Monthly Archives: August 2016


I hammered away at task after task today; and faced a small whirling dervish of a demon.   I pounded spikes around my castle and welded barbed wire to the top of the gate.    Then I eased my weary body from the confines of a dungeon and fled home.

Now the dog sits at my feet, which are not clad in ruby slippers but, rather, dirty red scuffs.  I’ve eaten leftovers.  I’ve started a load of laundry.  I’ve answered e-mail.  I’ve stayed calm.

I’ve begun to gather what I need for my trip out west.  I stood in the dining room tonight looking at the growing pile on the table.  I contemplated what I might, or might not take.

I bought a collapsible walking stick.  I’ve avoided use of a cane for many years.  I tell my doctors, “I already have two legs that don’t communicate with my brain; I can’t handle a third.”  For me, canes only help at the moment when I need to rest.  Barring a strong nearby arm, a handy wall, or a chair into which I can briefly collapse, a walking stick allows me to lean and catch my breath.  I prefer a wall, truth be told.  It’s sturdier; it’s stationary; and I can gauge its spatial relationship to my body.

Besides:  People look at me oddly enough as it is.  The walking stick will doubtless make it worse.

But I thought about the river into which I fell in Colorado.  My wooden cane, which Jenny Rosen chased downstream, served me well hiking in the dunes.  I had Jenny’s strong arm for most of the trip back from the river; but out in California, I will be alone, and  I expect to do a fair amount of walking.

When my feet touch down on the concourse at San Jose Airport, my ten-day solitary oddysey will begin.  I’ll be going from Pigeon Point to Novato; from Oakland to Point Montaro; from San Francisco to Palo Alto. And back again!  I’m bound to need a brief respite now and then.  I’ll take the walking stick.  I won’t complain about it.  I’ll make good use of it; and keep walking.  Just as I promised my mother all those years ago.

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



Monday morning

I have no complaints today.

After a long lovely lunch with my friend Rebecca yesterday, I vegetated for the rest of Sunday.  Something lulled me into complacency — too much salt, the barometric pressure, the weight of the approaching week.  No matter:  I read, watched some mindless television, rifled through my mental notebook looking for pages to discard.   The satisfying fare at Cafe Gratitude obviated the need for dinner.  I drank copious quantities of water, trolled social media, and went to bed just as the storm hit.

Now I’m compensating for my forgetfulness.  I had meant to retrieve a file from the office for this morning’s court but instead I’m printing the relevant material from the internet.  I don’t mind.  Once in a while the fibers of my soul need downtime.

I’m feeling drowsy and mundane.    And — from Emily Dickinson — here’s my tribute to the day:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

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

This photo of me and Rebecca dates back a few months and a few hair-color changes.

This photo of me and Rebecca dates back a few months and a few hair-color changes.




The face of negativity peers at me like the reflection in a mirror.  I lean forward, trace the furrows on the brow, squint to bring the image into focus.  Every action flashes back in pristine imitation.

What would happen if I smiled instead?  Would the eyes fixed on mine  return my shine?

I had a running electronic discussion with a client yesterday.  She had hit a pothole of despair.  She’s dealing with a scorned ex-boyfriend who has snatched their child and harnessed his anger into an onslaught of lies about her character and her mental health.  Her tortured words reflect his condemnation of her.  I transmitted rapidly constructed paragraphs praising her tenacity in the face of his fury; promising industry in her defense; expressing understanding of her pain.   By afternoon’s end, her writing took on a different tone.  She sent pictures of her son, and finally, said this:

“I can’t say this caused me to cry my eyes swollen… Because I already have…. But your sweet thoughtful heart changed the way my tears felt. Simply, I thank you…. For being you. You deserve each and every blessing you are offered and so many more!!!”

