Julia Gets Wise with Anne Lamott

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This week on Wiser Than Me, Julia gets schooled by 70-year-old author and Sunday school teacher Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird). Julia finds solace in subtle signs from the universe and learns the importance of shutting the hell up when it comes to parenting adult children. Anne also shares wisdom on recovery, perfectionism, and falling in love at 65. Plus, Julia and her mom, Judy, explore the inevitable role reversal that comes with aging parents.

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Anne Lamott, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mommy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus  00:01

Oh, aren’t transitions hard? Maybe they’re harder for some people than others, but I have to say for me, they are brutal. My parents divorced when I was really little, and I would go back and forth between my mother’s family and my father’s family on the old Eastern Airlines shuttle. And that was the granddaddy of all transitions for me, it was absolutely excruciating. But even run of the mill transitions are rough, like go into college, for example, I remember having a moment of abject fear. When my mom left me on my own with my 11 bags at Northwestern, yeah, I brought 11 huge bags to college with me, because I have always traveled very light. Leaving people that I love separating, even happily separating, it’s just heart rending for me. So recently, my parents moved from one place to a new place, and the new place is this kind of just amazing, wonderful, cozy, cottagey senior living thing, which makes sense, since my mom is 90, and my daddy Tom is 92. My sisters and I worked so hard to help them with that move. Maybe we went overboard. I mean, cuz we were involved in every design decision at the new place, hiring movers and contractors and picking colors and putting things away and organizing and saying this out loud right now. I think we might be helicopter children. But whatever, we got it done. I gotta say, though, I was emotionally wrecked. There was a lot of anxiety about this move, you know, was it going to be smooth, were they going to be happy. And I was feeling a lot of, frankly, inexplicable separation anxiety. And you know, I haven’t lived with my parents and basically like half a century. So I’m not going to claim that any of this has any rational basis, but a couple of things happened during this move. So just to give you a little background, my sisters and I, when we were growing up, we lived near American University in Washington DC. And they had and still do have an old clock tower there and it would go off every hour, you know, the dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum, you know that? Okay, so I’m at my parents new place, helping them move in and I’m putting boxes and keepsakes in a storage shed. And this is very nostalgic stuff. It’s has almost a magical quality, it’s ephemera from my parents from our shared paths. It’s very emotional for me. And then, all of a sudden, I hear this, dum dum dum, dum, dum, dum, dum dum. There’s a clock tower somewhere close by, I don’t even know where it is. And it’s going off. And it’s exactly the same tune, you know, but dum dum, dum dum, the sound of that sound was a sound of my childhood. And hearing it in that moment, all these years later, oh, my God, it just it have this familiar, cozy, and at the same time, melancholic feeling to it. Alright, so that happens them, after that. I go back from the storage shed to my parents new cottage, and the number on their cottage is 3107. And it totally blew me away because the address number of our house in Washington DC where we grew up, was 3710. And look to me, it was kind of remarkable. Now I know it’s not the same number, exactly. But it is the same four numerals, and this is a small coincidence, okay, tiny even but I look for the signs that happen all around us, for me they kind of confirmed the mysteriousness of the world. Isabel Allende and I talked about that last year, right, you don’t have to be religious to believe that there is mystery in this life. So somehow the combination of those numbers being related to one another, and the clocktower, gawking this this synchronicity, it gave me a sense of real well being, that something was at work here, that felt correct. And that I was being reassured. This move for my mom and dad, which is a loaded thing, moving into probably what is their last house, this transition was eased by that synchronicity. We pick up little random artifacts in our lives, images, numbers, sounds, smells, smells, my God in each one marks a place in time and we carry them forward with us. We bring them through our transitions. And when they bump into each other, there’s a little comfort there. And sometimes a little comfort is a powerful thing. Anne Lamott says that Holy Rollers see coincidences like the ones I just described as God working anonymously. And, you know, maybe she’s right, I take some solace, I take a lot of solace. In these kinds of life coincidences, I just love them. And so today, we’re talking to Anne Lamott.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  05:40

Hi, I’m Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and this is Wiser Than Me the podcast where I get schooled by women who are wiser than me.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  06:03

