Monthly Archives: March 2014

A light goes on

At approximately 1:15 today, our power suddenly stopped.

I had been doing chores and stood in the sunlit bedroom momentarily confused, glancing at the clocks, realizing that the radio had fallen silent and the glowing numbers on our alarm clocks had vanished.  My first thought was, “Did I pay the bill?”, followed by, “Yes, I did!”  I grabbed my cell phone and called Verizon Wireless connect, asking for a KC MO listing for  Kansas City Power & Light.

“Certainly,” said the crisp voice.  I ignored the computer prompt to “text one to also have driving directions sent to your V-Z Navigator”, and waited for the friendly neighborhood Computer Driven Voice Menu of our local power company.

Instead, I heard a chirpy recorded voice say, “Welcome to the Kansas City Power & Light District! Our normal business hours are…”  I disconnected the call and redialed 1411.  I explained to the woman what I wanted — and, curiously, I got the same person who had just misdirected my call.  “It’s the only Kansas City Power & Light listed,” she insisted.  I held back a sharp retort and said, “Try KCP&L.”  She asked, “What’s that?”  I’m guessing she wasn’t in a nearby location.  “Just please try it,” I begged, and she did.

Moments later I had recorded my problem and the KCP&L computer automatically terminated the call.  I felt uneasy.  What if it wasn’t a power outage?  What if….Oh, golly do I need to go downstairs and check the breaker?  I decided to call back and just hold until an operator came online. The computer went through its routine three times before surrendering and connecting me with a human being.

“Do you have a power outage in your neighborhood,” she asked.  I fell into a momentary time warp.  It seemed to me that I should be asking her this question.  “I don’t know; do I?”  She hesitated a moment and said — I swear on my mother’s grave — “We only know that when people call into the office and tell us.”  People? This caused my confusion to deepen.

“What do you mean, ‘people’?”

“Well, you know,” she explained.  “Like you.  When people like you call into the office and tell us that they don’t have power, then we know there’s an outage.”

Are you serious right now?  Nobody’s watching the grid?

After ten minutes or so of discussing the process, the prospects for restored power, and the numbers scrolling by on her screen, the lady suddenly cried out with glee:  “Oh, they just declared it an outage!”  A moment passed.  “189 people are without power!”  I could tell she felt vindicated.  At last, confirmation of what I feared and of her assessment of the system:  Enough people called them to allow for the declaration of  a power outage.  I’m guessing all 189 people called at once.

“What’s your name, ma’am?”  I asked the question as kindly as i could.

“Hilda,” she told me.

“Well, Hilda, I really hope you have a nice afternoon,” I said.  Just before I disconnected the call, I heard HIlda say, “I hope you have a nice afternoon too, Miss Corley.”

To be completely honest with you, I found myself laughing.  And sure enough, even though the lights didn’t come back on until almost 4:30, I actually did enjoy my day.


I found a torn up picture in the bottom of a box today.

I crawled into our attic, having first carefully removed all of my husband’s clothes from the small closet at the back of which stands the small door through which one must pass to get into the bowels of our roofline.  I wanted to find pictures of my childhood.  Except for one or two, I failed in that mission but found other treasures, including a tintype of the great-grandmother after whom I am named. And one small photograph of my cousin Paul, playing pool at our grandfather’s house, smiling at the camera just before taking his shot.

In between bouts of dragging things out of the closet and sorting through pictures, I exchanged a series of e-mails with someone who is angry with me.

The whys and wherefores of the quarrel aside, I got lost at the crossroad of vindication and understanding.  I chose the former; took two steps down the path; and turned to find a wall rising behind me.  I threw my arms on the mounting bricks and mortar, and clung for my life; seeing the path to understanding receding behind the barrier.  I’m clinging still; my eyes visible above the obstruction; hoping their light shines over the wall.

