Tell Me More - Kate Bowler

Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan

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Tell Me More

with Kelly Corrigan

When bestselling author Kelly Corrigan experienced the death of her dad and dear friend back-to-back, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t living as gratefully as she wanted to. She reflects on her love and loss through ordinary moments and everyday sayings. Together, Kate and Kelly explore the phrases we cling to in order to find deeper connection and meaning during difficult times.

Kate Bowler

Kelly Corrigan

Kelly Corrigan has written four New York Times bestselling memoirs in the last decade, earning her the title of “The Poet Laureate of the ordinary” from the Huffington Post and the “voice of a generation” from O Magazine. She is the host of the podcast Kelly Corrigan Wonders, a Public Radio series, originating from WHYY in Philadelphia, that ponders “the big questions”. Kelly is curious and funny and eager to go well past the superficial in every conversation.

Show Notes

Click here for discussion questions for this podcast episode.

To learn more about Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Things I’m Learning to Say, click here.

Kelly mentions the Potted Plant Theory of Parenting. Read more on this here.

To learn more about Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate Bowler, click here.

Follow Kelly on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Follow Kate on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

The voice memos at the end of the episode are from listeners like you! A huge thank you to Mahra (the song she sings is from “When I Drink” by The Avett Brothers), Riham, and Cheryl who shared their family mottos with us.



Kate Bowler:                I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. What do we do when the labels we’re given aren’t necessarily the ones we choose for ourselves? Labels like chronic illness, or caregiver, or widow, or mom of a kid with special needs. What do you do when life doesn’t fit into neat categories?

My life doesn’t exactly fit into neat categories anymore. I was healthy, and then I was sick, and now I’m feeling pretty good, and even though the language around immunotherapy isn’t perfect, I can happily say that I am in remission. But I asked the doctor what the right term for me might be, and he said ‘Survivor-in-progress’, which was super annoying.

So, today’s conversation is about developing language to move us forward when life is well, chronic. Today, I’m speaking with New York Times bestselling author, Kelly Corrigan. She has been called the voice of her generation and the poet laureate of the ordinary, and she is the most perfect person to talk to to kick us off because her lovely new book is called Tell Me More, and ‘Tell me more’ is one of those phrases she uses, phrases that she writes about that help guide her through relationships, and parenting, and grief.

Today, I get a chance to talk to Kelly about some of her very best phrases. Phrases like ‘I don’t know’, ‘I was wrong’, and one of my favorites, ‘It’s like this’. It’s going to be great. Kelly has also agreed to be my friend as part of her contractual commitment to this podcast. So Kelly, welcome.

Kelly Corrigan:              Hey, thanks for having me.

Kate Bowler:                Well, your book has such a wonderful collection of phrases around essays, stuff like “Tell me more”, and you write about incredible things people can say when they’re figuring out the road ahead. You wrote this book in a season of incredible loss. I’m sorry to ask about the hard part, but would you mind telling me what happened?

Kelly Corrigan:              So, my dad died in February, and then my friend Liz, who’s the mother of three kids, 8, 10, and 12 at the time, died that December. She had ovarian cancer, so she had fought it for seven years, and it was the kind of thing where I felt like I urgently wanted to deserve my life. You know, like it wasn’t me.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              I didn’t die. I mean so far, knock on wood, I’m getting to see my kids be much, much older than she got to see her kids be.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And I’m getting to walk with them way longer on their road, and I felt this sense that I could never possibly deserve that, that I’m not that great a person, or a mom. Like, I’m just an ordinary person, and I make all the mistakes that everybody else makes and maybe even 10% more, and then there she was, and what she would have done for the life that I was kind of rushing through, multitasking my way through day, after day, and you know, sort of feeling snappish, and then catching myself, and feeling like I should be different. For what I’ve just seen in the last six months, I should be different. I should not be mad about this.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And I should not lose my mind over a shirt I bought on final sale section that didn’t fit even though I tried to pull it over myself, and then it got stuck on me, and I had to cut it off with scissors. I had to make it into a vest to remove it from my body with the tag still on it, you know?