And that really is what we do here. We talk to smart, thoughtful, funny, accomplished, wise women. And today is no different, except, except I think it actually is a little different because today I’m talking to somebody who is kind of professionally wise, right? I mean, what do you call somebody who is a spiritual and philosophical guide to millions of people, somebody who stock and trade is their ability to actually communicate wisdom, and deliver enlightenment? You call that a sage, right? So get ready guys today, we’re talking to an actual modern sage. And she’s not a bullshit sage either. She’s the real deal, even her bond, most are secretly […] Almost everything will work again, if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. I love that it’s simple, right? Hardly, and you’ll find a million things like that in Anlamaz, 20 books, 20. Fiction and nonfiction, her writing just has this incredible mix of raw transparency and humor that hits you right in the gut. The first book of hers that I read was operating instructions, which she wrote about the first year of her son’s life in which I read in the first year of my son’s life. And I guarantee, we’re going to talk about that today because it was a game changer for me. Her straightforward, open, honest, daring approach to her work is just unique. And she’s not writing about easy stuff either. Her words on addiction are shaped by her own struggles carry immense significance within the recovery community, and have truly shifted perceptions on how we view sobriety and substance abuse. And she’s got one of those top to bottom amazing resumes, all kinds of awards and Guggenheim fellowships, fancy teaching positions, all these best sellers, plus meaningful important essays published in meaningful, important places. Look, let’s face it, she’s kind of perfect the show, right? So I’m not going to waste any more time yakking away about Anne Lamott, because it’s time to talk to Anne Lamott, hello, Anne Lamott. I’m sorry, that was so long that went on forever, apologies. Hi!


Anne Lamott  08:24

Hello, love. I could listen to that all day.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  08:27

I’m happy to read it all over again, great, thank you.


Anne Lamott  08:32

Hi, I’m Julia Luna, no, I’m kidding.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  08:34

So are you comfortable if we share your real age?


Anne Lamott  08:37



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  08:38

And what is your real age?


Anne Lamott  08:39

My real age is 70, I’m a very young 70, though, except for physically and cognitively.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  08:48

So how old do you feel?


Anne Lamott  08:50

I feel that I’m 47. Except for my body. Which things are sort of deteriorating slowly my feet and my hip hurts so some mornings I wake up and I limp around like Walter Brennan, you know, but spirit, your inside person doesn’t age, right?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  09:09



Anne Lamott  09:09

Your inside person is all the ages you’ve ever been and we’ll be in shall be forevermore. And so I trust my inside age more than the physical.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  09:19

Hey, can I ask you a question about your feet?


Anne Lamott  09:22



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  09:22

We’ll edit this part out but what part of your feet are hurting because I’m having this issue?


Anne Lamott  09:27

Oh, I don’t think you should edit this out. I think I have had plantar is off and on. In my arch, most people get it in their heel. But my arch hurts, I really limp so I was limping, it’s getting better. But here’s the thing. You have to do what the doctor says, which I don’t like to do, but what they say is you stay off it for a while, but I’m a little neurotic because I’ve also had a lifelong eating disorder. So I feel that if you don’t get 10,000 steps a day, you can’t tell where you’re going to end up. So I would always get my step. And coincidentally my feet wouldn’t get better. And so this is funny. I was my husband and I were in Cuba in the spring and my feet hurt. And I, but I had been in this Cuban church and I was by myself and I stopped suddenly. And I said to myself, what if I do what they say? And it was so profound, I wrote it down, because I never do what they say I kind of do reform what they say, right? So they say don’t stay off of it for a month, and I think well, I’ll do half as much walking from it. And I started doing what they say, and my feet are so much better. But what helps us if you have where do your feet hurt?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:38

Well, it’s the top of my foot.


Anne Lamott  10:40

The top of it, that’s.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:42

Yeah, it’s like, I mean, I don’t know if you can see, but yeah.


Anne Lamott  10:44

I can see.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:45

Right, yeah and I don’t know what’s going on, obviously, after we do this podcast, I’m gonna call my doctor.


Anne Lamott  10:52



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:52

And then I’m gonna do what he says […]


Anne Lamott  10:54

Do what they say.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:55

I’m gonna do what he says.


Anne Lamott  10:56

And have you tried icing it?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:58

No, I haven’t tried anything.


Anne Lamott  11:00

Okay, here’s what you do. You do the rice diet, you rest it. You ice it, you use a compression, get a brace, one of those elastic braces at CVS. And you elevate it and do that for a few days, and it’ll be better. You also need to take Advil for the inflammation if you ask me.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  11:18

And do you take insurance?


Anne Lamott  11:20

I do.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  11:20

Yes, perfect.


Anne Lamott  11:22

I take most insurance.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  11:23

Great, well, I hope you take mine because I really rather not pay for this out of network. Hi, guys, Julia here okay, just want to give you a quick update, in case you were concerned. I did go to the doctor after we recorded this podcast, and he diagnosed this problem as tendinitis. And he said that under no circumstances should I be icing the area, so yeah, Dr. LeMans advice is still advise. And I’m actually considering a malpractice suit of sorts, but anyway, I still love her. So I guess the next question I was gonna ask you is, what’s the best part about being your age? And I think I might answer it for you. I think giving medical advice to people is might be one of your best, best things about being your age. Do you agree with me about that?


Anne Lamott  12:13

Being my age means that everything is hurt at one point or another, and I know what to do for a lot of different ailments, everything, one of the things about being 70 is that everything has happened at least once. Almost everything, like you. I know, you’re very young, but.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  12:33

No, not really, medium, medium young.


