Monthly Archives: March 2017

The better part of valor

I’ll admit this, here, right out loud:

I can be obsessive.

When I decide I like a particular food, I find myself having that food every day.  I prepare it in precisely the same manner.  I tell myself that experts suggest that a colorful meal contains a balance of nutrients but I ignore this admonishment.  Boiled potatoes make their way to my bowl seven or ten days running.  I make a gluten-free English Muffin with scrambled eggs for weeks on end.  Every meal precisely resembles the next.

The same pattern asserts itself in reading.  I find a new mystery series that I consider well written and don’t get a decent night’s sleep (such as mine are) until I have read every title.  I recently discovered that I had overlooked the new season of a favorite cooking competition.  Following my realization, I binge-watched weeks of episodes to prepare myself for the finale.

I get hooked on ideas.  For years, I’ve been haunted by the notion that if my stomach isn’t flat, I look pathetic.  A little round tummy graces most American women over 40 including me.  Eight years ago, I weighed 103 pounds and still had that pooch.  But my brain tells me that it inhibits me from looking acceptable and I can’t let that go.  I stretch and bend and twist, striving to tighten weak muscles which will never behave as I desire.

I understand that I’m not obsessive-compulsive.  I thank all that is divine and the Universe at large that I do not suffer from OCD.  I’ve known people plagued by that disorder.   The torturous rituals which the disease drives them to pursue cannot be under-stated. My heart aches for families who experience this crippling condition.

What I’m talking about is manageable.  Habit, a thirst for order, a longing for the quiet my brain needs and which I can gain by daily consistency.

I’ve cogitated about this for months and have reached some conclusions.  I realize that habit keeps me focused on moving forward but also creates tunnel vision.  It’s hard to see the debris around me while repeating act after identical act.  By always stepping in the same spot on the sidewalk, I don’t have to repair the rest of the cracked cement.

Part of my journey to joy requires that I learn to accept hard and basic truths about myself.  I realize that drive and determination take many people very far in life.  But each of us  starts with some basic limitations that we cannot overcome.  Other restrictions arise because of circumstances that we do not control.  We keep lists of these deficiencies on little pieces of paper folded over many times, tucked in our pockets.  We take them out whenever we find ourselves lamenting occurrences in our daily lives, big and small.

We scrutinize the grimy pieces of paper.  We chide ourselves for our remissions.  Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not tall enough.  Whatever it is that we think we should be to entitle us to a different turn of events.  That would never have happened if I had. . . I could have gotten that if I had not. . .

I have my list.  I avoid looking at that list by constructing a life which doesn’t require me to acknowledge my limitations.  I buy the same food.  I read the same books.  I let piles of laundry and junk mail and discarded jackets accumulate in the dining room.   I don’t want to know what would happen if I unfold that list and spread it out.  I fear the tap on my weak armor.  If I confront my failures, will I survive?

My journey to joy no longer depends on my ability to tear that list into pieces and flush it down a cosmic toilet.  Instead, I need to have those qualities tattooed on my forehead.  THIS IS ME, I will broadcast to the world.  I’ll write a list of WHO I AM on my hands in indelible ink.  I’ll raise my palms to my eyes and recite that litany every morning.  I’ll embrace myself.  I’ll nourish the world around me with the water of my tears and the sunlight of my smile.

I have spent sixty-one years locked in the cold belief of my unworthiness.   I’ve created a life where every complaint arises from my desperate longing to be considered good enough.  I’ve studied the faces of happy people and I know this about them:  They value themselves.  They do not need to rail against the world because their belief in themselves allows them to tolerate life’s vagaries.  That’s what they have that I lack:  Self-love.

But I’m not surrendering my quest just yet.  Where there is life, there is room for improvement.  It’s persistence, not discretion, that’s the better part of valor.

It’s the thirty-first day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Things that make you say, “No DUH, Chuckie!”

When the kids (Patrick and his friends) were small, we watched The Rugrats incessantly.  One of the characters had goofy red hair and a tender heart.  Chuckie.  His nemesis, Angelica, treated him with disdain.  When he came out with some obvious statement, she’d shout, “No DUH, Chuckie!”

