Monthly Archives: March 2015

Post Mortem

I despise preparing for oral argument.

The process of readying oneself to stand before the Court of Appeals for fifteen minutes justifying one’s position requires a review of everything that’s been filed in the appeal.    Three briefs, a transcript, and a legal file (the official compilation of the pleadings in the lower court), plus the text of any cited cases; all must be re-read and synthesized.

I have no problem reading that much material.  Reviewing what I myself wrote  invokes my shudders.  I see the typos and the lousy page breaks. I groan when awkward sentences reveal themselves. I re-write whole paragraphs and wonder outloud how I ever thought I could practice law, much less appellate law.

Today is no different.  I’m the respondent, which means I won the trial.  But I’ve re-read and made notes about the issues, the record, and my own brief, all the while wondering how I failed to see such a glaring error as calling the Appellant’s statement of the issue, a “Points Relief On” rather than a “Points Relied On”.  Awful!

This undertaking resembles all the post mortems I’ve ever conducted after a job change, relationship end, failed job application, and every other unsuccessful pursuit of my life.  I spend hours picking at the scab, finding fault with myself, devising ways to blame myself for the unfortunate turn of events.  The other participants in these sad affairs usually provide great assistance by making sure that I’m aware of their blame of me.  I gather evidence, make notes, sort the arguments, and when I am fully prepared, I stand and make a case against myself.

I’d make an excellent prosecutor if I were the defendant.

I have read everything in preparation for today’s oral argument.  I know the weaknesses of my brief in support of the judgment, for which I have soundly castigated myself.  I’ve devised ways to rephrase my poorly stated points, in case the panel before whom I stand criticizes me as thoroughly as I criticized myself over the last twenty-four hours of  preparation.  Then, too, I know the other side’s arguments, the record, and the pleadings.  I should be fine.

The microcosm of personal deportment which characterizes my review of my own work shows me that I have miles to go towards self-acceptance.  I’m willing to believe everyone’s condemnation of me.  I blame myself for every failure.  I assume that I’ve done wrong, that I’m unworthy, that I’m worthless.  I have my clumsy words to reinforce my beliefs.  I have the accusations of others. The record supports the judgment.

But now, at this phase of my personal post mortem, I have to decide if the cadaver still breathes, if there is life after loss, if there is forgiveness after felony.

I mix my metaphors here.  I started out thinking that I’d write something about blogging being like picking a scab, letting the wound bleed anew, hoping the blood-letting will wash away infection.  But then I rose at 5:00 a.m. to continue my preparations for oral argument and realized that most of last evening’s work involved my scolding myself for filing an imperfect brief.  In the process of unnerving myself, I have forgotten that I won this trial; I did a good job of marshaling and presenting a full record of evidence.  And the trial court agreed with my position in a lengthy and detailed opinion.

I am quick to judge myself and find that I have failed.  I’ve been focusing on forgiving myself for failure.  But some of the time, I have made good choices for myself; I have been kind to others; I have been helpful to many. I have expended enormous effort, against formidable obstacles.  And sometimes, even those whom I have wronged acknowledge that I am not a bad person.  Sometimes, even those who judge me and find me wanting nonetheless see my virtues in ways that I cannot.

Perhaps I should be forgiving myself for my failures but also praising my successes.  Quietly, of course; but surely.  Perhaps my post mortem of my life should allow for acknowledgment that from time to time, I made a difference in the lives of others.  Perhaps I should bear in mind that from time to time, I was loved.

Midnight at the Holmes house on the night before oral argument.

Midnight at the Holmes house on the night before oral argument.


Irish eyes

My Dad always told me that real Irish folks don’t wear green and consume enormous quantities of beer on St.  Patrick’s Day.  Though Wikipedia seems to disagree, nonetheless, I’m not the kind to slug down beer in any quantity.  I’m in court today; between appearances, I’m hunkered down at my friend Pat’s office, avoiding Westport where unofficial signs have designated my customary city-sequestered handicapped space as “emergency no parking”.

