Monthly Archives: May 2015

Countdown to Calm

I have heard from a lot of people in response to my list of self-loathing.  Several people encouraged me to make a list of things that I like about myself.  Before I do that, however, I’ve decided to make another list.  So:  Countdown to Corinne’s Calm with me, all of you all.  Send me your own lists of things you like about yourselves!  No complaining!  Tell me what you like about yourselves, so I can have inspiration for my own list of things I like about “the Empress of the Universe”.

I’m waiting!

The Empress reflects: Self, meet self.

My mother gave me a book years ago — okay, decades ago, called “Emmy Lou:  Her book and her heart”.  It told the story of a young girl in a section of British-ruled Canada, from age 5 or so, through the teen years.   She went from being “Emmy Lou” to being “Emily Louise” through the course of the novel — from a stumbling, mystified child to a self-aware young woman.

At one point, Emily Louise looks in a mirror and then blushes and turns away.  The caption on the drawing facing the chapter reads, “Self meets self”.

I thought of Emmy Lou today when a friend, Paula Caplan, posted on her FB page that she told someone she likes herself — an avowal that escaped her without warning or precognition but with conviction.  I’m proud of her.  Her admission got me to thinking about all the things which I dislike about myself and my inability to accept my imperfections.

I made a list, even:

  1. I have a horrible gait.
  2. My skin is blotchy.
  3. I carry an extra five pounds around my stomach.
  4. I cry too easily.
  5. I’m stubborn.
  6. I have really grey hair.
  7. My teeth are broken, crooked, and permanently yellow (due to a medication — truly permanent).
  8. I am losing my eyesight.
  9. I am too short to be tall and statuesque, and too tall to be petite.
  10. My hands are gnarled.
  11. My feet are even more gnarled than my hands.
  12. I cry too easily, did I mention that?
  13. I hold onto hope well past all reasonable potential for a positive outcome.
  14. I know a little bit about a few things and almost nothing about most things.
  15. I am terrible at managing money.
  16. I forgot to teach my son a lot of stuff that I really want him to know.
  17. I am a compulsive list-maker.
  18. I argue with people when I should just listen.
  19. I got an incomplete in college because I just stopped going to class and I never confessed, setting a life-long pattern of quitting without explanation.
  20. Did I mention that I walk funny?

Oh boy oh boy.  The Empress of the Universe truly does not like herself!  And yet:  I keep thinking about my friend Paula blurting out that she in fact does like herself.  Inspired by Paula, I find myself wondering — maybe I could get there too?  Maybe this quest not to complain needs to circle round and focus on not complaining about myself, which Pat Reynolds has been hammering me to consider, for the last fifteen or more months?

So, in an effort to at least consider whether I can accept myself, I took this random “selfie” — without make-up, without my blond curls trailing down around to cover my crooked ears and my blotchy skin.  I’m posting it here at great risk to my fragile self-esteem, because it is indeed, a “selfie”.  My self.  Oh boy.  Close eyes, jump in, here goes nothing!  Please note:  I am not attempting to elicit compliments about myself in any way, shape or form. I am simply putting myself out and telling myself:  Get over it, girlfriend. You are what you are.  Self, meet self.


Happy Mother’s Day

At court last Wednesday, I secured an order for my sixteen-year-old appointed client, mother of a twenty-month old, to have weekly visitation with him at the school where she lives nearly two hours from the city.  On leaving court, I said:  “Who will take my client’s son to see him on Mother’s Day?”  I looked expectantly at those with the legal responsibility to facilitate visitation.

Not I, said the caseworker.  It’s Mother’s Day, you know!  I did know:  Precisely.

Not I, said the care provider.  I’m having surgery on Thursday.  Oh-kay.   I did not ask what surgery, though I later learned it was to make her stomach smaller so she could lose weight.

And the parent aide cannot do it, said the case worker quickly.  She’ll take the boy ten days from now.  Ten days from now it is not Mother’s Day.

I got a little pissy.  Okay, well, I’m not the case worker, the care provider nor the parent aide, but if none of you all are going to take him, then by God, I will, said I.  They hastened to assure me that they all were certainly fine with that.  No kidding.

So I retrieved the little boy right after the thunderstorm abated and off we went.  He slept the entire way.  When we got to the place, I took his tiny hand and led him across the parking lot.  We gained admission to the secure facility, and spoke with the weekend supervisor whom I had previously met.  Then, a door opened, and my client bounded from the back echelons of the secure facility, darting forward and swooping her child into her arms.  Mama, mama!  he cried, over and over.

