Anne Lamott on Getting Older — Drop That Rock

anne lamott at the reading for her book help thanks wow. photo by BF Newhall

Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Put down the rock, says Anne Lamott. It’s time to put down that rock.

When we are in our 20s, 30s and 40s, we think we have to lug that rock around. We wake up in the morning, and there it is lying next to us in bed. We stumble into the kitchen for a morning espresso, the rock goes with us. We go to work, it’s on our desk. We go to bed, and there it is again lying between us and that other person. Or between us and the dog, depending.

teacup with a rock on a table. Photo by BF Newhall

Morning coffee with rock.

What’s the rock? All that stuff we think we gotta do. The things we should have done. And, crap, the things we never should have done in the first place. It’s the mighty to-do list of things it’s up to us, and to us alone, to fix.

We women especially have been raised “to save and rescue and fix and take up the slack,” Anne told the 120 or so people gathered on Thursday at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California, to hear her talk about her latest book.

The event was supported by A Great Good Place for Books, a bookstore in nearby Montclair Village. The book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, is a slender volume on prayer for those who can’t quite figure out how – and in some cases why – to pray.

It’s time to stop the train, said Anne. Time to stop gripping that pencil harder and harder. Time to drop the rock. Time to surrender and have ourselves some peace.

There’s a lot to love about getting older, Anne told her audience, most of whom were women, and most of whom looked like they’d be open to hearing about the advantages of getting older.

Kathleen Caldwell, proprietor of A Great Good Place for Books, selling Anne Lamott's book, "Help, Thanks, Wow." Photo by BF Newhall

Kathleen Caldwell of A Great Good Place for Books came prepared with dozens of copies of Anne Lamott’s book. Photo by BF Newhall

Here’s what I took away:

  • As you get older, you care about less than you used to. At 40 you think you have to keep a bunch of things up in the air at one time. You have to squeeze in one more task before you get home – fill the gas tank or stop off at the convenience store.
  • At 40 you still want people see how good you are. You put off going to the optometrist because you’re pretty sure he’ll find out your eyes have gotten worse, in which case he’ll think less of you.
  • When you’re older you actually care less about your butt. At 40 you assume this body – this perky butt – will be with you the rest of your life. Where butts are concerned, however, the elevator is not going up . . . But now that you’re older, you’ve lost some people. Friends have died. This knocks you off your feet. Your butt doesn’t matter so much anymore.
  • One day it dawns on you that you might not have fifty more years to live. For all you know, you have just one more day. If you are Anne Lamott, you have some dessert on your last day. You kiss off your exercise routine and sprawl out on the couch with some candy corn and People magazine.

“Stop the train. Drop the rock,” Anne advised. (She loves to give advice. It’s her default mode when stressed — a life-long habit she’ll be giving up any minute now.)

And when all else fails, keep this in mind: “Where your feet are is sacred space.”

“Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers,” by Anne Lamott, Riverhead Books, 2012, 103 pages, hardcover, $17.95.

Want to read more about Anne Lamott? Check out my piece on Anne’s bouquet of bons mots. For some of my thoughts on getting older and losing friends and family, go to “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother.”



  1. Decades ago, at the very beginning (first day, as I recall) of Anne Lamott’s sobriety and quitting cigarettes, she was interviewed by Herb Gold at UC Extension in SF. Talk about a “rock!” Sitting up on the stage, she fidgeted while providing the most fasinating evening. Her amazing courage informs all her writing.

    BTW Herb Gold is also a brilliant writer. Reading his book on Haiti took my breath away, sort of like the first time I read Truman Capote.

    After many years of sobriety myself, I’m still spastic. How did Anne perform so well that evening?!!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Interesting … you actually caught Anne Lamott early in her sobriety. She’s a natural performer, I think. She talks the way she writes … I haven’t read Herb Gold in ages. Must look into that.


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