But my Irish eyes are smiling.  They are blue-grey and peer from my father’s pale skin.  My mother’s auburn hair once surrounded them.  Its burgeoning grey has been hidden by blond highlights and auburn low-lights.

With a name like “Mary Corinne Teresa Corley, there’s no doubt that I’ve a bit o’ the Irish in me.  My parents originally selected “Bridget Kathleen” as my Christian name, but my father and his girlfriend decided “Mary Corinne” rang better.  I dropped the “Mary” forty-some years ago, and, truth be told, “Corinne” is a French version of “Cora”.

My dad relished the Corley history which he snagged from some Rent-a-Crest business back in the days before the Internet gave us access to reasonably reliable ancestral tales.  He claimed that “Cor” meant “small hill” in Gaelic, and that “ley” came from “Leigh”, which supposedly was the name of a river near our family home in County Armagh.  I don’t know if any of that was true.  I once met a man from Ireland.  I told him that my family came from County Armagh, and that my brother went to Ireland but the records had all been lost in a village fire.  His eyes lit and he replied in an excited voice. He said that he came from the Armagh County seat and indeed, there had been a fire.  He clapped a hand on my arm and told me that of all the crazy Americans whom he had met who claimed to be Irish, I was the first with whom he felt a genuine kinship.

My dad maintained that his family was 100% Irish, but my great-grandmother Corinne’s maiden name was “Hahn”.  I think there might be a little German in the mix.  I don’t feel a need to be pure-blood, but if the luck o’ the Irish might help me, I’m willing to claim my heritage.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone.  Be well.  Stay safe.  And if your head pounds in the morning, remember, no complaining!  Especially about troubles of your own making!

four leaf clover

The Virtues of Pain, Revisited

My first for-pay writing found me opining, at the tender age of fifteen, about the virtues of pain.

I suffered chronic pain before the phrase had been coined.  I did not know why, and I’m sure my parents didn’t either.  My sister Adrienne and I “walked funny”, and my legs hurt.  I imagine hers did also but we never discussed it.  Our family life held many realities more challenging than a child’s painful legs.  The other obstacles distracted my mother in ways that I find perfectly understandable in retrospect.

I wrote the Pain essay for the Christian Board of Publication’s youth magazine.  Adrienne served on the editorial board which probably gave me an advantage in the competition for selection.  They paid $15.00 per essay.  We could pick our topic.  I sold two pieces that summer — the one on pain and another titled, “God as An It”.  The fact that a Christian magazine published an article by a fifteen-year-old which suggested that God has no gender astonishes the writer’s adult self.  At the time, I did not understand the article’s potential controversy.

My theory about the virtues of pain seems less grand from this vantage point.  As had many before and since, I suggested that without pain, we cannot appreciate pleasure.  I did not mean “pleasure” in a sexual way but in a broader sense.  I wrote that times of sorrow, grief, and physical suffering contrasted with times of contentment and splendor to allow us to appreciate the latter.  Lows accentuate the highs; valleys allow us to observe the towering grandeur of the mountains.

Now, forty-five years later and nearly fifteen months after I stopped using prescription narcotics to dull my pain, I’ve come to that awareness once more.  Percoset and Vicodin did not really take my pain away, but they disconnected me from its rushing heat — although not always, and,  over time, not really.  But they did dull the sensations enough to distance me from any contrast.  The curtailment of pain also lulled me into forgetting how marvelous life can be.  I lived in a stupor.

When my system finally purged itself of the lingering numbness that had gripped me, I did feel the pain more keenly.  I felt lots of things more keenly to be quite honest:  Loss, grief, anger, sorrow.  All of this happened coincidental with my deciding to learn to live complaint-free and blog about it.  Other events crowded my life at the same time, events which don’t bear discussing here but which had the emotional effect of walking into a beam in the dark of your bedroom while stepping on Legos barefoot.  What great timing, eh?  Give up pain medication and complaining just as your life falls apart and you’ve really got something about which to whine!