Suddenly, I felt a surge of gratitude for those who shirked the duty which was theirs.  Had they not done, then I could never have witnessed this most remarkable, joyful reunion between mother and son.

And so:  though my mother is long dead; and my son far away, I had the most Happiest of Mother’s Days.  No fancy brunch — we went to McDonald’s and I had a really horrible fish sandwich.  But this young mother carried her boy, held a straw so he could drink water, cooed over his hand-print Mother’s Day Card made by a thoughtful daycare provider, and thanked me, over and over, for bringing her son to see her.

And so:  once again, I realize how blessed my life is, and how brightly shines the silver lining on every cloud.  On the way home, I played Bonnie Raitt and sang The Wheels on the Bus, and then this little boy and I played “call and response”.  His shrieks of delighted laughter still echo in my ears alongside the chronic tinnitus.  It’s quite the symphony.

Happy Mother’s Day!

And the beat goes on

Note:  My cousin’s widower’s wife Laura Didricksen asked me to find pictures of my aunt Della Mae, her husband’s former mother-in-law.  And so I began pulling boxes down from shelves and up from the basement, searching for pictures of those summer trips to Tinley Park which Patrick and I took in the years before Della’s strokes.  I have not found them yet, but I found two typewritten pages — yes, typewritten — of an essay that I wrote which I feel compelled to include in this, my ever-expanding record of learning to live complaint-free and embrace joy.  And so, here it is.  The beat goes on:

The time has come, as I knew it would, when I feel the need to write, and so, as in the past, I write.  Each time life frightens me into periods of numbness they are followed by periods of writing.  Sometimes I share, I copy and mail; sometimes I store away.  I never know which I will do before I do it.  Even as I write I wonder.  And sometimes when I share what I share is rejected.  Which sends me into a period of numbness again, sends me behind the frozen smile some call pleasantness.  Sometimes what is rejected is the act of sharing, as when I lean into another’s happiness and am pushed way with the greed of the poor, the homeless turned territorial huddled in a doorway.  When this happens I lash out in desperation.

Dan Fogelberg on the stereo.  I have it low but hear the familiar catching sound of fingers sliding across the strings of an acoustic guitar and I quickly turn up the volume:  “Silent sea, tell this to me, where are the children that we used to be?”  I know the words, and sing them as I always have, changing keys, only now I am embarrassed because I notice the notes I never knew I skipped; hear the vibrato I never knew I had until someone told me, and am saddened at its sound.

What I feel as I write is movement.  Like the rise of a curtain in a room where you know you are alone, movement within my soul is unexpected.  I thought the years had paralyzed the nerves of my being, thought the frequent periods of numb fright had left me incapable of stirring.  Apparently they haven’t.

In 1984 my brother’s daughter died.  we all said that 1985 would be better for us.  In 1985 my mother died, and my grandfather’s soul left his Alzheimer-ridden body.  We said that 1986 would be better.

In the 1970’s I went from bright and searching to clutching and scratching.  I wanted nothing more from the 1980’s than love.  Now I am silent, watchful.  I have been accused of relying on others to define my existence.  Perhaps I have.  I have been accused of many things, including sudden mood changes, including poor choices in lovers, including being careless with the word love, including unprofessionalism, including selfishness.  I have been accused of re-ordering my life to accommodate others’ needs.  I was not aware that this was wrong, but you can hardly blame me, as I learned to be accommodating at my mother’s knee.  I have also been accused of being blind, and naive.

I steal a line from Jackson Browne:  Do not remind me of my failures. . . I have not forgotten them.

Nor has anyone on the receiving end of my accommodations ever declined them as long as they found them useful.  Or as long as they were not in turn asked for something.  And I, because of need, or goodness, or foolishness, or some trait as yet unidentified, continued giving.  Perhaps I am casting pearls before swine; I prefer to believe that I am casting my bread upon the water.

Love steals into your heart when it  is sleeping, and so it crept to enter mine.  I was not given time to prepare, to tuck away my failures like wisps of grey hair, slightly unappealing but nonetheless present.  I was not allowed to spread a fine layer of make-up over my blemishes.  I truly believed that love does not put on airs.  But I guess love should, at times, or at least a lover should.

