Monthly Archives: March 2014

And the sirens wail

I’m sitting in my office working, somewhat disgruntled because I am inside hammering away at hearing prep while so many are out in the world. How  unfair!  Why must I have the type of job that requires me to give this extra effort?  How much rather would I be sitting on my porch finishing “The Devil’s Cave”, the most recent delightful book about Bruno, police chief in St. Denis, France.

And then the sirens start to sound on the street outside my window. I don’t know to what event the first responders have been called:  A fire, an accident, a burglary in progress.  I pause in my work to contemplate the distressed person at the other end of the emergency vehicle’s path.  Will the man, woman or child who has summoned help get to enjoy this cool spring day? Or any other? Will they stand outside of their charred house, or next to their crushed vehicle, or beside their loved one’s still form, oblivious to the sun’s sweet kiss?

I turn back to my work, grateful for this perspective. I say a little prayer for the soul in need of the siren’s urgent cry.

Holding on to hope

I broke my  wedding ring finger last year and am told that I should wait until the one-year anniversary of the surgery to re-size my diamond.  I’ve got it on a chain around my neck, close to my heart.

Since then, I’ve fitted various rings on my hand, increasingly smaller as my therapy progresses and I get back range of motion. My finger has healed considerably. It’s now about a size 6, whereas the wedding ring is size 4-1/4.

The ring which I’ve been wearing most recently  is a sterling silver band on which the word HOPE is engraved.  I planned to photograph it and post the photo in a recent entry, but decided that doing so was sort of trite.

Now I wish I had.  Two nights ago, I took the ring off and set it on my dresser; and by morning, it had disappeared.  I’m sure it’s somewhere — in my sock drawer, or in the folds of my winter pajamas.  This weekend, I will take everything out and shake the fabric of my sweaters, pants and nightgowns until I find it.  In the meantime, I’m wearing a silver and topaz ring that actually fits better.

I’m a little disconcerted by the loss of my Hope ring.  It had no sentimental value; I bought it through a friend’s jewelry party. But the word “hope” has always been a touchstone for me; and there’s something eerily disturbing about losing hope.  You know?

But I’m holding onto hope:  Hope that the ring will surface; hope that my life will continue on its upward cycle; hope that the little rays of sunshine which I’m able to cast on other people’s lives will stir some of their cobwebs and lift their spirits.

I’m sad that the ring is lost; but I’m not complaining.

The bane of my existence

Packaging is the bane of my existence.

This morning, I struggled with a  yogurt container, of all things.  Remember when yogurt containers had nice lids, and the lid could be re-affixed if you couldn’t eat the whole allotment?

Now, most single-serving yogurts have foil or plastic hermatically sealed over the little cup, and it takes an act of a sharply divided Congress to pry the thing loose.  As I pulled at it, willing my clumsy hands to steady and put just the amount of torque on the fragile object, I thought about another person whom I knew long ago, and who had his own severely palsied hands.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember his name.  He worked for an economic development project in the Bootheel of Missouri when I was in my early teens. I did a few good deeds back then, which I’m sure is how I managed to salvage some of my otherwise misspent youth.  One such project involved raising money for the town of New Haiti, Missouri; and this gentleman served as a contact person for the youth group of which I was a part, the Young World Development, an affiliate of the American Freedom From Hunger Foundation.

He came to stay at the YWD office for a while.  He had cerebral palsy and, additionally, could neither talk or hear.  One day, a bunch of us arrived at the office to find a note from him, which read roughly as follows:

Two large, unpleasant boys banged on the front door.  I ignored them for a while, but they kept banging.  I couldn’t hear, of course, but I could tell they were banging because they cracked the glass in the window.  I finally went down to the front door and gestured for them to leave.  They kept banging.  They screamed at me, which I couldn’t hear, of course, but I could tell they were screaming because their faces got very red and their eyes were ugly.  I waived my arms toward the street, trying to convince them that I had no intention of talking with them.  Finally, I wrote a note, held it up to the window, and pointed to it.  They read it; and then they went away.

Sitting next to his note to us, was his note to the two boys.  That note said, in large, block letters:


There was a little smiley face drawn under the part about lily-white spastic hands.

