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Tina: Hey Everyone, I’m Tina.
Serena: And I’m Serena and we are the Mental Health Mamas.
Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.
Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.
Tina: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.
Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.
Tina: Today we have a guest who is (and I will use the F word, but not the one you think)...she’s FAMOUS for so many reasons. We are total fan girls (and hopefully not in a creepy way). We truly respect the way she approaches her family, life and her work, with curiosity and wonder. We are so excited to start the conversation with today’s guest. We don’t want to waste any more time. Serena? Drum roll? Jump right in!
Serena: Yeah. So, Kelly Corrigan is a four time New York Times best selling author, earning her the title of “The Poet Laureate of the Ordinary” from the Huffington Post and the “voice of a generation” from O Magazine. Kelly is a fellow podcaster with Kelly Corrigan Wonders and among other projects, hosts a PBS series called Tell Me More. And we must say that we are super excited that she said YES!
Tina: We are! And I am going to be my authentic self and disclose that, like most college applicants, we have those guests that we might call our “reach” guests and she said yes! So Kelly, welcome to the podcast!!
Kelly: Hi guys. How are you?
Serena: I’m good. How are you doing today?
Kelly: Good, good, good.
Serena: Good. So for those out there who, you know, perhaps in an alternate universe don’t know Kelly Corrigan, we would love for you to tell our listeners a little bit of your story. Who is Kelly Corrigan?
Kelly: Well I mean if I had to tell you like three things that are super defining, one is that I’m George Corrigan’s daughter. I had this very unusual Dad. He really thought I was great company. He thought I was a conversationalist and he just wanted me with him wherever he went. It was like, “Lovey, come to the dry cleaners with me. Lovey, come on. I’m gonna go run some errands down at the deli. Come one with me. They’ll be nicer to me if you’re there.” I would go with him to his dental appointments and just sit in the lobby and look at Highlights. Remember Highlights Magazine?
Tina: Yeah, yeah.
Kelly: And so that’s the first thing I am, is the very lucky kid of someone who loved her well and for a long long time. My Dad didn’t die until I was 50. I am the mother of two college girls. One is going to be a Sophomore at Virginia and the other is going to be a Senior at Georgetown. So I’m parenting hard but in a kind of a specific way that I didn’t see coming which is I’m learning to transition from an active participant to an occasional advisor. I mean, even that’s overstating it. It’s not even advisor. It’s like an occasional receiver of stories and thinking but not really that. My advice is less and less welcome with everything.
And then the third thing I am is a creative person. So I do love a project. I’ve been…I just finished filming the fourth season of our PBS show. It’s called, Tell Me More. It’s kind of the reboot of Charlie Rose. It’s one on one long form interviews without any alcohol or creepiness. And I also have this weekly podcast that I’ve been doing for a couple years now called, Kelly Corrigan Wonders and we just passed, I don’t know, five and a half million downloads. So it’s a pretty robust set of to-dos every week but I love it because I love working with this producer, this friend of mine, Tammy Steadman who’s just so talented. She won an Oscar out of film school. She’s like a dream to be with and maybe as you guys experience, there are no lines between our friendship and our work. We could be, you know, in tears one minute talking about some unusual happening in our family life and then the next minute say, you know, look at that! We passed five million downloads. That’s really good! Do you think we should change the logo? You know, as we’re like wiping away tears and blowing our nose. So that’s kind of who I am.
Tina: Mmm. We appreciate all of that and we have watched you on PBS. We’ve listened to your podcast and we’ve read your books and we appreciate so much the way you connect with others and we really LOVE that tag line “Tell Me More”. It’s a book title. It’s the title of your PBS series. So say more about that. Say more about, “Tell Me More.”
Kelly: So I have this great friend, my college roommate from the University of Richmond, there’s this girl Tracey Tuttle. And she had a totally different career for 25 years but what she really wanted…she was a Psychology Major at Richmond and then 25 years later she got a masters in marriage and family therapy. She’s a counselor now. She’s a Psychologist. And she in the course of preparing for that degree I kept saying to her, what are you learning? Tell me everything. And she said one thing I’m really learning is that often our first reaction to a person’s situation is just totally wrong and it’s wrong because you’re uninformed. So you’re having this big strong sense of what the next step should be based on a headline and you don’t understand any of the nuance. And also, especially with kids but even with grownups, the headline is usually a front for something else. Like it’s not…a kid and even adults often are choosing to present the problem as something that sounds kind of rational and defensible and unassailable. And then you dig in a little bit and you say tell me more, what else, go on. And maybe after three or four digs you get to the juicy sensitive part of it.
