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PHOTO OF WEEK: Our TWE Book Launch is Tonight-Oct. 7-at Book Passage

Join us for our 20 Women Changemakers
Book Launch Tonight!

WE ARE EXCITED. Tonight–Oct. 7, 2017- is the night we officially launch our 20 WOMEN CHANGEMAKERS (www.changemakersbook.com) at Book Passage, a wonderful bookstore in Corte Madera, CA. Please come and join us if you are in the San Francisco area.

Invite to Book Passage Book Party

Our panel is terrific…our radio host Stacey Gualandi will be there along with 20 WOMEN CHANGEMAKER Doniece Sandoval, the founder of LAVA MAE. Laurie McAndish King, a TWE contributor and award-winning author, will be the moderator.

Treats with an international flavor in honor of our women from around the world will be featured. Join us!

NEW TWE Radio: Author Laurie McAndish King on “Your Crocodile Has Arrived: More Stories from a Curious Traveler”

Laurie McAndish King – Author of “Your Crocodile Has Arrived: More Stories from a Curious Traveler”.

Laurie McAndish King – Author of “Your Crocodile Has Arrived: More Stories from a Curious Traveler”.

“Your Crocodile Has Arrived: More Stories from a Curious Traveler”

The Women's Eye Radio on iTunes

NEW INTERVIEW WITH HOST STACEY GUALANDI!

Stacey has a BRAND NEW interview for The Women’s Eye Radio with Laurie McAndish King, the award-winning author of the just released “Your Crocodile Has Arrived: More Stories from a Curious Traveler.”

Never one to pass up a challenge somewhere around the world, Laurie has been a little busy since last we profiled her three years ago with her debut, “Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive: True Stories From a Curious Traveler.” Not only is she an accomplished author and essayist for numerous publications, Laurie has also contributed over a dozen stories for The Women’s Eye site.

twe-radio-laurie-macandish-king | Laurie McAndish King | The Women's Eye Magazine and Radio Show

Laurie McAndish King

twe-radio-your-crocodile-has-arrived | Laurie McAndish King | The Women's Eye Magazine and Radio Show

“Your Crocodile Has Arrived”

Listen on iTunes

In her first book, she wrote about surviving an accidental marriage to a Maasai warrior in Kenya, coffee made from animal poop in Bali, and a kidnapping in Tunisia. Now she shares the inspiration for her newest memoir: meeting 20-foot earthworms in Australia.

You’ll hear more fascinating tales about “alien spaceship propulsion,” chocolate massages, saving orphaned elephants in Sri Lanka, and, of course, near-extinct giant earthworms.

Laurie gives advice on what to write about, why she hates traveling and what’s on her bucket list. And we’re excited that on October 7th (7pm) at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA, Laurie will be moderating a panel including Stacey, as well as Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval, as part of the launch of “20 Women Changemakers: Taking Action Around the World.”

But don’t worry; she won’t be serving earthworms.

Listen to more TWE Interviews from The Women’s Eye Radio Show on iTunes.

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede Transform Africa’s Largest Urban Slum

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede/Photo from Jessica's book Find Me Unafraid

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/January 12, 2016
TWITTER for Jessica and Kennedy: @hope2shine

Jessica Posner grew up a middle-class American in Denver. She hadn’t seen much of the world, and when she had an opportunity to study overseas she chose to do political theater work in Kenya. Jessica ended up living in a slum with no streets, no toilets, no running water, no electricity and no public services. Then she got malaria.

“No one believed Jessica could survive,” Kennedy Odede, her husband, says. “Every morning my friends knocked on my door and asked: Is she dead, or is she alive?”

find=me-unafraid-kennedy-odede-jessica-posnerJessica Posner and Kennedy Odede’s lives are linked by one unlikely circumstance after another. They met when Jessica was taking a junior year abroad and Kennedy was organizing street theater to raise awareness about sexual violence in his community. Kennedy lived in a Nairobi slum called Kibera, a warren of hopelessness the size of Central Park.

Jessica and Kennedy were in America together, celebrating the launch of the book they co-wrote, Find Me Unafraid — Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. A friend had told me about their remarkable story, so I was excited to hear the couple speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

It’s hard to imagine two people more different on the surface. Jessica wears a stylish dress; her animal-print pumps have three-inch spike heels. Reserved on stage, she lets Kennedy do most of the talking.

