I love Annie Lamott. I really do, she’s a treat. And this little book is as well. Almost a hymnal, like many of Ms Lamott’s works, Dusk, Night, Dawn is the ‘adorably ageless’ Anne Lamott’s way of helping us all through the current crises: the pandemic, the trump debacle, loss of incomes, and homes, and jobs, and hope. It was written as Lamott, in her own words, ‘awaits the rain of frogs.’ (She adds that York Peppermint Patties also help. See why I love this woman.)
The setting for the book is (roughly) a Sunday school classroom, with Lamott as the teacher, a kind of convict returns to prison to warn others scenario. Like every Sunday school scene, there are prayers, and these prayers, otherwise known as Lamott-isms, take the form of snippets of wisdom that we’re asked to recite, short pearls of wisdom Lamott has gathered along the way. Referring to the healing need to tell others what’s going on with us, she writes ‘stories can be our most reliable medicine.’ If we’re feeling bad about ourselves, ‘the hardest work we do is self love & forgiveness.’ Hard to argue with any of that.
As one of her credentials, Lamott claims a ‘PhD in Morbid Reflection’, which qualifies her very well to write this book, at this time. We learn here that she’s been married now for two years to Neal, and their navigation of the relationship is another layer atop the blanketing of woes, another green downpour in that rain of frogs. Here’s a tip: If you happen to encounter Annie Lamott in the airport, or the public market, or in Sunday school, don’t ask her how married life is. You’re welcome.
Despite her own penchant for retreating into past destructive behaviors and negativities, the author encourages readers to avoid that: ‘if you want to have loving feelings, do loving things,’ she writes. And here’s the thing about the lurking hypocrisy in Lamott’s seemingly glib pronouncement: She’s not afraid to listen to accusations about that seeming hypocrisy, because she’s done the hard work required to hear them, and that ability has made her the wonderful writer she is. Here’s proof, in another Lamott-ism: ‘Perfectionism is the most toxic condition for the soul.’ Don’t you feel better already? I do.
Lamott refers to ‘forgiving ourselves’ (a common Lamott theme) as ‘senior lifesaving.’ Always looking for simplification, she quotes Ram Dass: ‘You only have to remember two things, your Buddha nature, and your social security number.’ Sounds easy enough. After writing that, she returns to her Sunday school class venue where, with her students, she celebrates ‘the sacrament of shrimp chips,’ Lamott’s students apparently approve, even though we’ve read that it’s a tough room.
Lamott writes of her quest to always ‘do Jesusy things,’ and how the nautilus shell is the perfect metaphor for growth, and how dealing with our restless, squirming, endlessly-seeking selves is ‘like putting an octopus to bed.’ She writes about ‘Dread’ as her constant companion, and as we’re attempting to get all eight octopus legs under the covers we must understand that ‘laughter is a holy and subversive battery charge.’
Opening a deeper vein than perhaps she ever has, we learn that Lamott has survived a lot of crises in her life. That’s not to say the current ‘flung-fecies fest’ is less deserving of her pen, because it certainly deserves every inch of ink she devotes to it. But reading about her past difficulties, her drunken sojourn, her near death at Esalen while ‘capital I inebriated’, her slogging recovery, her search for resolution with her estranged parents, and her interactions with, ahem, sinful men, we feel how far she’s come, and realize that we have come a ways as well. (See self-forgiveness i.e. senior lifesaving above)
Leave it to Anne Lamott to rely on a comedian for what may be the best takeaway from Dusk, Night, Dawn. This is Duncan Trussel: ‘When we first meet someone, we’re really meeting their bodyguard.’ Somehow meeting this author, either at Dusk, Night, or Dawn, we feel we’ve met the real deal. In conclusion, we’re offered a tender branch of hope in these parlous times, when she says, ‘The center may hold after all.’ As long as we have forgiveness, and York Peppermint Patties, and don’t ask Lamott about her married life, we’ll be fine.