So, I just really went bananas, because on top of the shirt problem, I went downstairs to clean the kitchen, and I found everybody’s bowls, and spoons, and cups, and I had that reaction that so many women have, which is, ‘Well I guess I’m the least busy. I guess everybody here, these children of mine and my husband, are just too damn busy to get on this, but I’m not, so I’ll do it’, and then I was finishing, and I found a little pile of cut toenails on my kitchen table, and that…

Kate Bowler:                Yeah, the indignity. Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              Thanks. That’s the word. And then right on the heels of that, I think, ‘What would Liz do for this?’. She’d do anything. She’d do dishes all day and into the night to just get to listen to her children, just to get to watch them through a one-way glass, you know? So, that’s just the question in front of all of us.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And how do we earn it?

Kate Bowler:                Wow, and that’s a big word. I think ‘earn’ is such a good word, because you’re talking about such a complicated math. I mean, I remember thinking, when I wasn’t sure, when I was in an especially tough moment of illness, every time I would look at Zach’s nails I would think, ‘Is this what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been here to do this? Is this how you would have cared for my son?’, and you end up fixating on all of these tiny little things, and at the same time, so overwhelmed by not being sure if it’s trivial or tragic.

Kelly Corrigan:              Well you know, sometimes the trivial is tragic. My mom called me maybe three months after my dad died. She lives in Philly and I live in California. And she said, ‘Kelly, I’m going to try to do the Uber to this wedding, and I was wondering if you can request a woman’, and I said, ‘No you can’t, but you can trust it. Don’t worry’, and she said, ‘Well, my problem is I can’t zip my dress by myself, so I thought if it was a woman, I could ask her to come in, and zip my dress’, and I thought, ‘That’s the tiny moments that are so gut-wrenching for a new widow’.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              She can’t wear half her clothes because she can’t zip them by herself.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah. Who’s going to do this?

Kelly Corrigan:              So, she had to call someone and ask them to come over and zip her dress so she could go to the wedding.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              I mean, that’s where it is. That’s where it’s at. That’s where relationship lives is in these tiny moments, and whether you are cognizant of that and tuned into that channel all the time, or not, that is the story of a relationship. It’s these seemingly trivial moments.

Kelly Corrigan:              There’s a thing I’m aware of about eye contact between spouses, and you either make it, or you don’t, and once you’re aware that that’s deeply meaningful, and that it has this kind of almost immeasurable, physiological effect on the other person, then you make an effort to look them in the eye, and that seems like such a small thing, but it’s actually definitional in terms of your relationship, in terms of whether it’s a good day, or a bad day, or a good interaction, or a bad interaction. We’re just a series of days and interactions. It’s all this cumulative effect of a thousand minuscule moments.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah. Yeah. That sounds really right to me. I mean, that was my big experience of your book. You’re giving these beautiful phrases, and each of them feels like a kind of roadmap, and you start with one that really resonated deeply with me. You start with, ‘It’s like this.’

Kelly Corrigan:              So, my husband worked at a startup in San Francisco, which is called Medium, and it’s a writing platform, and as a writer, I was welcome to come, and use their office space, and it’s everything you think a San Francisco startup is. There’s meatless Mondays, and there’s a kombucha bar, and there’s nap pods.

Kelly Corrigan:              So, I used to go in there and write, and they have a meditation teacher twice a day at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, and at first I was sort of sheepish about availing myself of every single employee benefit, but sure enough, eventually I found myself sitting in there, and this guy was kind of amazing. He’s just one of those people that you think, ‘God, if I could get five minutes with him, I’d just tell him my biggest problem, and he’d just say something in seven words that would solve everything.’

Kelly Corrigan:              So, eventually I went up to him, and I said, ‘I’m caught between these two worlds, this world where I’m full of clarity and insight and gratitude, and I’m seeing all the big colors of the world. I’m hearing all the music, I’m totally tuned in to the right channel, and then just like that, I slip into those mundane irritants.’

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              ‘And then I catch myself, and then I feel this sense of shame’, and he said, ‘It’s like this’. I mean, maybe I was projecting, maybe whatever he said in that moment, maybe if he had said ‘peanut butter, and jelly’, we’d be talking about peanut butter and jelly, but it totally resonated for me in the way that a song lyric does where you’re like, ‘I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m going to write that down, and put it in my wallet’, and it’s interesting. I’ll read you a little bit from the very end of that chapter because the thing that he was saying I think is, ‘This is how it goes.’

