Monthly Archives: May 2018

Spring winds

The Tibetan prayer flags on my porch move with the wind.  They entwine themselves around the ribbon on which they fly.  I stand at the doorway and watch the birds rise into the broad expanse of sky thinking, and there will come soft rains.

But the rainy season has come and gone here in the California Delta.  Now we have fierce winds, warm afternoons, and cold clear nights.  My friends in Kansas City speak of hot days and poolside afternoons while I wear long sleeves and pull my windows tight as the sun sets.  I know the heat will arrive soon but for now, I feel that I’m a stranger to the warmth back home.  I’m caught between seasons, waiting for the earth to turn.

A few setbacks pull me into a blue funk now and then.  These days I try to measure my reactions in the grand scheme of things.  A broken trinket means little when the news blasts so grim onto my computer screen.  Lost immigrant children; racism running rampant; people stumbling and succumbing to an onslaught of war, crime, and ignorance. . . Any one of these looms larger than even the worst of my troubles.  I bow my head; I take the point.

Outside my tiny house, the wind whips the willow trees and rushes past, through the meadow and back to the levee road.  I clench my hands; a shudder courses through my shoulders.  I hear my mother’s voice asking did a ghost walk over your grave?  Maybe so; maybe so.  I strain to hear the last call of the mourning dove but she has fallen silent in her nest high above my roof.

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

These Days, by Jackson Browne

Simplicity itself

As I washed my face today, a memory sprang from the depths where  I store the nuggets that I can’t or won’t relinquish.  This one carried the sweetness of a mother’s realization that her bird has flown.  I drew in a deep breath and savored it for a few moments, then continued with my day.   But the memory floats near the surface now, lifting my mood and carrying me into the day more lightly than I might have stepped.

My son and I had a special bond with my cousin Paul Orso so we met in St. Louis for his funeral.  One of us had forgotten some toiletry item.  Usually we can assemble a full complement between us; we use many of the same brands.  But we fell short on this occasion, so he, my sister Joyce, and I took a detour to CVS.

As we walked in the door, we came upon a short woman behind a demonstration table.  She peddled “Simple” products, a brand purporting itself to be natural or better for your skin.  Crisp, fat, bottle-red curls clustered around her small skull.  Her face bore a Revlon stamp, thick foundation accentuating the lines of age; dark lipstick lining a narrow mouth.  I turned away from her extended hand, thinking,  I hope to God that I don’t have to peddle cosmetics when I’m seventy.

I saw my son pause in front of the woman, reach out his hand, and take the coupon which she offered.  “Patrick, come on, we don’t have much time,” I called to him,  He looked back with a glance that struck my heart.

“Mom, I’ll be right there,” he responded.  Then he turned his smile on the elfin lady.  I waited a few seconds, then continued to the personal products aisle.  His voice followed me:  “Thank you very much,” I heard him say.  “Now, which one would I get if. . .”  I didn’t stop walking.  I didn’t hear the rest of his question.

He joined me a few minutes later.  I saw him bend down to the row with the “Simple” line.  “The store brand is probably cheaper, even with her coupon,” I told him.  I lifted a tube from the shelf.  “Look, see.”

That gaze again.  “Mom, it’s okay.  I’ve got this.”  I shut my mouth, but I thought:  Kids.  They don’t appreciate you.  

In the check-out line, my son placed his items on the counter and then took my selections from me.  He swiped his card to pay for the lot, after tendering his coupon.  As we exited the store, he stopped beside the Simple lady’s table.  “Thank you so much for the advice,” he said.  He gestured with the bag.  “I’m trying what you recommended.”

We didn’t speak of the incident.  It sank into the dark recesses of my mind, a seemingly trivial moment in the life of mother and son.  When I got back to Kansas City after the funeral, I discovered that my son’s Simple face cleanser had gotten packed in my suitcase. I added it to my bathroom stash.  When I ran out of my normal face wash, I started using it.

It’s been three years since my cousin died from complications relating to his ALS — three years since I walked away from the sight of my son’s head bending down to give that woman his full attention while she explained the benefits of Simple products.  Today, as I  washed my face with yet another bottle of Simple, I realized — not, by any means, for the first time — that my son grew into a splendid man despite my worst efforts.

