Monthly Archives: November 2017


Marshall Rosenberg said, “Talk to the people in language they understand.”  I bear this principle in mind when I strive to communicate.  I understand that people use words in certain ways; that they hear words in certain ways; that they react to words in certain ways.

I played Helen Keller in a high school production.  We enacted the scene at the dinner table when Helen behaves like a wild creature, going from plate to plate grabbing food.  At one point she dumps a water pitcher.  Her teacher Anne Sullivan grabs her hand and drags her to the pump to re-fill it, signing the word for “water” as she insists that the child work the lever.  Eventually, Helen connects the sign, “Water“, with the sound that Miss Sullivan articulates — “Water”, and thus with the cold, marvelous sensation on her hands as the old pump engages.

Waaa — tttter, she says, stuttering, groping for the sounds, assembling them in a flash of understanding.

In another scene, Helen’s father and Annie speak of the need for her to learn:

Keller. And what would another week accomplish? We are more than satisfied, you’ve done more than we ever thought possible, taught her constructive——

Annie. I can’t promise anything. All I can——

Keller (no break).——things to do, to behave like—even look like—a human child, so manageable, contented, cleaner, more——

Annie (withering). Cleaner.

Keller. Well. We say cleanliness is next to godliness, Miss——

Annie. Cleanliness is next to nothing. She has to learn that everything has its name! That words can be her eyes, to everything in the world outside her, and inside too. What is she without words? With them she can think, have ideas, be reached. There’s not a thought or fact in the world that can’t be hers. You publish a newspaper, Captain Keller, do I have to tell you what words are? And she has them already——

Keller. Miss Sullivan.

Annie. ——eighteen nouns and three verbs, they’re in her fingers now, I need only time to push one of them into her mind! One, and everything under the sun will follow. Don’t you see what she’s learned here is only clearing the way for that? I can’t risk her unlearning it, give me more time alone with her, another week to——”

(From, ‘The Miracle Worker’, William Gibson, adapted 1957)

Words — the collection of them, what we call ‘language’, become vehicles with which we endeavor to convey what we think, feel, want, dream.  Sometimes I have only words to offer.  I have nothing else to give.  I search for each syllable and hold them out with all the hope and tenderness that I can summon from my distended belly.

My father taught me to read and write at three because he did not expect me to walk.  He put me on his lap in front of a manual typewriter and guided my hands to the letters.  He traced the sentences in the evening paper and encouraged me to follow.  He found the gift lying within me, and drew it to the surface.  I live there, now; on the edge of disclosure.  I cannot stop the flow.  It brings me pain at times.  I might as well tear open my dress and lay my chest bare in anticipation of the knife.  And yet, I choose to do it.  My words do not merely arise from my soul.  They are my soul.  I tender them. I take my chance.

It’s the twelfth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Time zones

My body woke at six today, local time.  I think it has adjusted; yesterday I rose at four local time, feeling the craziness of cross-country travel.

A mist lies over the park.  I can see that it will dissipate but as I drink coffee, it clings to the willow trees which rise over the little valley.  My muscles ache from whatever passed for work yesterday, which mainly consisted of taking pictures, directing the placement of boxes, and climbing on my old yellow ladder to get into Angels’ Haven.

About four yesterday afternoon, Joe, the guy who lives in the rusty turquoise RV at the corner of the rental cabin row and G-street, brought a set of steps for me to use until he builds my porch.  He held the measuring tape to show me that they have a seven-inch rise.  He clucked at the two-feet drop of the trailer; that’s not divisible by seven, he tells me, with a sideways glance as though I am to blame.  He ponders the wisdom of 6-1/2 inch steps.  He asks why we picked two-feet for the height off the ground.  He scuffs the roots near where we parked and studies the slight incline.  Later, Joe will tell me about the accident which killed his dog and got him sober.  He’ll speak of the lady who left him then, to go take care of her parents down south.  He’ll gaze toward the river with palpable pain shooting across his angular face.  Still later, walking towards the rental car in the night, I’ll trip over a tree root.   Joe will catch me, and then hastily, earnestly, apologize for touching me without consent.

