A Handbook for Despair

A staple of storytelling is the road trip,

A staple of storytelling is the road trip, where the confused seeker sets off alone, determined to find herself on some lonely road without benefit of counsel or companionship (except maybe a dog). Anne Lamott instead writes from precisely where she lives, physically and emotionally. Sure, the years of alcohol and drug abuse she wrote about in Traveling Mercies, her first book of essays, may represent one form of this solitary journey, but ever since she said to Jesus, "All right. You can come in," some 20 years ago, the setting has been Marin City, California, with Mount Tamalpais in her backyard, a vibrant church, her son, Sam, and a loving collection of friends and family.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is full of what wise spiritual folks have known for centuries, that spiritual awareness happens when you’re in the thick of life, not when you’re off contemplating it. Lamott’s approach could be summed up in the advice she gives college graduates in her last essay: "Just be where your butts are, and breathe." Thomas Merton said basically the same thing; Anne Lamott is just a lot funnier.

Plan B’s 24 essays, many of which appeared on Salon.com, cover familiar territory - St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, the challenges of parenting a teenager she often doesn’t recognize, coming to terms with her inadequacies, which to her include her body, mind, and spiritual self. The book is really a continuation of Traveling Mercies, except here Lamott writes more about anxiety and despair, of living in a post-Sept. 11 world of terrorism, war, and the destructive policies waged by President Bush.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2005
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