Kennedy speaks with animation and charisma. Until a few years ago he’d had so little exposure to Western culture that he was astonished by the abundance of a school cafeteria and the luxury of hot running water.

Jessica and Kennedy tell us about the work they have done together, which sounds like a minor miracle: setting up and running a free school for girls in the slum, making clean water and medical care accessible and helping dozens of individuals start small businesses.

It hasn’t been easy. Kennedy grew up in extreme poverty, taking to the streets and using drugs when he was just 10 years old to help alleviate the pain of his situation.

“I had a job in a factory where I earned $1 for 10 hours,” Kennedy says. “I saw people getting old in their jobs. My best friend was shot and killed by the police; my sister was abused. I was sad and angry and hopeless.”

 

But Kennedy Odede was also resourceful, resilient and determined. He read A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., and was inspired to build a better future.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that,” he read in King’s book. “Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Kennedy realized that the people of Kibera needed to solve their own problems, and he was determined to do just that.

“Where are the donors? Where is the money?” his friends asked. “You are crazy!”

“This is not a non-profit,” Kennedy responded. “This is a movement. We do not need donors to clean our streets. We do not need donors talk about issues that affect us.”

Odede was off to a strong start. He bought a twenty-cent soccer ball and started a team to give people something constructive to do. He organized neighborhood clean-ups and street theater. He raised awareness about sexual violence.

He co-founded a youth group called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) and got his fellow citizens talking about how to improve their living conditions. “I got elected mayor of Kibera,” Kennedy says, sounding a little surprised.

jessica Posner and Kennedy Odebe at Book Passage Oct. 2015/from Laurie King

Kennedy and Jessica speaking at Book Passage/10-15

Then Jessica turned up. She moved into Odede’s cramped home, reasoning that it would be hypocritical to live in comfort outside the slum while she was working with the people of Kibera. The two strategized, and decided that if they could change the realities for women and children, everything else would follow. They would open a free school for girls, starting with the youngest, the brightest and the most vulnerable children.

Jessica knew how to apply for grants in America. She had friends whose families donated money. She raised $10,000 to start, and Kennedy worked with community members to arrange a small space for the school.

It had to be free in order to reach the girls most in need, but the school wasn’t set up as a charity. The students’ parents contribute their time — five work-weeks each year — in exchange for the girls’ education. Some of the students are orphans, so friends or relatives donate time for them. Brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbors all work together to help the school and build community.

Jessica and Kennedy hired the best teachers in Kenya, and after just a year their students were speaking good English. Opportunities were opening up, and the community began to understand the value of educating girls.


Eunice Akoth’s Dream: A poem from a 5th grade student at the Kibera School for Girls

The Kibera School for Girls  is adding one grade each year; eventually it will go through 8th grade. After that, the school will try to arrange admissions to high schools, boarding schools and even college for all its graduates.

The school made even more sense when Jessica and Kennedy added a health clinic and a source of clean water. TWE first interviewed Jessica in 2010, when the clinic had just opened. Services now include primary preventive care, women’s and children’s services, HIV care and a child nutrition program.

By including holistic services so all members of the community benefitted directly, they made the school into a portal for large-scale social change.

Jessica Posner at new health center, Kenya

Jessica Posner at the new health center

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who writes about human rights, women’s rights and global affairs, has helped publicize Jessica and Kennedy’s work. Now even the government wants to help. (“They want our votes,” Kennedy clarifies.)

And since they have demonstrated what is possible, Jessica and Kennedy are getting requests from young people across Kenya — and around the world — to replicate SHOFCO and the school for girls. “Young people look at me,” Kennedy says, “and see that it is possible to change. We can do it. We don’t have to wait for the government, or for big donors.”

“Standard international development is very top-down,” Jessica explains. “But this is bottom-up. Most of the funding comes from individuals. It only takes $100/month to sponsor one girl, and give her two meals a day.”

Although things are getting better, many residents of Kibera still struggle every day. The political situation has improved significantly since 2007, when Jessica and Kennedy began working together. Kenya’s government is much stronger now, but there is still no functional government in the slum, and no police protection. Poor women still have a dismal life.

Jessica Posner

Children at The Kibera School

But SHOFCO isn’t waiting around for donations. They provide computer, adult literacy and business skills classes for Kibera residents. SHOFCO’s sanitation efforts include cutting edge bio-latrines, community toilets and hygiene and sanitation education initiatives.