A day will dawn in my personal journey when I see the irony of the perfect storm into which I sailed at the end of 2013.  That day lies ahead but here on this day, I can at least recall my first bit of profitable writing with a rueful smile.  “The Virtues of Pain” launched a short-lived career as a professional writer and lingers in the background as a harbinger of my middle-aged experiences.  I could not have known that I would prove my thesis but I take some satisfaction in having done so.

I will concede that my younger self had one thing right:  Without pain, we cannot truly appreciate pleasure.  Without loss, we do not hold as surely to that which remains.  Without darkness, we value less the light of a single steady candle.

And so it goes.  I’d rather live pain-free; but since I am human and therefore susceptible to trouble I cannot.  Therefore I resolve to embrace its lessons, and count myself the luckier for having learned them.  I will turn to that flickering candle, and allow myself to appreciate its brave resistance to the gathering gloom.

CC at 15 or 16, back in the days when I still aspired to write for a living.  Those who knew me then will recognize the watch.

CC at 15 or 16, back in the days when I still aspired to write for a living. Those who knew me then will recognize the watch.



Jessica Genzer moved into my funny little basement room on the 01st day of October, 2014.  She had a rough start as a temporary resident of the Holmes House.  She backed into the neighbor’s house.  Unbeknownst to either of us, her father and my father-in-law would die within days of each other just a few short weeks later.  We boosted each other above the fray for the next three months.  By the end of the year, she had bolted for warmer climes and now resides, at least for a while, in Hawaii.

During that move-in, she set a plant at the end of the driveway and forgot about it.  As she packed for Hawaii, she realized that her plant had all but died in its stand, nestled against the outer wall of my basement.  Jessica brought the plant inside, trimmed its dead foliage, and began an effort to revive it which I offered to continue when she left for Kaneohe.

With its little dragon protectress and intriguing message, the plant thrives in my sitting room.  It shares the space with my two doggedly determined begonias, a couple of limp succulents,  a dying impatiens, and the pictures of my in-laws which cheer me in some of my darker moments.   I’ve been reminded of a fundamental concept:  Bloom where you are planted.  Reach for simple, nourishing elements: Sunlight, air, water, and good rich earth.

Thank you, Jessica Genzer, for trusting me to watch over her as she came back to life.


The words on the little yellow button sitting in the soil: “What Would Buddha Do?”


the more things change. . .

I stepped out onto my front porch at 5:30 a.m. today.  I had been awake since 3:15 and it seemed silly to continue trying to re-submerge myself in twilight.

The newspaper had not yet come. I leaned down and emptied the cup of cat food into the bowl which lives out there, where our boycat comes for breakfast, slinking up the three stairs in the dark each morning.  As I stood, movement across the street caught my eye.  I squinted; could that be. . .?  Yes, it was.

The man whom I used to see walking to and from some point north of here trudged down the sidewalk across from my house.  In the dim light, I could discern the square black attache case, the familiar white jacket, the solidly centered hat tilted slightly forward on his brow.  He walked without hesitation or pause.  I watched for a minute, until he went beyond my sight line just as the headlights of the paper delivery truck swept across my front yard in the morning’s lingering darkness.

As I went back into the house, I thought about the many mornings when I’ve sat outside on the porch, writing, watching, as that same man journeyed north in the morning and back south in the late afternoon.  I first saw him in 2008, the summer when I started my original blog as weekly Musings to my lawyers’ listserve, during the six weeks when my son went to Mexico and I began to learn to live on my own.

I put the newspaper down in the breakfast room and walked over to the coffee pot.  Steam rose from the hot liquid and the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee wafted in the air.  A clean smell, a familiar smell.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I sat on my wooden stool and opened the newspaper, to the headlines about more violence in the county of my childhood.  Another day in paradise.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Pescedaro, California; which has nothing to do with this entry but I like this picture so much, I just wanted to share it.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Pescedaro, California; which has nothing to do with this entry but I like this picture so much, I just wanted to share it.

Still Trying

An attorney for a governmental entity set a hearing affecting one of my appointed clients without filing a Notice of Hearing and without consulting any of seven or eight other professionals, including at least four attorneys.  I got 43 hours advance notice of it by e-mail.  When I called her to advise that I am unavailable, she excused herself by saying that she’s required to have a hearing within seventy-two hours of filing a certain pleading.  I pointed out that she and she alone controlled when she filed that pleading.  Had she surveyed the others involved, she would have had information as to our availability, and could have chosen to file the pleading so as to trigger the 72-hour requirement coincidental with our availability.