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

Patrick Corley, Paul Orso, and me; August 2014, a year before Paul’s death.


The direct consequence of being ill for two days turns out to be awakening at 2:30 a.m. on the third day, aching from not getting exercise and hungry from not consuming enough calories.  I lay in bed until the birds began their morning song and then made my first pot of coffee since Friday. I carried a cup to the porch and watched the sun rise, wishing my porch had been built on the east side of my house.  But then, I reminded myself, I would miss the glow of the setting sun over the river.  It’s always something.

By 6:00, I had scrolled through social media and reposted a few stories, the most notable being a long list of links to help protest the separation of children from their parents by ICE.  I pegged through links to try to find original source material about the 1,475 migrant children for whom the U.S. government cannot account.  It seemed to be true.  My stomach ache returned and I wondered if it was too early to text my son.

I forced myself to wait to make breakfast until the sun had fully risen.  I took a second cup of coffee outside and photographed the neighbor’s flag, still waving over the RV which she and her husband had to vacate due to a fire in the kitchen.  I shook my head at the tender sight.  She escaped unharmed.  I watched the reunion between wife and husband when he parked his car behind the fire marshal and ran to her, the car door swinging open, the motor still running.

In my house in Kansas City, I always flew the American flag, 24/7/365, with a flood-light shining on it all night.   I get my patriotic spirit from my father.  He served in World War II.  He walked the Burma Trail with the Mars Men, mule skinners from Missouri and elsewhere, tasked with the onerous burden of clearing the way for supply trucks.   As my father told it, they completed their mission but not until six months after peace had been declared.  The Army whisked them home, forgotten soldiers, considered an embarrassment perhaps.  I’ve read enough to know that what they had to do would scar a man for life.  I don’t excuse what he became, but I understand it.  I cannot help but think him brave.

My oldest sister, Ann, also served.  She spent 1969 – 1971 in Korea as a nurse.  It would be decades before it occurred to me what types of injuries she must have treated so close to Vietnam at the war’s height.  I’ve never asked her about it.  She’s never volunteered to talk about it.  Now she spends her free time in Guatemala, doing medical work but also teaching women to spin, weave, and sew.  I’ve always wanted to be like her.  I have no idea if she understands how much I admire her.

When I lived in Arkansas, the townspeople decorated every grave on Memorial Day.  They brought small flags, pots of flowers, and photographs.  I never went.  My people all slept in cemeteries north of there.  In recent years, I’ve visited the graves of my in-laws, most weeks and certainly, on every national holiday.  My father-in-law served.  I placed a new flag on his grave in April, knowing that I would not be back this weekend.  A dear friend has promised to visit today, to make sure the flag still stands.

I voice a lot of criticism about the events taking place in America these days.  I have another page on which I write about political issues but this blog focuses on my #journeytojoy.  So here, I will speak only of the beauty which surrounds me — the song of the crows; the flight of the gulls; the sweet air rising over the meadow.  I woke up this morning, which is more than many can say.   And so far, I live free enough to enjoy my days.   I’ll take that.  I’ll take that, with thanks to those who fought and died believing in our freedom and in the American dream.

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

Cleaning House

For months, a grey presence stood in my path as I moved through the house.  I struggled around it.  I darted left; it deftly followed.  I slipped right; it lunged sideways.  I stopped and stared; it ogled back at me.

No chemical could shrivel it.  I haven’t hands strong enough to throttle the thing.  I strained to ignore its ugly mug but it hoverd behind me when I looked in the mirror.  It crouched on top of the cabinet when I do laundry.

I shook my head a dozen times a day in disgust.  The damn thing  mocked me with a leering grin.  It haunted me in my fitful sleep.

Clouds covered the delta today.  We saw the mist rolling towards us yesterday.  Billowing masses of gauze hung low and ponderous over our island, blown by a hard wind that knocked me over as I crossed to the Spindrift.  The clouds lingered all day today.  By early evening, though, the same Delta wind had cleared the sky.  I opened the door and let the air dance through my house and out the window.  I watched as the wind raised the branches of the willow, moving across the meadow into the fields beyond our park.

