Monthly Archives: January 2015

Fringe Benefits

As a self-employed person, the only fringe benefit I have is being able to wear whatever I want to work if I have no court appearance scheduled.  But I understand the concept.  A fringe benefit is something in addition to the primary intended compensation for effort.

When the dust settled on the 1990s, I found myself 75 pounds heavier than normal with grey, cracked skin.  Somewhere, there is a Glamour Shot of me at 40, sassy, sexy, clear-skinned, with blue sequins and wild hair.  That woman vanished with the onset of menopause, the reactivation of my very special virus, the development of asthma, and the ravages of the  hypoxemia which resulted from undiagnosed and undetected hypercoagulability.

Through conscious effort, I shed that 75 pounds.  My doctors have the asthma under control. Though the blood thinners defy accurate regulation, they work more or less as they should, and the fatigue of sludge blood has been kept at bay or at least, minimized.  But until Valcyte, nothing had enabled me to reclaim that Irish paleness of which I had been so vain.

I realized, looking in the mirror this weekend, that my skin has changed.  The cloudiness has retreated; the dryness abated; the old, tired look that has plagued me since the year of the Death and Dying picture — 1997 — no longer stamps my features.  I believe this is caused by the new anti-viral regimen.  In the past seven weeks, I have had two nights of eight hours’ consecutive sleep without using narcotics — unheard of!  And my skin is clear!

I’m feeling hopeful.  Small victories, but I’ll take ’em.  And bear in mind, folks:  The Stanford Medical team is COVERED BY MY BLUE CROSS-BLUE SHIELD.  As is the fancy drug. For the price of my co-pays, I’ve moved light-years ahead — or maybe, I should say, the clock has been turned back to 1995, at least on the face that I see in the mirror.  It’s not a 401(k) or a month’s paid vacation, but as fringe benefits go, this one’s a doozey.  I’m not complaining!  I’ll take it.



What are you going to do, eh?

I recently had the same law firm for the second time schedule a motion hearing with two days notice, without consulting me as to my availability.  As with the first setting, I was not available.  The first time, I moved something to accommodate them.  The second time, I could not.

With the two-days’ notice in hand, I called the office and was told that Attorneys A and B were “winding down”, and “relaxing” having come from a trial.  The person telling me this, whose tone was nothing but pleasant, said that Attorneys A and B never took calls when they were “winding down”.  I assumed “winding down” and “relaxing” was code for “in the back room having a beer”.  The receptionist asked the nature of the call, and I told her, To talk about the second incident of a motion hearing being noticed without consulting me.

The receptionist prudently determined that perhaps that trumped “winding down”, and got Attorney B.  Attorney B got on the phone and started yelling at me, whereupon, rather than Using Nonviolent Communication, I felt myself drawn into yelling back.  She would rant for a few sentences, stop, and when I would then start talking, she would yell, “Don’t interrupt me!”  I would stop, let her talk for a few more sentences, then, when she stopped talking, begin again, whereupon she would again yell, “Don’t interrupt me!”

I found  myself in the face of the worst about life that I’d left behind, sucked into her rampages and rants and responding in kind.  Nonetheless, she agreed to re-set the motion and in fact, did so.

Then, I got online and sent her partner a note telling him that I appreciated the re-setting and was sorry that I lost my temper.  I would have sent it to Attorney B, but her e-mail address was not listed anywhere, and his was.

Today, I got an outraged email back from Attorney A that reminded  me why I abandoned this type of dialogue in the first place.  I did not resort to responding in kind, but merely addressed a procedural point, which is that items supposedly sent by his office via e-mail had never arrived so perhaps our spam filters or anti-virus software had eaten them.  I wished him a good day.

I ding myself for responding in kind to the yelling and outrage of Attorney B.  I suppose that the occasional slip into what Marshall Rosenberg calls “jackal talk” is understandable.  At least I understand my transgression, and can reclaim my foothold on nonviolent communication.  And for the record, I have never set a hearing where there is opposing counsel without calling that attorney, as far as I can recall.  Nor would I; and this firm has now done so twice.  I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything but violent communication from folks such as them, but I surely don’t have to stoop to conquer.