All this has grown from Kennedy’s initial work to create a safe, productive space for community members to gather and improve their lives. The real magic of Jessica and Kennedy’s collaboration is the local participation Kennedy inspires, combined with the outside funding prowess Jessica provides.

This approach works so well because it empowers the people of Kibera and lets them decide for themselves how best to use outside aid. Most of all, it engenders hope by demonstrating that a better life is possible.

Wedding of Jessica and Kennedy by John Moore on YouTube/6-19-12
 

Jessica and Kennedy took their collaboration beyond SHOFCO — they were married in June of 2012, and they will undoubtedly keep right on making things happen. As a friend said at their wedding, “It’s never going to be dull!” I have a feeling there are more miracles on the horizon.

###

 

Author Paula McLain Reimagines the Lives of Two Remarkable Women

Paula McLain; speaking at Book Passage, Aug. 2015/Photo: Pam Burke

Paula McLain at Book Passage Bookstore/8-15

Update 6-5-18: Paula is getting great reviews for her newest historical fiction, Love and Ruin, the story of Ernest Hemingway and writer/journalist Martha Gellhorn.

by Laurie McAndish King/November 16, 2015
Photos: Pamela Burke

 “The genre is completely addictive to me. It’s almost like every step of my journey as a writer has been leading up to historical fiction. It allows me to use all my gifts as a writer — my empathy, my curiosity.”   Paula McLain

Paula McLain didn’t plan to write breathtaking historical fiction; her sights were set on poetry. She worked hard at it, earning an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan while single-parenting her toddler. She published two books of verse, a memoir about growing up in the foster-care system in California, and a contemporary novel … and then came The Paris Wife (@randomhouse). McLain hit her stride with historical fiction.

Paula McLain books/Photo: Pam Burke

That book, published in 2011, is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and early years in 1920s Paris, told from the perspective of his wife, Hadley. Friends were raving about The Paris Wife and I knew McLain had just published a second piece of historical fiction, Circling the Sun, so I was delighted to hear her speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

Looking lean and graceful in a black jacket and lively pearl earrings, McLain radiates warmth. She talks with both hands, and her right arm clearly has a life of its own. She flips her long brown hair, enthusiastically.

Paula on Reviving Ernest Hemingway and The Paris Wife/Random House of Canada on YouTube

Before she wrote The Paris Wife, McLain says, she had a problem. “I hadn’t yet had a big idea, and I wasn’t sure how to find one. It was by fluke that I stumbled onto A Moveable Feast. I was moved to tears by the love story. When Hemingway believes his own genius … I wanted to know more. Who was she? What really happened, so that they lost each other?”

McLain read two biographies of Hadley. “I let the first fall open, and a letter from Hadley leapt off the page at me. This is my girl,” I thought. “This is my book!” McLain quit her teaching job (she was actually working three teaching jobs at the time) and borrowed some money. She wrote every day in a Starbucks in Cleveland — which, McLain points out, is the absolute farthest one can possibly get from a Parisian café.

“I had never done research before. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had never even been to Paris. It was almost as if I was channeling her, like an actress in the role of my life,” McLain remembers.

In the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, she found a treasure trove of love letters—thousands of letters that she could “follow down the rabbit hole” into Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s exuberant life in Jazz-Age Paris. “Hadley had burned all her letters from Ernest, but he kept everything. It was like a ghost chase.”

A member of the audience asks McLain how she managed to recreate Hadley’s dialog. “How do you get into their heads? How much is fact, and how much is fiction?”

“Because it is a novel, you can say anything,” McLain explains. But due to copyright issues, she was not allowed to use any two words together that her subjects had actually written. “Getting inside her head was like an actor’s trick. I had read so many of her letters … I also love what is not being said. Really good dialog is people not saying what’s on their minds.”

The Paris Wife was told from the perspective of a relatively unknown historical figure. It included “no detectives, no porn, and no death on page three.” Yet it hit the New York Times bestseller list — and stayed there for 77 weeks.

“The genre is completely addictive to me,” she explains. “It’s almost like every step of my journey as a writer has been leading up to historical fiction. It allows me to use all my gifts as a writer—my empathy, my curiosity.”

The Paris Wife was named one of the best books of the year by People, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kirkus Reviews, and the Toronto Sun. It sold 1.6 million copies. And that presented a new problem.


