Monthly Archives: March 2019

Taken from the car

Disabilities  tend to inspire the sort of coping mechanisms that people like to admire from afar.  I have been disabled since before that word become fashionable.   The encoding of my compensatory adjustment  dwells at the cellular level.  I need this process to keep mobile, but occasionally difficulties follow.  One hip degenerated because I learned to favor the more spastic of my legs.  My other hip, once crushed beneath the wheel of an Oldsmobile and the door  of a Gremlin, has developed a permanent twist to offset its weakness and the pull of the failed knee replacement.  It happens.  One deals.

I spent most of 2018 flying to and from Kansas City to close out guardian ad litem cases.   Between trips, I sent out resumes and drove around the Delta taking pictures with my cell phone.  Eventually, I bought a rudimentary Canon.

Able-bodied photographers climb, crawl, hike, and scramble to get shots.  I can’t do that.  My car becomes an extension of my body.  I hang from the window.  I brace myself against the fender.  I prop the camera on the door frame.  My RAV4 serves as a piece of equipment.

My photos need a lot of adjustment.   For various reasons, I’m unsuitable for this craft.  I’ve got cataracts that no one desires to chance removing.  One side lists.  My hands tremble.  Every few weeks, the weight of the camera challenges me.

But I enjoy taking pictures.  I like to study the digital images, amazed by nuances that I didn’t notice, fixtures which my blurred eyes didn’t perceive, a fluttering wing that I hadn’t realized I managed to catch.  I’ve got thousands of these photos.  Without expectation, making no excuses, and claiming no grandeur, I offer a few for your enjoyment.

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

Week’s End

In 1987, my first husband and I moved to Arkansas. Within a year, we changed from urban dwelling in Little Rock to the wilds of Newton County.  During our first weeks there, I scoured the Newton County Times to learn about the area.

I read a story that I’ve not forgotten in three decades.  In a round-up of news of the prior week, the author recounted how the local high school principal had been out in his field, stepped into a depression, and sprained his ankle.

I stepped into a depression myself this week.  I won’t try to explain why, because I couldn’t without complaining.  Take my word for it.  Events piled onto my skinny shoulders and bowed my decrepit back.  I fled into the solitude of YouTube DIY and cooking videos, too tired to read or clean my tiny house and its cluttered cupboards.  From The Sorry Girls to Worth-It, I immersed myself in the rowdy vlogs of my son’s generation, from Canada to Tokyo, from IKEA hacks to a thousand dollar cup of coffee.

I owe those people a lot.  Because of them, nothing got broken, nobody was hurt, and I made it through my four-day work week.  *Heavy Sigh*  All those chores await, but my attitude has vastly improved — not to mention, I have some new ideas for cooking eggs and decorating my four-foot kitchen.

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


Winter sky on Andrus Island.

Mary, Mary

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I never liked my first name.  

My father told a story about how I got my name that my mother never contradicted.  She had wanted to name me Mary Kathleen.  He preferred Bridget Corinne, with “Corinne” having been his grandmother’s name.  They compromised on “Bridget Kathleen”, planning to call me “Bridget Kay”.  After  completing the paperwork, my father got to writing the various permutations of the four names on a cocktail napkin at the bar where he drank.  He and his buddies decided that “Mary Corinne” looked better with “Corley”. He went to the medical records department at the hospital where I was born, and worked his Irish charm on the clerk.

Their accounts differed only in their respective  estimations of how long it took my father to tell my mother what he had done.

Throughout my childhood, kids teased me about almost every facet of my being, including my name.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” they’d snicker.

“Mary had a little lamb!!  Baaaa baaa baaaaa!” they’d sneer.   They would let up on my name only long enough to point out my freckles, my funny walk, and, later, my flat chest and fat, unfashionable braids.

I planned to change my name after my parents died.  In the meantime, I dropped the “Mary” in college when I worked for a doctor’s office in which four other staff members already claimed the name.  I started using “Corinne”, and have done so ever since.   I never got around to a formal change, and most of my siblings still call me by that awful name which I do not like.