I like Joe.  I think he’ll make a fine neighbor.

Before the first of my 300 marriages, my husband made me promise that I would never force him to dwell in a double-wide.  Just as urgently, I insisted that he swear we would never buy a ticky-tacky, vinyl-sided, post-war ranch in Prairie Village.  Now here I am, about to take up residence in a tiny house on wheels with cedar siding in an RV park and camp ground.  I’ll be surrounded by people like Joe; cheerful retirees in golf carts; and young couples who travel for work and come to their Tiny Homes on the weekends to feel the mist on their cheeks every morning.

Maybe I’m not in California after all.  Maybe I’m in Brigadoon, and I’ll disappear, returning unchanged once each century.  The notion does not offend me.

It’s the eleventh day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Looking east/southeast from the north side of the San Joaquin

The sun also rises

A person can live for a surprisingly long time on cashews, dates, and Turkish figs.

Those unlikely commodities sustained me through a grumpy flight attendant; three wild rides in wheelchairs pushed by attendants with varying degrees of passion for their jobs; and a harrowing six-mile journey down a winding levee road.  Now they serve as breakfast, along with a packet of tea from the zip-lock bag of such packets given to me by a dear friend.

The cabin in which I write reminds me of a hotel room near Custer State Park where my son, his stepfather, and I stayed in February of 1999.  Or was it 2000?  Never mind:  it had the feel of the room surrounding me.  Tile, Formica, and 1960’s cupboards comprise the kitchenette here, just as they did in that hotel room.  We nearly persuaded ourselves to make our permanent home in that place.  Two rooms had been thrown together to make something wheel-chair accessible out of one.  A little playground stood adjacent to the square of cement which served as a patio.  We could have died there and been unphased by our own demise.

Just so here:  A cabin in the Delta Bay RV Park and Campground in Isleton, California.  I’m sixty miles east of my Pacific, on the San Joaquin River.  The air outside carries no sound.  To the east, the sun has just started to rise, joining me, two hours late for breakfast.

I couldn’t be calmer.  In a half-dozen hours, my tiny house on wheels will make her way to the Delta, pulled by Kevin Kitsmuller in the company of his wife Kim.  I will be at the gate to welcome Angels’ Haven to her new home.

I don’t pretend to know the future.  I’ve been called crazy, foolish, traitorous, and wild.  Guilty as charged.  I will leave a lot behind me but one always does, as one steps forward.   To those who love me, each of you in his or her own way, in the peculiar way of each relate, know this:   I carry your heart with me; I carry it in my heart.

It’s the tenth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


From my current vantage point, the world passes in soft silence.  A man with a backwards hat bends over his seat, fumbling in a canvas bag.  The lights have been extinguished and others move freely around the cabin, no standing in line for the toilet, please.  Stay back until the aisle is clear, thank you very much.

The age of the flight attendants continues to astonish me.  I took my first air flight during the McGovern campaign.  When I left Denver later that week, on election day, he had a chance.  By the time I landed in St. Louis he had lost by too many to be questionable.  My dejected mother met me at the gate.  What a difference a few hours makes, she groaned.  I couldn’t even vote then.  Now I’ve watched so many presidential elections that nothing surprises me, not the misfit who currently occupies the oval office nor the jackals which circle outside.

I’ll land in San Francisco soon.  I’ve overly tipped several porters in desperation for assistance.  My artificial knee has swollen and the walking stick which I regained three years after loaning it to an attorney at the courthouse will get use this trip.  I contemplate whether I should have explored getting a new knee while I’m in the pay-nothing end of the year.  But with the old style sitting awkwardly inside my battered leg, the prospect poses its own sordid challenges.

Better to wait, I think.  Better to muddle through; get a second opinion on a new policy.  The metal inside me now put me into a seven-week tailspin at a time when my son still needed me.  I can’t repeat that, alone, at this turning point in my life.  But I’ll not complain.  A few dollars buys me cheerful assistance, or what passes for it in the lives of the transient masses.

