Monthly Archives: July 2014

The bandwagon

I heard some upstart went on a TV show called “Good Morning America” to talking about not complaining.  No, I’m not jealous.  It’s a trend that I hope will circulate and become popular.

I’ve not been wildly successful during my year without complaining.  I’ve identified subtle ways in which I complain, which pose more difficulty than the obvious forms of complaint.  My relapses grown briefer and less frequent.  I  stop mid-whine to change my course.  I understand that a life-time of complaining can’t necessarily be abandoned cold-turkey.  I’m not letting up on my goal to live complaint-free, but I understand that, like any lifestyle, change can be slow and painful.

Personal challenges, life events that I did not anticipate when I made this resolution, have impaired my progress.  I forgive myself the humanity which plagues me.  Hearing that others have taken up  the charge, either people whom I know and find their inspiration in me, or people doing so on their own initiative, strengthens my resolve.  Each day holds new opportunity.  So jump on the bandwagon!  The parade marches on!

Along the trail

I’m driving to the office, along my usual route, when I spy a couple walking down the Brookside Trolley Track Trail.  I’m stopped at a light, 55th, maybe, or 57th.  They walk a few paces ahead of where my car idles.  They wear oversize T-shirts and baggy shorts.  They have grey hair and thin legs.  Hands entwined, they move slowly up the Trail with labored steps and slightly hunched, rounded shoulders.  They move as one body, neither able to make a step without the balance of the other.  I realize they must be in their seventies.  As the light turns green and I accelerate through the intersection, I look back and see the calm on their faces, which tilt toward the morning sun.

North of the Plaza, the serious joggers span the stretch of path through the park which stretches the length of the blocks between 47th and 45th, Broadway to the west and Main to the East.  Exercise equipment dots the grass on the east side of the trail, with bodies of serious athletes working alongside the doughy forms of those aspiring to attain wellness.  A neon green shirt catches my eye, as I sit waiting for the ambulance to clear the roadway by the hospital.  The form on which the vivid color flutters seems barely substantial enough to walk, but runs, at a good clip, concentration scrunching the face above the shirt’s round collar.

I raise a paper cup of coffee to my lips and proceed forward, towards work, on my path along the trail, where Kansas Citians stretch and dogwalkers tary, waiting for their charges to finish sniffing.  The day dawned cool and tempers subside from the simmer that a few days of elevated temperatures has engendered.  Life seems filled with possibility, for more than just me, but for me, also.  I’m driving, not jogging, but the trail spans the roadway and I catch the sweet scent of a flowering tree before I hit the fumes of Westport with its gas station and crowded curbside.  The fragrance stays with me into the workday, its memory lingering long after the perfume has faded.


You heard it here, folks

I’ve publicly proclaimed my dissatisfaction with Aixois in the past — on Facebook, at least, and generally among my close friends and those who in the past have been kind enough to listen to me complain about unimportant things like the quality of a three-dollar cup of coffee.  So, it must be said: This evening, en route home, I stopped at Aixois, feeling a cup low on decent coffee.

And, lo and behold, I got the best Americano that I’ve had in a long time, right here, right now, at Aixois in Crestwood. Cheerfully and pleasantly served by a barista who went out of the way to search the “happy hour” tapas menu for a small gluten-free snack.  You heard it here, folks:  I’m hereby announcing that all past criticisms of Aixois were likely situational in nature, like, I was being crabby or the hostess or waitress were being human.

So, here’s to second thoughts and good cups of coffee after a long, productive work day, on a lovely, cool day in July.



The familiar music surrounded me, booming in the room with its Formica tables and its linoleum tile.  It could have been 1985; it could have been any bar.  Except for the diet soda and dish of cottage cheese in front of me, I’d played that scene a hundred times in the years following law school.  My friend Alan White crooned at the front, John Bara on drums and a guest saxophonist stage left.

Ellen and her gentleman caller sat across from me, her eyes twinkling as she gazed around the room.  A glowing, charcoal-smeared Penny danced on my left, newly arrived from her Sunday figure-drawing class.  Across the room, the lovely Hanna Baker lifted her hand to wave in a gentle motion, with her smile radiating upwards to her eyes.  The little kids, Rachel and Dominic, took turns stealing the show, shaking maracas, serious looks on their faces.  Their Dad and I aimed our camera-phones toward the stage.  Their eyes met ours but they kept their focus, stretching their young minds, opening themselves to the flood of song, finding the rhythm of the melody.

