Monthly Archives: October 2014

My favorite cumudgeon still making me smile

Regular readers of my blogs know that my mother chided me for snapping at a Barnes Hospital nurse during one of my mother’s cancer-related stays.  She told me that even cancer is not an excuse for rudeness, a lesson that I sometimes fear I learned too little, too late.

As my father-in-law struggles in the last days of his own cancer, I am reminded of my mother’s stoic character.  Jay tells me, “Everything tastes  like cancer, honey”, but then lets me hold the glass and the straw as he greedily drinks the fresh ice water that I’ve gotten for him.  He calls one of the people from his wife’s church; I watch and listen as he talks to her, a gentleman even in his frail state.  He lies against his pillows and asks, in a sweet, quiet  voice, if I can raise the head of the bed for him.  He wants to know when his son is coming, when his daughter is coming, when I’m coming back.  I tell him what he wants to hear and then kiss him goodbye for the fourth or fifth time,  mindful of the undeniable possibility that I might not feel his skin against my cheek again.

He could live for a month or a day; I don’t know.  Cancer obeys no rules.

I read his email to him every time I visit.  One of his friends sent him an email with a joke in it yesterday.  I handed him the laptop so he could read it for himself because I thought from the title that it was sexual but it turned out to be a humorous jab at Democrats.  He read it out loud to me and cackled.  His pleasure at the joke touched  my heart and made me smile.  As he handed the computer back to me, our eyes met and I felt my favorite curmudgeon’s love flow into me.  Then I showed him something else funny, a joke about cremation being one’s last chance to have a smoking hot body.  And Jay’s laughter filled the room once again.  I will hold that sound in my heart forever.

One of my favorite photos on my Inspiration Board, of my favorite curmudgeon and me.

One of my favorite photos on my Inspiration Board, of my favorite curmudgeon and me.


It seems my days consist of navigating myself from one coffee shop to the next.  I have a grinder, beans and a coffee-maker at home and at the office but nothing tastes quite like coffee brewed by a barrista.  They come in all sorts:  surly, sweet, spacey, studious.  Male and female; mostly young but not always.  I feel myself passed from hand to hand, from Westport to Waldo to Johnson County.  The shops serve as stepping stones through each tumultuous day.

Today I find myself again at Westport Coffee House.  My office is at 4010 Washington; this place is one block west at 4010 Pennsylvania.  I feel safe here.  No one bothers me and the tables have electric outlets nearby.  The owner stocks gluten-free bagels and bread and makes gluten-free muffins.

Threatening clouds spat on my car as I came to work today but they’ve fled and this place fills with sunlight.  The light fixtures cast shadows on the floor.  Two men who eat lunch here most days sit nearby, discussing philosophy.  I’m at home.  I leave my cares at the door because nothing will be solved here but neither will anything worsen, and for an hour, I can tolerate the status quo as long as the coffee is hot and strong, and the wi-fi adequate.  I am here; light surrounds me; and for the hour in which I will occupy this table, I don’t need anything else.



Images abound

I’m just getting home from visiting my favorite curmudgeon.  He’s been in bed today feeling woozy but I manage to make him laugh.  We read and respond to e-mail and messages on Facebook.  I freshen his water and find him straws — the bending kind.  We talk about all the subjects which he and I always discuss.  Our tones soften as I settle in the chair that would normally be his and lean towards his bed.  I straighten his cover,  take his pulse oxygen, and press my smooth cheek against his face with its lines and spots.  He tells me it’s always good to have me visit.  He teases me about my next career as a caretaker.  We excuse any oversight or stumble with a shrug:  I’ve got cancer, you know; he’ll say.  Or I will buss him a bit and say, Oh, you’ve got cancer, that’s right, with a roll of my eyes.  And we laugh.  We talk about Game 7 of the World Series and we agree that the Royals simply must win.  We set the TV on the pre-game show so that he won’t miss Ms. DiDonato singing the National Anthem.  Then I tell him that I should go and he asks, in an oh-so-gentle voice, if my new glasses are working.  I saw you doing this —- he says, gesturing, moving imaginary frames up and down on his face, in front of his own aging but wise and lively eyes.  I lift my shoulders, drop them back.  There’s not much to say.  When do you see that specialist? he wants to know and I tell him.  You’re going, then? It’s definite?  He wants me to reassure him.  I tell him yes, I’m going, and he starts to ask a question and stops but I know what the question is, and I explain the arrangements we’ve made for my travel.  He gives one quick sharp nod; I’ve told him what he wants to hear.  Then I lean over him again, and we hold each other, my favorite curmudgeon and me; and in a half an hour I’m home. I’m opening the mail.  And there’s a card from my sister with a picture of a butterfly on it and I think:  Images abound; they gather round; and I take their sign.  And I am suddenly quiet, and then I go inside for the evening.  And in an hour, I am standing with my hand over my heart and the flag is waving and Joyce DiDonato does more justice to our nation than I have ever heard.  I picture my favorite curmudgeon, his son by his side, hearing this glorious rendition.  I weep, but my tears flow from an abundance of love.