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              So, I say at the end of this chapter, ‘Shouldn’t loss change a person for the better? Forever? Maybe Will’s curious phrase, “It’s like this,” applies here too. This forgetting, this slide into smallness, this irritability in shame, this disorienting grief… It’s like this. Minds don’t rest. They reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider, because it’s like this, having a mind.

Kelly Corrigan:              Hearts don’t idle. They swell, and constrict, and break, and forgive, and behold, because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last. They thrill, and confound, and circle, and overflow, and disappear, because it’s like this, having a life.’

Kate Bowler:                Oh friend. When I read that, I just kept thinking of how scared I’ve been about what I call being a zombie. The idea that we just sort of wander around, consume things until we die, like we’re just a series of small appetites without any deep, rich, meaningful, satisfying connection. And you know, it was so weird, but dying was the easier part of it.

Kate Bowler:                Getting back to life has been really tricky. So, I really appreciated the way that you framed the bigness and the smallness of it, because it has to be both. You can’t only experience deep gratitude at the toenails that you seriously wish someone else would have cut, because seriously, who’s doing this around here?

Kelly Corrigan:              Yeah, and there’s forgiveness and acceptance kind of intertwined there that you know, you’re going to forget. You’re going to slide around, you know, you’re going to deserve your life a little more some days than others. It doesn’t end, and also you can’t live there. You can’t live in that.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              I mean, unless you’re a monk, and you’re meditating for 60 days in a mountain somewhere.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              You can’t be in the world, and get through your to-do list, and also sit in endless, rich gratitude.

Kate Bowler:                Well I think part of it, and this gets to another phrase that you write about which is ‘I don’t know’, but you and I, it sounds like, have given up on certainties as a way to cope with that, both having been through cancer, and also I think both realizing that people really don’t like it when you say, ‘I don’t know.’

Kelly Corrigan:              They hate it. They hate it.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah. I think people think that if you have a diagnosis, or something’s happened to you that you should know because you’re proof of it. Like the other day when I was being wheeled into a procedure, the nurse looked at my chart, and then casually said, ‘Colon cancer. I mean, people are getting colon cancer at your age all the time. It’s probably ’cause of something you’ve been eating’. I go, ‘Oh, thank you for that bit of suggestion.’

Kate Bowler:                I do think people offer certainties when they think that you’re proof of something that scares them, and they can’t just live in the uncertainty of not knowing for a minute.

Kelly Corrigan:              Yeah. I’m so compassionate to that thing that happens every time you tell someone that you had cancer, which is the other person trying to figure out why it’s not going to happen to them as fast as possible. And I’ve talked to a couple of my girlfriends who’ve gotten divorced, and they say the exact same thing happens to them.

Kate Bowler:                Seriously?

Kelly Corrigan:              Where you can feel the person kind of asking around, snooping just enough, and it’s not for your sake. It’s so that they can identify some critical difference between you and them that makes them feel like they can exhale again.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              Like, ‘Oh, well we still have sex, so we’re definitely not going to get a divorce’, or you know, ‘Oh my husband doesn’t travel, so then we’re definitely not gonna get a divorce’, or you know, ‘I never smoked cigarettes, so I’m definitely not going to get breast cancer’. They’re poking for that critical difference to hold on to, and I wanna hug ’em, and say, ‘I know. I’m so sorry you’re not going to like any of my answers. I don’t have the genetic predisposition. It’s not in my family. It’s completely random. In other words, it could happen to you tomorrow.’

Kate Bowler:                Totally.

Kelly Corrigan:              That’s not a headline anybody wants to read.

Kate Bowler:                There’s this other phrase, ‘I was wrong’, that has real power, and you learned that in a really intense way when your grandma died. I was wondering if you could tell me about that.

Kelly Corrigan:              Ah, it was so terrible. So, it’s funny that that phrase really begat the whole book in a way, because I had been feeling this shame about not really earning my days here, and then Ed and I were at dinner, and we were talking about the difference between saying ‘I’m sorry’, and saying ‘I was wrong’, and I was saying, ‘God, it’s so much more powerful though in the humility in saying “I was wrong.”