Love caught me in a time of writing, a time of stirring from five months of numbness.  I feel a lump in my throat now — when love came to me in February 1986 I was so terribly vulnerable.  I had been numb from August 21st, 1985 at 7:25 a.m. until late December 1985, and in February 1986 I was still learning, or re-earning, to open myself to life.

Love found me shaky and left me much the same.  Love left, or the lover did, because I was too moody.  As we said on hard prie-dieux, on bended knee, with bowed head, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”.  For the uninitiated, that is, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”.

Do not remind me of my failures.  I have not forgotten them.

I was not surprised when my spring lover left.  So many have.  Some have left to return to a girl that had once left them, to go to a girl that beckoned, or to be alone.  Many lovers have I had, but, sadly, only two whom I loved.  The first whom I loved, left with neither malice nor explanation.  The second, this last, with little explanation and with something close to guilt.  Both of which I regretted, and perhaps also caused.

And I returned to the business of living.  Of establishing my career.  Of playing cat and mouse with men, an endeavor I have never undertaken successfully.  I returned to cultivating my non-lover friends.  I returned to numbness, too, at lest for a time.  And then, to the business of grieving for my mother, a process halted in February by the distraction of love.  And finally, I returned to the realization, upon which I stumbled in early December 1985, that I am a complete person without a lover.  I may be still forming, but I can and do exist as an entity, entire unto myself.

Love will come to me again, love of a man, I mean, and from a man (other kinds of love are, thankfully, all around me).  When love comes, I may be numb.  I may be vulnerable, or I may be ready.  But I may also be occasionally bitchy and tearful and giddy.  I cannot abandon growth, I move forward.  But I have sometimes subverted real growth for a pretended capability, an artificial assumption of characteristics I had not yet acquired, some of which I may never acquire.

True, though, that I mellow as I grow.  Ask anyone — ask the first musician to sing to me, a man from Canada who was never a lover but who knew my soul like a lover does.  Ask the various men who haved used me, partially because they saw in me a willingness to be used.  Ask the women who observed this devolution and turned from me in contempt.  Ask the women who did not turn away, who, observing, anticipated the pain and stayed to comfort.  I am not perfect, but I have been much worse, and I remember being much worse.

Do not confront me with my failures: I have not forgotten them.

Love may be a gamble.  Life itself is, I know — I who know only too well that you can, indeed, be killed crossing a street.

Or you can live, to take another roll of the dice.

I would love again, if love came my way.  I am no longer certain that I would love as effortlessly, or as openly.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  I have cursed love before, all kinds of love for all kinds of reasons.  I have told several men that I loved them when I did not, and told several men I loved them when I thought I did.  I have tried to play roles for these men.  That was not wise.

And the one lover who left without malice or pain, whom I truly loved, I never told.  I think he knew — but we never discussed it.

My mother, whom I know I characterize as a saint, used to say that God only gives you as much suffering as he thinks you can bear.  In later years, she would add, somewhat ruefully, “And he must think the Corleys are awfully strong.


And indeed, life goes on.  I am blessed in many ways.  Often I catch myself gazing at someone more disabled than I, or less intelligent, or less endowed with friends, thinking, “There, indeed, but for the grace of God, go I.”

And indeed, I go, as I have always gone, one crooked step forward two backwards, always, as Johanna Lyons admonished us, with my best foot forward.  And still unsure, as I was unsure as a child, exactly which foot that was — but nonetheless determined that it should precede the other into the street, where, in crossing, I might get killed.

Or might make it safely to the other side.

Corinne Corley, 01 June 1986


A change of mind


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P.S.:  I was going to write an entry about the irony of finally condescending to use a walking stick due to having torn a cyst in my back, and then having a friend break the dang thing.  But then I got home and saw the lovely blooms surrounding me, and I decided not to complain even in thin guise of irony.  So, my friend is forgiven.  Happy spring.  — CC

In which I meet a friendly Canadian

Every couple of years, I swallow my pride, squelch my qualms, hoist my petard, and take a refreshing series of physical therapy sessions.

This year, I’m doing the deed at the KU Spine Center.  I’ve recently learned that most physical therapists secure doctorates, making them extremely well-qualified to administer the torture with which they pester and plague their patients.  No matter:  punishment justly earned, I say.  Get thee to the waiting room, keep a careful watch for your name to be butchered, and grit your teeth, young woman.  It’s time to beat back time.