Two videos have come into my inbox today that prompted me to utter that phrase right into my breakfast nook to the surprise of the old dog.

The first came to me from the New York Times.

The Times has a periodic column called The Daily 360.  Today it took us into the New York subway system with a wheelchair-bound rider.  “You have this great system,” he says.  “And then I had this accident and come to find out, it doesn’t always work for me.”

No duh, Chuckie.  He shows us a list of stations which do or do not have a working elevator according to an icon next to the name.    I understand his dilemma.  For that precise reason, I get my butt out of bed each day and stretch my legs.  I need to stay away from any kind of implement with which I might have to struggle when I navigate to and from my car — cane, wheelchair, walker.

Our world is not accessible.  I’m attending the Rotary International convention in June.  I’ve been alerted to the size of the meeting areas and the long lines in which I’ll have to stand.  I can rent a scooter, but otherwise, I’m on my own in navigation.

A scooter makes hotels and shopping centers less accessible in many respects.  Go find a curb cut; try to shake hands; aim to manipulate around clumps of children or chairs.  But I’m told, “The facility is ADA compliant.”  End of story.  “ADA compliant” is code for “meets the bare minimum standards to keep you from suing us”.  It does not mean “accessible”.

But I’m not complaining.  I am not confined to a wheelchair.  I can walk, though it looks funny and resembles a cross between a toddler and a crab.  I watched the Daily 360 three times just to remind myself of how much easier I have it than the guy from whose point of view we navigate the subway station.

A few minutes later, Senator Claire McCaskill announces her investigation into the opioid epidemic.  She tells me, “It’s happening all over our state.  Someone starts taking an opioid drug. . . and then moves on to heroin.”  She cautions that we have to find out how this epidemic began. “[It] begins with the distributors and manufacturers. . . who are trying to make money off a product which is over-prescribed and eventually causing death.”

No DUH, Chuckie.

My first OB-GYN, who eventually contributed to the hastening of my mother’s death, gave me Darvon for menstrual cramps when I was fifteen.  I continued using it for the burning in my legs caused by spasticity.   That began a forty-year prescription narcotics habit which ended when I decided that juggling Percoset and Vicodin had led me to live in a shroud of fog.  The pain in my legs never went away, but I disconnected from it — along with having disconnected from everything and everyone else in my life.

After my mother-in-law’s death in October 2013, I went to my doctor for help.  I told him that I needed to feel again.  I knew that I had a life-time of emotional trauma to face that I had buried and needed to resolve.  I also understood that the glory and exuberance of life’s joyful experiences also eluded me because of the drug-induced numbness from within which which I navigated each day.

My first published essay was a piece for a teen magazine published by the Christian Board of Publication in St. Louis in 1970.  The title was something like, “The Reason for Pain”.  I argued that feeling pain allowed us to appreciate pleasure; that bad times accentuated the desirability of happiness.  I  lost sight of that over the decades in which I tried to kill the pain in my legs with narcotics.  I leveled out my existence until everything became two-dimensional.

So on days like Sunday, when sadness overtakes me, I remind myself not to complain about sorrow because without the occasional blue moments, the bright sunny ones get lost in all the greys.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The dining room table groans under the weight of my life’s debris.   A suitcase sits open on one chair; a computer bag dangles from another.  Unopened junk mail cascades across its surface.

I’m supposed to be attacking that pile but I sit on the couch, its hard foam cushions barely making a dent under my weight.   I pay no attention to the discomfort.   I’m thinking about the wonderful women in my life.

Their interwoven love slings under me, a net for the high wire act of my life.  I snuggle in a pale peach sweater that Joanna wore and wrap my neck in a delicate scarf from Virginia.  In that pile of mail I see an envelope with Joyce’s handwriting, holding a card in which she steadfastly refers to me by the name which I’ve preferred for 45 years, despite the disdain of some of the siblings to whom she directed the joint missive.

