Monthly Archives: May 2019

The One Thing About Me

Three or four reporters have interviewed me since I started living in a tiny house on wheels.

The first two focused on my disability in their final product, which I consider the least important thing about me.  I saw the film clips after release.  My stomach fell through the floor and onto the hard ground beneath the trailer on which my house stands.

The third writer published a print piece which I have not yet had the courage to read.  I skimmed the portion which describes the interview with me.  He incorrectly identifies me as retired and attributes a rather heady quote to me that I never said.  I stopped reading.  I briefly considered calling the woman for whom I work and giving her a forwarding address.  Being retired, you know.  If he also mentioned my disability, I didn’t see it in the few seconds that I spent on the paragraphs following my name.  But I would not be shocked since he mentioned it several times in our conversation.

I spent the last month trying to find shoes which I could wear without falling off of my feet.  This quest became a topic of lunch time conversation along with consuming many hours of internet surfing.  I had purchased two pairs of the same brand and style four years ago.  Holes having appeared on the toes of one and the sad wear pattern of the pronater on the soles of both, I finally accepted that I could not continue wearing them.

I ordered a pair of shoes from Amazon of a kind and size with which I’ve previously had success.  They squeezed my toes.  Given that my toes already have severe spasticity, narrow shoes tend to raise them skyward and send me toppling.  The second pair didn’t fit because I sized up.  I sized down for the third pair, and they fit but the buckle fell off as soon as I removed them from the box.  

I went back to wearing the least decrepit of the two old pair, and surfing shoes stores on the net.  I learned that I could get quality, Made in England Doc Martens (one of two brands in which I can actually walk) if I want boots or men’s styles and sizes.  I found two styles of Dansko’s at the one shoe store in Lodi, but neither had buckles and neither came in my size.  I can’t wear slip-ons and my spastic gait pops Velcro open.

Finally:  I found two pairs “new without box” on eBay, one exactly like the old reliables and one Made In England original Doc Martens.  Oh joy, under $70 for the two pair, and I am shod again.

We gimpy types face this dilemma all the time.  What shoes exist which we can wear?  Sturdy, long-lasting, reasonably priced.  God forbid that they should also be decent-looking.

Just once, I’d like to walk into a department store and buy the prettiest pair of insubstantial heels on the rack, and sashay out of there with my head held high, swinging my arms to and fro.  I’d like to wear cute little sandals with thin straps and delicate ties around my ankles.  I’d like to don flip-flops and slap my way to the grocery store.  But I can’t, because — gesturing — I’m disabled.

Because of that one fact and all the associated difficulties, saying the word fixes my identity in place.  It becomes the only quality which anybody remembers.  This could be why I developed a warped sense of humor or a slightly acid tongue.  Maybe it explains my cultivation of wild curly hair and buttons which say things like I’m Only Working Here Until I Become A Rock Star.  I obsess over the limits which my condition places on me, but I’d really rather you all think about something else, like my witty repartee or my kind-hearted tendencies.

Tonight I heard a story about a new podcast created by a woman who is Muslim.  She says that one thing seems to be the beginning and end of what people know about her.  She never gets beyond it.  I feel that way about my disability.  I just want, some day, to have someone look at me with a puzzled expression and say, I never noticed.

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


What It Is

Today  I hammered out five scalding pages to protect someone about whom I care and whose security and safety matter to me.  I hadn’t realized that having this person under attack would rile me quite as much as it did.  

After I refined my missive, I sat contemplating the instincts which cause us to encircle our family and friends with an ironclad  protective shield.  Complaint doesn’t even enter into it.  My claws raise.  I vigorously tackle the situation.  My relentlessness accelerates.  My focus sharpens.

I don’t protect myself half as well.  I sacrifice to save someone else but rarely for my own benefit.  My nature compels me to offer harbor regardless of personal considerations.  I can devise a hundred ways to save someone else, and yet I let myself flounder. 

