I used to tell my writing students that they must write the books they wished they could come upon — because then the books they hungered and thirsted for would exist. But last Friday, with news of the massacre of children in Russia, Bill Clinton’s sudden hospitalization, and the Time Magazine poll that showed Bush pulling ahead by 10, I sank into such stunned hopelessness that I honestly didn’t think anyone could write or say anything that could help me get my chops and pride and sense of humor back.
No wonder a lot of us feel paranoid and hypochondriacal — it feels more and more as though the Dark Side is truly rising. Did it cross anyone else’s mind that Karl Rove was somehow involved in Clinton’s heart disease? No? Well, never mind … The only things that cheered me up at all last week were the Bush twins and Zell Miller at the Republican National Convention.
On top of it all, it was hotter than fucking hell, as Sam put it. I hate the summer. To plagiarize myself, from these very pages: It’s too hot and the light is unforgiving and the days go on way too long. Spring is sweet, the baby season; but summer is the teenage season — too much energy, too much growth and beauty and heat and late nights, none of them what they were cracked up to be.
So I lay down to practice my Prone Yoga, and I remembered that people already had said things that helped: Martin Luther King said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward freedom. Molly Ivins said during the reign of George Herbert Walker Sushi Barfing Bush, that freedom fighters don’t always win, but they’re always right. I started to feel better. And this is when I came up with the Dark Side Rising Beauty, Diet and Exercise Program, which I follow strictly now.
There are four rules of the DSRBD&E. First, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Put lotion on your legs and drink a lot of water. We Democrats are still — and perhaps even more deeply — in the desert, and I hate the desert. It is way too hot, there are snakes, the light is implacable, and when there is actually some shadow or shade, it contains too many surprises — and I’m not talking Easter eggs. So you need living water — tap, bottled, spritzed-on-the skin — and you need unguents, unscented unguents, as there are many aroma-sensitive people in our lives, and they are all liberals, and we don’t want to lose their votes.
If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young. In it, you can hear better than you’ve ever heard before — labored crow wings, your stomach gurgling. Maybe no one will make you get out of the car — which would be my preference — but if they do, boy are you going to be paying better attention than you have in awhile.
These days cry out, as never before, for us to pay attention, so we can move through them and get our joy and pride back.
Everything in the desert is intentional: Underneath your feet is something that definitely struggled to be there. A lot of it is too voodoo-ey for a nervous type like me — the skulls and skeletons and snakes. But there are also columbine and fern, hawks and kestrel. The water is so hidden and surprising that when it finally rains, all the creatures come out, and it is like the Rapture.
Which brings us back to our diet program. Rule No. 2: Don’t eat shit! Just for today, when someone is dishing it out, you may say nicely, and firmly, “Oh, no thanks, I’ll stick to water.”
And it seems like everyone is dishing it out — Rove, Rumsfeld, Bush, even nice old Wolf Blitzer. Some Democrats are dishing it out, too. They’re mocking people like me, who were pretty worried there for a few days. “When did you become such worrywarts? When did they start acting like such losers?” Well, I’ll answer that another time because rule No. 2 only addresses that you must not eat anyone’s shit, even when — especially when — it is being served in your own family.
Rule No. 3: Get out of Theater A. In fact, run for it. What, you may ask, is Theater A? Well, a big lusty hilarious Christian Science healer told me years ago, when I was toxic with the anxiety, narcissism and self-loathing of a book tour, you always have a choice of being in one of two theaters. In Theater A, the management is showing a violent and sarcastic, overwhelming movie that makes you cringe with its brutality, and fills you with fear and paranoia, and deep shame. And it’s mesmerizing. Plus, you still have some popcorn left, a bag of M&Ms, and you’ve paid the admission. So you end up staying way too long, even though right down the hall is Theater B. There, management is showing a movie that is funny and sweet and intelligent, and therefore inspiring, of people banding together, on a search for the truth deep within themselves, or outdoors, in the beauty of nature.
This kind of movie fills you with the water and air of hope, not Hallmark-running-in-slow-motion hope, where assault weapons disappear from the face of the earth, and there is dancing and tie-dye and Soy Moo, and Dick Cheney is on trial at The Hague. No, real hope, the kind Vaclav Havel described: “Not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” The hope of fellowship, and kindness, and service.
The fourth and final rule of our diet program: Walk. Walk to the TV and turn it off. Then walk outside. Night, day or even in the desert — you can make do with an extremely inhospitable landscape and it forces you to ask yourself, “Where is my place in all this?” And answering that question is why you are here. So it’s like the monologist David Roche saying that his facial deformity is an elaborately disguised gift from God, and that is how we can choose to see the Bush administration.
Today, I walked to the post office and sent some money to MoveOn.org. Then I called a few people and convinced one person to adopt a swing state with me, at Mainstreet Moms Oppose Bush. I convinced a family of five to go see “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” which lifts your spirits for three weeks afterward. And I persuaded another person to sponsor an American child through Save the Children, because this person trusts Save the Children. Just find one group of people you trust, to save one suffering child in the world. Sam and I adopted a boy named Jamanadas 10 years ago through World Vision, but they are a Christian organization, and we at DSRBD&E understand that C.S. Lewis was right when he said: “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.” So find your own agency.
Anyway, after I had done all these things, I rested. And it was good. Or, at any rate, it was better.
Anne Lamott's most recent memoir, "Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son," is out in paperback Tuesday, April 2.More Anne Lamott.