In her defense, she did ask the judge to adjust the hearing time so that I could attend, but the judge would not.  She called back and told me that the hearing would go forward as scheduled and seemed genuinely perplexed at my outrage.

I spent a good ten minutes telling her how tired I was of government lawyers acting without regard to the impact of their actions on private appointed counsel and, most importantly, on the Constitutionally protected rights of citizens.  I got absolutely no sense that she cared at all that my fifteen-year-old-client’s rights as a child and as the mother of a child, will be bandied about in the courtroom without her appointed counsel.

Why, you ask, do I recount this in my blog about learning not to complain?  Simple:  because I’ve vowed to be accountable in this public venue when I transgress.  There can be no doubt that my castigation of this government lawyer can be categorized as complaining.

I don’t regret my actions.  As I told this young lawyer, I’ve practiced law one year longer than she has been alive, and I’ve seen abuses like this scores of times.  On most occasions, I try to work around the difficulty created by the other person’s choice. But once in a while, I cannot  let such callous disregard pass without comment.

So — sue me.  I complained.  I think the fact that I complained about injustice should redeem me.


Gifts, talents, and other realities

A woman walked into court today whom I should have known.  She greeted me by name but I could not have told you who she was.  Fortunately, she started speaking to me of the case on which I was appearing and I could deduce.  I let out my breath in a long quiet shudder.

Another lawyer slipped in the door, glancing towards the bench to see if proceedings had commenced.  She set her bag down and spared me a small smile from under silvery blonde hair.  I squinted; but I pulled her name from some recess in which a face with brown hair appeared above it.

Several times today my tongue tripped over words.  The syllables scrambled to properly sequence themselves.  I found myself sitting at my desk baffled by the blurred words on my screen.  By 4:30, my eyes could barely discern a line of type but I had drafted more in one day than I often do in three.  I had nothing left.  I gathered the items which I carry back and forth each day and dragged myself to the car to start for home.

En route, my phone rang and I began a conversation with a friend about our respective days, the art of small talk, popular culture, and the bases of personal human connectivity.  By the time the conversation drew to a close I found myself standing in front of my stove, watching water boil, admitting, outloud, on the phone, to my friend, that I have a talent for helping people when they turn to me.

In the sudden silence following our goodbyes, I  stared at my discarded cell phone sitting on the counter.  I thought:  What does that mean — a talent for helping people?  From the far end of my house I gazed straight through to the living room, seeing the mismatched pillows on the couch, the scattering of books on the table, and the unfinished knitting project by the motionless rocking chair.

It’s more of a gift, really, I told myself.  A gift.  Sure, let’s go with that.

After a few minutes, I turned back to the making of my supper, in the quiet of my kitchen, as the warm March afternoon settled into evening.


The key to everything

For three days, I had four sets of keys.  I had a key to anything you can imagine locking:  My car, my rental car, my building, my suite of offices, my home, and some random keys that I don’t recall using in years.  I felt burdened by my keyage.  It seemed that I would need a handbag just to carry these little metal admission tickets.

I’m down to two sets for general purposes which are clipped together, and a Joyce Kramer carabiner with the old car key which no longer works and the security pass to my office building.  The rental car has been returned; the car keys are clipped to the house keys, and my handbag has lost two pounds.  Well, that could be a slight exaggeration.

While forced to juggle the four sets, I managed to lose one of them twice, another one three times, and a third remained lost for an entire day.  I found it by dumping everything out from two bags and hanging upside down in my rental car.  Now that I’ve managed to consolidate and reconfigure, I’m seriously considering a biker’s wallet or a fanny pack.

In the process of learning to live with so many keys, I actually reached a point where I wanted to have none.  I’d like to ditch my car’s remote, my home security keyfob, the three keys for my offices, the random keys that don’t work anymore, and the extra key to a friend’s house that I have never once deployed.

