top of page

60 to 60: You Think You're Special?

The banquet room in Fort Collins is packed. Buzzing with love, excitement and devotion. Anne Lamott fans are fiercely loyal. I bet a lot of us came to check out her man, Neal, to make sure he looks good enough for our Annie. (He is, I checked, they’re happily married now.) At the back of the room, everyone, mostly women, mostly middle-aged, is crowded around a table and are gobbling down pieces of the most enormous cake I’ve ever seen. Of course, years ago Annie gave us permission to buy way too many apple fritters at our local Safeway and furthermore, to never worry about what the person behind us might be thinking about us or our apple fritter consumption. If there is ever a talk to go to and enjoy a huge piece of cake, it’s here with Annie Lamott.

It does look amazing, especially to a certified chocoholic like myself, but I have other things on my mind. Beyond the crowd and around the corner is a long author line. Lots of people want to connect with this quirky, hilarious truth-teller with the dreads and the colorful scarfs that somehow always fall to one side when she speaks. I’ve seen her at the Boulder Bookstore a few times and I’d followed a hunch years ago and went to a writer’s conference way up in Homer, Alaska. When I’d seen that Anne Lamott was going to be the keynote speaker, I quickly cashed in some miles and booked a 45th birthday trip for myself. I had read Operating Instructions while I was on 3 months of bedrest during a high-risk pregnancy. Annie made me laugh out loud. I have since amassed a collection of all of her books and fell in serious like with Annie.

Up in Homer, I stood in line to get a book signed. I leaned over to Annie, whom I’d never met before, but I did feel like I knew her, her writing is that real, that raw, that relatable, that good. Hi Annie, here’s my rather-tattered favorite book of yours. Traveling Mercies. Hope you don’t mind signing it. It’s my favorite of yours. And you can see it’s been a lot of places with me. She laughed as she examined my taped-together bundle of paper pages. She said, oh no problem, what’s your name? and got to work. Then I leaned in conspiratorially and whispered to her, “I’m in the class of 1986 too” meaning we had gotten sober in the same year. Annie looked up and beamed at me when I told her that. There is a bit of a secret love language that is spoken between people in recovery. A pressure valve somewhere deep down gets released. Oooooh, let’s find a meeting, she said. OK, let’s do it, and I walked away.

The next day I was on my way to get a coffee when I noticed Annie in a very small computer room. I knocked, and said Hey Annie, I compiled a list of recovery meetings in town. She was delighted. We ended up having an open 12-step meeting at the hotel and I was once again reminded that we are all just people, bumbling about our business, trying to get it right.

A few months later, when Annie came to Denver for a talk, she graciously put my husband and I on a guest list, we had good seats. Annie said a warm hello to me. Actually, she kind of shouted across the room, HEY J JILL because apparently, I wore a lot of JJill shirts up in Alaska and I had a JJill top on now. OK, it wasn’t like a huge hug and dinner together, but I felt seen and remembered. A weird, sober, lovely JJill-ish connection with one of my all-time favorite writers. A writer who gives me courage to write the real, the funny, the crazy—all of it.

Anyway, here in Fort Collins I turn to my pal and say, OK the line is dwindling down, I’m gonna go say hi to Annie. What? She says, furrowing her eyebrows. I’m gonna go say hi. To Annie. My companion turns her body to face me and says this thing.

What, you think she’s going to remember you? I say, Well probably not but I’m… She scoffs. You think you’re special or something, that this bigtime author is going to remember YOU?”

Right in that moment my body remembers. Oh yes, I know this. The walls of my nervous system thickened and tightened like cement each time my father snarled at me in a thick New York accent: What? Ya think you’re special? You think you deserve special treatment? Pfffft. You’re not special.

Here’s the thing though.

I am ridiculously special! My grown-up badass self knows this. Why yes, thanks. I am special simply because I'm still on the planet. Because I’ve been through a great many heartaches and shitstorms. Because in my early twenties it became clear that I either had to get sober or die. I chose life and I’m still here. I’m special because I survived a family with simmering rage, unchecked mental illness, and a nice blend of Scots-German stoic ‘go to your room if you have a feeling and come back later.’ In addition to alcoholism, I have dealt with depression, infertility, high-risk pregnancy, losing my dear mom to Alzheimer’s, family estrangement, chronic pain, the loss of friendships, a hellish menopausal decade and a beloved friend’s cancer journey. Not all sunshine and daisies.

I’m also special because I like to grow stuff: plants, animals, friendships, events, groups, flowers, my mind, houseplants, gardens. I’m special because I manage to burn food all of the time (just ask Jay and Marin and our neighbors). I love the Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls and Mozart with equal passion for different reasons and I generally look for the good in people. I have a loud belly laugh and I have always cried easily. I’m special because if you tell me a secret, I will hold it. I get to spend time with amazing people in extraordinary places around the globe. As much as I have a warm, open heart, I don’t take a lot of shit. It’s a spicy, special mix of Colorado meets New York by way of Connecticut.

So yes, as a matter of fact, I am special.

I take a deep breath, and smile at my companion, who I now suspect is not having the best night. I walk towards Annie. I can see she is already a little exhausted. I know that she is essentially deeply introverted. She really doesn’t like travel; people tire her, and she loves to be home. I’m aware that she’d just interacted with several hundred adoring fans and now she has to get up in front of a room and be charming and acerbic. This is not the moment for me to try to walk her down a memory lane of our time together at the Kenai Writer’s Conference. I get on line anyway, because basically I love her so. I’m the last person standing there. I crouch down to her, say hi, she says hi, she signs my book, I say thanks, Annie, you rock and walk away.

Returning to my seat, my companion says, well, did she remember you? I say, Nope, I’m quite sure she didn’t. I wondered if my friend would now say, nanny nanny boo boo, see? I told you. You’re not special.

Thankfully, she did not go down that road.

I however, went down the road of utter clarity, knowing that I no longer have enough time left to spend with people like this. I just don’t. None of us do.

That night Annie gave a literary talk that frankly, was more like a giant AA meeting. She was witty, raw and funny as hell. As always. I’m pretty sure her scarf got all kinds of crooked on her shoulders. Annie has a way of bringing out wrinkles and thighs and the occasional binging of M&Ms into the broad daylight and saying, you too? Uh huh. Me too.


Here’s the thing.

The next time someone intimates to you that you are just not all that—you know what I mean—the side eye, the eyebrow lift, the underlying stink-message of ‘you really aren’t anything special at all’ wafting in the air, please. For the love of all that’s holy and good. Take a pause.

Take a deep breath. Take another one. Remind yourself just how unique and special you are, just for being you. Sometimes it helps to walk away from the situation, re-set, and then respond, rather than react. Or sometimes it’s best just to know what you now know.

We are each so unique and special that there is NO ONE- NO BODY—on the planet of 7.8 billion souls that is just like you.

I for one think that yes, that does makes you special.


You think you’re special?

I hope so.


Here, Olive considers how special she is.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page