On a brighter note, an opposing counsel in one of my cases worked with me to bring our clients to compromise today.  That attorney, who deftly and capably represented his client, nonetheless met professional courtesy with professional courtesy.  Most attorneys do so.  I am honored to be  in the same profession as most of them.  And when I find myself playing to the least common denominator, by responding to violent communication in kind, I take it as a lesson to learn and resolve to redouble my efforts in the future.

Every day provides an opportunity to embrace nonviolent  behavior and every regression provides a chance to learn.  And so it goes.  You’d like to be perfect but no one is.  So what are you going to do, eh?

Laugh, and learn, and live.

My life of bounty

In 1995, I happened to chat with a woman standing on the sidewalk outside of Purple Dragon Pre-School.  Clear-skinned, with black hair and an unbridled smile, the woman wore a labcoat or some other indicia of being in the health field.  We exchanged pleasantries.  I asked about her attire, and she explained that she worked as a home-health nurse.  This intrigued me, triggering more conversation.  The woman’s eyes sparkled as she spoke of visiting her patients.  I found myself drawn to her light.

A few days later, we stood on the sidewalk together again. I had called AAA in aid of another parent whose toddler had gleefully clicked the car lock as she crossed in front of the car after placing the toddler in the car seat.  The woman’s purse sat on the front seat where she had dropped it to empty her hands, and her keys sat in the purse, staring at all of us like the trapped little girl in the backseat.

The woman who stood with me deftly jiggled her three-year-old, Abbey, on her hip.  Patrick, age five and bound that fall for kindergarten, clutched my hand, asking, softly, repeatedly, what will happen if the car doesn’t get unlocked?  It did though:  First a passing police officer tried, then my AAA call brought release.

The nurse and I chatted as we waited on the sidewalk.  By the time the drama had ended, we had become friends.

Nineteen years and a whole lot more drama later, that woman, Paula Kenyon-Vogt, and I remain friends.  She and her husband, Sheldon Vogt, have held me, comforted me, advised me, and opened their home and their hearts to me.  Their grandson calls me “Aunty Corinne”.  When I despair, one of them can often be seen striding towards me with open arms.  Cracked doors and broken railings have been restored under Sheldon’s amazingly skilled carpenter’s hands.  Their trials become my trials; mine become theirs.  Their triumphs, joys, and happiness resound through my home; mine echo in theirs.

Yesterday, they spent an afternoon at the Holmes house with their grandson Chaska.  I gave Chaska a barnyard of Lincoln Logs, the kit completely intact, including directions, which I found at a thrift store for $6.50.  He discovered two horses and riders — one cowboy, one cowgirl — in the bottom of the bucket, and these became brief, hilarious entertainment.  Then Chaska started acting out a scene from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I remembered that I’d found one of Patrick’s old Ninja Turtles in a basket when Jenny Rosen and I cleaned house last week.  Oh the glee on that little boy’s face!  We took a selfie and sent it to Facebook. When I asked what I should caption the photo, Chaska said, “Say, ‘This is a very special picture.'” And so I did.  Very special indeed.

These people represent a small but vital portion of the bounty in my life.  I remain blessed.  I think I’ve made it: I have foresworn complaint. I have embraced joy.  Paula and Sheldon comprise but two of my large cheering section.  Without them, without the whole lot of them, I would not have made it through my year without complaining to this second year when I really am not complaining.

Sheldon, Paula and Chaska -- with Leonardo.

Sheldon, Paula and Chaska — with Leonardo.


A very special picture of me and Chaska.


Honoring memories

I stood on the footstool inside my cedar closet, groping on the highest shelf for one of several boxes of photos that I thought might lurk behind the world’s largest collection of empty shoe boxes.  Precariously balancing on my good leg, I shoved aside a basket of forgotten knitting projects.  The basket tipped over the edge and a cascade of needles assaulted me on its way to the floor.  I grabbed a wooden box which I thought might hold pictures and tried to step down from the stool, sending my body backwards into the room, the box falling from my hands as I grabbed for any hold to keep myself from ruining the approaching women’s supper for which I was trying to find an old photo in the first place.

