Monthly Archives: July 2016

My Jack Nicholson Moment

I’ve never had a passport.  I’ve never needed one.  The opportunity to travel outside the US has not presented itself and probably never will.

While I don’t expect to travel out of the country at this late date, I do foresee that unless the Missouri state legislature gets off its patootey and fixes the driver’s license problem, I’ll soon need a passport to fly from here to California, so I finally decided to take the plunge.

I meticulously completed each line of the application, though I remain mystified as to why they need the name of my most recent ex-spouse (why not the other five hundred?) who probably does not wish to be named on my passport application.  Alas, his name went on the form and I proceeded to rack my brain to recall the exact date of our divorce, on which prior to this, my policy had been not to dwell.  So much for living in the present and for the future.  Ach, well, check and check.

Rather than continue searching amidst the piles of photos shoved in various drawers (see Friday’s entry) for my birth certificate, I drove to the Health Department and paid $15 for another certified copy.  The lady in CVS took my picture on the one decent hair day that I’ve had this summer.  I photocopied my driver’s license (front and back).  Check, check, and check.  So there I found myself with an hour to kill before court, possessed of a nicely labeled manila folder containing everything I need, and $165 in the bank, and I sashay into the Independence Post Office which I’m here to tell you has convenient curb-side handicapped parking.

I got in line, pleased to see that three clerks stood chatting in the work area behind the counter.  One of them did nothing while the other talked with her neighbors who had come to buy stamps and stayed to talk about a block party.  The third stood holding her own folder, a thin burden which she clutched to her chest while staring forwards, possibly thinking about what to make for dinner.  When the stamps people moved away, the three clerks started talking about a wedding.

After about five minutes, the clerk who had been idle when I got in line asked me if she could help me.  I stepped forward, proudly displayed my happy burden, and asked her to take my passport application.

“Sorry, lady, it’s by appointment only.”

Now, I am nothing if not meticulous. I had carefully checked the internet and I knew that while some postal facilities list themselves as “by appointment only” for passports purposes, Independence did not.  However, I trotted out my very best Marshall Rosenberg imitation and said, “Oh, my.  Well, is there an appointment available with the passport person now or is he or she busy at this moment?”

The lady shrugged.  “You have to make an appointment in advance,” she said.  I tilted my head.  Not an answer to my question.  I repeated what I wanted to know.  She replied, “We’re all able to take passport applications.”  I glanced at the three of them, none of whom had anything to do by the looks of it.  I smiled.  “Great,” I chirped.  “Beings as I am next in line,” I continued, glancing at the completely empty foyer, “Will you take my application?”

She scowled at me.  She admonished me that I could not apply for a passport without an advance appointment.  At this point, frustration tinged her voice, echoing the frustration that I felt rising from my stomach.  I asked her, “Since you are not busy, why can’t you take my application?”  She snapped, “Because you don’t have an advance appointment, and  one is required.”

Now, on the internet, several USPS facilities indicated they are “By appointment only”, and several just say, “By appointment”.  Practicing law for thirty-three years drums in one’s head that “expressio unius est exclusio alterius”, or “expression of one thing precludes the other”.  Since some say “by appointment only” and some say “by appointment”, I gathered that in the latter grouping, there is the potential for walk-in.  Besides, with three federal employees standing around doing nothing and no other customers in sight, it seemed only logical that I could be helped.

But no.  The woman adamantly insisted that since I had no advance appointment, regardless of how easy it would be to put me in a time-slot for, say, right then, she would not do so.  Moreover, she looked in a big book devoid of entries (I peaked) and announced that they were taking appointments “for two weeks from now”.  Really?

We went back and forth like that for two or three more moments — Me trying to point out that none of them were busy anyway, she retorting that it didn’t matter, because I had not made an appointment in advance.  No, nobody was applying for a passport, she confirmed.  No, there was no one in line. No one was waiting.  No one was booked.  But I did not have an advance appointment, and they were scheduling in advance.  Two weeks from then.  Here’s a dime, call the chaplain.

I considered my options while the three of them stood gaping at me with nothing to do but engage in a contest of wills on the taxpayers’ dime.  I reflected on the inconvenience of having a U. S. Marshall curtail my liberty for getting angry with this recalcitrant witch (with a capital B), and the potential that further persuasion, a raised voice, or cajoling might compel any of them to help me.  Finally, I said, in a deliberately neutral tone, “Well, I hope you sleep well tonight knowing you followed the letter of the policy to ridiculous ends,”and I turned on my heel.  As I left, the woman hollered out, “I was nice to you,” which I found utterly ridiculous to the point of being deliberately insulting.  I paused at the door, turned, and replied, “If that’s your idea of nice, God help you.”

