Monthly Archives: November 2015

Post-script to the Lumpy Day

My life really has some fine points to it.  I do like the work that I do.  I have marvelous friends.  A terrific son, who understands life in ways that few ever attain. I have loved and even though I clearly also lost, I don’t regret loving nor do I regret one thing that I did for love.  My only regrets are what I failed to do and what I failed to understand.

I don’t have cancer and even the cancer surgery that i had in 1982 turned out, years later, to have been unnecessary as I eventually learned that the path reports showed only pre-cancerous cells.  When I was a baby, no one thought I would walk.  When I was 18, our family doctor told my parents that I’d be bedridden by 25 — in front of me but as though I could not hear.  At 31, I started having aphasic spells that doctors could not diagnose, but I never crashed the car and only once blacked out in court.

I’ve never been particularly financially successful but the kindness of others has helped me through difficult times.  17.5 years ago, a pulmonologist and a neurologist together decided that I had six months to live. I declined for a year or so before Joe Brewer, an ID doc at St. Luke’s, came back into my life and set them straight.  A few years later, the pesky virus that reactivates now and then really played havoc on my systems, but it turns out the specialist at Stanford who studies my virus belongs to my health insurance network.

I lose cases now and then, but i often win, and I’m fairly good at negotiating settlements which shocks no one more than me since I’m a fairly strident, intense person who champions causes with relentless abandon.  One judge called me the Settlement Queen of Jackson County a few years back; I’m okay with that title.  Not fancy but gets the job done.

Ups and downs trade places in my life quite a bit but the ups keep coming and I’ve got food on the table, a sweet bungalow in which to sleep at night, and an extraordinary set of friends. I even have a fairy granddaughter.

Brenda said to me today, You’ll keep on, because that’s what you do.  Just take life a day at a time.  You’ll be fine.

I wanted to be angry about that, but she’s right.  I’ll keep on.  It’s what I do.  And on balance, I’ve had more than my share of wonderfulness and the terrible bits were not nearly as bad as a whole lot of folks endure every day.  Maybe i’m not as resilient as I should be.  Maybe I’m just tired.  Maybe I bought the Cinderella story and my pumpkin has burst.  But i’m doing okay.  I’ll survive.  I might even do some more good along the way.

Me, m fairy granddaughter Grace, and my shared daughter Tshandra.

Me, my fairy granddaughter Grace, and my shared daughter Tshandra.

Lumpy Days

So I got home tonight and noticed that not much had been done.  Worried that my friend and contractor’s baby had come a month early, I called to make sure everything was all right.  He assured me that the baby is fine. He just had a day when everything went wrong so he decided to start again tomorrow.

I can relate.

I had a lumpy day myself.  I didn’t quite make it home before falling apart.  I called the National Guard, the Cavalry, and the First Responders.  One from each camp threw me a lifeline and I’m hanging on tight, hoping the rope is strong, hoping my hands don’t fail, hoping that the bright side which seems to have receded far into the distance will get closer and closer as I cling to the rope, and the rescuers tighten the other end and I scramble to find a foothold.

It’s been a lumpy day, but I’m not complaining.    Oh, okay. Maybe I did some complaining.  I might have even wailed.  But the wagons circled.  I’ll make it through the night.Rescue Demo

Naming Day

I left work an hour before my scheduled attendance of a Women of Rotary dinner tonight. I made my way to the Plaza hoping to find some Court-appropriate clothing.  I reckoned without the cacophony of my dislike of shopping with the Plaza’s dearth of suitable stores.

But I ventured into a storefront that seemed to have female clothing.  Within moments I realized that the clothing more suited a twenty-something than a sixty-something. But I wandered around looking at sweaters and jackets, trying to look hopeful, not wanting to just bolt.

As I slunk towards the door, a woman clerk approached me and engaged me in conversation.  We talked about shoes more extensively than I think I’ve done in years.  But that conversation dwindled and I continued my gravitation towards the street.

She followed me, though; and before I quite knew what was happening, we were talking about our children — mostly hers: an 8th grader; a senior in high school; and a freshman daughter at Creighton named “Katie”.

Finally, she introduced herself as “Amy” and held out her hand.  “Corinne,” I responded.  She squealed — literally squealed — “My daughter Katie’s middle name is ‘Corinne’!”  Then came the normal query — “One R or two?  One N or two?” And lo and behold, her Katie is Kathleen Corinne.