Once I had righted myself, I sat in the wooden rocker and surveyed the splay of pictures.  The assemblage made no sense:  pictures of my first wedding mixed with photos of a visit to Arkansas eight years later with my son, who is the child of a musician who wooed me after my divorce.  Snaps of friends in Kansas City intermingled with my first house in Fayetteville under construction as I tried to make a home in the Boston Mountains.  Cecelia Moran in her wheelchair in a housing project in Jasper in 1993; T. J. Ashworth at the 1987 Newton County Forest Fest, with his piercing, malevolent stare right into the camera’s lens.

I gazed helplessly at the pile, wondering if I could find in its midst, a suitable picture for the little craft project that I had planned for my friends’ amusement. Memories of the places and people in the photographs flooded through me:  My first marriage; my first home; my first child.  I wondered where some of the people might be now.  Others, I know where they live but do not have contact with them.  Some have died.  I studied the photos of  Virginia King’s daughter Jasmine, who looked to me for inspiration from within her disabled body; of a handful of children who cavorted on the lawn of the Murray Valley Community Building on Easter Morning, the year that Thomas Creek rose and stranded Chester and me at the Ashworth compound; Alan’s kids, one of whom now lives in New York with her child, her husband, her mother, and her mother-in-law.

I know that I need to rummage through the bunch and find a photo, but I stare at the mess and think instead of broken promises.  Promises made to me and vows that I made to others.  Years that fell behind me as I struggled forward.  Places that I’ve traveled from which I did not expect to return, not to this place, not to this life.  The squares of paper show pleasure that I’ve experienced and hope that I entertained.

In one picture, my face is pinched.  I am clad in the dress that I wore on March 21st, 1987, in Newton County, Arkansas.  I know what I was saying at the moment that the unsuspecting photographer memorialized my image:  Somebody tell that man that he is NOT walking me down the aisle.  So much bitterness, so much sorrow, amidst what I believed to be the first day of the rest of my life.  The man in question, my father, lurked on the rough wooden porch of the church overlooking Murray Valley, in a grey suit with a white rose pinned to its lapel.  My aunt and uncle finally took his arm and gently led him into the church, while my brother Stephen held me and said, Oh Mary, Mary, it’s okay, really.  Are you sure you want to do this? And I said, Yes, but keep that man away from me. So much anger.

As I lay in bed a few hours ago, thinking about those photos and about writing of them here, the words I intended to share took a very different course from what I find myself compelled to write.  I thought about ways in which I’ve disappointed people in my life, and ways that they have disappointed me.  I wanted to say, keep your promises, but then I heard my son’s voice telling me:  If the message is spoken, it loses its power.  And what is my message, anyway?  I no longer know.

The pile of photos still sits on my bedroom floor.  I drew one from it, and made my little frame, to show my guests how.  They found themselves drawn into the project, one by one, two by two.  And it turned out to be something which they all enjoyed, whether they did it or merely examined the results of other’s efforts.  Some collected the materials to take home, to make frames with their children or grandchildren. One of my guests talked about collecting memories in her frames — memories she did not want to have slip from her, memories of her pets, one of whom has died, one of whom lies dying.  She wanted to keep them fast, next to her heart — and the framing of their photos would help her do so.

As for myself, I found myself letting go of something this morning.  I’m not sure quite what it is, but when I released it, a flood of joy rushed into my heart in its place.


A box of random memories.

A box of random memories.

The frame I made.  The woman is Paula Fulcher, one of my friends from Arkansas days, who held my hand during twenty-four hours of fruitless labor, two days before Patrick's scheduled premature delivery.  The child is my son, at about age two.  I recently learned that Paula is dead.  The news shook me more than I anticipated, given that the day of this photo was the last time I saw her -- some twenty-one years ago.

The frame I made. The woman is Paula Fulcher, one of my friends from Arkansas days, who held my hand during twenty-four hours of fruitless labor, two days before Patrick’s scheduled premature delivery. The child is my son, at about age two. I recently learned that Paula is dead. The news shook me more than I anticipated, given that the day of this photo was the last time I saw her — some twenty-one years ago.


I left the house later than usual today, and caught sight of a neighbor making what in my day we called “The Walk of Shame”.