Kelly Corrigan:              It’s like a game changer. It just ends the tension because what you’re saying is, ‘I see it how you see it, and I agree with you. I was wrong’, and that is very soothing, but then that took me back to this moment where I had gone to work for United Way after college, because I was going to save the world, and I was this total do-gooder.

Kelly Corrigan:              I was perhaps proud about it honestly, and I was reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at night with my big fat yellow highlighter, and I was really full of attachment to this identity that I had painted for myself. I was also living only maybe 10 miles from my very old grandma who lived alone, and I kept kind of meaning to go visit her, but it’s a lot easier to show up at work every day at the United Way, and get kind of righteous about all the people who work for money versus the rest of us who are working for the greater good, than it is to go to your grandma’s smelly, weird apartment, and have weird conversations with an 88-year old, you know?

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And so I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t engage with her. I didn’t make her final days one bit better, and I lived there for two years. I went to see her one time.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And then she died, and my dad called, and my dad had nothing but positive things to say to me my entire life, and he said, ‘You should have gone to see your grandmother more. She died this morning’, and I was just sick to my stomach. I went into this tiny bathroom in Baltimore in our office building, and just cried my eyes out, and it wasn’t even because she died. It was because I had been selfish, and my dad caught me.

Kelly Corrigan:              You know, that I had lost his favor for a moment, and I was just so ashamed. Then I wanted to get right with him, and urgently. I was in a big, big rush to get in front of him, and say my apology, and be returned to a state of grace, but the fact is that his mom died.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And it wasn’t my turn for his attention. He had things to do for days, and days, and days, and eulogies to write, and people to hug, and people to thank, and accounts to close, and cars to sell, and he had work to do, both emotional and just literally logistics.

Kelly Corrigan:              So, I had to wait, and then finally we had a window, and I said, ‘I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong not to go visit her. I was wrong not to try to know her’, and I could just see it in his face that it was like, ‘Okay, you understand. You understand what you did wrong.’

Kelly Corrigan:              So to me, that felt very different than saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t go see your mom.’ That’s not the same as saying ‘I was wrong not to try to know her. I was wrong not to try to ease her days in some way.’

Kate Bowler:                Yeah. Yeah. You know, I honestly think I only say ‘I’m sorry’, and not, ‘I was wrong.’ I think I might try it.

Kelly Corrigan:              Well, chop-chop kid.

Kate Bowler:                I don’t think I’ll like it, but I will think of you when I do it. You also realized there was incredible parenting magic in the phrase, ‘Tell me more.’ So, what is this witchcraft you speak of?

Kelly Corrigan:              I’m telling you what, man, you can not believe how much I use this, and you can not believe how still it is not my natural instinct. It’s a very learned thing that I have to insert the words into my mouth, and push them out deliberately, because my instinct is to solve.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              My instinct is to fix, ’cause I feel I’m almost sure I can.

Kate Bowler:                Oh, totally.

Kelly Corrigan:              Like, almost every time I’m sure that if you just let me take over, I can make this problem go away.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah, I believe you.

Kelly Corrigan:              And that’s the truth. That’s like total vanity but, especially with the kids, I definitely think, Edward and I both think, “If you let us run this out for you, we’ll get it done like one, two, three,” and that’s so humiliating, and degrading, and just the opposite of self-esteem building, which is sort of like the ground we walk on as adults.

Kelly Corrigan:              The magic of ‘Tell me more’ is you start telling me what you’re upset about, and I fall for the first thing you say, and I start solving for that. But the fact is if I said, ‘Tell me more, go on, what else’, you’d say the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and it would be like the thing behind the thing, behind the thing is where really the pain is, and if I had waited way longer, I would’ve been able to say, ‘Oh, I understand.’