I ask myself a hundred times each day what my purpose in life could possibly be.  Loneliness tugs me downward into the muck of self-pity and complaint.  Sometimes from within the quagmire of my own despair, I spy another unhappy soul.  My desire to save them drives me from the depths.   I raise my arms and let the weeping heavens wash me clean.   A filthy mirror cannot reflect the light.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the thirty-second month of My [Endless] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.





As the storm descends on Brookside, I speak a few soft words to the dog.  She settles in her bed and I climb the stairs.  I sit in front of the open window, letting the wind flow past, eyes closed, feet on my grandmother’s little stool.

My week held much.  Clients who cried in my office; a few hours of personal panic; fellowship; friendship; some Come-to-Jesus moments.  Humanity showed itself in great waves.

Now the thunder ripples and crackles through the sky.  The broken blind falls in a crooked pattern and the flashes of lightening play on its slats.  I find this week of weather disconcerting, more like a Missouri spring than late summer.  But I will not complain.  True enough the weeds have overtaken the garden and the dog whimpers if I try to coax her outside after dark.   It could be so worse though; ask any Italian.  Any Syrian.  Any worried mother of a son walking home from school.  Ask anyone with anything different about them, standing in a sea of sameness, frightened and alone.  I can weather this storm.  I have seen worse.

A few hours ago, my legs quit working and I actually slept away the evening.  When I awoke from an uneasy dream of catastrophe, the dog had fallen quiet on the stoop.  I stood outside watching the gathering gloom, thinking, How lovely the sky!  How majestic!  Then I let the dog skitter past me into the kitchen.  I said goodnight to my neighbor, who waited for his own dog scampering around their yard.  Something close to peace filled my breast.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  The heavens just opened and rain pelts the roof of my home.  But I am safe.    Life continues.





I had two conversations about hair today, not counting the long, raucous, lively discourse between me and my stylist from 2pm to 5pm.

Before I surrendered myself to her care, I talked with my secretary.  Miranda is 23, a Paul Mitchell School graduate, and  beautifully kept herself.  I disclosed to her that I completely fall apart when I interact with hairdressers.  She tried to understand but confusion danced across her face.  It’s about growing up believing myself to be unworthy of the money or the effort, I told her.  I could feel the kindness pouring from her.  Just tell her what you want, she suggested.

I can’t.  I just can’t.  Fortunately, the woman who took over as my stylist after my long-time hairdresser unexpectedly passed away totally rocks.  I had not been to her since she pinched-hit for Robert when he couldn’t make an appointment on what turned out to be the day before he died.  I couldn’t bring myself to sit across from his station for months.  It felt disloyal.  This compounded my normal anxiety about asking for service and spending a huge chunk of change on something as frivolous as a vain attempt to look presentable.

This evening I visited with a new acquaintance who came to bid some work at my house.  We found an unexpected kinship in our respective recent efforts to change our approaches to life and forge a new philosophy.  He told me about books he had been reading; and I explained my quest to internalize the philosophies of non-violent communication.  He spoke of re-programming old beliefs about his shortcomings.

I told him about my reluctance to get my hair done.  He completely understood.  He had the same anxieties as I do.  Not about hair, but about himself.  After he’d left to go home and take care of his sick wife, I remained on the porch, in the coolness of the night, contemplating lies we tell ourselves about our inferiority.

Today I spent $175 getting my hair done, not counting tip.  I calculated that as $58 an hour.  Way cheaper than therapy, and I laughed the entire time.  Completely worth every penny.

It’s the twenty-fifth day  of the thirty-second month of My [Ongoing] Year Without Complaining. My life continues, a little lighter, a little less tattered.


Its not quite as gorgeous as when I left the salon but still feels great!

Its not quite as gorgeous as when I left the salon but still feels great!

My amazing new look was created by Kelley Blond at Lady Lucky Hair Parlour in Westport.


Allowing myself to blog at night has liberated me.  I can barely walk most mornings, much less type.  My eyes don’t focus until I’ve been awake for a half an hour; my feet stumble; my brain groans as I strain to connect the misfiring across my synapses.