I don’t even get angry at the person who fails or betrays me.  I immediately begin to list the reasons which justify their actions.  I failed them; I’m not worth their effort; their needs matter more than mine.  It’s my fault.  It’s understandable.  They did their best.

I’m not sure what all this means.  These thoughts fall like Lego pieces scattered across the table.  I’m trying to make sense of the jumble.  I turn them around, press them together, stack them in piles.  A pattern emerges but i don’t yet know what form it takes.  I jockey them around until they fall in place, straining to discern the emerging contours.  

What it is. . . I do not yet know.

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


Of Guardians and Hearts

I’ve been walking troubled paths of late, trying to understand humanity.  

I’ve written this entry three times, and deleted it three times.  On my fourth attempt, I’d like to distill it to the essence and avoid the specifics.  No good can come of recounting the incidents which give rise to this contemplation.

I’m thinking about carelessness, the state by which you swing your metaphorical arms and knock your mother’s vase to the floor.  I never meant. . . you stutter, but what you meant and didn’t mean has little relevance.  Your mother lifts the pieces from the tile.  She runs a finger over one jagged edge.  You gasp at the thin line of blood which appears on her skin.  She turns away.  Hours later, she mentions that she’s forgiven you.  In the meantime, you’ve died a thousand deaths.

The slipper settles on the other foot.  Your mother strives to be magnanimous.  She rushes to assure forgiveness, later sobbing in the quiet of her room.  Her own mother, long dead, gave her the vase.  She remembers her mother saying, This came so far with me.  Take care of it.  She intended that it would be yours one day.  She loves you; this piece of pottery means so much less to her than you do.  But still.

Once upon a terrible time, I sobbed into a telephone, desperate, anguished.  Came the weary voice at the other end:  I’ve been a poor guardian of your heart.  The admission stunned me.  It sounded like a feeble understatement and yet — achingly true.

The troubled path on which I walk bears the debris of many other broken hearts, discarded by other careless guardians.  I hastily skirt around the mess, afraid to look, terrified of what my lingering gaze would reveal.  But then, I fall back and study the scattered ruination.  I can learn from this.  I take my time.

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



To Every Mother’s Son

My son prefers not to be discussed in my blog.  Once or twice each year, I beg his forgiveness or, in the least, his indulgence.  Today, I pray for both.

I reached a point in my mid-30’s at which I did not expect the joy of motherhood.  Several miscarriages, some early, some heartbreakingly later in gestation, had dashed my hope.  What remained can only be described as a yearning which I recognized as desperation.

Of my son’s father, I rarely speak.  We met in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a year after my divorce from my first husband.  My life had settled into a routine which I expected would last for years.  I had purchased my first house.  The job for which I had moved to Fayetteville still provided a strong sense of purpose.  Then friends invited me for a jazz bar crawl, intentionally failing to tell me that they also conspired to introduce me to a certain bass player with strong shoulders and dreamy eyes.

Two months later, my own eyes beheld themselves in a mirror over the distinctive plus sign on an EPT.  Yet another sixty days from that critical juncture, the musician departed from  my life and I faced single motherhood at thirty-five.

I could not have been more happy.  Oh, I would have preferred the Cinderalla story.  Certainly, I wished my son could have grown to adulthood with his birthfather to provide insight at every critical second.  But for the sheer, isolated contemplation of finally becoming a mother, I felt a profound gratitude.

I could tarry for countless paragraphs describing every poignant moment of my son’s childhood.  The little gifts he made; the funny faces; the tender talks; I have a treasure chest filled with such cherished memories.  My walls hold his digital art.  My make-shift keeping shelf bears a little red heart in a tiny clay pot.  On the back of the heart, he wrote, I hope you like the gift that I could give you.  His name appears on the front in that achingly sweet glue-and-glitter penmanship that every mother knows.

I see him now:  Feet dangling over the edge of the loft as he plays the banjo which I gave him for Christmas, my first year in the tiny house.  His riotous grin flashes from a photo on the bookshelf.  Little pinch-pots nestle in a box beneath the wood of my underbed storage.  To my right, his seven-year-old smile gleams in a frame above a list of adjectives using the letters of his name:  Patient, Adventurous, Talented, Remarkable, Intelligent, Casual, Kind.