Anne Lamott  12:38

By a certain age, we have all had unsurvivable losses, right? And I know how you come through him. I know what helps I know what doesn’t help. Little nice Christian bumper stickers don’t help to God never gives you more to carry blah, blah, blah, what a crock.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  12:54



Anne Lamott  12:55

Some pre stickers and platitudes didn’t work, what works when somebody’s going through unsurvivable losses that you show up and you sit with them, and you are willing to feel like shit with them. And you don’t try to get them to feel any better than they do. For as long as it takes him, it could be years. Some losses we never recover from but it’s like having a badly broken leg where it heals. But you you dance again, but with a limp.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  13:22



Anne Lamott  13:23

And so I know what people I know what life has to offer. And I no longer it’s I no longer think that it’s anything like in the movies or the ads, I know you don’t buy it, rent it, lease it, achieve it. It’s an inside job, and it has to do with the inner healing of the of the Spirit. And it has to do with having people that are not trying to get you to be a different person than you are or feel any differently than you are who look at you and say God, I get it, me too. I’ve been there, can I get you a cup of tea?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  14:01



Anne Lamott  14:01

Do you want to put your feet up in my lap?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  14:04

You know, I had cancer a few years back, and that was my experience too. You know, I had a group of friends who would show up in that kind of way even just to sit there. They didn’t have to talk. I found that to be very comforting. Not they weren’t saying things like what can I do? Which is exhausting. It was just being there.


Anne Lamott  14:32



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  14:33

And so let’s talk about your your wonderful husband, Neil. You got married in 2019, right?


Anne Lamott  14:42

Yes, I got married three days after I started getting Medicare.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  14:46

Okay, why, I want to know why you decided not because I don’t think you should have by the way that sounded kind of aggressive. I didn’t mean to, why did you decide to get married at 65?


Anne Lamott  14:57

We’ve been living together for a few years and he’s he’s really Lovely and he’s changed my life. And on our third date he taught me about this inner critic work. You know, I call it K F K D. I don’t know if we can say that word on your.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:10

We can.


Anne Lamott  15:11

Oh, absolutely […]


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:14



Anne Lamott  15:14

And it says seeing in stereo that out of the right hand speaker says, oh, you’re different than you’re better than you’re more certainly more humble than, and then out of the left hand speaker, it just says you’re a fraud, and that the jig is up and talk about beating a dead horse. And if people really got to know you, too well, they’d run screaming for your cute little life. And he taught me to isolate this voice of k […] radio, and to talk to it. And he taught me to say, oh, it’s just you. And then to kind of help it figure out somewhere else to go while I get that day’s work done. And as soon as he taught me that, I thought, this guy’s a keeper.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:51

Yeah, I love it, talk about falling in love, and how it felt falling in love in your 60s, if there is a difference between falling in love in your 60s versus in your 20s in your 30s is there?


Anne Lamott  16:06

Well, we’re different people you know, we’re, we’re a little bit wiser. And I knew when you hit it up the first date, I had come they’re anxious and uptight and guilty and foolish shame. And I was instantly had a lot of relief. And so I thought, yo, and then we were jamming, we’re just jamming the way you deal with your best girlfriend. And I had always held out for being with a man who I would want to be best friends with, if it was a woman. And before then I had often been with men that I loved, or I was addicted to or I like to be with, but that wouldn’t have been my best girlfriend. And Neil would have been because he’s so real, and so honest, and so just funny, and so on about the third or fourth date, when I realized we were going to be talking for the rest of our life, I said, I want to keep this in the soda shop stage for a while. And we did and that, you know, when you’re 40, 50, 30, you don’t. It’s like you immediately have all this adrenaline, you know, and you’re kind of this tree, you have this energetic trance with the person you know, when you start to and it’s like the vampire dance floor, it gets very smoky and a little bit of strobe lights and you get out there and it’s like so much adrenaline, you’re getting down with the get down, you’re getting down and you get so much adrenaline and you get the endorphins. So it’s like a speedball and I thought I’ve been sober, clean and sober, 37 years.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  17:35



Anne Lamott  17:36

And I don’t want to get stoned on anything anymore, you know, except for maybe nature. And, and so we did, we got to know each other for a few weeks. And it was very different. And it was really fun.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  17:48

I know that in your book and your, that’s right, in the new book. I have all these books you’ve written I’m surrounded by your books right now. And and Neil said that 80% of everything that is true and beautiful, can be experienced on any 10 minute walk. I love that, I love it. And I believe it’s true. And I think I also might be in love with Neil. I’ve also fallen I hope you don’t mind.


Anne Lamott  18:13

No, no.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  18:15

What have you learned since you’ve gotten married? What if, what have you learned about yourself and, and or Annie? Can I call you Annie?


