Monthly Archives: October 2018

A Taste of Why

For your edification and enjoyment, I here present a taste of why I love this place:

Evening, Pigeon Point, 19 October 2018

Along the Cabrillo Highway

In Downtown Local, Cat Stevens continues his search for a hard-headed woman.  The counter canisters advertise Quaaludes and Downers, but contain varieties of penny candy.  A lady with extraordinarily long and curly grey hair exchanges her shades for bi-focals at the table outside.  Her tan Fedora tells me that she’s a transplant from the Bay.  Cat Stevens knows that he will be blessed.  I tend to agree.  Then he launches into one of my divorce songs and my heart cannot help but clench.  Oh, baby baby it’s a wild world.

I’m ten miles from Pigeon Point and feeling fine.  But Cat croons about Sad Lisa, reminding me that somewhere people don’t fare as well as I.   My head bows; I wish those unfortunate souls the strength to endure until grace comes to ease their burdens.

A text sounds on the phone in my purse but I ignore it.  Outside the sky rises clear and blue, though a fog still lingers at sea.  The road rose and fell in the winding tendrils of the ocean’s shroud.

Along the way, I saw swimmers and children chasing the waves on the beach below the highway.  The tension eased from my spirit as it usually does this close to my Pacific.  I played tag with a couple on a tandem pulling a little carrier.  At  first I thought that a child rode in the back, and I shuddered at the nearest of death.  But after the third time of passing them, I realized that they must be on a southern journey down the Coastal Highway.  The woman had the seat in back.  Her hair streamed loose from beneath her helmet.  The sight touched me.  She leaned deep over the handle bars and pumped the pedals with an enviable vigor as her partner recognized my car and waved.  I didn’t honk; I didn’t want to startle them.

My mid-fall journey took me as far east as Lake Shore Drive and will end two hours inland at my tiny house community in the California Delta.  Just now I’m miles from nowhere.  Like Cat, I’m taking my time.

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

 

Redemption

Sometimes a place and an experience become so sullied and muddied with the dregs of the past that you purge them from your life.  Sometimes you feel that you’ve sunk so low that you’ll never be granted redemption.  Your spirit flags.  You cower; you shrink away from fields which once held golden wheat.  You bury yourself in the dank depths of a silent cave.

Then a blaze of light penetrates your exile.  A hand draws you forward.  A soft voice beckons you.  The radiance of an unblemished warmth surrounds you.  The ice which has wrapped itself around your heart cracks and falls away.  You take a timid step forward and the path opens to you.

Today did that; and not just for me, but for two people who once crept with such hesitance on life’s broken road that you could hear the quaking of their spirits and feel the tremble of their tears.  I witnessed their emergence from whatever hell had threatened to consume them as their love grew over the last few years.  This afternoon, they exchanged a pledge so pure that its wide embrace included everyone, even me.

As I pulled onto State Line Road today, leaving the party which followed the marriage of Abigail Vogt and John Heitman, I let the last vestiges of a lingering grief fall to the rain-soaked yard of the Alexander Majors house, in Kansas City, which I once called home.  I headed east, to the waiting smile of my sister.  In the morning, my journey will resume, eastward and then north.  I’will spend four days with my son on the shores of Lake Michigan, another lovely  place which I hope to reclaim.  But first I will rest; and I suspect that I will sleep well tonight.

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

Congratulations, John and Abbey.  Best wishes for your wedded life.

Today

Today, I watched a man who had once thought never to have unsupervised time with his son, take residential custody.

He could do that because he proved himself to me and to the Court.  He overcame the mark on his record as a father.  He proved himself to be a conscientious and caring parent.

He doesn’t have a higher education.  He speaks plainly.  He works and lives simply.  But he parents wisely.  In comparison with what I saw one year ago when appointed his son’s guardian ad litem, he has done a 180 degree turn.

I left the courtroom feeling that the long, drawn-out case had come to a dramatic end that ultimately felt like an anti-climax.  When I did the final home visit last evening, the child had been in his father’s care for three months.  The difference between the child whom I saw last evening, and the anxious, guilt-ridden little boy whom I saw in July, astonished me.

In July, three tables away from his mother, he leaned forward and said, “Is this the time i am supposed to say that I don’t want to live with my Daddy?”

