The subtitle of this book is “Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say” and her chapter headings are those twelve phrases. Corrigan’s grandmother always reassured her that she was “good enough,” and would be able to withstand the vicissitudes of life because when she failed, she just got right back up again and did something else. That resilience is a quality more important than beauty or intellectual horsepower when it comes to success in life, though nobody believes that when you’re young.
Some of these stories are sad, like when Corrigan loses her dad, and at little later, her best friend Liz. Corrigan can be eloquent when describing how important her best friend was to her, and what a horrifying shock it was to discover she would die. But she leavens her memories with the funny bits…the bits where both their families travelled together with the kids and shared laughs and more.
She is irreverent about her own accomplishments, a career writing, two daughters and a loving husband, but we can tell how much it means to her to be with them. It’s all she wanted: “Four by Forty,” is how she put it. Well, she did not have four kids because breast cancer intervened, but there were still four of them when she turned forty, two kids and two parents, so she satisfied herself with that. Corrigan volunteers to hold newborns at a local hospital once a week, getting her baby fix while giving relief to the corona of families and staff that surround a baby at risk.
One thing Corrigan had learned to say was “tell me more,” which works when someone is upset or when they are angry. The very fact of listening draws people out and clarifies their anxieties so that those stressors can be dealt with or dismissed. One doesn’t have to have any special expertise for this listening and yet people often find it most consoling.
The lesson I liked best was her learning to say ‘No.’
“Sexually, professionally, personally…saying ‘No’ takes balls. One friend told me her one big take away from three years and $11,000 of therapy was ‘Learn to say no and when you do, don’t complain and don’t explain. Every excuse you make is like an invitation to ask you again in a different way.’”I learned this lesson early and all my life it has been my super power. Corrigan tells us her mother was a ‘No Pro’ who had no desire to curb another’s activities. “She had her own mind and she used it.” If she didn’t want to go somewhere everyone else wanted to go, she’d wave them off and settle happily to spend her evening alone.
“It must be possible to say ‘No’ nicely and still be loved,” Corrigan opines. Her mother must have managed it, since Corrigan loves her now. She may not have at the time, however, and we know this because of Corrigan’s earlier book Glitter and Glue in which Corrigan settles into recognition and love for how she was as a mother.
“Very few people I’ve known are able to set themselves free the way my mother has, liberated by the simple act of saying “no,” which I submit is impressive for any woman and downright radical for one raised in the “nice and easy” generation. My Mom had always been able to find outs where others could not. Looking back I think it came down to her impressive willingness to be disliked and her utterly unromantic position that people should take serious, if not total responsibility, for their own happiness.”Corrigan has lots of personality—that used to be a way for men to say women are loud—but she actually says stuff rather than just blow air, and she can be really funny. It you listened to her describe using her daughter's round-tipped scissors to cut off a shirt she’d bought on sale but couldn’t manage to take off past her boobs once on, you know what I mean. She may actually be a little bit loud, but she is definitely the one you’d aim for at a party or for a long walk—she’d never be without some observation worth developing into something bigger and deeper. I am nothing like her, but I appreciate that mother nature of hers to the end. I have always admired mothers for their stop-gap practicality and their attention to the things that matter.
The end of this memoir reads like a long eulogy for Liz, and what her friendship meant. It is the best darn eulogy I have ever heard…in a way it sounds like a wedding toast, it is so full of life and love and gratefulness and remembrance. It would be a wonderful model for someone wishing to find a way to say what is in their hearts for their own friends or relatives. We’ll all have to face it one day and judging from Corrigan’s experience, we are never ready.
Corrigan reads the audio of this book herself, and it is a good way to enjoy the Penguin Random House production. The book would be good as well because the eulogy passages you may want to read again.
Attached please find Corrigan in a very short NYT video discussing Glitter & Glue, and below that, a 5 minute audio clip of Tell Me More:
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