Monthly Archives: June 2018

Finding Center

I’m not going to complain but I truly needed this trip to the ocean.  Those who know me well enough to get the early morning e-mails can attest to my state of mind upon arrival.  My spirit becomes increasingly still as I sit in front of the open window listening to the sound of the sea gently washing over the shore.

Best, I think, not to recite or dwell on the situations which confound me.  Instead, let me give you a little taste of what I see here.  You’l recognize some of these if you frequent Facebook.  If not, or even if you do, I hope they bring you in flat, one-dimensional form some fraction of the pleasure that being here evokes.  Perhaps these images will aid you in finding your center as the living vistas have done for me, if only for the time which I spend regarding them.

Please enjoy.

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

My peace

Have I any unique words to describe the sense of peace which I feel as I descend the coast on the Cabrillo HIghway?  The ocean sits now to my right, now in front of me as I journey south from the city.  I pay no heed to the signs alerting me to the monitoring radar.  My foot sinks the pedal lower.

I pass Pacifica, Montara, Half Moon Bay.  I run out of towns and start to count state beaches:  Gregorio, Pomponio, Bean Hollow.  A white van cuts over to the Pescadero turn-off and I slow, briefly, resuming speed as I crest the hill.  I move into the slow lane in anticipation of what I know will soon rise from the shimmering sea.  I flinch only slightly as a Subaru whips past.

My breathing quickens; the water spreads to fully west now, and the road no longer turns.  I spare a glance for the 84 junction.  My first shocked sight of this horizon came at this intersection, three years ago last March after a grueling ride from La Honda.  Traffic stalled for an hour behind an accident which claimed at least one life.  A state trooper walked the length of cars backed clear down the mountain, asking for our patience and our prayers.  When my turn came, I drove around the debris as slow as humanly possible, crossing  myself to a God whom I had long since assumed to have forsaken me.

I shake those images from my mind and tense my hand on the steering wheel.   Then I see it: the lighthouse, towering against the misty sky.  And always, ever, its vastness suggesting infinity, the sea crashing against the unprotected shore.  I see the Subaru has beaten me to this place and sits on the roadway.  I understand the driver’s impatience but think, with a brief smile, that he might not understand the enduring magic of my Pacific.

Once I have taken possession of my passkey, sheets, and towel, I lead the good Michael and a random helpful guest to my car.  I have yet to come here that Michael didn’t help me; that a stray man or woman didn’t offer their assistance.  I do not like to say that I expect it, but I admit that I experience no surprise.  The universe welcomes me; what right have I to question its provisions?

I dump my belongings in Room 3, moving the reserved sign to the bed by the window.  Then I find myself, as I always find myself, raising my feeble lens to capture the first look.  The sun shines full on my face.  I know that this picture will be blurred.  I don’t care.  The first look, like the first pull of cold soda from a newly opened bottle, must have its due.  And I must have the nourishment which comes in that first moment when I stand on the edge of the world, shaking the city dust from my shoes, receiving the kiss of salty air.

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

My first look at the Pacific on arrival at HI Pigeon Point, Pescadero, California, 14 June 2018.

“Once, by the Pacific”

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last “Put out the light” was spoken.

The temporary nature of life

Standing behind Paul and Macrina’s RV talking about the temporary nature of life, it struck me that no day has been as perfect as today.

I upset a friend; but he forgave me.

I stubbed my toe and stumbled into a counter in a store; but the clerk caught me.

I woke in pain; but the coffee tasted silky and smooth, sitting in the rocker on my porch with the dawn breaking on the other side of my house and a playful breeze dancing over the trees.

When I taught English to GED students forty-five years ago, they struggled to understand present perfect tense.  I realize, a lifetime later, that I should have taken them outside to gaze over the brick building at the stars above downtown St. Louis.  Imagine yourself as a child, in the innocence of an earlier day, gazing at the same stars, I could have told them.  Feel the serenity of this moment, and carry it with you forever.  Present perfect.

I left one world, and came into this one.  Nothing sweeter than this moment exists for me.  Any goodness that comes to me tomorrow will have its own purity.

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

Many Happy Returns of The Day to Chuckie Al. With Love.

Feeling fine in the heat of summer

My friend Pat has gone back to the desert.  She shivered for the entire week of her visit, though she did so with humor and good grace.  The heat has taken over the Delta now, which means 90 during the day and 60 at night with average humidity.  I don’t mind.

I feel a little dampness in those places where humans sweat.  My joints swell. I have to ease back on the delicious pink Himalayan salt and drink more water.   No worries, I can handle it.  To paraphrase Judge Leonard J. Hughes, Jr., I awakened this morning which is more than a lot of people can say.  So let’s get the show started.

