Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Best Advice I Ever Got

I’ve gotten a lot of good advice in my life.  But the best piece of advice which I ever received came from the woman whose birth we honor today.  My mother, Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, would have celebrated her 91st birthday today had she lived.  Instead, she never saw 59, succumbing to cancer on 21 August 1985.

I owe this woman everything.

My life, my attitude, my ability to persevere, and my relationship with my son.  I strove to parent my child with the same authenticity that my mother brought to the experience.  Admittedly, she made choices that I did not make.  She lived with an abusive husband who drank to the point of violent intoxication.  I had the choice to stay married to a man “with a drinking problem”, and as much as it pained me, I walked away to protect what remained of my son’s childhood.  My mother converted to Catholicism; that, too, I sloughed from my existence as unhealthy and destructive.

My burdens stem from my mother in large degree.  She kept us in a terrible situation, and the damage that I suffered as a consequence was, I suppose, her “fault”.

But in other respects, I admire my mother.  Even as I make my choices regarding when I would not or did not follow her lead, I concede that she had other variables at work.  She lived in a different time. She had fewer options.

She loved us, though, and she wanted us to know that she admired and cherished each one of us.  To me, in particular, she gave astoundingly unfailing encouragement.  One particular area concerned “my walking problem”, which we did not understand and could not skillfully manage.  Because the doctors could not explain why I “walked funny”, experienced severe pain, and tired easily, my mother could only tell me how to handle the state of affairs with which I found myself confronted.

Her advice stays with me, day in and day out.  Here is what she told me:

If you walk every day of your life, you will walk every day of your life.  So keep walking.

I knew what she meant.  Don’t let them put you in a wheelchair.  Don’t limit yourself by their predictions.  Do as Nana always told you:  Put your best foot forward.  Keep walking.

I’ve done that too.  Past all predicted dates of death or complete incapacity.  I’ve rejected doctors’ dire predictions and scoffed at therapists who wanted me to limit myself to part-time work or hobble myself with walkers and canes.  I understand that I put myself at some risk.  I’ve broken several bones.  But I can slow myself, get my bearings, and keep going.  I can do it.

Today I answered a Stanford survey in advance of next week’s quarterly check-up.  The questions seem absurd to me.  How often are you too tired to keep going?  How many naps do you take each day?  That was multiple choice.  Ten, twenty, forty?

Who has time to nap?

I imagine the average patient clocks themselves at 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 pain-wise, and admits to spending several hours each day resting.  I draw this conclusion because of side comments made by different doctors and their staff over the years.  Most famous among them was the nurse who insisted on calling me at home instead of my office during  the work day.  I finally asked her why she did that, even though her efforts were wasted since I am at the office 9 to 5.  Her reply amused me.  Most of our patients who are as bad off as you are, get disability.  They don’t work.  I just keep forgetting about you.

Me.  The stubborn one.  As her boss once said, I’m too stubborn to die.  One tough cookie.

After I finished the survey for Stanford, I logged into the Patient Portal and sent a message to my doctor.  I copy it here in full, for your amusement or edification:

To: Hector Bonilla, MD
From: Corinne Corley
Received: 9/10/2017 1:37 PM CDT

I received your CFS questionnaire. I answered the questions but it’s clear from the survey that whoever wrote it has no real feel for how most persons with disabilities strive to live. I work full time (and always have), I have friends, I participate in activities, I do charitable work, all “normal” activity for me. This continues despite how hard it is, how much pain I am in, how tortured my body is, etc. The reason I do, is because, if you don’t, you surrender to your disability. I have lived this way all of my life, no more, no less. I would no sooner succumb to my disability or medical condition than I would cut off my right hand. Which is to say, I would not. You get up, you get dressed, you show up, life continues. Your survey is largely irrelevant to me. I might be tired, because I’ve always been tired, but I keep going. I suppose you have patients who feel as tired and in as much pain as I do, who go to bed when they are tired or in pain. But I am not one of them.


I had more to say, but I hit the word limit.


