Monthly Archives: April 2021

Birds of a Feather

Twice a day, my path takes me down the rugged levee road known as Jackson Slough.

Old trees rise from the rough levee.  A long swathe of blue water stands below the berm.  I look into the branches as I pass.  A hawk huddles against the spring wind.  I feel his pain.

The change of season tugs at my heart.  In Kansas City, the flowering trees which dot the old neighborhoods will just be shaking the last brief snow from their fragile white veils.  The wide umbrella maples of my old street raise their leafy arms to the sun’s bright kiss.  Dogwalkers emerge from their bungalows and greet neighbors whom they haven’t seen since everyone hunkered down for the winter.  This spring’s shedding of crusty cocoons will seem especially poignant because they’ve skipped three seasons in between.

I miss that ritual.  On the tiny house row in my northern California RV park, winter barely touched our lives.  Neighbors continue walking their dogs around the calendar.  That Midwestern ritual of shedding winter layers and eagerly donning sandals for the first time has little meaning here.

Still, the warming of our days brings a certain lightening of mood even here, where boats stay on the river until late October and launch again before Easter.  I’ve cleaned my house and shaken the dust from the basket of sweaters under my bed.  I’m battling mites on the gardenia bush and studying the jade plant to make sure January’s windstorms didn’t unduly damage its majestic contours.   My potted tulips have finished their bloom.  The hanging plants on my trellis have begun to unfold the first new blossoms of the year.

On Jackson Slough two mornings ago, I stopped to gaze at a crow against the pale blueness of the western sky.  As I raised my camera, he took flight into the wispy clouds.  I sighed with something close to envy; then continued my earthbound journey to the grocery store across the Sacramento River by way of the Rio Vista Bridge.

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

Angel’s Haven

The concept of celestial beings watching over hapless humans appeals to me.  At several moments of extreme stress, I’ve seen such an entity.  When the car ploughed into me on 09 February 1982 and I flew more than three stories into the air, a genderless white  form gently guided my soul back into my body.  A soft voice cautioned that my time had not yet come.  Several years before that event, a similar form stood over my bed and urged me to consciousness.  Someone’s here, you must awaken, the voice pleaded.  When I stumbled to the kitchen,  I saw that the back door had been smashed and stood open to the cold of the building’s inner stairwell. 

Skeptics sigh and blame my subconscious.  They might be correct.  I shrug and let them have the last word.  I know what I know.

So when I decided to sell my beloved Brookside bungalow and have a tiny house on wheels built, my dwelling’s name came easy to my tongue.  Angel’s Haven.  The only debate focused on the tense.  Singular possessive carried the day.

For the three years during which I’ve lived tiny, I have contemplated adding art to the exterior of the house.  A woman who briefly lived in my park adorned her adorable DIY build with a metal sculpture of vines and flowers.  I quite liked it.  But I wanted something so specific that such a rendering would surely cost thousands.  Instead I decided on a painting which would honor the lovely setting of the California Delta; the angels whom I believe protect me; and my little brother, Stephen Patrick Corley, who died by suicide in 1997.

Steve liked the Grateful Dead.  He felt a particular connection to the song Brokedown Palace.  In the lyrics of that song , I found imagery which helped to crystallize what I wanted in the painting for my house.  I decided to ask a neighbor, Alex Loesch, to do the mural.  I had seen some of his sketches.   His style had an essence which seemed right for the work which I wanted.  He had never done anything such as I proposed, but he eagerly embraced the project.

I gave Alex rudimentary guidance.  I told him that I wanted a work evocative of Maxfield Parrish which included an angel, a river, a sunset, and a willow tree.  He presented three prototypes created on his iPad from which I selected.  He started work seven weeks ago with the sanding of the cupboard doors on the back of my house.  He finished last Thursday with the application of the sealant.  Today he will remove the protective tape from the cupboard hardware.

Years ago, I wrote an essay called “Resurrecting Stephen” in which  I tried in vain to capture my little brother’s vibrant nature.  Events from my interaction with him marched across the typed pages.  But the piece fell flat.  I tucked the thing into a file folder, which went into a box, that now lives under my bed.   Besides the failed essay, the box bulges with the self-indulgent poetry that I wrote in college and half of a novel that I will never finish.