The scant hour drive from Oakland back to Park Delta Bay felt like floating today.  After a delightful visit in the home of Nancy and Jim Carriere, the urge to return to my nest kept my foot on the gas at a steady pace.  As I handed my five dollars to the toll lady on the far side of the Antioch Bridge, a huge grin spread across my face.  She returned it, with just a little bit of puzzlement obvious in the tightening of her brow.  Have a great day, I urged, tucking my change into the arm rest.  She nodded. I started over the bridge and descended into the Delta.

Home.  No one and nothing waits for me but a sense of peace and a summer breeze. Nonetheless, I pull into the parking space of Angel’s Haven still wearing the goofy expression of a happy girl.  I haven’t solved my problems, but I’m feeling hopeful.  It could happen. The keenness in my heart could slash through the muddle in my brain.  Light could pierce the shroud which surrounds my soul.  I stand on  my porch as the sun sets over the park and tell myself, Anything can happen.

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


I Take My Inspiration Where I Find It

The radio blares a commentary on pain as I start a new routine.  I’ve gotten soft around the belly and my knees no longer hold my weight.  I recognize that I’m not fat; but the extra pounds spell certain doom for me.  If I break a hip or tumble in front of a fast-moving truck on Brannan Island Road, my dream of going off-grid will become a lost memory in the minds of my mourners. So I start over, and I take my inspiration where I find it.

I disdain the 7-minute work-out, the miracle of “Life Tang”, and the plethora of before-and-after pictures of seventy-year-old models.  I stand and begin the bend-and-stretch that starts my gentle push towards whatever semblance of healthy I can muster.  I click off KQED Live and focus on my breathing as I reach towards the eleven-foot ceiling.

Through the railing, in the space over the unmade daybed, a face winks at me.  I should have known.  Your Friend And Mine, Stevie Pat.  It’s twenty-one years since Vickie McKeever crested a hill on the isolated stretch of property and saw my brother’s car parked in a clearing.  Twenty-one years since she brought her mother to harvest columbine and instead instructed her to stay in the car while Vickie picked her way through the forest and found my brother’s body where it had, no doubt, been leaning for a week.  The woods had reclaimed him.  I can only imagine Vickie’s anguish.

I push my body outward, then down.  I lift my head far enough to meet my brother’s eyes.  We do not know his exact day of death.  We know when someone last saw or heard from him:  Sunday, 08 June 1997.  We know when Vickie found him: Saturday, 14 June 1997.  We know that he had been dead for about a week.

Twenty-one years ago my baby brother ended his pain with a gun’s sure blast and left the rest of us to figure out how to deal with the loss of him.

My arms ache, my neck creaks, my legs shiver but I keep moving.  All the while, Steve gazes over this small space, the house which now holds more than enough, enough that I already feel compelled to edit.  The space on the floor in which I push myself to the point of panting still allows me to spread the yoga mat and do my thing.  I’ve got to get moving.  My friend Pat Reynolds and I will head north soon, towards Novato and lunch with Sharon Alberts and her daughter Ellen Cox.

The sun streams bright through my ten windows. A  healing breeze wafts through one of those windows.  I breathe in, out, and lift my hands. I shake my wrists.  I lunge.  I feel the delicious glow of life crackling along my demylenated nerves.  On many days, the pain of this routine would overwhelm me.  Today I push aside all thought of that pain and keep moving.

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


You should be able to see Steve’s high school graduation picture on the wall of my writing loft to the right of a patch of light, just below and slightly to the left of the center of this photograph.


WE ARE SEVEN, by William Wordsworth

FOR STEPHEN PATRICK CORLEY, whom neither time nor I have forgotten.



Another Saturday

This Saturday, I will be enthusiastic.

This Saturday, I will be kind.

This Saturdays, I will be hopeful.

This Saturday, I will embrace ideas which elevate my spirit.

This Saturday, I will rest when I am tired.

This Saturday, I will let positive thoughts come to the foreground and usher negative thoughts to the background.

This Saturday, I will turn away from any who would be ugly and toward any who would be lovely and loving.

This Saturday, I will listen to positive commentary about myself and reject negative commentary about myself, even in my own mind.

This Saturday,  I will see beauty in all people, all places, all of my surroundings.

This Saturday, I will be the best version of myself that I can muster.

This Saturday, I will invite myself to believe that I am worthy.

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


Another Day When Suicide Was Not My Answer

Two suicides this week (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain) prompt me to think about all the days when suicide was not my answer.  I do not fault those who choose suicide, even though the anguish which they leave behind weighs as greatly on survivors as the despair which led them to take their life.   I will not judge them by what they cause others.  I seek only to understand what prompted them to choose escape.

