Anne Lamott: How to (Gracefully) Not Have It All

Forget those gotta-dos, author Anne Lamott was saying. Forget about those things we should have done, and, crap, the things we never should have done in the first place.

Tear up the almighty to-do list. It's time to drop that rock.

We women especially have been raised "to save and rescue and fix and take up the slack," the best-selling novelist and memoirist was telling her audience of 100-plus at the Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California, one crisp November evening. They'd come -- women mostly -- to hear her talk about her latest book.

When we are in our 20s, 30s and 40s, we think we have to lug that rock around, Lamott said. We wake up in the morning, and there it is lying next to us in bed. We stumble into the kitchen for a morning espresso, the rock goes with us. We go to work, it's on our desk. We go to bed, and there it is again lying between us and that other person. Or between us and the dog, depending.

Anne Lamott. Photo by Barbara Newhall

What's the rock? All that stuff we think we gotta do. All the things it's up to us, and to us alone, to fix.

It's time to stop the train. Time to stop gripping that pencil harder and harder. Time to drop the rock. Time to surrender and have ourselves some peace.

There's a lot to love about getting older, Lamott told her audience, most of whom were women, and most of whom looked like they'd be open to hearing about the advantages of getting older. To name a few:

  • As we get older, we care about less than we used to. At 40 we think we have to keep a bunch of things up in the air at one time. We try to squeeze in one more task before we get home - fill the gas tank or stop off at the convenience store.

  • At 40 we still want people see how good we are. We put off going to the optometrist because we're pretty sure he'll find out our eyes have gotten worse, in which case he'll think less of us.
  • The fact is, Lamott said, when you're older you actually care less about your butt. At 40 you assume this body - this perky butt - will be with you the rest of your life. Where butts are concerned, however, the elevator is not going up . . . But now that you're older, you've lost some people. Friends have died. This knocks you off your feet. Your butt doesn't matter so much anymore.
  • One day it dawns on you that you might not have fifty more years to live. For all you know, you have just one more day. If you are Anne Lamott, you have some dessert on your last day. You kiss off your exercise routine and sprawl out on the couch with some candy corn and People magazine.
  • "Drop the rock," Anne advised. (She loves to give advice. It's her default mode when stressed -- a life-long habit she'll be giving up any minute now.)

    And when all else fails, keep this in mind: "Where your feet are is sacred space."

    c 2015 Barbara Falconer Newhall. All rights reserved

    Want to read more about Anne Lamott? Check out this piece on Anne's bouquet of bons mots. For some of my thoughts on getting older and losing friends and family, go to "Why I Can't Write About My Mother." Learn more about my book at