive ’50s, turbulent ’60s and beyond. She’s a post-Vietnam, San Francisco hippie chick who is still hip.

Her books are largely autobiographical, personal, spiritual. When she “came out of the closet as a Christian,” she said, she felt like she “needed to defend it, as if it couldn’t defend itself.” It’s no surprise that three of her seven nonfiction books have the word faith in the title. And it also dominated her talk before a rapt audience. She also has written seven novels.

“I have a screwy sense of union with God,” Lamott said with a smile. “Prayers are always answered. They’re not answered, ‘Yes, I’m on that.’ But they are answered.”

Talking extensively about her most recent book “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”—and treating the full house to an excerpt from it—Lamott discussed her faith and the prayers that bind her to it.

“Help is I’ve run out of good ideas,” she said. “That’s the place we’re drawn to by our own best thinking. It’s the hard part. The point when it all comes crashing down. But in our worst catastrophe, people show up.”

Lamott has been through her share of difficulties, losing her father and best friend to cancer, raising a son as a single mother and battling an addiction to alcohol.

“When I was in recovery, I had two prayers—help me, help me, help me and thank you, thank you, thank you,” she added. “Someone will be there. You can do it alone, but it’s better if you don’t enjoy it very much. You don’t need to do it alone.”

The second prayer, Lamott said, is when you realize everything is going to be all right. “If thank you is your only prayer, that’s good enough. It speaks of profound understanding. It will be awhile but it will be okay.

“It doesn’t come like a shining light, it can come in some small, quirky thing. It can be the simplest thing,” she said, adding, “We want to look up. We want to fly.”

And from that comes realization and appreciation. “Wow,” she said.

Lamott related a story about how she got her notes for a speaking engagement mixed up, switching her notes for a talk on faith with those for a talk on writing.

“You know what? The notes were essentially the same,” she said. “Stop trying to please everyone or trying to make everyone love you. It’s not worth the time.”

Her best advice on writing? “Stare off into space more. Waste more paper. Creativity is about taking things out, as much as putting things in.”