I caught a glimpse of a grey ghost clinging to the tail of the mischievous breeze.  It vanished as the wind rose to meet the last bright rays of the setting sun.   I drew a deep breath, then reached to shut the window and draw the curtain against the fading light.  All of a sudden, I walking through my house with a lighter step.

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


Breakfast of Champions

My social media feed sends me scores of links every day.  Occasionally, one or two of them contains useful information.  Yesterday, I learned that eggs might not be fatal to my heart.

I cracked two of the luscious little protein bombs into a bowl right after reading that article, but not before gazing at the unsuspecting oval jewels for a few minutes.  I had taken the last of a dozen purchased in Rio, and the first of a dozen from Trader Joe’s organic aisle.  I smiled at the sight of them sitting next to each other in my purloined square vessel (stolen from one of the cabins here last winter, quite by accident). They wobbled a bit, as the house vibrated from the force of a passing truck.

I couldn’t help thinking of my friend Lyne’t Gray.  I heard again her voice through the headphones during my guest appearance on her radio show.  She introduced me as her sister. We launched into a discussion of the children of Jackson County and the system which must not fail them.  Despite the differences between us, Lyne’t and I agree on the importance of being mindful about our obligation as parents, as citizens, as educators, to the future of the next generation.  The fierceness of our dedication crackled in the cluttered confines of the small KUAW studio.

Lyne’t and I have known each other since my son and her daughter went to University Academy. She lifts my spirits.  I thought of Lyne’t as I cracked the eggs and mixed them together to make the silkiness of my breakfast of champions.  I took my plate to the table and ate with the light of the morning sun streaming through the window.

The news about eggs being good for me came as no surprise.  The article validated something which I’ve always known, like the virtues of an afternoon spent walking along the river and the indispensable value of a friend’s warm embrace.   The nourishment from each sustains me.

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


In the garden of misunderstanding

I recently found a book from my childhood which includes stores of Little Bobby who lives with his aunt.  She sends him to the tower bedroom when he falls ill, or misbehaves.  He creeps into the cheerful room when he needs a bit of solitude or comfort.

There he finds himself surrounded with pretty wallpaper depicting garden gates.  From one of them comes a fairy who guides him through lonely or troubled times.  One of the gates opens on the Garden of Misunderstanding, where parents learn why their children don’t comply with directions but also do not always deserve to be scolded.  Small beings admonish parents to pay closer attention to their charges, who might have had the best of intentions.

I walk in the Garden of Misunderstanding from time to time.  I hear what others perceive about how I have acted or what they have said and done. I sense how quick we each have been to judge the other.  I mourn the lost chance, the moment which has slipped away without us coming to a place of common comfort.

The days continue.  I cannot undo anything which I have said or done.  Nor can I change how I’ve reacted.  I can only gather my senses around me and strive for clarity from this day forward.  I find my own contentment in dedicating myself to the effort.

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

The Eyes Have It

My eyes have become a metaphor, shorthand for all the choices that I’ve made or maybe, for the burdens which I bear.  They replace my ears (going deaf, choosing not to spend $12,000 on the digital hearing aides recommended for my particular situation), my knee (that pesky old-school metal knee needs major surgery to repair or replace), and my teeth (crooked and broken).  Never let it be said that  irony escapes me.

A few weeks ago, I walked among unsuspecting Californians in Berkeley, headed for Pegasus.  I don’t carry a cane despite that wobbly knee and shaky legs.  A cane complicates matters.  Already struggling with the disconnect between my brain and my limbs, I fall into further confusion when I add that lifeless stick.  A cane gives me something on which to lean if I pause, but so does a building, or a bike rack, or a parking meter.

People skirted around me on the sidewalk as I navigated from the restaurant at which I’d had breakfast with Kimberley Kellogg.  I was headed to indulge one of my unbridled passions — used books.  Suddenly I realized that a woman had spoken to me.  Her contorted face suggested that I didn’t respond as quickly as she expected.  I squinted, adjusting my glasses which have slipped down my nose.  She muttered and moved around me.  I waited to see what might develop but she was gone, crossing, her hunched shoulders serving as a lingering tribute to her displeasure.