As I struggled with the bane of my existence this morning, I thought about that social worker and his stilled voice, his unhearing ears, and his lily-white spastic hands with which he probably would never have so much as killed a fly.  About the time I got the lid off, I found myself grinning ear-to-ear.  Still smiling, I sat down at our dining room table, and began to eat my nonfat Greek yogurt, holding a silver spoon in my own rather clumsy, gnarled and hardly lily-white hands.  I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast.

Not a competition

I know  people who insist that anything which happens to them is worse than anything that’s ever happened to me.  I listen to these people talk about the events of their lives and think, “It’s not a competition, my friend; it’s just about getting through the days of our lives.”

The drive to seem to have borne more pain or more complex circumstances forces people into nonstop complaint mode.  I understand the dynamics of this process because I have been that person.  The worst pain.  The saddest day.  The hardest struggles.  One of my siblings once called me a “person of superlatives”.  Somehow, I interpreted that as a compliment.  So not.

I understand what drove my need to complain.  It’s attention-seeking behavior.  I felt lonely; I complained.  The person hearing my complaint soothed me, expressed compassion, sympathy or even pity.  I got my “Notice-Me” fix and that sustained me.

But so many other ways exists to get the same fix.  Do something nice for someone!  They’ll thank you and praise you to high heaven — maybe even publicly! though,  I have found that I don’t need the public praise; the private thanks satisfies whatever itch previously got scratched by that “poor pitiful me” charade.

Most critically, I no longer need to be worse off than others.  I might actually be worse off than others; but I’m letting go of whatever satisfaction I previously gleaned from it.  I stepped out of the competition.  I took a deep breathe, and let that particular race pass me by.

I’m happy to be on the sidelines of that one.  If I’m going to compete for anything, I think I’d rather find something a whole lot more fun.  Like, the brightest smile!  Who’s with me in that race!?! And just to get us started, here’s a picture of my GOOFIEST smile:

My goofy smile

Let’s go with, “Fine, thanks.”

There are some people who ask how you are and don’t care.  Others  want an actual answer.  The degree of detail sought depends on where the person falls on the continuum of closeness with you.

I’ve recently had my health and emotional ups-and-downs.  When most people ask how I am, I just say, “Fine, thanks”.  A few people need more detail — the nurse at my  primary doc’s office, for example.  If I say, “Fine, thanks” to that dear lady, she’ll just laugh and say, “I know about your blog, Corinne; but I need to know how you are today so lay it on me.”

For my friends and close family, I might report the facts of current status.  If it’s someone who knows I’ve been to a cardiologist, I might give an update on that weird issue (off the Bell chart, don’t you know). Other close friends know more about any  number of situations that rock my composure, as I know of theirs; and we give each other honest assessments.   For a half-dozen folks in my inner circle, anything less would be an affront.

But even so, that kind of information can easily be imparted without  whining.  In fact, it is much easier on me and them if I give them my status in a calm and  matter-of-fact way, unless it’s, say — Penny; and we’re having coffee; and it’s Saturday morning; and time for a good old sister-sharing session.  Then, either of us might really unload all our troubles on the other, with wailing, gnashing, and  lamentations galore.

I don’t consider that complaining, whether it’s me doing the unloading or Penny.  We need that sharing to  make it through life’s troubles.  The release is usually followed by brainstorming, in the very most giraffe-like language, about how to navigate whatever ails us.  But  on the whole, that kind of burden does not need to be generally heaped on the heads of every unsuspecting person whom I encounter during my daily life.

So, if you see me and ask how I am, and I say, “Fine, thanks”, don’t be upset.  I’m probably trying to keep myself on an even keel and avoid whining. Or, perhaps, it’s true.  Some days, after all, are diamonds.


Almost without thought

At 12:55 p.m., I stood with about thirty other folks in the chilly air outside of the Public Library.  I turned to a young man hovering near the door and said, “This alone should tell them that 1:00 p.m. is too late to open!”  He laughed.  “And on Sunday, too!” I nodded.  Yes, Sunday.

And then I gazed across the parking lot and thought, “Okay, Corinne.  Instead of snarking about the fact that the library doesn’t open until 1, perhaps you should be grateful that it isn’t closed on Sundays!”