Last night, sitting on his bed in his father’s home, he said, “I went for a walk two times with my Mom, and it felt good.”  He beamed at me.  Downstairs, his father’s paramour stood at the stove in a neat and tidy kitchen.  Two little ones gurgled and giggled, riding around in little mobile vehicles.  The father had already done homework with his boy, and now stood side by side with his son’s soon-to-be stepmother, the mother of his infant son.  In the happy home, I knew that love ruled, guidelines would be reasonable, and children learned responsibility but also joy.

My work here is nearly done.  Two cases concluded this trip, only two more remain to be resolved.  By this time next year, I’ll be a true California girl, though I’ll always be a #MissouriMugwump.  I’ve done a lot of good representing people in Missouri, and I move forward with the knowledge that I have acquitted myself with honor.  What more can I ask of myself?

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

Meandering

Dear Friends,

I have been blogging, nearly daily, since 01 January 2014.  At the time of commencing this blog, my life looked extraordinarily different than it now does.  I launched this blog as a tribute to my just-deceased and much-loved mother-in-law, Joanna MacLaughlin.  It had been said of her that she never complained, and I wanted to emulate her.

Before starting this blog, I disclosed my intention to try to live without complaint for one year, to just a single individual.  My friend Iris kept my secret for a month before I launched this project. She encouraged me during that initial month, and, though I rarely saw her over the next three years, she continued to be supportive.  My gratitude goes out to her.

In the year following my commencement of this journey, my entire life collapsed.  I barely remember most of 2014.  I remember slightly more of 2015.  I came out of the fog of grief some time during 2016, to find that everything which I thought I would have into infinity had been taken from me.  I set about to find some new way of living.

But I nonetheless continued this blog, though by the end of 2016, I suspended my initial blog, the Saturday Musings.  Funny — I started the Musings in the summer of 2008, during the last great upheaval in my life.  Perhaps upheavals inspire me.

In 2017, I took my out-of-control existence and hammered myself into new form.  I sold my house, had a tiny house on wheels built, phased out my 25-year law practice (thank you, Alan, for two-and-a-half decades of loyalty) and moved to the California Delta.  Shew!

Now I am living and working in and around the California Delta Loop.  I’m serving as a paraprofessional to two very different but equally marvelous female attorneys, one long-time practitioner in Rio Vista, and one new, mid-life-career-change practitioner in Elk Grove.  I’ve finished writing a book, which I’ve asked a couple of friends to read before I hire an editor and start trying to publish it somehow, somewhere.  I also help manage the social media and marketing for the RV / Tiny House park in which I live in my 8×24 foot THOW, Angel’s Haven.

I’m about to start a twelve-day trip.  I’m headed to KC, St. Louis, and Chicago, capping the midwest swing off at the ocean when I get back to California.  I can’t promise to keep these entries going on a daily basis for the next two weeks, so I wanted to send this missive to let you all know that once again, the Mugwump has gone wandering.  Watch for me, now and again, and when I return, I will provide a full report of any excitement that you might have missed.

It’s been a freaky, sometimes-fabulous, often frightening four-and-a-half years since I started my #journeytojoy.  I still have not managed to go a year without voicing objection to that which irritates me, so. . .

. . . it’s the 09th day of the fifty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  .  .and . . . 

. . . Life continues.

 

As Fate Would Have It

My friend Macrina mentioned being tired tonight.  It’s no wonder; she’s in school full-time, which challenges the best of us in middle-age, even this lively woman more than ten years my junior.  Then she said, as people often do, that she felt she had no right to complain to me.

“Not true,” I assured her.  “As fate would have it, I have it much better than you.  I don’t know the difference.  I can’t relate to ‘not tired’.”

Her quizzical look prompted me to explain.  “I’ve been disabled since I was younger than two.  It’s a way of life for me.  I’ve never been anything but tired, so for me, it’s only tired, more tired, and most tired.  I’ve no other standard of comparison.  But for someone such as yourself, normally healthy, sudden disability or illness feels vastly different.”

I think that makes sense, though it sounds sort of self-pitying.  But I mean it.  I don’t lament the loss of energy or ability because I never enjoyed either without impediment.  I could be bitter.  I once found it tempting to resent the able-bodied, though not because they have energy.  Rather, I craved the approval that society bestows on those who meander through life with an easy, unfettered carriage.