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              ‘You’re feeling like ABC, not DEF.’ So that’s the beauty of it. You might actually give somebody a chance to discover what’s really bothering them, and in that discovery they might find their own solution, but the fact is that if you can bite your stupid tongue, and get over yourself, and just keep eliciting their whole story, then the next thing you know, their mood is changing, and they’re feeling more solution-oriented, and then they get the buzz of solving the problem.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              But you know, if I’m jumping in with my fancy solution two and a half minutes in, I just cut you off, and then we leave each other, and I have this little high like, ‘Ah, I just really helped her’, and she walks away thinking, ‘She didn’t hear anything I said. She totally doesn’t get it.’ We’re jumping in way too soon and talking way too much. I think we should be talking about five percent of the time.

Kate Bowler:                You and I are super chatty people, but you make an amazing pitch for silence, and I am all for it, because everyone always had these go-to things to say with me like, ‘You can do it’, or ‘You’re so brave’, and all the things that made me feel like I was on the other side of plexiglass. So, I was wondering, would you mind reading that beautiful passage you wrote about after Liz died? You wrote about the end of words.

Kelly Corrigan:              So, this was about all of these people calling me to say, ‘I heard your friend died. I heard your friend died’, and I just couldn’t bear to call them back. ‘Surely, my friend, my lost and lovely friend, called for new words. For awhile, I’d say she’d been robbed, or ripped off. After the potency of the crime metaphor wore off, I turned to the vocabulary of religion. It’s a sin, it’s hell. Then the ocean with it’s waves so vast, impossible to touch bottom, then a maze, then a mountain, then seasons, a natural disaster.

Kelly Corrigan:              I never came up with any combination that came close to the feeling. Despair defies description. Ask the dancers, and the athletes, the painters, and musicians. Ask anyone who has participated in a moment of silence. The reach of language can be laughable.’

Kate Bowler:                You put in a strong argument, if I may say it like that, for just being close to one another.

Kelly Corrigan:              Have you ever heard that potted plant theory?

Kate Bowler:                No.

Kelly Corrigan:              My friend Andy Lotts, who is Liz’s husband, told me about it, cause he’s a mom now, and so we talk mom talk. And the potted plant theory, I can’t credit it to someone, I’m sorry, I don’t know who put it out there, but the idea is that if you were to have a plant in your kitchen, you might not be aware of it at all, and then if someone were to remove it, you’d say ‘What happened to that plant?’

Kate Bowler:                Yeah.

Kelly Corrigan:              And he said, ‘That’s a way to be a parent,’ which is to say to be there, to be available, to be within view, but not necessarily inserting yourself, because even though as your kids get older and older, it feels like they’re looking for you less and less, it is sort of a comfort to glance over, and see you there, and feel you there, and they would most certainly notice if you weren’t.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah. You say something that’s so weird ’cause I say it all the time, so when I read it I thought, ‘Did you reach inside my brain?’ You adopted the phrase, ‘Onward’ as a bit of a motto. I absolutely love that phrase. I even use it at the end of lectures like, ‘Hey, this is the end of the 19th century. Onwards’, but you use it so beautifully when you’re talking about Liz’s family and how they are now.

Kelly Corrigan:              Well you know, it’s so funny. It was the very last thing that I wrote, and you may be able to relate to this, there’s always one part of a book that writes itself, at least for me, where it’s like, I guess I’ve been thinking about this long enough, I guess I’ve been living this long enough that it’s all kind of been subconsciously forming, and now I’m just about taking dictation here, and that’s the way that was.

Kelly Corrigan:              I sat at my dining room table, which is place I never write, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, of course I know exactly what this is. This is me writing a letter to Liz’, and I wrote the whole thing, and I cried my eyes out the whole time I was writing it, and wiping my nose, and blowing my nose, and sitting back down, and Edward’s like, ‘You all right?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m all right. This is the way this has to be’, and it’s right there. It just came out whole, and of course, to me it’s the most important and moving chapter in the book for sure.

Kate Bowler:                Well, the quote that really resonated with me is when you said, ‘They are moving onward, not away from you, but with you. You are everywhere they are.’

Kelly Corrigan:              I really believe that, even though I’m skeptical, and I’m mad at people who say, ‘Her spirit’s still here’, and stuff. I’m like, ‘Yeah, right. Okay, but I’m just telling you those kids are waking up every day without her, and they’re going to keep being without her forever. She’s not going to their wedding, she’s not going to pick out wedding dresses with them. She’s not going to hold their babies.’

