Monthly Archives: January 2018

Dear Universe

Today someone asked me how I came to be living in California.  I asked her if she wanted the long answer or the short answer.

The short answer:  I didn’t die.

The long answer:

On 14 February 1998, a pulmonologist named Scott Lerner told me that my body had finally worn out and that I couldn’t breathe because my lungs had just reached the breaking point.  Looming over my frail body with his achingly handsome blondness, Dr. Lerner smiled.  He told me to make provisions for my son and get my affairs in order, and reckoned that I had maybe six months.

Maybe less.  Maybe more.  But around six months, before my lungs simply ceased working.

The neurologist stood at his elbow nodding sagely.  That one — our kids went to the same preschool at one point; yet when he came into my room, I felt invisible.  He never greeted me at parent events; and he didn’t mention the connection as he left the room while I lay sobbing, in shock.  They took their white coats and their medical students, and the attending nurse, and abandoned me to my misery.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

I suffered under that prognosis for the better part of 1998, until the St. Luke’s ID guru, Joseph Brewer, resumed control of my destiny.  Dr. Brewer started me on Heparin for hypercoagulability, a diagnosis at which the other two specialists scoffed.  I let Joe Brewer start that first drip.  I figured I had nothing to lose.  Meanwhile, Dr. Lerner suffered a fatal heart attack and I lived.  In fact, my lungs had not worn out; I was not dying; at least, not in six months and not from the ailment which had been inhibiting my oxygen use but could be treated.

So, twenty years later, 19-1/2 years beyond my predicted life span, the Universe has taken me here.  I can’t complain.  Instead of dying before my son finished elementary school, I’ve seen him graduate from high school and college; and I lived to touch the drying ink on his MA in Writing for Screen and Stage from Northwestern University.

Four years ago, my treating physicians in Kansas City began to feel that I needed more sophisticated help.  I got on the internet and researched.  My efforts led me to Stanford University.  That first plane ride, in December 2014, opened a new world of possibilities. I stepped onto the plane completely unaware that nothing would ever be the same.  At that point, my first year of trying to live complaint-free had nearly ended.  I had not succeeded, but I persisted, keeping my journey public to hold myself accountable.

On my March 2015 trip to California, I rented a car and drove to the coast because Catherine Kenyon recommended that I see Pigeon Point.   I talked myself into taking the pig trail to the coast, over the mountains so I could eat lunch at Alice’s Restaurant. The drive proved grim; I passed an accident in which it appeared that a person had not survived.  The sight sobered me.  I sat over my sandwich thinking for the first time in years about the frailty of life.

After lunch, I got back in my rental car and journeyed on, slowly, carefully.  Finally, I neared the junction of 84 and Route 1.  I crested a little hill, and for the first time beheld the unbroken expanse of the Pacific.  

I’ve been trying to get here ever since.

The sun sets; the sun rises.  Each day brings me a little closer to going a full year without complaining.  Occasionally, of course, I have to begin at day one again.  I don’t mind.

Dear Universe:  Thank you.  Very Truly Yours.

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

Of shame and regret

I will regret a few things about this life, assuming that I am able to feel regret in whatever existence follows.

I will regret that I remained silent when I should have spoken on more than one occasion.  I can remember times when my unspoken words formed a bitter betrayal.  The baleful eyes of people who wanted me to speak on their behalf haunt me.  I think they know who they are.  One or two might come across this blog entry.  For them, I offer the one brief sentence that might ease any lingering pain.  I am sorry.

A few times when I did speak cause me regret.  Years ago, I met a man who knew my brother Stephen.  He asked me to tell him something embarrassing about Steve from our childhood.  I related a story of tenderness which showed my two younger brothers to have been helpful, happy children.  The account also portrayed their undying protectiveness of my mother.  Later, when I told my brother that I had met this man, he asked me if I talked about him to the guy.  I shook my head.  He  urged me never to speak to the fellow again.  He’s a snake in the grass, he told me.  He’ll use any information you give him against me.

I can’t apologize to Stephen because he’s dead.  To his spirit then; to Frank maybe, although I don’t think the man knew both of them.  The very basest part of this event lies in my motivation both for telling the story and for denying having done so.  I wanted to be liked.   I have never forgiven my own treachery.