Right after that de-keyifying undertaking, I’m going to cut my hair off to my ears, shed the three pounds I gained during the 90 days when the doctor discouraged me from exercising, and give away the seventeen handbags that hang from the hooks on my stairwell.  Behind those discards will come a purge of jackets (at least ten), sweaters (I’ve lost count), books — uh, well, no, maybe not — and coffee cups, of which I have sufficient to stock a busy cafe.

If I make it through that cleansing process, I’ll start on the emotional baggage, which I intend to send to the landfill.  No decent compost pile would have it.

Ah, spring-cleaning!  The key to everything.



Grateful and joyous

Did I mention that the flip side of complaining is being grateful and joyous?

Today my professional suite hosted the first art event of 2015.  Six visual artists, a poet, a novelist and two musicians graced the corridors of Suite 100.  I had been fearful that the event would not be successful. Spring weather, the absence of normal helpers, and my harried schedule threatened to create the perfect storm of failure.  But thanks to Penny Thieme, who curates the shows; Jenna Munoz, the new lawyer in our suite; and Scott Anderson, one of our guest artists; all of the set-up got finished an hour before the first guest arrived.  Plenty of time!

Over a three-hour period, about sixty people came to meet the artists and view the fabulous art on our walls.  Some of my favorite folks attended, including Anne Jones and her service dog Katie.  Ms. Jones is the cousin of my favorite curmudgeon, and seeing her reminded me so much of him.  My heart sang.  Old friends increased my happiness.  But I made new friends, too.  And folks who had never attended any of our events admired the suite along with the art, and praised my colleagues and I for opening  our professional suite so artists can have an unfettered venue.

I am so pleased to be able to introduce art to Kansas City.  I am thankful, too, for my friend Penny Thieme, who founded the VALA art community of which the displaying artists are members.  My life is richer because of this opportunity.

The flip side of discontent and complaint —  I’m all there today.  Grateful and joyous.

Like my mother before me, I am not photogenic.  But as there was no other recording of my attendance, I posted with the lovely and talented Penny Thieme.  Just to prove that I was there.

Like my mother before me, I am not photogenic. But as there was no other record of my attendance, I posed with the lovely and talented Penny Thieme. Just to prove that I was there.

Broken hearts

A long time ago, somebody gave me a bottle of wine shaped like a heart.

After an evening of enjoying the bottle’s contents, I filled the bottle with water and a coleus plant, placing it on a doily in the center of my dining room table.  A month or so later, the giver and I parted ways.  The bottle got moved to the bathroom window sill behind the circular shower curtain which should have — but didn’t — protect the dry wall from the running water of the after-market shower assembly.

On a late summer afternoon, a storm raged around my building.  My niece Lisa, four at the time, sat at my dining room table with a studious scowl, listening to the howling wind and crashing thunder.  I pulled her into a game, then lunch.  I turned her favorite tape louder and louder.  We joined hands and danced in the living room with our heads back, round and round.  But every time lightening filled the room, Lisa flew into my arms.

An hour into the storm, a rush of wind through a forgotten open window crashed back the bathroom door.  The heart-shaped bottle toppled off the window sill, smashing into a thousand splinters on the old enamel bathtub.  Lisa screamed and buried her face against me.  It’s okay, It’s okay, I whispered, over and over, rocking her trembling body.  As the storm finally subsided, Lisa fell asleep, curled beside me in my wide living room rocker.

When she awakened, I took her into the bathroom to wash her face, getting her ready to depart.  We stood in the door way and studied the mess.  Lisa’s fright returned.  It’s okay, really, it’s okay, I told her, over and over again.  It’s just a bottle; it just broke, it’s okay.  Lisa drew back, unsure. I reached to swing her higher and higher until she chortled and waved her arms.  I put her down on the ground, still giggling.  You’re silly, Aunt Mary!  I washed her face with warm water, wiping away the tears, kissing her soft forehead, smoothing her silken hair.

Then I got a broom and swept the mess into a dust pan: the water, the dying plant, and the rubble of the broken heart.