Alex’s painting does what I could not do.  Alex gave me a picture worth at least a thousand words.  Although he might not realize its perfection in this respect, the mural which Alex created both resurrects my little brother and lays him to rest.  Here, on the banks of a mythical rendition of the San Joaquin, a weary boy-child finds sanctuary.  With just four words for inspiration — angel, river, sunset, willow — Alex Loesch has depicted the eternal oasis that I craved for my little brother’s troubled soul.  

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

Brokedown Palace



Today I finished the Wool& #100DayDressChallenge.  I find myself curiously confused about the last one-hundred days.

I spoke to my friend Genevieve Casey this evening via Zoom.  I met Genevieve many moons ago through my involvement in the Kansas City art community.  I consider her smart, savvy, sexy, and serene.  We shared a moment when she finished the challenge, and again tonight in honor of my completion.  Though we did not plan to be challenge buddies, when we learned that each had independently decided to try the experiment, our friendship prompted us to support each other.

The company which makes the dress invites you to try sustainable wool to change your life:  How you dress, your priorities, and the way you see yourself.  They have a Facebook group where those participating in the challenge can chat and share experiences.  If you complete the challenge, you receive a $100 gift certificate to their website where, presumably, you will buy another dress, often referenced in the FB group as a “reward dress”.

My own motivation for purchasing the dress related to my general quest to live a simpler life.  I wore the dress as I do all of my dresses:  Over leggings, with a cardigan, my one pair of shoes, and colorful socks.  Occasionally i tried a belt and once I knotted the dress into a tunic.  Diehard participants use hair-ties, buttons, and clips to twist the dress into unintended shapes.  On the one occasion when I made a side knot and wore the dress over slacks, the configuration lasted about a half hour.  The belt came off by mid-morning and quite frankly, I’m not sure where it landed.  I’m a simple person.

The dress costs $128, so your gift certificate does not fully fund your next purchase unless you buy a T-shirt or a tank.  All of the garments are made from sustainable wool or tencel.  A small amount of nylon blended with the fabric influences texture and performance.  

To earn your certificate, one documents the experience with a daily picture.  Since I live alone, this had to be a selfie.  I despise having  my picture taken and dislike beyond measure doing it myself.  I skimmed a little unpleasantness off the top by staging my pose beneath a prized photograph which Genevieve took.  Somehow this took the focus off of me, at least in my mind.  Genevieve takes amazing pictures.  She deserves all the acclaim I can provide.

After 100 days of wearing the same dress with rotating leggings and sweaters, I have indeed learned some lessons.  Principally, I fond out that I actually like variety.  Living in a tiny house requires that my wardrobe remain small.  But the seven or eight dresses that I have for each season afford me a fairly substantial repertoire.   I won’t be downsizing more than I have.  This one dress might find a place in the line-up, but I can’t see myself wearing only one garment for multiple days in a row.

The experience brought me into contact with many other persons doing the challenge by way of the Facebook group.  Most were women but some were nonbinary, transgender, and I understand there were some men.  They spanned across the US and Europe, possibly elsewhere.  As with many Facebook groups and other online interactions, quite a few felt comfortable enough to make personal disclosures.  I told one or two personal facts about myself, mostly dated, mostly fairly well established via this blog or one of my other blogs.  I use my own positive and negative experiences to share lessons that I’ve learned, particularly on this #journeytojoy. 

But I never got to the point of immersing  myself in “the dress” as others seem to do.  A few personified the dress, which I find a bit unnerving.  I want to have less connection to material goods.  I feel connected to trinkets from my mother, my sister, or my son.  A dress which I wore somewhere important might evoke memories of that occasion and the emotions connected with it.  However, I don’t think of my clothing as entities.  Fabric keeps me warm and covered.  

On the other hand, women have long had a genuine ambivalence towards attire.  We often receive a message from society that our clothing defines or at least illustrates our worth, along with our weight, our hair, and other often immutable aspects of our persona.  I want people to see my eyes, my smile, and my compassion.  I don’t want them to judge me by the label on my blouse or handbag.  I want my relationship to other humans to be independent from the material goods which I own.

Is there a third hand?  Of course there is.  Through this experience, I became closer to my friend Genevieve.  Since I admire her, and miss the times we spent together in Kansas City, any opportunity for seeing or speaking with her delights me.  I also increased my interaction with other friends “back home”, who daily commented on the outfits in my pictures.  In particular, an artist named Candie Fisher came to be one of my biggest supporters.  I had forgotten the sweetness of her particular soul.  Rediscovering her gentleness came as an added, unexpected bonus of the #100DayDressChallenge.  