Kelly Corrigan:              So, I get it, but I spend a lot of time with them, and I’m madly in love with them, really, really have this deep, incredible connection with them that I just value so much, and they are in her, and you know, they’re everything that was so important to her. She was really, really into manners, and as kind of an act of gratitude, not in an uptight, British way, but as a ‘Look at us eating a meal together’, like, ‘Nobody should eat before the last person gets down. We should thank the chef. We should hold hands for a moment’, as a way of marking the glory of a family dinner, and they do that.

Kelly Corrigan:              They’re never going to not do that, and that’s how they’re going to raise their kids, and that means she’s still here. I mean, that means she’s with them.

Kate Bowler:                Yeah, yeah, yeah. That kind of belonging is transcendent, and you just feel it pop up in these little moments. I think part of why your book is so moving is the way that these sayings crystallize these really big truths about who we are, and also how we should love each other. It kind of reminded me though, when I was little, my family used to have these mottos, but the mottos were stuff like, ‘Don’t get crumbs on the baby’, or ‘Be nice to mom’. I think that’s ’cause we were always sort of fighting nearby.

Kelly Corrigan:              ‘Don’t get crumbs on the baby.’ There’s a title. I mean, I don’t know why you went with, ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’, because ‘Don’t get crumbs on the baby’, that could be the follow up. I don’t know.

Kate Bowler:                Well, the one that we sort of settled on most was, ‘Don’t let the turkeys get you down’, cause we were all deeply unpopular children, but it did make me think about mottos, and how it sort of defines the season that we live in. So, I kind of wondered if there was a motto you’d pick for you for right now, what would it be?

Kelly Corrigan:              One that I’ve always liked is, ‘Things happen when you leave the house.’ I think I like the sense of there’s something out there that you can tap into. You don’t have to bring it all. There’s a whole world out there happening, and you can step into all kinds of things, and you don’t need to know why you’re leaving the house.

Kelly Corrigan:              You don’t always need such a plan, or an agenda, or whatever. Just get in the mix, get in the line of fire. I mean, it’s a little bit like, ‘Just keep saying yes.’ You know, ‘When in doubt, say ‘”Sure, I’ll do that,” just to see what happens next, just to see who you might meet. The idea that any day could be this huge day, I don’t know, that really gets me out of bed, you know? Like, ‘Today could be this day’, well, you know, today I met you, now we’re friends, and who knows what’s going to happen now?

Kelly Corrigan:              Now maybe I’m going to go to Durham, and now maybe I’m going to get my PhD in Divinity. I don’t know, but a whole new world of possibilities exist right now that did not exist an hour and 10 minutes ago, and I think that is so cool, and real, and exciting. So, I think things happen when you leave the house. You could do worse than to live by that one.

Kate Bowler:                Absolutely. I love it that it gives up perfectionism, and it just says, ‘Hey, what’s possible today?’

Kelly Corrigan:              Yeah. Go get mixed up in something. Just see who you can bump into out there.

Kate Bowler:                You are someone who has gotten mixed up in all kinds of things, and I am so glad to know you.

Kelly Corrigan:              I know, me too. I mean, I’m totally coming to see you.

Kate Bowler:                Well, I accept.

Kelly Corrigan:              Yeah. Okay, great.

Kate Bowler:                Thanks so much for doing this. I really appreciate it.

Kelly Corrigan:              Sure, my pleasure.

Kate Bowler:                I guess I’ll see you soon.

Kelly Corrigan:              Yeah. Stay healthy. I’m coming.

Kate Bowler:                Words matter. The words we speak, and the words spoken over us. Even the words left unsaid. One of the hardest things I’ve been wrestling with is not having any clear language for this weird place between sick and healthy, weak and strong. The ambiguity is quite isolating. Sometimes, we’re just lacking a bit of language.

Those ordinary consonants and vowels that, when strung together, offer meaning and points of entry for others. So, maybe when life is chronic, we all need some sayings to anchor us, our very own mottos that guide us through. Maybe you want to borrow one of Kelly’s like, ‘It’s like this’, but you’re totally welcome to borrow my family’s motto: ‘Don’t let the turkeys get you down.’ It’s tried and true. Onward, my dears.