As odd as it sounds to those who know me, I don’t regret loving any of the men to whom I gave my devotion — not the lawyer who lured me to Montana only to dump me by answering machine message before I got back home;  not my son’s father; nor my three husbands; nor the one or two other men to whom I professed the sentiment called “love”.  They, too, know who they are; and if they ever read this, they can turn away from their computer monitors with a slight flush on their cheeks, remembering the sound of my voice.  To them, I make no apology.  For  loving them, I carry no shame and have no regret.

I don’t regret this piece of Olallieberry pie that I have torn to pieces on the plate in front of me.  Its tartness sits in my mouth like something sacred.  Nor do I regret the money spent for these two days on the coast, or the gathering dust which will greet me on my return to Angel’s Haven.  Sometimes these little segues give us precisely the correct antidote for whatever ailment drove us to seek them out.

As I walked down the driveway to Whale, the house in which I’m sleeping here at HI Pigeon Point, a family trudged by.  Two little girls scampered between their parents.  The father walked in front with an armful of luggage while the mother straggled behind, carrying a sleeping baby.  The smaller of the toddlers turned to stare at me, her little rosebud mouth hanging open as she surveyed my legs.  Whether in awe of my flowered tights or shock at the awkward gait, I cannot say.  I smiled and she ran ahead, whispering something to her sister.  As they made their way to Seal, I felt a shiver of unbidden self-loathing form in my belly.

One thing I do lament, which I did not control and can never make right:  the damage done to my body by a damn little bug when I had not yet attained even two years of age.  The turmoil that stupid virus has caused cannot be underplayed.  I have spent the better part of sixty years undoing the sourness which it left in its initial wake and later, in its reawakening.  I know a lot of people who never let their disabilities  or illnesses stand between them and most of society.  I admire those people.  I yearn for the easy grace with which they wear the badge of their distinctiveness.

I waited until the door clicked behind the family and then went into the neighboring house and poured a cold cup of coffee.  Clutching the pie in its plastic clamshell, I sank into a chair and stared out of the window.  I sat for a long time, as the sky darkened and the moon rose  behind the lighthouse.  When I could no longer see, I stood, crossed the room, and turned on the light.

It’s evening on the twenty-eighth day of the forty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Box of Rain

Last night, Michael had the Grateful Dead playing on the radio in the hostel office.  Now as I sit in Downtown Local, Box of Rain starts and I think of my brother, as it would be impossible not to do since we played it at his memorial service.  The words which I had thought to write vanish. His face rises before me.  I do not know if he would like this place, as much as he enjoyed the urban life.  But he died on property that he had once purchased with friends in rural St. Charles County so perhaps he would.

Other than the music I would not have thought of Stephen.  No anniversary lies in January — neither birth (Christmas) nor death (mid-June, exact date unknown).  One of my favorite photos of him was taken on a sort of ranch in south central Missouri. He’s sitting on a log early in the morning, wearing a thermal shirt.  He’s about twenty.  He still has hope stamped on his face.

That hope faded until it finally died, with him, nearly two decades later.

I’ve squared away my bed for another night and now I am in Pescadero having coffee.  I’m  violating several of my dietary restrictions with a pan a chocolat.  It’s early enough in that day that I should be able to walk off the sugar and the gluten before I try to sleep tonight.  Both wreak considerable misery on my CNS.  It’s worth the risk from time to time and this croissant fits that description.  I’ll take my chances.  The sun beams into the window through an absolutely cloudless sky.  Whatever on earth a box of rain might be, we won’t have one here, not today, anyway.

I walked to the point this morning and tried to go live on social media to share the glorious sound of my Pacific.  That spot lies beyond the reach of the internet.  So instead, I took a little video and then just breathed the sea with its heady scent of salt and sand and serenity.  I cannot get enough of it.

The place where i write begins to fill around me.   Soon there will be too many people for me.  I’ll worry that they need my table or that the customers will be bothered by the heavy sound of my asthmatic breathing.  I will pack my laptop and brush away my crumbs.  I’ll throw my bag over one shoulder and go out into the day, in search of another sunny spot.

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


Stephen Patrick Corley, 12/25/59 – 06/??/97, year of photo unknown

I believe this was taken at the perennial gathering of friends called the Elvish Banquet.