This morning  I tucked a mug from my friend Tricia into a bag that Pat gave me, and carried both to my office.  When I reach in my handbag for my keys, my fingers curl around the  little felt heart from Hope.  Beside me on Joanna’s secretary lies a bookmark that Jana tucked into a thank-you card.  When I eat breakfast, I twist the knob on the music box angel from Jeanne.  Over in the corner, the portable charger which Katrina brought me winks its reassuring eyes.  Brenda’s tea cups rest on the keeping shelf, beside a little ornament from Penny.  Above the stove, another cup, from Jenny, stands waiting for hot water and flowering herbs, comforting warmth at the end of a stressful day.

And everywhere I turn, cups and saucers and bowls and bells which once belonged to Lucy, my first Wonder Woman.

Ah, my inspiration, my life-lines, these women who call me (daughter) and sister and friend.  I could not survive without your love.  I would not even try.

Many of these women live miles, even states away but I’m not complaining.  I have only to rummage among the trinkets in  my house to touch a surface which their fingers have also touched.  Their energy lingers in these tangible signs of their regard for me.  I close my eyes and one after another of these women drifts to my side.   I feel you.  I see you.  You sustain me.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


True Confessions of a NonComplainer

Friends & Fans of My Year Without Complaining (Joyce Kramer, Patricia Reynolds, Kati Behan, & Sue Darby among them) have urged me to acknowledge that some conduct deserves comment.  Though technically “complaining”, they argue, commentary on substandard or abusive customer service benefits society at large by encouraging future improvement.

Until now, I have not taken a position on these proposed exceptions to the no-complaining rule by which I have sworn to live.  But now I have, and I write to confess to each of you that this self-proclaimed noncomplainer has taken a deliberate step off the wagon.

In a nutshell:

I was flying home from California.  I had been assisted by a wheelchair attendant to the scheduled gate, burdened with more baggage than I would have taken had I been walking.  The gate was changed without notice.  Though I was listed as a preboard due to disability, no one came to notify me of the gate-change or help me get to the new gate.  I heard the announced boarding.  Concerned about missing the flight, I started trying to manipulate the wheelchair without success.

A passenger saw me  and helped me get to the new gate.  When I told the boarding agent that I had a pass to preboard, she got upset and started accusing  me of being angry, which was completely untrue.  Another passenger approached me and told me not to criticize the airline and grabbed my arm.   He stood over me yelling at me.  His spit hit my face.  I stared him in the eye and quietly cautioned him to release my arm.  The airline employee did nothing to protect me from the passenger who placed his hand on me without invitation.

When the agent wheeled me to the airplane, she physically prevented me from rising out of the wheelchair by standing in front of me nearly pressing against my knees.  She then announced that if I did not state that nothing amiss had happened, she would (falsely) declare that I was irate and prevent me from boarding.

Through all of this, I remained calm and made no ad hominem statements to anyone.  I did not raise my voice or make any threats.  At one point, I stopped speaking completely, using a calm demeanor as my response every time the boarding agent repeated her intention to (falsely) claim that I was irate in order to keep me off the plane.  Eventually, she dropped her plan and stepped aside.  Assisted by a flight attendant, I boarded the plane without further incident.

With some trepidation, I sent a letter to this major airline (which shall for the present go unnamed) regarding behavior toward me which can only be described as bully behavior designed to intimidate me into submission.

To my credit, in the face of the physical and verbal abuse by the airline employee and the unknown passenger, I recognized the immediate peril.  Airline employees can take immediate action to deny passage and restrain liberty with very little if any justification.  I understand this abstract concept.  Even if I did not realize the power which I faced, the airline employee articulated her control over me in those precise words.  “All I have to do is say you were irate, and I can keep you off this plane.”  That is a nearly verbatim quote.

She knew that I was not behaving in an irate manner.  I remained calm at all times.  I did not raise my voice.  Aware of the difficulty of modulating my pitch posed by my hearing issues, I deliberately adopted a low register and nonchallenging words. When the other passenger interjected himself into the one-on-one conversation which the airline employee and  I had been having, I did not respond with either words or conduct of threat or aggression.

