Monthly Archives: October 2014

Tsk, tsk

I sat at a table at Lucky’s Brewgrille last evening with Ms. Penny Thieme, artist, powerhouse, inspiration, sistah.  And kvetched.

She knows what subjects we covered and nobody else needs to know, so I’ll spare the rest of you.  Suffice it to say that I had a good old relapse — complaining about lamentable situations from thirty years ago to just yesterday.  And Penny, God bless her sister-soul, kindly listened and gently encouraged.

We talked about other subjects over dinner:  Plans for the new VALA Community, her pieces in Beyond Bounds — ELECTRIC!,  the recent gala auction for the Nerman.  Which, it must be said, I did not attend though I had gone to the last two.  I moaned about that, too.  And bigger things — major troubles with which I’m grappling, though it must be acknowledged that  my father isn’t dying and my house warms and shelters me.

Tsk, tsk, girlfriend.  What about your resolve?  What about your plan to go a year without complaining?

I’m better this morning, but true to my plan ten months ago to hold myself publicly accountable, I’m here, now, proclaiming that I backslid.  As the radio yammers in the background, with a cup of Red-Headed Philosopher Coffee at my elbow, I’m standing up before you saying:  Hi, I’m Corinne, and it’s been one day since my last complaint.

Everybody together now:  HI, CORINNE!

I’m starting over today — but in ten months, I’ve learned a lot of lessons and it should be a bit easier to get back in the saddle and rekindle my resolve.  Suckin’ it up, Buttercup.

From Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, in the good old U.S. of A.  Go Royals! #TakeTheCrown



Good luck

Yesterday I found three pennies.  I picked each from the spot where I spied the copper coin and stuck them in my pocket.

I’ve never been a person who required that the penny be “heads up” to bring good luck but these all were.  In my childhood, the ditty went, “Find a penny, pick it up, all the day, you have good luck.”  Only later did I hear the “heads up” version but I reject it.

We make our own luck, don’t we?  And finding a coin on the ground around my house usually means that I’ve dropped my purse and the coins spilled some days or even months ago.  But still:  I could use a little good fortune especially of the unexpected variety, so I’m not knocking the fortuitous discoveries.

As I prepared for bed last evening, I folded the jeans I had worn and all three pennies tumbled to the floor, clacking as they hit the hardwood.  My instant thought:  If I leave them where they lay, can I find them tomorrow and garner another day of bounty?

I did have some unexpected gifts in my Sunday.  I discovered a new coffee shop, heard from a long-ago classmate who has been reading my blogs, and engaged in a satisfying conversation with someone about living in accordance with one’s beliefs.  All three experiences pleased me; and elevated an ordinary, even drab day into the realm of treasure.

Of course, there’s this:  I awakened yesterday; and again today.  I count myself lucky for having done so, even though at times I wonder if not awakening might be easier.  But then I hear my mother’s voice admonishing me:  Where there’s life, there’s room for improvement.  So I’m going to retrieve those pennies from my bedroom floor, and hope for the best — for good luck, or for the presence of mind to see a chance for forward movement and grab it.


One day at a time

I see a few clouds in the sky.  I have three loads of laundry to do and two weeks of housework.  I’m listening to Jessica and her son getting ready for their day, pleased at the joyful noises of a young man of eleven in the house again, thankful that Jessica has decided to camp in the basement room for a while.  She brings sunshine, does my friend Jessica; and she has brought a certain order to Suite 100 serving as our receptionist and secretary for some of us there as well.  I look back on the year or so that I’ve known her and think about the profound changes in my life during that year.  Some of those changes aggrieve me and there is no higher court in this world which can afford redress.  But some of the changes purify the wasteland of my existence:  My friendship with Jessica; the love which I receive from Ellen Carnie; watching Penny Thieme reconfigure the VALA Community as she continues to evolve and grow;  my renewed dedication to writing. So I’m not complaining; and I’m taking life one day at a time, hoping still, and hoping harder.