I drove home a bit later than usual today, having stopped to get the pizzas for the Community Dinner.  Clouds hung low over the island.  A light spring rain had washed the dirt from Jackson Slough Road.  As I made the last turn before the uphill climb to Brannan Island Road, a sight greeted me which I would never have seen on my commute in Kansas City.  I stopped on the shoulderless levee road, rolled down the window, and started snapping pictures with my cell phone.  I didn’t notice a truck coming behind me, but true to the politeness of the Delta, the driver simply changed lanes and drove past me.  He didn’t even honk.  I flicked my hand in thanks, and he nodded toward the rear view mirror.

Eventually, I too continued on my way, a little lighter of mood for my brief moment of connection with the larger world.

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

There’s something wrong: A clumsy ode to joy.

Somebody recently told me that because I’d been married and divorced three times, I had been afforded adequate opportunities for happiness in my life and did not deserve any more.  The person’s words shocked me.  When I expressed my chagrin, the speaker uttered the last defense of the offensive, “I was just kidding.”  You know they’re not.  They intend every word of whatever insult they’ve levied on you.  They don’t mind hurting you, but they hate like hell getting caught looking mean-spirited.

I went about my business after getting this news.  I did laundry.  I made a poster for our next community dinner.  I engaged in pleasant conversation with my neighbors and petted a few puppies strolling past my tiny house with their humans.  All the while, the glib pronouncement of my disenfranchisement from the potential of happiness rotted in my craw.

This afternoon, Chrome wouldn’t start on my laptop.  I began to cry.  My head fell into my hands as I struggled to understand technical gibberish in a forum which I found through another browser.  Then I stopped.  I asked myself why this stupid  issue prompted me to sob.  What is wrong with you, I said, out loud, to no one.  It’s just a  computer. It’s not even the only one here.  

The conversation about happiness and my lack of entitlement to any more of it slammed back into my consciousness.  I gave myself a mental hug.  I reminded myself that the person had no control over the events of my life.  The senseless joke should not derail my cheerfulness.  I knew what the person had meant.  We’re contemporaries, but I’ve had three marriages compared to this person’s one.  I shouldn’t get another chance at romance, the person meant.  The smugness of this person’s voice echoes in my mind.

Maybe I’ll never meet anyone else.  I felt that way ten years ago.  Then I came to believe that the the tide had turned.  Later, I found myself bitterly disappointed.  Now I’m sixty-three.  I’m not in good health.  I’m not as attractive on any level as I might have been a decade ago.  It’s easy to understand why someone would prefer a younger, more able-bodied person with a better earning potential and fewer problems.  I’m broken, and I’ve been told that I’m too broken.  Nonetheless, I’d take a chance on love myself, though I understand why some would measure me and find me wanting.

I don’t think the universe distributes a finite number of tokens with which to gamble on happiness, whether in relationships or on one’s own.  Maybe I’m naive.  I harbor no illusions about my position on the Bell curve of lucky catches.  I think there’s still as much possibility for happiness as there ever was, though, and not merely because happiness dwells inside my heart, though it certainly does.  I feel the serendipity gods shine most brightly on those of us who limp as gamely through the scattered landmines as we do through a lovely garden.

I could be wrong about this.  Perhaps I just want to wipe my tears and tell myself there’s still hope, even for me.  I could be delusional.  I’ve been guilty of unwarranted optimism before now.  I’ll take that chance.  I realize that some of you will squirm in discomfort when you read this.  Few of us talk openly of the disappointing experiences we’ve had.  It’s hard to hear someone else mention those sorrows.  Others will hasten to remind me of my worth, of the need to seek happiness inside, and the value of solitude.  I don’t dismiss any of that.

But the specific conversation which I reference focused on partnered happiness, and this person’s insistence that I’d squandered my share of opportunities for successful navigation of that particular path.  I reject the notion that the universe lets you spin the wheel only a certain number of times or until a certain age.   I’m not complaining, but I reject the pronouncement that a person loses their entitlement  to lasting happiness with another person on the grounds that they haven’t yet found it.  If that were true, we’d all be doomed before we started.