Anne Lamott  18:23

Call me Annie, yeah, calls me, Annie. Oh, you know, I’ve, I’ve just learned that. You know, once I wrote a Bird by Bird that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. It’s the voice of the enemy, and I’ve had, I grew up with a lot of shame. I grew up with pretty unhappy parents who were married 27 Unhappy years, I grew up looking very, very shocked about shame later to it’s my favorite topic, but I grew up with a crazy kinky hair, and I got bullied a lot and people threw stuff at boys threw stuff at me and I mean, it was very crazy, so that my solution and something my parents encouraged was to perfectionism. I was always the best in my class. I was a tennis champion I was, and it will make you sicker and more mentally ill and crazier than any other quality. And so I learned little by little with Neil, and then definitely after marriage, where let’s face it, I was stuck with him. I learned how that life is just you know, it’s very messy, and it’s very real. The miracle of being older is that you might go to the same default places minus this victimized self righteousness, and this weaponized silence, but you move through it in two or three hours, instead of months. And in one case, might be an entire decade, you know, and that you you know, that you’re going to come through, you know that the problem is mental. But so I remember it’s not them. It’s like it’s an inside job. I can choose is serenity I can pray for peace of mind I can pray to not be an asshole.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  20:05

Yeah, amen to that. So tell me though, what was it like to have Neil, enter your life with your family?


Anne Lamott  20:13

Well, you know, Sam is very used to me being there for him and Jack’s, and so there was just a tiny, tiny bit of resistance to Neil. Jack. I mean, Sam has never been all that excited about long term boyfriends. But with Neil and with Jack’s liked him, he’s great with kids, he’s got a bunch of kids of his own, and so Jax was fine, you know, it’s just like, the the mobiel in that old John Bradshaw family systems mobile where one thing happens, a person gets sober. And every, all the figures on the mobile start to move again. And sometimes their strings get caught up in each other. And it was like that for a while. It sorts itself out, but it’s really lovely.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  21:01

Yeah, you know, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how important Operating Instructions was to me personally.


Anne Lamott  21:10

Wow, thank you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  21:12

It really was Annie, because my, actually both of my kids but my my first son had colic. And I had same […] I know, I just reread it, and I was I was reliving it. And it was so difficult. And I of course, thought it was because of me. And my bad mothering or bad something. You know, you were talking about shame, right? And it was a me too, part of that book comforted me away from all of it. And there was a quote that I pulled, where is it? Yeah, my heart is so huge with love. I feel like it is about to go off. At the same time, I feel that he has completely ruined my life.


Anne Lamott  22:02

Yeah, and I know, it’s like, all truth is paradox. And I would feel like I literally would sacrifice my life for him. And then I’d look over and think of him raising his ugly reptilian head, you know? And then there’s a part I don’t know if you remember it, where the colic was so bad. And I just thought casually about bundling him up and putting them on the porch for the night. So I couldn’t get one night’s sleep, and every mother worth her weight in salt, said me too.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  22:31

Oh, yeah.


Anne Lamott  22:32

Just not, so you’re not supposed to say that.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  22:35

You’re not supposed to say there was so much you weren’t supposed to say that had to be said in that book. That was critical. It was urgent that it was said, and it is such a shock to have a child in so many ways, in the most beautiful of ways and in the most difficult of ways too.


Anne Lamott  22:51

Yeah, but you know, I wrote a follow up to operating instructions, because Sam had a baby at […]


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  22:58



Anne Lamott  22:58

And I wrote a book called Some Assembly Required.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  23:01



Anne Lamott  23:02

And I think it is, I mean, if I had to go to a desert island, it’s a book I would take because spiritually, the toughest stuff I ever did was to have to let go of my son, and to let him be the parent because I’m sure you’re not like this with your children. But I think I have excellent ideas for it.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  23:19

Oh, yes.


Anne Lamott  23:20

I think I do too, by the way, right in all areas of their life. And that, you know, I finally heard someone say that help is the sunny side of control. But I didn’t hear it in time for when Sam had an infant.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  23:36

That is great. Can you can you just describe the difference if there is one?


Anne Lamott  23:42

Yeah, when you’re a mom, they don’t leave. When you’re with your grandma, they all leave at some point.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  23:53



Anne Lamott  23:54

And and that’s a blessing. And so that when you’re and also when your grandmother your older I was a young grandmother, I 55, but you know, I didn’t went Sam called me the night before thanksgiving in 2018. And said he was going to be a father of course I had 25 people coming. And it was not on my bingo card. It was not what my plan for him was right College was the plan and a little tiny, tiny bit of a career like that would be so much skin off his nose. And and so I was young, and Sam was a mess. He was a meth head and alcoholic. And so because I’m a blackbelt codependent, I also thought that what he should do next was to get sober, and and so on and so forth. What he should do after that was to this and what he should do after that, and I had all these plans, and some assembly required is so much about how the more you offer your plans for your children, the more they need to resist you because you’re crazy. And I you know, I really would say I was 34 now, and without my recovery program and a lot of therapy, I would be running alongside him on his hero’s journey, you know, with Capri Sun and lip balm, and sunscreen. And that’s that’s an insult, that’s disrespectful and it injures him, and it injures me


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:15



Anne Lamott  25:16

But it injures our children to try to control them. So this book, Some Assembly is where I kind of learned pretty much most days to stop trying to control them.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:27

So you could have called it just shut the fuck up and sit down, right? I mean, yeah.