Jessica Genzer and Pennie Thieme.

Jessica Genzer and Pennie Thieme.

Ellen Carnie and me.

Ellen Carnie and me.


My favorite color has always been blue, though green stands closely behind in second.  The coffee cup that Trudy MacDonald Aldridge gave me has glaze in shades of blue and perfectly fits my hand.  The blue bowl she made stands at the center of the table filled with pearly shells and rough coral.  Though most of my house decorations have shades of brown, orange and green, the three prints above my old music cabinet show a steely sky and its gradual brightening to pale blue as the dawn breaks.

This morning’s sky outside my window spans forever in crystalline azure.  I strain to see it above the neighbors’ house.  I open the front door and go out onto the deck and raise my face to the air, to the winking eye of the sun and the caress of the breeze.  I don’t know why we call our sorrow “the blues”.  I wrap myself in the color and feel serene.  We painted my bedroom the color of cornflowers when I was in high school and I’ve never slept better than I did within those calming walls.

Perhaps I’m twisted, finding comfort in something that others use to symbolize their pain.  Girl in blue, I am; and always will be.  I see nothing wrong with that.  It suits me, this color, like few others, matching my eyes.

And from my blue eyes, I see the world.


Positive reinforcement

Somebody at the next table talks about expressing opinions.  He’s got an English translation of the I Ching, well-worn, sitting beside him.  He mentions that at some point, you can be a hero or a holy sage.  I think about that and wonder outloud if there’s a third choice.  He doesn’t think so; everything is either “hero” or “holy sage”.  I’m not sure what that means but I don’t feel as though I fit into either category.

He talks about writing; that is, recording his opinions.  He has a limited network, he says, in response to my asking to whom he’ll be expressing his views.  I’m still thinking outloud when I say, “No limits, really,” and he says, “what?” and I realize he’s accidentally heard my thoughts.  I tell him, “The internet,” and we both smile knowingly.

It occurs to me that I’ve reached the stage in life when I have random conversations with strangers across tables at restaurants.  I’m not sure I like that.  But the man is speaking again.  He’s explaining that he wants to write to express his opinion because he’s lived a lot longer than a lot of people.  “The power of positive reinforcement,” he says.  I think:  I’ve missed a segue, but I smile, because I certainly believe in positive reinforcement, though somehow, I’m not sure that we have the same idea of what the concept means.

I finish dinner, close my laptop, and look around.  There are children with their parents, husbands and wives, and a few people, like me, who’ve stopped into this place on their way home to their dogs.  I decide that I don’t need another cup of coffee, and that I’m nobody’s hero and certainly not a holy sage.

But I’m quite ready for a little positive reinforcement.

Just breathe

So I’m visiting my favorite curmudgeon.  I’m rearranging the furniture to make it more accessible for him.  I have practice at this.  Everything in my home sits at the height I can reach without bending or standing on tip-toes.  I also lived for eight or nine years with a man principally sitting down twenty-four/seven, so I understand from various viewpoints what it means to re-arrange a room to be more practical.

He’s letting me do it.  He’s sitting in his chair, watching the news, while I flit.  I unplug the CD player, move a little table, move the machine.  I throw away a bunch of clutter.  Mid-stride, though, my favorite curmudgeon suddenly says, “I’m not getting any oxygen.”

I have always been able to remain calm when someone else comes under attack.  Not so much if I’m at risk — that gives me the chills.  But on someone else’s behalf, I fall into my calm mode.  I check the tubing; I turn the machine off and on.  We press the button to summon help.  I try to switch to bottled oxygen but fumble.  I stride down to the elevator, across the lobby to the desk, and alert the staff.  Ten minutes later, a savior arrives and connects an oxygen bottle.  The machine supplier has also been alerted and a new one will be delivered.  Crisis handled.  He will be all right.  He can breathe.  Just breathe.

