Anne Lamott f’d up.
Yup—the sensitive, hilarious, brilliant, neurotic, astonishingly genuine and gentle, talented writer Anne Lamott.
It’s so disappointing.
The Anne Lamott who famously writes fiction and non-fiction about recovery, pregnancy, menopause, faith-seeking, single motherhood, grace, a complicated childhood and sobriety while being a liberal Christian.
The Anne Lamott who has won a Guggenheim fellowship, been a bestselling author and who sat across from Oprah on Super Soul Sunday.
The Anne Lamott who showed the world it is possible to be brilliant, bizarre and big.
It was a seismic shock when she of all people wrote this cruel, snarky, hateful, ignorant and insensitive comment earlier this week. She tweeted:
“Is it okay to be a tiny tiny bit tired of Caitlyn? Yes, was very brave but so far he’s gone from man to mannequin, instead of man to woman.”
She replied to a Tweet on her pronoun use of “he:”
“Will call him a she when the pee-pee is gone.”
It’s particularly shocking because she’s usually the voice of the underdog—genuine and gentle.
She can be fierce and scathing, but typically only about herself.
In the world of messed-up creative neurotics in recovery, Lamott is beloved.
She led the brave parade for memoir writers by being fierce, funny and talented.
Before Brene Brown taught us how to be vulnerable, Lamott was transparently vulnerable.
Lamott made “going there” possible by writing publicly about topics people still had trouble admitting in journals. She also proved that people needed and loved honest words. I remember hearing her quirky voice read essays on NPR while driving my beat-up yellow car when we still had tape decks and used the radio.
She’s made it easier to be an independent, single mother, seeker, complex being with a sketchy past who wanted to write.
And she wrote the book on writing, literally—Bird by Bird.
It’s hard to even imagine a world welcoming to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray Love), Cheryl Strayed (Wild) or even the comic Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer) without Lamott forging the way.
So how could she of all people say something so hurtful?
Lamott is not the only person having her preconceptions and stereotypes about gender identity corrected in real time.
She’s not the only one bumbling with pronoun use talking about Caitlyn Jenner, she’s not even the only one confused by how a woman can be called a woman if she has a “pee pee.”
There are plenty of issues and questions about the Caitlyn Jenner media circus and the obsessions about her clothes, make-up and figure, or the fact that she’s the oldest woman to ever appear solo on the Vanity Fair cover.
There are legitimate questions to ask and issues to explore. However, whether Caitlyn is actually a woman and if she gets to call herself one or not is not one of them.
I don’t agree with what Lamott Tweeted.
But I adore, admire and will keep buying books and following her on Twitter.
I might even like her more now.
Because of how she is responding to those who have challenged and educated her.
Especially her son, Sam. The same Sam who was the subject of her book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. He’s an adult now and wrote to her, via his Twitter:
I learned about trans life from a close FTM friend who was willing and patient to answer my ignorant and incredibly personal questions.
Trans life is so outside pop culture, and my moms [sic] small town life. This is how the truth gets out, this is how we evolve. We talk about it.
I know. It’s shocking. When the adrenaline wears off, remember that before you knew about trans issues, you didn’t know.
For everyone who is intolerant of my moms “intolerance”, @ANNELAMOTT is not perfect, but the best way to teach is with love and patience
Everybody gets to make mistakes. It’s a shame this lesson is so public, but the best lessons are often painful and embarrassing. @ANNELAMOTT
I love every single character he chose to use and the way he conversed with, challenged and guided his mother.
He showed wisdom, clarity and patience, and I’m guessing she must have shown him a bit of those traits.
He didn’t excuse what she said or hate on the people who were rightfully upset by her.
With grace, he helped grow his mother up—a process that doesn’t stop for any of us, no matter our age.
She’s got a few newer tweets out now:
I am so sorry to have caused pain to people in the transgender community, esp to parents of transgender children. You are loved and chosen.
It’s so amazing, awful & liberating to accept your grave & flagrant impection [sic]. It can make me physically ill—but doing so made me a writer.
I wd [sic] be an even better support person for transgender teenagers now that I’ve learned the word is not “transgendered.” call me Mrs Mistakes.
She apologized. She listened. She responded.
It’s a spectacular exchange.
Don’t we want people to react this way when educated or informed?
I say this as someone who is sometimes a jerk.
I say this as someone who, as an advocate for trauma and sexual assault survivors, is not always graceful, patient or kind.
When people say things I disagree with that I’m personally or politically passion about, I sort of hate them.
When I’m hurt or claiming the factual or moral high ground, I can be cutting. On purpose. Both hostile and holier than thou.
That’s hard to write. I’m cringing but will share my own recent example.
When people show ignorance or prejudice I can get enraged or exhausted that what seems like it should totally be common sense isn’t.
Of course, if “it”—whatever the “it” is—truly were common sense, there wouldn’t be racism or sexism or homophobia.
But we live in a world with all of these things.
So, while many of us are getting educated about trans and gender issues—important, overdue and necessary—in this Lamott/Lamott exchange, I’m getting schooled in how to communicate better.
I see so much of myself in Anne Lamott’s original comments and too little of myself in her son Sam.
He showed kindness and courage in response to ignorance.
Can I learn that? Can I keep my heart as open as my mouth? Can I even hope for that generosity of spirit from others when I’m a dumb ass? Especially when I’ve been skewering?
The truth is we are all big and small depending on: the day, hour, topic or person we’re conversing with.
We are all big and small depending on if we’re broke, tired, have had too little or too much coffee, carbs or booze.
We are big or small depending on what we have or haven’t lived with and who we have and haven’t been educated by.
Can we all be kinder when hurt, angry or conversing with someone in a moment of not knowing?
Might this make us more willing to take responsibility when we’ve failed, blundered and hurt others?
My Facebook writer-friend Jillian Ayer said:
“Love and courage wrapped up together. What beauty. The truth is that our children often raise us up. At times I am far less graceful then both of them (Anne made an enormously insensitive blunder but her vulnerability in owning her mistake models courage). There is a lot to learn in that exchange.”
She’s right. I feel badly for how self-righteous I get. She’s admitted it happens to her as well. It happens to many of us.
As do mistakes.
How we respond matters.
Seeing Anne and Sam Lamott in public conversation is more than a relief. It’s hopeful.
They show how we grow in relationships.
Plus, it makes the mother in me happy to know there will someday be more than eye roll responses to even my stupidity, which is hard to fathom with a 12-year-old.
Anne Lamott has helped people feel less alone for decades.
She’s utterly human about being human.
She will likely write a piece some day about this experience but right now she is the subject of a story and not just the author.
As such, she shows us:
We’re all capable of being shitty and superb.
Feisty and ferocious.
Luminous and limited.
We all have shadow and light. We all ride both sides of that human see saw.
She apologized. She’s updating, revising and expanding her awareness in real time.
She’s showing us what it is to be human.
She made a mistake. It’s true. And she’s also still a killer writer, a kick-ass mom and an adult with a difficult childhood who is gifted, complex and imperfect.
I’ll keep listening to her voice.
And though I can’t believe her kid is out of diapers I’ll listen to his too. I’ll treasure his tweet-able insights and communication style.
I’ll continue to treasure Anne Lamott’s wisdom about writing and life too.
She’s still imperfectly perfect and she’s still my idol.
I can and do disagree with her original tweets and can say, as her one of her book titles does:
Help, Thanks and Wow.
Author: Christine “Cissy” White
Editor: Emily Bartran