And so I sat back down, at the table, with my piles of pictures and a cup of coffee.  I left the quarrel to simmer for the moment, seeing it as a  problem born of my regressive choice that can only be resolved by the healing salve of the other’s forgiveness.  I cannot fix it at the moment; I’ve offered my request and cannot do more.  Mercy is the other’s to give or to withhold.

Instead I sort through the packets of photographs, saving this one and that one, making a small pile: My brother’s face; a few slides of myself as a young woman with my oldest niece; the party we had at O’Connell’s pub, years ago.  That picture of my cousin Paul.  A couple of me, looking impossibly naive, with long hair, clear skin, and eyes not yet wounded by life’s rocky journey.

A little pile of scraps from the torn picture sits before me on the table now.  I see my hand in one piece, wearing a moon watch that I was given in 1987.  I’m on the telephone.  I haven’t found my face yet, but I found part of my father’s head so I know I am sitting beside him.  I see my hand again; I’ve got two pictures, I realize; torn together and discarded in the box.  Just as suddenly, I know that I don’t have all the pieces.  I never will.  I’ll never know what caused me  to tear this picture into shreds but yet, be unable to discard it.  The rest of the pieces have been lost.  I stare at the little pile, as my coffee grows cold beside me.  I am left wondering if the act of destruction cleansed my heart, or if the rage and bitterness with which I destroyed my own image lingers still.

From Brookside, 15 March 2014


Let’s say you’re 54 years old and have two marriages and divorces behind you.  Your son has gone off to college and you’re “home alone” for the first time in 18 years.  Sure that you’re “okay alone”, nonetheless, you feel that something would make your life richer.

I found myself in this position in 2009.  I had already started writing again, and knew that abandoning my writing had been a huge mistake.  I deepened  my connection with words and began using them to observe and describe my world.  I came to rely on the writing process; I found my voice.

In the same time period, I found love in the person of my husband, Jim MacLaughlin.  Now, everyone who knows me can testify that I am a difficult person.  The years have eroded my basic ability to trust. I have hardened and become brittle around more than my edges.  Being married to me is a challenge.  But our third anniversary approaches and I am hopeful that I might have dodged the divorce bullet this time.

The desire to soften my prickly exterior drives this personal journey of mine.  As I mentioned in the introduction to this blog, my mother-in-law, Joanna, had an uncomplaining nature.  Her sweet demeanor and her acceptance of others lives in her son as well.  So I am doubly inspired, once by the mother, and once by the son.

I’ve never been one to publicly proclaim my love.  Years of therapy might expose the soft underbelly hiding beneath my thorny exterior.  But I feel the fullness of time.  Someone once told me that time is our most precious commodity; and I feel very keenly the truth of that.  A while ago, I read an essay by one writer about her writer husband written after his death.  I don’t doubt that she expressed her love before he passed away; and I don’t want to be one who waits until I’ve lost my husband to tell him, and the world, how much he means to me.

So here he is, my husband, Jim MacLaughlin,- in one of my favorite photos of the two of us, taken during our courtship.  He inspires me to continue this journey.  Because of him, and because of the hope that our partnership gives me, I continue to move forward in my year without complaining.

Jim and CC (2)

Greener grass

Family Justice Center (2)

My experiences in court today inspire me to tell you all:  The grass is definitely greener on the other sign of the courthouse door.

I admire the assemblage of professionals with whom I shared counsel table today, from the young attorney for the Juvenile Officer (a softer phrase than ‘prosecutor’) to the tough-outside-tender-inside guardian ad litem for my fifteen-year-old client’s seven-month old son.  Five attorneys recommended disposition regarding an adult mother, her three children including my client, and my client’s baby.  We bobbed up and down so much, the very experienced judge suggested we looked like bidders at a Moroccan market.

When I started practicing law, the type of case in which the state takes jurisdiction over children who have been abused or neglected took place in “Juvenile Court”, and offenders under the age of 18 were housed in the “Juvenile Detention Center”.  At some point a decade or so ago, someone got the bright idea to change the names to “Family Court” and “the Family Detention Center”.   I’ve often pointed out that it might help if we actually did detain the family but we do not, in fact, do so.