His son arrives to take over, to watch television with his father and oversee the installation of the new oxygen condenser.  And I go home, thankful for the staff at his care facility, for the nearness of the hospice caregivers, for the call from his daughter, and for another day with my favorite curmudgeon.


Jay MacLaughlin with his cousin Anne Jones and her service dog, Katie.

The passage of time, marked

I’ve watched Michelle Corley grow from a grade-schooler to a woman of the world.

In the mid-90s, she drew the attention of the Girl Scouts and the local elementary schools.  They admired her skills and accomplishments and offered her more opportunities than she could have ever simultaneously pursued.  That’s what happens when you strive to reach your goals and attain them, I suppose.

As the 2000s dawned, Michelle won scholarship offers, high school enrollment enticements, and job training come-ons.  There were so many; how could she possibly have chosen?  It’s hard to pick from among various offers when one has so much available.

Following those opportunities, the colleges came calling. From UCLA to Harvard, Carleton to Tulane.  It seemed that her high school grades and test scores qualified her to attend any private institution she liked.  Her dreams awaited.  I felt quite pleased for her.

A period of silence followed Michelle’s college years.  During that time, my own life evolved.  People came; people went; my son enrolled in and graduated from college, and went off to graduate school after a year of reflection in which, it seems, he found and embraced his calling.

And now, Michelle has made the big time:  She’s apparently doing so well that Estate Planning attorneys seek her business.  I’m slightly jealous.  But mostly, I see Michelle’s progress as marking the passage of time at my home.  From the local grade school and club invitations to the offer for will and trust creation, Michelle’s life has evolved just as mine has over the last 21 years.  I hold the proof in my hands when I open the mailbox.

I don’t know who Michelle is.  Or if she even exists.

Her mail has been coming to my home since I bought it.  I know she did not live there before me.  I bought the house from Rick and Cheryl Kannoy, and they were only the second owners.  The first did not share my surname.  Michelle never lived in my house and might be an imaginary person, but I have watched her grow, and achieve, and accomplish — at least in the minds of the arbiters of junk mail.  I used to attempt to return the mail but the letter carriers would not take it. And so I kept it, from some idle or prurient interest.  I’d open it, read it, and eventually put it in the recycle box.

Michelle seems to have had a better life than I.  She’s done everything one is supposed to do.  She’s been a Girl Scout, attended church, done well on the ACT, gone to college, gotten good grades, launched her career, and joined a country club (one of many who offered her membership, judging by the mail which she received at my house).  She’s been financially successful in ways that society tells us we all should be — in ways that I have not.  I might be slightly jealous.  But for what it’s worth, I’m proud of her.


Angels in the glooming

I move through the morass of each day, sometimes seeing such shining joy, often missing it as it passes.  The occasional call from afar; listening to someone dear to me talk about his day.  Up the stairs, down the stairs, out to the car; the rain providing a grey backdrop to my thoughts.  Slide the car to the curb.  Haul out the pocketbook, the computer bag, the little plastic bag of food.  Bones remain to be cracked, muscles to stretch, blood to be encouraged in  its course through my veins.  The aging process asserts itself.  I never expected to live this long or feel this weary with so much yet to be done.  And then I happen to glance over at a shelf in my office, this early morning, when no one makes a sound outside my door.  I see an angel given to me by someone who inexplicably professes to believe in me.  The angel sits next to a little plaque from my sister which declares me to be a treasure.  I am lost in the glooming but ahead I see a candle, or maybe a star; and I move towards it.



The whole thing began with a cracked tooth 23 and a half years ago. I blame my son.  My pregnancy robbed my teeth of calcium and resulted in the vertical split.  I’ve been told — not by a dental professional — that this only happens to women who haven’t cared for their teeth.  Be that as it might, in 1991, my dentist in Fayetteville, Arkansas put a temporary crown on the tooth and told me to come back when the baby had been born.

I got that temporary crown replaced 15 years later.  I’d had no problems with it whatsoever.  A dentist just decided that it might be time.

