Who do you think you are?

30-something mother, wife, lawyer, writer, design junkie, craftaholic, cook

likes: clever tools, snazzy colors, working for justice, kid wrangling, Meyer lemons

dislikes: inefficiency, civil discovery, most shades of purple, Tori Amos

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Wednesday
Sep082010

Hi, I'm Cameron, and I'm running for president of my life.

When I was in sixth grade at the Den of Iniquity—I mean, Laing Middle School—I decided to run for class representative to Student Council. The class representatives were elected out of each Social Studies class, so when it came time to give speeches, it really couldn't have been all that nerve-wracking. But I honestly don't remember a single word or plank of my platform speech. I do remember Sophie's, though. Her platform was simple: You should vote for me because I have time to be your Representative. Cam doesn't have time because she is already in Chorus and the School Play and Odyssey of the Mind.

Way to campaign on your strengths, right?* Except it worked. I lost in a landslide. And thus ended my dreams of public office. I've pretty much never campaigned for anything since.

***

Last night I had a conversation with a mentor and trusted friend from law school. I've mentioned here that I have returned to my alma mater as an adjunct professor. I can't tell you how meaningful this is to me. It is an accomplishment of which I'm proud, to be sure. But much more than that, it is an experience that I am relishing. I come from a family of teachers. I believe in teachers and in teaching. I am proud to be in their company.

So I was more than a little thrilled, as I sat in the adjunct office holding office hours, when my first visitor was a professor whom I have so admired and learned from. He sat down and called me "Professor" with a wry smile and asked how my class was going. And I spilled out a monologue laced with my characteristic enthusiasm and self-effacement, gushing about every minute detail and admitting, with a mixture of pride and chagrin, that for the upcoming class I had taught myself some rudimentary animation skills and made a movie for my students.

It wasn't long before the ghosts of that sixth grade critique returned.

"Is that the best use of your time?"
"Well, maybe not? Not exactly. But it's fun. I enjoyed it."
"But it's time you could have spent writing."
"True, but..."
"Is that really something in which you're going to gain mastery?"
"Well, no, but..."

And then, here, I trail off. Because it is true. I spent hours and hours this weekend teaching myself to animate a movie in Flash. A movie that lasted exactly 45 seconds. And that my students appreciated but will have forgotten by the time they drag themselves to class to turn in their first graded written assignment in a few weeks. Why on earth was someone who has the long-stated goal of moving into academic law teaching screw around with some silly animation program when she should be writing the next piece of scholarship that will move her career forward?

Why does she write a blog? Much less a blog about design and food and craft and life? What good is that doing her career?

Why does she toil away designing fabrics that sell only a few hundred yards a year? Designing printable stationery, forgodsakes?

Why on earth does she bother making homemade ketchup and mustard? Who does that?

Was it really necessary for her to applique the tiger's stripes on that costume? You know, they make tiger-striped fabric these days.

Dear God, she walks like a stoned ostrich...what possessed her to take ice skating lessons?

She should focus. She should set her eyes on the prize. She should have some discipline! She should do research. Write articles. Have them published. Network.

Well. I'm here to tell you. She just can't. And even if she could, she doesn't WANT to.

In the race to be the president of my life, I am the only candidate. And the only constituent.

If the truth be told, I want to want to do what I'm supposed to do. I really do. But I just don't have the heart for it. Or. More accurately: I have a heart—a huge, gobbly, hungry heart. A heart that is not satisfied by accomplishments on paper. A heart that sings loudest when it is fed by new experiences, that measures success by its own internal meter. A heart that doesn't always do what it should do.

And so my friend, my mentor, said, "That's fine if you're willing to accept the consequences."

The consequences. I have a great job. I have a great second job. And a great third job. I have a sweet and kind and understanding husband whose heart, like mine, is fullest when it's pushed to the breaking point. I have an amazing child who is proud of his mommy even though he isn't quite sure yet what it is that I do. I can live with these consequences.

Ok. I know it's not that simple. The consequences. Really. I am always, always physically tired. I may never be a full-time REAL law professor. I will probably always be a little bit poor. I may never write that great novel that lives in my head because I can't sit still long enough to write it.

But at the end of the day—at the end of my days—will I be disappointed in this life? A life that has led me to live in every corner of this country? A life that has led me to cook dinner for Sidney Poitier and have a heated literary argument with Saul Bellow? A life that has brought me friends and acquaintances from every walk of life? Honestly, who wouldn't want to learn to play the harmonica from a Swiss expat or to teach Shakespeare to a group of Russian seventh graders?

Every time I look at a knitted garment, I feel a kinship with women in Peru whose weird way of knitting is the same way I taught myself years ago.  Every time I see a beautifully carved wooden bowl, I think about the time I spent leaning over my father-in-law's lathe, carving my own bowl, absorbing his advice about the proper pressure to place on the gouge—advice that seems relevant to every minute of a life well lived. When I study the patternwork of William Morris, and I can trace out the nearly invisible boundaries of the repeats; when I look at the intricate ironwork of Philip Simmons, and I rub my fingers over the well-faded scars of my own attempts at metalwork; when I watch scratchy films showing the laborious work of the gifted animators who drew Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny cell by cell, and I think of the countless minutes I've spent animating 45 seconds of film; I am jolted with a sense of oneness with people who are long ago and far away but who enrich every inch of my built and designed and crafted environment.