I’ve mostly abandoned even that lament.  Now I just live my life, limping haphazardly through my days.   If I stopped, I might never resume — so I just keep going, like a grinning Energizer bunny running on solar power with its spring dangling askew.

On the rare occasion when I submit to the scrutiny of an emergency room triage, I decline to tender a pain scale rating.  Zero to ten means nothing to me.  “The worst pain?”  Hmmmm.  My mother’s long, slow decline as the cancer progressed.  I’ve never gotten there.  But I’ve flown through a windshield from the outside, folded knees first.  I’ve heard the resounding shatter of my tibia into thirty-two fragments.  I’ve seen my ring-finger sticking cockeyed from my hand.

Least pain?  Let’s see.  That frightening warmth which flows through your body after an injection of Morphine.  You still feel the injury, somewhere beneath the cotton.  You no longer care.  No, thanks.  I’d rather writhe.  I’d rather groan.  I’d rather be tired, even bone-tired, even dog-tired, even too-tired-to-cry.

I define my pain scale as Nirvana to Bosnia.  I dwell somewhere in between at all times.  I’ll take that.

I told Macrina that being overwhelmingly tired all of a sudden for an extended period of time meant something could be wrong.  I urged her to seek the advice of her doctor.  Being tired every day of your sixty-three years of life becomes normal.  I’m the one who should not complain.  The rest of you have my permission to do so.

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

 

#TinyLife

At this moment, every fiber of my being aches. My hair hurts.  The pores in my face ooze pain.

But I don’t care.

Today I helped host an open house at my community.  People interested in learning more about tiny houses came to tour and talk.  Young couples about to launch builds; a 96-year-old with two fancy walking sticks; people from Sacramento to San Diego all gathered at Park Delta Bay to talk about going tiny.  The park staff rocked presentation and preparation.  A local county supervisor shared his thoughts about changes in law and policy to promote tiny houses.  Everywhere I turned, somebody shared their story, their journey, their hopes and dreams.

I opened my home to strangers who moved within the nest which I have created for myself here.  Some of them saw my vision.  My house doesn’t have fancy features.  The plain counters and inexpensive lighting doesn’t dazzle.  But many of today’s visitors saw the warmth and love.  They admired the art that my friends created.  They touched the fabric of my mother’s quilt and the gleaming wood of the cherry table which Sheldon made me.  They saw the place as I see it:  Like home.

I’m tired; but I don’t mind.  I’ll sleep well tonight, on my funny little daybed, under the writing loft, in Angel’s Haven.

It’s the sixth day of the fifty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  #MyTinyLife continues.

A Ten-Dollar Victory

This story sings, a happy ending in the making.  Wait for it.

Take the story back as far as you need to go.  Back to 1957 when a bug bit my brain and caused, among other nasty outcomes, damage to my optic nerves that confounds doctors.

Or to 1992, when I returned with my toddler son to Kansas City and put myself in the care of a joyful neurologist named Arthur Allen and a lively optometrist at Gerry Optical, Patrick Dennis.

Maybe only as far back as 2001, when Drs. Allen and Dennis started urging me to submit to a neuro-opthalmologist for the examination, evaluation, and care of my baby blues.

Perhaps you want to start this story in 2010, when Dr. Dennis finally put his foot down on the yearly visits in which he struggled to get my glasses right.  He put the word to Dr. Allen, who referred me to the premiere neuro-opthalmologist in Kansas City, Tom Whittaker.  I like Tom.  We attended law school together but took radically different paths.  Tom never practiced law.  He went to medical school, then became a specialist and ultimately, the best.

But Tom practices at a hospital that I don’t prefer to use.  I settled for second-best, Billie Wallace at Sabates Eye Clinic.  And she did me proud, after getting over her disgruntled response to seeing her rival’s name on the referral letter.  My vision correction took a positive turn, despite the grueling challenges.  Results on Day One, at the appointment, might change on Day Ten, when the glasses are ready.  Dr. Wallace rose to the occasion for seven years.  Then she moved to Columbia, I moved to California, and I suddenly needed a new neuro-ophthalmologist.

The referral to the eye clinic at Stanford resulted from my query to one of my neurologists at Stanford.  Two months ago, I made an appointment. I carefully explained my needs, emphasizing the decline of my ability to see through year-old lenses.  Assurances came that the September 24th appointment would meet my needs.