I also appreciated some of the open, honest comments in the challenge Facebook group for what I learned about other people’s attitude towards their bodies.  Many participants told their ages, heights, and weights in an effort to get advice about styles and sizes.  Admittedly, one can say anything in a Facebook group with impunity.  Few can verify what you assert.  Their phrasing and language suggested truth-telling, though.  From what they said, I began to get a sense that lots of people share my discomfort with my body.  But I also sensed a willingness to speak frankly about these vessels in which we live, a forthright tendency which I myself do not possess.   This gave me unexpected hope that even at sixty-five, some chance remains that I might finally accept myself.  It also suggested that cultural shifts might someday allow people to be seen for their character and their conduct, not their clothes.  (Don’t get me started on  even deeper biases; this entry already grows overlong.)

On balance, then, I do appreciate what I’ve just done.  I tried to quit a couple of times, and my cheerleaders urged me to persist.  That daily boost of attention sometimes alleviated however slightly the pervasive homesickness which perpetually plagues me.  I also actually forced myself to focus on my appearance, something that has never been easy for me.  I’d rather hide beneath baggy sweaters and over-sized jackets than suggest I might think I’m actually pretty.

So here I sit, one-hundred days after starting the challenge.  Last weekend’s seasonal clothing swap means that I have options at the ready for tomorrow.  I look forward to putting the #willowswingdress on a hanger and into the twenty-one inches of space where I keep my current-season clothing.  It will work its way forward in sequence, and make an appearance by and by.

As with every undertaking, I hope that I’ve learned from this, or grown, or at least widened my horizons.  If nothing else comes of it, there’s that gift certificate; and new styles dropping soon.  

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

This slide show has 100 photographs in it of you-know-who wearing you-know-what.

Casting About In A Sea of Words

Lunchtime.  Rio Vista, California.  Two women in their sixties sitting with the river to the south and winding westward to the Pacific.  One makes a casual comment about saving time.  The other says, “Now that’s a Little Prince moment,” and startles at the look of unknowing confusion on her companion’s face.(Fn)

A phone comes out.  A search ensues.  The book has come into the public domain and can be found in PDF form, complete with original illustrations.  Quotes flow and then, suddenly, more questions tumble out.  “if you have not read The Little Prince,” she asks, “is it possible that you have not read other wonderful literature to which I can delight in introducing you or lament that you’ve gotten to middle-age without enjoying?”  Titles spew forth, greeted with slight headshakes.  

So here I sit, casting about in a sea of words.  Millions and millions of words, formed into books, the reading of which has brought me so much pleasure.  I give you my list of twenty books which significantly impacted me.  You do not have to have read them to be my friend.  However, I would not be who or what I have become without these and other works by gifted writers and observers of the world in which I sometimes struggle to survive.

I do not list them here in the order in which I read them or in sequence according to their importance to me.  Rather, the first few march onto this page in the order in which they occurred to me during the short stroll from The Point to the parking lot.  I put aside reflection on this list for the afternoon of work.  I resumed after dinner, with the whistle of an evening bird drifting through the open door on air scented with the fragile perfume of a day’s mowing. 

I have gathered knowledge from these works.  I recognize that I still have much to learn from whatever source.  But here lies the foundation of my growth.  Some of these books struck me because of the lyrical rhythm of their language; some for the power of the message; some for a disturbing story or a moving, gentle narrative.  

My father taught me to read at around age three.  He sat me on his lap at the breakfast room table and held the St. Louis Post-Dispatch out so I could follow along with his voice.  My parents had been told that I might never walk again after an illness the prior year.  I later heard over and over how they figured that they needed to prepare me for a life of invalidism.  Instead, they gave me the greatest gift imaginable:  A passport to a universe without borders.

I’ve listed twenty works, but I could continue until the last hoot of the owl in the trees high above the park.   I hope that somewhere — on this list, on your own shelves, or at your local public library — you find sustenance.  My deepest wish for you:  That you discover writing in which you  become delightfully lost; and from which you emerge smiling and joyful.

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

The Missouri Mugwump’s Recommended Reading List

1. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
2. Call It Sleep, by Henry Roth
3. Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg
4. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, by Italo Calvino
5. Emmy Lou: Her Book and Her Heart, by George Madden Martin
6. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
7. One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
8. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
9. The Prize Winner of Defiance, by Terry Ryan
10. What Maisie Knew, by Henry James
11. My Antonia, by Willa Cather
12. Paula, by Isabel Allende
13. A New Life, by Bernard Malamud
14. The World in the Evening, by Christopher Isherwood
15. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
16. Love and Obstacles, by Aleksander Hemon
17. Dibs: In Search of Self, by Virginia M. Axline
18. All Quiet On the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque
19. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
20. Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg


(Fn) See The Little Prince, Chapter 23.