Happy birthday, Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley.  If there is a heaven, I know you went there when you died.  You’re probably not resting, though.  You have the little kids organized into games on the lawn.  You’re making pickles, and canning fruit.  You’re on your knees in the celestial garden planting bulbs, covering them in two or three inches of perfectly enriched soil.  I know you, Mom. You won’t sit still for a moment.  You’ll cuddle the babies and hold the hands of the old women.  That’s just the way you roll.


Here on earth, I’m still walking.


It’s the tenth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



The End of Innocence

I have been crafting a list of all the labels that have been put on me this week.

I least like “too intense” and “contradictive”.  The latter isn’t really a word, not in American English any way.  But it reminded me of the dreaded nursery rhyme which uses my first name.  “Mary, Mary, quite contrary”.  I get hives just thinking of the number of  boys who stumbled behind me shouting that poem.

The same person who said that I was too intense also expressed grave concern about my taking care of myself, so I found forgiveness easier than usual.  I get it; I’m too intense, so you want me to go away but you don’t want me to suffer or want for anything.

I sorted through all the condemnations, the categories, and the names, looking for good.  Even the judge who said I was “thorough” looked askance, as though I had caused too much trouble.  I remembered that she had appointed me; that I wouldn’t be paid for the case; and that my client had been molested by some unknown person.  I shrugged.  So sue me.

I’ve given up wondering if somebody, somewhere, assesses me as something other than the litany of failure that all their appellations seem to suggest.  But my innocence slides to the floor, like a satin slip in a soundless hotel room.  I won’t complain.  I’ve chosen most of my steps.  I set myself on this path.  I had to have known that my true character would eventually show through the clumsy facade, despite my best efforts.

I take my time stacking the index cards on which I’ve noted the ways in which others want me to change.  I wrap a band around them and shove them into a drawer.  I close it carefully, and walk away.  I’m not bold enough to toss them out, but I won’t leave them around to glare at me when I leave dishes in the sink or spend too much on groceries.

It’s evening, on the eighth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




While In The Bosom of Family

The day unfolds with its usual awkward grace.   After coffee and shower, I carefully wrap two fragile items which need to go from me to someone who has taken a path away from me. I nestle them in a box that I’ve culled from the stack of bins.  Then I carry the box to the footwell of the Prius for transport.  I pretend not to see the piece of my heart caught in the folds of the bubble wrap.

At the grocery store, I run into an old friend who works there.  We give each other insincere hugs and plastic smiles.  I press him to tell me how he is, though I can see it in the crimson streaks splintering his eyes.  I suppress a gasp at the stern set of his jaw.  I think, but do not say, that alcohol has gotten the better of him.

I’m greeted at the door of my office building by the impossibly young woman who serves as my secretary, despite my flaws, despite the mountains she must climb to meet the task.  She reaches into the car to draw out all the things which I cannot carry.  Juggling her load, she holds the door of the building so that I may enter. I’m halfway up the stairs before the absurd tenderness assails my senses.  I choke on my gratitude and the moment passes.

A little while later, after I get control of my morning, I sit and listen to a grandmother cry about the four-year-old who does not yet speak, who cringes at the sight of her mother, at the foul language of the maternal grandfather and the shenanigans of the child’s mother.  Her son sits by her side, rarely speaking, bursting forth once in a while.  What I read between the lines tells me more than their words.  The son, who is my actual client, leaves after an hour.  We women sit and speak with an unguarded frankness, of her boy, and his baby, and all that she fears.

At one, the three women who serve on my benefit’s organizing committee arrive.  We go through the agenda, item by item.  I feel unsettled by the process.  I speak my piece on a few hard items, try to keep us on task, and once again succumb to the inevitable wave of admiration for their spirit. I do not feel up to their standard, but I try.  At least I try.

