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Writer Anne Lamott headlines annual Medicine & the Muse showcase

Each year, hundreds of people gather on the med school campus for Medicine & the Muse, an annual extravaganza that celebrates the interplay between arts and medicine. The event, now in its 15th year, is one part talent show and one part conversation, usually featuring a well-known author.

This year, that well-known author was Anne Lamott. Last Thursday evening, her fans packed into the large Berg Hall and spilled into overflow rooms, eager to hear the author beloved for books such as Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year.

Lamott took the stage following a series of performances - including a rousing flute solo from first-year medical student Michelle Han, a screening of the medical student-produced hit "Dear Future Doctor," and an aria sung by third-year medical student Arunima Kohli. Lamott's words came out in perfectly formed quotes, and listening to her felt, as first-year medical student Elizabeth Beam said in her introduction, like she's speaking directly to you.

"Every single person here is so much smarter than I am," Lamott -- her hair pulled back in her trademark dreads -- said, a remark that drew disbelieving chuckles. "I was highly successful as a child -- I should have retired."

Like her writing, Lamott in person is unassuming, candid and frank -- glad to discuss sticky subjects such as eating disorders, addiction, faith, her somewhat screwy childhood and her persistent, distracting hatred of her thighs. She also read an excerpt from her latest book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite morsels from the conversation:

  • I still act out a lot around food... Without a community in recovery, I will get very toxic.
  • Learning to eat was about learning to live. It was one of the most radical things I've ever done.
  • I am schooled in, and in love with, the field of the spiritual, of the non-material, of what there is beyond our personality and our history. One of the ways we find out who we are, the truth of ourselves, is through the body.
  • Grace is like a spirit emollient.
  • I think the greatest medicine is listening to somebody.
  • Don't be too positive, if you can sum up human life in a bumper sticker, you'll make me cranky.
  • I'm very, very left-wing.
  • I don't think I have a muse, but I'm so thrilled and grateful for art and for movies and for books. I was saved by the chapter book.

Previously: Stanford's Medicine & the Muse event mixes music, dance and pediatrics, The art of observation -- and how it benefits clinicians and non-clinicians alike and Stanford's Medicine and the Muse symposium features author of "The Kite Runner"
Photos by Federica Armstrong

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