The Letter Project

August 16, 2009

Special Delivery (12)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 11:50 am
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Melody Riggs teaches 8th grade English at a suburban Cincinnati middle school.  She keeps a family blog on which she writes about life with her husband and daughter.  In the bio she sent to me, she admits she does not share a lot of her personal writing and that this letter to Jill, a junior high friend, was both terrifying and fun to write.  –TW

6-10-09 (Cincinnati, OH)


I thought about writing about a young adult book since that might be a genre you’re not as familiar with.  But no young adult book or author has really influenced my life—my teaching, yes, but not my life.

So I scoured my bookshelf and thought (and thought some more) and kept coming back to the same woman—Anne Lamott.  Maybe you’ve read her, maybe not.  I highly recommend her though.

I first encountered Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, in college.  The subtitle is “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.”  If I had to describe Lamott based on her books, I’d describe her as a middle-aged, hippie, single mom w/ dreads (she’s white) who has a great sense of humor and an uncanny ability to write openly & honestly about both the serious and the mundane.  She can be totally random—which I love—and completely blunt—which I’m often afraid to be.  Bird by Bird reads like a collection of essays.  Most deal with being a writer and the rest with, you guessed it, life in general.  As someone who enjoys writing, but doesn’t really aspire to be published (other than my blog, I keep most of my writing to myself), Bird by Bird showed me what a gift it can be to “publish,” even if that “publication” is just sharing one piece of my writing with one person.  So while I’m still hesitant to share my writing a lot, I do find myself, every once in awhile, sharing more than the boring narration of my day to day life on my blog.  A poem for Eric.  A short story for my students.  A journal of letters I’ve started for Cate & hope to give to her when she’s older (don’t know what age yet).

Aside from her writing advice, I also love her stories about her son, Sam.  She writes about him quite a bit in Bird by Bird, but I really enjoyed her stories about him more in Operating Instructions.  I’m not sure where it comes from within me—and I don’t think it’s worth the money in therapy to figure it out since it’s not that big a deal—but there is a part of me that, as a mom, has this need to be “perfect.”  Going back through Bird by Bird   then reading Operating Instructions, [I noticed that] Lamott writes detail after detail about her imperfections & shortcomings as a mom.  I almost feel like she’s granting me permission to screw up a few times—or even more—as a mom.  And it’s okay.  I think maybe I’m too hard on myself sometimes and it’s something I’m working on.  Kind of like sharing my writing more—did I mention this letter has been really hard for me to write?  Not because I’m afraid of you or anything—You’ve known me since middle school—but b/c sharing such personal writing is something I have such a hard time doing.   Okay, I’m rambling now, back to Lamott.

I guess the last way she’s influenced me is spiritually.  Her faith memoir, Traveling Mercies, was one I read when I was sort of at a spiritual crossroads.  Lamott is a sort of feminist Christian.  She often refers to God as a female and isn’t afraid to share where she has doubts or when she is angry with God.  While I don’t agree with her on everything, I did take away the importance of finding a spiritual community to really build into and to question, question, question as long as I’m seeking answers to those questions (something I was brought up never to do—questioning religion, that is).

So I think that’s it.  No other author has had the impact that Ann[e] Lamott has had on my life.  She’s written a few novels too, but I’ve only read one and didn’t enjoy it as much as her nonfiction.  If you haven’t read anything by her, then as a writer and a reader, I suggest starting with Bird by Bird.  And if you have read her before, then I’m not really surprised (I mean that in a good way)  🙂   Happy Reading & thanks for sharing the Letter Project with me. 




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