And just so you know, I rebooted my laptop, and Chrome opened immediately.  I take that as a decent omen.

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



I spent five hours of this day cleaning a communal space at the park where i live.  My body protests but my spirit settles into a pleasant euphoria.  I like restoring order.

In my tiny house, the washer hums and the rain patters on the metal roof.  The light from my neighbor’s porch shines through the slight part in the curtains.  I don’t need the heat anymore in this mild climate.  But my bones ache from bending and reaching, so I’ll snuggle under the warmest blanket that I have.  I hope to sleep well.

Today I used a little bench that my father made.  The tightness of my spastic muscles inhibits any rise from the ground.  The bench keeps me high enough to leverage myself upright using whatever nearby structure will hold my weight.  My great-grandfather designed the original bench.    My father replicated the original.  He made mine forty-five years ago, when I started college and moved to my first apartment.

As I hoisted myself from the floor, moving from one shelf to another, wiping grime and vacuuming dust, I thought about my father.  By rights, I should hate him.  I think even God would understand.  He levied such torturous punishment on his wife and children.  I still carry the burden of his brutality.  The stain of his cruelty mars my soul to this day.  I envy those of my siblings who seem to have risen above it.

My brother Frank and I talked about this once.  We stood on the sidewalk in front of his south St. Louis home.  Night settled around us.  I had come to bring gifts for his daughters, carefully packed boxes of china pieces which had belonged to our mother.  In the morning, I would drive to Chicago to see my son.  Frank and I watched the stars, standing quietly in the autumn air.  After a while, he started talking about life, and taking ownership of it, finding one’s own avenue to happiness.

“It’s like this for me,” he said.  “Our father was an asshole and our brother killed himself.  And then I lived for another twenty years.  So much else happened.”

Today I carefully stowed the little bench back in its cubby when I got back home.  I like that bench.  I plan to keep using it for a long time.

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

Last fall, a visitor to my tiny house became enamored of my little bench. He took lots of pictures so he could copy it. Then he took this one just for fun.


If it’s Wednesday, this must be Isleton.

I don’t actually live in Isleton; I just technically do.  It takes me about 18 minutes to get to Isleton while I can be in Rio Vista in ten.  But Rio Vista lies over the Sacramento River in Solano County, so we folks on the Loop get Isleton as our zip code.

The days pass in less than an eye blink.  A minute ago my son and I rode BART downtown to see the city at Christmas.  Spring officially began today.  In two and a half weeks, a hundred folks will tour my house; four days later, I will fly to Tucson.  Then summer will come; and on its heels, my fifth Labor Day at Pigeon Point as I turn sixty-four.

Will you still need me?

Recently someone asked me what living in a park was like.  What could I tell her?

Go drive to a park, preferably one which sits below a river levee.  Get out of your car.  Settle a pillow and blanket under a tree.  Fall asleep to the hoot of an owl and the rustle of a shy coyote in the undergrowth.  Awaken to the sound of a thousand creatures chattering in their morning voices.  Draw in a breath full of budding willow.  Walk to the marina and watch the sea lions  cavort in the sunlight as it dances over the dock.  Lift your head to watch a thousand Sandhill Cranes rise from the field to test the air for warmth.

That’s what it’s like.  Exactly that.

I’m going outside to see if I can photograph the moon.  It’s Wednesday, the first day of spring, the twentieth day of the sixty-third month of My [Never-Ending]  Year [Trying to Learn to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Taken from Brannan Island Rd., along the San Joaquin, just west of Delta Bay Marina.


I don’t know what to think about Monday mornings.  I like the contract work that I do, and I enjoy my weekends also.  I can’t hate Monday.  I can’t hate any day that I awaken with a chance for encountering wonder.

