The Secret to Surviving the American Jungle

Word by Word. By Anne Lamott. Conversations with my body.

Published April 23, 1997 2:50PM (EDT)

dear salon readers:

I promised I would check in whenever I could from the road, where I have been out flogging my new novel. I have a new marketing approach -- I used to try to con people in the most indirect possible way into buying my book. Now I just tell them they really have to. For instance, in Los Angeles, I got up to the podium of a large bookstore and held up "Crooked Little Heart." "Please," I said, with a lot of obvious pain in my voice. "Please buy my book. Please please please." Pause. "It will really hurt my family if you don't." I licked my lips with quiet desperation. "I could lose Sam," I said, "if ya don't."

It was very effective. I sold lots of books.

I got in half an hour ago from Santa Barbara, and leave for New York the day after tomorrow. My first book, "Hard Laughter," got a terrible review in the Santa Barbara paper 17 years ago and I am still holding a grudge. I have been very upfront about not being one of those Christians who is heavily into forgiveness. The book was about my father's brain cancer; the loss of my dad, who I loved more than life itself. The reviewer, who was mean as a snake, said that people might enjoy the book if they felt like reading about a New Age Addams Family. "Here is your review from Santa Barbara," my editor wrote across the top of the review, "where people never die."

I am mentally ill beyond all imagining: On top of having been on dozens of planes in the last few days, and being separated from Sam all this time, I have also become a person of allergy. I've become one of those middle-aged people who suddenly becomes allergic. And here I've always secretly believed that allergic people were just being neurotic, nasally bad sports; that if they had a richer inner life like me they would not be so congested and drag-queeny every April. And now I have become allergic, too. It's a NIGHTMARE.

But the good news is that I discovered the secret of life taped to a computer at the NPR affiliate in San Diego. I have it written on my hand so that when I am congested and hysterical -- picture the late great Divine with a sinus infection -- and the tiniest bit self-obsessed, as I tend to get when I am out on tour, I can at least remember what my operating instructions are. The secret of life was written beneath a picture of a gorilla and the headline: Mantra for the American Jungle. "Remain calm," it read. "And share your bananas."

And lastly. I do not know if they have e-mail in heaven yet. Things go so slowly there. I understand that they just recently got air hockey But if they do, a whole lot of us would try to send the following message to our beloved and beautiful friend Michael Dorris: Hello, you sweetheart. We are missing you like mad. We are holding you and your children in our hearts, now and always. Amen.

By Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of "Help, Thanks, Wow"; "Small Victories"; "Stitches"; "Some Assembly Required"; "Grace (Eventually)"; "Plan B"; "Traveling Mercies"; "Bird by Bird"; "Operating Instructions" and "Hallelujah Anyway," out April 4. She is also the author of several novels, including "Imperfect Birds" and "Rosie." A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

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