Sitting in my car, I pulled up the USPS website, found the phone number for the next closest postal facility which takes passport applications (Raytown), and made an appointment for August 1st, ten days later.  A man with a pleasant voice took only my surname and cell phone number, nothing more — nothing from which he would likely be able to do any advance work, further confusing me as to the Independence clerk’s insistence on an “advance” appointment.  But  I thanked him and bade him a good afternoon, terminating the call in complete mystification though willing to acknowledge that I probably would never convince anyone in government employ of the unfairness of the clerk’s behavior.

Then I pulled away from the curb, shaking my head, regretting even the two jabs that I had thrust in the lady’s direction.  As I drove, I wondered how people manage to remain calm in the face of such absurdities.  I parked two blocks south alongside the courthouse annex, finally laughing, finally seeing humor in the fact that two years of studying Non-Violent Communication and trying to live complaint-free, has brought me to the point at which at least I did not call this woman any vile names to her face.

Progress has been made.

It’s the thirty-first day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The Hardest Thing First

I don’t know who helped my son to be so smart.  Years ago, in his childhood, he used to tell me that I should do the hardest thing first.  Chores before games, pay bills before buying toys, call the bill-collector before calling my friend, face reality instead of laying my weary head on a pillow and fading into oblivion.

I think he learned this from either Magda Helmuth, his pre-school teacher, or Punky Thomas, his elementary school teacher.  These women shaped my son in ways for which I will always be humbly grateful.

It’s a hard lesson for me to honor.  I shove photographs in cupboards rather than throw them away despite the finality of the doors closed on what they depict.  I accumulate ill-fitting clothes, cabinets full of dishes that I no longer need or use, drawers chock full of God-knows-what.  I have a piece of oak furniture in my office which needs to be repaired but I don’t want to rummage through its contents.

This journey has peeled away rotting layer after rotting layer.  One of these days, I’m going to face those hardest things.  The thought of glorious light streaming outward when the last layer of decay finally falls away thrills me.  I’m not there yet.  But soon.  Soon.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Give Me A Hand

Most mornings, my hands work just fine.  I raise my arms before my feet hit the floor. I stretch the jangled nerves and the tight muscles.  I shake my fingers.  When my brain engages, I struggle vertical and start my day.

Some days, like this day, my hands hang limp.  They cannot grasp or grip.  They will not function.  Anything I try to hold falls away.  This phenomenon began years and years ago; and persists to this day.  The toothbrush, the cell phone, the coffee mug — on days such as today, all of these challenge me.  Defy me.  Elude me.

Years ago, a doctor told me to make sure I sleep with my arms extended to avoid both neurological glitches like the limp-hand syndrome and to ward off blood clots.  I’ve tried, believe me.  But the human body naturally resolves itself in the protective fetal curl.

This morning, I  stared at my hands in dismay.  I’m used to their inconsistent reliability but for some reason, every once in a while, it overwhelms me.  Today I push back the resentment, the complaint, the bitterness.  These hands serve me well enough most days.  I remind myself that an hour or so after waking, they will settle into their usual capacity — not great, but functional.  I force myself to shake off the irritation and lean my shoulder against the wall as I descend the stairs.  Then I get online to find some inspiration.  I realize life is not  a competition.  I do not live in the world of grass-is-always-greener-somewhere-else and that I can only value what I have by finding somebody else’s brown and dying lawn.

But once in a while, it helps to see that some folks rise above their infirmities with grace and valor.  I scroll through the images which I find, and realize that I can keep going.  I can persevere.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending]  Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Close call

On my way down Troost this morning, the KCUR commentator interviewed a playright at the bus stop in front of Operation Breakthrough at 31st and Troost.  I smiled as I cruised past that very spot.

I like Troost Avenue.  It takes me downtown on a clean clear shot, and dumps me right at the turn to Oak street, from which I can easily navigate two more blocks to the only available handicapped parking adjacent to the courthouse.