So like an example. Interestingly Tracey Tuttle and I were driving to our University of Richmond college reunion and my daughter called and she was really upset. And Tracey has just been telling me this whole concept and I was like yeah, yeah, I hear you. It kind of goes to intellectual humility. Like there’s a cockiness that can kick in with parenting where you’re like, oh yeah yeah yeah. I know this one. I’ve heard this before. I’m ready for this. And then you’re just so excited to spray your advice all over them. And you’re wrong. You’re just wrong and you have to believe that. You have to internalize the fact that there’s more to the story that makes it different from yours and therefore requires a different response. But if you…you’re just too excited to solve it. You know, hand me that I’ll fix it. Like that attitude is so unproductive. It’s cruel because you’re stealing their opportunity to solve their own problem which is the absolute basis of self-esteem. So it’s enfeebling. It’s fragilizing. They’re just gonna keep coming to you with their problem. And maybe that’s what you want in some weird thought. Maybe your association of being a parent is saving and solving and maybe this part of parenting that I’m in right now is kind of depressing which is watching and waiting. It’s not my business. It’s not mine to solve and I’m not welcome in the process generally. And if I am, I might be doing something wrong. If I’m the go-to every time it might really feel good and that I’m in this deep engagement with my kids or that we’re really intimate and it’s so satisfying and I’m respected and my presence is requested but it’s maybe at like 19 and 21, maybe it would be better if they weren’t coming to me. Now that just feels terrible I feel. That’s where I am right now and you know, I could be wrong about all of this. You could call me a week and a half from now and I could have a whole different idea because I’m actively trying to work through this on the ground, real time so it could be really misguided or incomplete. Like there might be a piece of it that I don’t see yet.
But the tell me more, what else, go on, it’s a never-fail set-up because you’re not advising. You’re only surfacing.
Tina: Yeah. It is definitely…so my people are 28 and 24 so I’m a little ahead of you in that and it is definitely a shift. It is a shift in…in fact, we have this thing because my daughter does call and I will literally say to her, are you calling for me to listen or are you calling for me to help you problem solve? And so it is a thing we do because she needs somebody to just sometimes let it out. And you’re right, they have to find their people, right? They have to find their people. And we don’t always want to hear all the things, do we?
Kelly: Well there’s a lot of stuff that’s really, I mean personally, that I can’t handle.
Kelly: Like there’s a lot of detail of a 20 year old’s life or a 19 year old’s life that really, you know, it will just keep me up all night. I’m sort of prone to worry and… And the other thing you’re depriving them of, so the first thing I think about is don’t steal that moment from them. Like whoopee. Like you solved their problem. Now you get the hit of self-esteem. I don’t need any more self-esteem. I’m not in development right now. And the other thing you deprive them of is the intimacy with their peers. My mom wasn’t really open for business in this way. She wasn’t craving that kind of conversation the way I am. It’s not what she wanted at all. She really approached parenting as a job with serious consequences. It was not a mushy-gushy, lovey-dovey, let’s snuggle on the sofa and talk about crushes and regrets and people I had sex with that I wish I hadn’t. I mean, no way. Not once. Nevah. And I think about, what are those, where are those needs in me coming from?
I’m shocked at how hard it is for me to back away because I do have a lot of work. I mean, I have more than a full-time job and I like it a lot. And still, it’s still so forward in my mind that I have to actively say… Like for instance, Georgia is trying to decide whether to take a job offer right now. It’s her first job ever out of college. She’ll be a senior right now but she did an internship this summer and she got an offer. I mean, do you think I don’t want to dig into that with her? You’re crazy! Like I, mostly I don’t want to drive the outcome but I’m just so curious. I mean, it’s not unlike when she was applying to colleges. I found that topic irresistible, like so interesting. Where are you gonna live in the country? And do you care about whether there’s 400 people in your classes or 30? What do you think you want to major in? But unfortunately a lot of that lands as grinding them down, pummeling them with questions, pressuring them. You know? Because unfortunately you’re in the context of the world and the world is very good at making noise about, where you’re going to go to college and what your job is gonna be. So they’re already on their heels. They’re already done talking about it by the time they get to you.
So I really have to turn my mind. Like it’s almost, I imagine, you know those, in retail stores, you know those display units that rotate? You know like they have cards in them or something and you can rotate from birthdays to sympathy to anniversary? Like that’s what I have to… That’s almost the image in my head when I’m stewing on like, I can’t believe we’re not gonna discuss this. She’s just gonna do it or not do it, you know? And then I just turn the wheel. And I’m like what’s on your…what’s in front of you Kelly? What’s your next job to do? Who’s your next guest to book? What’s your next book to read to prep? Go back. Go back to your stuff.