If his first name had an “H”, he most certainly could have identified himself as “humble”.  I feel quite sure that he resisted the exercise.  Even as a child, he eschewed anything resembling a boast.  But each of those words describe the son whose existence melds the very best of the village which raised him.

 In a sweet scene in one of my favorite movies, a father goes to visit his two daughters just before leaving town after his divorce.  To the oldest, his stepdaughter, he says, “I’m sorry for all the kinds of daddy that I was or wasn’t ever since I met you.”  I find myself longing to convey a similar message to my son.  I can identify each mistake that I made along the way.  I can trace the scars which my failure left beneath the surface of my son’s psyche.  I’ve hated myself for the harm which I caused him through inexperience, ignorance, and ignobility.

But the strength with which he continues onward encourages me.  I learn from his victories.  I greedily drink at the fountain of his wisdom.  The humility with which he approaches life inspires me.

I have served in many capacities in my life, some by design, many by happenstance.  The role of “Patrick Corley’s mother” has rewarded me as no other.  Once again, even as the bittersweet vision of my own mother’s dear face rises in a swathe of sentiment, I find myself acknowledging that whatever life took from me, it returned a thousand fold in the person of my son.

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

To Mother, who has gone home.

My mother would like the California Delta.  She didn’t learn to drive until her early 40’s.  Once she did, she dragged whatever kids she could to every junk store, country cafe, and cemetery she could reach with a half tank of gas.  At the time, I didn’t understand what compelled her.  I later realized that she must have yearned for escape from my father’s unrelenting violence and the terror of raising eight kids on less than nothing.

I see her in the sunset over the San Joaquin and the arc of the hawk’s flight over the fields behind our park.  I hear her voice in the rush of the evening wind and the call of the owl as dusk settles.  In the last few months of her cancer, my mother insisted that she just wanted to go home.   I have to believe that she made it.  She deserved the peace.  But for her, paradise would not be a stale and sterile berth among the clouds.  She found  peace in her garden and on the long walks which she took with the dog instead of going to church on warm Sunday mornings.

I miss my mother.  A few weeks ago, I found myself trying to dial her phone number.  I got the sequence entered before I shook my head, tears beginning to spill down my cheeks.  She died too young.  So many sunsets, so many springs, so many grandchildren whom she never saw.  It did not seem fair then, and now, in the gloom of the moonless night, I rage against the rank injustice.

I have my mother’s hair, and her slender shoulders, and her stubbornness.  That tenacity brought me to late middle age, something she never attained.  I miss my mother.  I had the glory of her for less than thirty years.  She died two weeks before my thirtieth birthday, and less than three weeks before she would have turned fifty-nine.  The other day, a health care provider taking my medical history asked me of what my mother had died, so young. 

“Metastatic uterine cancer and medical malpractice,” I replied.  She stopped writing and raised her head to meet my eyes.  She said softly, “I’m sorry,” and we sat in silence for a few minutes.

I am sorry too, I whispered, and I’ve never meant anything so much.

If you — you, reading this — if you still have your mother, please hold her extra-close this Mother’s Day.  Tell her that you are grateful for everything she’s done.  Find out what she wants from you for this one precious day of an otherwise selfless year.  Then do as she asks.  Some of us will never again have the luxury of taking our mothers for granted.

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



What do I say to this woman
sitting across from me
over a society lunch?

What do I saw to she
who changed my diapers
who coaxed me through
a preadolescent limp
and post-pubescent cramps?

How do I treat someone
who learned to drive at forty
fought the maybe-giants
and organized picnics
when she wasn’t at work
or scrubbing floors
or despairing?