that old Bashevis Singer rule rears its ugly head

So I’m grumbling, feeling sorry for myself, grousing around the house and kicking chairs (but not the dog).  And my friend Elizabeth Unger Carlisle, a post-convictions remedies / death penalty cases attorney, e-mails that she’s a bit flustered these days too, with the impending execution of a client.

Bam.  Theory of relativity smacks me in the head and I realize that the  petty little salt-in-an-open-wound incidents which have nagged me into grumpiness pale by comparison with the levying of a death sentence.

I stood on the porch at six a.m. today, eyeing the yard full of fallen leaves, letting the chill of the early morning air wash over me.  I reached my arms above my head and stretched, about 1/4 of the Sun salute, the most I can manage these days.  I close my eyes and feel my muscles pulling, feel the blood, thick but pumping, course through my veins.  That old Isaac Bashevis Singer rule has reared its ugly head again:  If no little children will die…It’s not a catastrophe.

I go back inside to pour a hot cup of coffee, brewed with electricity for which I can afford to pay.  I pop a pre-made gluten-free waffle into the toaster and reach for an individual container of Yoplait Greek yogurt.  Life might not be what I thought I bargained to attain.  But it ain’t bad.

So I’m asking the universe and all my bright-sider friends to throw me a life-line, and reaching to reel myself back from the brink so I can start anew.

images (1)


I do not like my teeth.

My adult teeth all descended before any of my baby teeth exited. As a consequence, all of my teeth (save one that I hit on my brother’s head, as previously discussed in a prior entry) sit crooked in my mouth.  On top of that, I received tetracycline as a baby but two years before the cut-off date for the class action lawsuit, so I got nothing from that litigation.  The tetracycline caused permanent yellowness.  I never wore braces and the calcium depletion during pregnancy further damaged my teeth so that I have broken ones. I’ve been accused of not taking care of my teeth and that’s probably a fair accusation as well.

Take a hand mirror out, stare into it, and smile.  Do you like what you see?  I don’t.  Every woman I see, everywhere, has beautiful white straight teeth.  That seems to haunt me.  It’s called, the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, and my friend Mike Smoots told me about it.  I’m thinking about my ugly teeth and other women’s beautiful teeth and every female that I see has straight, even pure-white teeth.  I can’t get away from it.  I’m not complaining, mind you:  My mother did the best she could for us, and the choices I made for myself along the way such as drinking too much coffee and not going to the dentist often, contributed to the state of my mouth.

Yet here I am — 59 years old, with a mouth that I don’t like to open to show my joy; legs that don’t work right so that people everywhere stare at me when I walk; near-deaf ears; and eyes that play tricks on me as the virus eats away at my brain.

I look into a mirror and know that what I am is what I am and always will be.  I think to myself, What can I do, but laugh? Because with all this shit, there must be a pony!

And so submitted for your consideration:


Me, c. 1978

Me, c. 1978

Me, 2014

Me, 2014

Lunch, Monday, last week, tenth month

I forgot to set my alarm this morning after a brutal night which stood as my just desserts for using a pharmacy that has no flat surface parking.  It took three days to find a space in which to park so I could get my prescriptions. I went two of those days without bloodthinner or anti-spasmodic and my body rebelled.

I fell asleep hours after two a.m., and a long time after sending a depressing e-mail to my son.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Now I’m sitting in front of a plate of tender falafel feeling somewhat revived.  I’ve had to shrug into a sweater and wrap a scarf around my neck.  They must be hot in the kitchen; they are running air and fans.  But they have lemon in their water and free wi-fi.  It’s Monday, it’s lunch time, and it’s the first workday of the last week of the tenth month of my year without complaining.

I think the bad guys might be winning.  Yesterday I felt fine, sitting on a patio with a warm breeze on my face.  I didn’t see the black edges of the world creeping towards me.  But then I got online and did some research into my failing vision, and found a likely culprit — the virus, of course, just as we knew.  And even though nothing really bad has happened, I sank into a kind of sad stupor, which matches the greyness of the sky, the chill of the room, and the doom of the season.

