Monthly Archives: May 2019

Three Hours / Twelve Miles / One Book

Today I drove three hours to buy a book for the second time.  

I once assured my son that I strive not to write about him too much.  “Mom,” he said, in that gentle voice of his, “Everything you write is about me, one way or the other.  I’m used to it.” 

He’s right, of course.  While I might not specifically mention him, my son runs through the warp and weft of the tapestry unfolding as my life.  He informs me.  Raising him shaped me.  His existence determined so many decisions for the last twenty-eight years that I barely remember life before I had him.  

But this drive, this day, directly concerned my son.

I bought a book for him this winter.  I had spent a Saturday at an old hippie retreat, a funny place north of Santa Rosa.  I went to the coast the next morning, turned right at the ocean, and kept driving, higher and farther north than I had yet been.  Twelve miles north of Jenner, I came to a state park built around an old military base, Fort Ross, where I bought a book for my son. 

When I got back to the Delta, I mailed it to him in Chicago.  Inexplicably, I used the address of the condo which he had just purchased but to which he had not yet moved. The postal service kindly returned it, marked, “Addressee unknown”.  By the time I got it back, he had taken possession of the new place.  I remailed it, using the same address but sending it priority with a tracking number.  

Two months later, the online tracking system swears that it has been delivered, but he never got it.

I’m staying in the Marin Headlands for the Memorial Day Weekend.  Today dawned clear and lovely.  I set out north, first encountering a detour that ultimately added forty-five minutes to my trip.  I kept driving, through small towns, festivals, holiday traffic, and workers clearing the roadway of rock slides.  Eventually, I pulled into the state park in which Fort Ross sits.  

In the gift shop, the same woman who had waited on me last March sat drinking tea and eating a cookie.  She rose to greet me, smiling when I voluntarily signed the guest book.  I remembered her spiel about its importance.  I told her so; and then I told her why I had come.  A radiant smile broke across her face.  She came out from behind the counter to help me find the book.  Together we chose a postcard to replicate the one which I had purchased the first time. 

Yes, I know:  I could have ordered the book online.  But that would defeat my aim.  I want to give my son a collection of books about the food of locally indigenous people, and to buy those books in the places from which their authors come.  I will not let the vagaries of the postal service defeat me.  Better institutions than that have tried and so far failed.

As she rang my purchase, the gift store lady admired the ring I wear every day in honor of my niece Angie who gave it to me just a few months before she died.  She talked of the cross she wears in honor of her mother.  We exchanged names, and I gave her my contact information.  “You’ve got a friend in the Delta now,” I told her, before leaving the visitor’s center.

I drove my car around to the handicapped spot in front of the Fort.  I walked down to the point and gazed for a while at the ocean.  When I got back, I briefly spoke to a young man sitting on a bench with a perky little attentive dog on a leash standing sitting at his feet.   When his companion joined him, I asked if they had walked to the beach, and gestured to show them the way.  Then I strolled around the Fort for a few minutes, lingering in the bunkhouse to photograph the workroom.  I thought of my friend Sheldon, and wondered what his clever carpenter’s hands could make with the planes on the dusty workbench.

Afterward, I treated myself to a late lunch at the River’s End.  I arrived at the start of their between-time, but just before the kitchen closed.  The hostess ushered me into the best room, the room saved for those with reservations.  She helped me get settled, and patiently listened to my order and my little story about being a vegetarian who only eats fish at their table.  She brought me a tall glass of house-made lemonade, a basket of bread, and a plate of delicious food.

then I headed south, the fast way, east on 116 and south on the 101.  Now I am back among the redwoods, tired, triumphant, and ready for rest.

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

When My Bones I Have Rested

Once again, I find myself sitting in the communal area of a hostel on the coast, watching families and young adults as they settle.   Before making my way to the HI Marin Headlands, I stood at a railing high above the sea, watching a small skiff journey northward, propelled by a brisk, sturdy wind pushing.  On the distant horizon, tankers made their way to port.

