Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

Please Enjoy This Musical Interlude

Anyone who knows me might be aware that my essays write themselves in my head.  I sit at the computer and hammer away, desperate to capture each word before it fades.  Then I re-read what I’ve written, sometimes obsessively, sometimes even after I hit the “publish” icon.  When I’ve gotten it perfect, I rise from the chair and stagger to my next chore.

Because of these wholesale composition bouts, I find myself torn.  I struggle between the desire to relay my thoughts on this journey, and the belief that not thought has overall merit to the public accountability and dialogue which drove my instigation of this blog.

When the dilemma cannot resolve, I sidestep by finding something absolutely mind-comforting, and post that.  Today stands as such a day.  Nothing terrible looms before me.  Life’s drudgery continues, peppered with intermittent joy.  But today, I cannot in good faith lay out the passages which my mind wrote.  To do so would defy my objective:  living complaint-free.  Instead, then, please enjoy this musical interlude, and a few lovely if technically flawed pictures from the California Delta.  Thank you for sharing a few minutes of #mytinylife.

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

 

CARPOOL KARAOKE WITH PAUL McCARTNEY

Fourth-Grader Adam Kornowski performing IMAGINE during a talent show at Lakeside Elementary in Chisago City, Minnesota, on May 24, 2018.

Never A Stranger

This happened:

I spent all of yesterday blogging and engaging in activism in support of trying to reunite 2,300 immigrant children with their families. I got nothing else done.  I didn’t eat much, or read, or look for jobs.

Today I cleaned leftovers out of my refrigerator, took the trash and recycling to the bins, and headed to the grocery store.  I fished two plastic bags out of the pile of stuff in the back of the RAV and grabbed a cart.  A young man nearly slammed into me.  We fell over ourselves apologizing for being in each other’s way.  Then I told him the cart weighed more than I do, and general hilarity ensued at the thought of me driving a motorized shopping cart and running over small children.  He cited the laws of physics and I lamented my poor eye sight.  Each of us continued to our shopping lighter for the exchange.

When I had put back several items, kept the $12/pound locally roasted coffee, and forced myself to add celery to my modest pile, I made a dash for one of the two open registers.  I stood waiting for the woman in front of me to finish paying.  In the interval, a lovely lady with a single item queued behind me.

“Please, go on ahead of me,” I insisted.  She demurred, but I played my Ace:  “My mother would roll over in her grave if I didn’t let you go first, and she needs her rest.”

After she had paid, she turned to thank me far more copiously than the situation warranted.  Then she said, “Do you mind if I give you a hug?”  I assured her that I didn’t, and we embraced.  She urged me to have a good evening, thanked me twice more, and left.

The clerk asked if I knew her.  I shook my head.  “You about made her day, I think,” she said, grinning.  No doubt.  I’m sure she made mine.

I paid for my groceries and went out to the car, thinking to myself that shopping had never been quite this rewarding.

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

 

Fog

Today I fell into a fog.  The news of events in our nation curdled any food that I managed to swallow.  I tackled the initial deployment of my evaporative cooler and managed to over-fill it, causing water to seep from its seams and flow across my house.  True enough, three tries got me to a customer service supervisor who diligently diagnosed and solved the problem.  But by that time, I had heard the cries of children torn from their parents and could not redeem this Tuesday.

Accordingly, I did what any red-blooded American would do under same or similar circumstances.  I watched a movie.  Not just any movie: The Revolt of Mother. the 1988 gem which I had watched upon its first release.  I figured it would be on YouTube by now.

I plugged my tablet into its charger and curled on my daybed with my feet propped on the cedar chest.  I had shoved the water-soaked towel in the laundry machine and left the day’s dishes in the sink.  With the setting sun, the house cooled of its own accord.  I stilled the machine and flicked the switch on the overhead fan before collapsing and letting myself fall into the film.  I took a certain satisfaction from Amy Madigan‘s performance thirty years ago, and felt that warmth return this evening.  With all the evil and tribulation about which I could complain, I’m happy to have had a sweet piece of acting and a fine plot to distract me.

Midnight draws near.  I’m thinking of the dust in my bathroom sink and the rubble accumulated in my car.  I let myself flounder today.  But I’m cutting myself a little slack.  Not every day needs to be conquered.  Some can merely be survived.

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

 

 

“Remember Juneteenth”

 

 

A Long Line of Fathers

I come from a long line of mothers with complicated relationships involving their fathers or the fathers of their children.