I am fully aware that bullies (such as the airline employee seemed to be) need only a flimsy excuse for accelerating their behavior.  Thus, I did not respond to the passenger who grabbed me in a way which might have given the boarding agent an excuse to claim that I was angry.   I merely told this stranger in quiet terms to take his hand off of my arm.  I have no idea why he approached me.  I was sitting in a wheelchair, not speaking, about to be pushed onto the plane.  His conduct astounded me, as did the failure of the boarding agent to protect me from the assault.  The entire affair could have completely flummoxed many people even more vulnerable than I.  However, through it all, I am proud to say that I remained calm.

When safely back home, I wrote a long and carefully penned letter to the airline.  My son reviewed and edited it for me.  I did not ask for compensation.  I merely indicated that I wanted to protest the way in which I was treated, while at the same time acting to insure that other disabled passengers do not suffer what I experienced.

This journey to joy — My Year Without Complaining — has brought me to the point at which I can articulate concern without violence.  I struggled with that three years ago.  By “violence” in this context, I do not mean physical blows. I mean loud tones, words of judgment, sometimes expletives, and personal condemnation of those involved.  Because of this process and my deliberate, public account of my journey, I found myself able to remain peaceful, successfully resisted the temptation to fight bully-behavior with anger, and got myself through the situation without escalation or degeneration.  I maintained my credibility, and met my own need to get on the flight and make my subsequent connection.  I did not stoop to the level of the airline employee’s aggression or the aggression of the unknown passenger who attempted to intervene.

The airline employee might well lie about what occurred.  I do not really care.  I wrote a contemporaneous account of it which I e-mailed to my son from the plane to make sure that I did not forget details.  I spent two hours crafting my letter to the president of the airline.  I included each detail and stated only what occurred with little commentary.  I  know that my account is accurate.

I’ve learned a lot from this voyage, this “year” without complaining.  There is a time and a place for protest.  The mistreatment of me merited the letter which I sent.  I thought about what might have happened had I been a fifteen-year-old traveling alone; a woman in a veil fearful of speaking out due to potential knee-jerk response to her appearance; or a poor or elderly person completely at the mercy of the airline employee without knowledge of potential recourse.  Those who cannot protect themselves from corporate abuse of them deserve to have  people like me step forward to hold businesses accountable.

I will not pretend that I did not experience concern and dismay.  The airline knew that a passenger in a wheelchair had been given a preboarding pass on the basis of disability.  The ticketing agent interacted with both me and the wheelchair attendant.  The reason that I identify myself as disabled when I purchase tickets and check bags is to get help.  The airline should have sent someone to the original gate to assist me, since I had a documented preboarding pass.  When I made the problem known to the boarding agent, she should have come forward, treated me with courtesy if not kindness, and checked to make sure that I was all right.  She should not have allowed another passenger to come forward and raise his voice to me or grab my arm.  Finally, she should not have threatened to lie about my behavior as an excuse for barring me from boarding the plane.

But I did not let my emotions lead me to destructive behavior. I did not meet the negativity levied on me with my own indefensible conduct.

Bullies must be identified.  Bully-behavior cannot be tolerated, whether personally, on a commercial level, or in politics.  When we take a stand against abuse, we better society.  I make no apology for the letter which I wrote.  It might be a complaint, but it fits in the category of permissive complaining.  I did not write that letter only for selfish reasons.  I wrote it because the airline must examine how disabled or otherwise vulnerable passengers are treated.  I have a law degree and law firm letterhead.  I am articulate.  I see that letter as my societal obligation.

In protesting the way in which the airline treated me, I stand not only for myself, but also for others, especially those who experience mistreatment without an avenue for protest.  I stand for all of us — and for justice, fairness, and compassion.  I stand for humanity.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Confessions of a Nonbeliever

Certain churches nearly seduce me into attendance.

By “churches”, I do not mean religions.   I mean the edifices themselves, mostly the old ones with their stone lions, untamed ivy meandering along  collapsing fences, and stained glass windows.  Sometimes the sight of an ecclesiastic flag curling itself around a metal pole lures me into slowing my car.  A sign spread across the front wall announcing a Sunday supper entices me to hit my brake and reach for the park button.

