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