My great-grandfather Conrad Ulz blew off his trigger finger to escape serving in the war in Austria.  He faced jail or the choice to emigrate, and thus decamped to America.  He left behind the mother of his children and those of his children by then already born.  They later followed him.  I’ve often wondered how his stark choices impacted his eldest, Johanna, who became my grandmother.

Johanna married Delmar Lyons, a Syrian man, in an era when women still stayed at home.  Men worked and sat silent behind their newspapers at the table waiting for supper.  But Delmar’s business failed in the Depression.  Johanna went to work and became a vocal presence in the household. Ultimately, they presented as equals, at least in my view of them.

Their oldest daughter, Lucille Johanna Lyons, married a handsome Irish boy from St. Louis, Richard Corley, just recently discharged after combat duty in WWII.  She must have thought his charm showed promise, because she quit nursing school to become his bride.  But he turned into a violent alcoholic.  Despite bearing eight children, she worked from early in the marriage.  She died too young, of misdiagnosed cancer which metasticized before it could be properly treated.  Her husband, my father, outlived her by six years, falling into physical ruin.  He suffered a heart attack on the floor of a McDonald’s bathroom on the way to my son’s baptism.

My son’s father had never wanted to serve in that role.  He had been married; and a child that they wanted had died, leaving him afraid to love another infant.  He resented my pregnancy.  Though he paid child support, he never saw his son and still has no relationship with him.  I’ve spent twenty-seven years trying to compensate for that absence.

I do not write these words by way of complaint.   I understand that every human being has limitations.  My great-grandfather, whom we called Dad, passed away when I was four or five.  My grandfather survived my mother by four months.  My father died in 1991.   As far as I know, my son’s father still lives.  Each of these men did some good for their children and the mothers of their children.  Though the harm inflicted by my own father certainly outweighs the good, still, I would rather kindle the flicker of loveliness than fan the flame of evil.

Along the way, I’ve known some amazing fathers.  My brothers Mark, Frank, and Kevin come readily to mind.  I’ve known many other men who took to the role of father with gusto.  I would numb my fingers if I named them all.  I’d run the risk of forgetting a few who deserve commendation.  I’ll acknowledge them all in one fell swoop:  Good on you, guys!

Someone mentioned Father’s Day to me last week.  I gave my usual glib reply.  “We’re fresh out of fathers at my house,” I said, and kept walking.  I did not want to see the stunned look on the person’s face.  I realized that for people with husbands who walked beside them during pregnancy and the stroller phase; and fathers whom they could take to school dances without fear of embarrassment, Father’s Day makes sense.  But for some of us, it’s a complicated social ritual.

But for the many fabulous fathers, I pause in my Sunday morning to voice gratitude for everything you do for your children and for the other parent of those fortunate babies.  The world needs you.  The children need you.  Happy Father’s Day.  You deserve my unqualified praise, and you have it.  Thank you.

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

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

I didn’t go to market and I didn’t buy a fat hog but I did come home again.

I spent two glorious nights and a full luxurious day at Pigeon Point Hostel. I accept that many of you might roll your eyes at the thought of a $28 bed in a six-woman dorm being luxury.  But for me, the ability to sit without interruption on a bench overlooking the Pacific justifies the drive and the slight inconvenience of sharing a bathroom with strangers.  Truth told, the mattresses in Dolphin House (my preferred assignment) inspired my new mattress purchase. I sleep better on them than anywhere, though this might be due in part to the sound of the sea through the open window.

I drove to San Jose today and assisted at California TinyFest.  I just completed a YouTube video about the experience which I hope you’ll see as soon as it successfully uploads.  The drive back to Park Delta Bay took me through the Mission District.  A twinge of temptation nearly occasioned a detour to see the Mission, but I resisted and pulled into the park five minutes before the office closed.  My timing enabled me to take possession of my new evaporative cooler, a purchase also covered in the latest video.

If I seem smug and self-satisfied, it’s a happy illusion.  Allow me a few minutes of gloating:  Three separate visitors to the display which I worked at TinyFest told me that I was famous, having seen the interview done here at the park this winter.  “I feel pretty. . .”

But now I’m back to the humdrum realities of my existence.  I’ve doctor visits to schedule, a job to find, and I still have that nagging extra eight or ten pounds to lose.  And as God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again; for I still have Tara, and tomorrow’s another day.

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

 

Happy Father’s Day to All My Friends and Family Who Are Men With Children.  May the Love and Honor Always Flow In Each Direction.

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.