Serena: It’s just really interesting because, you know, like you, Tina and I spend a lot of time supporting, not supporting but talking to other people and you know, sort of trying to get them to tell us more and I feel like I’m pretty good at that with people I’m not related to. And so I have a 20 year old, a 13 year old and a 7 year old, so I’m in very varied stages of parenting. So the 20 year old, absolutely. I hear exactly what you’re saying and I would say my 13 year old does want me to fix everything and it’s a fight to try to get her to fix some of her own stuff. But, yeah. It’s hard. It’s hard.
Serena: Yeah. So I think, I want to share, I want to quote you to yourself here. So one of the best things about hosting a podcast is that we get to connect with really interesting people all over the world and learn more about their stories. So you have been quoted as saying, “I did become interesting but only in the way that we’re all interesting.” So can you say more about that?
Kelly: Well that is really the…it’s really the revelation of a lifetime and I think I came to it early because I… Tracey Tuttle was my freshman year roommate and then something happened with her housing and she had to move off campus and Mary Corrigan was like, absolutely not, over my dead body will you live off campus and so I had to live with basically a stranger. And I remember, you know, I shed tears over it. I was like, oh my God, my life is ruined. Everything was so perfect freshman year and now I’m going into this crazy situation. I’m living in this dorm and I don’t know anyone else in there and whatever. Of course it had no impact except that you went to sleep every night getting to know somebody that you didn’t plan on getting to know.
And then I traveled a bunch after college. Tracey Tuttle and I went traveling for over a year and you just meet twenty people a day when you’re traveling. I mean, a hostel is like one of the greatest life experiences I could offer someone. And it’s just so social and I’m such an extrovert. Everybody has a story. I wrote this children’s book called, Hello World, which is essentially a graduation present for grown-ups and then a great little book for kids and it was all about asking questions. Become a great question asker and you will have a great life because what you will discover is that literally everybody that you are ever sitting next to has something fascinating to tell you. But you don’t know that and it’s so, unfortunately, natural, instinctive, to judge a book by its cover. Like that’s why it’s an adage. But there’s so much inside every person.
And I find…I think at least one of my kids, but maybe both of them would say that I ask a lot of questions and maybe one or two too many. But that’s not what’s coming back to me. When I ask a lot of questions, I’m not feeling hesitation. I’m feeling relief. I’m feeling like this person hasn’t been asked enough questions in their life, that people have not show enough interest in them, that they are dying to tell you about their twin brother or about the time they had to move in 6th grade or their mother’s bout with cancer or their grandfather who they loved who lived on a farm. I haven’t met many people who aren’t flattered and set free by a good round of questions. And it comes really naturally to me which is why I have two different interview outlets in my life with the podcast and the PBS show. But I really believe that. I really believe that you can’t find somebody who doesn’t have something to tell you.
Tina: Mmhm. And we find that that’s where the connection point is, right? When people want to tell you things or you care enough to ask, that’s where we connect. And like Serena said, we did support parents for a long time and we don’t actively do it right this minute as a job but it really is and we love that. So let’s turn back to your PBS series, Tell Me More, and you have something called “Plus One”.
Tina: In this segment, you invite your guests to share their Plus One, someone they know, admire, respect either personally or professionally who have influenced their lives. And we wonder is anyone has ever asked you that question? Who is your Plus One?
Kelly: Oh God. There’s just so many people in life that I’m so grateful for. But you know recently, a huge inspiration for me is somebody like Dave Eggers who is so prolific as a writer and could literally just walk around being Dave Eggers for the rest of his life and somehow he has made all this time. He’s the co-founder of 15 non-profits like 826 Valencia which is a twenty year old tutoring program and they have 71 locations that use that model worldwide. And then he has a thing called Scholar Match where he’s trying to help kids who are first generation college kids find the right school and then stay in it and graduate. So I guess the graduation rate for first generation students is like twenty percent because there’s a lot you need to get through college. Like we know because you just think about all the things you do for your kids to help them get through college including buying Amtrak tickets to get from New York to Georgetown or Charlottesville. Or these unexpected expenses for all the books, for the weird situation where they’re getting an incomplete in a class and they don’t know how to navigate the registrar. Dot, dot, dot, dot, dot. Think of everything you’ve ever done for your kids and then think about a kid whose parents never went to college and have no idea what a registrar is and do not have $180 for an Amtrak ticket. And they just bounce out. Like they hit one or two bumps and they manage them and they hit the third bump and it’s over.
