Category Archives: Capability

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.


How Full a Memory

I sat and studied faces and photographs for hours today. I smiled, though I imagine my smile was not the same as the one I turn on when the camera is aimed my way.

When your picture is being taken, how do you rearrange your face? Smile brighter, or dial it back a notch? Tilt your head? Raise your chin? Secretly wish, as I do, that the person holding the camera had never pointed it your direction?

My favorite shots are candid, and one of the reasons I named the blog Candid Calliope.

(Oh, to live life unposed.)

It is always hard as the person holding the camera to get your subjects to cooperate. I try to take a shot of my son reading, and he wants to pose, to smile, to shine, when what I want is that wrinkle between his eyes when he is concentrating, a shot stamped in time of how I see him everyday.

There really isn’t a way to be an invisible photographer, still as one might stand.

A memory in motion stops in its tracks when a camera is pulled out. We find ourselves folding up a little, into poses we figure might represent us best.

Continue reading How Full a Memory

And Sometimes {This}

Do you have a default setting?

Maybe it’s a routine (hello, you gorgeous snooze button, you) or a reaction that has been a part of you since the first day you remember being you.

How do you walk into a party?
How do you approach someone from whom you need to ask a favor?
What do you say when someone talks down to you?
How do you react when a stranger talks to your kids?

I think we have more defaults than we realize. Right now my defaults own me more than I own them. Continue reading And Sometimes {This}

You, at the Beginning

One of my first successful shots, pre-digital.
One of my first successful shots, pre-digital.

I am the type of mom who pulls out my phone to take a picture in a breathless moment before everyone runs out the door on the first day of school. I do not make signs or cute props. Mostly I pray for an almost smile and that the kids won’t be late because I forgot this was something I was supposed to do.

If I knew that, as an adult, a picture of me at the beginning of anything new was required, well, I probably wouldn’t ever start anything new. I like being the photographer. I don’t like pictures of myself.

On that point, I also prefer candid shots of people, any people, my kid-type people included.

I don’t get out my camera as often as I should, much like I don’t get out any of my toys. (Peaches, my banjo, plucks a hearty “she ain’t kidding” to that.)

I’ve spent a year working, but forgetting to enjoy myself. I’ve been planning myself into a daily coma, but not getting anything done. So I decided to press “print” on a couple of the lists I pinned on Pinterest on days when I fooled myself into thinking that planning equals playing. One of those lists is for a Project 52.

Project 52, or, for the more ambitious, Project 365, is a photographer’s version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The clear numerical exception is that it lasts all year long.

I’m still coming to terms with photography in the digital age. I love the power and portability of my phone’s camera, to be sure, but my first tastes of photography as an art form came in college as part of my Fine Arts minor. I earned this minor accidentally. I realized my junior year that I had filled all of my extra credit hours with art classes and just kept going at it after that.

Photography was one of the only two art classes I took more than once. I was enamored with the quiet and the texture I saw in black and white photography. I still am.

Sunday afternoons during those last semesters were spent in the solitude of the darkroom. It was a great day to be there. Weekdays were crowded, buzzing, but on Sundays I could move between my station and the long row of tubs that lined the center of the room at my own pace, which is slow, and calculated.

contact sheet

I loved the smell of the chemicals, the dark resting around me like an understanding between friends.

Standing over those large tubs, I could watch as the papers, kept sealed in their own foil liners until I was ready to expose them, unchained for me the images I had captured, unsure in my novice just what I had managed to cage.

When cameras went digital, there was no film to waste, but there was also not much intention in the capture. I ran rampant through SD cards and batteries.

There is no darkroom, no quiet. There is just another reason to sit down at my computer and click.

Still, I haven’t been able to shake off the curiosity of how the world might look from an angle I certainly wouldn’t kneel to without a camera in my hand.

This week, being the first week of the year, I began my Project 52.

I looked at my list, and hung my head.

You, at the beginning.

With a little box to check off right next to it.

I had given the list a cursory glance before printing it out, but had not looked at the first or last numbers. The last week? Oh, you clever thinker, that’s right. You, at the end. I’ll get there.

For now, I, at the beginning, was wondering if I should just print out a different list. Ahem.

Instead I rolled my eyes at myself, much in the way I do behind my son’s back when he gives me an excuse for why he isn’t just sucking it up and getting something done.

I would have preferred to go outside to take pictures. But on the day I had set aside time to accomplish this unsavory task it was windy and chilly, enough so that earlier that day when I took my dog out my wet hair froze solid. A bit of a shame I couldn’t take the picture then.

So, trying not to feel sheepish in my own home, I set up my space, pulled out my camera, and, determined to be bolder in private than I am in public, looked straight down the lens.

Me, at the beginning.
Me, at the beginning.

I, at the beginning, am still determined.

More thoughts about photography: A Frame for the Kneeling.

I found my Project 52 list on Pinterest, but it was originally developed by Kayla Clark, and can be found here:

Kayla Clark’s flickr site:

Back to the Beginning Again

Do you ever get tired of going around in circles?
Do you ever get tired of going around in circles?

The thought of starting on a journey when I just landed from the last one is exhausting. That is how I feel about the New Year, all New Years.

So I fight the temptation to make resolutions, even though that’s the topic of the day.

I don’t want to be beginning. I want instead to find myself somewhere in the middle, having already done or said or tried what I wanted, and making the necessary adjustments.

But how can I approach a new year, my hand on the door knob of a fresh start and not pause to imagine what it could hold?

Maybe that’s what is wrong with resolutions. I think I can fill a room that hasn’t been built yet, a room that exists only as a closed door today.

Of course there are things I want to do, to become, as the days click open and shut again in a series.

Isn’t the beginning where the wind was at my back, where I was propelled, I was moving? I was not yet fooled into believing I couldn’t. I just did, because I didn’t care if I couldn’t, I knew what I could do was try. Maybe the beginning isn’t so bad. Continue reading Back to the Beginning Again