My mind hummed as I cruised toward downtown, but my eyes remained alert, my hands on the steering wheel.  I saw the SUV run the stop sign at 27th street a split second before I entered the intersection doing 4 miles per hour below the speed limit.  I’m not known for my quick reflexes but I jerked the Prius’s steering wheel and swerved into the clear oncoming lane, making a wide turn, eyeballing the driver of the SUV who did not slow, did not stop, did not even have the grace to look panicked.

I made it.  I crossed myself as I slowed to right my vehicle.  I crawled to a stop and the little Kia behind me pulled alongside and did likewise.  I saw its driver’s window lowering, so I turned off the news and rolled down my passenger window.  I saw that, the man said.  It’s shameful, how could he just run that stop sign?  I am so glad you pulled it out.  I thanked him. He told me, Have a blessed day, and I wished the same for him.  I’m counting that close call as a good sign that my guardian angel is on duty.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  By the grace of all things divine and the goodwill of the Universe, life — for me, for the clueless driver of a black SUV, and I hope for you — continues.


One good thing

Other than siring me, my father did little for me.

Oh, he gave some advice though I can’t say I have used it much.

A few of his gems. . .

A woman’s hair is her crowning beauty.  I cut my hair a few times and endured hours of his beratement.  As a consequence, I’m fixated on my hair’s color, length, and texture. I feel absolutely panicked in a salon chair and spend hundreds every other month to try to achieve perfection.   The other day, I finally took a pair of barber’s shears and clipped off three inches of dry frizz.  I feel great.

Always play the house odds.  I don’t gamble, not even the occasional lottery ticket.  I’ve applied this one by becoming completely terrified of taking chances.  Recently I have begun to plot a new life for myself.  Nobody would make book on what I’m planning; it’s been called a pipe dream.  And the house odds?  Against it.  I’m going for it anyway.

Never draw to an inside straight.  A friend recently disabused me of the meaning of this particular poker pearl of wisdom, which I have apparently misunderstood.  I’m tossing it in the discard pile.

Despite the hope of optimists, the facts of life persist.  He who turns the other cheek, gets hit with the other fist.  My dad had this written on a scrap of paper taped above his workbench.  I read it every time I went down to the basement.  The nuns would say, “Turn the other cheek,” and I’d think, “Oh yeah, like that’s a good idea.”  By age sixty, I’ve gotten to the point at which I’m willing to endure the potential of a back-handed slap just to prove my father wrong.

But my dad did one good thing for me.  When I began a decline into frailness as a child of seven or eight, he made me an honorary member of the Eat Dessert First Club.  Only I belonged to it of all eight children in my household.  I assume that the doctor had admonished my parents to get me to eat, regardless.

This act  of my father’s has stood me in good stead more than once.  When my mother-in-law grew frail in her last illness, I persuaded my beloved curmudgeon to let her have an ice cream bar even if she didn’t eat her dinner.  Calories is calories, I told Jay, so often that eventually he thought he had coined the phrase.  I told Joanna that she and I were the only two members of the Eat Dessert First Club.  Her eyes twinkled as she nibbled on the frozen confection which Jay had brought from the freezer.

Tonight, I employed my Club membership once more.  After a long day with clients and a lingering headache from eating something with honey in it, my neck tight from worry over court tomorrow, I came home and headed straight for the refrigerator.  I got out a carton of “Whole Fruit” black cherry sorbet, and filled a small bowl with a half-cup of the creamy confection.

Nothing ever tasted so good since the pumpkin pie which my Dad let me eat before the liver and onions which the other kids had to gag down before getting dessert.

It’s late on the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  It’s my brother Mark’s 63rd birthday;; the anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the tail end of the day on which the first woman has been nominated for candidacy for the President of these great United States.  Here in my little cabin-in-the-sky hideaway, my feet have swelled, my head still hurts, and I’ve stayed awake too long to rise as early as I must in order to get downtown and claim one of the few designated handicapped spots by the courthouse.  But life continues.



This mop of hair would make my dad proud.



Just another Tuesday

On wakening today I had a flash of sitting in court on a recent day, another Tuesday, when heat had overtaken me en route from the street to the building.  I sat within myself, breathing, feeling the strain, willing myself to control the shudders and the pounding of my heart.

A lawyer lowered his bulk onto the bench next to me and said, How’s it going, and answered himself by explaining that he’d recently had knee replacement.  I watched as he stretched out his leg and moaned, Damn thing aches like hell, and then he turned to me and asked how I was.