In the presence of my peace

As soon as I heard the voice of the Pacific, I knew that one night would not suffice.  Nothing could spoil this peace, not even the rude woman at Slow Coast who shrieked at me as I fumbled for my inhaler.  I tried to explain that the fragrance had overwhelmed me but all she could do was rage and demand that I take my coughing outside, spraying Lysol in  my face, waving her hands at the leper she judged me to be.  I backed out, stumbling over the threshold of the silver Air Stream.  I had driven twenty-two miles to buy Cause Bars.  Not this trip.

I went north, stopping at the Pie Ranch for vegetables and a flourless brownie.  Too late, halfway up the road to Pigeon Point, I realized that I had not brought oil or butter.  I could picture them on my counter, where no doubt they will be on  my return.  No matter.  If Michael in the office cannot lend me some, I’ll eat apple and hummus tonight, and drive into Pescadero in the morning for something to cook the farm fresh potatoes and carrots.  I make a cup of tea and go out to the back sidewalk, where the ocean waits, where I can rest, watching her calming motion.

The man who carried my bag from the office told me that he lives in Burlingame.  He explained that it is by the airport in San Francisco.  He’s just here for one night.  He smiled, but I could see a sort of sorrow lingering in his eyes.  I don’t know if he’s come alone or with a partner.  But he has come to the right place, with all that sadness.  He can leave that here when he goes back to the city.

I log into the hostel wi-fi and check my messages.  Seeing nothing urgent, I stand in the window waiting for sunset.  I’ll try to film it, or go live on social media.  Back home; in Los Angeles; in Idaho, Berkeley, and St. Louis; folks who have not yet abandoned me will watch.  They’ll tell me that they appreciate the sound of the sea.  They’ll say that they wish they could be here.  I’ll be smiling, here at the edge of the world.  I’ll be alone, but never could I be lonely in the presence of my peace.


I don’t recall the name for the doctor who prescribed my glasses but he had a fancy title.  His assistant’s voice dripped in awe as she described his prowess. He oozed into the room with the same self-importance of my other eye doctors.  He performed a few more tests than they did, confirmed my long-standing belief in my brain’s frustration with my right eye, and radically changed my prescription.

Before he left, he told me never again to go to the type of specialist who had been treating me, and always go to his type of specialist.  Of course, I don’t remember what it was.

It’s no matter, though.  As with all those other men and women who strove to force my eyes to see from behind thousand dollar lenses of their design, three months later, I find myself taking off my glasses to read, type, and squint at the car’s navigation system.

My little heater churns away, spewing its wide warmth throughout my tiny house.  In an hour, I’ll head into a restaurant in Rio Vista to attend a Rotary meeting.  I’ll try not to cough.  I’ll study the faces of the Rotarians eating breakfast and conducting their weekly business, wondering if this place will give me the sense of family which I felt in my home club.  I’ll drink hot tea, and strain to hear the speaker, and smile.  Most of all, I’ll smile.  If I cannot have eyes which see, at least I can have a face which welcomes anyone who chances by.

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


Masses of Vitamin C wrappers went into the trash before I realized that each bears a pep talk.

I suppose my ignorance stems from the fact that I normally buy the CVS brand.  I had no idea that the Halls people cared so much.  I smoothed open a handful of the tiny papers while we circled SFO waiting for clearance to slip through the fog.  We spent a half hour on the tarmac before  the control tower directed us to a gate so I kept reading, enthralled by the myriad ways that a smart marketing department had found to  encourage me to persevere.

When we finally disembarked, I shoved the package in a wide pocket of my Joseph’s Coat with the Well-Read Books copy of What Maisie Knew.  I had made it 3/4 of the way through my fourth or fifth reading of  Henry James’ depressingly accurate account of a little girl becoming the pawn in her parents’ post-divorce torture of each other.

I first read the book in eighth grade at my mother’s behest.  She required her children to read something more than comic books every summer and I had chosen that from the stack of approved novels.  The following fall, when it developed that I had read all the books on the Freshman booklist and was exhorted to branch out for the weekly book reports, I penned a review of Maisie.  The teacher called my mother into the office, disturbed that a thirteen-year-old girl would choose such heavy stuff.  My mother rolled her eyes and rejoined, You should be punishing her for writing a paper on a book she read last year rather than reading something new.  They turned reproachful eyes in my direction.  I dutifully hung my head.