She tripped from car to sidewalk on spiked high heels below tight dress pants.  Her black quilted coat surely made the outfit stunning, but hardly protected her from the crispness of a winter morning.  At the twenty-five miles per hour demanded by our neighborhood, I could see the limpness of her once-lovely curls and the wobble of her walk.  As I neared her position, she turned her head towards me, clutching her dark glasses against her face with one hand. From the other, a gold-chained dressy pocketbook dangled, in black quilting that matched the coat.  She paused, and though I could not see her eyes, I knew her thoughts:  Don’t judge me.

I drove on.  I did not judge.  For all I know, she stayed out drinking until dawn with her best girlfriends and a cousin from out of town.  It’s not necessarily so that she went home with a man who looked good until just before dawn.

At court I took too much pleasure from the mild scolding that my opposing counsel got for being considerably late.  In exchange for his tardiness and last-minute announcement that  his client repudiated the apparent settlement, we lost our trial date.  I did not mind; I had booked two trials in one week, and had been secretly worried about my schedule.  I soothed my client, spent ten minutes maneuvering back to “almost settled”, and then made my way to the office.  I told the story, telling several folks gathered how sorry I felt for the lawyer.  My suite mates laughed; one said, You don’t seem sorry.  And I admitted:  I was not.

My day ended with a trip for groceries and wine.  In the liquor store, a man with hunched shoulders, a lined face, and thin grey hair, loaded my purchases into a box and hauled them to my car.  He looked at the side-by-side sedans unlawfully parked in handicapped spots without qualifying plates or placard and shook his head.  Sorry about that, Miss, he said, and I smiled.  I told him, I think you just need to make the signage more obvious, and he gave me  a thin, brief smile. I bade him good night, and got in the car.

I passed the home of the woman whom I had seen in the morning.  Shades drawn, car cold and still, the house revealed nothing of her day.  I continued on, and parked in my driveway.  From my steps, I studied  the new solar lights along the walk.  All but one had taken in enough sunlight to cast a lovely ring of light.  I stood gazing at the their gentle glow for a few minutes, before turning to go into my own home and close the door against the night.

solar lights

Wednesday morning, 2:40 a.m.

When a writer cannot sleep, as this writer often cannot sleep, she writes.  In journals, on scraps of papers, on  tablets that have not  been charged for months but which are the only thing at hand because her sweet little laptop is downstairs charging.  She gropes for her glasses,, cranks up  the heating pad, and writes.

Ask her where the well of words hides when her world occupies her mind and she cannot tell you.  Everything comes whole, unbroken.  The words lurk behind the pain; when she moves the agony aside, the waterfall cascades down into the bleak valley and fills its barren counters with life.  She cannot stop the flow; and she reaches out to anyone who might be listening, anyone who has stepped on the cobblestones which she now treads.  Can you warn her?  Watch, now, there’s a broken pavement; dodge that stretch, jump onto the curb.  But no:  Like the journey of so many, she must make this trip alone.

Stand by the wayside, then, and wish her bon voyage, for the night stretches into the new day with unrelenting bleakness, and you who have seen your own sorrows in the midnight hour know well the agony which she must endure before she can rest.

The writer does not complain about her sleepless nights.  She knows that your sleepless nights plague you, and she sends you these words:  Close your eyes; let go of your worries; the sun soon rises.  The night will end.  Be well, my dear ones.  Don’t cry.

Corinne 2, Home Depot 0

I managed to keep my cool through another Home Depot adventure and I’m really kicking up my heels.

I wanted yard lights.  You know, the kind you stick in the ground?  The kind that absorb sunlight, and light your walk so your visitors don’t twist their ankles?

I chose another Home Depot this time, out south.  A “better” neighborhood.  And I found a cordial, exceedingly tall and outgoing clerk.  I showed him the lights that I wanted and I asked, “Are these plug-and-play?”  He laughed and replied, “Yes, they are!”  He opened the box to show me but alas:  They were not lights.  The box contained light components.  I told him, “I don’t want a light kit, I want lights.”