I’ve had several conversations about suicide which inform me, two of which I will recount here.  A third must remain confidential because I honor the still-living person with whom that conversation took place.

The first conversation occurred in 1997.  My brother Stephen had tried to kill himself the previous year.  He had taken an overdose. He sank into a deep sleep.  By coincidence, he had a common cold.  Once his body began to die, the virus attacked his kidney which then failed.  He became toxic and his legs swelled.  He awakened in this debilitated state, and called 9-1-1.  He lived, though his body had permanent damage as a result.

Months later, at a family gathering in a restaurant in St. Louis, I said to him, “What  I don’t understand is calling 9-1-1.  You try to kill yourself, then call for help?”

He looked over his shoulder at me as he hunched by the bar.  Then he lit a cigarette, took another pull of his drink, and replied.

“I took those pills to end the pain, not make it worse,” he said, in a voice still as death itself.

A few months later, he used a gun to try again.  He succeeded.

In 2014, my life careened so far out of kilter that I decided to kill myself.  I’ve never felt good about myself and still don’t.  By November of that year, I reached the point at which I could not see any chance of salvation on this earth, in this body, within the situations that had congealed around me.  I won’t describe them, because I don’t think I could do so without seeming to blame other people for my choices.  Accept that I had suffered a series of losses between October of 2013 and November of 2014 which I could not reconcile with continued existence.

I sat in the parking lot of a public library, sobbing, pounding on the steering wheel of my car.  I fumbled for my phone, called a few people for comfort, and talked to their voice mail boxes.  That told me all I needed to know in that moment to reinforce my despair.  My friends had lives.  I did not.  I had lost people whom I loved.  I had tried and failed to make a new life for myself in the aftermath of those losses.  I decided that a fitting end, the only viable end, was death at my own hand.

My phone, my guardian angel, the Universe, and, I suppose, the Divine Entity whatever he/she/it might be, conspired to intervene.  The phone served as instrument and redialed Paula Kenyon-Vogt.  She heard my sobbed lament. I no longer recall whether I actually responded to her or she heard my raging in the confines of that small space.  But she understood my state.

She called her husband, Sheldon Vogt.  He found me.  He took me to get food and we sat over dinner at which I barely picked.  Tears streamed from my eyes. Snot rolled out of my nose and gathered on my mouth.  I paid no heed to my pathetic appearance.

I don’t remember what Sheldon actually said.  But sound of  his voice as he articulated reassurances of their love has never left me.  Paula and Sheldon acted together to save my life.  Their support has been among the powerful truths which have sustained me.

I do not like myself.  I acknowledge that.  I recognize some of my virtues — I can write; I care about others; I can be kind; I can be helpful.  My list of failures grows daily.  My biggest faults loom dark and heavy over me.  I rarely learn from the clumsy choices which I make.  Over and over, I fall into the same traps.

But I can tell you this:

What stands between me and self-inflicted death each and every day is the knowledge that  I am loved by others.  Nothing else.  I understand that if  I loved myself, the gap would widen.  I’m working on it.

Every day when I walk outside my house, into a store, down a street, across the paths of others, I tell myself that any one of them might face the same short span between life and death that I have seen.  My brother stepped across the path.  I did not.  I know how close one can come to taking that last, irrevocable leap.  I remember that moment for me. I remember my brother’s look that day when  I questioned him, a silent statement that  I did not, and could not, understand his grief.

Every day on this earth provides me with another chance to save someone else’s life, to find them in a parking lot and lead them away from the final anguished act.  I might have little for which to live, but the chance that I could do for someone else what Sheldon and Paula did for me seems to be enough to keep me going.  At the same time, the memory of my brother opens my eyes to the silent, hidden desperation that any of us might feel, on any given day.  In his memory, I watch for the rise of that despair in others, and for my chance to pay forward the saving grace which sustains me.

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



12/25/1959 – 06/–/1997




Little nuggets of gold

It’s hard to understand why I feel hopeful today.

I remain unemployed.  My budget for job-free living has dissipated.  I cancelled my appointment for a physical therapy eval at Stanford for various passably coherent reasons but remain concerned about the extra wobble in my walk.  My march towards old age continues with no fountain of youth in sight.

Yet I found myself awake before dawn making lists not of my failures but of my blessings.

Yesterday’s mail brought a heart-wrenching thank-you card from my sister Joyce.

My dear friend Pat and her little Yorkie traveled from Arizona to visit me.  We’ve been tooling around the Delta with a background soundtrack of her sassy attitude toward life, the deliciousness of which I had forgotten.

A gentle breeze drifts through the open window even now.  What passes for heat here on the river would seem like sweet spring in the Midwest.

Knock wood, but I seem to be sleeping soundly with a new mattress and pillow.  When you suffer from neurological sleep disruptions, the refreshment of continual unconsciousness cannot be underplayed.