There are no words for one
who is too familiar
with emergency rooms

So I sit choking on idle conversation
about the silver market and over-sprouted beans
neither of which I understand.
If I appear tense
it is because I also choke
on unexpressed devotion
and overwhelming sorrow.

c. Corinne Corley, 05 April 1980 – 2019



It is morning. Around me a dim room.
My cousin’s house. Last night
and the night before, we talked too late.
Last night we picked scriptures.
We laughed over my story
of my sisters and I choosing your
casket, which, you’ll be happy to know,
comes with a warranty. But no vault, so
to dust ye shall return. I sleep
on a sofa. It is 7:00 a.m. and I
am afraid. In Kansas City, my
soon-to-be-ex lover is just
finishing his workday. I dreamed of
your death, and now lay panting,
thinking of your stretched skin, your
cold hand. Beads of sweat rise
across my forehead. We have
all known it will be today
because Sunday you said: I am
waiting for them to come, and the last
of your children arrived only hours ago.
And then it is 7:30 and the phone rings
and my sister says, Mary, it’s time to
come home, and I know, and the
sun rises but you are gone and
do not see.

c. Corinne Corley 21 August 1985 – 2019.



09/10/26 – 08/21/1985


From left:
Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley; Johanna Ulz Lyons; myself; my brother Frank; my brother Stephen Patrick.

Evening: Andrus Island

I saw a bird fly sideways as I turned northward into the park.  I don’t know what kind of bird.  It did not so much fight the wind as borrow its energy, rising, lifting, banking just before the roof of the Marina.  

Nancy who lives in the Popeye houseboat trudged up the hill. I hit the automatic window and called to her.  We exchanged a few words before she turned to cross the road.  As I drove past the kiosk, I waved to the girls playing a make-shift game of tennis under the big tent.  I heard one of them call my name.

The wind carried me as far as it had carried that bird, halfway around the meadow.  I parked and let the engine settle.  Overhead, soft clouds borne on that same glorious air crossed the tenderness of the afternoon sky.

Later, I sat eating leftovers augmented with the last of the Portabella mushroom sauteed in rich butter.  I spare myself the anguish of eating one-hundred percent plant-based.  Butter and eggs; all that stands between me and the more noble vegans.  If foregoing either of those would assure my place in heaven, I’d take my chances.

Now the wind which propelled the bird, the clouds, and the rug on my front porch buffets the house as I sit and write.  The Delta wind calls itself a character in this lively play, the third act of my adventure .  I wait for the lilt of its steady voice, reciting the next line, my cue to enter, stage left.

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



Evening: New York — By Sara Teasdale

Blue dust of evening over my city,
Over the ocean of roofs and the tall towers
Where the window-lights, myriads and myriads,
Bloom from the walls like climbing flowers.


A dear friend, a sister, recently wrote that she intended to emulate me by striving to go “a year without complaining”.  She also recently traveled for the first time to Ghana, the nation of her origins, where she got engaged to the man of her dreams and became a vegetarian.  Power to her.  Rock on, Lyne’t.  

As for her alleged role model, myself, I still strive to actually live without uttering a word of complaint or mincing my face into a little moue as I turn from a transgressor.  My center gradually shifted from a constant state of discontent to a sort of calm in which the truly offensive sharply contrasts with the merely intolerable.  I constrain  myself.  Only those sins which threaten to cause permanent damage receive the Corley stare and the unrelenting onslaught of terse phone calls.  Of course, I also continue to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves, a subcategory of complaint which I will never forswear..  

I walk through most of my days in a kind of happy stupor.  I see what happens around me, but the door opens only for the  joyful or for shocking horrors.  One must bludgeon  me with grief before I rouse myself to anger.  Deny my health benefits, hurt a child, start a war?  I’m on it.  Cut in front of me at the run-off to the Rio Vista bridge?  Go right ahead, son, I yield the extra minute which you’ll gain by your clever rudeness.

Early in this journey, the one and only Puma, Joyce Kramer, ventured to chastise me for trying to forego all complaint.  She cautioned, along with several others, that I would find myself torn between the mission of this blog and the natural tendency of the advocate to combat injustice.  She demonstrated prescience.  I tip my sunhat in her south-easterly direction.  The distinction often proves elusive but worth the effort.  Some wrongs must be righted, or in the least, exposed.