I left the Roman Catholic church more than four decades ago for reasons that I won’t outline.  I’ve been nearly tempted to return three times.   In the mid-1980s, I attended an “inquirer’s class” at Visitation Parish (I think) with Lori Burns-Bucklew.  This class focused on what they called “lapsed Catholics”.

I didn’t lapse, I protested.   I decamped. The priest shook his head, smiled, and handed me a booklet.  I went to three or four sessions before we got to the sticky subject of Those Who Violate The Commandments.  I never had a chance to mention that me and Murphy Brown are the oldest unwed mothers in America.  When the priest said he’d give communion to divorced and remarried parishioners “as long as no one but him knew they were divorced”, I guffawed.

So, I queried.  It’s okay to violate the rule as long as you don’t get caught.

He shrugged.  I left.

I tried again when I was pregnant with Patrick.  After I lost his twin but found out that the second little bugger still clung to the placenta, I decided maybe God needed me to come clean.  I went to the Catholic parish in Fayetteville and asked to have my child baptized.  I patted my round stomach and assumed a smile which I thought might be interpreted as either ghoulish or angelic.

The priest would have done the deed if I had been able to produce three things:  A wedding ring, a marriage certificate, and a husband (or his death certificate, I suppose).

I asked, Would you rather I had an abortion? before trouncing out of that church.  (I arranged for his baptism at the Newman Center at the U of A, but when my father died, plans changed.  We had a baptism at the Priory in St. Louis.  Thank you, Frank.)

When I bought my house two blocks from St. Peters, I tried again.  I went to see the priest to make sure that unmarried mothers and their progeny would be welcome.  He assured me that the church took a liberal view.  I had my doubts but tried anyway.  One Sunday, while Patrick played with a toy car on the kneeler beside me, I listened in dismay as the very same priest intoned his anti-divorce sermon.  A real family consists of a father, a mother, and the children born of their holy union.

Patrick’s head jolted upwards.  But Mommy, he protested.  We don’t have a father!  I stood, grabbed his hand, and bolted.

Today I nearly pulled into the driveway of Central United Methodist Church by the law school.  I wanted to sit in silence, on an oak bench, with some semblance of peace.  I knew just what I would do in the quiet of the empty nave.

Since 1997, I have carried around a little puzzle that I scooped from a  pile of flotsam and jetsam which had belonged to my brother Stephen.  I’ve never succeeded in solving it.  I’m not sure he didn’t somehow render it inoperable.  But if I had gone into that church today, I would have slipped it from my pocketbook, sat on a smooth, hard bench, and worked it until I got it.

I visited that church with my friends Paula and Sheldon, who belong there.  They had refugees in the congregation.  They used the internet to stage an interactive lecture in the middle of the sermon.  Children come to the front to sit at the feet of the celebrant and hear a special story, which, on the Sunday when I visited, had a Somali interpreter.  I think that church might have been the perfect place for the intense, unrelenting, dedication which I need to solve my brother Stephen’s puzzle.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m still recovering from the delirious arduousness of my trip and the asthma attacks which plagued me out in my beloved NorCAL, but I’m not complaining.  Life continues.

Tomorrow:  As promised, Schroeder:  TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A NONCOMPLAINER.


Vantage points

Ever since I started coming to northern California I have wanted to capture a decent photo of the Robin Williams tunnel.

Since both my brother and Mr. Williams committed suicide, I feel that I have some weird connection to Robin Williams and thus to the tunnel named for him.  I get that my brother’s suicide has nothing to do with me except in the sense of collateral damage.  Nonetheless, I miss him; and I look for ways to make sense of his life and death.  I look for ways to keep him alive; or perhaps to resurrect him but whole, clean, and happy.

Steve tried to kill himself at least once before he succeeded, and called 911 when his botched attempted left him in difficult straits.  I asked him once how that figured — try to kill yourself then call for the rescue squad.  He stared at me, sideways, as though trying to understand my stupidity.  I wanted to end my pain not worsen it, he finally said.  He turned back to his drink and cigarette.

The Robin Williams tunnel reminds me of my brother because it’s cheerful on the outside but dark when you get into the heart of it.  Maybe that’s what the authorities who dedicated the tunnel meant us to feel.  I think Mr. Williams, like many successful comedians, had a grimmer side from which he drew the humor which we loved.  He painted that inner turmoil side with a goofy exterior to make it more palatable.