Now and then, I wonder about roads not taken.  I reflect on the little assortment of names in my book; the sisters, the brothers, the friends, the companions.  A smattering of former lovers and spouses.    I think of them standing at my grave, eyeing one other with suspicion before dropping a rose and moving away.  I think of the single malt that I’ve made my son promise to serve at the wake.  With the angels, I’ll gaze on the lot with a painful fondness, before turning to those in the wings.  I’ll walk away, up, above, beyond.

But for now, I’m starting down another fork in the road.  At a time in my life when I should be counting the interest in a government savings plan or a corporate 401(k), I’m counting pennies and watching for land mines as I step on each stone.  It’s a strange moment.  My breath comes slowly, steadily, with a whiff of incense to tell me something special hovers nearby.

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

One step closer to paradise

I  like my life — please make no mistake about that.  Though I’ve had challenges, losses, and sorrows, I have some damn fine friends and I’ve had a long wonderful run in Kansas City.

I have no complaints, despite those challenges, despite those losses, despite those sorrows.

But I have known for my entire life that I did not really belonging in the flatlands, land-locked and stifled.  My brothers gave me rocks for Christmas during our childhood because I talked so much about the mountains.  Thirty years ago, I had my chart read and turned out to be a water woman.  While the Atlantic never charmed me, Lake Michigan started  my love affair with endless expanses of variegated blue.  When I saw the Pacific for the first time, on Highway 1 just south of Half Moon Bay, my heart knew without any doubt that it had come home.

My tiny house headed for California yesterday.  I rushed to get insurance, to pack the modest collection of belongings with which I will furnish it, and to get the beautiful cherry table made by Sheldon Vogt installed before the launch.  It all meshed; insurance got bound, stuff got stowed, table found its way to a wooden bracket on the side of a cabinet in the house which I’m calling Angels’ Haven.  Kevin and Kim Kitsmuller, my fabulous builder and his enormously kind, lovely, and talented baker / home-decorator wife, left Missouri for parts west yesterday towing Angels’ Haven.

Here and there in the Holmes house, the Brookside airplane bungalow in which I raised my son, I stumble on piles of stuff that got swept out of furniture as it departed.  I’ll have to sort those piles next week.  But today’s tasks take me out of the house, to a school to visit children for whom I am guardian, to the pharmacy, to the vet.  I’ll gather what I need to travel and I’ll get the dog situated.  I’ll pack a small suitcase and load my computer bag.  At noon tomorrow, I’ll board a plane for the last flight which I’ll take to California as a full-time Midwesterner.

I’m moving 2,879 klicks west of where I’ve been.  Hold onto your hats.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

It’s the eighth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.

Sunset over the bay at Pescadero, CA, March 2015


The measure of my worth

In a six-hour hearing yesterday, I learned the comparative measure of my worth.

Lawyer who has been on the case for six months:  Bill is $29,000.00.

Lawyer who has been on the case for six weeks:  Bill is $15,000.00.

Myself, on the case as Guardian Ad Litem for eight months:  Bill is $10,000.00.

I watched the fees exhibits cross the judge’s bench.  Offered, no objection, admitted, three times over.  I realize that I valued my time as I saw fit.  It’s customary for GALs in my county to bill at a reduced rate.  But as a lawyer who doesn’t normally bill on an hourly basis, I set my rates according to antiquated notions, from a time when the attorneys here billed at $200 or $250 an hour.  Now, they’re clocking it at one-third above those rates — $300, $350, or higher.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of my time being worth 200 percent of my client’s time.  As a consequence, I’ve never made much money, nor risen above the middle-class values of my parents’ era.  I don’t drive a fancy car or even one which I bought for myself.  My furniture testifies to my father’s name for me:  Second-Hand Rose, after the Streisand song.  I won’t touch on the people who turn away when they realize that I buy my suits in consignment stores.  But my clients love me.  I fight as fiercely for them as I would if they had to liquidate their small savings accounts to underwrite my contract.