As the young man foraged through the shelves, I showed him one row of boxes labeled, “Light kits”, as opposed to the box which I had selected, labeled “lights”.  He didn’t understand and went in search of an older, presumably more experienced clerk.  That gentleman advised that all of their lights come in pieces.  I smiled.  He looked at me, no further words being available.  I broadened my smile; nay, I beamed.  I asked where the lights were.  He stuttered.  “These are lights,” he insisted.  I lifted the six parts which comprised each light assembly  out of the box and turned my smile to 200 watts.

A half-hour later, I checked out, with six fully assembled lights.  As the man assembled them, he told me all about driving to work in his Alpha Romeo with the top down. I told him about my first car, a British Racing Green MG Midget.  And when we got down to the last light, which had a bent cover, he slit open another unit of assemblage, replaced the damaged one, and returned  my smile.

Corley 2, Home Depot 0.  Or maybe — could we call that a win-win?


Out and about yesterday:  One plan foiled by the owners of Mysteryscape! having changed Saturdays, so I couldn’t dialogue with the one who wasn’t there.  But I bought a couple of books and headed south.  At Revival, I found an antique folding table perfect for my upcoming women’s gathering, to augment the little nooks for sitting throughout my house.  Then I headed south, intending to go to Michael’s to get the supplies for the frame project party favors, when I realized that my blood sugar level had begun to plummet.

I cut across Metcalf and turned into the parking lot for Whole Foods, intending to bag two birds with one sweep.  I’d get some food at their deli counter, then buy a few veggies to cook for dinner.

The clerks at “Prepared Foods” seemed to be having difficulty deciding who would do which chores.  Two women in aprons ignored me and took someone from the line behind me.  A young mother who awaited the completion of her dish smiled and said, Do you want me to tell her that you were first?  I shook my head.  Five minutes’ wait would not kill me.

A half hour later, a fourth clerk scraped my burned food from the bottom of the one operational pan and handed the bowl to me.  I told myself that I liked the carmelized bits, that they added flavor. ( I learned the word “carmelized” from watching too much Food Network.)  I asked the clerk where I could find a fork and he gestured vaguely saying, Take a left right after you pay.  I followed the line of his arm and asked another clerk, who stood behind a long counter, Do I pay you? But she said that I had to go to a check-out line.  I balanced my food in my cart and looked towards the cashiers across the front of the store.  I found it hard to believe that I would have to leave the “Prepared Food” area and pay at the grocery check-out, then come back to the far side of the store to eat.  I looked back at the clerk, sure I had misunderstood, but, no.  We don’t take money here, she said.

In line behind a couple of families stocking up for nuclear war, I watched the steam rise from within my bowl of food, which apparently not been completely closed.  When I finally got to the point of paying, I asked the lady if the store had interest in customer comments.  She said, Of course, in a tired voice.  I mentioned, in deliberate and carefully crafted nonviolent communication, that I found it cumbersome to wait for my food and then come across the store to pay.  I suggested that the process made it less likely that I’d go back and shop after eating.  She shrugged and replied, Well, that’s just the way the store is set up.  I asked her name.  Kira, she told me.

Kira.  A Russian girl’s name meaning Light.  I went beyond the cashier, turned left, and walked fifty yards or so to the area where tired shoppers with hungry children and groceries turning luke-warm in laden carts sat eating their own over-cooked food.  I got myself a cup of cold water and found a fork.  As I ate, I thought about Kira’s attitude.  She clearly had no concern over inconvenience caused me.  But perhaps her lack of interest came from her own feelings of helplessness.  Perhaps she’d told the manager a dozen times that people complained about the logistics of the store’s layout.  Perhaps she had her own troubles, that had nothing to do with my $7 bowl of Prepared Food.

I finished my Veggan Stir-Fry bowl, with its burnt rice and rubbery tofu, and headed out the door.  Notwithstanding my decision to let Kira and Whole Foods alone, to let her shrug fall away into time without official mention and to endure the inconvenience of the store’s layout, I still could not bring myself to find another cart and trudge back into the main shopping area.

A girl can only take so much, especially if she can’t complain.


My new folding table. Sweet, right?




Idling destiny festers so last evening I put on sturdy shoes and chased it.