When my bones, I have rested, I shall take myself back to civilization.  But for now, and for a little while, I rise to no greater challenge than the occasional need for sustenance.  Tomorrow brings a bit of sunshine, so I shall make my way to farther points.  But evening will find me in this same chair, surrounded by tall windows of old beveled glass, snug in this old infirmary deep within the forest.

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

A woman on a mission

A pair of hawks recently established residence on Jackson Slough Road.  I first saw them about a month ago.  I’ve been stalking them, though  I never see the pair when I have my Canon with me.  The rinky-dink lens in my cell phone can’t do justice to them.  But still I try.

Any time I see a largish bird perched on one of the poles or overhead in a tree, I crane my neck.  With soft shoulders and open fields on either side of the narrow road, Jackson Slough affords little chance for anything but the hastiest of snaps.  Trucks and weary residents coming home or journeying to work need passage.  My determination holds nonetheless.

Sometimes I think that I’m seeing many birds.  Often a raven overhead tricks me into thinking that I’ll get my shot this time.  Once in a while, a heron makes its way over the fields, though many of them have gone north by now.  What passes for summer here drives them towards Canada or up to the cooler stretches of the Pacific coast.

The hawks and I have some kind of connection.  As I write, a brief storm breaks. I worry that they will not find shelter.  I’ve been reading about these majestic birds.  I imagine them as mates for life, glancing at each other across the leafy expanse of the tree in which I see them as I pass each evening.  They know of my quest.  They won’t thwart me, but neither will they cooperate.  If I capture a decent image, they will not protest.  But I must stalk them on their terms.  They rise into the air when my car nears, leaving me immobilized below their easy escape.

I first saw the pair on April 17th.  One sat on a pole just beyond the roadway.  The other soared towards us, far overhead.  We both waited. I cannot speak for the hawk on his perch, but I held my breath the entire time.  

I got a quick picture.  I planned to photograph his lift-off, but  unexpectedly, he twisted and turned toward me.  Our eyes met as his wings reached their full span and he rose into the air.  I dropped my phone in astonishment.  I’ve never seen a bird of prey so close that I could count his feathers and comprehend his unchecked power.

I concede that I might be seeing many birds, rather than the same two.  Maybe none of them are even hawks.  Even if they are, I might never get a decent chance to take a picture.  I’ll keep trying though.  I’m on a mission; and the birds don’t seem offended in the least.

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

For perspective: This bird sits on a pole which is about three feet tall. I took the photo from inside my car which I had stopped just behind the pole and on the same side of the road.

I took these photos this morning.  I don’t know what kind of bird this is.  

I am going to attempt to imbed a five-second video of the above-appearing bird’s flight westward.  Please turn off your sound, as the radio plays in the background.

#sorrynotsorry

Even after sixty-five months of striving to live complaint-free, I still routinely chastise myself for making mistakes.  At the same time, I grow both more tolerant of the mistakes of others; and less capable of letting deliberately mean-spirited behavior slide.  #sorrynotsorry

Today I discovered a small but critical error which I’d made, partly assisted by failing technology.  I could have discovered the error sooner.  Because I didn’t, several folks will be slightly inconvenienced.  I found myself battling against derogatory self-talk.  I remain harder on myself than I’ve ever been on any human being  I’ve penned a stern note with an imaginary Sharpie in my mental notebook. I placed a large red check next to it so I would not forget.

Ah, the large red check.

In fourth grade, my teacher “Miss Dilalo” hurled scathing insults at me whenever she could.  On a memorable day, she jammed the tip of a red Bic pen into my cheek and drew a deep check, snarling, This is for your lousy handwriting!  it matches your ugly freckles!  

In a flash, I lifted my right hand and back-handed her on the face, a hard, noisy slap that startled me as much as anyone.  She hauled back her arm and punched me, and then raged, dragging me outside, pushing my coat at me and screaming, “Go home!  Go home!  Right now you horrid brat!”