Of absence and fond hearts

Today I walked down to the west meadow in the park where I live as the sun climbed the southern sky.

I stopped to talk to my neighbors Phillip and Melissa.  Phillip had risen at dawn on Saturday to begin building a deck on their tiny house.  I watched its form rise, faster than I would have imagined possible.  Today the sun glinted from their grand south window and reflected from the shiny leaves of the plants staged around the trailer of their house.  The beautiful long boards spanned the entire length, clean and solid.

Melissa came out of the house as I climbed the new stairs.  Phillip fussed around me, warning about splinters as my hand gripped the sturdy rail which Melissa had instructed him to build for her old and gimpy friends.  They stood beside each other, radiant, cityfolk proud  of the life which they have made here in the Delta.  With a decade until retirement lures them to the road, for now they intend to sink their roots in the rich soil of Andrus Island. 

I admired Melissa’s repurposing of their old steps as a little garden.  They laughed and told me that I’d be invited to their deck-warming party. I promised to bring Prosecco. We parted as friends do, with a smile, a wave, and fervent wishes for a good evening.

I walked further, beyond the empty spot where Louis and Helix used to live.  I stood for a moment and thought about the two of them, down in Florida now, on different ocean from the one which occasionally sends a bit of brackish water upriver to our bay.  I imagined Louis, with his lilting French voice and his ready smile, pouring wine for new friends in the park where they’ve landed.  I thought of Helix sitting at his computer with Theo the Beagle at his feet.  I closed my eyes, and nodded, and resumed my journey.

At the far end of the field, I climbed onto the porch of an empty cabin to get a better angle from which to photograph the owl’s nest high above the park.  I drew the lens of my little camera as far out as it can go.  I saw the edge of one owl; the mother, I thought.  Perhaps, next to her, a sleeping baby snuggled.  I snapped a few frames, then made my way down and around to the back to try for a better shot.  The sun framed the height of the owls’ tree, bathing the whole of its leafy expanse in a golden glow.

I stood for a few minutes in the comfort of the afternoon air.   Faces drifted before me; the smiling countenance of my friend from France and his gentle husband; my son in Chicago; my sister as she donned her mask and rolled her suitcase towards the Sacramento Airport last week.  As I moved away from the meadow and started towards my house, my heart constricted.  I do not know if joy flows in stronger currents away from me than in my willing direction.  But if it does, I pray that it carries my abiding affection in the healing waters of its bountiful river to those of whom my heart has grown exceptionally fond.

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


On 02 April 2021, my sister Joyce came to Northern California.

She came to see me; to forestall my creeping homesickness; to make sure her little sister could still smile.  While here, we laughed more than I have laughed since moving west.  We rolled our eyes at pathetically bad service in a Half Moon Bay restaurant.  Presents made their way from my hands to hers; and from her suitcase to my carry bag.  Thrift stores yielded treasures beneath her expert eyes.  Friends raised glasses in common praise of camaraderie.  Family dynamics succumbed to thoughtful scrutiny and frank remark.  

My sister Joyce went back to St. Louis on 06 April 2021.  On the following day, she got her second vaccination shot for Covid-19.  In nine days, she will turn 71.   She outpaced me at every turn during her time with me.  She had exponentially more energy, stamina, and liveliness.  She spoke with gentler tones.  She proved herself to be magnanimous and generous, which I knew but the depth of which I had not experienced since I last lived in the Midwest.

When I pulled away from the departure gate at the Sacramento airport, my heart endured a curious sensation of lightness overshadowed by an understanding that one of my guiding lights had receded back into the distant sky.  I will have to be content with her voice on the phone; her Social Media comments; and the occasional e-mail.   These cannot quite convey the depth of her beauty, the breadth of her courage, or  her steadfast loyalty.  But such crumbs as I can garner will have to suffice until we meet again.  I will consume them with the rabid passion of the parched and starving brought into a hall of plenty.

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

Prayer To A Sister

There might be a knot
In a clump of hair
At the back of my head.

Will you unsnarl it
without judgment
without comment
without laughter
except whatever giggles
we share at my  instigation?