Anne Lamott  25:32

There’s a great acronym in recovery for people with tiny, tiny control issues. And it’s wait, W A I T, Why Am I Talking? And so I just sit there quietly, and I think, I’m not going to compare. I’m not going to correct I’m not going to complain. I’m just going to love these people. Just love them, love them, love them.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:56

And you did, it sounds like you’ve gotten better at it as time has gone.


Anne Lamott  25:59

You get better, I mean, it’s like learning to play pickleball or piano or something, you start off really badly. And you take the action, and the insight follows the action might be not saying what you thought that what was on your your tongue to say, and it said, just kind of gently stroking your shoulder and saying quietly to yourself. It’s okay, honey, why don’t we get us a nice cup of tea? Until we settle? And then yeah, you get better.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  26:26

There is something about being a mom and having that focus. And that grounding that is when it’s working well, it really takes you out of yourself. And that is one of the many blessings of being a mother.


Anne Lamott  26:46

I think, yeah, it is yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  26:50

We’re gonna take a short break right now. There’s more with Anne Lamott on the other side.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  27:07

Let’s talk about writing.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  27:08

It would be horrible if we didn’t really talk about that. Do you mind just briefly telling the story of the title of Bird by Bird and the story of where that came from? I love that story.


Anne Lamott  27:08



Anne Lamott  27:20

Yeah, well, okay, when I was coming up in California, at the end, in fourth grade, you wrote your first term papers.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  27:29



Anne Lamott  27:30

And you have to do a bird paper. And so my older brother hated school and wasn’t very good at it, because he didn’t care. And he had his bird paper, and you have the whole semester to do that. And it was due the next day. This was a Sunday and it was due on Monday. And he hadn’t started he couldn’t start it was too much like any writing project, you start. It’s it’s like an unsalted ice floe. And he was in tears, so my older brother’s a tough guy was a tough fourth grader. And my dad, who was a writer, sat down with him and put his arm around him and said, just take it Bird by Bird, buddy. And he taught him to read a little bit about chickadees, for instance, and then in one in his own words, which is the only way you can share what’s inside of you to share with us. You right, tell us about chickadees and then find an illustration. Okay, next, we’re going to do great blue herons. I want you to read a couple pages of Audubon on Great Blue Herons. And then I want you to tell me, in your own words, about Great Blue Heron. So that’s where it comes from.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  28:32

Oh, I love it so much. It’s, it’s such a beautiful expression. In fact, if my son had a teacher, it’s not quite as beautiful. But she used to say, when he would get overwhelmed, she would say just break it down into manageable parts, which is exactly what your your dad was saying, of course, you’re known for your talks and your teachings on writing. Two things that you said really struck me one was the act of writing turns out to be its own reward. And publication is something you have to recover from. And I’m so struck by that, Annie, because, you know, you could really apply that to know everything’s […] yeah, it certainly is applicable to acting and producing and editing a film or a television show or anything and crunching it, crunching it, crunching it down. I was amazed at how universal those those teachings are of yours.


Anne Lamott  29:31

Oh, well, thank you, well, the publication and is it’s that American fixation, that that what you seek is outside of you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:40

That’s right.


Anne Lamott  29:40

And it’s a perfectionism and El Doctorow, the great novelist, Ragtime and book a Daniel.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:47

Of course.


Anne Lamott  29:48

He said in Vanity Fair, 20 years ago, he said, writing is like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little waist in front of you, but you can make the whole journeys out way, and that is the truest thing I know, whether it’s about what you’re working on your production stuff, your creation stuff, or your spiritual life being a mother having a colicky baby. It’s like driving at night with a headlights on. And you can only see a little ways. But you, you can make the whole journey that way. It’s hard, some days are so hard. And you know, one of the acronyms for shame in recovery is should have already mastered everything I know. And the terrible feeling you have when you haven’t when you have a colicky baby, when you have a when you have a very old parent, you know, how could we know this stuff? But we think we’re supposed to, right?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  30:43

I know, that reminds me of the piece that I read that you recently wrote in The Washington Post about the beauty. I’m gonna say the grace of not knowing. I don’t know, how could you know? That really resonated with me. We think like we have to know, that getting the answer is what you’re striving for but maybe living in the unknowing is its own sort of blessing.


Anne Lamott  31:15

Yeah, my mom had Alzheimer’s, and she was living in independent living, but falling apart. And so we, my brothers, and I were just trying to manage it all. And she also had diabetes. And she’d sneak over to Safeway and steal bread and cookies and, and the cashiers would pay for it, because he was such a love of bowl person. And then, and so we had this nurse, and my brothers and I were with and we said, oh, we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know how much longer she can’t, we don’t know how to get her to stop eating the carbs and the sugar. And we don’t know if she’s even doing the ins and we went on and on just in that grief, but also that self doubt, you know, that toxic self doubt. And this gentle, gentle nurse looked at us and she said, how could you know, and that literally hadn’t occurred to us.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:03

Wow, that is incredible.