And so Scholar Match is just these coaches who stick with you through all four years and get you through. You know, they act like we act with our kids. They problem solve.
So anyway, that idea that you could be more than just a writer, that it wasn’t really enough to just publish your own work and stroll around being Kelly Corrigan was super impactful for me. Like the coolest thing about him, I thought, even though I really admire his writing, was that he did more than write. And that has changed my sense of what a day should include and what any given work period, like a two or three year period, should include.
So I did this thing for a long time, twelve years, called Notes and Words and it was a concert in Oakland at the Fox Theater. 2000 people showed up. Our record breaking night was we raised three million dollars in a night for Children’s Hospital of Oakland which is a very worthy organization and they treat the kids that nobody wants to treat. Kids with no insurance, kids with really serious problems or chronic problems that are going to cost a fortune over the years. But nobody else wants them and so Children’s takes them. And we had three musical guests and three writers and we alternate on stage to put on this show. And, you know, I’m much prouder of that than any book I’ve written. So people who do more than they have to do I find really kind of inspiring.
I have this cousin named Leena Zenkraff who is that person at a micro level. Like every room she’s in she makes better. If she sees the trash she just quietly takes it out. She sees a jacket out, she just quietly hangs it up while she keeps the flow of conversation going. She…I was painting a lot in the pandemic in my garage and she just showed up and made some little brata toast and brought it outside, sat down with me and brought this little speaker and started playing music. I was just looking at her and she was in this…light was coming into my garage in a certain way and when you’re painting you’re very hyper aware of light and shadows and the color of people’s cheeks and eyes. And I was just staring at her thinking, like, you’re the best person. You’re like that person. Everywhere you go, you’re like that person who just makes things quietly a little bit better. Wouldn’t know how to do it any different, wouldn’t know how to be in a room with a coat and not hang it up. So those are two people that I think about a lot, that I aspire to be more like.
Serena: Yeah. That’s amazing. So I’m gonna shift gears for us a little bit again here and talk about…we’re all about the feels and mental health as the Mental Health Mamas and you acknowledged this earlier, the idea that you worry constantly and I’m quoting from your website. You say, “I worry constantly, about my husband getting in a car accident or my kids getting snatched by a desperado or a mole on my nose turning out to be the thing that does me in. However, I believe worry is the backside of gratitude, so that means that when I get anxious, I am actually acutely feeling my good fortune. And clinging to it with both hands.” So first of all, what a beautiful quote and I love the reframing of worry because I’m a total worrier so I can relate to all of that, that rabbit hole or spiraling as Tina and I like to call it. And you know, I would say there’s certainly always something to worry about, especially right now, in our world. Can you talk more about this sense of worry you have?
Kelly: Well, I’m working on it and listening to…I’m kind of throwing Buddhism at it and really working on detachment. When I was 30 I had a panic attack in a meeting in New York. I had gone out the night before, had a little hangover, I probably had 20 ounces of coffee before the meeting and the next thing I knew I thought I was losing my mind. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a panic attack but it’s just a strange feeling. I had no idea it was possible to feel that way and words were coming out of my mouth and I was staying in my seat but I was plotting the whole time. I was like, how am I gonna get out of this room and find an ambulance. I’m just gonna go down the elevator, I decided I would not bring my things and I would just hail an ambulance and say I don’t know what's happening but I…somebody’s gotta look in my brain somehow. Like, you gotta hook me up to an EEG or an MRI or something. And when I came home I thought a lot about the power we have to affect our physical state. And I have this friend I really respect. His name is Joel Leslynn and he…his daughter has Type 1 Diabetes and they’ve had, you know…his younger daughter had cancer at 13 and they have different aches and pains themselves. And he’s the first of probably ten people I totally respect who said, I believe the mind can do anything to the body. And one of the other ten people, Samantha Power, who was Obama’s ambassador to the UN and now runs USAID, and I interviewed her for PBS. And she said she had a back ache for twenty years and she finally went to therapy and she said sometimes a back ache is not a back ache.
