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Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is is the author of the New York Times bestsellers "Grace (Eventually)," "Plan B," "Traveling Mercies," and "Operating Instructions"; the popular writing guide "Bird by Bird"; and several[…]

Anne Lamott used to seek inspiration in “drugs, alcohol, and poetry.” But writing her novels has always been more like arduous manual labor than an ecstatic high.

Question: Before you wentrnsober, did you feel that drink or drugs provided spiritual insight? 

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Anne Lamott: I canrnmostly say that the writers that I know that have continued to drink or rnuse,rntheir lives are just kind of disgusting messes right now, not to soundrnjudgmental.  But I mean they’rernheartbreaking.  And certainly drugsrntook me to places; they were like portals.  It’s rnkind of a cliché, but they were like portals to alteredrnstates of consciousness into ways of imagining the world, or seeing a rnworldrnbeyond this world, or seeing a world beyond this world that I might not rnhaverngotten to unless I discovered meditation and a very deep, intense rnspiritual pathrnbased on contemplation and meditation. 

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But you know, I was young.  Irn quit drinking and drugs when I was 32, so I cycled throughrnrelatively quickly.  And no I don’trnthink I would have this spiritual sense of exuberance and profundity rnthat I—notrnthat I have, but through which I understand the world if it weren’t for rndrugs,rnalcohol, and poetry.  I canrnhonestly and genuinely say those three things.  Butrn at the same time, probably 90% of the time, I wasrnstoned.  I was so wah, wah—I wasrnlike an idiot.  I was justrnstoned.  I would always wake... andrndrunk.  I was drunk every nightrnfrom about 18 on.  But I lovedrnMethedrine, for instance, and I loved cocaine.  I rntook possibly too much LSD, and I loved prescriptionrndrugs, and the non-habit-forming marijuana.  But rnI’d get good and tanked up and I’d start to write, likernyou do if you’re a writer and so I’d stay up really late scribbling likern mad,rnlike the Unabomber.  And then I’drnwake up in the morning and it would just be pathological. rn It would just be tragic, really.  It wouldrn be scrawl. rnAnd yet 10% of it might be stuff that was really great.

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And so the proportions weren’t excellent, but the rnfact is, Irnthink it was just the natural order of things.  Thern natural course of my life.  My family tends to bern pretty alcoholic and drug-addicted.  Both of my rnbrothers arernclean are sober also, and a long time, 20-plus years.  Andrn I think drugs are part of the magical possibilities ofrnyouth and I wouldn’t be here if I had continued with it.

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Question: Is writingrnitself a kind of altered state?

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Anne Lamott: For me, being a writerrn is not an altered state.  It’s very ponderous, and rnvery—it’s like being a shoemaker.  You know, shoemakers rnstick to your last and you stay there working over your last, and it’s rnpretty drudgy in a lot of ways.  But for me, reading poetryrn and reading the great works of the canon that we were reading in the rn‘60s and the ‘70s and ‘80s was mind altering.  I mean, you rnknow what it’s like, people blow your mind with what they are able to rncatch and present, and I would say that most of the writers I have lovedrn and been influenced by and had been blown away by were drunks and drug rnaddicts and, you know, I love the Beat poets.  I love Allenrn Ginsberg as much and in the way that I love Virginia Woolf, or Auden. Andrn a lot of the people I loved the most were suicides.   So,rn I am drawn to people that arernnot going to shy away from the very dark, scary stuff of the human rnconditionrnand in a lot of cases people need alcohol or drugs to create poetry and rnpoeticrnpose that can take you so far out there where you are still able to rnrecognizernyourself and then to bring you back home where you’re not the same rnperson yournwere when you left.

Recorded April 6, 2010
rnInterviewed by Austin Allen
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