Mahra:                    I’ve been singing these lines from a song by the Avett Brothers to my kids for years, and it goes like this. ‘Just do your best. It’s the only way to keep the last bit of sanity. Maybe I don’t have to be good, but I can try to be least a little better then I’ve been so far.’

Riham:                    Our family motto is ‘Allah Kareem’. We were living in Damascus, Syria, and whenever one of us asked for something Mom and Dad couldn’t afford, Dad would say ‘Allah Kareem.’ In Arabic, ‘Allah’ means God. ‘Kareem’ means generous. So, ‘God is generous’ was my dad’s way of promising us a better future. So, I grew up with this sentence with my father’s voice in my head saying, ‘Allah Kareem’, ‘God is generous.’

Cheryl:                    Our family motto is, ‘Don’t eat a hamster’. We had several hamsters in one cage, and they can be cannibalistic, and one morning a hamster was missing, and another hamster had a suspiciously large tummy. I was so mad that I shook the cage a bit, that hamster eating it’s sibling. Weeks later, the missing hamster crawled out from under the stove. So, ‘Don’t eat a hamster’ is our version of ‘Don’t jump to conclusions.’

Kate Bowler:                Today’s episode is brought to you by our partners, North Carolina Public Radio WUNC, the Lilly Endowment, The Issachar Fund, The John Templeton Foundation, Faith and Leadership: An Online Learning Resource, and Duke Divinity School, and of course, Beverly Abel, Jessica Richie, and Be the Change Revolutions. Make the magic happen.

I need to hear what your motto is. Find me online at @KateCBowler, and I’d love to hear what you think of this episode. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts. I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens.


20 thoughts on “Tell Me More

  1. Kate,
    Thanks so much for your refreshing, poignant, thought-provoking podcast.
    My mantra for the last decade plus has been “show up and be of use”. It’s the title of my memoir-still-in-progress. It’s the motto I live by when my opportunities are too big, and my capacity and capabilities too small. It’s what I said to my grad school colleague when she asked me if I planned to go into academia after we graduated. I said, “No, I just want to go back to Vietnam and do what I was doing. I just want to show up and try to be of use.” Then cancer hit. Ten days before I was scheduled to defend my dissertation, “English Policies, Curricular Reform and Teacher Development in Multilingual, Post-colonial Djibouti”, I got the call. “It’s cancer” –inflammatory breast cancer, with a twenty percent chance of living to five years. Suddenly, just showing up was in question. Now, eleven years post-cancer, I’m still learning to show up and be of use in my life, my marriage, my family and my work “for the display of His splendor”. That’s my other life mantra.

    1. Diana,
      Thank you for this. Your mantra is fantastic and is sounds like it has served you well through the years! It’s remarkable to hear a bit of your story and I’m really grateful that you’ve shared it with us. You surely know about hard times, and I love that you are continuing to show up every day. We have a lot to learn from you.
      Team Everything Happens

  2. I loved this episode! (To be fair, I’ve loved all that I have listened to). Both Kate and Kelly are remarkable women and in tandem they make for great listening. A phrase that I heard at a recent Pecha Kucha talk from a woman who had come through a terrible health crisis was “It’s like this now”. I found that instructive. All moments, days, chapters are transitory and the “good” ones leave us as do the “bad” ones. It is a good reminder for me that I can lean into what it’s like now because change is always a’coming.

    1. Jan,
      This episode was wonderful, wasn’t it? I’m so glad you’ve been plugging in and hope to keep hearing your feedback! “It’s like this now” seems like a helpful way to process change…thanks for offering that up 😊.
      Team Everything Happens

  3. Kate,
    You talk about not having good language for your current state. Nobody who is between identities they can tolerate does, it seems to me — something I’ve actively struggled with and expect to go hand to hand with again, whether tomorrow or the day after.
    I end up saying to my therapy clients, to my friends, and to my daughter both “Change is hard” and the stage-specific version of CIH, “Middles are awful.” Middles are awful: we have to either find language for an ambiguous state or give up on finding it: hard, sweaty work. Simply because”It’s like this” or, my current favorite: “It’s a species behavior.”