Fine, I replied, my heart still beating madly in my chest.  I thought, Still got that extra five pounds, Corley; that’s why you can’t breathe, even though I know it’s much more than that.   The extra five pounds, the asthma, the SVT, the spasticity, the vertigo.

The guy next to me stood and did that little dance that means someone’s working kinks out of their muscles.  Gotta play tennis this weekend, he explained, or maybe he said golf.  I thought a minute and asked when the surgery had been.  Last week, he told me, and my muses howled.

When I had my knee replacement in 2002, I spent seven weeks in the hospital.  Pneumonia followed by my spastic leg’s stubborn refusal to adapt to the new joint kept me in therapy, on machines, crying.  I smiled at the man who planned to play tennis or maybe golf ten days after his knee replacement, and held my tongue.

Then he seemed to realize he’d said something wrong, and heaped the line on my head that everybody uses:  Oh but I don’t have it near as bad as you.  He left unsaid the follow-up:  Thank God.  Nobody thinks they have it as bad as me, and they all seem to suggest that I brought this on myself.  Or deserve it.  Or that they occupy a place in a special class of people, ones who don’t have it as bad as the rest of us, Thank God.

I shrugged off the whisper of complaint at his smug attitude.  I told myself that while lots of people have shown a condescending air, I had no idea whether this guy felt superior or not.  Perhaps he genuinely understood his good fortune and thanked the Universe and all things holy for sparing him.

This Tuesday, this morning, that lawyer’s face drifted through my mind as I pushed myself a minute or two past my last stopping point on the stepper.  At breakfast I had half as much bread and left it dry, spreading only a layer of soft scrambled eggs across its surface.  I climbed the stairs to check my calendar and do a few yoga moves.  I told myself, And there’s lots of folks you’ve got it better than, and laughed.  It’s not a competition, I know.  But if it were, some Tuesdays, I’d be winning.  And some, not so much.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




I say goodbye to Penny who had come for coffee and stayed for three hours of sharing.  Tears dry on my cheeks, testifying to the pureness of our connection.  We’ve each survived so much; we’ve seen each other slog through and endure chaos, catastrophe, and calamity.  We’ve held each other through joy and forgiven misunderstandings.  Sister leopard, go with love and a host of watchful angels.

I’ve every intention of hammering out four hours of work but a phone call lures me to the Unity Temple for the Evolving Magazine Conscious Living Fair.  My friend Aneal meets me at the parking garage and says, Jill Dutton will be so happy that you stopped by.  We make our way down to the crowded room, row after row of massage therapists, crystal peddlers, jewelry makers, and other folks who claim their wares or services will soothe my soul.  I think of the client status sheet waiting for me with its page after page of pending tasks and admit that soul-soothing could help.

Jill Dutton, the owner of Evolving Magazine, is glad to see me.  We briefly embrace, then Aneal and I move away to let her do what organizers of successful conventions do to maintain the pace.  Aneal takes pictures and even makes  me stage one, a tight close-up of me reaching for a bracelet that purportedly focuses one’s shakras.  Later, after we’ve had coffee and just before my to-do list draws me away, we stand in front of a basket of stones.  Aneal says, Which one do you like?  and I reach out, curling my hand around a black stone with rough contours nestled in a pile of  smooth, polished brown river rocks.

Aneal buys it for me and slips it into my hand.  I look at the word engraved on the stone and say, Is it a noun or a verb?  Aneal touches my arm and says, For you, it’s a verb.

Later, in my office, I wrestle with a few manageable disasters then finally close and lock the door to head for home.  I feel the black stone tucked into a pocket of my little crossbody bag.  An unwitting smile creeps across my face.  I get the message.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


You Are Not Stupid

I’m going to violate my son’s guideline and speak my message.

You know who you are.  Listen:  You are not stupid.

You love.  You lose.  How could I believe anyone would actually love me — I must be stupid.

You try.  You fail.  Why did I think I could do that — I must be stupid.

You run.  You fall.  I should have just sat down.  How could I be so stupid?

How could I forget to record that check?

How could I forget that bill was due?

How could I think anyone would listen to me?

How could I put myself out there as ugly as I am? Grossly fat, too thin, awkward, crippled, dumb. . . the wrong clothes, a crooked nose, a blubber belly, too short, funny ears, an old car.

Hear me now:  You are not stupid.  You make choices; you learn.  You might make the same mistake a hundred times but you are not stupid.

If you continue to tell yourself that you are too stupid to learn, to love, to live, your path will continue to take you to the broken asphalt on which you stumble, the hole into which you fall, the door behind which you get lost.

