Self


It’s been an epic year for our little Kamin family.  Baby girl has grown by leaps and bounds. We switched to one income. Almost a year ago my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent two incredibly invasive surgeries, all while unsure if the c-word would win the battle anyway.  The circumstances and ensuing emotions, both new ones and those from stowaway baggage, have been exhausting.  I don’t have a lot to say about it yet, but a nap sounds wonderful.  🙂

Here are a few of the gifts in our lives that keep us afloat:

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Seriously.  These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

Seriously. These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

We are so grateful for the sustaining fellowship we’ve experienced through our faith, family, and community this past year.  It gives us great hope for the future.

My little Isla,
This is my first attempt at writing anything since you were born. It will be sketchy and clumsy. But that’s not because of you. You’ve been a welcome distraction from the fact that I was already seriously struggling to write. I think I posted six times last year total, and most of them were with a lot of stress and hesitation. But your dad kicked me out of the house this morning with my lap top and a free latte card, so here I am. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. On the contrary, your birth is probably the biggest event in my life. That and marrying your dad, but birth is far more dramatic than a wedding (assuming everyone crucial shows up).

There are several babies here and so I’m distracted and missing you already. Maybe especially because you were still sleeping when I left. There’s also a table of older men and that makes me weepy right off the bat. Old friendships. Vulnerability. Babies. Seriously beautiful stuff at the coffee shop this morning. Also some pretty impressive beards – so while I’m happy to be here, part of me wishes you and your dad were here to share it. 🙂

I haven’t told you this yet, but I spent many years being scared to death of motherhood. Personal issues, fears of screwing the whole thing up, awareness of my own selfishness all made me hesitant. (Not to mention actually giving birth!) And I’ve come to believe American culture contributes to those things by obsessing about the value of autonomy for adults and also of a perfect childhood for kids. But here’s the thing: I was so, so wrong. I love you and I don’t have to try. I want to take care of you and I don’t have to force myself. You are beautiful and interesting and I don’t have to talk myself into seeing it. I hope you experience it someday – knowing that love can be so powerful and one-sided is a great boon to my understanding of the love from God. And of the love he hopes to see in all his people for each other.

When I fell in love with your dad, it happened very quickly, and then more slowly, and over again. Choosing to love someone comes with starts and stops and decisions and fears, but not so with parenthood. There are no hesitations or issues of requiting. You are my family and I love you. Just like that. Blown out diapers don’t change that. Trouble sleeping, refusing to eat when you desperately need it, the stuff of babyhood – none of it closes my heart to you. If anything it opens it more and pulls at its strings as I wish I could fix it all. And I know that will continue as you grow and change. I am no longer afraid of anything compromising my desire to give of myself for your sake, and I will always be grateful for that discovery.

I love you, sweet Isla Jane. May you grow in the knowledge of that, and that it is only an inkling of the love that awaits you in your relationship with the Lord.

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It is a temptation.  It is a submission.  For me, fear is even an addiction.  It is a place I know how to inhabit, where I believe I gain control of what happens to me.  If I fear it before it happens, I can see it coming and prevent it.  I’ve experienced it before with other failures of my mind.  Like judgment.  Like pride.

It once took me several months to decide to forgive someone that I love.  And another two years to really get it done.  Book after book, talk after talk, wall after wall, learning how to forgive a fully repentant person.

It wasn’t just about deciding to forgive, it was about breaking the cycle of unforgiveness.  A cycle in which my mind longed to recall the ways that I had been wronged, a cycle that made me feel less vulnerable by keeping me in the place of victim at all times.  Never would I be surprised again.  A cycle that poisoned my heart and mind and relationships.

Any time we want to eschew a habit, we have to say “no” to it once.  And then we have to say “no” again the next hour, the next day, and every day after.  For me, one of the most helpful things is to replace my previous thought pattern with a new mantra.  One that is easy to remember and available to repeat at the first sign of danger.  My mentor wrote one for me once and since then I have found my own.

My forgiveness mantra is pretty simple now that so much time has passed.  Every few months now I may find a flash of paranoia, and I can say in response – I have forgiven that person and I am loved by that person.

My fear mantra will probably change over time, too, but here’s what I’m starting with:

It is an act of obedience and worship to create.  I will seek and indulge creative promptings, and I will present my work to my loving Creator with open hands.

I may crochet it on a pillow.  Except that I am afraid of needles

When I started writing and making music recreationally, fear was hardly a factor.  Little risk, I suppose.  But with each post, each attempt, each listener, my fears grew.  Small successes actually made them stronger.  Farther to fall, and other fallacies.  I’ve pushed them down, tried to ignore them, but all it’s done is made me avoid my pursuits in order to avoid the voices.

So, my first step is to expose the fear, and I invite you to do the same.  Tell someone you trust to listen, journal a prayer, write them here in the comments.  Whatever you do, be specific.  Don’t just say you’re afraid of failure, describe what it looks like under the full light of your inspection.  Here are some of mine.

