Last night, I went to CalTech to see Anne Lamott speak about her new book, Imperfect Birds.
From the minute she opened her mouth, I loved her more than I have before. She was full of wisdom and truth, had the most soothing voice, and had the grace of someone who is comfortable in her own skin. I was actually kind of surprised by how beautiful she is…I’ve sometimes imagined her with a wild-eyed look, but there was none of that.
She told us that the title of the book is from the words of the Persian mystic, Rumi: “Each has to enter the nest of the other imperfect bird.” Anne said that all we have to offer is welcome, from one imperfect bird to another, into our ragtag nest for a cuppa tea, which is just enough even when it seems impossible that could be. She also pointed out that it’s ludicrous to think of ever coming upon an imperfect bird. If we came upon a bird who was sick, or injured, or its feathers were a little tattered, the word “imperfect” would never cross our minds, Anne is sure. Rather, “we would just see the bird of it.” Oh, if only I could have such grace for myself!
A couple other favorite, unrelated quotes from the evening:
“I always underestimate the magnetism of the temptation to get outside yourself.”
“If you’re a girl over 12 years old in this country and not really mad, I think you’ve missed the boat.”
And of course, I stood in line to meet her and it was nice but mostly awkward. I mean, what do you say, when you’re being pushed through the line like a kid in the school cafeteria waiting for a scoop of mashed potatoes? Two people ahead of me, a woman commiserated with Anne about the loss of their fathers to brain cancer. The next woman said, “Thank you for giving me the permission to write shitty first drafts,” referring to one of Anne’s famous bits of writing wisdom. Then it was me. I had asked the lady opening the books for Anne to sign if a photo would be okay, and then they were pushing me around the back of the table to pose for a picture before I could even address Anne herself. I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, being plopped onto Santa’s lap by overtired, underpaid elves. I managed to tell her she’s encouraged me in my writing, and encouraged me to be real. “Well, I guess tonight’s all about giving permission,” she said, and asked, “Are you writing now?” I managed to squeak out, “Yes” before I was being edged out by the next fan.
I had wanted to say something to move her, to give my words as a gift to her to bless her back for the blessing she’s been to me. But it seemed like nothing could touch her, every word we said slid off of her shoulders. Have you ever seen those quarter games at an arcade, where there’s mechanical shelves full of coins, and you drop a quarter in a slot, aiming the chute to a place on the shelf where the quarters are about to be pushed off into the receptacle at the bottom. I wanted to be the one to drop some words in the slot and move all those other words off a shelf in her heart so she could collect all the treasure we were bringing to her.
Instead, I walked away in a daze, clutching my tattered copy of Traveling Mercies that now bore her signature in loopy letters on the inside cover.