All or Not At All

As I am

As I am

All or not at all.

—James Joyce

What breeds hesitation in you? What holds back a hand that wants to knock, a smile that wants to break wide and warm the room, a foot that picks up, wanting to walk straight across the room to the hurt in another?

If I am holding back, I can be certain that fear is forming the shackles. Looking down at a heart half-beating, at lungs half-breathing, I know it is fear of losing that keeps my heart and lungs stilled, unfulfilled. I cannot begin to question how I become little more than living dead when the habit of my life has been to still that which stirs, silence that which needs so much to sing right out loud.

I have spent the last year digging through ashes, fighting through flood, and learning, seeking, searching, just what it means to love.  I have come again and again to a single answer— love is giving your life away.

And what if in the daily fold of laundry, the stirring of little more than cereal in a bowl, what if no grand heroic gesture can be found to make? No bullet to take, no sacrifice other than my comfort, the exposure of my own insecurities…what then?

If my offer is quiet, if my offer is not dramatic diving, but awkward reaching, unsure, always unsure, what then? Is it even worth the offer, to stretch rusted joints to offer little more than an empty hand to hold? Ashamed at what little I have to offer, but desperate to reach, can I get past the pounding heart if it means I have loved?

I have made an unintentional collection this year of quotes, Bible verses, song lyrics, and encouraging words from friends, and they are serving as a rampart in time of doubt. This quote by Joyce beats like a mantra whenever I have begun to question, to be tempted to listen to the lie of “too much,” and “not enough.”

As I am, as I am, all or not at all…

“Too much” was always my biggest fear. I’ve been handed those words before. I feel too much, think too deep, ask too many questions, get too lost in my own imagination. “Too” is possibly our favorite distancer. I take a step forward, and suddenly I am too close.

But if our great example of love is one who sacrificed himself—came and died and no one rolled their eyes and said, “Jesus, it’s just too much, you’re making people feel awkward”— then how can I possibly reach a point where I love too much? It is a lie. It is a fallacy created to silence truth, and that truth is simply this: we were created to love, and to be loved. We love because he first loved us, and his offer is perfect, his offer is what we should be willing to copy.

But we are taught that we must hide our tarnish, and the best way to hide is distance, don’t show or share too much. Isn’t it important that we hide ourselves well, as if nothing more than a shiny shell was the goal? I have for so long attempted to dance along the fractured fault lines of social convention, following rules never written down, created to keep us out of each other’s lives. How foolish of me to be surprised to find myself at the bottom of a pit when an earthquake hits.

Once in a job interview I was asked what my financial goals were. The nice man laughed when I said to give. To give without blinking, to earn much and live on little, and give. But how can I possibly know that someone’s cup is empty if I am not close enough to peek inside? Can I give too much? Can’t this just be my life, to give?

All or not at all.

This is a great balancer, as I am, and all or not all when I am tempted to the weight of defeat, when the desire to give burns deep but still feet are stamped and accusations are thrown that I just do not give or love enough. It is like a secret I have circled around, and have just now managed to unlock, because the fact is, if I choose to love as I am, all or not at all, I must allow an honest look at the love offered. If as I am, and all of my all is just not enough, then what is my recourse? What can keep me from despair when the voices would have me buckle under “not enough?”

Did I give? Yes. The temptation is to prove the love, buy into the game of gesture, grand or small, become my own attorney and argue my case before the court.

Truth is, I’m not much for arguing. Instead I work. Harder, longer, tiring myself to the bone, to prove. I can’t help but think that anyone who asks for proof will never be satisfied in my offer.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh put it best when she wrote to an angry friend these words:

I think probably it is just as well that you are disillusioned about me. It is a terrible burden you put on people, to dream them up into something they never were or could be and then throw them out for not living up to your dream!

All or not at all.

All I have, not all I have, plus what I must tack on to meet another’s expectations.

All I am, not all I am minus what another doesn’t find acceptable.

It is an offer. All or not at all. If I imagine life as a great banquet table, and I am holding all I have to offer on a platter, waiting to serve, what are my choices? If I hold onto it for fear my offer would be found somehow wanting, well, it would rot right in my hands.