And so I think it’s kind of urgent, actually, that people who worry go after it, address it, like create it as a real “to-do”. You can’t live that way. It’s obviously utterly unproductive. It changes zero outcomes. And also it can really damage you. You can really do things to yourself. And I do…I know so many parents right now who are so scared about really big stuff with their kids. I mean, it’s like heartbreaking. And these are like the best parents I know. These are people that I’ve admired for twenty years, the way they do it, how graceful they are about it, and they’re still… I mean people are scared to death, super scared of suicide. A lot of people I know are secretly afraid that their kid is going to kill themselves. That is so sad and a lot of people I know are either wondering about medication or their kids on medication and they’re wondering if it’s really working or if they should change it. This is a weird time. None of my parents friends went through this, I don’t think. I just don’t. I don’t think that they… First of all I don’t think they were exposed to our lives the way that we’re exposed to our kid’s lives. And you know, if you have an imagination, all you need is like a couple good plot points and you can really tell yourself a story. You can spin it out into something awful. And sometimes I’ll say something to my husband and he’ll be looking at me like, woah, you have really taken this, you know, you have really applied the full force of your imagination to this and you have created a really convincing story. And that’s what the therapist said who I went to see after I had the panic attack. She said, you have, like, a crystallized imagination and you’re only using it for ill. You’re only using it to freak yourself out. Why don’t you try creating two realities? One is your worst-case, but one is the best-case. And then if you can start believing in that best-case, which includes truths like, life is the best teacher. Like, you are not gonna save your kid from the bad relationship, from the binge drinking, from eating strangely, from turning down a great job or saying yes to a bad job. This is not your work to do. And if you could (this is what I’m working on), that it’s actually better for her to live it out. It’s better for her to have a bad relationship right now than to not. It’s not about avoiding these things. Take the job. Hate the job. Quit the job. Find the job. Take the guy. Dump the guy. Get dumped by the guy. Discover what kind of guy you want next. Try the next one. This all must happen, it must be this way. If you can get into it like that, it’s like you’re almost cheering for it, the thing you were so afraid of and trying to have her sidestep, you’re actually kind of pushing her towards it. Like find it. Find… The only way to find yourself is to take these steps.
Tina: Well, and we would say, we’re all about the mental health, right? And I think finding the tools that are gonna serve you. We totally get the worry. There’s so much out there about it, about the worry, about the stories we tell ourselves. We had a guest who talked about their inner narrator and yeah. So we get that. And I agree with you. As I said we’re…I’m a little bit ahead of you but I had the opportunity to meet your family and your girls are…you’re adulting adults which is whole thing and I feel like it’s about building that toolbox and continually building the toolbox. I spoke to a bunch of parents last spring and I saw their worry. I saw, you know, we heard all the questions. And I literally was sitting there as a parent of someone who’s been through this and to say, you know, we’ve carried their toolbox. We’ve put things in their toolbox before and now it’s their time to grab the toolbox and put in the things that they need to and you’re so right about that. You’re so right about that. They do need to experience life and I think we did. I don’t know about you and your mom and Greenie but we didn’t acknowledge mental health in our day at all.
Kelly: You know I have to say that my mom was so incredible when I had this panic attack. So I was in New York, I came home to Philadelphia, I got myself to the kitchen table in Villanova, Pennsylvania. We were alone in the house. I was so scared to tell her. I had no idea what it was. I’d never heard of anything like it and I just started crying. I said something weird happened to me in New York and I mean I thought I was going crazy and I just said, I don’t know what it was but my head felt this way and I was trying to get out of the room and I don’t even know what I said. I was completely separated from the person who was talking. And blah, blah, blah. And she was just standing at the counter and she said, OK, OK. She kept saying OK. I was like, it’s OK? You’re not freaking out? And she said, you know what, I’m gonna go look at your father’s insurance card. We’re gonna find a person that you can talk to about this because I’m sure there are a lot of people who know all about this. And I was like, they do?
Tina: That’s awesome.
Kelly: I thought something happened to me that never happened in the history of man. I don’t think there are people who know what I’m talking about. She got on the phone. She found someone who was nearby. That person didn’t have an appointment available for a week. She’s like, that’s not gonna work. We want an appointment tomorrow. She went down the list finding the person, finding the person, drove me over to some lady’s house in the snow, sat out front, I went in and talked to her. She said it’s called a panic attack. I was like, oh my God, there’s a name for it? If there’s a name for it and there’s an entry in a book about it, I’m halfway home. I came outside and I said I don’t think I can go back to SanFrancisco right now and she said, that’s fine. Let’s just move your ticket and she was…I mean, there’s nobody I would rather have in a crisis than my mom, including my dad. She was incredible. She doesn’t know anything about that. She’s never been to a therapist and she nailed it.
Tina: And I’m thankful we’re in a different time now than we were, for sure. And I will say I’ve had a panic attack and they’re awful. Totally awful. And I love that you speak so normally about therapy because it is one of the tools in lots of our boxes, so, yeah.
