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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Entries in making stuff (2)

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.

Friday
Jan222010

Making Stuff: Part 2

   Photo courtesy Clemson University Flying ClubIn 1928, seven students at Clemson University, along with their faculty advisor, set out to build an airplane. Though "Little 372," as it was known, had a brief and fitful flying career, it is thought to be the first airplane built by college students in America. It now hangs in the state museum of South Carolina as an emblem of ingenuity and determination.

To the seven members of the 1928 Clemson Aero club, their advisor was a teacher and mentor. To my family, he was known simply as "Boppy."

Boppy taught at Clemson and ran the woodshop there for decades. His specialty was furniture, and pieces of his handiwork are scattered across the eastern seaboard among the members of my mother's family. And among my mother and her sisters' fondest memories is flying from the trees in airplane swings fashioned by Boppy. Though he died the year I was born, his impact even in my life has been profound in ways I am only now coming to understand.

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