Miranda, the faithful secretary, spends a half hour listening to my sorrow and then, I leave, to go prepare for the potluck supper which my Rotary Club hosts each First Thursday.  We’ve adopted an apartment building which houses young adults aging out of the foster system. Each tenant has a developmental disability, but despite challenges, most have jobs or attend school.  We’re having a taco bar for them this month.  I’m to bring vegetarian baked beans, since I don’t eat meat, flour, or dairy.  I find myself laughing as I hurry back to the store for ingredients and then, home. . .

. . . where I find, on my doorstep, a belated birthday present from my son.  I open the card.  As I read what he has written, I begin to weep in earnest, noisily, without relent.  The present seals the deal.  He’s shot an arrow tipped not with poison but with love.  It hits its mark and I collapse into a chair, unable to keep myself upright any longer.

An hour later, I pull into the parking lot of 7540 Washington for our Community Partnership dinner.  A group of young folk sit at the picnic table in the little yard.   As I get out of the car, several stand and say, Do you need help? They move over to me then, without waiting for my answer.  I gesture to the warm pan on the seat beside me, and one of them lifts it, and says, What else can we do?

Together we enter the building.  One of the Rotarians comes over to me and exclaims, I didn’t know you would be here!  

And there, in the bosom of family, I find my peace, if only for an hour.

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

Though this cell phone shot does not do the piece justice, what you see is a digital image of my house, with our first pet, the loyal cat Sprinkles, in the rocker; and our last pet, the brave dog Little Girl, an 18-year-old whom we rescued as a pup in 2001, sitting on the floor in front of the steps.

Digital Image c. Patrick C. Corley, 2017


Both Sides Now

Two birthday presents.  Two friends.  Two sides to the same person.

As I sat, admiring the two gifts that I received from two women whom I greatly admire, I reflected on the marked difference.  Yet each pleased me.  Each bore the unmistakeable stamp of the giver and of the disparate views of my persona that I imagine each has.

One delicate, symbolic, religious.

One vivid, bold, modern.

I’ve recently been pegged, again, as damaged and needing therapy.  The remarks resonated with me, but I’m “not the therapy kind”, to quote a former client.  I’ve tried it; I get its virtues, but as a methodology, it falls flat for me.  So I plug away at reintegrating the cracked pieces.  The jigsaw of my shattered soul comes together slowly, with a few ragged edges.  I strain to figure out where all the dicey bits fit.  I gather the discarded hammers left by the brutes who broke me.  I tuck them away in a jumble of tools which I keep on the off-chance that they might one day be useful.  It’s a messy process but by and by, I will succeed.

Meanwhile, here at  my elbow, I have two wildly different pendants which I will wear from time to time to adorn myself for the world to see.  One demonstrates my underpinnings and casts a gentle glint from a gilded edge.  One glistens with the flickering lights, mesmerizing, flashy.  I like them both.  I’ve a love/hate relationship with the religion from which one comes.  I have an aversion to seeming even mildly sure of my looks, which causes me to hesitate before donning the other.  So wearing either will force me to confront my own humanity, not to mention reminding me of the affection of each giver.

Life brings me so many chances to reintegrate my splintered self.  Here beside me, two lovely presents bring my opposing halves together, side by side, in unexpected harmony.

It’s the sixth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Happy Birthday To Me

Good morning, Corinne.  This is the voice of your inner child, bringing birthday wishes.

Guess what I got you?  The gift of sight!

Oh, not for your old blue eyes; you’ll have to struggle with those thousand-dollar specs that don’t quite do it.

Did I ever tell you about the time my wallet was stolen and I had to go get a new driver’s license?  The lady wouldn’t help me because I didn’t have my birth certificate or Social Security card.  I finally called Jeff City and found out you could pay $2.00 to have a copy of the license faxed to the office.  If you matched your picture, you got a  new license.  The lady looked at me with resentment that I’d found out the secret of her nasty self.  She muttered, “What color are your eyes?” as though I had to know the answer to get the deed done.  “Grey,” I replied.  She looked at me.  “No, they’re not, they’re blue,” she admonished.  Wearily, I said to her, “If you already knew the answer, why did you ask?”