Oh my sister
Do not make me feel
Ashamed of my nakedness.
Wrap yourself around me.
Clothe me with your
Undying affection.

Scenes from the Weekend with My Sister.  Scroll over the individual photos for short captions.


All words and images are copyright C. Corley 2021

My Sister, My Friend

A ten-year-old kneels on a newly-concreted driveway, staring intently at the swathe of hardened surface with a smattering of embedded gravel.  Pinched brow tops pursed mouth.  Behind her, a fidgeting five-year-old begs for access to the fascinating sight. 

What is it, J-Bear, what is it? The girl uses the older child’s nickname, possibly in an effort to appeal to her better side.  Finally, the older one relents.

A Pretty Rock, she responds.  It’s mine.  And she moves aside to let her little sister gaze upon the triangular contours of the black, shiny nugget frozen for time in their driveway.

The exact dialogue might never be known, though if memory serves, this account closely parallels what those two children said to one another sixty years ago.  Eventually, Joyce agreed to share Pretty Rock with me, although a lesser, tarnished, misshapen variant deeper into the side-ditch officially became “mine”.  We stared at those rocks all summer, while we made postage stamps from the toy Singer sewing  machine which we stuck to envelopes with tar from the hot street.

For my entire life, I have depended on  my sister Joyce.  She taught me so many things, not least of which is to have faith in myself, something with which I constantly struggle and regarding which she still must regularly (though gently) remind me.  

She administered  mundane lessons too.  She gave me my first eye shadow and showed me how to apply it to my lids, the knack of which I never acquired and eventually abandoned.  Shaving my legs went a similar route, but she taught me the process and I employed it until my mid-40s when a nick sent my thinned blood coursing down my legs.  My then-husband, exasperated, told me that he did not care and I should stop. Other talents she attempted to impart met with similar silly ends.  I am grateful, nonetheless, that she took the time to school  me in the expectations which society imposes on the female of the human species.

These lesser tricks and tips pale in virtue by comparison with my sister Joyce’s unfailing loyalty.  She has been at the other end of phone calls about all three of my failed marriages, my struggles to single-parent, my health worries, and my plunges into emotional decline.  Though I did not always share my darkest hours with her, I know that I can.  My secrets could not have a safer harbor.  My fears diminish under her soft touch.  She leads the loudest cheer.  She praises the smallest gain.  She finds the silver lining within the most frightening of storm clouds.  She condemns anyone who fails to appreciate me; she enthusiastically embraces those who share her belief in me.  When nothing can be done about a situation which troubles me, she sits on the other end of the phone and simply listens as I cry.  When the sobs diminish, she deftly guides me back to the bright side.

Having a sister means that you will always have a friend.  She will not always agree with your choices, but she stands by you regardless of your idiotic decisions.  She praises the slightest progress.  She challenges your self-doubt.  She dares the world to harshly judge your efforts.

My sister also honors me with her own confidences.  The street between us goes both ways and sees frequent travel.  I know some of her pain; some of her passions; some of her purgatory.  I know who has hurt her, and woe unto he, should our paths cross.  I know how much she sacrifices if she cares about someone; what she does for her daughter and others in the family who need her talent and attention from time to time.  I know the lengths to which she went for the children in the classroom where she taught for nearly forty years.  I’ve heard her anguish over the special children whose care she assumed now that she is “retired”, a word here meaning taking one’s two Master’s degrees and lifetime of experience teaching autistic children and applying the resultant capability to a half-dozen part-time jobs.  She works harder at 70 than I did at 20, and she drops into bed weary to the bone but happy that she has made a difference in the lives of children who call her “Miss Joyce” and cannot survive a day without her tender tutelage.

My sister Joyce has faults, as we all do.  In fact, we share many.  Our commonly damaged neuropathways carry similar scars from what we saw, suffered, and survived as children.  When one of us sinks into the dangerous quagmire of that past, the other reaches a hand into the breach and drags us back into the sunlight.

A handful of friends have stood by me through thick and through thin.  I’ve thanked those friends, publicly and privately, for the rescue.  My sister Joyce deserves sixty-five years of commendation, for carrying her baby sister into something resembling a tolerably pleasant late-middle age.  She’s an angel.   Without her, I would have despaired.  With her, hope endures.

My sister Joyce travels to California tonight, to spend four days with me.  I could not be happier.

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

it isn’t blood that makes you my sister
it’s how you understand my heart
as though you carry it
in your body.

— Rupi Kaur