I had my eyes back in focus so I continued walking, holding  my glasses, dodging the people who came toward me.  In the bookstore, I asked for a restroom and learned that they had stopped providing one for customers.  The clerk studied me.  He saw a middle-aged woman holding the blue frames of her spectacles, sporting a turquoise crossbody hand-bag, encased in a sweater and a jean jacket.  He made a decision, sensing both my harmlessness and my desperation.  He handed me a key and gestured.

In the employee bathroom, washing my hands, I studied my face in the mirror over the metal sink.  I saw the cattywumpus glasses, the worry lines, the greying roots, all slightly blurred.  Time for the six-month eye exam, I sighed to myself.  But what kind of specialist was it, again?  What did the last guy say that  I must  I find in this strange land? And can I afford the thousand-dollar outlay?  I shook my head.  Story of my life, I thought.  Just one more thing for which I need to school myself not to complain.

A few weeks later, in court at Clay County, I ran into Mike Hanna.  “Judge,” I called, as he walked towards me led by his attendant.  “Corinne Corley,” he replied, holding out his hand.  I grasped it and told him he looked good.  “Nice to see you,” he told me, though his eyes have been sightless for many years.   “You too,” I said, and turned away, looking toward the front of the courtroom, suddenly feeling a little ashamed without quite knowing why.

It’s the twenty-first day of the fifty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”― Helen Keller

Flotsam and jetsam of an unfinished life

Last night I carried a jumble of items into Angel’s Haven from my suitcase.  I laid them out on the table and studied the collection.  My heart lifted a little, buoyed by some unbidden current and a wave of emotion.

I’ve taken a cue from my friend Kimberley.  I’ve used the 2-suitcase allowance on Southwest to slowly bring missing items from Kansas City.  I pack my clothes for the business trips in a smallish suitcase and put that bag inside a bigger one.   When I get to Kansas City and take it out again, voila — an extra suitcase!  I cull through boxes in storage for items packed by others, in those last crazy hours when I dealt with the nightmare of a near-fumbled closing on the sale of my house.  I have found some cherished possessions and brought them here, to my new home.

I studied this week’s collection for a long time.

A shoebox  held pretty little trinkets that various people gave me over the years:  A World’s Window lion puzzle from my son; a Japanese puzzle box from a client; the little egg that Chester gave me when we found out that I was pregnant; and a blue china lidded container which I’ve had for nearly forty years.  The person who got it for me turned out to be one of those men who blames everything on his current girlfriend while wooing the next victim.  I’m not sure why I kept that, unless as a futile reminder not to be a fool for love.

I ran one finger over a broken slat in my sewing box, a mother-gift which had remained behind because it smashed on the floor of the storage unit.  Sheldon had repaired it for me, but it took a brutal hit en-route.  On top of my plastic basket of make-up, I spied a book called “The Tiny Little House”, a birthday present from my sister Adrienne many years ago.  Prophetic, I thought, as  I read the story of two little girls and an old lady resurrecting an abandoned house to sell the old lady’s delicious cookies.

I don’t really need the basket of make-up.  I rarely wear cosmetics.  Most of the items are “Bare Minerals” products, purchased in 2014 post-separation when I struggled to make myself feel better.  What is it about having a new tube of lipstick that suggests to middle-aged women that we aren’t worthless?

I packed my favorite Mary Ann Coonrod water color wrapped in a table-runner.  It sustained damage during the house move,and might need a new frame.  I’ve saved a space for it on the east wall of Angel’s Haven, above my cookbooks and next to the little shelf on which I’ve got a couple of angels and my San Francisco music box.  I’m not sure why I included my radio, except that it has good, clear sound.   I listen to KQED on the computer most mornings, though I haven’t canceled my sustaining donation to KCUR.  The radio sat in the breakfast nook at the Holmes house for the last several years.  Sometimes it brought the only human voices I heard for days on end.

I lifted another book from the pile, “Solo: Women on women alone”.  It’s a collection of short stories.  I bought it during graduate school.   I read it cover to cover, many times.  finding myself on its pages.   I brushed a layer of dust from the cover.  It will make good reading, as I sip a cup of tea on my front porch in the cool of an evening.  I’ll let it fall to my lap, close my eyes, and feel my spirit drift, lost among the flotsam and jetsam of an unfinished life.