My friend Vivian squired me to Third Thursday at the Nelson Art Gallery.   We mingled among lawyers, secretaries, Rostafarians, aging hippies, cruising men in tight suits, and clumps of mid-thirty-somethings wearing pleasant smiles and plastic leis.  The evening’s theme being Endless Summer, photographers posed partiers in front of a plastic palm tree and inflated dinosaur.  Vivian and I sipped Mai-Tai (her) and Diet Coke (me) and people-watched our way through the surprisingly large crowd.  We ditched our plastic cups to wander in the galleries, admiring carved ivory, delicate brush strokes, and intricate inlaid wood.  We darted down hallways looking for a collection of lithographs which I’ve always liked.  We discovered instead M. C. Eschers, works from the Dada painters, curious depictions from the Rococo period, fallen angels, the impressionists, and connections in our lives that we didn’t know existed.  We strolled and chatted about ourselves; and about love, children, men, and our philosophy of aging.

And yes, folks:  We saw Elvis.

Pic from Nelson


Portrait of the Sculptor Paul Lemoynes, c. 1812, oil on canvas, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Mirth among the flowers

It seemed a simple enough plan to execute.

Grab a bite to eat, then go to Home Depot for three things:  A humidifier, contractor bags, and three small plants for a trio of empty pots.

First we drove to Spin! and parked in the back lot.  We noticed the dearth of cars but didn’t think about it.  Jenny walked to the back door ahead of me and pulled it outward.  It did not give.  We stood, puzzled, then got back in the car and drove around to the front, where we saw a dark restaurant and signs on the door.  We continued down Main, ruminating outloud, then cut over to Broadway.  There’s got to be a place on Broadway, I insisted.  What about that new Mediterranean place across from my office building; there’s that, isn’t there.  Jenny smiled.  Maybe, she acknowledged. But if there is, I don’t know about it.

And: no.  A row of shuttered storefronts and 3 Hookah bars later, Jenny turned right on Armour Road and said, New plan. Home Depot first, then food.  We laughed and continued our interrupted conversation all the way to the huge parking lot at the Home Depot.  Let’s Do This!

Once inside, Jenny asked about humidifiers and was told that we could find them in aisle 11.  First we snagged four sweet little succulents and the trash bags, then we headed to aisle 11.  We found three humidifiers there:  All the whole house kind.  Jenny called out to a clerk, Is this where we find humidifiers, you know, like the portable ones you plug in?  The clerk stood and looked at Jenny.  Humidifiers? he asked.  I don’t know, maybe.

Five minutes later, we determined that Home Depot does not sell portable humidifiers and headed to the registers.  Jenny picked a Self Serve aisle and tried to scan the bar codes on the plants without success.  Excuse me! she said, in her lilting tone, from under her gorgeous knit hat, standing tall and sassy.  Can you help us ring these?  She addressed her comments to two clerks standing at the nearby customer service kiosk.  She showed the little plants to them and a debate between the clerks ensued, as to how “three for $10” should be entered if you are buying four.  I still hadn’t said anything since our unsuccessful dialogue with the humidifier guy.  I let Jenny handle it; she seemed to be doing fine.

The shorter of the two clerks took charge of the plants with an air of authority, but she couldn’t get the computer to recognize our purchase.  After a few minutes she called a manager, who came, by and by, and pushed a few numbers into the screen.  Then the sales clerk scanned our purchases and said, Now go over there and pay for this stuff, gesturing back at Self Serve.  Mystified, I went over; discovered that whatever she had done caused the transaction to appear at Self Serve; and swiped my debit card.

Nothing happened.  Jenny joined me, leaving the two sales clerks to scrutinize a chopped up piece of wall board that their computer said was three items and the customer insisted was one.  Jenny studied the Self Serve screen, rapidly touched a sequence of prompts, and away we went.

As we exited the Home Depot, I turned to Jenny and said, There was a time when I would have been unable to tolerate that type of transaction; I would have yelled at everyone and my son would have stood helpless until he couldn’t take it anymore, and then would have said ‘Mom, let’s just go,’.  

Jenny smiled.  We stopped outside the door, in the chilly night, and looked at each other.  Then Jenny said, I think we were the first people to buy succulents in the entire history of Home Depot.

We burst out laughing.  Then we went to Charlie Hooper’s, ate dinner, and came back to my house, immensely pleased with how  lovely our evening had been.