If I have a failing as a modern lawyer, it lies not in my lack of legal acumen but in my inability to see the practice of law as a business model. Even after twenty-four years running my own shop, I have only a vague concept of overhead and budgets.  But this I do have: a heightened awareness of the need for an advocate’s avenging spirit.  I often stare with blank dismay at the ledgers, but feel a tightening in my belly when a client receives a summons.  How dare you mess with one of mine!  Stand back!  I’ve got this.

As I look forward six months into the future, when the Corley Law Firm will dwindle to the occasional letter or stray pleading, I find that I am satisfied with the measure of my worth.  I believe that I have done myself proud.  I have no complaints.  I might not have succeeded by traditional standards, where the bank balance testifies to your virtues and the trappings of your castle proclaim your cleverness.  But yesterday I got an e-mail from a satisfied client offering to come pay his fairly small bill in full.  I’ll take it.  Yes.  And thank you.

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


Knowing when, knowing why, knowing who

A friend posted, You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  I don’t know what prompted his comment.  Sitting in my kitchen, drinking tea, I felt a pang of sorrow through the social medium on which he uttered the pronouncement.  His words bespoke of powerlessness, of disconnection, of futility.

Perhaps my friend spoke from none of those realms.  Possibly he only meant that he had tried to show someone how to balance their checkbook; maybe he had given someone a computer program to enhance their daily existence and the thing lay idle on their desktop.  But I don’t think so.  Knowing my friend, even as little as I know him, I heard an echo of despair.

I replied, telling him that I drag his book of poetry over the seven seas tucked in my handbag. I balance it on window sills, on my knee, on the saucer as I drink my tea.  I read and re-read; I commune with the population of his world.  I told him so. I don’t know when I could have ever gotten the chance to thank him. I don’t know why he uttered those soft words into the virtual realm.  I don’t know who turned their back on his attempts to offer direction.

I know so little.  I guess so much.  Yet I long to honor my connection with him.  I see the pain lingering in the crinkles around his eyes when we chance upon one another from time to time.  He folds me in a warm embrace.  He tells me that it’s good to see me.  Then he backs away and wanders in another direction.  I can’t help thinking that he’s had a life of pain punctuated by the occasional saving grace.  He voices few complaints; the mild lament which I read today surprised me.  So this is for him — for his caring, his concern.  Whether his comment gave voice to something casual or catastrophic, I salute him.

Prompted by my friend’s encouragement, I walk to the water and drink.

It’s the fifth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


You’re damn right I believe in angels.
I saw two of them down by the river
at shift change last Thursday.
They’d stepped back between the buildings
to keep the cold rain off their wings,
I guess.
They were talking and
I heard one say
Sally’s back on crack.
I saw her light the pipe last night.
down at Third and Central.
Then the other one said
Yeah, tell me about it;
I’ve been looking over Bobbie’s shoulder
for the last three days
while he studied his reflection
in razor blades.
Last night it was all I could do to stop him.
Then they nodded,
gave each other a low five
and headed off in opposite directions.
After they left, I stood awhile
looking down on the tracks
at a long train of box cars sliding past.
All along the sides, there were messages
written in that impossible angelic script they use
to communicate with angels in other towns.
After it moved on out of sight
I looked over at the alley wall.
There were more messages written there
In that same strange language.
Everybody says they’re gang signs.
Yeah, but ain’t no gangsta
can tell you what they mean.

Angels, David Arnold Hughes,
from Born a Stranger, Poems by David Arnold Hughes, Spartan Press

© David Arnold Hughes 2017



Angels’ Haven

My first experience with angels of the heavenly kind came in 1978 or 1979, when a white body stood over me urging me to awaken and protect myself.  In 1982, the same entity gently pushed my spirit downward, guiding me to reunite with my battered body as it flew four stories into the Kansas City sky, jarred into flight on impact with a speeding car.  Two years later, a warm rush spread through my body as my unknowing mother described a white faceless creature telling her that she had a year to live. I never doubted the connection; I never questioned the messages or their source.

I have no doubt that many will tell me these are hallucinations.  I accept your doubt.  You might even be correct.  I have no need for anything other than the serenity which I feel in the presence of these beings.

