Saturday, May 1, 2010

Anne Lamott

I'll call this student Doug, a 20-year-old community college student with a criminal record, who can rattle off analysis of books and art and current events more masterfully than several faculty members I've encountered recently, but I can see, by his spotty attendance and the look in his eyes, that Doug is hooked on drugs. Oh, he'd never admit this to me, himself or anyone else—at least not yet—but I know and, ultimately, he knows, the truth.

And yet our relationship—as instructor and student—is based on the denial of this truth, which I find puzzling and disconcerting. One thing I know for sure: Doug will fail my class and, this late in the semester, after so many missed assignments, I'll be surprised if I even see him again.

I know this about Doug because I was a college student in the late 80s, an extraordinarily drug infested time to come-of-age—if you need to be reminded of this fact go check out the ridiculously obscene, hilariously funny movie Hot Tub Time Machine. In the 80s drugs were as prevalent as kegs at a frat party and, as the night wore on and the taps ran dry, much more easily procured.

I know my boundaries in the role of college instructor, but what would I do if Doug was my son? What would I do if I was a recovering addict and my child was hiding an addiction from me?

Leave it to Anne Lamott to explore this difficult terrain in her new novel, Imperfect Birds .

"To crudely paraphrase Tolstoy," writes Julie Meyerson in her NYTs review of the novel, "all addicts’ families are alike, and when it comes to teenage drug abusers they’re unnervingly alike, right down to the last battering detail."

Imperfect Birds is now at the top of my summer reading list. I am sure that part of the reason I want to read this book is to help me process the sadness of witnessing such a capable kid drift away from his own potential. The confidence I have in Anne Lamott's restorative powers also characterizes her ability as a writer. She is one of those writers we turn to time and time again knowing that, no matter how tough the problem, she will help us through.

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