I limped the mile to our house where my hung-over father seethed at the sight of me.  I sobbed out my story.  Dad drove us both back to school and confronted the principal, who summoned Miss Dilalo.  My furious father demanded an apology.  She glared at him, quivering, unrepentent.  In the end, I returned to class in a silent fog.  Miss Dilalo vanished a few weeks later.  I imagine now that my father’s  outraged demands got her fired.

When my father died, I found a folder of complaint letters in his desk.  He had attached any replies to the letter which he had sent to which the reply had been made. A skipped newspaper delivery; a missing part; a broken shipment; a damaged package.  I thumbed through them, thinking about my father and all the harm he had done.  But then I remembered Miss Dilalo and the red check mark.  I remembered the feel of my small hand against her face, and the jolt of her fist on my shoulder.  My father’s eyes flashed anew;  his voice again rose to a harsh crescendo.  Nobody punches my daughter!  Nobody!  And what if her handwriting is bad!  You had no right!!

Even now, I barely comprehend the vigor of his protest.  He had done so much worse, repeatedly, without uttering even the slightest apology.  As a nine-year-old, I hung my head and  listened in misery as the grown-ups argued, wishing I could die, wishing that everyone would just stop screaming.  I’ll try to do better, I whispered, I’m sorry that I lost my temper.  I’m sorry that I slapped my teacher.  

Or maybe I never said anything at all.  Maybe I  just stood silently, waiting, wanting to be anywhere but there.

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

Kinship

Two strong reactions compete to be described.  Words flow from my brain, tangling with one another.  My fingers fly across the keyboard.

Yesterday — NPR — I didn’t hear the set-up but I nearly drove my car off Jackson Slough when the woman said, Going into a restaurant as a bigger-bodied person has all sorts of challenges.  Should I order whip cream on my drink, because I like it but people will say, She’s fat, she shouldn’t be eating whipped cream?  Should I eat the thing here, because people will stare at me? Will the chair be large enough for me, strong enough? 

And so on, and so on. 

I pulled to the side of the road, shaking.  Oh my Gawd,  I whispered, to no one.  My litany!  Same fears, slightly recast.  Should I walk into this restaurant alone, because what if I can’t get the door open?  What if I fall?  What if the cashier stares at me as I walk towards her?  What if they bring my water in a glass that’s too heavy for me? What if I drop my fork because my hand spasms? What if I have an asthma attack and can’t breathe?

I didn’t know whether to be glad for the kinship; or feel deep sorrow that other people have similar crippling anxieties.  Everything my mind cautions about public places arises from my past.  I have fallen; I draw stares; I often have to stand by non-automatic doors awaiting help.  I knock over glasses which a mere child could lift.  My semi-paralyzed throat causes me to choke.  I’m often too tired to walk down the hallway to the restroom.  

And so on, and so on.  

Eventually, I resumed driving and finished traveling home.  I made a little food and washed a load of clothes.  I wrote an essay about my weekend at Pigeon Point.  I tried to ignore the news.   I read a little before sleep.

In the morning, I stood in the middle of my space, examining a few pennies on the floor.  Then the second onslaught of emotion hit me.  Time and time again, people come into my house and say, “Do you know you have money on the floor?”  Well, of course I do.  

“It’s angel money,” I explain.  They ask what angel money is.  I tell them, when my son was little, any money which hit the floor went to the angels.  

They usually just stare at me.

The truth is that I invented the concept of Angel money because I couldn’t retrieve the money from the floor. I can’t bend to recover a lid which has rolled on the stove. I’ll never again see half the things that escaped to the corners of my house. I’ve driven to the store to replace items that I’ll never find again. And forget those Grabbers, they don’t work. My hands can’t even operate the mechanism.

