Thursday, April 22, 2010

operating instructions

One of the most beautiful and amazing parts of living in a foreign country is having the realization that no matter how different the language, how alien the sounds and intonations, we all talk about pretty much the same things, the same ideas. Some of the sentiments are different, of course, and maybe different things are valued in a conversation, but we all make jokes, all laugh at ourselves, and all hate Mondays. I wish that I could have a deeper conversation with most of my co-workers. I want to know if they have kids, if being a teacher was their lifelong dream. It just occurred to me today, after finishing Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, that life is a beautifully wrapped present that we should never take for granted, and the people in it are the contents of the gift, the things that make the box worth unwrapping and looking into.

I love reading good books almost more than life itself. Anne Lamott is such an inspiring writer. She is one of the main reasons that I ever wanted to really call myself a writer. Freshman year, my Composition 1101 class was assigned to read Bird by Bird, Lamott’s memoir about writing and life. That book changed my life; it’s the first time I read a book and felt the connection to my own hands and brain, the little pulse that says: I could do that. Not write a book exactly like hers—probably not even as good as hers—but a book that could, nonetheless, inspire someone and make them want to push themselves a little harder. That could make someone smile and look into the sky and see some kind of purpose instead of just chaotic clouds.

I can’t wait for the rest of my shipment from Amazon Japan. Getting books in the mail is like Christmas except that I know what I’m getting and know that I’ll love it. I feel rejuvenated after I finish a good book.

The cherry blossom trees are so beautiful that I can’t believe they really exist sometimes. I feel like I’m walking through a Candy Land game board. The wind started blowing some of their petals around today and I was sad at the thought of their short lifespan.

Since Operating Instructions is a book about real life, it only makes sense that death would play a role in the story. You can’t have life without death. But the person who died ended up being very young; only 37. I get so scared when I hear things like that. That’s how old Marilyn Monroe was when she died. And Kurt Cobain and Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Of course, their deaths, while perhaps not intentional, were unquestionably sped up by drug use and the kind of lifestyle that Lamott alludes to throughout her nonfiction books. The kind of life that someone lives when they either don’t fear death at all or fear it so much that they can’t exist in the real world because in the real world, you have to face death at some point. They went up in smoke and flames. I used to think about that nonchalantly, about dying young as being sort of glamorous, in the same way that I thought being wasted at parties was somehow glamorous, but now I think differently. I want to live my life as long as God will let me, and I want it to produce things that make the world better, if only for a single person.

I wrote for well over an hour today. I feel amazing!

But I have a photograph on my wall of this ancient crucifix at a church over in Corte Madera, a tall splintering wooden Christ with his arms blown off in some war, under which someone long ago wrote, “Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and to show his love,” and every time I read that, I always end up thinking that these are the only operating instructions I will ever need.

--from Operating Instructions

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