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349: Happier Podcast Book Club: Kate Bowler Talks About Why There’s “No Cure for Being Human”

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Happier Podcast Book Club: No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear by Kate Bowler. 

Two years ago, we launched our Happier Podcast Book Club. In this episode, we talk to Kate Bowler about her brilliant memoir No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear (Amazon, Bookshop). 

The official description explains: 

It’s hard to give up on the feeling that the life you really want is just out of reach. A beach body by summer. A trip to Disneyland around the corner. A promotion on the horizon. Everyone wants to believe that they are headed toward good, better, best. But what happens when the life you hoped for is put on hold indefinitely?

Kate Bowler believed that life was a series of unlimited choices, until she discovered, at age 35, that her body was wracked with cancer. In No Cure for Being Human, she searches for a way forward as she mines the wisdom (and absurdity) of today’s “best life now” advice industry, which insists on exhausting positivity and on trying to convince us that we can out-eat, out-learn, and out-perform our humanness. We are, she finds, as fragile as the day we were born.

With dry wit and unflinching honesty, Kate Bowler grapples with her diagnosis, her ambition, and her faith as she tries to come to terms with her limitations in a culture that says anything is possible. She finds that we need one another if we’re going to tell the truth: Life is beautiful and terrible, full of hope and despair and everything in between—and there’s no cure for being human.

Elizabeth and I also both loved Kate's first memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) (Amazon, Bookshop).

Kate is a history professor at Duke Divinity School, and I've also read her academic books: Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Amazon, Bookshop) and The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities (Amazon, Bookshop).

Kate also has a terrific podcast, Everything Happens. If you'd like to listen to an interview of the two of us, it's here.

In the course of our wide-ranging conversation, we covered questions and topics such as:

  • How  the process of writing a memoir (twice) changed her understanding of her situation
  • Why she felt lonely, and why it's hard to talk about problems that persist – the long haul is different from the crisis
  • Why the people who love you the most want to forget that there's something wrong
  • How her husband and family felt about her memoirs
  • Why we can be more honest in writing than out loud
  • Why she wanted to be lovable and likable as a patient – an easy person
  • How she thinks about her work as a "career" or a "calling"
  • How she confronted her doctor
  • How the formula of how to be a grateful patient broke down
  • How we search for resolution, but we can't get resolution
  • The three kinds of time: ordinary, tragic, and apocalyptic

I mention two books: Gilda Radner's It's Always Something (Amazon, Bookshop) and Gene Wilder's Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art (Amazon, Bookshop).

Some particularly interesting comments from Kate Bowler:

  • “When life is a chronic condition, what kind of formulas and advice-getting do we get?”
  • “I write when something’s unbelievably funny or unbelievably sad.”
  • “Sometimes, it’s the people who love you most who find the intractable nature of your problem to be unbearable.”
  • “We’re not just interrupted; we’re changed in the process of going through something like this.”
  • “Work gave me a tremendous amount of dignity, but also agency, to not just be in a cancer center getting infusions all the time, but being able to work on something that let me feel like I wasn’t eclipsed by all these things I didn’t choose.”
  • “At first, I wanted to make every minute into a moment.”

Kate's Tendency is Obliger.

Kate's Try This at Home: When a friend has a tough time coming up, make a note on your calendar, so you remember to follow up – so you're the friend who doesn't forget.

If you’d like to hear more from Kate—as one does—listen to her podcast Everything Happens, or you can listen to an interview Elizabeth and I did with her in Happier episode 273.

Remember: Whenever it is and wherever you are, there’s always a book waiting for you. 


Resources:

  • Subscribe to the Happiness Project email list to get tips, tools, and curated insights for your own Happiness Project delivered to your inbox every Sunday.
  • Many of you are completists, and I hear from people who are sorry that they’re all caught up and now have to wait for each Wednesday to get a new episode. If you want more, listen to my audiobooks!

What we’re reading:

  • Elizabeth: Listening to Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (Amazon, Bookshop)
  • Gretchen: Zen Inklings: Some Stories, Fables, Parables, Sermons, and Prints, with Notes and Commentaries  by Donald Richie (Amazon)

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