That’s not really funny.  She was probably an overworked state employee just trying to do her job.  Anyway, I got you the gift of sight, so you could see the truth.

And something else:  I also found your sense of humor where you left it five or six years ago!  It’s a little moldy, but if you take it to a commercial dry-cleaner, you can probably get it restored and use it for another decade at least!

When I was in college and people asked me why I walked funny — their words, not mine — I would get really close to them and say, “Nobody knows, BUT IT’S CONTAGIOUS!”  They’d jump back really far and I’d howl at the consternation on their faces!

That’s not humor, Corinne, that’s mean-spiritedness.  You should learn the difference!

Meanwhile, here’s a third gift — I wrapped it for you!  Go ahead!  Open it!  Do you see what it is?


It’s a gallon of child-like wonder!  Take a drink whenever you feel jaded; it brings back your capacity to see beauty!

I always wanted to be a knock-out, or at least to have somebody think that I am.  In college, we circulated a book of humor called, “I’m in Training to Be Tall, Blonde, and Beautiful”.  I envy people who can just look in the mirror and wash their face without wondering if whatever’s wrong with them could be fixed with deftly applied foundation.  I don’t think people realize how much stock the world takes in physical appearance.    I was standing in a store recently looking at dresses, and a sales lady asked me if I was lost.  I don’t know what it was about how I looked that suggested this to her; maybe my mixed-matched prints and wild hair.  Who knows.  Anyway, I pondered for a long minute and then replied, “Apparently.  I’ll go somewhere else to shop, thanks.”   As I walked away, I heard her tell one of her co-workers that I was a bitch.

Oh, Corinne!  She was probably just trying to be helpful and had an awkward moment!  You were a little bitchy, come to think of it.  Couldn’t you have just thanked her?  But here’s your last present, Corinne — open it!  Open it!  You’ll really like this one!

Don’t you know what it is?

It’s a sunrise!  A sunrise!  Get it?  I got you the gift of today!

When I was a young prosecutor, my boss made me stay in the courtroom of Leonard Hughes, Sr., a  stocky, African-American with a keen mind and a sharp wit.  Every morning, he came out to the bench and the courtroom fell silent.  He’d say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I woke up this morning which is more than some people can say.  So let’s get the show started.”  And he’d bang his gavel, once, for emphasis.  Then he’d spend the day meting out justice.  True justice.  The kind that convicted people if they were truly guilty but let them off if there was a little room for doubt.  He treated people decently, and called the transvestite hookers by whichever pronoun they used for themselves.  He called me, “Madam City Attorney Hot Lips” which he shortened to H.L. in court.  He stood five-feet-nothing and liked the St. Louis Cardinals, not a popular choice in Kansas City.  A few months after he took early retirement, he wrapped his car around a tree heading to court during a snowstorm.  DOA.  When I heard the news, I vowed never to take another sunrise for granted.

See?  A gift you can appreciate!  Now, tell me, what are you going to do to celebrate your birthday?

I think I’ll just take my coffee out on the porch and watch the begonias bloom.  How about you?

I’m going to dance!  And sing!  And throw my arms open to greet everybody who crosses my path!  Come on!  Let’s go!

It’s the fifth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  At the brink of my sixty-third year around the sun, and the end of my sixty-second trip, I’m standing, waiting, wishing, hoping.  Life continues.

Labor Day

Technically my birthday is not until tomorrow but I was born on Labor Day so I am starting my annual noncelebration today.

My way of commemorating my birthday involves my version of angst.  I draw within myself and think about the twelve months just ending.  I reflect on my successes, try to let go of my failures, and remember every little act of kindness bestowed on me.  I close my eyes and release the slights.  I forgive.

A car just raced by, seven a.m. and already impatient.  I wonder what the driver considers sufficiently important to exceed the posted speed limit by ten or fifteen miles past the houses in which people still sleep, oblivious to small dangers.  It wasn’t a police car, or a fire department supervisor.  Late for work?  On Labor Day?  More likely just someone unconcerned with the safety of any stray children who might dart down their driveway after a rolling ball.  I shake my head.