Just before I drove to Palo Alto on the 24th, I realized that I had not gotten a reminder text.  I logged into the system and discovered that the appointment had been changed to today.  Without my knowledge, someone had re-set the appointment.   Ugh.

Start here, if you want:  At 4:30 a.m. this morning, when I dragged myself out of bed and made coffee.  I struggled through a modest breakfast, packed my computer, and headed off-island.

I like Twitchell Island Road, with its long stretches of quiet river on one side and fields on the other.  My soul settled into the drive, with NPR on the radio and the window lowered.  I crossed the Antioch Bridge before sunrise had fully claimed the sky.  Deep shadows still clung to the sides of Mount Diablo.

I always take Vasco Road into the Bay.  Very few people seem to like the wide expanse of protected fields and gentle foothills.  The highway rises and falls with an unending grace.   The toll-taker smiled and I beamed in return, then ascended the Dumbarton Bridge.  I cannot get enough of the Bay, with its own beauty stretching to my Pacific.  The quiet soothes me.  I headed west with a certainty that the day held promise.

I hit a snarl five miles from the eye clinic.  My GPS lady cautioned that I would be late.  I did not know the way, but I had to use the phone from which directions came.  I quickly hit re-dial on my phone, got a girl at the eye-clinic named Nikita, and gave her my name.  I would be late, I told her.

Nikita wanted my date of birth.  I gave it.  She wanted my patient ID number, or some identifier.  I did not know it.  And suddenly a truck loomed, my GPS lady screeched to make a U-turn, and I told Nikita that I had to go.  “Please tell the clinic!” I said, and hit the red button.  Then I hit the curb.  The truck sailed past, its driver barely glancing at the Toyota now stalled in the bike lane.

I limped through the doors of Stanford’s eye clinic ten minutes late with my heart pounding.  I begged for the floor that I needed.  I checked into the clinic at twelve  minutes past my scheduled time.

Twenty minutes later, a woman in  a red Stanford hoodie bellowed my name loud enough for a deaf old lady in Brooklyn to hear. I hoisted myself from the chair and followed her into a hallway.  She promptly became ensnarled in a traffic jam during which a guy with an Irish brogue cautioned that he needed his room back soon.

She beckoned me with a low growl; I apparently did not walk fast enough.  She started testing  my eyes before she determined the least thing about me, including, as I tried to tell her, that I was wearing glasses from four years ago for various reasons.  “I need to get out of here in five seconds,” she snapped.

The day went downhill from there.  I got shunted from room to room, tech to tech, test to test.  I spent three separate half-hour sojourns in three different waiting rooms listening to other patients relate hours of waiting.  I watched a patient’s mother suffer the slam of a sliding door against her one good arm.  I talked to the Irish brogue (fake) a couple of times, including a short exam where we discussed my need for a doctor’s exam to get new glasses.  He assured me that the doctor whom I would be seeing “was the best in the building”.  That seemed promising, so I cooled my heels after several assurances of ten-minute waits which stretched to an hour.

Finally, at 1:05 p.m., still not having seen a doctor, I slung my computer bag over my shoulder, left a cold exam room, and told a random Stanford employee that I had had enough and would be leaving.  I had to get on the road before traffic, I stated.  I couldn’t do a five-hour drive. I didn’t want to make my way to the Delta’s winding levee roads after dark.

She told me, “Just wait right here,” and I said, “No, I’m sorry, I’ve waited long enough.”

“Wait right here, and I’ll get the doctor,” she assured me.  I stood.  The doctor came out of a room and a whispered conversation between them ensued.  I watched their mouths and saw enough to know that both women found me offensive.

“I’m standing right here,” I called.  “Don’t talk about me, talk to me.”

The doctor hissed at me.  My blood chilled and I simply said, “Ma’am, I’m leaving,” and the doctor came over and told me to go into the exam room and she would see me “soon”.

“Define soon,” I insisted.  “I need to be on the road by 2:00 p.m. with my glasses prescription in hand.”

The doctor smiled.  “Oh, I don’t write prescriptions,” she said.

I stared.  I had told the scheduler of my need for a neuro-ophthalmologist for a glasses renewal. I had told my Stanford neurologist.  I had told the guy with the Irish brogue. I had told the lady who slammed the sliding door on the one good arm of the daughter of an elderly patient in the next room. Everyone knew my reason for subjecting myself to a three-hour drive and an unexpectedly, unduly long ordeal.  No prescription?  What was the point, then?