There is only so much success to go around – another person meeting their goal precludes me achieving my own.

I will make my work too honest, or not honest enough.  Too honest and people will shy away or feel they have to boost me up, or not honest enough and there will be no personality or truth on the page. 

I will include too much moral, which will make someone feel I’ve preached at them, or not enough, which will deny my belief that our surroundings are full of teachings that we should attend.

As I identify previous mistakes I’ve made, whether in writing, music, relationships, or the day-to-day, I become afraid that sometime in the future I will look back on this very moment as a mistake.  It is common to say that one regrets more the things they didn’t do or say than the ones they did, but my regrets fall at least equal, if not more toward the latter.

I did not hone my craft enough in my younger years.  I would stay in bed all morning on a Saturday reading, like many who are interested in writing, but it was typically The Baby-Sitter’s Club, not Anne of Green Gables or The Hobbit.  This means I will never understand good writing.

If I receive praise, I’m being patronized.  If I receive critique, I’m being told to quit.

The list could go on, and probably will, elsewhere.  It feels good to ask myself what exactly I’m afraid of, to answer honestly and without a filter.  With some, hearing myself out loud is enough to break the spell of fear, and with others, it is good to know what I’ve been listening to internally.  No wonder it’s hard to get work done with all that noise. 🙂

Fears found.  Tomorrow, a post on replacing them.

January is for plans, for resolutions, for new motivation.  I love this time of year.  Love the possibilities and goals.  Love it.

Well, no, that isn’t entirely true, but it’s true enough.  Well, okay, it’s just a little true.  It’s truthy.  I also begrudge January.  Because while I watch other folks with plans, resolutions, and motivation, I am jealous.  I want to participate in the talk, which is easy.  But most of all I want to succeed, which is daunting.  I set my sights on the desires of my heart, but pounding in my ears is, “Best laid plans…”, “You know you don’t stick with resolutions”, and “Have you seen your gut lately?  Motivation?”

I know, my internal dialogue is riveting.  But truly, I do love the marker that is January.  I love that we give ourselves the freedom to re-evaluate and try again.  Immediately behind each goal, though, for me, comes fear.  Fear that I am an imposter trying to sneak into the world of art and music and it is only a matter of moments until I am discovered and expelled forever.  And the surest way of being discovered would be to make something that is bad.  Something that will let everyone know I have no business here.  Worst of all, something that I had thought was good.  And I will be made the fool for believing.

In December I sprained a ligament in my lower back.  Not doing anything glorious, just stepping off a ladder.  Apparently I am tall.  And have been doing too many things in a slightly bent position for my lower back to keep up with, and now it has retaliated.  This means a new position at work and for the past several weeks, fewer positions at home.  Namely lying down, walking, some standing, and minimal sitting.  I would’ve imagined that all that time would get me through my stack of reading and a lot of writing, but my mind has been a scatter and the few times it has come to rest it has done so on discontent with my lack of productivity.  My doting dog breaks me out of the cycle when he can, eager as I am for purpose and movement.

Last night the best of my friends quietly sat and probed.  Quietly waited while I searched for a way to convince him that I am done trying.  I will cook and garden and pursue the things that I can fail at without anyone being the wiser.  And then he got angry, which was the most surprising and helpful thing he could have done.

These next few posts I will be exploring this dynamic of art and fear.  An old and common journey, but one I clearly need to fully travel.  Because I have a great desire to give in to one more than to the other.  And because I have a  husband who calls me an artist, even when it makes me cry.

If you like, come with me.  We’ll wear fear-colored ribbons and stop ignoring the problem.

In the last 30 years (read: my lifetime) I’ve had the fortune of watching several members of my family grow to very old age.  Eight of them lived to their eighties, one all the way to one hundred.  She especially grew sweeter as she grew older.  Her body became dependent on the help of others, and her heart seemed to follow, finally embracing what it had always needed.  She doted on her great-grandchildren, spent hours studying the pictures of a great-great grandchild she’d yet to meet.  She was tiny, sweet woman with beautiful wrinkles, bright eyes, and terrible hearing.  Her eyes were clear and blue through the end and she taught herself to read lips with them, so that while she struggled to participate in group discussions, she persisted with one-on-one conversations and tenaciously kept abreast of her family’s affairs.

My childhood memories of this woman are distinct from the later years.  I have clouded images of an old house with a fascinating church organ we were not allowed to touch.  It was slightly dank and the pink-tiled bathroom may be solely responsible for my continued aversion to that color.  Nana didn’t talk with us much then, that I remember.  She worried a lot and had neck pain that bothered her intensely.  She mostly sat in her rocking chair and adjusted her  brace, her feet occasionally touching the floor.  My sister and I would sit across the room or explore carefully outside while we waited for the visit to end, never stepping too close to the small fence which continually sank further over the eroding cliff that bordered her property.