Anne Lamott  32:06

How could you know?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:07

How could you know? And just so you know, that Thanksgiving this year, or this past Thanksgiving, I should say, I referenced that in a toast that I made to our family. Because we so thank you for sharing that as I start to cry. But the reason being is because we’ve got a lot of family stuff people getting older people are struggling with health and our family, different people. And so it’s forgiving yourself for not knowing and being comfortable with not knowing is an okay place to be.


Anne Lamott  32:42

And I not only okay, it’s the portal, it’s the morning to something more spacious and more expansive.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:50



Anne Lamott  32:51

There might be grace and there might be fresh air instead of you know, going over and over and over again, your ideas and your plans, none of which work.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:59

Right, can you talk about how your writing changed after you got sober Annie?


Anne Lamott  33:05

Oh, my God, let’s see I got sober when I was 32.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  33:08



Anne Lamott  33:09

I had published three books I had, you know, I born and raised in this same county I still live in. So I was loved out of all sense of proportion. And I just thought I was I mean, my insights were like Swiss cheese from the bulimia and I was addict and alcoholic and all that. And I got sober July 7, and I didn’t think I’d be able to write again, because certainly, the what you learn is the writers you love most are alcoholics.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  33:37

Is this true, really?


Anne Lamott  33:38

No, but I was raised by a writer. He was an alcoholic. He was scamming way. And Fitzgerald, and Shirley Jackson and Dorothy Parker, and all the writers I love most were very severe alcoholics. But anyway, I didn’t know if I’d write again. And that bad voice said, well, that’s that you can either get sober or you can keep on being a writer. And I decided to get sober because I thought I was going to die otherwise. And this guy said to me, when I first got sober, he said, he said, at the end of my drinking, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards. And I had gotten there. I had nowhere I had no more good ideas. So I stopped drinking. And for a while, nine months, just like what it takes to have a baby. I didn’t think I could write and I and my friends and sober women said, don’t worry about it. Go to a meeting, do you need a meet? Do you need a ride to want to have coffee? Come with me, I’m coming over and I’d say no, no, don’t come over, don’t go on dates. I’m coming over, you know, because your mind is a bad neighborhood and you shouldn’t be in it alone. And they come over, and so I wrote my first book, my novel, which is called all new people, which is in many ways, I think the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s the first thing I wrote sober. And I’ve had this strange feeling one day that this story was inside of me. And I felt that it had come I mean, was tugging on the sleeve of my sweater, and it was trusting me to get it right finally, because I wasn’t drunk. I didn’t think I could write without it, I didn’t end it tugged on my sleeve. And it said, you know, Bird by Bird, I always had my writing students get one inch picture frames and give them two or two inch picture frames, give them to each other to remember it, you just have to do that that one passage that you can see through the one inch picture frame, that one scene, that’s all you have to do today. So I started doing that I started slowly doing what I’ve always told my writing students and any do badly do shitty first draft right, and then you do a better second first draft and then you do a really decent second draft and give it to someone to read. So it was really slow. It’s a long road back. And and I did it one day at a time, it was a lot of help with very profound people along the way.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  35:56

I am in awe of the courage that that took and the and the I’ve just admire you so tremendously. And I really my my I have a sister who unfortunately died of a drug overdose and I really wish I could have gotten you and your people together with her. Because I think well anyway, it is what it is. But I do admire you and I’m just in awe of the strength that that took and the power that that took. That’s a lot of power, that’s a lot.


Anne Lamott  36:32

It’s a lot of help too, and if you ever said to me, Annie, I need you to go to New York or Chicago because I have a niece and we’re afraid she’s gonna die. And I want you to spend a couple of days just having walked with her I would go as God is my witness. You know, I’m a Sunday school teacher, and I mean that I’d go like that, that’s what the women, that’s what the sober women did for me. They said there’s literally nothing, no way that you need help that I won’t try to get you that help. So yeah, angels.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:03

Angels. We’ll get more wisdom from Anne Lamott after this break.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:20

By the way, on the first season of this show, our first guest was Jane Fonda.


Anne Lamott  37:25

I love her.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:26

And she loves you. And she quoted you. She quoted you, she said, know is a complete sentence, as Anne Lamott said, and here’s the incredible thing. At the end of the season, our final guest was Carol Burnett. And she quoted you too.


Anne Lamott  37:44

No way.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:45

I swear to god.


Anne Lamott  37:48

Oh, my God, I have to write that down.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:50

Isn’t that cool?