From inside the Robin Williams tunnel, I see yellow walls and lights overhead which flash past.  The pathway through the mountain flows smoothly beneath my rental car.  In a minute or two, I leave the dimness and re-enter the light.  I take with me the insights which I gained while driving through the tunnel.

Sometimes when I’m in my office, I sit in the chairs meant for clients.  I stare across the oak library table which I use as a desk.  I see the leather manager’s chair in which I sit, and the diplomas on the wall above my computer monitor.  Under those diplomas, on the left, I’ve hung the plaque which holds my Jackson County Prosecutor’s badge.  To the right in a little square all its own, visitors see a plein air piece by Nicole Thibodeau.

I’m not sure this change of perspective helps me serve my clients more effectively but the process reminds me that everything can be seen from more than one vantage point.

As I went through the Robin Williams tunnel on my way to San Rafael today, I thought about my brother again.  I’ll never really understand why he killed himself.  Or maybe that’s not correct; maybe I know — to stop his pain.  Nothing else had worked.  He did the only thing he could do.  And maybe I’m still alive, despite everything, because I have not yet run out of options to manage my pain.  My journey to joy seems hopeful.

It’s the twenty-second day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


“What’s right is what’s left if you do everything else wrong.”

— Robin Williams

Evening on the Bay

Power just went out at the hostel.  I’m amused.

But this is what I wanted to say —

Today I saw:

A heavy-legged woman in a purple velvet skirt and rubber flip-flops carrying a salmon-colored purse and wearing a green padded jacket.

Three dark-skinned lively friends playing Jenga in a hostel cafe.

Fine lines on a face in the mirror.

Headphones spanning from ear to ear over silver hair above a MacBook bearing a sheaf of stickers from around the world.

Turquoise leather suitcases rolled through a long hallway past a seven-foot map of the world.

Pictures of pleasant shining faces on a cork-board under cursive letters inviting me to Meet Our Staff.

A sign announcing that I had found the ADA KITCHEN.

Trees rising above a great expanse of tender spring grass beyond which the driveway sloped down to the Bay.

A dozen band posters dancing across the wall under a dangling disco ball over a globe sitting on an old scratched piano.

Children scurrying after their father while their mother bade them Good luck with some adventure on which she had elected not to join them.

Bright red pillows on a black leather couch.

Lean, tanned men speaking German and studying their cell phones without glancing once at each other.

An unlit gas stove with a hood and a pipe rising into a twenty-foot ceiling.

Books leaning on shelves waiting to be read.

An empty car crumpled against an embankment just after it spun sideways on an exit ramp north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The ocean, from the top of Mount Tamalpais, lapping the shores of Stinson Beach,swallowing sand strewn with abandoned buckets and forgotten shoes.



The GPS lady took me to the Point Reyes Lighthouse on the windiest day in March.  I had no reason to suspect her competence.  The last two hostels at which I stayed knelt at the bases of lighthouses.  Had I read the PDF that came with my reservation, I might have realized that the Point Reyes Hostel nestles deep in the national park, 19 miles from the pinnacle on which the lighthouse greets the sea.

I could not get my car door open.  The wind slammed against me and the ocean lay so far below the ridge that a ghost would have plummeted to its death peering over.  But it stretched for the same eternal distance as it does everywhere, steel-blue beneath the rolling fog.

My Pacific.

I had no cell reception.  I stared at the heavy metal gate blocking the road.  Still thinking that I  had climbed the mountain to my berth for the night, I tried an email to the hostel staff.  The gate is closed and I need to park in the handicapped spots.  I hit send and watched the message queue.  Then, miraculously, the wind shifted and somehow my phone found a cell tower, and I saw the note leave the outbox.

While I waited for help I watched the hikers bend against the wind and inch down the pavement, disappearing as they made their way down to whatever lay beneath my sightline.  A car drove by, tapping its horn.  The noise faded, borne away by the northern gusts which billowed the jackets of the walkers and snatched a hat from a little lady who had emerged from an RV in the parking lot.  She watched it sail over the edge.  Her body sagged and she staggered backward, grabbing the edge of the flapping door and disappearing into the cab of the vehicle.