BEA Librarians’ Breakfast on “Circling the Sun”/Penguin Random House-2015
 

It was time for a follow up. Readers were asking McLain what she was writing next. She had started novel about Marie Curie, another extraordinary and underappreciated woman, and worked on it for two and a half years. But the story was boring. “It felt like pushing a mannequin in a shopping cart,” McLain recalls.A nudge from her brother-in-law introduced McLain to West with the Night, the memoir of history-making aviator Beryl Markham. Markham’s achievements alone might have captured McLain’s attention.

Paula McLain, Elaine Petrocelli/Book Passage 8/-15/Photo: Pam Burke

Paula with Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage/8-15

She was a daring bush pilot in 1920s Kenya; the first person to successfully hunt big game from the air; the first licensed female horse trainer in the world; one of the first people in the world to hold a commercial pilot’s license; and, in 1936, the first woman to fly the Atlantic east to west—the hard way. In McLain’s words, “Markham was a real badass.”

Then there was Markham’s personal story. She suffered incredible losses early in life, somehow managed to draw strength from them, and grew into an exceptional and fearless woman.

She lived a dramatic life as part of a circle of glamorous British and European expats and had affairs with a prince and a duke—not to mention her part in the decade-long love triangle with Danish writer Baroness Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton, a charismatic hunter and pilot. “She lived like Calamity Jane and she looked like Great Garbo,” McLain observes.

But there was still more that drew McLain to Markham; the two shared surprisingly similar backgrounds. Both were abandoned at age four by their mothers and felt the loss deeply. Their mothers were both gone for 16 years, reappearing when their daughters were 20 and making the girls’ lives extremely complicated. Both McLain and Markham were married at age 34. “We share emotional DNA,” McLain says.

And finally there was Markham’s own voice, reaching out from the pages of West with the Night, and captivating McLain. “Within two paragraphs of reading West with the Night, I knew I would write about Markham,” she says. And write she did. Paula McLain’s new book, Circling the Sun, is a fictionalized account of Markham’s life, and it’s getting rave reviews.

McLain is getting rave reviews, too. Here’s what Ann Patchett says in Country Living, “Paula McLain is considered the new star of historical fiction, and for good reason. Circling the Sun … is both beautifully written and utterly engrossing.”

The audience members at Book Passage are eager to hear what McLain is up to next: Is she working on a novel? Will it be about another extraordinary woman? “Will a man ever inspire you that way?” someone asks.

“It’s these women’s lives that are capturing my imagination and magnetizing it,” McLain responds, flipping her hair back. She clearly has someone in mind, and it’s my guess that we’ll soon be treated to another lush piece of inspired historical fiction. In the meantime, I’m tucking into Circling the Sun.

##

 

Dr. Christine Carter on Finding Your Sweet Spot at Home and Work

Dr. Christine Carter/Photo: Blake Farrington

Dr. Christine Carter/Photo; Blake Farrington

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/April 16, 2015

“Every time someone would ask me how I was doing, I would always give the same answer: I am so busy. Extremely busy. Crazy busy. I wore my exhaustion like a trophy, as a sign of my strength and a mark of my character.”  Dr. Christine Carter

That was Dr. Christine Carter a few years ago. It probably sounds familiar—most of us would respond in a similar way. We are parents, partners, children, friends, employees, entrepreneurs, volunteers, committee heads, weekend warriors. And we’ve been programmed to believe that busier is better, that the busier a person is the more important, productive, and successful she is.

The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine CarterChristine Carter doesn’t believe that any more, and she’s out to convince the rest of us that busyness does not equal importance. In fact, that’s a major theme in her book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and at Work. And it’s the first of three myths she busted in a talk at Dominican University’s Institute for Leadership Studies Lecture Series (in partnership with Book Passage).

Carter looks happy and healthy as she stands onstage in a slim sheath and a peppy orange jacket. But she wasn’t always that way. Back when she was into busyness—when she had a high-powered job she loved as Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and had just released her first book, Raising Happiness, and was raising her four kids and training for a marathon—Carter got sick.

She had chronic low-grade strep throat for 18 months. She contracted a kidney infection. She even had a hospital fantasy: “I wish they would just admit me so I don’t have to go to Atlanta next week.” That’s the price of busyness. Carter emphasized her point by asking us to imagine that we had spent time at a pleasant lunch with a friend or tossing a ball with the dog.

When we’re involved in enjoyable activities like those, we don’t characterize ourselves as busy, even though our time is filled. When we feel busy, it’s usually because we’re doing things that we don’t really enjoy, or that don’t engage us, or that make us feel harried.