I left.  I got the clinic manager.  I told her the story.  I ate a sandwich which I should not have consumed — dairy, gluten — using coupons from the sympathetic receptionist.  The same woman gave me two, ten-dollar gas cards at the behest of the clinic manager.  We talked about my frustration.  We talked about my ailing eyes.  We went over the long history that I have and the need for a specialist to make the determination as to what prism I should have.  Then I left, and started the 100-mile journey to my home in the California Delta, right at the start of the heaviest traffic fleeing the peninsula.

At 3:30, i got forced off the highway by something — an accident, construction, an error in lane-change.  I found myself on a narrow road at the western edge of the Vargas Plateau.  I drew in a long breath, full and deep.  I told myself that I should just enjoy the scenery, the foothills and the low dark clouds from which, I could see, rain fell.  My GPS lady acknowledged that she had lost her signal, so I tried to find the sun, Mount Diablo, anything familiar to help me forge a new path.

Unwittingly,  I turned west onto Morrison Canyon Road.

Start the story here, if you will.  Imagine me:  Tired, hungry, cranky, squinting through inadequate glasses.  I’ve been awake since two hours before the sun rose over my tiny house.  I’ve driven one-hundred miles, suffered four hours in a poorly run clinic, watched a woman suffer an untreated assault, and had nothing to show for it but a free sandwich and two, ten-dollar gas cards.  And now I found myself on a one-lane road, going downhill behind a small white vehicle, with a hundred cars headed towards us and nowhere to turn around.

I’ve just taken the exam to get my California license.  I know that in such a situation, the car facing downwards must yield, putting itself in reverse until able to pull far enough to the side for passage.  But we had nowhere to go.  Rock rose to our right.  A drop lay to the left.  And not for nothing does my son call me the world’s worst backer-upper.

I started to cry.

We let a few cars inch passed, the little white vehicle and I.  Then came a large work truck.  Panic rose in my throat, real panic, bitter and acrid.  The driver of the white car got out and talked to one of the workers.  Together they approached my open window.  They started to speak but my expression told them what they feared.  I could not be trusted to get myself out of the situation. Unless I moved, the little white car could be crushed.

As they murmured to each other, the work driver decided he could get around me and by God, he did, to cheers and bellows.  Another four or five cars slipped past us.  Then one of those red Fords came, a big one, maybe an F-350, shiny and humongous.  No way could that get around us even though, as he said, its owner lived just a half-mile up the road.  I felt my stomach drop.

But the red truck guy and the young man in the little white car had a plan. I got out of my RAV.  The red truck guy took the wheel.  Just before my car vanished around the curb, a man three cars down the line got out and started hollering.  My saviors called to him, asking for patience.  He responded with urgency: He had to get through.  Then he saw me standing, my hand on the grill of the red truck. Something in my face calmed him.  I limped around the red truck, and the little white car, and I sank into the passenger’s seat just as the man who had to get through called, “Oh, I see — oh, I’m sorry — ” and then, we started our backwards climb.  “My name is Corinne,” I told my rescuer.  “Dill,” he said.  I liked the sound of it.

The red truck driver had turned my vehicle around.  I got into the driver’s seat, only glancing at my computer, my phone, my purse, and the five-dollar toll money which I keep in the coin slot.  It never occurred to me that anything would be taken, and nothing had been.

Dill guided me down the mountain, back to my highway.  He showed me the entrance.  I offered to pay him, and he declined.  Then I remembered the gas cards, and I pulled one of them from the pocket of my computer bag.

“Someone gave me two of these as an apology today.  You take one.  Buy some gas. It’s the least that I can do to thank you.”

He smiled, and acquiesced.  He had given me his cell phone number at some point. He told me to call if I got lost again.

I got back on the highway right where I had exited an hour earlier.  Three hours later I pulled into the space in front of Angel’s Haven.  I called a greeting to my neighbors and hauled my computer bag inside.  I had not even closed the door when a text alert sounded.

It was Dill, checking to make sure I had gotten home.

No matter where you started this story, at the beginning, in the middle, or near the end, you’ll have to agree that I got my money’s worth.  Even without a new prescription for glasses, which I desperately need, I’m calling this day a ten-dollar victory.

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

John Prine: “Hello In There”