When I review all these anguished thoughts marching down the page, I wonder if what I’ve done qualifies as a boatload of complaint.  The lady in the NPR story had written a book to highlight society’s shaming of heavy-bodied people.  I’m so glad that she did.  I want to shine a flashlight into all the cobwebbed corners in which we huddle.  I want to draw everyone out into the open.  I want to strip my crooked legs bare and say, See?  You don’t have to be afraid of me anymore.  It’s not contagious.  I can’t hurt you.  

I want to brew a cappuccino for that lady on the radio and give her an extra inch of thick, sweet cream.  I want to tell her, Sit right down in this comfy chair and enjoy every last drop. 

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

Saying Farewell

I do not enjoy saying goodbye.

The lovely human being whom you see in this photograph standing beside me has never uttered an unkind word to me, or in my hearing.  Instead, he speaks in soft tones and gentle, accommodating language.  Oh, he might occasionally grouse in that way of harmless creatures protesting injustice — mildly, reproachfully, but quite reasonably.

I first met Michael in March of 2015 when I came to Pigeon Point Lighthouse at the urging of my friend Catherine Kenyon.  I rented a car in San Jose and made the journey over the mountain and down the coast.  I had not reserved a bed.  I did not even realize that I could.

The beauty of the park surrounding the lighthouse astonished me.  I stopped in the office to ask about the facility and there, I met Michael. He called me, “Dude” and asked from where I had come.  He told me the three or four facts he knew about Kansas City.  He insisted that I make a reservation. Dude, you have to stay here, this place is magical.  

Dude.

In June of that year, I returned for a two-night stay. Michael checked me into the hostel and then walked down to the parking lot to get my bag.  The hostel doesn’t offer any such service, but Michael does.  He has a personal mission to make the world better by treating everyone with whom he comes into contact as though they actually matter. 

As I sat outside Dolphin (the building where I always stay) drinking coffee the next morning, Michael walked by and nodded.  A few minutes later, he walked the other way, passing again, nodding again.  This time he paused long enough to say, “Magical, right?  Dude, I told you.”

I believe that I have stayed at Pigeon Point perhaps a dozen times.  I try to arrange at least two nights.  I’ve spent my birthday at Pigeon Point for the last three years.  I’ve met people from halfway around the world and made life-long friends.  A few people with whom I sat in the kitchen talking for hours then left without saying goodbye or leaving a number.  That’s the hostel life.

Each time that I have made my way to the lighthouse by the sea, I have spent cherished moments listening to Michael’s stories.  I don’t know if they are all factually accurate.  Some might be wholly fanciful; others might have evolved as time and distance tend to dictate.  Each tale of his life and the waves he has surfed contains a nugget of wonder.  Always he reflects the lightness of his Buddhist principles and practices.  Magical?  Indeed.

Michael and I have only had one brief moment of being cross with one another.  I had splurged and reserved the private room in Dolphin for my birthday.  As I stood behind a couple in the little office, I heard Michael give them my room.  I generally limit myself to a bed in the female dorm.  In fact, that was the only time in which I went for privacy and solid comfort over economy.  Michael couldn’t know, but I needed the time to myself; time to cry, time to regroup. The private room had been meant to be my consolation prize for having to spend my birthday alone.

I thrust my reservation at Michael.  He gasped.  He searched his computer, but somehow, I had been deleted.  Corinne, I’m so sorry, but I just gave that room to the people ahead of you, he said.  But I would not relent. 

In the end, I got the room.  Michael had to put the other folks in what should have been a dorm for six men.  They got a refund for their disappointment.  Michael cast his baleful eyes at me for the rest of my visit.  I brought him a treat from the Pie Ranch to compensate for my treachery.  He had already forgiven me, but I think he liked the pie.

I went to Pigeon Point this weekend to bid Michael a sad farewell.  He said that he has reached the end of his ability to give to others.  He needs to rest.  He plans to spend some time at an abbey. His elderly parents need help on their ranch in Utah, so he might head east for a while. 