High five, sistah.  When I told her that my parents had originally chosen “Bridget Kathleen” for me, she beamed.  And hugged me.  Whoa.

A few minutes later, I found myself back on the street, then behind the wheel of the Prius.  I had heard that tell-tale incoming text noise while bonding with Katie’s mother and glanced at the phone.  A few text exchanges later, I read the message, Don’t give up on yourself.

No indeed.  No indeed.  I’m two degrees of separation from a freshman at Creighton and I have an accidental namesake, my friend Carla’s daughter Maria Korinna (Kori) in Fayetteville.  I’m practically immortal.  How could I possibly give up on myself?  How could I possibly complain?


Making Joyful Noises

Okay, everybody on the planet who has known me for at least five minutes knows that I’m not religious.

If asked (which I rarely am), I alternate my answer between “I’m a recovering Catholic” and “I believe in a divine entity and angels”.

I have no use for organized religion.  Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, ain’t goin’ back.

I’ve been proselytized and prayed over.  I’ve been told that I have to embrace Jesus Christ as my personal savior or go to Hell.  I’ve gone to Episcopal Church, I’ve gone to Methodist Church, I’ve gone to Roman Catholic Church. I’ve sat in on the Unitarians, the Presbyterians, a few random Christian sects and countless nonsectarian congregation services, if they can be called services.  I’ve even gone to “The Oasis”, which is a non-church church in the most pure sense of the phrase.

I’ve been to black churches, white churches, integrated churches, and once I went to a church that had its lights off so nobody could tell who was who (or who did what, as it turned out).

I’ve never been to a synagogue but I’ve been to a Mosque, and I even wore a veil covering my head for the privilege of standing witness to a marriage there.

The only part of the Bible that has ever spoken to me is the Book of Ruth, and for two reasons:  One, because it was my mother’s favorite book and I read it to her over and over again in her last weeks; and the other, because I tried to be a good daughter-in-law to Jay and Joanna.

But lately, this Psalm has played in my head:

Psalm 100, King James Version (KJV)

100 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

King James Version (KJV)by Public Domain

I don’t anticipate that  a religious conversion will flow from the repeated echoing of this Psalm in my mind and my  heart.  But one part of it that really resonates with me is the notion of making joyful noises.

I like that.  I think I shall make joyful noises whenever I can.  So much better than complaining!


I don’t look much like this photo of me; and Miss Penny has lost a bunch of weight since we took this selfie. But it’s one of the most joyful photos of myself that I could find that would not also have some bittersweet tinge so I’m sharing it to illustrate the making of joyful noises. We laughed so hard that day!




I found this volunteer growing sideways in an old pot, apparently having sprung from the roots of a discarded annual.  I  lined an old planter with some  of Katrina’s stones from my amaryllis container.  I know she won’t mind.  I spooned rich soil over the stones, then carefully lifted the plant from the shards of broken clay in which I had found it, settling it into the fresh earth.  Then I brought the little rescue indoors, where I will try to keep it alive until spring.  Just as I strive to do, it reaches toward the light, and sinks its roots into whatever earth it can find, seeking nourishment, hoping to thrive.

My awakening

I peer through the tiny hole, squinting.  I see splinters of color, jagged and broken.  I desperately dial the barrel, trying to get the picture to form a coherent pattern.  But this kaleidoscope has leaks.  Light pierces through cracks in its surface, disturbing the dance of crystal.

I throw the thing down on the table and dash away.  But it draws me back, time and time again.  I fiddle with its mechanisms, trying to figure out how to make the shards of glass fall into place.  An audience shouts at me, catcalling, jeering, hissing  as I cringe beneath the onslaught.  They expect so much of me.  They watch my struggles, the dancing colors projected on a screen behind me.    I discard  the kaleidoscope again and the voices roar, the taunts surging around me, louder and louder.

I wrap myself in the curtain and pray for the symphony to play the strains of Goodnight Ladies, signalling the end of the performance.  I will the houselights to rise.  But hands pull me from my hiding place and shove me back in front of the stage lights.  The kaleidoscope lies on a tall table.  I can see that its glass is broken, that the colored bits spill from it.  I can never make its pattern lovely.  Still the audience expects me to work magic and show them a pretty picture.  I stand in defeat.

And then the alarm rings and I jolt awake.

My breath comes in long shudders.  I realize that my years of fear, my sleepless nights, my loud laments, all stem from my essential belief that I will fail.  I have not believed myself good enough.  I have worried that my audience will be displeased.