Since then, the “permanent” crown has had to be replaced three times and later, the tooth had to have a root canal.  Against my better judgment, I let this happen at the hands of an endodontist whom I’d never previously met and who struck me as a little creepy.

I should have trusted my instincts.  A month later, that root canal failed, and now I have half a tooth, a chronic infection, and no more dental benefits available on my policy until 2015 dawns in two months.  Oy-veh.

Now, hear me well:  I’m not complaining.  I’m just thinking about circles.  The circle of life.  Circular reasoning.  The nearness of beginning to end in a chain of events that leads one back to the beginning.  I started with a cracked tooth and ended with a cracked tooth.  On the way from point A to point A, I experienced all kinds of grief including an exasperated attack on my character by someone who blamed me for this situation.  One wonders, then, what can be learned from this circular experience.

In my favorite Edward Albee play, one of the two characters on whom the play centers tells the other, “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”  (Edward Albee, The Zoo Story, 1958).  That’s the way it’s been with my tooth.  Now I  will no doubt have it pulled and be done with it.  I tried everything else — or, at least, everything I have been offered, and those efforts have brought me back to the beginning.

Circles can be frustrating — like the cycle that my tooth has followed.  Circles can be  painful — like my tooth; or an argument that starts with you never listen and ends with I’m tired of talking.  Or circles can be beautiful:  “Life is like dancing.  People go round and round, never really getting anywhere, but Oh, what joy in such circles!”  (Bill O’Fallon, 1974).  And the circle of life?  Where would we be without it?

We live, we die, we dance, we give birth, and then our children take up the dance, continuing the unbroken circle long after they lay us in our graves.  Sometimes those children take the form of flesh and bone. Sometimes we give birth to paintings, poetry, bridges and skyscrapers.  What joy, indeed. Well worth a little toothache.




I’m sitting at a table at the Blue Bird Cafe with my niece, Josephine and her boyfriend Ryan.  I  haven’t seen her for ten years but have watched her progress through college and graduation on Facebook, in her posts and those of her father, my brother Frank.  She and Ryan have come to KC for the weekend, and she called me, three hours ago, asking if I could meet her for brunch.

You bet.

I don’t know if I have been this nervous since I took the Arkansas Bar exam.  I consider my brother Frank to be the most successful person in our family, or one of the top three (Ann and Mark being the other two whom I rank tied for first).  Married a hundred years to the same person — his college sweetheart, no less — parent to seven fabulous children, teaching at his high school alma mater, living in a three-story rehabbed home in South St. Louis.

So his daughter must be equally fabulous and I’m nervous to meet, for the first time, her adult self.  I’m not disappointed:  She’s sweet, open, friendly, and her gentle relate with Ryan shows that she is also empathetic.  We probe each other about our lives, which means I ask her a lot of questions and answer some about my son, who’s just a year younger than she is.  We sit in a quiet corner in the back room of the Blue Bird and spend a priceless hour together, before I hug her, on the corner of 17th and Summit, and shake Ryan’s hand.  I have a strained relationship with my family, especially my siblings, but somehow, I seem able to forge a connection with my nieces.

I think about Lisa, and Chelsea, and Amy; and I think about my shared daughters, especially Tshandra, and I wonder, how did I get to be so blessed, given how many missteps I’ve taken?  I reflect, for a few minutes, standing on that corner, on my lovely stepdaughter Cara who married her adorable boyfriend last night in Omaha, and I feel a wisp of regret to have lost that connection.  But I am happy for her; and as for myself, I am very happy that I had brunch with my niece.  A simple but irreplaceable pleasure.

I’m halfway home before it dawns on me that I didn’t get a picture of us together.  A good excuse for a St. Louis run, I think, and pull out onto 47th street, next to a fountain colored blue, with my window down and Neko Case serenading the city through my radio.

Josephine Corley

Josephine Corley