He asked for my contact information.  We embraced.  Then other friends and fans stepped forward to do the same.  I faded into the background, wishing, somehow, that I had never complained about that lost reservation.  I felt a little bit like Scout, asking her Papa why it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.

I will return to Pigeon Point.  I will breathe in its magic. I  will calm myself as I gaze at the sea.  I will let the waves lull me to sleep.  The place will still be a refuge for me.  But there will be a Michael-shaped hole in the universe, which no one else can ever fill.

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

Fare thee well, my friend.  May you find the peace which you seek.

GRATEFUL DEAD:  BROKEDOWN PALACE

A note about the photographs: Some were taken at Pigeon Point; others were taken at Half Moon Bay. All were taken with my little Canon and my weak eyes.  I hope you enjoy them.

 

By the sea

My path to joy takes me to the ocean as frequently as humanly possible.  This weekend, I wanted to say “bon voyage” to a dear soul.  So I headed west, then south on Highway 1 through a late spring shower.  

The rain pelted me as I staggered into the hostel, where a warm smile and a ready bed awaited.  This morning, I rose at 5:30 to watch thunder and lightening dance above the ocean.  Light glimmers in the distance, high, a mere promise that the sun still shines.  I’ve had breakfast and a long conversation about the interstate highway system with a software engineer from Reno.  We even got busted for talking too loud before seven. 

It’s all good.

Yesterday, I tarried at Pescadero State Beach to watch the seabirds gather ahead of the storm.  I took a few photos with my little Canon.  Please enjoy.

It’s the nineteenth day of the sixty-fifth month of My [Endless[ Year [Striving to Live] Without Complaining.  HI Pigeon Point Hostel, Pescadero, California.

At the Ebb Tide

As I started over the bridge, NPR announced an upcoming interview with James Taylor.  The interviewer started by acknowledging that he claimed to have written You Can Close Your Eyes during his children’s younger days.

As I crested the Bay, I heard my own voice, off-key, breathy, singing Sweet Baby James.  My son called it “The Young Cowboy Song”.  He begged me to sing it every night, sleepy eyes searching my face.  Halfway through, he’d put his little hand on my lips and say, I sing Mommy, you’re coughing too much.  We’d close together, softly, the sounds of  an unseen guitar reaching for the chords.  

In front of me, a couple argues in passionate French.  They could be father and daughter; they could be lovers; they could be that comfortable sort of old married pair whose tone foretells of long strolls and close embraces.  Beyond them, rain falls on the deck and on the eternal waves of my Pacific.  

They might be speaking German, come to think of it.  My hearing can no longer be trusted.  She gazes out the window and runs one small finger over her chin.  He tilts his head.  When they fall silent, they seem to have reached an agreement about something only they can understand.

I’m bound for Pigeon Point Hostel.  I got a notice on Wednesday that Michael, the old surfer dude who works there, will be leaving after sixteen years.  On a whim, I logged into the website and reserved a bed for tonight.  Michael’s lazy smile, the easy set of his shoulders, and the sun-kissed slant of his timeless eyes have greeted me on every visit to the lighthouse.  It seemed only fair to drive two hours to wish him fare-thee-well.  I have no doubt that he would do the same.

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

 

The One Thing About Me

Three or four reporters have interviewed me since I started living in a tiny house on wheels.

The first two focused on my disability in their final product, which I consider the least important thing about me.  I saw the film clips after release.  My stomach fell through the floor and onto the hard ground beneath the trailer on which my house stands.

The third writer published a print piece which I have not yet had the courage to read.  I skimmed the portion which describes the interview with me.  He incorrectly identifies me as retired and attributes a rather heady quote to me that I never said.  I stopped reading.  I briefly considered calling the woman for whom I work and giving her a forwarding address.  Being retired, you know.  If he also mentioned my disability, I didn’t see it in the few seconds that I spent on the paragraphs following my name.  But I would not be shocked since he mentioned it several times in our conversation.