Pleasantly surprised was I to see a tall, cheerful woman stroll out from the nether-reaches of the Spine Center and properly pronounce my name in a delightful accent.  She reached her hand forward to grasp mine and pump it briefly — up, down, pleased to meet you, Ms. Corley — then opened the door to admit me to the dungeon.  I followed her across the usual gymniasium filled with struggling invalids and stodgy taskmasters wearing scrubs.

The woman introduced herself and gestured to a chair for me.  She pulled a rolling chair towards a portable computer station and trilled, without hesitation:  “I need to assess your goals, because when I heard that I  had a new patient, I said to myself, ‘Oh my, they are sending me someone with spasticity, don’t they know that I can do nothing with spasticity!’ ”  Then she looked at me brightly while I digested this pronouncement and wondered, idly, whether her accent bespoke of France.

When asked, she invited me to guess.  I ventured Switzerland and evoked a long trill of hearty laughter. “That is what everyone says, but I am from this continent!”  She peered at me while I looked puzzled.  Then she crowed triumphantly, “I am French-Canadian!” and again came the long, lovely laugh.  To my inevitable and trite query as to how she found herself traveling southward, she smiled broadly and asked me, “Why does anyone move?  For love!” And I thought but did not say: What lucky man brought America this joyful creature? 

Ninety minutes later, I shook the same hand in thanks and stepped over to the scheduler.  I had been coaxed to agree to two sessions per week without protest, so effective was the logic presented to me by this most unusual doctor of physical therapy.  I had answered questions more honestly than I probably subconsciously intended and given a medical history that raised the woman’s eyebrows more than once.  She astonished me by agreeing that I probably should not use a cane, the first medical professional ever to understand and articulate the reasons — other than crass vanity — which I do not.  She had quelled any complaint that I might have voiced at some of the tests she performed by deft anticipation: No one likes to stand on my foam, she told me, so do not waste time telling me you do not like it because I will not be impressed!

She even managed what no one else has been able to do.  She got me to wear a gait belt without complaint.

Wonders of wonders — will they never cease?  We shall see, we shall see — when I visit, twice each week for the next two months, my new friend from North of the border.

Gait belt


Happy Mother’s Day

As a child, I told everyone whom I met that I wanted to be a writer.  I meant, of course, that I wanted writing for a job.  I’ve not gotten that; not yet, anyway.  I do write in my job — letters, motions, e-mails, even briefs.  I’ve had various things published — articles in a newspaper, poems in a magazine, my self-published blog.  I write, but I am not a writer in the way that I envisioned all those decades ago.

However, thankfully for my ego, I also avowed that I would be a mother.  And that I am.  I realized, once, and with a gut-wrenching suddenness, that I had given birth to a musician.  I saw that glazed stare as he seemed to be listening but kept playing; watched him matriculate through high school with a guitar mixed among the covers of his never-made bed; helped him haul three guitars and an amp into that first dorm room in 2009.

But slowly, over time, that musician also became a writer:  BA in Creative Writing, acceptance to an MFA program in Writing for Stage and Screen.   So while I could lament that I never became a writer in the sense that the child-formerly-known-as-Mary always meant, I will not complain because I find that it just skipped two generations:  From my grandfather, John L. Corley — a lawyer and a published author — to my son, Patrick C. Corley.

And here’s my mother’s day gift from him.  I caution you that some of its words are a bit crass, even adult.  And some of its concepts went straight over the head of the author’s mother.  And the length astonished me.  That said, please, I hope you will click this link and understand the joy that this author’s mother feels.

“Soul Proprietors”, by Patrick Corley

My mother’s daughter

My mother’s zest for life preceded her into every space she entered.  She embraced whatever she did with passion.  Her children, being a Cub Scout den mother, her work, friendships: Nothing fell below prime importance for her.  She spread herself thin but seemed to me to thrive.

But what do I know:  she died when I was 29, still clueless, and lost in a fog of my emotional and physical disabilities.  I like to think of her in laudatory phrasing — the best mother, a fiercely loyal daughter, a doggedly determined wife.  At sixty, though, I look back and realize that as a child, as a young girl, as an adult, I brushed my  mother with gold wash.  Perhaps every daughter does, but certainly, I did.

Unquestionably, though, my mother felt at home in her garden.  She pushed earth every where she could to create more space for flowers, vegetables, bird feeders, sun dials.  She tilled and weeded, planted and nurtured.  As her children left home, she claimed more and more yard space for cultivating.  She’d stand in her back yard and survey the blooms, the squash, the young asparagus plants — and smile so sweetly that my heart clenched.