We’re careless of each other, we humans.  We live within the tiny limits of our feeble imaginations.  We cringe when challenged, mock each other, and invent new words for one another’s treachery.

But I’m done with smallness.

I’m weeding out the flotsam and jetsam of six decades.  I threw away old love letters and faded newspaper articles.  I culled out eight coffee mugs to keep and only the smallest of table cloths, including among them a sweet blue and white which belonged to my mother.  I’m down to two or three pairs of serviceable shoes and soon enough, my cohort in garage-sale planning will haul away boxes of dishes which I never use.  Good riddance to the lot.

I’ll strike a few emotions from the list of useless baggage:  Annoyance, and reluctance, and regret.  I’ll light a match to the pile of photographs in which I wore such unsuspecting smiles.  I’ll follow the smoke as it rises to the heavens, to my watching ancestors, to the gods of all things worldly and all things divine.

Then I’ll buy a new broom with stiff clean straw and sweep the cobwebs from the corners.

Another year begins.  Maybe this will be my year.  Maybe when the sun rises on my sixty-second birthday, a scant twenty-three hours from now, I’ll see the way.

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

Out on the street

On Thursday I struggled out of my front door with a bag of trash that I’d stuffed bigger than I can carry.  I heard a voice, Leave it, I’ll get it! and looked across the street.  I saw my long-time neighbor Debbie, my new neighbors Rachel and Jarred, and the couple from the rental whose names, improbably, are also Rachel and Something-I-forget.

I called out, Are you having a block party and I wasn’t invited?  I hoisted the bag down the stairs and left it, walking across the street to see what all the hooplah might be about.

As it turned out, it was an impromptu gathering.  Rachel and Jarred, who just bought the house to the south of me, had come across at Debbie’s invitation to be met.  We stood talking for a few minutes and then I noticed that a new Rainbow flag waved from the house next to the rental couple.  I asked if they had met their new neighbor yet, and they said that it was a woman named Beth.  I nodded, and replied that I was glad to see my Rainbow flag had company.

I turned and remarked, I hope all you new folks are okay with the somewhat liberal air of this block.  And then, standing on the street, our little gaggle of neighbors discussed last year’s election for a few minutes.  Debbie didn’t comment.  I hadn’t seen her put out any yard signs in 2016, so I don’t know whom she and Jimmy supported.  I said, with another glance at the new folks,  I’m a Democrat, in case you hadn’t figured it out, but don’t hold that against me, please.

Jarred and Rachel laughed.  She said, I’m a social worker; I’ve never met a Republican social worker, have you?  I shook my head.  I meet a lot of social workers in my business but we don’t talk politics much.  We’re all trying to save the lives of children abused by their care giver or found living in filth.  Neither giving nor getting help should  depend on party affiliation.    Neither should funding for that help depend on which party takes office, but it does, as we all know.  I shook my head again, trying to rid myself of images from news reports about the nation’s disturbing fall into divisiveness and discord.

One of the Rachels assured me that she was glad to see my Rainbow flag when they first got to the neighborhood.    I replied, I bought my flag after the Pulse shootings, to show solidarity.  It’s true.  I fly it on the pillar opposite my Stars and Stripes, which hangs to the left and slightly higher, according to protocol.  A sign in my window welcomes all.  I don’t do enough to proclaim my belief in unity and justice, but at least anyone setting foot on my property knows that their color, religion, sexual orientation, or politics will not work against them in my home.   More and more, I try to welcome all.  Even Republicans.  Even Catholics.

As the sun began to set, we talked about pets, and trash pick-up, and whether Debbie should be walking on the sidewalk without shoes.  We all chuckled and then went across to my house, where rental-house-Rachel carried my recycle and Debbie brought the other bag of trash to the curb, the one too heavy for me.   I thanked them.  We stood, quietly, just smiling at each other. Then we all said good night, and I went inside to make whatever passes for supper when you live alone other than an eighteen-year-old dog with cancer.

It’s the third day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.