“That’s Usually When We Experience God, When We Run Out of Good Ideas.”


We followed the winding line of brake lights to the far side of the college campus, swinging into the first empty parking space we could find. We got out and walked quickly past dorms and large halls, and all around us there were people walking in the same direction, as if some irresistible force drew anyone within a one-mile radius. Most of the people were in groups of three or four, and they chattered in that excited way people do when they’re on their way to something they’ve looked forward to for a long time.

How did I feel? I felt like I was on the way to meet a long-lost friend, someone who knew me and had spoken life into me for the last twenty years.

* * * * *

I love to read, and I love beautiful books, but I’m not someone who becomes emotionally attached to particular versions of books. At least not very often. I have an 1864 version of Pilgrim’s Progress that I found in hole-in-the-wall bookstore in Windsor, England. My Prayer For Owen Meany is dog-eared and underlined and definitely the worse for wear. I have many books signed  by the friends who have written them, and I’d hate to lose those.

But of all of the books I own, there is only one that makes me feel panicky when I can’t find it right away. It’s my copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. On the inside cover is a short note from the friend who bought it for me

To: Shawn
From: Jason
On your 21st birthday

It was a rather inauspicious gift at the time. Thoughtful, but not something that made me stop and say, “This moment will change my life.” But it did, actually. That book, throughout the years, has given me more joy, solace, and encouragement than any other book I’ve ever read. Anne’s (and yes, I refer to her as Anne because we’d obviously be great friends if we met in person) irreverent and sometimes crass humor took me by surprise. A Christian who drops the f-bomb? A Christian who is a Democrat? A Christian who has Buddhist friends? I had never met a Christian like that; I didn’t know Christians like that even existed.

The first reading of Bird By Bird blew me away. By the second reading, I knew it would be a book I would read many times in my life. By the 20th reading, I’m still taking away new things.

* * * * *

We got closer to the auditorium. Someone handed me a program as we walked through the glass doors: “A Night With Anne Lamott.” We found excellent seats in the balcony and settled in. Anne’s talk was beautiful and hilarious, encouraging and witty. She is everything in person that she projects through her writing. This is a rare quality, a writing voice that carries over into real life.

But of all the things she said, one sticks out in my mind:

“That’s usually when we experience God, when we run out of good ideas.”

And that’s where I’m at, in some ways. I’ve been a relatively successful freelance writer for the last five years, and I will finally get around to releasing my first novel later this month. I feel it in my spirit, that there’s change a-comin’, though I can’t put my finger on exactly what it will be. In some ways I feel like I’m all out of good ideas, but I’ve been here before, and I know it’s  the right place to be.

* * * * *

At the end of night they invited people to get in line and have Anne sign her new book. Maybe chat with her for a few seconds. I thought about it, but then Maile and I walked back into the night. We had a four-month-old at home. Besides, there was nothing more that Anne could give me, not even if I shook her hand, not even if we talked for a few minutes. I have my worn copy of Bird By Bird at home. That’s enough for me.

5 Replies to ““That’s Usually When We Experience God, When We Run Out of Good Ideas.””

  1. Lovely. And I feel the same way about her and about “Bird-by-Bird.” Heard her a dozen years ago at UCSB and loved every minute of it. So glad you and Maile could be there!

    1. It’s amazing to me how long she has been writing now. When I first discovered her, it seemed that so few people knew who she was. Now she is everywhere, and I think it’s great.

  2. I could have said something a little more clever!!

    So glad that turned out to be such a great book for you.

    You should have shook her hand. Their probably tough and worn yet soulful.

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