Let go of that mantra.

Sometimes you trust people who choose not to behave in the ways you think they will behave.  That’s not because you are stupid.

Sometimes you want something so much, you ignore obstacles and reach over raging fire to try to get it.  That’s not because you are stupid.

A lot of my mistakes occur because I expect to fail.  I’ve been telling myself lies about my inabilities and unworthiness for years, and these lies have ingrained themselves in my DNA.  I won’t go so far as to say that people treat me the way I expect myself to be treated, because that’s imputing a lot of insidiousness to others and I can’t say what is in their hearts.  Our worlds collide and sometimes the impact hurts.

The hardest lesson for me has been  that I am not stupid for trusting just because someone does not behave the way in which I want them to behave.  My second hardest lesson has been that the shambles I have often made of my life did not happen because I am stupid or because I am unworthy but in part just because life is messy.  And, truth told, in part because I believed those things about myself, and turned away from the task of succeeding, letting myself fail as a silent endorsement of my self-condemnation.

Hear me now:  You — you know who you are:

You are not stupid; you have been made wise by your life.

You are not ugly; your soul shines through your eyes.

You are not unworthy; you have a place at life’s bountiful table.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Old habits die . . . a laborious, creeping death. . . writhing on the pallet. . . covered with soot and fallen shards as the ceiling collapses.

Some people dash through your life, some remain for eons.  Books flutter open to worn pages, poetry spoken aloud time and time again.  The same breakfast smells waft through the house morning on morning.  My uniform:  Black shoes, which I bend to buckle sitting on the cedar trunk; plastic tortoise shell barrette; sapphire ring; cross-body leather bag.

But people, places, possessions — all can slip from even eager hands, elude the most yearning heart, flit down a narrow passage way or travel cobbled roads that stumbling feet cannot traverse.

From time to time,   I think, I should call Mom, but she’s been dead for thirty years.  My hand freezes above the phone, lest I dial other numbers, intruding into other lives where I am no longer welcome.   I cling to the oft-repeated act no matter how meaningless.  Sirens wail and I cross myself.  I genuflect in any church, regardless of the religion.  I left the Catholic church four decades ago, maybe more, but these old rituals linger, like the dancing dust on my son’s baptismal candle.

I seem to see myself just around the corner.  Perhaps my soul strains to surpass my aching heart.  I cannot say for sure.

When I sang mass in grade school, we learned the Requiem first in Latin, then had to translate the words to English by the time we crossed the parking lot to the high school.  I hear it still:

May the angels lead you into paradise.  May the Martyrs come to welcome you on your way.  And with Lazarus who once was poor, may you have everlasting life.

I sing the Requiem for the life that I once led, the life that I aspired to have, and the habits which I formed along the way.  They don’t serve me now.  But I do not lament their erstwhile presence in my life. Though I peer into the future, curious, hopeful, still I cherish the past.  If I have either regrets or complaints, I strive to keep them to myself.

It’s night-time on the twenty-first day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Still not sure of who I see.

Still not sure of who I see.

I could not find the modern American English  version which I learned at Corpus Christi Elementary School, but here is a lovely Latin version of IN PARADISIUM sung by the Winchester Cathedral Choir..

One Perfect Poem

I regressed yesterday, sliding into whining and complaining not just to the open empty room, but publicly.  I hurt a friend’s feelings (sorry, Trudy) and evoked a couple of constructive conversations, including a virtual one with a friend in California (thanks, Jim).  In the midst of the morass came an unwitting call from my son who knew nothing of the events of the evening nor my slide into the depths of public lament since we are not connected on social media.  I got a lot of sympathy, a fair amount of empathy, and one or two butt-kickings.  A few people appreciated the sentiments which I expressed about powerlessness.  One person told me that my post “was the most important of the day”  because it reminded us that we should reach out to others. (Sandy, you made my day!)

All in all, the experience taught a compelling lesson and I am still digesting it.  So I don’t have thoughts to share quite yet.  In the meantime, here is one of my favorite poems for you to enjoy.  Have an awesome day.

“There Will Be Rest”

There will be rest, and sure stars shining
Over the roof-tops crowned with snow,
A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
The music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace, – above me
Stars I shall find.

Sara Teasdale

Taken at the edge of the world. Copyright C. Corley 2013.

Taken at the edge of the world. Copyright C. Corley 2015