Kelly: Yeah. But do you ever…I mean I’m so weirded out right now about the number of people on medication. Only because I’m so afraid that there might be some corporate manipulation going on. Like I definitely think it can be super effective for some people but I think the efficacy is 50/50. And I was just watching Dopesick, which is all about the opioid epidemic and it really dramatizes exactly how it happens that all of a sudden everyone is getting a prescription for 30 fentanyl pills.
Tina: Yeah. Yeah.
Kelly: And you know we are in a capitalist society and there is a really strong profit motive. And if you combine that with the deep desire for somebody to fix it with a pill which I couldn’t be more empathetic to. If that woman I went to that snowy day in Villanova had said, here’s a pill, I’d be like, oh my God. Fantastic. You know what I mean? And I just don’t know. I’m a real fan of Johann Hari. Have you read Lost Connections?
Tina: I have not.
Kelly: He’s a British guy and I’ve had him on the pod and he wrote this book about…he was on antidepressants for…and I’m totally…I don’t want to start a firestorm about being against medication because I’m not. I’m just curious about all the forces that have generated this. And so his book was just kind of interesting because he was on antidepressants for a long, long time and I think they were essential to his recovery and then he started to wonder what else could there be. And he identified these nine kinds of connections that used to be more commonplace and are still more commonplace around the world like connection to nature, connection to each other, connection to our bodies. And he makes these really simple arguments that…connection to purpose…like in some countries the prescription for depression would be, like, we’re gonna give you a cow. You need something to do and something to care for and something to get out of bed for that needs you. And this is now your work. Or he tells this great story about a psychiatrist who said that they would only take new patients if each patient committed to doing one hour of work in his community garden after each session. So you had to sign up for two hours. One hour in the chair, one hour in the garden. And in the garden you’re working with others towards a collective goal. You’re seeing growth that you’re responsible for. You have this kind of interesting purpose and this proof positive that your efforts can yield. And you know they had sunflowers in there which just grow to such insane heights it’s like, I don’t know, you can’t quite feel as dim looking at a seven foot tall sunflower with a face as big as a dinner plate. I mean, I don’t want to minimize it. So I know that there are people for whom growing sunflowers is like, not going to work.
Kelly: I get that. I totally get that. And thank God for medication. But it’s just a question I’m always thinking about.
Serena: And well it’s such an interesting question because as a parent with kids who are medicated who… So my 13 year old struggled from 18 months of age with behavioral challenges with… So interestingly, a lot of it I attribute to overstimulation which I can circle back to sort of the changes in our world, right? So that like going to, you know, a big box store with bright lights and all the things would literally make her vomit because she would just get totally overwhelmed because her little system couldn’t handle that. And ultimately we decided on medication but it took us years to get to that point and I don’t love it but it kind of helps her function in the world as it is right now.
Kelly: Well that stimulation thing… The other thing I worry to death about, which I know I’m in the massive majority with, is the total loss of focus. Like it’s really hard for me, as a user of social media and technology to stay in one thing. Like just now while you were talking, a text came in. I saw the little 1 come up and I just was really curious. Like, what is it? And then I instantly closed it like Kelly, stay where you are. And when I start a book I have to put the phone like two rooms away.
So I feel, as a grown-up who didn’t grow up this way, you know, wasn’t reared with a phone in my hand. I feel really challenged by it. Like when I get in bed at night a lot of times the last thing I do is scroll through Instagram. Even though I’m a big girl and I talk to a lot of people who tell me that there’s nothing better for you than just a couple pages of a book. And I love books. So I don’t even know what it’s like for those guys who think like… And I’m very aware of it because the PBS show is 30 minutes and my kids are like, 30 minutes? Like it’s a 30 minute conversation? And I'm like yeah. We started at an hour. The first three episodes with Bryan Stevenson, Jen Garner and James Cordon were an hour and even PBS was like, an hour is too long. That’s crazy! As if we have so much to do. And it’s like, well, you do because you have this nook and cranny stuff that can just explode to fill all your time. You know that Parkinson’s Law. Like things expand to fill the space they’re given. I always picture that. I always picture the gas in the bell jar. It just starts small and just fills the entire bell jar. It’s like that’s what’s happened. This little device, it’s just filled…it fills everything.
Tina: So true.
Kelly: And focus, like long thought is kind of where it’s at. And maybe the whole reason that I like podcasting and doing the PBS thing is because it puts me in long thought conversations frequently. Like we’re gonna talk for an hour.
Kelly: That’s like…that’s not what…when I hang up I’m gonna go into like 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 14 seconds. Like every little thing I do is 5 seconds, 14 seconds. Inside a minute I’m going to do five things. For 60 minutes I’m talking to you. And that’s good for me. I mean I like it. Even though when you asked for it I was like, oh boy, 60 minutes. You know what I mean?
