Find­ing the right words

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Tapbooks - MEL­LIE T. WIL­LIAMS Sharon Pe­ters Spe­cial to USA To­day

There’s noth­ing wrong with a sim­ple, un­apolo­getic “No.”

And some­times a no-ex­cuses, un­em­bel­lished “I was wrong” is the most im­por­tant state­ment you can make.

That’s what Kelly Cor­ri­gan now be­lieves, hav­ing botched plenty of con­ver­sa­tions with fam­ily mem­bers, dy­ing loved ones, peo­ple who are per­pet­u­ally de­mand­ing and vir­tual strangers.

In “Tell Me More: Sto­ries About the 12 Hard­est Things I’m Learn­ing to Say” (Ran­dom House), she shares the sim­ple phrases — a full dozen of them — that she says are more ef­fec­tive than the of­ten con­vo­luted and gen­er­ally un­help­ful re­sponses she once rou­tinely of­fered.

They’re phrases we might all do well to live by. But Cor­ri­gan, thank­fully, doesn’t pre­sume to guide or di­rect us in a 10-steps-to-Nir­vana way. She merely presents funny, touch­ing vi­gnettes from her own life that even­tu­ally prompted her to think she should re­spond dif­fer­ently to var­i­ous chal­lenges, prob­lems, re­quests and cir­cum­stances.

For ex­am­ple, some­times it’s best to rec­og­nize we’re not ex­pected to fix some­thing or blather end­lessly when some­one asks why some­thing crummy hap­pened. There’s beauty in just say­ing, “I don’t know.” And some­times the very best state­ment to make is no state­ment at all: ut­ter si­lence al­lows a con­nec­tion with some­one, when words would al­ter the mood and the mo­ment.

The power of “Tell Me More” is that Cor­ri­gan is an ex­cel­lent writer who knows how to tell a great story while adeptly weav­ing in con­ver­sa­tional ap­proaches that she, and most of us, never fully em­braced or maybe lost track of over the years.

That she is clearly a reg­u­lar per­son — cop­ing with moody teenage girls, an am­bi­tion level that waxes and wanes de­pend­ing on who’s there to wit­ness it and how much al­co­hol she has con­sumed — sweet­ens her re­late-abil­ity. That she is so can­didly aware of her own short­com­ings — “In the time it takes to get the mail, I can slide from san­guine and full of pur­pose to (an­noyed) and fum­ing,” she writes, and “… some­times I am seized by an over­pow­er­ing (and pa­thetic) need to make my chil­dren like me” — makes the jour­ney of dis­cov­ery with her great fun.

She ac­knowl­edges a run-amok body shape that stuns her when she looks in the mir­ror, and full-blown rage when some­one in the fam­ily ne­glects to flush the toi­let. She has a hus­band who helps her paint her gray roots with dye from a box, she for­gets ev­ery pass­word she has ever cre­ated, and she’s driv­ing on an ex­pired driver’s li­cense be­cause she can’t face the lines at DMV.

Two deaths, those of her beloved father and a very close friend, caused her to go in­side her­self, to think and re­think how she’s ap­proach­ing life and cop­ing. And this book is the re­sult.

She be­labors no point. She does not prom­ise a ten­sion-free life or in­com­pa­ra­ble hap­pi­ness. She merely presents these lit­tle in­sights as ones she her­self is ma­neu­ver­ing through. Deftly, sub­tly she causes us to learn from her learn­ing, and to iden­tify which of these ap­proaches might ben­e­fit our own lives.

Kelly Cor­ri­gan.

RAN­DOM HOUSE

Tell Me More: Sto­ries About the 12 Hard­est Things I’m Learn­ing to Say. By Kelly Cor­ri­gan. Ran­dom House.

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