I think it's easy for people who are gifted with singular focus to dismiss the passing fancies of people like me. It's easy to label us as dilettantes and write us off as petty, trifling. We don't live big-I important lives. But if human existence is like a giant Tinker Toy (and I'm not saying it is, but wouldn't that be great?), I think that it is we woebegone people—the focally-challenged, the terminally interested—who are the connectors, the cogs. And that's not such a bad thing to be. Important, even.

So that's it. I'm Cameron. The writer. The designer. The lawyer. The mother. The wife. The teacher. The artist. The cook. The maker. The doer. The friend.

I'm running for president of my life.

And I approved this message.

 

*In fact, Sophie had plenty to recommend her. She was funny and charming and  smart. I hear she still is. But I wouldn't know. When I waved at her about 10 years ago in a restaurant in Los Angeles (we both lived there), she pretended not to know me. Sophie 2, Cameron 0.

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Reader Comments (33)

I love you so much, Cameron Blazer. This is brilliant and beautiful, and so are you. Also, I will totally gerrymander my boobs and vote for you twice.

September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Cameron, I spent a long time working toward a PhD. in French Lit. Every summer I would take off with my soon-to-be husband to work in Alaska in the salmon industry. I had endless arguments with my advisor about this--clearly I wasn't fitting into the Ivory Tower mold. In the end, I wrote one chapter of my dissertation, left grad school, spent wonderful time in France, had children, and now occasionally teach French, still go up to Alaska in the summer (while hubby takes care of the kids), knit, can, bake, take care of house, chickens, and family, whatever. I hope to learn Spanish and teach myself the banjo. Why? Why not? It's a far more fulfilling life to follow your passions than to follow the path to "glory", whatever that is according to others.

September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArienne

This. Is. Beautiful.

I can relate, in a small way. I would never be content to be one thing, or to have a lifelong career. I admire you so much. We all create our own consequences, true. Joy in life seems, to me, to be a worthy one.

September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

Fabulous! Thank you SO much for this. When I noticed on my google reader that CI had one post, I thought to myself, "hmmm, I don't remember who this is;maybe I should have deleted this blog with others recently..." Then I clicked and read. And remembered why you are there. Truly. And CI is staying put!

Again, thank you.

September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan

I love this post. In fact, I may use it as a personal manifesto. I needed to hear this today. Thanks. Oh, and by the way, I did Odyssey of the Mind too. In fact, I still do almost 20 years later. I have passed the tradition to my kids.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Thanks for the wonderful read tonight Cameron. :o) I read it it earlier in the evening and have been thinking about it - if I hadn't taken a super relaxing hot bath I probably would have something more meaningful to say...but I wanted to tell you I come from a family of "tinkerers" and I'd have it no other way. People are simply more interesting when they are curious about life. And you are definitely an interesting person! Thanks for letting us in on your endeavors & for your honesty :o)

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDevon Holzwarth

Make me a chicken pot pie, at some point.

I can say I did vote for you in that election, but mainly because I was generally snubbed by Sophie, and you would talk to me. I couldn't tell you anything about the platforms either of you stood for! I admire you for even running for office. You seem to go after what you want whether it be making a movie, learning crazy dances in a russian school, or middle school office.

I read this, and it makes me feel inadequate, but I do relate to it. I finished college, grad school, etc., and I prefer to work with blue collar workers building things than the educated masses that like to just talk about building things. I am sure I could do more, but I am very happy to work my day and go home to my wife and animals where we make our own ice cream, dig in the yard, and take a few nice vacations a year.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA Laing Voter

That is some mad writing going on there CB! And I can relate to every bit of it! Thanks for sharing your soulful honesty as you always do. I come from a family of dabblers, DIYers, tinkerers, farmers and sewers - my maiden name is Goodhand for crikey's sake - I think I was destined (or doomed) to work with my hands and heart. I've never known any other way (I think my mom had some crafty ADD and she was always dragging me to some class or store for something...). I have to admit, tho, that as I've begun to grow the wholesale side of my business this past year, other things have really dropped off my radar. The monetary investment snapped me right into the 'singular focus' line. I hope this line leads to others using my goods for their dabbling and fantastic ideas!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjan : daisy janie

Cameron! I love your blog and I LOVE this post. Honestly - it has spoken to me in a way I can't even begin to dream of articulating. Thank you for sharing it and thank you for bringing so much light to my Friday. I would like to write more but that would slow me down from forwarding this blog to the dozens of women I know who also need to read it today!
x

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

Do not change a thing. I am drawn to your blog because you are so multi-talented! I dabble and tinker and am slightly ADD about my interests, but that's ok with me. Most of all, I love your quirky sense of humor which I think is indicative of your versatility.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKat

Fantastic post! I've recently accepted, for myself, that part of being fulfilled is doing things I like because I like to. Many people suggest what I should do and how I should run my business. Like you, why do I blog? Well, because I'm getting something out of it myself: enjoyment, release, whatever.