I took this picture from my car window after this morning’s hearing.  As I paused and aimed my cell phone, an unusually polite driver sat behind me in a red SUV, gazing at the process without so much as a tiny tap of his horn.  You might say: I kept him waiting, but he did not complain.

As I drove away, rounding two corners to guide myself in the correct direction down one-way streets back to my office, I reflected on my great good fortune in never having been a litigant in juvenile court, either because of my dereliction or the misdeeds of my child.  Many circumstances in my life pose challenges at present; but I am one of the lucky ones living in the  fertile fields on the easy side of the courthouse door.  Though at times those fields dip and rocks lurk in the underbrush, nevertheless, I can pick my way through life secure in the knowledge that what I’ve got can be handled without the aid of those valiant professionals within the hollow, hallowed halls of family justice.


The Ultimate Test

Anyone that can spend four hours on the line with technical support persons who do not, actually, speak one’s language without complaining deserves a medal.

A few years ago, my lovely webmistress, Ann Wilson of warned me not to set my domain email as a dummy address through some Google App.  I no longer recall why I didn’t listen to her as she is a Goddess of all things Internet.  Whatever my reason, she mildly suggested that  I would,  time, regret my decision. Sure enough, the day of reckoning came today.

I discovered that our email no longer popped into our g-mail inboxes as it has been set to do since a prior hosting site went dark.  Had I listened to my web-guru, those e-mails would have been independently configured on the new website.  Heavy sigh.  This impacts more than just “e-mail”.  It interrupts our client-communication and our receipt of e-filing notices from the courts in which I practice.  This. Is. Big.

Before biting the bullet and establishing the new email addresses on my current site, I had to establish e-mail clients on each of our three computers and then set them to download G-mail so that we could “save” past incoming emails.  Oh, joy.  Mine had already been done; I moved to the receptionist spot and there I encountered trouble.  My Office 365 subscription entitles me to “free” support.  I called.  I won’t embarrass myself by tring to tell you the first responder’s name or the country with which I associate his accent.  I’ll just say this: i tried to be patient; I really did.  As I explained the problem, he started interrupting me to tell me in a shrill voice that I should stop talking and wait while he consulted various sources, PLEASE MISS CORLEY.

I stopped.  “Are you upset?” I said.  No! NO!  Why should I be upset!!!  I just got married last week and my life is wonderful and I AM NOT UPSET BUT I MUST CONSULT VARIOUS SOURCES.

i took a deep breath, pulled from my stomach an inaudible sigh, and mildly suggested that perhaps I could speak with one of those sources.

The next person accidentally cut me off before he could give me an incident number.  I then tried online chat; “Roy D. Regrettably is Helping Someone Else, Please Call 1800MICROSOFT.”

So I called back.  Three people later, still comparatively calm but having shot a glaring look at my unwitting assistant that told him don’t interrupt if you know what’s good for you, I finally got to an almost insanely helpful person who not only actually FIXED the problem, but explained some of the benefits of my Office 365 subscription that I had no idea existed.

After only eight hours, interrupted by a doctor appointment mid-day, I was finally able to get Outlook and our gmail accounts up and running on all three computers and  I did not complain to one person through the entire process.  I did tell the last person, at the outset of our call, that I was very close to my last nerve, but at the end of the call, I also told him how wonderful he had been and how grateful I was for his help.

In case you have a technical support issue involving Office 365 and have to call Microsoft, ask for Akash.  He’s da bomb.


Blue skies

Some days just beg to be pressed in a scrapbook.  Today has been such a day, with its cool air and blue skies.

We started out with breakfast, meeting my husband’s sister Virginia McCoskrie.  Oh, the food didn’t do much for me; but I’m not complaining.  Our conversation made dragging myself out of bed, stumbiing down the steep stairs holding onto Jim’s shoulder to minimize the effect of my dizzy spells, worth the effort even though, truth be told, we had forgotten about daylight savings time.  I kept thinking, I should be asleep….It’s still 7:00 a.m.  But the hour spent with Virginia chased the cobwebs from my brain and left me smiling.