Kelly: I’m so programmed but I’m so susceptible to the messaging of the world that’s like, God, do you really have 60 minutes. And it’s like who do you think you are? Of course you have 60 minutes. God. You’re not like running the country. But people think like…
Tina: Thank goodness.
Kelly: It’s crazy. So it’s weird. It’s like a weird time in terms of the way that we evaluate minutes and hours.
Kelly: Like we value doing 43 things in a minute instead of doing one. But that’s so unfulfilling. That’s like time confetti. Somebody had the term time confetti which has like no meaning. It’s like, poof! Up in the air, down on the floor, then it’s in the trash bin. It’s not memorable. And I have said before that with Children’s Hospital when I was asking people to volunteer and donate, I was like, I want them to feel it. I don’t want to ask everyone I know to drop off a bag of books at Children’s Hospital so that the hospital library is like teeming with great stuff. Because it’s just a to-do. It’s this annoying thing. It’s like a nice idea but then when you’re actually doing it you can’t find a parking space and you throw on the hazards and you’re afraid you’re gonna get a parking ticket and you run in and run out. And it’s just another thing like you’ve gotta go to the dry cleaner. So it more or less starts feeling like the same thing as going to the dry cleaners.
And then it’s like these kids in our town would go to Mexico for a week and build houses and they’ll never forget it. They’ll think about it when they’re 80 years old. Nobody’s gonna be thinking about dropping the books off when they’re 80. They don’t even remember it when they put their head on the pillow that night. So only this kind of thing, long form interaction, long form, long effort, has staying power in our psyches. Like this is the only satisfying thing. There’s nothing about doing 43 things inside an hour that will feel good. It’s just a race, you know?
Serena: Yeah. Let’s talk about your podcast which is incredibly active. You drop, I believe 3 episodes a week. Tell us what you’re working on right now.
Kelly: So Kelly Corrigan Wonders was a pandemic project that I started with this great friend of mine, Susan George. And we thought what we were gonna do was share stories of loss. So we were gonna have somebody on to talk about one person that they lost and loved. And that morphed because my husband said, you’re gonna get tired of that. It’s gonna get redundant even if you love it for a year you’re still gonna want to cycle out of it and he said that I know you because I’ve watched what’s interesting to you and it’s pretty varied. So then we had this idea of, well, why don’t we do these little series. Like four episodes on this, ten episodes on that, seven episodes on the next thing. And that’s where we ended up.
So the first set of four was conventional wisdom that’s not that wise. So we took four idioms and challenged them like, never give up or what you don’t know can’t hurt you or everything happens for a reason, etc. And we picked a guest, had them come on and really unpack the flawed thinking inside a lot of adages that we pass along. Then the next set was, what is always true under any circumstances, even these which was a nod to the pandemic but sadly has become kind of endlessly applicable. And then we started doing other questions like right now we’re doing a series on the environment and basically the question is, what’s working now. Because the news…it’s a lot easier to tell a story about a flood or fire than it is to tell a story about a tiny success somewhere. We went and found five teenagers who are doing great stuff and we were sort of trying to leverage the American Idol model where it’s like a thrill to watch young people achieve great things and so that’s what we’re doing now.
We have a series coming up this fall called, Live From College where Tammy, who is my producer, Tammy and I went to 15 colleges, we talked to the kids, we sat in on a class and then we went and interviewed a professor. And the question that’s underneath it is, what is the point of a Liberal Arts Education in 2022? So that was a blast. We’re doing a thing on parenting but I really like Julie Lythcott-Haims. She wrote How to Raise an Adult and Your Turn. And we’ve had a really good time talking to each other. I like Lisa Damour a lot. So those two have been helping me think out loud about parenting. I mean I was thinking as we were having this conversation that I might run this through my pod as well if you don’t mind because it’s so valuable I think to just keep the conversation going between all of us about where we fit into the picture at which stages of our kids and young adults development in the world. So I’m curious about that. I had a set of writers on that was really about, what wisdom have you pulled from fiction? Like what are you able to do in fiction and explore in fiction that can’t be done in any other medium? So it’s been an awesome project. I find it endlessly satisfying and I hear from people everywhere I go…it’s super gratifying. It’s super fulfilling.
Tina: That’s awesome.
Kelly: Do you guys like podcasting?
Tina: We love it!