But at night, I’ve already been awake for fifteen hours.  A full day of stimulation courses across those brain cells, firing at will in my unique arrhythmic and irregular pattern. Voices of everyone who crossed my path join to remind me of the vibrancy of my life.

As I bolted up my driveway tonight, in the pelting rain, I heard my dog snuffling in her house.  Hold on, I shouted.  I’ll let you in!  I’m home!  My flags hung dripping over the steps but the lights on my deck shone steady in the dark and wind.  I threw my computer bag down, suddenly picturing my house keys sitting on the car seat.  Back down the driveway went I, my Dansko clogs clicking on the asphalt.  I skirted the habitual pool of drain water and nipped back into the Prius.  Once I had secured the keys, I skittered back to the house, sparing another shout for my poor little dog hunkered down in the shelter.

Before unlocking the door, I stood watching the rain.  I could not stop myself from smiling.  I like my home.  With the setting of the sun you can no longer see the fallen branches, or the dead marigolds, or the poorly patched concrete.  Rain washes away the  muck and darkness hides the imperfections.

Tonight I have no complaints.  When the sun rises, they will all rush back to gloat and chortle, my demented evil muses.  But now, as my Wednesday draws to a close, I revel in a sense of rightness.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the thirty-second month of My [Endless] Year Without Complaining.  This one’s dedicated to all of you who try, and who are not sure if you are winning.  It doesn’t matter.  Forge on. We’re all bozos on this bus.






A little nudge to the good side

I enjoyed my breakfast with Pat Reynolds today; and getting a load of work out of the way.  The DMV yielded a new handicapped hang-tag in record time; and the TSA-Pre process turned out to be a breeze.  But an unpleasant encounter or two and a spot of worry pulled me down in the doldrums.  Self-pity lured me close to the edge.

Then I walked into the kitchen, let the dog out, and spied a little nudge, an unexpected reminder, a penny from heaven.

It certainly had not been on my back doorstep this morning.  It has no layer of dust, no sign of grime like the stoop on which it sits.  It’s just one of those little  reminders to look for something good where I least think to find it.

A spring came to my step and a smile to my lips.  I went about the rest of my evening a little closer to being in a good mood.

It’s an early day tomorrow, so this will have to be my morning note.  It’s night-time, the day before the twenty-fourth day of the thirty-second month of My [Endless] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The journey continues.

I haven’t been in a sailboat for years but I remember the feeling of flying across the surface of the water.  The spray in my face, the wind buffeting against me — these sensations linger, decades after I last hoisted myself into a boat from a slippery Martha’s Vineyard dock.

I remember, too, the rudimentary lessons which my host gave.  Look down, look out, look down, look out — constantly gauging where I’m going but also monitoring  where I stand in the water.  Check for hazards – here, there — always.

Once in a while, look backward, to remember where you’ve been.

Now I get my bearings in life the same way.  I take stock of where I stand, look forward to measure the possibilities, and occasionally I glance over my shoulder, in the pages of my blog, at old and fading poetry written in my journals, to recall what I felt and experienced.  I respect those who say they only live in the present, not thinking about the past or the future.  But that doesn’t work for me.  The past formed me; the future calls me; the present surrounds me.  Each contributes to the richness of my life.

It’s the twenty-third day of the thirty-second month of My [Endless] Year Without Complaining.  Smooth sailing with the occasional iceberg.  Life continues.


CC, circa 1970.

CC, circa 1970.

Monday’s Child

In two weeks, I will turn 61.  I truly never believed that I would make it this far; or be this tired when I got here.  But I’m not complaining.  I will spend my 61st birthday in a chair outside the communal room of the Dolphin building at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.  I will wrap myself in a shawl and eat fruit from a bowl found in the cupboard.  The sea air will bathe my face and the ocean’s voice will soothe me.  Once in a while, I will rise from my comfortable position in the slatted wood Adirondack chair to walk along the sidewalk towards the far point.  Whales will play on the near horizon, venturing close to shore once in a while.  My camera phone will capture the ripple in the water and I will let my book fall to one side as I marvel at the vastness of the water.

