Monthly Archives: February 2014

Here’s to all the jitterly children

My Grandmother Corley subscribed to the Readers’ Digest Condensed Books club.  As a consequence, much of my early reading involved these volumes.  I did not understand, at first, what it meant to “condense” a book.  Years later, when I figured out that I had been essentially deprived of many pages and chapters of wonderful writing, I set about to find everything that I had read in condensed form and devour the entire book.  I saw the condensation as sort of a conspiracy to cheat me out of the glory of reading.

But my view of this changed over the years.  Eventually, I realised that in donating these volumes to our household, my grandmother enabled us to explore a wide range of literature.  And through her generosity, I gained kernels of insight and moments of pleaasure.  I first read “Christy” in RDCB form.  Similarly, during my late grade-school years, I read “One Summer In Between”, a novel by Melissa Mather which chronicles a summer spent by an idealist young black woman from the south in the cold reaches of the northern seaboard during the grim 1960’s, when issues of race consumed the American landscape.

The book holds many tense moments but also tender moments.  In particular, I often recall the passage in which Harriet Brown, the fiesty but intrepid main character, describes finding a letter written by the children of the household to a coin collector.  They want to sell a coin they believe to be valuable.  I don’t recall why; to help her, perhaps, or their parents.  The children sign the letter, “Yours jitterly…” and I still smile when I think of that phrase.  “Yours, jitterly….”

I’ve written many essays and musings about my childhood.  I dance around my father’s violence, shading its impact on us with veiled references to a look on my mother’s face or lingering fear in my young self’s heart.  I’ve spent 58 years trying to relax my childhood’s grip on my current incarnation.  Though I’ve not pursued therapy as many suggested, I’ve done everything else.  I’ve worked as an advocate for domestic violence victims.   I helped pass the “Adult Abuse Remedies Act”, which gives Missouri DV victims an avenue for a civil restraining order with criminal remedies.  I served as a speaker for The Children’s Place, a therapeutic school for abused and neglected children in Kansas City.  I take  pro bono cases in Juvenile Court.  I represent battered spouses in divorce cases and relentlessly pursue structured parenting plans which give the batterers a chance to find their way to change.

In the last four or five months, one of my siblings has been going through therapy which has caused this sibling to remember events of the past that I would just as soon forget.  My sibling (name and gender avoided to protect this sibling’s privacy) has shared some of these memories with me.  This sharing has had a two-fold effect.

On the one hand, I’ve had some validation.  The memories jive with my own.  I find that this comforts me.  I wasn’t crazy.  I didn’t create these memories.  These things really happened.  I had no idea that I even questioned my recollections, though many have said that they did; intimate partners, with whom I shared my story, have on several occasions said that they assumed I was exaggerating. One or two almost convinced me.  That couldn’t have happend, they protested.  They would have locked your father away!  But no:  Not in the 1950s, or 1960s.  It might as well have been the fifteenth century.  A man’s home was his castle.

So that’s a good thing:  validation.

But there’s that other hand, dangling out in front of me.  I’m reliving events that I experienced; and, ironically, some that as between us, only my sibling recalls.  Perhaps I was not involved, or not born, or too young to remember.  These stark, strange and disturbing accounts sometimes overwhelm me.

Now, I’m not complaining.  My sibling suffers; and seeks healing.  The process through which my sibling strives to navigate could restore — or initiate — a certain satisfying serenity.  I’m in favor of that.  The process has had a curious result on me, though; and I think it might be because while my sibling undergoes this journey with the guiding hand of a therapist, I do not.

As I sit drinking Passion Fruit tea which my son’s friend Maddie so kindly gave him, and from which I have so often partaken that I’ve had to replenish the tin, I think about those sweet children in Melissa Mather’s book.  I also think about the children of a client whom I recently helped extricate from their father’s wild violence so similar to that of my own childhood.  I think about the children whom I have represented, the ones who escaped; the ones who were lost. I think about Mikey, a foster child who lived in my home for six weeks before his behavior became too much for me to handle, and I think bout Mikey’s brother Jacob.  I understand that Jacob’s adoption proved successful but Mikey aged out of the Juvenile Court system while living in a home for essentially unadoptable children.  A cruel phrase, “unadoptable children”.  As though they are defective.  Or at fault.