Thank you for your honest post.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda @alamodestuff

What a brilliant post!
A friend of mine emailed the link to me because she thought I could probably relate, and boy, do I!

I LOVE your point of view and you are SO right. Thanks so much for writing this post.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnaDenise

Thank you for the boldness to put this into writing. Sometimes I see others in my industry that have really climbed the ranks and become envious, but the description "the focally-challenged, the terminally interested" fits me all too well, while climbing the ranks does not. Your message lets me know that I am not alone, and that it's okay. Wonderful!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

My oh my. Switch out the law and teaching bit and throw in some marketing and administrative bits and you pretty much wrote my story. I think us doers get a bad wrap sometimes (you know, until someone needs something special done and we're sitting there with our hands in the air). Not too long ago, I was discussing this very subject with my husband- talking about me and him mainly, but it was a result of discussion (and worry) about our son, who is, well, a lot like me and my husband: a non-focused, sometimes flighty, sometimes brilliant doer seemingly doomed to a stimulated and busy life. And after a while I said, You know? Even though that beautiful grass is greener on the other side, I still like my colorful and flourishing, sometimes wild and overwhelming garden. I will always look to those vast pure and perfect lawns on the other side. admiring them and those who mow them... but in the end, I just wouldn't be happy over there for too long. So, it's a nice place to visit, but I love coming home.

I'm voting for ya.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle | Cicada Studio

Well said!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth M

RIGHT ON!! This is one of the BEST posts I've read on a blog in a long time! I second your appointment to president of your life!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Thank you.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlix

Beautiful said and so true. What would life be without curiosity, the need to know...to learn and share what you have learned?

You won...Sophie lost. She could have had you as a friend if she had only lifted her hand and waved.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Sophie who? YOU are totally awesome!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMel

Yes, it is "we" and thanks for letting me chauffeur you. I love still having a purpose in my Blue 4's rich, wonder-filled life. jam

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjam

thank you thank you thank you!! I have a full time job and I love to design and craft and I always have a hard time explaining to people the why of learning to sew and learning to make jewelry, etc. etc. etc.

you made me cry sitting at my desk! someone gets it!!!!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMalinda Lloyd

Beautiful! I love to see people be themselves...and not succumb to the pressure of academia to produce and be single focused.!
President! Yes!

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermeg

Wow. Perfectly-put. I think about this very "struggle" all of the time and come to the same conclusion (albeit less eloquently-articulated). To pursue so many curiosities is what makes our lives so rich--and a little wacky, which always makes for good stories. I'm so grateful to be able to feed off of the creativity of you and everyone else in our family who embody it in so many different areas of life. To constantly see in the world inspiration for what we can create is a pretty awesome thing. And though I am finally trying to work on writing my first article for publication, I have made a deal with myself to enjoy the process, to see it, too, despite its academic audience, as a creative act, and not to resist the urge to work on making jewelry or painting or sewing when that seems more inspiring. All of these creative acts connect; each one provides us with energy and inspiration for the other ones. Love you, love you Cameroonie!

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

God I love you and all of your crazy brilliance. Reading this post just made me miss you so much I'm sitting here on my sofa crying. Wish there was a way to instill in Anna & Max an ounce of your creativity and need to do more, learn more, create, create, create...

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Fantastic post! We should start a club (all these other commenters, you and myself) Glad to have found you!

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandy from Candied Fabrics

Ah I can totally relate. The thing is, I think we are socially conditioned, to accept that one job is acceptable in the world, anything else and you're "fluffy".

But this is so not true. It took me a while to embrace my many talents (cough jumping from this to that). But since just letting go of this "preconceived notion that it's not "ok" to have lots of ideas", has helped me grow immensely as a person. I'm doing things now that I never thought possible.

A great book that helps one embrace many ideas, is Barbara Sher's, book "Refuse to Choose". It basically is about embracing a scanner personality...where you like to dabble in lots of different things.

Then there is that lovely term of "entrepenur", where you just have lots of ideas, that you need to embrace to keep you stimulated.

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSimone

De-lurking to say that was beautiful! Thank you so much for that. I sometimes wonder why I attempt everything but don't seem to particularly excel at anything. Reading things like this make me realize that it really is about the attempt and the learning along the way. Good for you!

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia C.

I must simply raise a loud, "Amen!" As everyone else has stated, I needed to hear this and know that I'm not alone. (I sometimes like to refer to myself as a "Renaissance Woman"...though I rarely reach "expert" standing...perhaps more of a Renaissance Dabbler???)

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

You have so eloquently expressed the hearts of so many women. Thank you.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

It's just that you're brilliant. That's what I am. Too brilliant for one thing. People who are focused are -no offense to them - not as curious, which may make them -maybe some offense to them- a little less smart.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterheather

I think you are terrific. You and your gobbly heart! What a great blog...forwarded to me by your sister Sarah.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Clair

This is beautifully written and it make me smile! I think that being good at one thing, having one objective, one interest in life is just downright boring. Everyone should be bold enough to make time for the things that really matter to them! P.S. Your store looks great!

September 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

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