I refuse to be unable to write about this and yet three weeks later, my thoughts still only come in snippets.
My friend Sarah. Festival of Faith & Writing. Dinner with 25 women. Writers Guild. Anne Lamott. Tilt, Tilt, Tilt.
It’s too much. It’s entirely too much to ask a person to comprehend, let alone experience, let alone succeed at, let alone be able to breathe during.
It isn’t as though I don’t have a history with these things. There was the whole Jennifer Weiner Incident. Oh sure, I managed to regain my composure for Rob Bell but that was sheer gutting it out, not personal growth.
In retrospect, I believe the full responsibility belongs to Sarah. While her kind invitation would’ve been completely appropriate for and appreciated by a normal person, she’d made the reckless decision to invite me. I reminded her of this as I attempted to confess my crazy while we set out veggies, plates, water and such for dinner.
As in most cases, I found that whining helped. “Well you remember what I was like with Enuma.” I saw Sarah physically pause for a moment to consider. A clue came across her face and she quietly repeated, “How you were with Enuma.”
As in, AH. Yes. That explains a lot. As in, I wonder if there’s time to gently warn the others.
But there wasn’t time. The house was filling with lovely and lively and engaging women. Soon we were all balancing plates of pizza and salad and I made an attempt to chat with those around me but I fell hopelessly flat. After a while, Sarah came over and shared a few things I had in common with another woman. As she walked away, I realized what she’d done. She’d 5-10-Linked me and I knew what I’d missed all along.
I didn’t have to perform. I had to show hospitality. I had to lean in and appreciate the women God had graced me with right there at that moment. I could do that. So I chatted and listened and asked questions and ate. By the way, salad is the least friendly thing to eat around people you’ve just met. Too much going on. And with plastic forks no less.
After eating, we were invited into a circle and asked to go around and introduce ourselves and dance naked on a tightrope while juggling flaming swords. In other words, we were asked to share what we’re currently working on. As in writing. Because that’s what these amazing writerly writing women do, they write! Tilt, tilt, whimper, tilt.
At that point, the air thinned considerably and an ethereal haze wafted into the room. I sat there and considered reciting the alphabet when it was my turn to speak, doing it up extra fancy by performing the sing-song version. I was gonna slay ‘em with my bluesy version of ellem ennoh peeeeee.
One woman was writing about human trafficking. Another about the cultural stereotypes of being an Asian American woman. My favorite was the woman who held up the newly-bound, hot-off-the-literal-freaking-press version of her published book that she just got in the mail today. Incidentally, the bluebirds that chirped and circled around her head while we clapped were the cutest things I’d seen in a long time.
When it was my turn, I took a deep breath, chucked my parachute and stepped off the ledge. Aaand we’re back to sentence snippets. Guest of Sarah. Church family. Grief, Loss, Grace, (unnecessarily repeated so as to avoid alphabet song) Grief, Loss, Grace, and then with my arms stretched out wide in order to catch any little piece of rock to which I could cling, my freefall ended and the person next to me began to speak. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
The haze remained, a prayer was said, and people hurried to leave in order to get to the plenary session. I’d survived. Soon enough we were walking to the conference center and a combination of my lingering cold and my nerves kept stealing my breath away. We got there and climbed to the rafters of the arena from where I could see a tiny woman in a chair behind the podium.
My brain then involuntarily did the Lou Gehrig thing. ANNNNNNE ANNNNNNE AANNNNE ANNNNE. LAMOTTTT MOTTTT MOTTTT MOTTT.
She was introduced, given a choice between a cupcake and the equivalent of a carrot stick and before the question was fully posed, she chose the sugar. I and a few other people who were there sang Happy Birthday to her and she took a step back in order to take us in. Even though she was the only one onstage. Even though there was no one blocking her view, she stepped back ever so slightly and took us in. It was lovely to watch her be so completely present. With us. She blew out the candle and told the others something about her grandson which I already knew from being friends with her. Okay friends on Twitter. Fine. Follower on Twitter. Splitting hairs.
Sarah was kind enough to ask if I could see and I mentally struggled back to the seat near her and mumbled Mmmph and went back to Anne. Our singing was the only such celebration she’d had for her birthday the day before. I sort of loved that. I also loved what she said, and took some abbreviated notes that will remind me of the things she talked about.
Funeral home, 60th birthday.
Ooooooze of the snail grandson.
Life and writing are very hard.
Loved out of all sense of proportion.
The people (writers) you love are sitting down and getting up.
All your unresolved psychiatric issues sit down to help you write, and they’re worried about you.
Just show up. Be the person you would need. Show up. Cry your heart out. Touch skin.
It’s scary to sit with yourself.
You are loved and chosen. You’re pre-approved.
A catch – there’s writing involved.
Laughter is carbonated holiness.
Be firm and friendly with yourself.
“You don’t have to get gas today.” But then you won’t have any gas! If I don’t go to church, I’m going to be mentally ill. Looping and snagging on my own thoughts.
I belong to a completely failing church. It’s secretly a Baptist church.
Instead of being a clutched-up, tight person, I’m going to flow.
Sing, Pray, Confess.
Remember whose I am instead of who I am.
We won’t spackle our hearts closed because of the pain.
Jesus didn’t say, “Take and figure it out. He said, ‘Take and eat.’”
If I can write with this squirrel cage of a mind… (17 light switches)
Practice radical silliness and self-care.
And then the people were clapping and standing on their feet and I looked around and Sarah was next to me. I was back. The emcee (that’s not the right word) announced that Anne would be available for book signings in just a few minutes.
Panic set in until Sarah mentioned that she didn’t really want to go to the signing. I exhaled with relief at dodging a bullet. We made our way down from the rafters and Sarah suggested we find a Festival sign to stand in front of for a selfie. The area was really congested with people and for half a second, I lost track of her while I peered around for a sign and then I turned and Sarah whispered, “She’s right there.” Cluelessly, I offered, “Huh?” Cool as a cucumber, Sarah discretely turned her back and pointed to an area not 10 feet away where Anne Lamott Mott Mott Mott was sitting, signing books.
So of course I played it cool too, and walked right up to about four feet away and shoved my phone in her direction in order to take a picture. I heard a shrill noise come from my throat and I retreated as quickly as I could. Sarah then explained that if we stood just so, we could get a selfie with Anne in the background.
Can I just say how much I love it when a friend’s inner geek comes out to play?
We took a couple of pictures and sure enough, it was Me, Anne Lamott, and Sarah. All in one photo. Together. Three women who occasionally wear hurting pants. Who are loved out of all sense of proportion. Who strive to Sing, Pray, Confess. And write.