Anne Lamott  37:51

Yes, yeah wow. I love that, yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:54

Which is it’s an a fabulous expression. It’s a fabulous idea. But also, I get the sense that you’re a yes person, that you’re somebody who said yes to a lot of things in life, is that right? I mean, you teach Sunday school, your church you write, you’re in the recovery community, you take care of your grandson. So what are you saying no to? Because it sounds it seems to me, you’re really saying yes, a lot, which I also admire?


Anne Lamott  38:22

Well, I say no to things that I really don’t want to do. I say no to things that I’m only used to agree to do so people would like me more. Because before recovery, I got all of my value from how other people thought about me. And if they if I was a value to other people, then I felt that I was a person of value. But I say no now to stuff that is just damaging to me. I do as an older woman have less energy than I used to. And so I say no to trips even if they pay well, if it’s there’s nothing non stop. You know, I don’t want to do that anymore. And so I say no to a lot more things that people asked me to do. Because you know what I want to do I want to be at home, I want to be in my funny little town I want to be with people that I have my spiritual and walking and pickleball life and Sam and Jackson, Neil and the kitty and the dogs and you know, I just want to I just uncut a lot of the striving but it’s a huge change as you get older is that the striving really quiets down, you know.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  39:28

Oh interesting.


Anne Lamott  39:29

And the being gross, the longing for the being you know what EE Cummings called the human merely being instead of the human doing and, and impressing people and you know, moving my numbers up and get this the striving is just organically quieted down for every single person. I know, the pond of the striving settles down and you kind of think, well, like I can give you an image in the Hebrew Bible, the famous Psalm 23, that ends my cup runneth over, before recovery, and before I got older, it’s like I had this cup, this chalice, and I ran around trying to get everybody’s overflow. Because I had such shaky self esteem and such a raging ego, you know, this terrible ping pong game going on. And in as you get older, you stop running around trying to get other people’s leftovers, and you start letting your own cup be filled up with that, that really hydrates and nurtures you, and fills your cup with love and memories, sweet memories, you know, you start making sweet memories instead of working on your blobby size.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  40:39

And I think, you know, another thing that you talk about in your writing is breathing, which also, which also resonates with me, because there have been moments in my life where you know, everything feels like it’s so bad that you can’t escape it, you can’t get your head away from it, I mean, like, it feels like you physically cannot escape. And in those moments, I have found that if I can just remind myself that I can still breathe. I’m still able to get breath, so I’m not even though it feels like I’m suffocating. I’m actually I can breathe.


Anne Lamott  41:17

You can put your hand on your tummy and just breathe into your hand.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  41:21

Yeah, just breathe, yeah.


Anne Lamott  41:23

But I’ll tell you the most perfect breathing mantra and exercise. I know I have this tape to my bathroom. That’s how you know it’s important is Thích Nhất Hạnh just died maybe a year ago. But he has his mantra and exercise. And he says breathing in, I call myself you take a deep breath, breathing and stuff. And then breathing out, I smile. And it’s not a big phony smile, it’s a tiny smile, like Mona Lisa or just a tiny smile of. Ah, thank God, I’m breathing again. And you do that for three minutes you go Breathing in, I call myself. Breathing out I smile and it breaks the trance. It breaks that terrible hook into your mind that is spinning like the rat exercise wheel. And it I promise you, it connects you umbilically to something beautiful and outside outside surrounding an indwelling, we do three minutes, so.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  42:21

I’m totally doing that, I love it, and it’s not like a 20 minute meditation, I can get it done in three minutes and get on with it. I love it, okay. We’ve run out of time, of course, which is a bummer because I could talk to you forever. I’m although I’m sure you have a million other things to do. Let me ask you a couple of really quick questions that we sort of end with, if that’s all right.


Anne Lamott  42:42



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  42:43

Is there something you go back and tell yourself at 21?


Anne Lamott  42:48

Wow, I would tell myself, you are so beautiful as is you don’t need to change anything. You don’t need to worry about your hair or your what your butt looks like you don’t need to worry about anything inside of you. This is an inside job. That’s what I told my Sunday school kids. You know, it’s an inside job you are loved and chosen as is. And I would have said there is nothing that any man out there can ever say to you or think about you that matters. An angstrom unit it is not out there. It is not what they think is a value in a person. What is a value in a person is what you learned at those women’s meetings, what you learned is that all of your feelings are okay. It’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to feel really ugly inside. It’s gonna heal you your anger and it’s okay to be grief struck when I was coming up in the 50s. You could women couldn’t be angry or grief struck, they got right, they were exiled. They were either institutionalized or divorce. And then the men all got cute, 15 year old wives, right. And so I would say all of that stuff inside of you is the way home, talk to another person about it, talk to an older woman about it. And I think that’s probably the most important thing that I would have said is that we’re starting over. We are starting over as of now. And this is a new page and from now on. It’s what we think about us that we’re going to go by.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:20

Oh, I love that, and I’m not going to ask you one more question because that is just like the perfect wisdom to end this conversation on. I just am in awe of you and I thank you for being here today. You’re such a dream boat. You are a positive dream boat.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:44

Oh, that was so much good stuff. I gotta get my mom on Zoom and process all of this.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:53

Hi, Mommy.