I am my mother’s daughter.  Before I left for work yesterday, I grouped a few of my pots on the table that stands on my deck, so that when the rain came, they could drink its nourishment.  As the storm hit last evening, I stood on the porch, surrounded by pansies and begonias, gazing at my small efforts to capture the same sense of accomplishment that my mother felt.  Working in the yard tires me and poses difficulties that I have not yet learned to negotiate.  So I turn the yearning for nurturing which I inherited from my mother to smaller  blooms.

I have to move the pots back to their wicker stands, now that the rain passes.  It’s extra work.  But I’m not complaining.  My flowers bring me pleasure, and like anything which pleases, it’s worth the effort.


Here’s to classy broads

I spent the day with my friend Vivian Leahy.  She’s one of the classiest dames I know and I mean that most respectfully.  She holds her head straight and tall, her shoulders squared, and carries herself with grace and charm. Her smile flashes.  Her eyes light.

Vivian got up early and drove all the way down to mid-town from KC, North, to get gluten-free goodies to feed me for coffee/breakfast.  She hand-selected a mug from her chinaware which she knew would be light enough for my lily-white spastic hands.  She had her beautiful blue Portuguese table-ware arranged and waiting, and did not bat even a single eyelash when I was 15 minutes late due to my GPS getting me lost.

We visited on her lovely patio, with its burst of beautiful colors in pots and its cute little garden gnome.  We talked of her week and mine; her life and mine; her child and mine.  We laughed and fell quiet, in turns, and with ease.

Then she gamely took me on a tour of her favorite second-hand shops and flea markets.  I found a table, for which I have been searching.  She endured the flirts of the suave older gentleman who also thought her classy and said so.  Then she drove us to a Thai place where we had a late lunch.  She had no qualms about angling her car right up on the flat-surface sidewalk so I could scoot my fatigued little body into her deftly driven SUV.

Our mutual friend Cindy Cieplik introduced Vivian and me.  What a gift Cindy gave me!  I am so grateful to have one of the classiest ladies in the metro area as my friend.  I’m worn out from the day, but I’m not complaining.  I had a blast.

Vivian's beautiful daughter Morgan Fowler took this elegant, candid shot of her.

Vivian’s beautiful daughter Morgan Fowler took this elegant, candid shot of her.

Gunning for Murphy

Murphy undoubtedly is a tall, able-bodied man.

The bottles of medication defy my efforts to open them, due to the cautionary efforts of the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies.  When I finally get the lids off, I leave them off so as not to challenge myself every day.  Then I lose my balance and heart medicine gets scattered across the floor.  Sigh.

In the kitchen, I can have things at one height:  counter-top.  Anything else requires me to stand on a bench (oh that’s a good idea) or wait for visitors; or hire small children to forage around in under-cabinets.  Double sigh.

My furniture cannot be anything heavy or large; if it is, then somebody else has to fetch those things which I inevitably drop and lose beneath furniture.  I recently found a ring that I thought I had lost during my son’s childhood but no, it had just fallen on the floor and rolled out of reach.  Someone wonderful came to help me clean and lo, and behold, there was my garnet ring, under the dresser where it fell a lifetime ago.  Unfortunately, I’ve broken so many fingers since then, that it no longer fits either hand.  Triple sigh.

The docket gods don’t like me any more than those which rule my household.  Lawyers snap at me for having no time and leave me wondering what happened to professional courtesy.  Then I trot out my very best non-violent communication and the copy repair guy leaves without ordering a necessary part because, well, I guess I seem so nice.  Ha. Quadruple?  Is that a word? Quadruple sigh.

Why oh why did I ever decide to give up complaining?  I must have thought Murphy’s law had been repealed.

Yes, Murphy is a tall, strong, able-bodied guy with infinite patience and a full household staff.

I either have to complain about his law or go have an ice cream.  Hmmm.  Well.  Now there’s an idea.

I’m going to a Red Flag meeting for my sixteen-year-old client and will try not to shout at anybody, even those who richly deserve my wrath.  Then I’m going to put on sweat pants and garden.  Hopefully Murphy hasn’t gotten a hold of my garden tools!!!

I posted this on FB today and include it here just because it's some place where I can sit and pretend that Murphy's Law does not apply to me.  Happy spring, everybody.  May your weekend be awesome.

I posted this on FB today and include it here just because it’s some place where I can sit and pretend that Murphy’s Law does not apply to me. Happy spring, everybody. May your weekend be awesome.