So I dish out, serving after serving. Some poke at my offer and smile polite smiles, but never take a bite. Some wrinkle their noses and push the plate away. I try to keep my heart from breaking and I want to snatch it back, run, pretend it never happened. After that I look again with doubt at what I have to offer. This is it. All or not at all.

I try again, because “all” does not equal a scared clutching to my chest of what I have arrived with. I try, until I see that first satisfied smile, where all I have offered has met a need, filled a heart and maybe just a corner of the empty that causes the ache this world lives under. I no longer want to be living or loving to the tune of anyone else’s approval, and I am stripping down from all I have tacked on, and all that’s been added to me.

I offer. As I am, as I am, all or not at all.


Some days, instead of wondering if something will live up to my expectations, I worry that I cannot live up to life. Today, will I be me, or will I be this cardboard cut-out version of myself, propped up in times I am expected to be present, but knowing I simply can’t be all-in? We just went on a short two-day getaway to Montreal. Our first day there I was anxious I would be that other-girl, that not-quite-girl. I know she is a part of me, too, just as much as the girl who stares at stars and the girl who drinks her coffee black and her whiskey straight. But I haven’t quite yet learned what do with her.

The second day I felt no different, but I strapped my camera across my shoulder and we took off. My camera helps me sometimes, skews my angle, adjusts the amount of light I’m letting in. I thought, Maybe today I could be the girl who sees things differently.

The Norte-Dame Basilica in Montreal is a site simply begging to be photographed. The space curves around color and light, calling it into corners private, quiet, then throwing it high into the air to bend and shimmer. My family meandered off in different directions, and I found myself alone, with quiet and space to stir the curiosity that urges me to bring the camera in the first place.

I felt quite removed from the religion of the place. I wanted to be respectful, but the arched ceilings seemed to say that God was high above, the long aisle to the front seemed to echo— God is distant.

This is not the God that collects my tears.

This is reverence.

But is it faith?

It was beautiful, and I could sit in the stillness of it, but I did not imagine that God could meet me in it. Continue reading Calling

You Take My Hand


It is April. National Poetry Month. And though I love poetry all the year round, I am always wishing I wrote more of it come April. It gives me a chance to exercise concision in my word choice. The following poem is a villanelle, which is a structured poem that tightens those rules even further.

Quoting straight from

The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines.

Did you catch all that? No? Maybe you’ll recognize the pattern below, or from a rather famous poem most know, Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas. (You can find the full text of that piece here, though I believe my favorite villanelle is by Sylvia Plath, called Mad Girl’s Love Song.) Continue reading You Take My Hand


What happens if I do this is a dangerous question for a perfectionist. The first answer out of the gate is, You’ll make a fool of yourself. Some days, those brave, looking-up days, when I’m too curious to keep my eyes trained down, I say, So what.

The other day I couldn’t call to mind the face of a man who, not so long ago on July 4th, sat across a table from me. My table, at my home.

It was a timid day, a looking-down day. I have a tendency if left to my own devices to stare outright at people. I watch them, study, take mental notes as I find my writer-mind begin to describe what they are doing. The problem is, of course, that people with eyeballs in their own heads are wont to look back.

I have been asked more than once why I am staring. I have not yet mastered an unwavering vocalization of my answer, which is, simply, I find you interesting.

So I over correct, I don’t look up. And that’s when I miss things.

No camera, no lens, can keep me from a moment as much as my own insecurity.

Continue reading Curiosity

Creative Blogger Award

I have been nominated by the lovely Nancy Mock over at Hungry Enough to 

Eat Six for the Creative Blogger Award.  Thanks, Nancy!

The rules for accepting the award are this:

1) Thank and post a link of the person who nominated you.

2) Share 5 facts about yourself with your readers.

3) Nominate up to twenty blogs and notify them.

4) Pass on the rules.

Nancy and I first connected over the TV show Castle, then Doctor Who, and finally blogging. Her blog at is a very well-organized and thoughtful food blog. (Would it be wrong for me to say that a vast number of food blogs drive me bonkers in their disorganization? Nancy, however, I highly recommend a visit. She has currently been working through a list of fruity, beautiful, summery margaritas. Oh, yeah.

Five things I’m sure you couldn’t live without knowing about me: Continue reading Creative Blogger Award

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