Thirty minutes later, Jessica from Point Reyes Hostel told me I was lost.

I stared at the email.  I didn’t know that Jessica had authored it; she did not sign her name.  But her voice reverberated in the directions.  I found out later that she did not realize that I had gone all the way to the lighthouse, but her directions told me enough to get me to the hostel’s door, an hour later — a grueling hour, spent driving through desolate miles in relentless sheets of rain which began to fall right after I started down.  The ocean stretched on my left, the old farms and roadways sat to my right, and at the end of the drive, Jessica’s welcoming smile, my bottom bunk,  and a hot cup of tea.

I only had seventeen hours of complete isolation, but I did not need more.  I let the tension drain from my body.  I hauled my food into the kitchen and marked it with tape and a Sharpie.  As I made dinner, I talked with a chef named Matt, hunkered down at Point Reyes while he waited for an apartment in Napa.  He had moved from New Orleans because he felt drawn to this place.  I understood his reaction.  He seemed sad, but that could have been a reflection of the pain that I had gathered in a knot and sloughed to the floor when I arrived.

I watched Matt dice some parsley in a way which suggested that he respected the product.  He in turn commented on my nicely browned tofu.  I smiled.  He returned the smile.  I took my plate into the dining room and propped Accidental Dancer against the window, and ate my dinner to the soothing sound of the steady rain.

In the morning, I conferred with Jessica before setting off for points south.  She didn’t need the map to tell me of a few picturesque turn-outs.  I started off, with my bags stowed and a water bottle filled with grapefruit juice, my love of which I’d suddenly rediscovered.

I walked a hundred yards along a trail, to take a picture as it climbed the hill.  At Inverness, I idled at the fork, then took the right branch, Route 1 to San Francisco.   I experienced only a moment of indecision when I hit the detour, then started the climb to the peak of Mt. Tamalpais.  When I reached the top and gazed down on Stinson Beach, I knew that I had made yet another right decision in a week filled with them.

It’s the twenty-first day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  From Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, I send my love.  Life continues.

Confessions of a stubborn old disabled gal, or, “Notes To Miranda”

One of the hardest decisions that disabled people make on a day-to-day, non-catastrophic, first-world-problems basis involves baggage.

What handbag can we carry without over-tiring ourselves or getting to work without our inhalers?

What suitcase could we manage if we couldn’t find any help to beg or buy?

Jacket or no jacket?  and if jacket, will we be hot and if we are hot, will we be able to tie the darn thing around our waists without impeding our ability to ambulate?

In preparing for this trip-on-a-shoe-string, I used a gift card to buy a small backpack which I thought I could use as a purse.  Fortunately, I did a test run for a few weeks and discovered that (a) I couldn’t reach it when it was on my back because I don’t have that reach-around movement; and (b) I couldn’t convert it to a cross-body without a field modification.  I made the field modification but couldn’t get it to hang straight and had difficulty opening it.

Back to square one.

My normal computer bag flops too much to carry very far without tiring and falling over sideways, though it has the advantage of converting to a backpack.  In the end, I used the famed Barcelona bag for a computer bag and over-packed the larger of my two suitcases.  As a pocketbook, I found a lovely saddle-bag at a secondhand shop which has a crossbody strap.

I thought I had it made in the lovely California sunshine.

The handbag grew heavy over the first few days.  I relieved it of my tablet and charger, which I tucked in the Barcelona bag.  But that, too, plagued me.  Its shape required the laptop to be vertical, which centered all of the weight on a single spot in my shoulder and caused the weirdest episodic spasticity imaginable — and I have some really weird spasticity by all opinions, professional and otherwise.

What to do, what to do.

On my first visit to Menlo Park, I spied a trendy “Goodwill Boutique” and sauntered into the store, just browsing.  Aha!  Jimminey Christmas.  A second-hand computer bag.  Nineteen dollars.  Done  and done, along with a pair of Ann Taylor kahkis, new-with-tags, $15, perfect for the next day’s medical appointment in warmer-than-I-anticipated weather.

