Mary Karr on prayer: "Just try it"

Fans of the poet and memoirist Mary Karr will want to read this lengthy interview in the Paris Review -- it's not new, but it's new to me (thanks, Twitter!). I reviewed Karr's third and most recent memoir, Lit, for Commonweal, and blogged about it here. In that book she recounts her struggles with addiction and recovery and her conversion to the Catholic faith. This interview is titled "The Art of Memoir," and Karr has many interesting things to say about that form (as well as about poetry), and about how she goes about writing -- something other writers always want to know. But even more interesting, to me, is what she has to say about how and why she prays -- and how prayer and writing are connected for her.

"I ask God what to write," Karr says. "I know that sounds insane, but I do. I say: What do you want me to say?.... I’ll get stuck and I’ll just say, Help me."

Karr goes into some detail about her personal prayer routine -- it's the kind of reading that makes me want to brush up my own prayer life. (She's also proudly vulgar, sometimes right in the middle of a sentence about prayer, so delicate sensibilities beware.) And she has a suggestion for anyone who doubts her sanity: "To skeptics I say, Just try it. Pray every day for thirty days. See if your life gets better. If it doesn’t, tell me I’m an asshole."

This is the part I like best; the part I identify with most:

KARR: Prayer lessens fear. It reduces self-consciousness, so I attend to the work and kind of forget myself. It’s strange, though—I know praying a steady hour a day would make me a happier human unit, but I don’t do it. Do you know why?


KARR: Me neither.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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