I raise my cup, and just before sipping, I give a little silent toast.  Here’s to all the jitterly children.  Including me. And my siblings.  May they all find peace.  Including me.  And, and, my siblings.


About a bracelet

A long time ago, my mother gave me a bracelet that she said had been hers.  “It used to say, ‘Cillekin’ on it,” she told me.  “Cillekin” meant her, meant “my child Lucille”.  The engraving had worn away.  You could see its ghost.

I wore the bracelet until 1996, when I lost it at KCI.  Its clasp had failed a few times, and I wore it still, never removing it, without fixing the problem.  I deeply regretted losing it.

A year or two later, I found an Italian silver bracelet at a thrift store.  I knew it was worth more than the $25 asking price, and I bought it.  I crowed when I traced its heritage and found some like it selling for 10 times as much.

I wore that bracelet every day, for the next five years.  One day, I looked down at my wrist and it was simply gone.  It went into the universe somewhere.  I had no idea that it slipped away.  I traced my steps from that day, fruitlessly, and never found it.

For the last few years, I have worn one bracelet on my left wrist and one on my right.  The left is bronze, silver and copper. I bought it in Taos.  The right is sterling, from a wonderful thrift shop on Troost.  They are not chain bracelets; I learned my lesson.  Hard metal cuff-style. I don’t even take them off when I sleep.

For Christmas, my friend Jane gave me a Blessings bracelet.  Turquoise beads and sterling, with little copper spacers.  I read the card; thanked her; and slipped it onto my wrist.  i’ve never bought into fads like this.  I had a Blessings basket which sat for years on my shelf until recently it found its way to Penny’s house.  But this Blessings bracelet comforts me.  I touch each bead and think about something wonderful in my life.  My first round is always the people whom I love.  Jim, Patrick, Cara, Mac, Jay, Joanna — oh, Joanna! How I miss you! — Lisa, Chelsea, Amy….Joyce…..The Infinity Corleys…those who have gone home…

Round and round I count.  My friends.  Jane, Alan, Penny, Pat, Katrina, Paula….Their children.  Chris, Caitlin, Jennie….Abbey ohh Abbey! And then, the events of my life:  Birth, marriage, survival, all the happy meetings of friends who linger, who abide with me.

I’ve gotten quite sappy about the whole thing, to be honest with you.  But I don’t particularly mind.  I’ve always been the sentimental sort.

We Also Walk Dogs

Robert Heinlein’s classic short story serves as a backdrop for my life.  I can do anything, for a price; as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical or too incredibly fattening unless it’s dark chocolate.  I’ve cleaned a convent (weekly, $5/week); slung milk (free lunches), babysat, $1/hour, nine kids, 12 hours a day.  I ran a posting and billing machine inside a metal box.  I wrote journal articles for ten bucks a shot.  I worked as a unit secretary, transcribing medical orders.  I sold cosmetics.  And that was just the first 15 years of my working career..

For the last 30 years, I’ve practiced law and tried to focus on that.  I helped put criminals in jail.  I saved family farms.  I fought windmills.  I evolved, and learned a new area of law as I raised my son.  I stretched and grew as an advocate, for my clients, for my child, for anyone who needed me.

In 2008, I started advocating for myself.  I began writing.  I resumed yoga.  I began to lose the seventy pounds of weight I had accumulated through grief and self-neglect.  For the last six years, I’ve whittled away at the round hole in which I, a square peg, had been jammed.  I skate on thin ice and jump through hurdles.  I play crack-the-whip and I spread my arms wide to let the snowflakes fall on my tongue. I have started a Writers’ Workshop that meets on Wednesdays at the VALA Gallery; and it now includes a section for young people.  I’m dancing, and no longer feel that the dancing is frantic.  I have, for years, thought that my life was exemplified by Barbara Gordon’s book, “I’m Dancing as Fast as I can”.  Now, I look back, and it’s Robert Heinlein’s work which contains an expression of my wonder when I look at the World.