My son called with an intriguing report about a town hall meeting addressing oversight of the Chicago police which he attended. His social activism gratifies me and gives some slight inkling f redemption for the nation.  His generation might just save us; or at least, slow our ruination.

My blessings might seem trivial to most people.  But they delight me.  I’ll take them, each and every last one.  And others, just as small.  I don’t need the pot of gold; I’ll take the rainbow.

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



A good day

If two good deeds makes a good day, then today counts.  But my stomach has been knotted all evening with the vague heavy kind of grief which slugs a body into a chair and pins it down.  I tried to slide my mood back onto happy.  The lever stuck.

I finished a book that I’d been reading though I had to skip a few chapters.  I scrolled through email long enough to see that most of it could just be deleted.  Those which sought a response can wait.  I’ve run out of words to get around the sticking keys; and the clanging sound which my bracelets make against the table annoys me tonight.

I noticed recently that the internal litany of my failures has finally subsided but in tense moments, I can still render a perfect recitation of the many ways in which I’ve disappointed people.   Broken promises, broken dreams, broken glass in shards under feet.  I shake off the memories.  It’s a good day, I tell myself.  I walk around the house muttering this over and over.

Then  I remember something:

Once I stepped into a room straightening my dress in front of a man waiting to take me to a party.  From his place in my little boudoir chair he asked, Is that what you’re wearing?

I froze.  Well, it’s what I thought I would wear, I admitted.

Do you have anything else in your closet, he said.  I looked into the depths and replied, yes, but it all pretty much looks like this.

I guess it will be all right, he sighed.

I’m still reeling, years later.  But I’ve reached the point at which I’m no longer certain which stunned me more: his callousness or my own willingness to accept it.

When I moved to California, I downsized from twenty feet of hanging clothes to twenty-one inches.  Even ten pounds overweight, I feel beautiful in every last article hanging in that tiny space.

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

Love in a Cool, Dry Climate

Five people approached me as  I worked or read outside my home yesterday.  Four of them wanted to see my tiny house.  The fifth was the owner of the park in which I live, Park Delta Bay.

The visitors came in two groups.  Three men slowly drove down G-Row as I contemplated a large package which  I did not think that I could carry into the house.  I had gone over to my neighbor’s place to ask for help but found no one at home.

I thought I recognized the car and gave a little wave before realizing my error.  They took this as an indication of welcome and called out, asking if I lived in the park.  A few minutes later they had pulled into a space at my invitation. One of them hoisted the package onto my porch.  Another chortled, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to see one of these for a long time!”  I gestured to the open door and he slid into Angel’s Haven while I stood on the porch answering questions.

A few hours later, a young man from Japan bowed slightly, a nod really, a gesture, and asked if I could spare a moment.  He clasped my offered hand.  He nearly refused the chair into which I indicated he should sit, but finally did.  He told me about his start-up which makes water filtration systems for emergency use.  They want to start marketing the systems to furnish RVs and tiny houses.  He’d flown to the U.S. to look for business.  His mild manner and wide smile charmed me.

Later, closer to evening, the owner of the park stopped on one of his circuits around the 1/4 mile loop on which we live.  He spoke of TinyFest California and my offer to help at the builder’s booth which he will be staffing.  Pausing again on his second circuit, he mentioned that my propane tank seemed a little precarious.  We walked around to look at it.  Before he left, we talked about evaporative coolers.  My research suggests that they work in the Central Valley climate which is cool and dry, with a few hot weeks.  He seemed skeptical.  We debated this for a few minutes, and then stood examining my house jacks.  He recommended adding a couple and setting them on larger pavers for more stability.  More jacks would also solve the slight sway of the house, barely detectable but disconcerting.

Alone in my writing loft a little while later, I scrolled through Facebook, looking for news of my friends and the Saturday evening concerts in Kansas City.  I stopped on an image of a musician whom I know; a man who’s maybe in his late 30s.  He’s a stocky guy, short, intense, with piercing eyes.  I clicked the play button and watched a full minute of the man urging his friends and family — “the ones whom I love” — not to hit him.  “I know I say some weird shit,” he tells them. “But don’t fucking hit me!  Don’t smack my shoulder, don’t slap my back, don’t thump me on the back of my head!  I don’t like it!”  He never laughed, not once.  His mouth set in a grim line as the video ended.

I watched it through twice, then a third time, stunned by its starkness.  I wanted to respond.  I typed a few words, deleted them, starting again.  After several tries, what I had written seemed an acceptable mix of empathy and validation.  I hit the return key and posted my remarks.  A few seconds later, the little heart icon lit with his name beside it.  I let myself exhale.

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