I toured the room, leaning to hug or kiss every one I knew.  I danced a bit with Penny, standing behind the table brimming with the Bakers, Mike and Karen and their children.  Theresa, alone at her customary high top against the back wall, folded me in her slender arms and asked, “How are you?”, in a voice which suggested that she really wanted to know.

I left after the second set, grateful for the early show.  The last time I drove after dusk, I ran my car off a curve on I-29 that I could not discern.  The world flattens for me as the sun sets.  I  have become a reverse vampire.  After years of shirking from cameras, claiming not to show on film due to being from Transylvania, I find the irony of my night-blindness almost humorous.


But I’m not complaining.  My heart sings with gratitude for my friends: the Bakers, Penny, Alan, Theresa, Ellen, Jerry, John.  Their collective presence at the Double-Nickel, Olathe’s best kept secret, seemed to have been orchestrated for the sole purpose of cheering me. And it worked.  As  I parked in front of my airplane Bungalow on Holmes Street, Sunday night, after the show, a smile lingered on my face which took me clear through til Monday morning.



When you’re feeling blue, find someone’s child and watch them play.

That does it for me.  So, yesterday, I sought out my friend Paula, who has two grandsons.  This had the triple-play effect.  I got a shot of Paula’s love and her  pure, unbridled joy for life.  I watched her two grandsons climbing in the playroom at Matt Ross Community Center.  Several hours passed in this way, that might otherwise have been steeped in melancholy.  And as a bonus, her four-year-old grandson Chaska persuaded “Auntie Corinne” to come to Whole Foods with them, as a consequence of which, I finished my week’s grocery shopping with healthy foods.

What better antidote when this lady sings the blues?  None.  Thank you, Paula Kenyon-Vogt!  I am in your debt once more, and happily so.

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Proof of life

Everything looks better in the morning, even me: My eyes seem to shine again, my legs don’t hurt as much, I see both the forest and the trees.  Here on the porch, I can raise my face and swear I see heaven above the crown of the maple, on the other side of the early morning lingering haze.  As the breeze ripples the newspaper and shakes the line of the coffee in my cup, it’s easy to feel hopeful, simple to cast aside the bleakness which weighs so heavily on me in darker hours.  There’s life here, I’ve proof of that.  Our old boy cat sleeps beneath a deck chair, and one of my geraniums has gotten a second, startling, vibrant growth of flowers.  As the American flag waves from the front pillar, and the workers across the way start to haul ladders from the roof of their trucks, I lift my face to the kiss of the morning sun, and think that I, too, perhaps shall live.

Pablo, our outdoor boycat, posing after his breakfast.

Pablo, our outdoor boycat, posing after his breakfast.

One of my hardier geraniums, in a pot that came from the window sill garden which my mother-in-law Joanna and I created in her room at The Sweeet Life last summer.

One of my hardier geraniums, in a pot that came from the window sill garden which my mother-in-law Joanna and I created in her room at The Sweet Life last summer.

In the garden

I liken the process of learning how to voice concern without complaining to the machinations of the game of tennis or sailing.  So many factors must be taken into consideration when trying to get that little ball over the net and score, just as the current, the tide, the wind and other boats, along with the cut of the sail and the weight of the cargo, factor into steering a boat safely from one port to the other.

The process of expressing one’s needs, wants and desires without complaining takes patience, with which I have not been gifted in large measure.  Sometimes the effort overwhelms me.  Sometimes the desire to speak without upsetting even strangers rises to such a level of importance that my need to attain that goal counterweighs whatever need the stranger has not fulfilled.  But sometimes, the effort drains me, and I am left shaky and weak.

And it’s not a game.  It’s new life in rocky soil, this year without complaining.  I feel my roots sprout and strengthen, but the wind still blows hard against the tender upper shoots.  Like the herbs in pots on my porch, my fate still hangs in the balance.  I yearn to be cultivated, pruned and nursed, hoping the new life will overtake the tangled, matted undergrowth and reach for the sun.  But the heat might yet scorch; and the rain might not fall, and the tender care might yet fail.  I stretch and strain, here in the garden, hoping I will flourish and that my bloom will please those who cast their eyes upon me.