I spent the last month trying to find shoes which I could wear without falling off of my feet.  This quest became a topic of lunch time conversation along with consuming many hours of internet surfing.  I had purchased two pairs of the same brand and style four years ago.  Holes having appeared on the toes of one and the sad wear pattern of the pronater on the soles of both, I finally accepted that I could not continue wearing them.

I ordered a pair of shoes from Amazon of a kind and size with which I’ve previously had success.  They squeezed my toes.  Given that my toes already have severe spasticity, narrow shoes tend to raise them skyward and send me toppling.  The second pair didn’t fit because I sized up.  I sized down for the third pair, and they fit but the buckle fell off as soon as I removed them from the box.  

I went back to wearing the least decrepit of the two old pair, and surfing shoes stores on the net.  I learned that I could get quality, Made in England Doc Martens (one of two brands in which I can actually walk) if I want boots or men’s styles and sizes.  I found two styles of Dansko’s at the one shoe store in Lodi, but neither had buckles and neither came in my size.  I can’t wear slip-ons and my spastic gait pops Velcro open.

Finally:  I found two pairs “new without box” on eBay, one exactly like the old reliables and one Made In England original Doc Martens.  Oh joy, under $70 for the two pair, and I am shod again.

We gimpy types face this dilemma all the time.  What shoes exist which we can wear?  Sturdy, long-lasting, reasonably priced.  God forbid that they should also be decent-looking.

Just once, I’d like to walk into a department store and buy the prettiest pair of insubstantial heels on the rack, and sashay out of there with my head held high, swinging my arms to and fro.  I’d like to wear cute little sandals with thin straps and delicate ties around my ankles.  I’d like to don flip-flops and slap my way to the grocery store.  But I can’t, because — gesturing — I’m disabled.

Because of that one fact and all the associated difficulties, saying the word fixes my identity in place.  It becomes the only quality which anybody remembers.  This could be why I developed a warped sense of humor or a slightly acid tongue.  Maybe it explains my cultivation of wild curly hair and buttons which say things like I’m Only Working Here Until I Become A Rock Star.  I obsess over the limits which my condition places on me, but I’d really rather you all think about something else, like my witty repartee or my kind-hearted tendencies.

Tonight I heard a story about a new podcast created by a woman who is Muslim.  She says that one thing seems to be the beginning and end of what people know about her.  She never gets beyond it.  I feel that way about my disability.  I just want, some day, to have someone look at me with a puzzled expression and say, I never noticed.

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

NPR STORY:  “TELL THEM, I AM”

What It Is

Today  I hammered out five scalding pages to protect someone about whom I care and whose security and safety matter to me.  I hadn’t realized that having this person under attack would rile me quite as much as it did.  

After I refined my missive, I sat contemplating the instincts which cause us to encircle our family and friends with an ironclad  protective shield.  Complaint doesn’t even enter into it.  My claws raise.  I vigorously tackle the situation.  My relentlessness accelerates.  My focus sharpens.

I don’t protect myself half as well.  I sacrifice to save someone else but rarely for my own benefit.  My nature compels me to offer harbor regardless of personal considerations.  I can devise a hundred ways to save someone else, and yet I let myself flounder. 

I don’t even get angry at the person who fails or betrays me.  I immediately begin to list the reasons which justify their actions.  I failed them; I’m not worth their effort; their needs matter more than mine.  It’s my fault.  It’s understandable.  They did their best.

I’m not sure what all this means.  These thoughts fall like Lego pieces scattered across the table.  I’m trying to make sense of the jumble.  I turn them around, press them together, stack them in piles.  A pattern emerges but i don’t yet know what form it takes.  I jockey them around until they fall in place, straining to discern the emerging contours.  

What it is. . . I do not yet know.

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