Christine Carter’s TEDxGoldenGateED Talk/6-11-11
 

We call it “busyness,” but neuroscientists call it “cognitive overload”—a state in which it is difficult for a person to plan, decide, remember, think creatively, solve problems, and control emotions. Busyness is a sign that we are not functioning optimally, that we are not living up to our potential.

It is often a sign we are sacrificing our own needs for the needs of our children or our workplace. We need to dial it back in order to become our best selves, Carter explains.

What’s myth number 2? “More is better.”

We know that’s a myth, but it’s a hard one to resist. We tend to put our children into more activities, so they can get into more prestigious schools, so they can get better jobs, so they can make more money, so they can buy more stuff. Do we really want that kind of life for our children? Often, less is more. Often, we already have enough. Dial it back again.

Myth number 3? “Doing nothing is a waste of time.”

The truth is that our brains benefit tremendously from rest; when the mind wanders, the “creative insights” part of the brain turns on. Carter knows, because, as a sociologist she has studied productivity, elite performance, and well-being.

So where does that leave us? If we’re buying into those myths, we’re not living from our sweet spot—that place where we can feel ease as well as accomplishment. Carter shows us a slow-motion video of a baseball player hitting a ball perfectly—hitting the sweet spot. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. The bat doesn’t wobble. The ball flies high. The hitter has used “effortless power, not powerful effort.”

“The sweet spot is pretty fixed in athletics, but not for us humans,” Carter observes.

Fortunately, she has distilled cutting-edge scientific research into five strategies for finding the sweet spot in our own lives. “This book is me road testing all the research about elite productivity,” she says.

Working Mother Magazine–2/23/15
 

And here they are—Carter’s five sweet-spot strategies:

1. Single-task. The human brain is not designed to multitask, and when we try to do so it increases the chance of errors and creates a subtle, low-level fight-or-flight response. Christine tells us a story about her grandmother as an example. “My grandmother, who had a very difficult life, nevertheless lived to be 104. She loved to cook and taught me to cook. When we were cooking, if I asked a question she would put down the wooden spoon, turn, look at me, and answer my question. She was totally present.” That’s single-tasking.

2. Find the minimum effective dose of any given activity. “I had to do this in every area of my life.” Christine says. Her three-minute, do-it-every-day, better-than-nothing workout, for instance, consists of a one-minute plank, twenty push-ups, and twenty-five squats. And she looks terrific.

3. Stare into space. How will you feel? “Guilty, stuck, anxious, lazy. You’ll want to reach for your devices, read your email, check your Twitter feed. Stare into space anyway,” Carter advises. “Start small. Look at your anxiety or guilt with curiosity. Let yourself feel it. Device-checking is tremendously effective at numbing our emotions. But we don’t numb our emotions selectively. If you want to feel profound joy, you’ll also feel grief.”

Here Christine illustrates her point with short clip from the viral Louis C. K.’s “I Was in My Car One Time” video.

Team Coco–9/20/13
 

4. Lubricate your brain. Love, compassion, happiness, gratitude, awe, inspiration, hope, optimism—all these positive emotions have a physiological effect. They put the brakes on our fight-or-flight response, decrease stress, deepen our breathing, return our heart rate to normal, and even change our brain function. Carter shows us a short video of a child laughing, and we laugh, too. “You just did it!” she bubbles. “You just reset your nervous system!”

5. Change your mantra. When we have constant conversations about how busy we are, our brains go into overdrive. As an example of the importance of what we pay attention to, Christine shows us a video of Professor Daniel J. Simons’ “Monkey Business Illusion”:

 

We are what we pay attention to. Next time people ask how you are (“You must be so busy with your book launch…”) consider what you feel grateful for, Carter suggests. You could answer with something like, “I’m very focused on my book launch and I particularly love doing radio interviews.” Then you could change the subject to, “And I’m happy that it’s been so sunny.”

These strategies are hardly a spoiler for Carter’s book, which is jam packed with research-based advice on generating love and connection, shaking things up, problem-solving, fighting the right way, learning to apologize, letting go of grudges, tolerating discomfort, learning from difficulty, the importance of recess, and lots more.

Christine Carter and her Sweet Spot book at Dominican University

Christine Carter at Dominican University promoting her new book.