Another wise friend, Jane Williams, mildly and early observed that my offerings became themselves mere chronicles of grievance disguised as self-righteous forbearance.  Ah, Jane, you did not leave teaching so much as shifted to a more global manifestation of that noble calling!

At this stage, then, what have I left?  Merely, I admit, the same quest to which my mother’s mother set me:  Putting my best foot forward, and never stopping.

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


Not avant garde
Not nouveau riche
Not high tech
Just me
Very much the same
And sometimes winning.

c. Corinne Corley, 1995 – 2019

There’s a Twelve-Step Program For That

My box addiction survived downsizing.  I have no shame.  I realize there might be a twelve-step program for this problem but I think I’ll pass.

My mother’s milk glass button box sits in front of me as I write, beside her square china coffee canister with the home-made wooden lid and glass knob.  I don’t know if she found it lidless in a junk store.  Perhaps one of us kids broke the original lid.  I can that tell my father crafted the substitute because it has no varnish.  He loathed executing that last step of any woodworking project.  

On the edge of my desk, a plastic box holds  a strange assortment of trinkets:  A heart on which some teacher penned my son’s name; a ribbon over which his Boy Scout metals dance; my mother’s gold thimble; a button announcing “It’s a Boy”.  I hesitate to rummage deeper; I don’t know what reminders might lurk beneath that first layer.  This box measures six inches square, two deep, and has a thick covering of dust on its surface.  A long-ago lover gave it to me, right after he read a poem he had written in which he likened me to a spider.

This evening I hauled a red wooden box full of random photos up the stairs to my writing loft.  It now sits beside my sewing box. I sorted through the photographs one lonely evening this winter.  My tears fell on the fading portraits  of people whom I long to see.

I could continue:

The porcelain box that Alan made when he worked for the potter who just wanted everyone to say, “Thank you.” 

The two Japanese puzzle boxes (one large, one small) from my client Hidemi.  She gave these to me before she traveled home, secure in her ability to return because of a provision which I had fought to include in her divorce judgment ensuring her continued permanent status.  I often think about Hidemi.  Is Japan on the banned list?  Can she still re-enter America?  I’d like to drink tea with her again.

A cardboard box bearing a slogan encouraging me to share my sparkle occupies a space under the printer stand.   I don’t have a use for that one,, but it’s a box, isn’t it? and my sister Joyce wrapped my garden stone in it.  

Let us not forget the music boxes, the box holding my makeshift first-aid kit, and the two jewelry boxes (one brass, one silver) inside the old sewing machine drawers.  I keep my most precious items in those, like the filigree butterfly from Brenda Dingley and the Virgin Mary medal that Tricia Scaglia gave me for Christmas, my last year in Kansas City.  I know you aren’t a practicing Catholic, she told me, as I held the delicate disk to the light.  But I wanted you to have this anyway.  Take it, will you, as a favor to me.

It’s still in its tiny cardboard box, with the card from the maker, and a whisper or two of memory.

I’ve given away a lot of boxes.  I gave a wooden box to a little girl who lives with her parents in the park.  It’ once held a necklace that somebody chose for me.    I kept that box for twenty-three years before deciding that five-year-old Ella might like it.  The other day, she said, “What is your name anyway, lady?”   I told her.  She studied my face for a few minutes before announcing that I was the lady who had given her the treasure box for Christmas. 

I admitted as much. She smiled.  “I keep treasures in it,” she explained, just in case I might not have understood.  But I did, all too well.  I have a few of those myself.

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




The sun glints from my windshield as I turn onto Highway 12 and start over the Rio Vista Bridge.  Halfway down Jackson Slough, I think, I should take photos of the mountain.  I have parked the car on someone else’s land before I realize that I took the card from my camera to upload.

But the drive gives the same pleasure as it would if I had recorded it. I pass the same gnarled tree and the same chickadee nesting on a roadside pillar.  Wildflowers toss their heads in the breeze.  The same hawk swoops overhead. 