Eventually, we headed west to Lawrence and lunch at Free State Brewery.  Jim drove while I chattered, watching the passing farmland and ruminating about life and everything.  We found ourselves holding hands like a couple of fifteen-year-olds; thinking about our approaching three-year anniversary and how easily we might lose our love if we do not nurture it.  Days like this give us that chance.

Eventually, we made our way back to Kansas City, and now, in the quiet of our home, with my son making a pot of tea and Jim upstairs reading the Sunday paper, I feel again the surge of motivation that compels me forward in this odd journey.

In the breakfast nook just beyond where I sit, a collection of life’s bric-a-bracs clutters a ledge that we call The Keeping Shelf.  There are three baby cups — one given at my son’s birth by a member of Congress; the brass dinner bell which my mother used to summon her eight children; a Christmas ornament that hung on my father’s childhood trees; and four clay handprints made by children –one by my brother, one by my son, and two by Jennie Taggart Wandfluh’s children.  A row of tiny saucers spanning the back came from my mother’s vanity dresser.  On top of a little wooden treasure chest from my son’s boyhood sits a car that my mother found in her garden and wrote about for Organic Gardening magazine, chronicling her life as a parent by the trinkets unearthed in her turning of the dirt each planting season.   Three little jars hold layers of colored sand carefully poured in the narrow necks by some foster kids that lived with us years ago.  Behind a vase stands a coke bottle filled with oil-tinged water from my husband’s fledgling oil wells.  And on and on.

Nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened today.  But this day will stand on the keeping shelf as one of the golden gifts of this year of not complaining.  Nothing has happened to even tempt me.  I am well content.

How’s that working for you?

I’ve noticed that the more firmly entrenched in an attitude people become, the more resistant they are to changing even a dysfunctional response.  The grim set of their jaws, the permanent scowl, the hunch of their shoulders — all signal that they have resolved not to live a life of self-reflection.  They start each sentence with, “I’ve always….”, “I never…”, or “I don’t….” and in response, I think, How’s that working for you?  Sometimes I ask the question outloud, usually to my deep chagrin.  It’s not a query to which most respond with good-natured laughter.

I’ve turned this question upon myself in recent months.  I’ve always been a person to champion small causes.  I’ve prided myself in protesting the tiniest of slights.  A friend told me last night, you’ve never been one to complain! but that friend must wear rose-colored glasses.  Though I would not, in the past, have admitted to being a whiner, I see that the label suited me quite well.

I’ve been standing in front of a mirror rimmed in gilt-painted wood.  I’ve seen the scowl on my own face; the tightness of my own jaw; the glare hovering in my own eyes.  I’ve fluttered those eyes shut and listened to the cold rattle of an icy heart and thought, How’s that working for you?

I’ve let the answer wash through me.  Its resonance is unmistakeable.  Not very well.

The journey continues.  I remain resolute:  My year without complaining, month three.  The sun’s still shining.

And just to prove that there is gladness in my heart, here’s a picture of me, with a dear friend of mine, Cindy Cieplik, whose smile always inspires me:



At dinner two nights ago, my adorable,, curmudgeonly father-in-law, Jabez MacLaughlin, talked with me about the importance of reading.  He opined that children whose parents read to them fare better in life: in school and in their work-place existences.  He spoke in emphatic tones about the need for children to both learn and use this fundamental skill.

And in that moment, I recalled how I learned to read.

At age 18 months, a disease deprived me of my ability to walk.  At the time, no one knew whether the condition would persist or what my ultimate state would be.  My father had many faults, but one good thing that I can say about him is that he took me under his wing in that moment and taught me to read. With  my small head next to his and my small hand on his, we traced the words of articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch evening after evening, week after week, until I could read to him, outloud, in my little-girl voice, the summer before I turned four.