When she moved into the retirement home, it was with readiness for her life to wind down.  She could no longer take care of her belongings or keep herself in health.  She whittled that house down item after item to fit into a small kitchen-less studio and anticipated a small and quiet ending.

But she was wrong.  Nana lost her independence, the home where she raised her child, the neighborhood she had inhabited for fifty years.  She gave up what had become her life, and she then came alive.  She signed up for water-color painting and we each have her paintings displayed in our homes.  They are simple, but beautiful.  She took a tai chi class and felt the pain in her neck lessen.  She had friends to lunch with each day and took it upon herself to learn the geography of her new town, though she never drove a car again.  She took pride in “treating” us to breakfast with her saved up dining points and wasn’t satisfied until the table was filled with every variety of juices and Eggo waffles available.

Most people in my family maintain that giving up her home and responsibilities added many years to Nana’s life.  And when eventually her health outlived her money, her dependency, and her joy, reached yet a new level.  She became less and less the woman we had known, or even she had known.  If you ask Jaron to do his impression of Nana, he will put on his best high-pitched voice, turn his head to the side while he snaps his wrist and says, “Oooohhh, ooh!!”.  In her later years it didn’t take much to make Nana smile and even an attempt at a joke in her presence got you the rich reward of that expression which Jaron felt the need to master.  She thought less and less of herself and became younger and more beautiful in the process.

As I approach the second third of my lifespan, I think often of Nana.  Here’s to the force of aging.  Here’s to the loss of our self-sufficiency, control,  and possessions, which we would never accept if given the choice.

Tonight I’m making salad for my aunts and uncles.  Watching the vinegar reduce.  Watching it become sweeter over heat.  Thinking of my Nana, and looking forward to an evening basking in the beauty of the people surrounding me, while I can.

(It’s a fun autumn salad, if you’re interested: Caramelized Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad)

I was not an Anne of Green Gables girl.  I didn’t read the entire series of Little House on the Prairie. When I was given a Skipper doll I immediately cut her hair off to have a tomboy cut.  Or maybe it was my sister’s Skipper.  I did watch BBC’s “Pride & Prejudice” a few times in college, but that had less to do with the fancy outfits and more to do with good company and the opportunity to feel like a rebel as we indulged in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade while watching.  And the fact that I had an inkling that I, like Elizabeth Bennett, was one of the few with the stellar combination of wit and intrigue to one day win a worthy but seemingly unwinnable man like Mr. Darcy.  I was right, but that’s another story.  🙂

Somehow in spite of all this tomboy training, last weekend I was home, car-less,  with hot tea in hand and a severe thunderstorm outside when I happened on an episode of Downton Abbey, a BBC Masterpiece Classic I had not heard of before.  It would seem I’ve finally caught the bug for historical fiction in fancy dresses cause two days later I had watched all seven episodes.  The story begins with the introduction of the family of a British earl during the days of the waning power of royalty and aristocracy in England.  The earl has three daughters, none of whom can receive his inheritance, and is surprised by the news that his nephew, who was to come and care for the abbey and his family one day, has died in the sinking of the Titanic.

To the dismay of everyone involved, the earl must now pass on his great wealth and title to a third cousin, a middle-class lawyer.  The lawyer is a prideful man who smugly regards himself as “self-made” and snubs his nose at the frivolous lives led by his family and at their request that he now live as they do, with more servants than family members.  One evening at dinner he made it known that he had no wish to give up his vocation and would just find time to manage the affairs of the vast abbey on evenings and weekends.  At this, the earl’s mother, played by Maggie Smith, turned to him and said, “Hwhaattt…. is a wheek… eendt??”

Jaron and I, along with many others our age, are in ways trying to undo the dynamic that this lawyer’s generation began.  We are trying to carve out a life that is not about our employment.  For days and episodes after this scene, those words kept returning unbidden.  I’d get home from work and feel entitled to use the rest of my day for leisure, talking myself into ignoring chores or even productive hobbies because I had earned my free pass being on my feet all day at the store.  And there it would be… Maggie Smith’s voice again.  What is a weekend?

Work and responsibility, as Maggie’s character so perfectly pointed out, are utterly distinct from employment.  In a time when the five day-work week was just beginning to dominate, the upper and lower class still had no use for it.  A task was a task, regardless of the day of the week and their life and work were largely indistinguishable from each other.

A life’s work couldn’t very well be expected to fit into a specific schedule of employment.  It’s an important distinction for us, as people who wish to have a life’s work to show.  We live in a time when being an artist, writer, musician is not often a viable career choice.  We also live in a time when the culture tells us that the career is a means to fund the entertainment.  We “work” so we can “play”.  We must be diligent if we don’t want to get caught up in the confusion – if we want to be people who know the glory of working hard in every area of our lives and the peace of rest in each part of our lives, as well, rather than the exhaustion of mere employment and the numbness of being entertained.

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