I love Carter’s message, but wonder whether she’s speaking to the choir, here in Northern California. We may not be aware of all the latest research, but we’ve certainly heard the takeaway. We know it’s important to slow down, to avoid multi-tasking, and to unplug when we’re not working.

As Carter closes her talk, I look around. The air is soft. Many people in the audience are hurrying out into the warm evening. More than half are checking their mobile devices—more than half!—before they even reach the auditorium door. We need you, Dr. Christine Carter. We are crazy busy, and we need you.

Listen to TWE Radio on iTunes to hear Christine Carter interviewed by Stacey Gualandi.

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Author Laurie McAndish King Gets ‘Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive!’

 

Author Laurie McAndish King reading at Book Passage for "Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive"| Photo: Jim Shubin

Author Laurie McAndish King reading from Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive! at Book Passage | Photo: Jim Shubin

By Laurie Weed/September 17, 2014

“Whatever you keep telling your friends about when you come home, that’s probably where your creative juice is…although sometimes, stories just present themselves.” Laurie McAndish King, travel writer and contributor to The Women’s Eye

A truly curious traveler is the best kind to follow, I’ve found, whether on foot or vicariously through stories and books. Never bored with the world—and thus, never boring—a curious traveler will always teach me something new.

Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing) is the curious type, with a scientist’s mind and a philosopher’s soul. Her first book, Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive! True Stories from a Curious Traveler, takes the reader on an unusual tour.   [Read more…]

TWE Story: Author Kelly Corrigan on the ‘Glitter and Glue’ of Motherhood

Kelly Corrigan, author,Glitter and Glue

UPDATE 2/20/15; Paperback edition of Glitter and Glue is out!

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/March 18, 2014

Twitter: @corrigankelly

“The coolest thing about the coolest people I knew was that they had made great families. Families with inside jokes and nicknames and dance moves. And that’s the shore I set out for.” Kelly Corrigan

Let me put Kelly Corrigan up on a pedestal for you. She’s on one for me. Kelly survived breast cancer and chemo and an ominous ovarian growth, and braved it through her beloved father’s cancer and her young daughter’s meningitis.

She has a page on Wikipedia and is, in her own somewhat surprised words, a “YouTube sensation”—a video of Kelly reading her essay about women’s friendships over time, Transcending, went viral with nearly five million hits.

Kelly’s “Transcending” video

Kelly co-founded Notes & Words, a charitable organization that features bestselling authors and top recording artists on-stage together, and has raised more than $4,000,000 dollars for Oakland’s Children’s Hospital and Research Center.

Oh, and she has written three New York Times bestselling memoirs. Three memoirs—and she isn’t even fifty yet! I loved Kelly’s coming-of-middle-age story called The Middle Place, so I attended Dominican University’s Leadership Lecture Series with Book Passage recently to hear her speak about her latest book.

The first time I heard Kelly speak it was at this same venue where I covered her interview with another bestselling author, Elizabeth Gilbert, just a few months ago for TWE. Their discussion ranged from science to shoes to spirit, so I was eager to learn what Kelly would choose as a subject.

Kelly Corrigan's Glitter and GlueThe evening began with a video of Kelly saying a few words about her new book, Glitter and Glue, A Memoir (@randomhouse), which explores the emotional intricacies of parenthood and the bond between mothers and daughters. I was surprised to learn that such an accomplished woman was fascinated with the minutia of family life.

“Your father’s the glitter, but I’m the glue,” Kelly’s mother told her years ago, summarizing their roles: father as a fun friend, mother as tactician and disciplinarian. Glitter and Glue is ostensibly about that difference—between adventure and life experience, fathers and mothers, fun and responsibility.

But the truth is that Kelly has reconciled the two with her understanding that everyday family life is the greatest adventure of all.

“The coolest thing about the coolest people I knew,” Kelly said, “was that they had made great families. Families with inside jokes and nicknames and dance moves. And that’s the shore I set out for.” It took Kelly less than five minutes to elevate domesticity to an existential art form.

“This abstract performance art called family life is our one run at the ultimate improv, our chance to be great for someone. It’s happening right now, whether we attend to it or not. This is it. This is the great adventure.”

At the end of the video the audience erupted in applause, and Kelly—not yet officially on-stage—peeked around the curtain, grinned, and waved like an over-eager five-year-old at her first school play.

The audience is immediately captivated with Kelly’s we’re-just-a-bunch-of-girlfriends brand of charm. She shows up in a simple navy blouse and skinny jeans—very skinny jeans—telling us she’s been on tour for twenty-eight days, and is so glad to be back home in the Bay Area, which she swears has the best food, the best people, the best clothes.