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


“At the center of your being, you have the answer.  You know who you are, and what you want.”

—   Rumi

Two Kinds of People; or, “Oh, Joy!”

As I sat in the back of the Lyft driver’s Lexus waiting for him to ask me if I was okay after the accident, I realized for the second or third time this year that there are two kinds of people in the world.

The first kind genuinely cares about others regardless of whether they agree with them on issues.  They might verbalize their discontent with how you vote, or the color of your hair, or the way you keep house.  But when the cars smack against each other, they leap to your side.

The second kind starts thinking right away about liability.  These folks have a glib narrative that sounds supportive.  You might even be fooled by their generous rhetoric.  In a crisis, they show their truth.  They shove the broken tea-pot under a place mat and walk away.  They talk about wanting to help and then have other engagements for every time slot.

I’ve learned to recognize true gems but I still confuse the artificial louts for gold.  In other words, I have a lot of false positives.   I tend to err on the side of believing that everyone who says that they want to help me actually does.  For many years, I assumed the worst of people.  They often fell to my expectations of them.  But the converse has not proven true.  When I hit rock bottom in early 2014, I decided to start assuming the best of people.  I found myself particularly willing to trust people who volunteered to use their expertise to help advance my situation.   This has not always gone well.

Perhaps the pendulum swung too far into the realm of naivete.  I’ve trusted some folks in the last year whom I previously would have sent packing with unbridled speed.  It’s the pretense of compassion that fools me.  Then the sand slips through my fingers and dissolves in the sea.  I realize that once again, I’ve been fooled by a charming smile or a sincerely tilted head.

The Lyft driver wanted me to state that he was not at fault.  I smiled and averted my eyes.  He suddenly became quite hostile, throwing my suitcases onto the pavement, canceling all record of the pick-up, pretending not to understand the police officer’s request for information.  I studied his demeanor.  I thought of other folks whom I have met in the last several years.  Here was a man who did not really care about anyone.  I am sure of it.  I have a small list of others who spun a false narrative.  I shan’t complain about them; it does no good, and causes a knot to develop in my stomach.  But I’m building a profile for my private reference.

Meanwhile, the substitute Lyft driver tried to refuse my tip.  He insisted that he would be compensated.  He settled my bags in the back of my car and brushed away the bill in my hand.  All that mattered to him was that  I had gotten safely to my destination.  So I stood with as much firmness as my fatigue allowed and told him that I, too, had a concern.   My concern involved whether he would be tipped and properly by whomever would be paying him for rescuing me.   I said, “Please, will you take this.”  I held the money out to him again.  We seemed at an impasse.  “Please,” I repeated.  Then, finally, he took it.  We gave simultaneous voice to our respective thanks.  I got into my car and drove away, thinking, “Oh, joy!  This fellow redeemed an entire company.  He’s one of the good guys.”

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



Nothing / Everything Changes

I’m at One More Cup.  The yellow mug which I always favored sits a few inches from the mouse, to the right of my laptop.  I swear the music which streams from the speaker has been on a constant loop since 2014.  I’m writing an entry at the same table where I sat at the start of this journey, at the end of December 2013, just before my entire life changed.  The chairs have new covers.  A fancy couch sits against one wall.  The fundraising gumball machine has been taken away.  Otherwise, it could be yesterday.  Or tomorrow.  Or last year.

In a half hour, I’ll meet a couple of very cool ladies for drinks and dinner.  The conversation will ebb and flow.  Once in a while, my focus will fade and I’ll wonder what city it is.  But I will pull myself back; I’ll smile; I’ll take another bite and ask another question.  I’ll know the place:  DISTRICT in Waldo, a half-dozen miles or less from the home that I sold, the house which I have not been able to drive past.  I drive around it.  I admit that:  I cannot even go north on Holmes, lest  I accidentally maneuver the car too far and have to pull sharply away from the memories.

In the morning, I’ll make a trip to Clay County to continue a case, then spend a few hours in my storage unit.  I’ll visit Paula and Sheldon one more time.  I’ll have dinner with Jeanne.  Then I’ll pack everything in two suitcases, go to bed early, and rise before dawn to catch the first flight home.  The sun will greet me as I travel west.

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

Dedicated to Dawn L., with thanks.