I am closing the curtain now, and turning out the lights in the theatre.  I no longer care if the crowd finds me acceptable.  None of us should.  None of us should ever feel anything but worthy.  We should all feel like rock stars.  Anyone who tries to beat us down should be denied access to the audience.  Close and bar the doors.  Perform only for those who come to see you shine.



A word about forgiveness

Every meme on Facebook today thanks veterans for their service.  I scroll through the news feed on my phone while waiting for my legs to get used to being awake so that I can stand.  I contemplate my friends.  Do I know any veterans?  I came of age in the Vietnam era amongst a bunch of conscientious objectors, so possibly not.  Some, though, I’m sure.

This rumination inevitably leads me to my father, who served in Burma (yes, NPR, I know it’s called Myanmar now).  I’m sleeping in the guest room during the upstairs renovation, so when I do rise and stumble through the door, I see my father’s shadow box of war memorabilia just outside the door.  I stand and contemplate these symbols of service before raising my cell phone to take a picture.

My Dad was what you’d call a real son of a bitch.  He drank too much, beat his wife and his kids, and brought no money to the household coffers.  In his last decade, he earned some measure of redemption by excelling at grandfathering.  The grandkids who knew him have fond memories of Grandpa Sport.  My dad really came through for them.

What I know about my father explains a lot in retrospect.  He judged his worth by his Army service, and he never felt worthwhile afterwards.  He told stories, showed pictures,  and paged through his copy of The Marsmen of Burma with endless longing.  His sorrow does not justify his later conduct nor truly explain his behavior, but what I know of feeling lost helps me forgive him.  He yearned for that sense of belonging and never found it.

And something else:   I know enough of trauma to understand that my father experienced life-changing events under fire that shaped the sad decades which followed.  While it’s doubtless true that my father could have made different choices, it’s also true that World War II veterans did not get much help for the emotional aftermath of war.  So it’s not as simple as it might seem.  Yes, my dad was a real son of a bitch, but he also doubtless suffered from what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some measure of his behavior can be understood and even forgiven.

I’ve heard that some veterans do not like the phrase, “Thank you for your service”.  But my father did.  And so, I say that to him now.  “Private Richard Adrian Corley, we thank you for your service to the United States of America in the Burma theatre, World War II.  You did well.  You served your nation faithfully and without complaint.  We honor you today.  Rest well, soldier.”


In which I briefly occupy a bubble

Brian comes down and asks how my day has been, as he puts away his tools and gets ready to go home.  So-so, I say.  I’m trying not to complain.

I’m learning to set limits, I explain.  I help people as much as I can and then don’t know what to do when my limits upset them.  Brian tells me that he likes to teach people to help themselves.  He tells me, There’s two kinds of people:  People who need a little help but are willing to help themselves; and people who just want you to do everything for them.  Brian thinks a minute, and then says he doesn’t help people much, he shows them how to do things.

I laugh.  That’s so not true, Brian! I tell him.  You help me all the time.  Brian laughs.  Oh I do little things for you but you mostly try to help yourself.

I don’t know if Brian’s assessment is accurate.  But my focus stays on those who get upset with me.   I tell him, I feel like I meet a lot of people who want me to do stuff for them, and I try so hard to do what they want.  Then I get to the end and I feel like they have no use for me any more.

Brian studies me intently.  I think he senses this conversation has left the casual realm.  Well, that sounds like you might have a self-esteem issue.  I have no problem with self-esteem.

Brian has hit the nail squarely on the head.  I explain that; I tell him that I’m still trying to learn to accept the person that my life has molded.  I mention that I try to accept the effect of everything that has happened to me.  He asks, Do you mean overcome? but no:  I mean accept.  I definitely see that the events which I experienced, good, bad, neutral, hammered my neurons and neuro-pathways and fashioned the woman whom I see in the mirror.

Today, I’ve been called manipulative and I’ve been labeled difficult.  I understand that these words of judgment tell me something about the speakers — about the limits of what they can tolerate.  I know my heart.  I know my values and I try to conform my behavior to reflect those values.  That I fail to please everyone does not indicate malice on my part; only a decision on theirs that whatever I am, whatever I have done, whatever I can or cannot do, whatever I need, falls outside of what they can endure.

I get that.  At least:  my brain does.  The heart — not so much.  I find it difficult to protect myself when judgment rains on me.