And, as the incomparable Alan White would say, I’m a stranger here, myself.  A stranger, in a strange land, but one with a mission and purpose and a plan.  It’s wild, it’s joyful, it’s exciting, it’s frightening.  And real. So very real.

Sometimes It’s Darkest Just Before Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Kicks Over the Lantern

I wrote the title to this post the day before yesterday.  I had had a long session with a client, explaining the process through which that client would be going, and the client felt drained.  I started to say, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and found myself thinking, “Well, sometimes it’s darkest just before the shit hits the fan.”  So instead of using the tired old metaphor, I  told the client that I would be there, every step of the way.

The use of metaphors, mixed or otherwise, seems to remind me of my mother.  She’d use encouraging words, heart-felt, well-meant.  And sometimes she just said, “You know, it’s not always going to be a bed of roses, so, you might have to learn to live with dandelions.”

Or did she say that?  In my memory, she did; these, and other colorful pieces of advice.  As I tell my neurologist every year, my mother for sure told me that if I walked every day of my life, I will walk every day of my life.  As soon as you stop walking, she warned, you’ll stop walking.  And I said to her, as every child says, to every maternal unit, “Oh, Mother!”  But I took her advice.  I kept walking.  I’m still walking.  I have no earthly clue why I am able to walk, but I can rattle off names of a half dozen people of my acquaintance who face greater challenges than I do and still get up every day of their lives, and keep on going.

It’s not always the dawn that follows darkness.  Sometimes it’s a bonfire, from the lantern that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over in the shed.  So keep your marshmallows handy.


I’m trying to channel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Wait, you don’t know who that is?  Let me see…(google, google, google)

Tragically cheerful, Rebecca goes through life encountering one problem after another but always smiling.

I can hear you growling now.  Me, too, and that’s not my stomach. Well, it is, but not just my stomach, although I missed lunch.  Grrrr.   I can’t see the computers in my “HomeGroup”, I had to write a brief in opposition to a motion citing no authority (thus doing the movant’s work as well as my own) and a fistful of notes-on-intake for one of my new clients has mysteriously disappeared.

And now, for the real bogeyman:  We introduce the Kansas Pending Legislation Letting People Discriminate!  Holy Catfeathers.  What would Rebecca, who after all lived with her two maiden aunts, a 1903 nontraditional family, think of legalizing discrimination based upon the structure of your family?

I guess she would have continued smiling and found a way around the situation.

Let’s have lunch and think about it, shall we?  Can I gripe about dimwitted legislators?  Officially protest? Kick my recalcitrant hard-drive? Man oh man.

My friend Pat would give me special dispensation.  I’m going back to my mantra.


And meanwhile, to get your Protest on, here’s a site for you:

Don’t get mad; get active!

Silly Habits

I  am an unapologetic Janis Ian fan.  I have a number of her records on vinyl from their original release date.  I sing “Seventeen” in the shower.  I have her CDs, paid for some iTunes downloads, and follow  her on Facebook.

Unsurprising, then, that I should find inspiration in her lyrics:

“I’m still in love — but I don’t care to let you know…./

Something’s there, that doesn’t show — /

But when you’re near — silly habits mean a lot. .  .” The singer laments silly habits, some remembered, some forgotten:  “I used to say I love you/but when day I forgot/silly habits mean a lot.”

In the word of complaining, I’m finding that “silly habits” have always annoyed me.  In restaurants, the woman at the next table slurps her soup.  A judge bangs his pen on the bench when I’m asking questions to which I want him to attend. My son throws bottle caps on the floor of his bedroom. Someone in my building parks their handicapped-accessible van smack dab in the middle of a space allocated for two vehicles.  I grind my teeth.

Even considering my resolve, I still can mention some of these to the offending party.  I tell my son that I do not like it when he throws bottle caps on the floor.  I realize that I’ve just voiced what could be considered a complaint, but I done so  in a way that allows him to disregard what I’ve said or perceive my need for tidiness even in his room, and pick the caps up and throw them away.  I smile and turn toward the hallway, exiting before he makes a choice.