I remember another drive, through Montana mountains to Glacier Park, Halloween 1982.  I gawk out the window at a snowstorm in Canada.  I gasp, I didn’t bring my camera.  My companion says, we’ll always have the memory.  He doesn’t add, and nothing else, though when I arrive back in Kansas City, a box of all the belongings which I’d left at his apartment and a terse goodbye on the answering machine deliver the message.

Danny leans out of the kiosk at the Park to drop a package in my backseat.  We talk for a few minutes about the upcoming swap meet, my fundraiser table, and his new rig.  Then I take the quarter-mile turn halfway around and stop in front of Angel’s Haven.

Breakfast seems like hours ago so I throw goat cheese on sourdough and raise the flame under the pan.  I pull a container announcing FRESH PICKLES out of the fridge.  Not since I broke open the last jar of my mother’s bread-and-butter pickles have I enjoyed the brine and bite as much.  The chalk drawing that I got on some Free Art Friday at Ruthie Becker’s Gallery 504 keeps me company as I eat.  I tell myself, for the tenth time, that I need to ask Ruthie if she knows the artist.

Then I sit at the desk and watch the shadows dance on my neighbor’s house.  I study the art which surrounds me.  Ruthie’s work; and my son’s; and Mary Pettet’s; Genevieve Casey, Scott Anderson, Mary Ann Coonrod, Samantha Bessent, Nicole Thibodeau.  My friends, my artists, members of my tribe.  I did not always bring a camera, all those times; or on that last day; or when I sat across the table from Genevieve as a visitor; or earlier, saying goodbye to Tim and Mary on the stairway at Suite 100.  Pictures exist, I’m sure; but mostly in my mind.

Down by the creek, a willow sways in the Delta wind.  I raise my hands to the keyboard, pausing only for a brief glance at the shelf full of angels and the little music box which Grandma Corley gave me for Christmas nearly six decades ago.   I close my eyes, lower my fingertips, and start the rhythmic dance across the keys which tells me that I have come home.

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


Never Ever Did I Think

My first house had 2000 square feet on one level.  It sat on seven unmowed acres with the south fork of the White River running along the back edge.  In the summer you could walk the length of the flagstone in the river bed.  Come spring, the flood edged right up to the back porch.

My second house had fewer square feet but one-and-a-half stories, with a screened porch and a fenced backyard.  A Japanese maple rose gracefully in front of the west-facing windows of the living room.  I raised my son in that home and expected to die there.

Never ever did I think that I would have a third house, one on wheels.  My fascination arose from sleepless nights spent sobbing in my pillow after my last break-up.  I groped for the remote control and turned on the television, listlessly switching from channel to channel.  I began watching shows about alternative life styles.  A glimmer of an idea flickered in the fog of my sorrow.  

Some say that I fled a town too small for me and my ex.  Others speculate that I had a mid-life crisis which I would, eventually, regret.  I keep my own counsel.  I plotted and planned and schemed and calculated.   From those machinations, my present situation emerged.

I have what I need here.  Enough possessions and the right kind of accommodation.  I stay warm in the mild winters and cool enough in the brief summers.  I write at my wooden desk in a loft from which I can see the first glimmer of morning light.

Eventually, I will add solar and a fresh-water holding tank.  I’ll find a more remote parking situation.  There I will pursue my uninterrupted scribbling for another decade or two, until the arthritis cripples my hands or my mind wanders too far to reclaim.  But for now, I perch on a chair with my laptop propped on an open drawer, steadied by a piece of wood reclaimed from my beloved Kansas City bungalow.  I take the stairs downward to the main living space, and nourish myself with a cool glass of filtered water.  In the morning, I put out peanuts for the scrub jays before driving in to town for the day’s work.   Each evening, I stroll through the meadow and talk to the neighbors or enjoy the solitude of the soft night air.

I can ask for little else.

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

My house, Angel’s Haven, can be seen on the right in this photo.