Bird by Bird Poop

The hazards of idolatry become apparent when a writer fumbles for words when interviewing one of her favorite writers

I hate book signings. Not my own, since I’ve only done a few and they were pretty low-key, but the ones when I’m lined up behind other fans, clenching a beloved book, waiting for my turn to grovel with an author I admire. Or adore. Or bow down to. On humble bended knee.


I remember sweaty palms and trembling when I first “met” Wendell Berry at a book signing in Nashville. I felt like a Catholic pilgrim going to meet the Pope—only Berry is the papal antithesis, so scratch that. Back before Charleston’s venerable Chapter Two bookstore went by the chapter 11 wayside, I once waited in a long line of Josephine Humphreys fans to get a signed copy of Nowhere Else on Earth. I didn’t know her personally then, just gushed a few “oh I love your work” lines and “I’m a writer, too”  wistful, pitiful remarks, and can still hear her gracious, encouraging response: “Oh that’s great. Good for you! I’ve never felt confident about a single sentence I’ve written.”


I’m star-struck by authors I love. And so was swooning and drooling at the thought of interviewing Anne Lamott, which I got to do yesterday. For all of 12 minutes. Still, it was a mountain-top moment for me, and another tedious part of book tour hell for her, as she launches her latest memoir, Some Assembly Required. It didn’t help that my cell phone connection was breaking up and a jackhammer was pulverizing the sidewalk outside her New York hotel.


I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Lamott.  Bird by Bird is my writer’s Bible, full of well-worn psalms and pithy proverbs. I envy her raw transparency on the page, her hilarious humility.  With Operating Instructions, she opened the floodgates for mother-writers (and ubiquitous Mommy Bloggers), and upped the ante for personal essays, shifting the dynamic toward “personal.”  As a mother who writes personal essays, I paid attention. And as a former Divinity student who takes the life of the Spirit seriously, but not too seriously, I’ve thanked God that She sent Anne as a modern day prophet, disguised as a middle-aged single mom in dreads, to reclaim Christianity from right-wing piety (see Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Grace, Eventually).


But what the hell to ask her in my precious few minutes? How do I drill down to something fresh and provocative (read: how do I charm and impressive her and make her love me as much as I love her?). How can I pull off a Bird by Bird worthy interview without dribbling out bird shit?


I asked an open-ended question then got out of the way, and took feverish notes. She tumbled out wise, witty sentences and dished up delicious Annie-isms. I mumbled “praise the Lord” when she offered me her personal email address for follow up, since our 10 minutes and 22 seconds (after redialing on a land-line, and getting directed to the wrong hotel room) was gone in a jackhammer flash.


You can read more about my chat with Lamott in an upcoming profile for Skirt! and book review in Literary Mama, but till then, I’ll leave you with this:


Anne Lamott’s Four Immutable Laws of the (Creative) Spirit
(in her new book, she talks about the Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit, so I asked for her writerly twist)


1) Show up.


2) Keep your butt on the chair.


3) Just do it.


4) Ask for help from–and offer help to–other writers, whose work you love, who are safe and available to you, and to whom you can be safe and available.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to do #4 with Lamott. Now… to tackle the first 3!


Do tell ~ who are the writers you’d most like to interview? and what would you ask?