I feel that I’ve made some progress.  I didn’t key the poor parker; I didn’t glare at the slurping patron.

I think about times in the past (two months ago?).  I might have made a smart remark from my smug well-mannered seat; I might have left a snarky note on the windshield; I might have judged my son and voiced that judgment in nasty phrasing, or cast a long, baleful look at the judge who would have then  spent the next five minutes fuming and missed my client’s testimony anyway.  I’m suddenly able to see other choices.  I find myself feeling more peaceful, more able to tolerate the humanity, more aware that we are mirrors, reflecting back what stands in front of us.

I decide that I want my reflection to wear a smile.  Smiling becomes a silly habit.

Count on Counting

I’d bet money, marbles or chalk that every mother in America advises her children to count to ten before speaking.

My mother certainly did.  Her advice to count usually followed on the heels of her admonishment not to say anything about or to someone unless it was positive.  Counting to ten should have afforded us the chance to consider the tone and content of what we had to say.  I’m not sure I succeeded in censoring myself or even monitoring my tongue.  Usually, I’m afraid, I spent the time sharpening what I perceived to be razor wit.  In my defense, I had four brothers!  Sometimes clever, snappy barbs were my only protection from them.

In my doddering middle age, (she says, chuckling), I’ve recalled my mother’s advice.  I’m not sure ten is high enough for me.  I’m finding myself counting slowly, as we did in our childhood games of hide and seek:  “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi….”.  Between beats, I try to ask myself those pivotal questions, “Is what you want to say necessary?  What interest does it serve?  Can you edit it to make it content neutral? Non-Inflammatory?”

The other day, I wanted to mention that I did something in a different way than the person with whom I was speaking.  My first version:  “Well, you could do it that way, but I’ve always thought a better way was…”.  One Mississippi, two Mississippi.  Now I asked myself, “Is my way better? And if so, does it matter that it’s better?”  Second version:  “I”ve never done it that way, I think we should….”  Three Mississippi, four Mississippi…Why “should” we do it the way I’ve always done it?  Maybe the way I’ve always done it is expendable, not the most effective way, or just plain dorky.  By five Mississippi, I decided to let the issue alone and do it the other person’s way.

The subject isn’t important.  I’ve edited that out in case this individual reads my blog.  This person can smile, decide that I’m referencing a conversation in which this person participated, and feel pleased.  More importantly, anybody with whom I’ve argued about the way in which something “ought to” be done can think:  “Well duh, girl.  Glad you got over yourself.”

You might think that this approach to conversation makes Jill  a dull girl.  To the contrary; while the speed with which I manipulate these cogitations needs a bit of work, I think this orientation will actually have the net result of enabling me to separate the important from the inconsequential.  What is expendable should be expended.  That concept allows me to save debate for the most critical instances, and, like crying “Wolf!”  when done only under actual threat, my insistence might well be seen as noteworthy due to its rarity.

I’m going to be counting to ten, slowly, until I get the hang of saving my contrariness for times when I really want to do things my way.  Or when someone is about to step in front of a speeding bus.  Metaphorical or otherwise.

But it’s for your own good!

Mothers complain as part of their job.  They observe their children’s behavior, correct, comment, and censor.  I never saw this as “complaining” before now, but in fact, it is.

Perhaps it’s legitimate complaining, but nonetheless, it is “complaining”.  “You didn’t take the trash out!” we might say.  The child   lowers her eyes, finding the tops of her shoes fascinating.  We stand before the offending angel.  We levy some punishment — previously disclosed or not — in the hopes that our complaint will be met with compliance.  Is it?  Sometimes; sometimes not.  Any shuffling in the direction of the trash bears with it a cloud of resentment.

What do we teach our children by such methods?  To despise chores.  To find ways to avoid them.  To be devious.

I started motherhood with a different attitude. I wanted co-operation, not obedience.  I argued with my second husband, my son’s first step-father, about this goal.  I found myself defending my strong, innate pull to teaching my son why I desired him to act, rather than stopping the lesson at the fact of my desire.  I got tired, not just from my husband’s insistence but from the pressures of life, from the need to have things done in the face of a recalcitrant assistant, from the other considerations that superseded my thirst for purity in parenting.  I found myself employing those age-old reasons:  “Because I’m your mother, that’s why!” resounded through our house.  “It’s for your own good, just do it!”