I realize no one felt any pain from my little jab.  Perhaps it is insignificant.  But I voiced that tiny but inescapably negative statement outloud almost without thought.  It seems the complaining habit became so much second-nature to me, that it is my voice of first resort.

Nothing earth-shattering to report today.  I’m just ruminating on how warped the fiber of my being must have become, that I think first of the worst, or the bad, or the lamentable; and only afterwards, of the good and that for which I should be thankful.

By the end of the year, I hope that it is the positive which I express almost without thought; and the negative which someone else has to call to my attention, giving me the chance to invite them into my sphere of gratitude.

Do I sound like Pollyanna?  I’ll plead guilty to being a Pollyanna wannabee, if that’s the charge.

I want to be the woman who smiles at everyone, figuring that life is a birthday party, and she’s the guest of honor.  Delusional?  Perhaps.  But being considered the lady who warbles on about the joys of life strikes me as so much more  inviting than being considered the sourpuss whom no one wants to visit because all she does is moan and groan.

Questions, questions, questions

On Thursday, I ordered my favorite salad from Panera’s.  (For my friends to the east — that’s KC speak for “St. Louis Bread Company”.)  I’ve been a Panera’s fan for years, but even more so since my son discovered the Secret Menu.  The salads on the secret menu rarely get broadcast. They’re seasonal or promotional items that every store can make if you know to ask for them.  My favorite is the “Chicken hummus power salad”, a deconstructed salad with small, artfully arranged  helpings of spinach, sliced cucumbers, pesto hummus, chicken, and red onion, on which one can, if one chooses, squeeze fresh lemon (provided).  It’s divine.

For true carnivores, there’s also a “steak hummus power salad”.

I got carry out and brought my salad and a chicken Caesar salad for my husband back to the office.  Nearly salivating with hunger and anticipation, I opened the to-go box only to discover one noticeably bare corner of the ensemble: the chicken had been omitted.

I picked up the receiver on my desk phone and dialed my Panera’s before remembering that I was on a complaint-free journey.

The manager answered.  I identified myself, and he told me his name.  Then the conversation lagged.  “Can I help you,” he inquired.

“I got a chicken hummus power salad just a few minutes ago.”

“I remember you; I made it myself; people don’t usually know to order that particular salad.”

“Well….” I hesitated.  “There was no chicken in it.”

He instantly started offering apologies and solutions. I could come by; he’d make another. He could send me a gift card.  I stuttered, trying to decide if I wanted to back out.  Was I complaining?  I certainly was advising someone of my displeasure — the very crux of the dictionary definition.  Though  I had not used an unpleasant tone or made any negative statements about the place or its staff, my call fell within the wide river of complaint which I’m trying not to swim. I demurred for a good five minutes, aware that he probably thought I had gone daft. He insisted though, and  in the end, I agreed to accept a gift card.  We parted on a cordial note.

Now I am left wondering:  Was a matter-of-fact report of a failure actually a “complaint” in the sense of my quest to live 365 days without complaining?  And, if so, should I still have made that call?  Or should I have just tolerated my salad devoid of its main component, perhaps trusting that the universe will send something my way to balance the loss?

Does the answer change if the deficiency cost more than the $7 which I paid for my lunch?

What price my honesty?

I’m still wondering.

Towards peace

I have a spent a lot of bitter moments contemplating the parenting job done by my father.  More recently, memories of difficult times in my childhood because of my father’s alcoholism and violent tendencies when he was drunk have been rising up like bile in my stomach.  I’m a writer;  but I’ve not written much about my father, except in oblique references, because I’ve tried to let the past be in the past.  I have, however, complained about him.

But I’m trying to let all forms of complaining go.

In that spirit, then, I’d like to share with those who read this blog, a letter from my father that I recently found in a box in our attic.

It is post-marked 18 May 1990, and sent to “Corinne Corley” c/o the law firm in Fayetteville AR where I worked at the time. But the undated letter is addressed to me by my first name:

Mary —

This is one of the things that I seem to be totally inadequate at doing, but I will try —

Your pursuit of the Legal profession was — is — and will remain to be a great source of pride — and a bit of self-indulgence — in the mere fact that I think that I helped you go the route you did.

Your success — from solo tries to a now apparent success in a good firm — show that your desire and ambition are on their way to fulfillment.