Grateful every day

There’s an angel that appears to me once in a while.  This being has an extra-terrestrial look about it — rounded head, big eyes, smooth pale body.  I saw it first in 1979, standing over me while I slept.  “Get up,”, it urged me, “there’s somebody here, get up”.  I dragged myself from a groggy, foggy alcohol-induced sleep to discover my backdoor had been smashed.  I screamed and screamed.  The neighbors came.  I don’t know what happened to the intruder or the angel.

My mother saw this being in a dream at the time of her cancer diagnosis.  She and I walked in her garden the following weekend.  “An angel came to me,” she said.  “He told me I had a year to live, and I’m okay with that.”  She described the visitor and I could not help smiling.  I told her about my guardian and we fell silent.

The same angel has appeared to me in dreams over the years.  It always bears a message to me, from God, I suppose, or perhaps the Universe, or the great cloud of divine life from which we all emerge and to which we will all return.  I pay attention — after all, that angel saved me once, and in point of fact, my mother died 11-1/2 months from the day she had that dream.  So I think that angel knows something and pay close attention.

I saw that angel in my dreams last night.  It stood to one side as I struggled on a brambled path.  I glanced over at it once, and I think my expression might have been accusatory.  The angel merely held my gaze until, in my dream, my face relaxed and a sense of well-being overtook me.  “Be grateful every day,” the angel suggested.  “Be grateful for something, every day.”

Call this angel a figment of my imagination.  Call it my subconscious, my mother’s subconscious, or an hallucination.  I don’t mind.  You can think what you like, I’m perfectly comfortable even if you want to consider me delusional.  I’m still going for gratitude.  Beyond complaint-free living all the way to living in a state of grateful grace.  Come along, if you like.  The path might be strewn with rocks and thick roots and we might have to struggle over some rocky cliffs.  But there will be a stunning vista at the end of the road, and a pool of clear, sweet spring water, and a lovely tree beneath which we can sit and rest.  And there will be angels.


When I got home from work last evening, one of the impatiens on my porch had wilted.  The others still stood straight, reaching to the light even.  I had watered all of them just that morning.  They all are about the same size, in nearly identical pots. They’ve been equally tended and fed. But this one little plant seemed stressed, where the others thrived.

I filled the watering can and gave it a good dousing.  While on the porch, I pruned a few dead blooms, cut back a large assortment of greenery in a floor pot, and moved the herbs around.  The sage didn’t make it, but the rosemary and basil still seem likely to survive.

This morning, I noticed that the plant which had been flagging yesterday had fully revived.  I sat next to it, sipping coffee and rocking.  I felt a kinship with that little impatiens.  Both of us struggle to bloom where we’ve been planted.  So far, it seems to be making the better job of it.  But I still feel hopeful.

The little impatiens plant that could.

The little impatiens plant that could.


I’m down to one complaint:  Not complaining.  A hell of a year I picked, I’ve told everyone, walking down corridors, sitting at tables in coffee shops, lying on examining room beds, whispering into the phone at night to an empathetic friend.  I haven’t had any Isaac Beshevits Singer catastrophes (no little children have died), but I’ve had a lot of head-reeling crises.

But still, here I am.  Crazier, calmer at times, more hopeful.  I’ve got an abcess on one hand that has yet to be explained; a failed root canal; a virus eating my cerebellum.  These are just a few of things about which (she says, with a nod to JLW), I’m not going to complain. And not even the biggest ones (insert rueful smile).

I sat in a friend’s home yesterday, talking with her and her husband.  I rocked in their chair and listened to her husband talk about his new job, as one of a small number of retired Episcopal priests ordained as a Catholic priest, serving now in a parish in a poorer section of Eastern Jackson County.  He talked about the 250 families he serves, and his voice grew quiet, round and warm.  My friend talked about the death penalty post-conviction hearing she will start in a couple of weeks, of the terrible, abusive childhood of her client  which formed the half-crazed young man who stabbed and killed in a fit of uncontrollable rage.  Her voice, too, grew quiet, serious.

I rocked; they talked.  Then I spoke of my son and his adventures and I felt the stillness grow within me.  I rocked, I sipped cold water, and I let the peacefulness overtake me. Then I took the home-grown tomatoes with which they gifted me home and made  lovely meal of one of them.  I’m 7/12 of the way through this year without complaining.  I’m still here.