I’ll venture up the coast to a new hostel at which I’ve never stayed, two nights there and then down to Palo Alto.  Between legs, I’ll lunch with a Rotary friend in San Rafael, and meet a lawyer who thinks she can introduce me to other folks, lawyers who might know of job openings.  In Palo Alto, I’ll stay in an Air BnB, in a room in the home of a friend of a virtual friend here in KC.  I’ll meet with doctors, get a few treatments and some assessment, then head to San Fran for a weekend of city life.  I’ll end my visit back in the Air BnB for a full day of medical appointments and then fly home.  Rested, more sure of my future, calm — One hopes.

Between now and my departure, much remains to be done.  But yes, I have somehow settled into the groove.  I’ve learned so much; seen so much; sixty-one years has given me many opportunities for growth.  I’m a Monday’s child, but I do not think I’m fair of face.  I’d rather be full of grace, truth be told.

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

“Monday’s child is fair of face…”
by Mother Goose

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.


11046489_10152553251546710_7392541770257291801_nThe view from the edge of the world.


For Lucy

At 7:00 a.m. on 21 August 1985, I stood outside of my childhood home in Jennings, Missouri, watching two silent men load my mother’s wasted, lifeless body into the back of a barren vehicle for her  last ride away from the house in which she had shed tears, dodged blows, and nurtured children.

My brother Stephen wanted to make the ride to the funeral home with her remains.  To this day, I sometimes swear he did but I cannot honestly remember.  I know he tried.

The moment when my mother died culminated a year of craziness for me.  I had been driving to and from Kansas City nearly every weekend.  Alcohol had been my nightly companion, in an apartment which I shared with a dope-smoking bank teller whose wife I could have become, had I not known us to be wholly unsuitable for one another.  We stayed together because he knew I could not bear my mother’s death alone.

I worked in the prosecutor’s office at the time.  My mother found my job to be enormously satisfying for her as a parent. She felt that I had established myself.  She bought me a navy blue suit, a few fancy blouses, and a pair of grey leather pumps with a tiny gold piping which it pleased me just to admire.  I tripped in the shoes whenever I wore them but I never told my mother. She thought they made me look like a real lawyer.

I spent many hours sitting with my mother during her long decline.  In early days, our talks took place in her garden.  She’d sit on a small stool, turning the dirt with a trowel, showing me tender shoots of asparagus or lettuce, reflecting on the virtues of the fertilizer, sometimes sighing with the growing fatigue of her cancer.  The winter before she died, our time together took place in her living room, my father always hovering nearby.  We talked of nothing, of everything, of always, of never.  I hear her murmuring voice still but the words elude me.

As she declined, the last summer, we spent more and more time in the bedroom which had been crafted from the dining room to make a nursery when my baby brother Stephen had been born.  Eventually, we had a hospital bed brought into that room for my mother.  We nestled the coffee table under the window and set her stereo on it.  We spun her favorite records — Willie Nelson, Dvorak — and I read to her.  I’m sure my sisters did the same, but we visited in turns, relieving one another as often as we could.  I don’t know about their conversations with her.  I only know what she and I discussed.  And the memory of her words has faded.  Mostly I recall her soft brown eyes, her papery skin, and the music which surrounded us.

In one of my last moments with my mother, she fixed her eyes on a space over my shoulder and spoke to her father.  I found that particularly haunting because he was till alive at the time, though beset with Alzheimer’s.  But she said, clearly, despite her semi-comatose condition, What’s that, Daddy?  What?  She listened.  Then her foggy eyes focused for a brief moment, and she fixed their gaze on my face.  She told me, Daddy says I have to wait for the last of them to come before I can go home.

A few hours later, in the middle of the night, my sister Ann arrived from Minnesota.  My mother had waited.  She died that morning.