Then Kelly starts dishing on her mom.“My mother’s a little like the Maggie Smith character on ‘Downton Abbey.’ She has what my friend Betsy calls a BRF—a Bitchy Resting Face—and she’s fiercely devoted to her family.” Kelly puts on a bitchy resting face, so we can see what she means. A little later: “Mom loves sauerkraut, anchovies, and pearl onions—pearl onions! If you were writing a villain, wouldn’t you have her love them?”

But this is just to set the stage. In the same way that Kelly has reconciled her one-time longing for “a huge odyssey” with a deep appreciation of the grand adventure that is domestic life, she has also reconciled with the mother who battled her for years over blow-dryers and spending money and curfews, over political views and making wedding plans and baptizing babies.

Kelly Corrigan and her mom--Photo: Kelly Corrigan

Kelly and Mary, her mother/Photo: Kelly Corrigan

Most of Glitter and Glue is a flashback to the five months in 1992 when Kelly worked as a nanny. As a twenty-four-year-old she had gone off on a backpacking adventure, a global odyssey that would surely make her an Interesting Person.

But finding herself in need of money, Kelly took a job in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, looking after two young children whose mother had recently passed away. The experience of caring for children—for the first time in her life—brought an appreciation of her mother’s expansive skills and mighty competence.

What about her own family, now? Is Kelly the glitter or the glue? Although she wouldn’t mind glittering, it turns out Kelly is the glue, just as her mother was. She is the one who supervises homework, keeps a watchful eye out when the girls are on the ski slopes, and manages “the unsettling situations that often bubble up right around bedtime.”

“I’m the CEO,” Kelly says. “Edward [her husband] is like the chairman of the board. He only comes in for board meetings, and he gives me some tips, like, ‘I just came up with a few things when I was flying across the country first-class, some ideas that might help.’”

But it’s her mother that Kelly calls on when she needs “tips,” advice, perspective, or encouragement. “I have come to admire [my mother] so much for so many things… She had so much stamina. She had so much fortitude and grit, to stand the constant negotiation.”

“Now,” Kelly says, “give me almost any situation—termites, refinancing, or back pain, allowance, mean girls or sibling rivalry, a child’s despair, a husband’s inattention, or my own spikes of rage and regret—and watch how fast I dial her number.”

Kelly may still be dialing her mom, but she has come into her own as an author, a philanthropist, and an inspiring figure for anyone attending to the Great Adventure.

Photos of Kelly Corrigan courtesy of Betsy Barnes

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Authors Elizabeth Gilbert and Kelly Corrigan Talk Science, Spirit and Shoes

Elizabeth Gilbert and Kelly Corrigan, Dominican University Fall 2013

Kelly Corrigan (l) and Elizabeth Gilbert (r) at Dominican University/10-16-13

UPDATE 6/2414: Elizabeth’s paperback of “The Signature of All Things” is published today. Check out her upcoming events.

By Laurie McAndish King/December 29, 2013

“I know that there are very few greater pleasures in life than to … be subsumed by the work that you are obsessed with, and that’s completely who [Alma] is, and that’s totally based on me.” Elizabeth Gilbert

Bestselling authors Elizabeth Gilbert and Kelly Corrigan made me feel as though I’d just spent the evening talking with my two best girlfriends, even though they were sitting onstage at Dominican University in front of hundreds of people as they discussed German Romanticism, the rise of Empiricism, the effect of birth order on family dynamics and Tory Burch shoes.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All ThingsCorrigan interviewed Gilbert as part of Dominican’s Leadership Lecture Series, in partnership with Book Passage, an independent bookstore in Marin County, California. They were talking about Gilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things.

The book is about Alma Whittaker, a botanist born in 1800 to “potent and clever parents.” Alma grows up to study the miniature universe of mosses, and her story is a miniature reflection of the Darwinian Revolution that occurred during her lifetime.

“We now live in this world of scientists who have no divinity, and the faithful who have no reason,” Gilbert said. “You wish the divorced parents would just get together in a cafe at 10 a.m. for a cup of coffee.” She was referring to the 19th century division between science and spirit. “People were starting to suffer.”