I took myself out to breakfast today.  The shopping, cleaning, planning, and set-up which I did for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner this weekend inhibited me from getting groceries for myself.  The Highway 12 Diner served me frozen, flash-fried hash browns; scrambled eggs cooked in oil on a flat-top; and an English muffin so over-toasted that I could have used it for street hockey.  But my waitress “Deb” kept the coffee hot and the mug filled.  She greeted every other patron by name and recommended that a woman who didn’t want to pay for the Diner’s fancy coffee try the free samples at the Opening-Soon drive-through coffee place down the road. I felt all right about the experience overall.

Daylight savings time allows me to arrive home after work with a lingering, pleasant misperception that I still have a whole evening in which I might accomplish something.  But my middle-aged body doesn’t confuse as easily as my mind.  I made dinner, then found myself staring bleary-eyed at a YouTube video about home decor.  I actually enjoyed watching a BuzzFeed producer hack a wooden table four ways.  I’m not handy but if I were, I’d try at least two of them.

Is it bedtime yet?

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

Spark a damn bonfire.

I downsized 25 years of household before anyone heard of Marie Kondo’s “sparking joy”.  I get her general drift, but I say, skip the spark, let’s light a bonfire.

At the present moment, my tiny house feels a bit cluttered.  I have to undertake my annual switch-to-spring-clothes ritual soon.  I’ll use the exercise to divest myself of a few superfluous belongings.  I’ve accumulated some second-hand items to replace objects that I threw into the garage-sale-at-Miranda’s pile and later realized that I would need.  Those acquisitions must find homes.  To accommodate them, I’ll cull out anything which has proven less useful.  A balance will assert itself.

None of these items particularly spark joy.  They serve a purpose.  The possessions which elicit a smile sit on shelves and adorn my walls.  They stand behind the glass of my mother-in-law’s secretary.  I do smile when I see them.  A spark of joy? Not really — more like the warmth of a good home-made soup, the kind you remember long after the person who gave you the recipe has gone.

The bonfire burns inside me though.  Distant voices on the other end of a phone line fan the flames.  A bank agent refunds a fee that she didn’t have to give me.  My co-worker rushes to assist when the copier jams.  I call a neighbor, who unloads my car outside the community room.  The coffee shop owner remembers which size mug I prefer.

Keep the pretty blouses if you like the way they look on you. Meanwhile, here on Andrus Island, the river flows past my window.  A flock of birds rises beyond the path of the crop duster’s yellow wings.  An endless sky holds it all together.  When the sun sets, the bonfire blazes against the darkness of the night.  I might find joy, or something close enough to call it good.

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


Author’s note:  From time to time, several days lapse between entries.  As I  have confessed, these interludes represent times when the pressures, struggles, or difficulties of my life inhibit my ability to converse without complaint.  My general tendency in such times has usually been withdrawal.  I “hunker down”.  Additionally, my writing always flows whole-piece from my soul to my fingers.  When that process halts, my productivity crashes against an immovable impediment.  Eventually, all of these difficulties resolve, and my natural verbosity combined with my judicially-noticed relentlessness result in the spewing forth of prose onto the virtual page.

In the meantime, please enjoy these passages from de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince:


Oh, little prince! Bit by bit I came to understand the secrets of your sad little life… For a long time you had found your only entertainment in the quiet pleasure of looking at the sunset. I learned that new detail on the morning of the fourth day, when you said to me:

“I am very fond of sunsets. Come, let us go look at a sunset now.”

“But we must wait,” I said.

“Wait? For what?”

“For the sunset. We must wait until it is time.”

At first you seemed to be very much surprised. And then you laughed to yourself. You said to me:

“I am always thinking that I am at home!”

Just so. Everybody knows that when it is noon in the United States the sun is setting over France.

If you could fly to France in one minute, you could go straight into the sunset, right from noon. Unfortunately, France is too far away for that. But on your tiny planet, my little prince, all you need do is move your chair a few steps. You can see the day end and the twilight falling whenever you like…

“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

And a little later you added:

“You know–one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…”

“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”

But the little prince made no reply.