This allowed me to relegate the Barcelona bag to carrying toiletries, medicine, and extra clothes for the hostel in-and-outs and the second bags-fly-free going home.  This new Boden bag becomes the computer/tablet/chargers tote which can be carried onto the plane.

Independent mobility, take two, and away we go.  Now ask me how delightedly I crowed when I found its original price online — ten times what I paid at the fancy Goodwill in Menlo Park! (Or was it Palo Alto….??)

It’s the nineteenth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m stubborn, I’m old, and I’m disabled; but I’m not complaining.  Life continues.


Questions less vast than the sea

On the strength of my having admired her daughter out on the pavement, a woman from Korea asked me if I knew who would come to allow her and her husband to register for the hostel.

I assumed the air of a regular and explained that I had seen Michael, the manager, walk down to the parking lot.  Presumably he would shortly return.

We stood together in the little lobby.  She said, Where is your husband, her own being outside of the building watching their child try to reach an ice plant, with its prickly fronds and sturdy pink flowers.  I replied that I was traveling alone.

Alone, she repeated, with a slightly puzzled air.  She contemplated this for a moment.  Do you have fun traveling alone?  She looked expectant.  I gathered she wanted a yes or a no.  But I could not think of an answer to give her.  I shrugged, and finally replied, I’ve never thought of it in just those terms.  It is how I travel.  Then she started chattering, whether from ease or discomfort I could not say.

I tried to follow her story but got distracted by the answer left unfound.  She came to the end of it and said, Do you think the manager will come soon? And I told her that yes, I believed it would be just a minute or two now.  I found myself praying for Michael’s immediate arrival.

And then he walked through the door, with his weathered face, his lean body, and his short blonde hair beneath the same cap that he had worn last September.  He called me by name and embraced me before disappearing through a door.  The wooden barriers to the check-in window swung open and Michael reappeared, just as brightly, just as warmly, as I remember him from every visit which I’ve made to this magical place.

While we waited for him to activate his computer, the woman told me her name, and her husband’s name, and the name of the adorable little girl.  Hadassah, she said.  It’s Hebrew, and was used by Esther, who had to disguise herself.  She’s half Korean, because of me.  Then Michael held out the registration form, and the woman said, Shouldn’t my husband be the one to sign this? and Michael said it did not matter to him.  But the woman turned and looked up at her husband, who stood a full foot taller than she.  Shouldn’t you sign that, she asked again, and he shrugged a little but came forward.

The husband held the little girl high above the counter so he could sign the ticket.  The child pushed her face over his shoulder and examined me with her widest eyes.  She did not smile at first, so I made a little noise like a bird and she giggled.

In a few minutes, I took my turn.  We had a little kerfuffle about the reservation but soon Michael fixed the problem and I headed to my room with a couple of bags of food and the faithful Barcelona bag.  I noticed the Korean woman and her American husband carrying suitcases into Dolphin house, where I prefer to stay but where, presumably because of the kerfuffle, they had been put in my stead.

However the private room in Seal did quite well, despite the flipped layout of the building.  I settled my belongings and walked back outside to climb the hill and sit on the bench outside the old cottage. I gazed out at the sea, following it as far as the horizon.  When I had my fill for the moment at least, I leaned back and closed my eyes.  Faintly, from below the small hill on which I sat, I heard the cry of the seagulls.

I watched the road from the parking lot for a while.  Tourists still walked to and fro, snapping pictures and pointing.  Couples, mostly; and the occasional family.  An old man trudged along, heavy-footed, hands shoved into his pockets.  A woman wearing a green ball cap walked by with a Border collie.  Children craned their necks to try to spy the top of the lighthouse, no doubt imagining its winking eye and the boats which it guided safely around the rocks.  I fingered the Pigeon Point Lighthouse commemorative pin on my lapel.  Five dollars in the tin and sign the guest book, please.

I closed my eyes again.  The sun warmed my face.  I asked myself: Is it fun traveling alone?

I still had no answer.

It’s the seventeenth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.