In a few hours, I will arrive in Lathrop with two friends, a caravan of the possessions which I’ve decided to take with me on my next odyssey.  We will unload and stow my belongings in the completed tiny house which I’m calling Angels’ Haven.  The name seems suitable, for I’ve carried the beings which I consider angels in my heart for so long that I feel safe with them.  They wrap themselves around my shoulders, crowding any room where I sleep from hospital to home.  Of course I will take them with me on my westward journey.

The angels who remain in Kansas City have human faces, along with one sweet dog.  I’ll be back from time to time.  I’ll bring California sunshine.  I’ll soak the Midwestern magic into my skin; the friendly faces, the jazz, the passion for anything Royal and for the flaming red of hometown football.  My visits will mirror those which I’ve taken west for the last three years: Rental cars, unfamiliar beds, and blown diets.  The only difference will be that at the end of each trip, I will return to the sea.

I have no complaints about the thirty-seven years since I first came here.  I only have another seven weeks of calling this place my home.  But a piece of my heart will always remain, while the rest journeys to San Francisco and the Delta Bay.  Keep the lights on, Kansas City.  By and by, I will make my way back to your arms and the cool autumn nights of Missouri.

It’s the third day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




I’ve spend a lot of time on the computer today.  Some of my efforts have been for clients or GAL cases; others have been towards the end of organizing my life and reaching out to people with whom I need to be connected for one reason or another.  I’ve danced between the back bedroom and various parts of the house, with its echoes and its empty floors.  Series after series of electronic mail and phone calls kept me from really finishing anything.

Towards the end of the evening, I found myself reading Rupi Kaur, a poet whom I discovered fairly recently who expresses in poetry what I yearn to convey in my essays.  I think about my early days of straining to construct poems, of thinking that getting published in a vanity press meant something.   But bad poetry is bad poetry, even though the Eads Bridge did accept three of my poems and turn them into a rather decent triptych.

On smaller and smaller tables, I type, I eat, I shuffle papers.  I’m down to three lamps, a couch, four chairs, my secretary, and the china cabinet.  Upstairs a handful of portable furniture stands between me and being gone.  I walk among all of it, thinking about what has been given away, what remains, and what will soon drift out of here on the barest of breezes..

Unexpectedly, I shift past the triptych and remember the vanity poem.  It marches across my mind, jarring me, taunting me:


If I’m not real
behind this mask
which ties my mind
and sets my task,

then those who work
on my behalf
should give in with
a weary laugh.

But if I’m real
it’s also true
that loyal friends
have much to rue.

It’s terrible; I know — no illusions, no lingering belief in my potential.  I wrote it and submitted it to one of those come-ons in the back of a magazine in 1978.  Later, I realized what the good stuff did for me; its subtle, addictive allure; its rampant sensuality.   I luxuriated in Sara Teasdale.  I memorized Robert Frost and the World War I poets.  I cowed, humbled by their unabashed glory.

I abandoned all thought of writing verse.  In fact, I stifled the scantest possibility of writing.  I immersed myself in graduate school and alcohol; wild sex and a lost baby.    But I secretly scribbled, which produced three poems.  The powers-that-be at Eads Bridge snipped until they got them into a form which they considered good enough for its pages in early 1980:

Its rage is great
Its enthusiasm endless
Its beauty renowned

While GREEN is only
The cold voice
And the chilled way
That I use to send you home.

And what is blue
But all that I have in me?
The rain we felt in April
The wind; all the poems that you read me
Dresses that I wore to school
Mirrors from which my image shown
A butterfly, trapped briefly, then released
A child – once real – then gone.
More, much more
Too much to say
But there: and all in BLUE.

I’m not complaining about my lack of talent, nor about the detours which my life took.  These days I find myself ruminating more and more on what I have learned; less and less on what I have lost or that which I could never attain.  Growth; maybe.  A letting go.  A recognition that the detours took me through some rocky waters, but also brought me to palatial views, and  extraordinary lands populated with amazing people.

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




*Foregoing poems copyright C. Corley, 1977 and 1980, respectively.  I assume Rupi Kaur owns her copyright but reproduce the image here as I found it on the web.