Hopeless, jittery, I look at the name of this restaurant, and I pause in my tearful reflection.  I think about my grandfather and the stuffed grape leaf rolls he made.  We called them “yubbra” which I’m told by my friends from Beirut has no meaning in Arabic.  I don’t know where he got the word; but they satisfied my appetite, alongside pan-fried kibbeh (cracked wheat and minced meat) and his delightful, tangy tabouleh with its fresh parsley and mint.  I come to this restaurant to be reminded of home; when I miss my family; and when I   yearn to hear the deep throaty sound of my mother’s voice.  I take some comfort here.




I drive down Holmes, the street on which I live, with a container of water on the floor of my car.  I’m going to get flowers at Lipari’s Sun Fresh to replace last week’s bouquet on  my mother-in-law’s grave.  Above me spans a sky as blue as my sapphires, bluer than my eyes.  Air flows into the window and someone on the radio is talking about things on paper not always being as they appear.  I’m half-listening.  The other half of my brain should be paying attention to the road, but I’m thinking about tragedy in a friend’s life and wondering how I can be available to her without making it about me, helping; rather than about her, hurting.

Trees in full fall glory span the road on either side of me, and as I crest a small incline, a bunch of bright orange maple leaves float to the ground.  They mesmerize me.  I’m distracted and miss a pothole, which jars me and brings my attention back to driving.

An hour later, I’ve freshened Joanna’s resting place.  The scrappy lady with steel-grey hair and piercing green eyes who sold me the flowers mentioned the lovely day and the Royals’ loss; and asked if I needed a bag.  I told her yes, it helps to carry the flowers; and then I thanked her for the store’s stocking Joanna’s favorite color.  I explained what I do with the roses that I purchase there nearly every week, and she stopped fidgeting with the cash register.  Her face broke into a soft, sweet smile and she said, Oh, I’m so glad to hear that!  When I left her counter, the smile on her face lingered: with me, with her, with the man behind me in line.

I left the cemetery after photographing the flowers to show to my favorite curmudgeon. On a whim, I double-backed to one of the places where I like to get coffee and write.  A young man at the counter sings Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? and I say, My Fair Lady, right? and he stops singing to tell me he really likes the musical.  He can’t be more than twenty, twenty-two.  I’m unexpectedly touched.

Then I’m on the patio, computer open, and some generic music plays from the strip mall’s speakers.  I hear birds; I see an American flag; I notice the adjacent parkway with its evergreen shrubs and its young oak trees.  I feel a knot of tension ease in my back.  It’s Sunday; I’m relatively healthy; I have loyal friends and people who love me and hold me close.  I can’t complain.  I really cannot complain.


As the autumn unfolds

Note:  This is an abbreviated version of a longer e-mail sent to family and friends yesterday, but the message of which properly belongs here, in this blog, about my year without complaining.

My life has been an amazing, fabulous journey.  I have had so many opportunities, met so many first-rate people, seen so many stellar events, places and moments.

True enough:  I’ve also had a plethora of difficult obstacles and roadblocks.  Some of these I pulled down from rubble piles into my own path, in front of my own feet.  Some of them just spilled into the causeway with the natural shift of the world.  And yes, it’s true, I’ve also seen a few bricks thrown from the sidelines as I stumbled forward.

Regardless of the roadblocks that have slowed my progress; regardless of my own blind staggering, the unwieldy grope of my outstretched hands; regardless of the blows that descended upon me; I have had enormous moments of joy.  I have been doing a lot of thinking, meditating, writing, and yes, even praying, such as my prayers can be — from the heart of a recovering Catholic.  And I have had bleak moments when I lost sight of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s definition of “catastrophe” as a situation in which children die.  At those moments, I truly felt that I  could not continue.

Last night I emboldened myself to try, again, to drive at night.  I thought that my new glasses would enable me to have the depth-perception the loss of which has grounded me for the last five or six months.  My friend Jessica needed her spirits lifted.  Her father has been in ICU on life support all week, and I wanted to give her an evening out.  We went to an appropriate place:  Cafe Gratitude, a vegetarian restaurant where the dishes have such delightful names “Humble”, “Terrific”, “Warmth” and “Grateful”.

On the way home, we had a rather terrifying experience.  My vision failed me as it did early in the summer, while driving on I-29, which event led me to stop driving at night until my annual visit to the neuro-opthamologist.  Last night, at a wide curve on Broadway Blvd. in Kansas City’s southern downtown area, the road went right and I continued straight, because I simply perceived the vista in front of me as completely flat.  With Jessica in the passenger seat, my vehicle continued forward off the road onto a concrete island and would have careened into the oncoming traffic had Jessica not found her voice and calmly but firmly directed me back onto the correct lane and over to a place where I could safely stop.