I consider the book to be training ground for divorce lawyers in contemporary America.  Beale and Ida and their crafty second spouses manipulate the child but in the end, her jaded little heart knows everything.

A wiry wheelchair attendant named Abduhl had gotten me to my connecting flight in Denver with moments to spare.  An equally  agile young man with no name tag toted me, my carry-on, and my two very full suitcases out to the hotel shuttle stop.  At the Best Western, the same young man who had been so kind on my arrival greeted me at the door.  A few minutes later, he pulled my RAV4 to the entry way, and I started the journey to the California Delta.  My car’s GPS got me lost but I made it, eventually, pulling into my space in front of Angel’s Haven at eight p.m.  I shut off the motor and sent my son a text.  Then I sat in silence broken only by my perennial symphony of tinnitus.

An hour later, I crawled under the covers and fell into a dreamless sleep which lasted for eight unbroken hours.  There’s no place like home.

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

Midnight somewhere

My laptop tells me that it is midnight, somewhere.  I’m here in my friend’s kitchen, one eye closed against the burn of whatever allergic reaction besieges me.  His furnace purrs.  An overhead light in the hallway dances off Ruthie Becker’s painting and two fat suitcases which await dawn and a ride to the airport.

I haven’t slept more than a handful of hours in any of the nights since I left the Delta.  My transient insomnia has nothing to do with the presence or absence of comfort, welcome, or warmth.  A yearning grips my heart and prods my mind to waken, urging me to explore the jumble of emotions churning in the heady mixture of bile and ambrosia which ripples with each shift of my broken body in the gloom.  I surrender to wakefulness and trod down the stairs, willing my body not to fall lest the crash disturb my host.

Just as  I left my computer on Central time for the first weeks of my California move, so have I stubbornly refused to change it to that zone since coming for this visit.  I have a foot in each world and I find that I do not like it.  Folks look at me strangely.  They ask how my adventure fares.  They inquire after job prospects; the wisdom of the journey; the success of resettlement.  I’m crunched in hugs.  Chairs spin to open their girth for my body.  But I see a glimmer of reproach in every eye.  Perhaps I imagine the holding back, the resistance, the impatience.  I don’t think so, but perhaps.  The avowals of love have a kind of crystalline overlay which acknowledges that while the speakers might value the times we have shared, they grant me license to remove myself from the lock of their embrace.

I don’t blame them.  I left of my own accord.  I cannot ask for indulgences now; I’ve surrendered my entitlement.  I do not demand that any previously pledged loyalties remain intact.  It is I who shifted the aperture and aimed it westward.  However, a few immutable facts remain for my nocturnal examination.  One truth persists, no more and no less than this:  I accept my loss of status without complaint, but my love for these people and this place shines just as true.  Distance, not strength, accounts for the apparent dimness of its rays.

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





Six shelves of  the belongings which didn’t get discarded and didn’t make the final cut in December stared at me with something close to reproach.  I hauled a box down and shuffled its contents, already disheartened about the task of ridding myself of the rest of the material goods which made my old life.  Here and there, a gem emerged:  The embroidery which my stepdaughter made for me; a sketch of our pets drawn by my son; a reprint of the article which my mother had published in Organic Gardening in 1979.  The few important papers which I couldn’t find when I unpacked continue to elude me.

After a few hours, the futility of my effort overwhelmed me.  A pile formed to go upstairs and get crammed in my two suitcases for incremental move by Southwest, a term which my friend Kimberley Kellogg coined which now applies to the balance of my relocation.  I’m cautious about this plan, since I live in 313 square feet.  But I’ve left some cubbies empty back at Angel’s Haven.  I can bring a few more pairs of shoes, a couple more sweaters, a dress or two, some paintings.  I’m certainly bringing my coffee grinder, lest I not be able to enjoy the Caisi Cielo beans that Penny Thieme gifted me at the Gathering of the Usual Suspects.

By the time I settle for sleep, I’m overcome with emotion.  I cannot even articulate; I can’t utter one word.  I try; I’m a guest in someone’s home, after all.  But I’d been struggling all day with a sore throat and the lump which has formed around this sorting process made speech nearly impossible.

I don’t regret my move.  But I dread having dinner in Brookside tomorrow.  We’ll be skirting dangerously close to a life that I abandoned at least in part to save what remained of my days from sinking into a quagmire of mourning.  California opened her arms to me.  The Pacific soothes me with her welcoming voice.  I felt at home there from the start, from the first moment that airplane wheels hit tarmac in December of 2014, in San Jose, before my first meeting with the Stanford gurus.