     I only wish that I could have helped more — but your self-reliance and determination — carried you far beyond my hopes.

I wish that I could have helped more.

All my love — congratulations and remote help are yours.

My father — my brother — and now you.  What more could I ask?

With much love


My father’s references are to his father, John L. Corley, and his brother, Robert D. Corley, both of whom were attorneys.  My father himself had been a bookkeeper after the War, but due to his alcoholism, did not hold a job much after about 1960, although in his later years, he worked part-time as a wood worker for a neighbor’s upholstery shop. My father was whip-smart and would have made an excellent attorney.

Both my father and my Uncle Bob encouraged me to go to law school.  My Uncle Bob taught me the elements of a contract.  I aced Contracts in part because of him.

As I move forward in this quest for a complaint-free life, complaining about my father’s failures is something that I intend to consciously cease.  Finding this letter and sharing it helps me remember that in everyone there is both bad and good.

Rest in Peace, Pops.  I hope I continued to make you proud all the days of your life, and all the days of mine.

Kansas City, 19 March 2014


Bug boxes

My sister Joyce spent a few years augmenting her income by crafting.

She made shelves, heart plaques, little wooden flowers, signs, and small benches.  All had country themes and colors, and sold for multiple times the cost of materials though probably not at a level that could truly recoup her labor.  She made enough money to put a room addition on her home, though.  And gifted her family with small treasures, such as a wooden heart that she gave me with a tribute to motherhood and my infant son’s name on the back.

But by far her best-selling item for a long time was the bug box.

This clever contraption had mesh wire, a wooden frame and tiny door, and cute little insignia.  A child could run with it, holding it by a little handle, and gather scads of creepy crawly things on a  summer day.  Safer than a mason jar, my sister’s bug boxes sold like hotcakes. I have a picture of several of my nieces and nephews holding bug boxes which Joyce gifted them; it’s tragically adorable.

I’m sure other people made these bug boxes but I never saw them anywhere else until I saw the movie, “When a Man Loves a Woman”.  This classic Meg Ryan movie included a tender scene in which the husband tells his daughter goodbye just before he and Meg Ryan divorce.  The little girl is holding a bug box and Daddy — played by the gorgeous Andy Garcia — asks what it is.  When told, he replies, “I like a thing whose name tells what it does.”

Me, too, Andy.  Me too.

Take “complaining”, for example.  We all know what this word means.  In case you’ve forgotten, says, “to express dissatisfaction….”.  But when you click “Thesaurus”, you get no less than twenty-four synonyms right off the bat, and a couple of more paragraphs with additional suggestions. The first group includes “whining”, “grumbling”, “deploring” and “moaning”, just to name four.

I’m pretty solid with my “not complaining”.  For the next couple of months, I’ll be taking that list of synonyms and examining my thoughts, my actions and my words for signs of complaining disguised as something seemingly more honorable.  Perhaps, when I’ve gathered all those complaint-wolves wearing sheep’s clothing, I’ll cram them into a bug box and let their glow fade until no more harm can be done.  And then, just to get back the light and warmth that they might have pretended to give, I’ll go catch me some lightening bugs.

Charity begins at home

I  had a difficult time today.

I tried a case against a woman who had no attorney. She didn’t do a very good job of presenting her side of the story, but the judge obliged her by asking all the questions her attorney would have normally asked.  You might say that wasn’t fair; but the judge wanted to know the whole story and didn’t want to be deprived of any facts just because the woman chose not to hire an attorney.

My client got one or two dates wrong and I found myself questioning whether I had done a good job, even though I knew that I had prepared, presented documents, drew my client’s narrative out, and generally covered all the points that the judge needed to hear.  It’s a tough case, though; and I cannot be sure of the outcome even now. It’s been taken under advisement and it’s a waiting game.

Afterwards, I found myself kicking myself around the corner.  I thought of a half dozen things that I could have done that I didn’t do.  Of course, hindsight is always 20/20; and I’m always hard on myself; and I win more than I lose.  But that never stops me from raking myself over the coals.

I realized, when the long evening of analyzing the case finally wound down, that I had spent most of the evening complaining about myself.

Funny, right?  Ironic, at least:  My year of not complaining sags under the weight of my self-criticism.  That’s one for the books.