My father was a poet and he came by his proclivity honestly. His father, John L. Corley had attended Notre Dame Law School and wrote poetry for the literary magazine there.  Both men had old and tortured souls, which made their poetry maudlin and their interpersonal relationships difficult.

I lost and found my way as a writer over the decades of my life.  But words never failed me; and the love of words cultivated by my father has never left me.   Whatever else my father did or didn’t do in his whole, sad life, he has two things to credit:  He was a hell of a grandfather, and he taught this Missouri Mugwump to read.


Something blue




My sister Joyce gave me these earrings to wear in her wedding in 1969.  That marriage has ended.  But I still have these lovely earrings and am wearing them today.  For me, they symbolize something enduring:  My sister’s love, my faith in life, my dedication to joy.  While the occasion for which she gave them to me might have resulted in divorce, it also gave her a beautiful daughter, my niece Lisa Corley Davis, a gift of unassailable beauty.  When I wear these earrings, I cannot help but think of my sister and my niece, and the thought of them pulls a smile to my face regardless of what else I might be facing.  Because of these earrings, I don’t associate the color blue with sadness, but with the comfort of family and the peace of knowing I am loved.


Pain Scale


Every time I go to the emergency room, I’m asked to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten. “One being pain-free, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt,” says the nurse.  The triage room simmers in silence as I decide whether to answer with patience, sarcasm or resignation.

The only times that I’ve ever been pain-free have been in emergency rooms, after injuring myself, when I’ve been administered a large dose of morphine.  I vividly recall the first time: I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and dislocated my shoulder.  The ER doc gave me a shot preparatory to pushing it back into place.  My mother’s chagrin sat palpably on her face.  I reclined on the gurney thinking, wow, my legs don’t hurt!!!  Of course, I couldn’t feel them, either.

I’ve described myself as having been born a decade too late to die in infancy and a decade too early to have been cured.  Doctors in the 1980s determined through testing developed years after it might have done some good for me, that my original disease had been a viral encephalitis.  One of my sisters has the same malady and I never hear her complain about pain; I don’t know how she does it, but her disposition is sweeter than mine in many ways, so that’s probably the explanation.

I’ve developed this response to ER nurses:  “On a scale of the pain I normally have every day, to the pain I figure my mother experienced dying long and slow from cancer, I’m about halfway in between.”  Or closer to one end or  the other.  Chronic pain can make me grumpy; I don’t know how other people handle it, but after  a sleepless night of spastic leg cramps, I just want to drink  my cup of coffee and snarl at all the other sentient beings in the household.  A doctor recently asked me to tell her how much pain I handle every day, and without thinking, I responded, “I’d rather not.”

In the 1970s, my neurologist gave me Valium for my legs.  I went cold-turkey from 10 mgs QID during my freshman year of college, having realized that I lived in a fog of disconnectedness. At various times in my life, I’ve self-medicated with alcohol, relied on doctor-prescribed narcotics, and tried meditation.  I do stretching yoga, take hot baths, and listen to classical music.  I’m here to tell you: None of it works.  The pain thrives.

So here I am: trying to live complaint-free.  I think I’m well on my way as to the things other people do.  I find myself processing what previously would have prompted quick retorts, and thinking about the other person’s feelings.  I haven’t called anyone an idiot under my breath in weeks.  I don’t yell at other drivers as I used to do, and I even let a few in line ahead of me.  My tipping percentage has increased.  I don’t send food back to the kitchen.   I feel nicer.

But this monkey on my back, pain.  Oh how hard it is not to complain about his smirking presence!  The crunch in my neck, the stiffness in my shoulder, the sharp jabs in my SI joint, the burning in my legs.  Sometimes when I’m listening to the symphonic tinnitis in my ears, my eyes closed, hands extended, about to stretch, I think:  If God only gives you as much as He thinks you can bear, He must have a higher opinion of me than I do.

So, fair warning:  Don’t ask me about my pain.  I might complain.  I’ll need another few weeks to figure this one out.  Still hopeful though:  silence is not complaining, right?

*exit smiing*