She drove us home.

As I told someone last night, I’ve been shot at, raped, robbed, left for dead, hit by a car, hit  in a car; and none of those experiences were more shocking than the moment last evening when I thought both Jessica and I would be killed.

This journey, this year of learning to embrace a positive and pleasant attitude and way of living, has certainly not been the cakewalk that I might have liked or even expected.  As many of you know, quite a few unexpected (though not catastrophic) challenges arose.  But I have also been given some phenomenal support.  I have also been allowed to do some of my best and most effective lawyering, for clients whose lives I am humbled to have impacted.  I have met some astoundingly genuine people this year; and heard some ideas that have reoriented my philosophy.

In short:  It’s been a wild ride, this year, and as the autumn unfolds, I find myself hoping for more warm days to spend on my porch, contemplating everything that’s happened.

I have two more months in my year; and maybe on 01 January 2015, I will start ““, and keep on moving forward.  Stay tuned; and remember:  It’s not a catastrophe unless little children die; and where there is life, there is room for improvement.

Mugwumpishy tendered,

Mary-Corinne Teresa Corley


The view from my porch, 25 October 2014. This tree survived the ice storm twelve years ago, and though still a bit misshapen, has given us much splendor to behold.

On city streets

I took a different route to work today.

My morning path wound through neighborhoods with which I am familiar but rarely travel during the early hours.  Its sidewalks, broken and crooked, bore the steps of children in uniforms or blue jeans, with bags slung on their backs, sweaters dangling from their arms.  I passed a woman wearing blue to boast her allegiance to the local baseball team, a chunky woman with a broad smile who seemed to look straight into my eyes as I paused to check for traffic from the crossing alley.  I returned her smile and eased my car forward, letting my glance linger, become a stare.  I wondered why she held her head so high.

At the last moment, I chose against stopping for fruit and cottage cheese at the QuikTrip and drove on, to the bank and then the office.  As I pulled into the space in front of my building, a woman with flying grey braids, carrying a motorcycle helmet, emerged from the neighboring coffee shop.  She lowered her lithe body onto an impossibly large bike, tossed the mess of hair backwards and set the bright red helmet on her head.

I got out of the car and grabbed my computer bag and purse, and looked again at the woman with the gypsy hair.  She seemed the sort of person you would only see on city streets, loose, vibrant and bold.  For a moment, I thought I knew her; thought I recognized the iron set of her jaw and the bright gleam in her eyes. But the moment faded, and I saw her for a stranger.  She revved her motor and drew away from the curb, leaving me standing, with my burdens, wishing for her  casual ease of being.


A different point of view

I found a new computer table at a thrift store a couple of weeks ago.  I didn’t buy it right away.  I told myself the rolling laminate-topped cart that I had been using for 15 years would suffice.  I argued, to myself (lest I look even crazier), that I had no need of a new computer table.  I looked outside the window at the pouring rain, and concluded that the weather gods did not want me to have the new table, even if it would look good with my other vaguely matched  wooden furniture.

The following week, on a clear bright day, I went back to the store to see if, by some chance, the table had not yet been sold.  I saw it the moment I walked into the place and promptly  bought it.  I didn’t hesitate.  If the gods had really meant for me not to buy the table, it would have been gone.  And it only cost twenty bucks.

An incredibly tall young man carried it to my car, and two really sweet gentlemen brought it into the office at the other end, including Matthew Leisman, one of my suite-mates, and Jason Corrigan, an upstairs tenant.  And right then — and there — I set about implementing the TOUCH IT ONCE rule.  I processed every scrap of paper in my office — filed, responded, shredded — and by the end of that day, my office looked fresh, organized, and ready for a new week.

Sometimes it’s helpful to get a new point of view on things.  Today, I sat in a rocker at the far corner of my office, and gazed on the work area:  My oak desk which is really a library table, bought off Craig’s List; the new wooden computer desk; the secretary’s chair that I use because I’m too little for an executive model; and all the rest of it.  From the opposite vantage point than I usually occupy, I suddenly felt that perhaps this law gig might just pan out one of these days.

And that’s a good thing.


My office, seen from a different perspective than I usually have. On the back wall is the new computer table, purchased in Liberty at the Hillcrest Thrift Store last Friday after breakfast at Morning Day Cafe with my friend Pat Reynolds.