I was not there when my mother died.  I will always regret that.  I had left the small house to go stay with my cousin Theresa Orso Smythe.  There would not have been enough beds had I remained at my parents’ home, but in retrospect I do not why that mattered.  I could have slept on the floor, in a chair, on the couch.  I could have stayed awake.  I suppose I might have thought that my sister Ann deserved some time alone with Mom.  I don’t recall being so noble, but it’s possible.  Whatever prompted me, I left.  My last sight of my mother’s frail form fills my mind and at times, overwhelms me with sorrow.

I’ve lived half my life without my mother.  I’ve married three times and divorced as many.  I’ve birthed and raised a child.  I’ve moved from state to state.  I’ve changed jobs, struggled to survive in the face of my failures, and found a few moments of satisfaction in helping others. I’ve sat by the deathbeds of both of my in-laws, who treated me like a daughter and whose passing meant nearly as much to me as my own mother’s death.  Nearly.

From time to time I still move towards a phone thinking to call my mother to share some little news with her.  Recently I gave her old phone number out as mine without thinking.

I do not look much like my mother.  I have her grit, her relentlessness, and her curly hair.  In stature, I resemble her.  But my blue eyes look nothing like hers, nor my little button nose, nor the curve of my cheek.  I do not see her when I look in the mirror, no matter how hard I strain.

My mother had a difficult life.  She married badly.  She dropped out of nursing school to do so, which impaired her earning power all of her life.  My father’s alcoholism meant that our childhood home groaned under the weight of chaos.  Many times I came across my mother sitting over a checkbook, coffee growing cold in a cup before her creased brow and her tense shoulders.  Once she came into the living room where my brothers played Grateful Dead on the stereo we acquired with S&H Green Stamps.  She told them, I was listening to the music thinking, ‘Well, don’t fuss, they could be out robbing banks.’  Then I looked at my checking account balance and thought, ‘What the hell are they doing sitting in there listening to music when they could be out robbing banks!!!!’

My mother’s sense of humor sometimes got her into trouble.  She once told a woman in church who wanted to shush my mother during Bill O’Fallon’s famous pro-choice sermon that the woman’s mother should have had an abortion.  But she had a heart bigger than the Grand Canyon.  She never turned anyone away from her table, regardless of how little food we might have to share.  My brothers’ friends filled the funeral home.  More than one of them found harbor in our little two-bedroom house in Jennings over the years.

What I remember most about my mother is her laughter.  Her throaty voice sent peals of warmth through every room and hallway.  She seemed to find a way to be joyful regardless of what she suffered.  Broken ribs, bruises, arrested children, spilled milk, empty wallets, police on her doorstep, storms outside.  Through it all, my mother endured, until one day she laid down and decided that she was tired.  Then she let herself slip away from us, and took herself home.

I owe my mother life, and lessons, and loyalty.  This year, I made a trip to her grave for the first time since we buried my brother Stephen beside her in 1997.  I knelt on the ground and traced her name, flicking accumulated grit from the letters with my fingernails.  I leaned over and laid my cheek on the stone in the warm spring air.  I imagined that her presence came to me for just a glimmering moment.  I have never felt so loved as in that second.

My mother gave me everything she had.  I have no complaints.  Maybe she could have left my father; maybe she could have found someone else to help her with her large brood or raised us completely alone without whatever occasional help my father gave.  Whether she stayed with him because she loved him or prompted by her adopted Roman Catholicism, I cannot say.  I never asked.  She made her choices, and those decisions marked us all forever.  But I do not hold her any malice.  She did her best.  Everything good in me comes from her.

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



In Memory Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley 10 September 1926 - 21 August 1985 ALWAYS ON MY MIND

In Memory
Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley
10 September 1926 – 21 August 1985

For a lovely rendition of my mother’s favorite Willie Nelson song, click HERE.

For a haunting version of Going Home, click HERE.