Gag me with a bent baby spoon!  Did I really say that?

My son survived. He’s 22 and has undertaken the normal number of accomplishments.  He’s done well, he’s grown strong.  He has insecurities, as do we all.  I’m sure my parenting style contributed to some of them, but in reality, maybe I give myself too much credit, or blame.  And I’m not knocking myself, cousin Kati; I’m just reflecting.  Because, in reality, I find myself applying this style in other relationships, too: My role as supervisor, my role as  attorney, my role as wife, friend, and mother-of-an-adult, sister-of-a-sister.  Picking at the things that the person has done “wrong” in my mind; and the ways in which they could change their behavior to be “right” and therefore, in my view, more successful.

Now that I’ve made this connection, I’ll be pondering a different approach.  Stay tuned for more thoughts on my desire to abandon “complaining” as behavior modification!

But It’s A Living!

It occurred to me yesterday that I complain for a living.

In fact, when one files a lawsuit in Federal Court, the initial document is called a COMPLAINT. I practice only in state court, in Missouri. We’re more civilized. We “petition” the Court rather than “complaining” to the Court, but it’s really the same. We pursue causes of action for our clients. We bring their troubles to the place where troubles gain official recognition.

My side-work entails wandering around Kansas City looking for ways to make life more accessible for humans, especially disabled humans.  Quite frankly, the only way to do this involves complaining!  Moreover, as an avocation, I like to cajole, bludgeon, sweet-talk or bully bureaucracy into changing its practices, policies and procedures to be more user- and consumer-friendly.

I do espouse the “more flies with honey than fly paper” philosophy, but sometimes, fly-paper is the only useful tool in one’s arsenal.  So my new dilemma: How to reconcile my vocation and my avocation with my quest to live complaint-free?

Cogitation ensues; will update you when it percolates!

On My List of Things About Which I Won’t Complain

I don’t have a bucket list.

There are a couple of things that I have always wanted to do, among them having something I wrote published in The New Yorker.  I’d like to go to Lebanon someday, when it’s safe.  I’d like to see Ireland and Austria, the other two lands of my heritage.  Heck, I’d like to have a passport — or, more to the point, a reason to apply for one.

But I’m not running around trying to do those things before I die.  I’m content to drive from Brookside to Westport with the occasional interim stop on the Plaza and less occasionally, venture over to The Dark Side, across State Line Road.  I’ve traveled extensively in the continental US, but never had any need for that little blue folder so necessary to re-enter this country.  The closest I’ve come is swinging over the Mexican border in El Paso, in one of those Sky cars.

But I don’t mind.

Instead of a bucket list, I’m making a list of Things About Which I Can’t Really Complain.

HIgh on the list:  My health.  Oh, I hear you all laughing.  But just think — nobody found me dead on my bathroom floor today, which, sadly, is more than can be said for one of the greatest actors of our day.

Next on the list:  My family.  My husband and I are as unlike as an orange and a football, but when I drop something, he picks it up.  When I step out onto ice, his handy steadies me.  When I dog myself, he sends me the most encouraging e-mails any number-cruncher ever wrote his writer/lawyer wife.   And don’t get me started on my son — I’d wear your ears out.  And, I’m happy to report, my son finally got  the brother and sister for which he asked on his third birthday, and I’m happy to be quasi-mother to them both.

And dear, sweet Joanna, who inspired this blog, gave me three years of being Somebody’s Daughter that seem to have finally smoothed the remaining edges on my longing for my own long-dead mother.

I’ve had a lot of gifts just handed  to me.  I can turn a phrase, pen a letter, think on my feet from time to time.  I’ve got a cussedly optimistic streak and I’ve been compared to the Energizer Bunny, sometimes in good humor.  So, I’m keeping a list of everything about which I have no complaint.  If you want to get on the list, drop me a line!