Earlier, there had been no division between divinity and science, Gilbert explains. All the great ministers were naturalists; admiring and praising God’s creations was a natural—even organic—part of their work. But the 19th century was a painful moment in history. “It was like an awful divorce, and the parents have been fighting over the kids ever since.” Gilbert, who wrote a book about marriage called Committed, has a lot to say on the subject.

She also has a lot to say about the schism between science and divinity—five hundred pages worth in this new book. And Gilbert says it very well. So well, in fact, that I would happily have read another five hundred pages about evolution and moss biology and taxonomy and botanical illustration, if only she had written a longer tome.

Author Barbara Kingsolver, whom I’ve had the pleasure of writing about for TWE, agrees in her New York Times review: “Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act.”

Is this the same Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love? The book some critics dismissed as self-absorbed and overly emotional? The book that sold ten million copies, spent 200 weeks on New York Times bestseller list, and helped earn its author a spot on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in world? That Elizabeth Gilbert? Yes, it is.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

And the irony is not lost on her. Gilbert’s own spiritual side was on display in Eat Pray Love. “Some people loved it,” she says. (About ten million, I’m guessing.) But it made others feel nauseated and write snarky reviews and say things like, “Just don’t talk to me about that *** ashram,” Gilbert continues.

Readers who are more aligned with the empirical will appreciate The Signature of All Things. “This book is like a pair of sensible shoes,” Gilbert suggests. I respectfully disagree. True, the novel is solid storytelling, historically based, and exhaustively researched. But it is also lyrical, seductive, and addictive. More like the surprise pair of Tory Burch shoes Corrigan gave Gilbert during an onstage moment of female bonding.

Elizabeth Gilbert with shoe Kelly Corrigan gave her/Fall 2013

Elizabeth regards Kelly Corrigan’s gift first with curiosity (above), then with delight.
Photo: Laurie McAndish King

There’s another irony: “This book wouldn’t exist without Eat Pray Love,” Gilbert says.“Eat Pray Love paid for this book. It was a very time-consuming book to write.” Gilbert did a lot of research and planning before she began writing—three years’ worth of interviews, reading, and travel, plus a seventy-page outline, for starters.

The Signature of All Things begins with the story of Alma’s parents, Henry and Beatrix Whittaker. Henry was fun to write about, Elizabeth says. “He was the most muscular writing I’ve ever done. He has no emotion except ambition—searing ambition and cunning.”

Those two qualities made Henry Whittaker into the third richest man in the western hemisphere. “Money followed him around,” Gilbert writes, “like a small, excited dog.”

The exceptionally well-educated Beatrix spoke seven languages and designed her gardens using Euclidian geometry. An austere and daunting Dutch Calvinist, she had the highest standards and expectations for her daughters. At a critically important juncture in Alma’s life, her mother reacts with anger: “As for her final two words, she spat them out like two sharp chips of ice: ‘Improve yourself.’”

Ambrose Pike, who becomes Alma’s soulmate (and, briefly, her husband) wanders into this Whittaker world of education and ambition. The couple—Alma a scientist who studies earth-bound mosses, Ambrose an artist who makes exquisite images of ethereal orchids—represent the opposing forces of rationalism and spiritualism.

Elizabeth Gilbert at Book Passage event/Fall 2013

Elizabeth during one of the lighter moments of the conversation/Photo: Laurie McAndish King

An impressive scholar, Alma is unattractive but sturdy, stubborn but brilliant.  She’s “a woman whose life is saved, over and over again, by her work,” Gilbert explains. Alma’s exhaustive botanical studies insulate her from isolation and boredom, depression and jealousy, loss and loneliness. Gilbert certainly understands loving one’s work. “It’s almost a guilty secret: I enjoy my work so much!” she says.

The Signature of All Things is also a cautionary tale, though, because as much as Alma loves her work, she holds back from publishing. One thing I tell young women, Gilbert says, is: Don’t hold back. With respect to writing, that means including all your big ideas, emptying yourself of content. “When you finish a book you should be empty. Nothing should be held back for the next one. There’s not even any starter yeast. There’s nothing left. Then ideas start to trickle back in, like beach sand or cockroaches—you just can’t keep them out of the house.”

Above is the entire conversation at Dominican University for you to enjoy. I’m already eager for Gilbert’s next book. She’s a terrific storyteller, and, no matter what her next topic is, I know she won’t hold back.

Elizabeth Gilbert's new shoes given her by Kelly Corrigan at Dominican University

Elizabeth wearing her spiffy new shoes after the talk
Photo: Laurie McAndish King

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