But the boxes in the basement remind me that I once felt at home here, in Kansas City.  At a Formica table on 5th street yesterday, I sat across from Dr. Karr and her spouse drinking coffee and hearing about the Rotary Christmas party.  More than one twinge of longing coursed through my veins.

Now it’s going on seven.  I must shower and dress for the court appearances which prompted this trip.  I am grateful for my host, grateful for the friends who’ve made room in their schedules for me.  Gratitude sits uneasy on my shoulders, though; if I had not left, these coffees and dinners would be less eventful, and certainly, less poignant.

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


California, Joni Mitchell

Leaving on a jet plane

For reasons unknown to me, my flight from San Francisco to Kansas City took me through St. Louis.  I did not have to disembark.  As we cruised into the airport, I located St. Peters, where my sister lives; and contemplated the ice floes in the Missouri River.  Too late, I saw an old train trestle that I would have liked to capture for two of my photographer friends.  They each have a fascination with rust.

As the plane lifted, I mused about my son and our sunrise / sunset cell phone pictures competition.  All through his college years, we would send each other “top this” shots.  He holds the record so far with a picture of a sunrise over the Colorado Rockies.  I fumbled for for my phone and snapped away.  The young man in the aisle seat smiled and shifted in the confines of his navy blue suit.  Probably a lawyer, I thought, and went back to watching the sky.

Now I’m in Kansas City at my friend Rick’s house.  The government has shut down, at least partially, which proves that it is possible for a nation to be as great as ours has always been and still make a laughingstock of itself on the global stage.  In a little while, I will sort through and wrap the gifts for this evening’s gathering.  I’ll get my rental car and swing by the little women’s march organized at the last minute.  I brought the pink pussy hat that my son gave me for Christmas.  I’ll wear it, even if I just stand on the side lines and applaud the marchers.

I don’t feel as though I’m home.  I never lived in the northeast section of this town, where my friend lives.  That could be part of my confusion.    But neither do I feel like a stranger.  A wistful sentiment has settled around me.  I stretch my weakened muscles and remind myself that I need to refill prescriptions while I’m here.   Tonight I gather with the Usual Suspects for a late Christmas party.  Tomorrow we’re meeting Dr. Karr and her mysterious spouse for coffee.  Next week, I’ll make  two court appearances; see a few clients; have dinner with some cherished friends; and then, fly back to California.  The rigorous schedule leaves no time for tears.

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


St. Louis by sunset.

The House That Jack Built

As I wait for the single-serve coffee to brew in the black mug on the hotel dresser, I reflect on how my life has become a nursery rhyme.

This is the room that i rented because I couldn’t ride transit to the station and fly home; this is the suitcase that I had to buy because I had to bring a computer because the cord could not be located so I could use the laptop at home.

Not a perfect analogy but eventually you get to the mellow glass of Old Vine Zin  that I drank; and the slice of flourless chocolate cake that I ate when I found myself alone in the hotel room that I had to rent. . .And these are the twitchy legs that kept me awake in the hotel room that I had to rent. . .

I enjoyed the wine, and the cake; but a present and aware companion might have reminded me of what white sugar does to a damaged CNS system.  He or she might have given voice to my neurologist’s admonishments.  He says, If white sugar were discovered today, it would be a controlled substance.  No cautionary voice sounded from across the table.  The waiter brought both delightful indulgences, unaware that I’d already blown the budget, oblivious to the folly, thinking only of his tip.

He penned at the bottom of the ticket:  “20% =. . .”  He’d botched my order and resisted re-doing the plate.  He never offered to re-fill my coffee.  He stood ten feet away and moaned to a co-worker about having to work the weekend.  I gave him 15% and felt generous.

I’m not complaining about my restless night or the dreams which flooded my brain.  I alone, with full knowledge of its potential impact, ordered my dinner.  With further awareness, I chose to binge-watch Youtube videos of my favorite poignant songs.  Now the traffic tells me that the hour of departure approaches.  Breakfast starts at six.  I’ll board a shuttle at 7:30.  By eleven, I will be homeward bound.  i have not yet decided how I feel about this trip.  Time will tell.

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