Earlier today, I came upon Timothy Pettet in the waiting room of my office.  He sprang up, and said I’ve come to see you, and now that I’ve seen you, I see how beautiful you are!  He tells me that he’s come to find out when he should arrive to remove his wife’s paintings which currently grace the walls in our suite.  We talk about that for a few minutes.  We end our conversation on the sidewalk by my car, where Tim interrupts me to remark upon the distracting quality of my blue earrings, and my turquoise sweater, and my new glasses.

I sputter.  I’m not good at accepting compliments, even from someone whose heart I firmly believe harbors not one trace of ill will, someone whom I’ve known for more than fifteen years, and about whom my view has swung from side to side before settling quite comfortably in the middle.  But on this day, after the experiences through which I’ve tried to navigate, after being condemned and rejected and measured and found wanting, Tim’s arrow finds a soft spot in the ice that I’m packed around my heart, and melts me ever so slightly.

I drive home smiling, willing to believe, if only for the twelve minutes between Westport and Brookside, that I am actually beautiful.

Timothy Pettet and Mary Pettet

Timothy Pettet and Mary Pettet

Morning view

A lawyer of my acquaintance posted pictures of a stunning scene this morning, a gorgeous waterside vista taken in some exotic port.  His caption encouraged us to join him in a round of the familiar song from that childhood show which we all recall.  It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. . .

I drift into my kitchen and warm a cup of coffee from yesterday’s leftover pot.  I measure out a third-cup of gluten-free granola and pour unsweetened almond milk over the cereal.  Rummaging in the silverware drawer, I find the sterling silver baby’s spoon with which I eat breakfast every morning.  I like the feel of it in my hand.  I cradle the bowl in the crook of my left arm with its still-weak hand.  In a few seconds,  my crystal mug (Sheldon’s crystal mug, left here by Abbey, thank you very much) sits on the table in the breakfast nook next to the little bowl of cereal.  I straddle a sturdy wooden stool and glance around me.

Yes, Dick Bryant.  It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

No boats grace my view, but my little plants reach towards the light.  I find that just as pleasing.

No boats grace my view, but my little plants reach towards the light. I find that just as pleasing.

Anne and Katie

Anne Jones deftly pulls into my driveway and lightly disembarks, Katie’s lead in hand.  I watch from the porch with a smile rising to my lips.  I cannot believe this 80-something lady moves with grace and ease across the piles of leaves, hand tucked in one pocket, glancing over her shoulder and signalling me to wait while Katie walks back and forth, freed from comfortable, brief captivity, snuffling the ground.

When Katie has finished exploring, the two of them make the short trip up my porch stairs, then tour the Holmes House.  Such a pleasant place, says Anne, while Katie forages for mice.  I’m sure the place wreaks of their smell, and Katie, evidently an excellent mouser, seems to agree.  Anne and I laugh.

At Panera’s in Brookside, we sit at a table by the window, Katie quietly lying at Anne’s feet wearing her Service Dog halter.  Anne and I talked about politics and the comparative safety of neighborhoods, finding we agree on more issues than we might have suspected.  I think I’m less liberal than Anne anticipated; or perhaps I’m just more pragmatic.  We laugh together at our assumption that we’d not agree on anything.  We do not argue once.

Anne drives us east, to Independence, to Mt. Washington Cemetery where her parents are buried.  She nimbly climbs the old stone stairwell but motions me to stay.  You might fall, she cautions.  I agree; and let this delightful lady briskly walk around, pushing leaves from headstones, letting Katie visit the ancestors whom Anne shares with my favorite curmudgeon, who was Anne’s cousin and frequent lunch companion.

Afterwards, we drive through Elmwood Cemetery and just give a nod to the various members of her family resting there.  We do not get out. We talk about the deer which got shot there; a scandalous event that we both lament.  Then we drive back to Brookside by way of Prospect, each of us commenting that inner city seems to have gotten itself spruced up a bit.

Anne drops me at my house, stopping long enough for a photograph and to greet my boycat who inexplicably has appeared on the porch far later in the day than his normal six a.m. breakfast.  As Anne and Katie pull out of the driveway, I find that my smile has never once left my face.  I let the cool of the autumn afternoon play against my face and ruffle my hair.  I have lots to do, with a trial scheduled for Monday morning and a birthday present to buy for Chaska Vogt.  But my Sunday afternoon with Anne Jones and Katie, her service dog, has set the right tone for the rest of the day.

Anne Jones and Katie.

Anne Jones and Katie.

In which Pablo meets Katie and is not well pleased.

In which Pablo meets Katie and is not well pleased.