On the fifth day–again, as always, it was thanks to the sheep–the secret of the little prince’s life was revealed to me. Abruptly, without anything to lead up to it, and as if the question had been born of long and silent meditation on his problem, he demanded:

“A sheep–if it eats little bushes, does it eat flowers, too?”

“A sheep,” I answered, “eats anything it finds in its reach.”

“Even flowers that have thorns?”

“Yes, even flowers that have thorns.”

“Then the thorns–what use are they?”

I did not know. At that moment I was very busy trying to unscrew a bolt that had got stuck in my engine. I was very much worried, for it was becoming clear to me that the breakdown of my plane was extremely serious. And I had so little drinking-water left that I had to fear for the worst.

“The thorns–what use are they?”

The little prince never let go of a question, once he had asked it. As for me, I was upset over that bolt. And I answered with the first thing that came into my head:

“The thorns are of no use at all. Flowers have thorns just for spite!”


There was a moment of complete silence. Then the little prince flashed back at me, with a kind of resentfulness:

“I don’t believe you! Flowers are weak creatures. They are naive. They reassure themselves as best they can. They believe that their thorns are terrible weapons…”

I did not answer. At that instant I was saying to myself: “If this bolt still won’t turn, I am going to knock it out with the hammer.” Again the little prince disturbed my thoughts:

“And you actually believe that the flowers–”

“Oh, no!” I cried. “No, no, no! I don’t believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don’t you see–I am very busy with matters of consequence!”

He stared at me, thunderstruck.

“Matters of consequence!”

He looked at me there, with my hammer in my hand, my fingers black with engine-grease, bending down over an object which seemed to him extremely ugly…

“You talk just like the grown-ups!”

That made me a little ashamed. But he went on, relentlessly:

“You mix everything up together… You confuse everything…”

He was really very angry. He tossed his golden curls in the breeze.

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man–he is a mushroom!”

“A what?”

“A mushroom!”

The little prince was now white with rage.

“The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman’s sums? And if I know–I, myself–one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing–Oh! You think that is not important!”

His face turned from white to red as he continued:

“If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened… And you think that is not important!”

He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.

The night had fallen. I had let my tools drop from my hands. Of what moment now was my hammer, my bolt, or thirst, or death? On one star, one planet, my planet, the Earth, there was a little prince to be comforted. I took him in my arms, and rocked him. I said to him:

“The flower that you love is not in danger. I will draw you a muzzle for your sheep. I will draw you a railing to put around your flower. I will–”

I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more.

It is such a secret place, the land of tears.


Spring Forward

Every so often, I get a notion to try to change the clock in my car.  I currently drive a 2012 Toyota RAV4, which I’m told that I mispronounce but which I enjoy.  It has two clocks, one in the dash and one in the after-market stereo/radio.

I sat in the car this afternoon gazing at the digits.  For months, one clock has been an hour too early, and one has been an hour too late.  Now, one showed the current time and the other showed two hours ago. Within a few minutes, I had them both close to correct.

I continued to sit as the air grew cool around me.  Funny things, clocks.  They have no agenda other than informing you of the point which you’ve reached in your day.  We never glance at one until we’re certain that we missed an appointment.  Then we scold or salute ourselves, as appropriate.

My mother used to tell me that I had been born on time.  I arrived on my due date and just about the hour that the doctor had expected, given his knowledge of my mother’s five prior deliveries.  Labor Day, 1955.  September 5th.  Monday.  My whole life, I’ve told people that I was born on 09/5/55 at 9:05 p.m. and that my father celebrated with a six pack of 9-0-5 beer — a St. Louis chain which had a store within staggering distance of our house.  The pressure of timeliness weighs on me at times.  I’ve felt a day late and a dollar short for years.

I finally broke my gaze from the flashing lights on the dash and hit “menu” to accept my entries.  I’ve just started using my workhorse laptop from my old office because of its bigger screen.  It’s still set to Central Time.  I went inside to get my life in sync, as the sun slowly sank in the western horizon, and the shadows began to stretch across the meadow.

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