This morning, as I was waking up next to Bill, I looked at my Facebook memories and came across today’s featured photo. It came from a page called A Debt Paid In Ink: The Writing Of Clyde Hurlston. I liked the quote, which comes from novelist Anne Lamott. I don’t know anything about Anne Lamott. Like most people on social media, I didn’t take the time to explore her history when I saw her quote. I don’t know the context of why or how she came up with that thought. All I know is that it really resonates with me.
A very quick look at Anne Lamott’s work on Google tells me that the quote probably came as a way of encouraging fledgling writers. I see from this link that in 2019, she did a TED Talk called “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing”. I’m reading it now, and I would encourage you to read it, too, if you have the time and inclination. Anne Lamott is a very wise person. Today’s quote sort of comes from her list of twelve things she’s learned, but the other eleven things she learned are just as important and insightful, and they’re worth sharing. So I hope you will take a moment to consider the rest of Anne Lamott’s list.
Today, though, I would like to focus on that one thing in the featured photo…
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
This particular quote doesn’t appear verbatim in Anne Lamott’s list. She writes “…the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better…”
If you’re one of my regular readers, you might know that I’ve pissed off a few people by writing about them in my blog. The most recent incident happened in May, when I vented about a relative by marriage who kept giving me false compliments about my looks. I had shared a post on Facebook that included a photo of an overweight woman. This person who was on my friends list thought it was me, and said I looked “great”. I got annoyed, because the person had completely missed the point of my post. Then, when I pointed out that I wasn’t the woman in the photo, instead of an apology, I got an “oops” and an emoji giggle. That reaction struck me as disrespectful and kind of demeaning.
My choices in that scenario were to: call out the offender on my Facebook page, possibly starting a shitshow for all of my “friends” to see. Swallow the embarrassment and disappointment and suffer in silence (or vent privately to Bill or other people). Process my feelings in a blog post from which other people might get something useful. I chose to write the blog post. I think it got a total of nine hits. One of those hits came from the “offender”, who was so upset about it that they hit the block button. I guess things might be awkward at the next family gathering, if we’re both there.
I suppose I could have sent a private message to my former friend, but I didn’t feel like that would have been productive. Given their reaction to my blog post, I can see that they weren’t really a friend, after all, and never really cared about me. A person who cared would have wanted to have a conversation to preserve the friendship, especially over something as ultimately trivial as that situation was.
Moreover, I don’t think I started the conflict. I shared a post that resonated with me, and my former friend didn’t read it carefully and responded inappropriately. I was legitimately offended, both by their initial response, and their discounting response when I pointed out their mistake. Maybe some people might think I shouldn’t be offended by something like that… but I was. My way of processing the offense was to write about it. Their way of processing my writing was to banish me from their life. To quote the great Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.”
Anyway… not to rehash that business. It was just one example of my using things that happened to me to generate content. I write every day. It’s possible to write every day, because something happens every day. Sometimes, the things that happen are mundane. Sometimes, they’re not. I think that was mostly Anne Lamott’s point, that you can find content in everything that happens to you. And if someone inspires a less than flattering account, that’s not necessarily your fault.
Not everyone is a writer, though. Some people process things that happen to them by engaging in another form of creativity, like painting, composing music, dancing, or singing a song. Some people do something athletic. They go for a run, play basketball, or hit the slopes. Some people read a book, watch television, talk to friends and family, or get drunk or high. There’s an endless list of ways people can process things that happen to them, whether those things are good or bad.
For me, personally, writing works very well. In fact, those of you who have known me awhile, might remember that a few years ago, I was having a terrible drama involving our former landlady, who, from my perspective, was treating us very badly. Complicating matters is the fact that I blog, and the landlady’s former tenant was following me and, apparently, sharing my blog with the former landlady and her daughter. Former tenant would, on occasion, ask me to change things I’d written in my blog. One time, I mused about how she and her husband had left the rental house halfway through their three year Germany stint. I wondered if they left because former landlady had been abusive to them, too. It was maybe two sentences in a pretty long post, but those two sentences really upset former tenant, and she told me so. So I edited for her, but I became pretty suspicious, and I started making plans for what we’d do after we moved out of that hovel. And I realized, then, that the former tenant was a liar. I don’t know why she was so concerned about being friends with the landlady, or why her friendship with the landlady had anything to do with me. It’s all moot now, anyway, as the former tenant exited life last year on her own terms.
Sure enough, though, ex landlady tried very hard to steal our deposit. She was quite shameless about it, and flagrantly broke several laws. We sued her, and she ended up settling the case. She had to repay most of our deposit, and she was responsible for paying court fees and lawyer costs (although she tried to get us to pay for our own lawyer). It ended up being a very expensive lesson for all of us, but especially her. One of the main reasons why we were so successful, though, was because I blogged most every day, and I had comments from the former tenant that she’d forgotten to delete (she had a habit of “dirty deleting” things). I also had a lot of photos. A couple of the photos were pretty damning, and the ex landlady must have realized that if we went to court, she would definitely lose. She had accused us of stealing from her, and we had proof that hadn’t happened. So, in that case, writing my story was a very positive thing.
