Category Archives: Life

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.



I won a silver necklace at a party once. It is a tiny silver plaque on a delicate chain. I could choose what I wanted engraved on the plaque. What a nightmare. Hey, Word Lady who loves all the words– pick ONE! You will wear the word and the word will be seen and asked about and explained. You have one day. Oh, and the word can only have five letters.

I sat down and did what I always do when I need words. I pulled out my super serious grown-up writer’s tools (blank paper, fat magic markers) and got to work. I first wrote the words I knew I could not abide (dream, live, love…puke.) I started noticing all words that have five letters or less. (“Words?” No. Not that either.)

I landed on SPARK. Spark is good.

Spark meant a lot at once and I couldn’t quite explain it, but I sent in my request anyway.

Continue reading spark

Won’t Back Down

I am writing in one of my favorite spots. It is a large, bright room, lined in books and tall windows. The ceiling is a high, white arch, the furniture is covered and re-covered antique. There is a piano, a fireplace, couches facing each other, and a single table pushed up right next to one of the soaring windows.
The table is big enough for two, but courtesy seems to dictate that the space should only be used by one. It is my privilege to sit here today, and I am looking past the peeling paint around the windows at the rain sliding down.

It is spring, and it seems today that the earth is shivering in anticipation.

There are weeks coming that will warm, but this week has been one of days that chill despite the temperature, days that have cracked open wounds I would have sworn had healed over. No eiderdown can fight this cold, the one that comes from right inside me and passes like a whisper over my skin.

To open my mouth and confess it feels something like adopting the fear, giving it a name, a bed, a dish to call its own.

I don’t want to give it a dish. I don’t want to feed it, afraid it might come back.

Continue reading Won’t Back Down

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}