Tina: I mean I think we started honestly, again we started during the pandemic because we couldn’t sit face to face with our people any more and help them hold the hard stuff and we weren’t about putting things into the world and we were like, darn, we need to shift our perspective here and… You know, I feel like, you know it’s clear because we’ve said it a million times, we have kids who struggle and I don’t ever ask why my kids struggled. I’m like, what am I supposed to do with this? What’s my pain into purpose moment? And this definitely fulfills that and we have heard from people literally all over the world who are like yeah, we need to keep talking about mental health. We need to keep thinking and this is my next question to you, right, about how we all take better care of ourselves. And you have a lot of balls in the air, you’ve been through a lot of stuff in your life. What are your go-tos to take good care of yourself?
Kelly: Well I love work. I can’t imagine ever stopping work. And I think what’s underneath that is feeling useful. Like I think that’s my raison d’ete. The other thing I don’t have because I left the Bay Area so I don’t have Notes and Words anymore, the event that we used to do for Children’s Hospital. It’s still going but I am not involved in it that much. So I need a new thing like that to get involved in and I have a couple that I’m kind of auditioning in my mind and people I’m talking to. So I definitely want to find that and I kind of want to find something that Edward, my husband, and I can do together.
I was with all these people, they were maybe ten years older than I am. It seemed like they all were really connected to their spouses through some non-profit that they’re both deeply committed to. And I like that idea. I like the idea of, that’s sort of to the original point, that’s stopping spending all my time with my husband talking about our children and turning and facing the world together and spend all of our time talking about the world. Like it is not conducive to decrease worry to spend every minute with your husband talking about your children. And so I want to replace our favorite subject of conversation with something that is to the greater good. That’s my big theory. And I have this idea. I just got it and I’m kind of excited to see if I can hook him on it. He’s not as easily persuaded as I wish he was. I mean I guess I’m glad that he has a backbone but it won’t be like a snap to get him to buy into this. I have to be very strategic about the way I roll it out so don’t tell him.
Tina: We won’t tell.
Serena: We won’t tell.
Kelly: I’m laying the groundwork. Yeah.
Tina: Yeah. The secret’s safe with us.
Serena: So before we bring this episode to a close, we wonder if there is anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like to put out to the world?
Kelly: I would really love if people would go to PBS.org/Kelly and get engaged with the show. I think that it has done a great job of reaching a slightly older audience and that people our age haven’t found it yet because they don’t typically watch PBS yet. So the episodes are so…I’m so proud of them, mostly because I think the guests we’ve been able to sit down with are just extraordinary people. I mean you’re not going to find anybody more inspiring than Bryan Stevenson. If that’s your pilot episode you know you’re in the right place. But the production work on them is so fantastic. They really work to put each conversation into a larger context so it’s not like, oh, I’m so interested in Samantha Power I’m gonna sit down and watch this 30 minute episode. It’s more like, I’m interested in how America decided what to get involved in around the world and what they don’t and that’s why I’m gonna watch this conversation with this knowledgeable person. For instance, we just recorded with Cecile Richards who used to run Planned Parenthood. We recorded with Selma Blair who’s a young actress who was just diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And then we recorded with Dave Eggers, the writer and activist. And I don’t think you have to be that interested in any of those people because it’s not like a deep dive into their career and personal profile. It’s more, what do you see when you look at the world? And what are you doing to make things better? And it’s actually exactly what I’m trying to do with Edward which is turn shoulder to shoulder and look out. It’s not about us as individuals, it’s about the whole.
Tina: Love that!
Kelly: Because, in terms of mental health, I think the smaller you are in the frame, the happier you’ll be. Like I think to be nothing, to be tiny, is the best place to be.
Tina: Mmhm. Yeah, I used to say that. I’m near water right now and I used to say that to my kids. I want you to stand on the shore and know that you’re not the only thing in the world. It’s so much bigger than yourself. So we can’t thank you enough for saying yes to our invitation to join us today. We certainly come from a place of taking our lived experience and turning pain and experience into purpose with the same curiosity and wonder that you do. That’s why we appreciate you so much. You are doing amazing things in the world including your show. Do you still have your survey that you’re doing on PBS.org?
Kelly: No. The biggest thing people could do is just subscribe to Kelly Corrigan Wonders.
Tina: All right! Subscribe to Kelly Corrigan Wonders. It’s awesome! Thanks for doing all you do with a poignancy and a sense of humor. We all need a sense of humor these days for sure.
Kelly: For sure, for sure. Thanks ladies!
Serena: Thank you! And so podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leave us a review, subscribe and share with others. You will find more content on our website NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com. And you can also send us a voice message…you can share a bit of your story, tell us what you think of the podcast or just call to say hi!
Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.
Serena: Thanks for listening!