For me, writing is a way of preserving history… and making sense of the crazy. I write about Ex a lot, because she has a way of revising history and promoting false narratives. She gaslights. When I document things she says and does, I provide evidence against the lies she spreads. And sometimes, that evidence comes in handy.
I was curious about other people’s reactions to the post shared on Clyde Hurlston’s page. Quite a few people posted negative reactions to Anne Lamott’s quote. Below are a few examples of what people wrote in the comments:
“Folks generally have a different perspective on events. Maybe you think they wronged you and maybe they think you wronged them. If you don’t want to talk it out like adults, just walk away. What would be the point of spreading just your version of the truth about another. Plus we all have our bad days & are far from perfect.“
There’s some truth in what this person wrote. However, there’s nothing to prevent the other person from writing about their perspective. Maybe it would even be helpful in resolving the conflict. I find that writing helps me clarify things. But I know, not everyone writes. Besides, not everyone is capable of just “walking away” from conflicts. Sometimes, it’s crucial NOT to walk away. In the case of our ex landlady, it felt like a duty to sue her, because we got the sense that she had treated other tenants in the same despicable and abusive way she treated us. And Bill and I have both been doormats for other people way too many times.
A lot of people seem to be projecting their own bitterness or frustrations onto the OP. I took it as an encouragement to actually writers for including their personal experiences in their work. For some people writing is the way they work through things. Or life experience inspires their stories. I did not take it as an encouragement to just go around telling anybody and everybody about every time anyone has ever looked at you wrong. That’s silly. We all have a limited perspective and we have all harmed others.
I like what this person wrote. This is kind of my take, too. Writing helps me maintain my mental health. Yes, I could keep what I write private, and sometimes I do that. But keeping things private means that I don’t get the opportunity to learn from other perspectives by discussing things with impartial people. Sometimes, the things I write are helpful to others who can relate, or are in a similar situation.
Forgiveness is a thing too. Forgiveness doesn’t absolve the person who hurt you from their actions. Forgiveness sets you free from hate, and allows you to be even stronger than before! Try forgiveness…When you live in the past, you stagnate.
You can forgive someone and still write about what happened. The two actions are mutually exclusive. The writing doesn’t have to be angry or bitter. It can be matter-of-fact, or funny, or even spun in a positive way. Like, for instance, my recent post about how ditching my sister at our parents’ house gave me the strength not to stand for Ex’s bullshit the following year, when she tried to force me to spend Christmas with her. At the time we ditched my sister, it was a very negative event. Years later, I realized doing that was a building block for dealing with Ex and the former landlady. And those experiences will be building blocks for dealing with other people who try to bully and exploit us for their own gain.
Lol you mean “you own everything that didnt happen to you. Tell your lies. “So many people are either complete drama queens adding in lies to make the story sound better or more in their favor, or complete compulsive liars. Our society has very few truths anymore. Its all rewritten history and fabrications. The truthsayers are shit on and are treated poorly.
Well, this person just sounds like an empathy challenged asshole. Glad I don’t know her.
I lost a job over this – how dare I *speak* about how I was being treated by coworkers. I have a lot of emotions over it and keep going between what could I have done differently and they were gaslighting bullies and I’m better off. Definitely sucks.
Sounds like a toxic workplace, anyway. You deserve better. Get away from the gaslighting bullies and find somewhere healthier to work. And write your story, if you want to. It’s your right.
Some things are better left unsaid. Memories are past experiences. Don’t manifest the negative ones into your present life. Instead, move on to allow for wholesome positive experiences.
You can move on and still write your story. The most important thing is to learn and grow from your experiences. And sharing the experiences can help other people grow and learn, too, as long as you’re being constructive.
There was one more comment from someone who responded to a person who agreed with Anne Lamott’s quote. The person– who appeared to be a male Hispanic– wrote a very discounting comment that I can’t find at the moment. But the gist of what he wrote was, “That sounds ‘bitter as fuck’.” He implied that the woman he was responding to was wrong for reacting to a slight by writing about it. He seemed to be promoting “toxic positivity” by encouraging the person he was responding to to not be “bitter” and just turn the other cheek.
The Hispanic guy’s comment is what inspired today’s post title. That is– sometimes being bitter is better than “keeping sweet”. In our culture, we are often pressured to keep quiet when someone does us wrong. We are encouraged to accept bad behavior and disrespectful treatment, let bygones be bygones, and forgive and forget. Sometimes, that’s not bad advice, as some things are not worth causing a fuss over. But… when it happens repeatedly, and the behavior never changes, there’s a problem. Speaking up about abuse or bad behavior isn’t wrong, as long as it’s done honestly and constructively.
“Keeping sweet”, as a lot of people– especially women– are encouraged to do, can be very harmful. It can keep people trapped in bad situations. Owning and writing one’s story can be healthy and liberating. Besides, everyone has the ability to share their own stories. So, if someone has shared a story that from their perspective that misses the mark, there is nothing to prevent the other side from being shared. As long as people are basically honest and not trying to destroy others with their tales, it shouldn’t be wrong to write them. Of course, it’s probably wisest to obscure the details, to protect the innocent… or the guilty.