    1. Nan,
      You’ve shared some gems with us. I’m grateful for your wisdom in the messy, the uncertain and the in-between. I hope you continue sharing your thoughts and joining in the conversation!
      Team Everything Happens

  4. Hi Kate,
    Our family motto is, “We don’t sell family.” When our dog was a puppy and being housebroken, he kept sneaking around piddling in the corners of rooms. One day I just snapped and threatened to sell the dog. My son was, of course, distraught and felt the dog was a part of the family and worth the trouble. “Mom, we can’t sell family, right?” I looked at this sweet-natured adorable little puppy and acquiesced. “Rocky is family, and we don’t sell family,” I replied. So now if a family member is being difficult or misbehaving, we have established ground rules, “So and so is family and we don’t sell family!”
    Take Care Kate,

    1. Okay. This is an amazing story. I’ll definitely remember this motto and will probably end up using it, if you don’t mind 😊. Thanks for sharing, Diane!
      Team Everything Happens

    1. Mary Anne,
      What a unique family motto! I’d love to hear more about what this means to you. Thanks for sharing.
      Team Everything Happens

  5. This interview is perfection. I love you both so much and was tickled to hear you together. I’ve read Tell Me More twice already. It offers so much grace to us all who are struggling to do better and be better. Thank you for helping me think more deeply about my words; not just the words I speak to others but the words I speak to myself.

    1. Kerri,
      We thought it was pretty great too 😊. I’m so grateful to hear the ways you’re connecting with Kate and Kelly. The things we tell ourselves and each other are so important, aren’t they?
      Team Everything Happens

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed your podcast and listening to you both. In fact I’m in the middle of reading both of your books right now. So much of what you both say resonates for me. I’m so thankful I could be a ‘fly on the wall’ and listen in on your conversation.

    1. Claire,
      We are so glad that you joined us for this conversation and found it enjoyable. Hopefully you’ve continued to connect with Kate and Kelly’s books. We look forward to having you join in on future conversations!
      Team Everything Happens

  7. Kate, I love that you’re human- that you cry as easily as I do and that you say you’re “not normal” as often as I do (me about myself of course!). I’m not sure where the bar is set at in normalcy though. I’m a questioning Christian (if there is such a thing) since I doubt you’d ever see the Son of God appear in any of the beautiful Catholic or mega churches that apparently represent Him. I love your book and your honesty as I keep questioning everything. I do need to be reminded of this often … “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.
    Dalai Lama XIV”

    1. Cheryl,
      It’s really wonderful to learn more about you and hear the ways you’ve connected with Kate and the book. Thank you for adding to the number of not-normal, cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat people in the world. I think we make life a little more interesting!
      P.S. I’d say that there is definitely such a thing as a questioning Christian. The space between doubt and belief is often unpopular, but the tension can be held. You are in good company. May you find Christ, comfort, and companions amidst the questions!
      Team Everything Happens

  8. “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” Hebrews 12:1
    Being a runner, this has always been meaningful for me.
    Recently I coined “maintain the faith, exit with grace”.
    On days when I feel overwhelmed, I tell myself all I need to do is maintain the faith and exit with grace.

    1. Alex,
      Thanks for sharing your personal motto. I’ll definitely have to write this one down and bring it out on a particularly overwhelming day!
      Team Everything Happens

  9. Sadly, our family motto was, “You’ll pass in a crowd if the crowd’s big enough.” My mother’s mother didn’t want her to get a swelled head, and she passed that down to us, her four daughters. I always asked her this when I wondered if I was handsome in any way. (As consciously lesbian from about four-years old, believe it or not, I preferred handsome to pretty.) Don’t misread this, my mother was a loving woman, but she passed on this legacy, this painful legacy she’d been burdened with, that women should take up as little space as possible, risk as little as possible, and hide our lights lest we make fools of ourselves. I rebelled.

    1. Kelly, this is such a good reminder that sometimes we inherit tough histories and mottos. Perhaps we’ve got to choose which we want to continue and which we want to challenge. Thanks for the rebellion and the reminder that we as women take up space, take risks, and even make mistakes! Onwards!

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