Mommy  44:54

Hi sweetie.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:55

Okay, so, today we had the great pleasure of talking to Annie Lamott and I know you’re a fan of her work.


Mommy  45:03



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  45:04

So she’s 70, and I was asking her about, because she’s a grandma, the difference between being a mom and a grandma. And she was saying, the thing about being a mom, is that they never leave. What’s your take on that? How would you characterize the difference in the mother relationship versus the grandmother relationship, and for our listeners, my mom has three daughters, myself included, and then five grandchildren.


Mommy  45:45

You know, parenting requires, it’s a big responsibility, and you have all kinds of worries and so forth. But with your grandchildren, it’s there’s a sheer joy, because they, as she says, they go home at night. In other words, it’s like taking care of somebody else’s garden, but you know, that it’s their garden to really attend. And, and that releases you from the kind of worry and the tension of being a parent, and you have the sheer joy of everything from their first immersion, for the first time you see them coming out with a little wet hair, and to all the things along the way. But it’s not that, you know, I have any words about them. But you compared to being a parent, it’s just like having the sheer joy of every moment that you’re with them, is because you know that you’re not the you’re not the final that final vote.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  46:41

Well, I think that that makes complete sense. And, and that’s something to look forward to. She was saying that in terms of her parenting, she’s somebody who really wants to, like, fix things and get in there and, and offer her help. And she said, and the more that she tried in the past to offer help, the more resistance she got from her son, and there’s this acronym called, WAIT, I think it’s something from AA that she sort of falls back to a lot. And it stands for Why Am I Talking?


Mommy  47:24

That’s so good.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  47:25

Yeah, it’s a good one. That’s a good one. Why Am I Talking?


Mommy  47:30

I think that’s very interesting and, and determined on it’s side, I would say that, you know, you girls have helped us move into this, this place that we’ve come to, and you have so many things and so many things. And so I was talking to your sister today, and she and I was talking about something that doesn’t work. And she said, oh, I’ll call and I’ll take care of that. And I said, listen, you are you’re so wonderful, but it makes me weak. If you are going to do all the all of the I mean, it’s time for me to start the struggle and do do the the adjusting here.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:05



Mommy  48:05

If somebody else is always coming in to, you know, to save you and to to save you from struggle and so forth. It makes your week.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:13

Right, right.


Mommy  48:14

Or do you give into that? So I think that’s sort of interesting that I felt that this age.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:20

Yeah, isn’t that funny? And we felt the need to get in there and help and make decisions for you and daddy. It’s so it’s a real role reversal.


Mommy  48:33

It’s a complete role reversal. But also, it’s one that is it, you have to worry the same way you worry about over parenting.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:43

Right, so I’ve over over parented you is what’s happened.


Mommy  48:48

Not saying that you are a little.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:50

But that’s okay, I get what you mean, I totally get it.


Mommy  48:52

It was interesting, just being with you and your sisters, and having all of these decisions that you know, we’re and so forth. And that’s, and by the way, it’s critical because we’re old and it had been the the move was very difficult for us at this age. So it was essential that you guys do that, but also it’s essential now that we take take charge of our of ourselves and of our situation.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:19

Yes, yes, yes.


Mommy  49:21

Remember, we got tied to big thing of tide, and I tried to do a laundry today and I couldn’t find it that was going to call you and say where did you put the time?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:30

Did you find it?


Mommy  49:32

I opened up looking for some toothpaste and I found it.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:37

Good for you, Mama.


Mommy  49:39

I knew I felt like I was huge success, I got my PhD.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:43

You got your PhD in life. Okay, Mom, I love you so much, have fun in your new digs.


Mommy  49:51

Oh, thanks, honey, and thanks for helping me with my new digs.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:54

You’re welcome.


Mommy  49:55

I love you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:56

Call me if you need to find things. I’ll find them for you.


CREDITS  50:11

There’s more Wiser Than Me with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content from each episode of the show. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Make sure you’re following Wiser Than Me on social media. We’re on Instagram and Tiktok at @WiserThanMe, and we’re on Facebook at Wiser Than Me podcast. Wiser Than Me is a production of Lemonada Media. Created and hosted by me Julia Louie Dreyfus. This show is produced by Kryssy Pease, Jamela Zarha Williams, Alex McOwen, and Hoja Lopez. Brad Hall is a consulting producer, Rachel Neil is VP of new content and our SVP of weekly content and production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Paula Kaplan, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me. The show is mixed by Johnny Vince Evans with engineering help from James Sparber. And our music was written by Henry Hall, who you can also find on Spotify or wherever you listen to your music. Special thanks to Will Schlegel, and of course, my mother Judith Bowles. Follow Wiser Than Me wherever you get your podcasts. And if there’s a wise old lady in your life, listen up.

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