She walks in beauty, like the night

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace
I have learned about myself that I become weary of doing the same things over and over and over again.  Some people don't mind this, but my personality loathes it.  I can do it for a while and then I suddenly snap.  It is the same in 'regular' life and in my creative life.  The same yard with the same lighting and the same children doing the same things... it becomes boring.  I've done that.  I have that image.  There's no need to continue photographing, because it's already there.  It doesn't give me the artistic endorphin rush I crave.

I always read that the key to photography was light.  I always felt a little 'well duh' inside at that.  It took some years for me to really understand that.  I didn't always see the light.  I saw my subject.  Now I see that I'm photographing what the light does to my subject.  Light is everything.  Absolutely everything.

And light opens up the creative doors.  Every day there are a million different lighting scenarios everywhere I go.  I cannot get bored with this - there are always new situations, new backgrounds, new plays with light.  I think that is why I love photography so much. I see endless opportunity.  I will never 'arrive'.  There will always, always be something new to learn and new to try.

Several years ago I put my camera away, safely in its bag, once the sun went below the tree line. I thought my moments of opportunity for that day were done.  A year and a half ago, I would have done the same, because my D90 just couldn't hack the ISO I'd need to shoot after sundown.  Now, I savor this time! Now I look forward to this unique moment of light that is so unlike any other all day long when the sun remains overhead.

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace

She is the perfect girl to me.  She has never been interested in princesses or fairy tales.  She likes to play in the dirt with her brother.  She loves pink and dresses and hair adornments.  It's simply the perfection combination for me.  In the last few months she has embraced dresses.  Every time we go out to eat, she simply MUST wear a dress.  Sometimes, quite frankly, that is incredibly inconvenient. But I, myself, am embracing it, too.  While she is young and carefree and her sweet self, let's let her don a dress and feel like a princess.  Her kind of princess.  Not a disney princess.  Not one who needs a prince.  Just a beautiful maiden in beautiful garments.

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace

It was Daddy's birthday this night. I believe she felt that deserved a little more dressy a dress than usual, and she chose the fairy tale dress she wore in the wedding last October.  She wore it for the wedding, and she wore it at the beach shortly thereafter.  She's not worn it since. I had it cleaned and it's hung in the closet.  I even took it to the beach two weeks ago, but I didn't put her back in it.  I regret that now.

She came downstairs wearing it, needing help to zip up the back.  I gasped inside.  She is magnificent in this dress.  Simply magnificent.  It was made for her, and I hope we can eek out a little longer in it.

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace

After our meal out, the sun had dipped below our little valley and treeline but wasn't quite near the real sunset in Tennessee.  We had some time.  The light felt magical to me.  I had tried to photograph her earlier in the day for an assignment and she was significantly less than cooperative.  I begged her to please let me do a few special images in her beautiful dress.  I tried really hard to let her do her thing and capture it, not directing too terribly much.

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace

I would never have attempted these with my D90, and that makes me so beyond thankful that I have the D800 to use these days.  It is such a treasure to me.  A tool that allows me to express my creativity while documenting this fleeting time I'll never have again.  I am loving who they are right now.  We are enjoying them so much.  And yet, I see childhood slipping through my fingers as the sands of an hourglass and feel saddened that I'll never have their toddler and preschooler hood again.

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace

evening light in a princess dress by carey pace

I shot these with my Nikon D800
Nikon 85mm f1.8
Nikon 50mm 1.4D
Sigma 30mm f1.4

combating perfectionism in him

"I’m so proud of you, Buddy." 

He gives his goofy grin that he does when he’s simultaneously embarrassed and happy and pleased with what we’ve said.

"Are you proud of yourself? Does it feel good?"

"I don’t know."

"What do you mean you don’t know? You played really well. Are you proud of that?"

"I don’t know.”

I realize he’s using ‘I don’t know’ to combat the contradictory feelings inside, hearing praise while feeling a failure. But I don’t know what he feels a failure about. I'm confused.

"Do you think you didn’t do well?"

"I don’t know."

"Buddy, what do you think you could have done better? What wasn’t good enough?"

"I didn’t catch those balls.”

It took me a minute.  Then, oh.  That.

lifestyle photography by carey pace

Sigh. I know this pain: the pain of the perfectionist. Because even excellent isn’t good enough.

He played shortstop last night. He made some awesome plays. The crowd cheered for him by name. He struck out once, but hit his other times at bat. He played great! There were a few hard hit balls right at him that he tried to stop, even came in contact with, but got past him. It happened to other kids on the field, too. It’s the end of the season, and just as my friend Dana predicted, the kids have figured it out and can really clobber the balls now when they bat.

I’m no athlete. We never played sports at all growing up. I don’t know the rules and I don’t know the skills. I also don't know the mentality. I’m learning alongside him. But what I do know is that this is part of sports. You try your best but sometimes the ball gets by. Sometimes you miss. Sometimes you strike out. Most times you don’t. But sometimes you do. And that’s okay.

But it’s not okay. To him. And I understand.

It doesn’t matter that he made some awesome hits at bat. It doesn’t matter that he got several people out by his moves on defense as short stop. It doesn’t matter that he made snap decisions and threw the ball to the right spot at the right time and it got there. It doesn’t even matter that he’s getting to play short stop, when this is his first time to play baseball ever. All that matters is that he let some balls get by. He messed up. And those few mess ups completely negate all the things he DID do right.

My mother heart aches at this. How can he not see what he did well? How can he be displeased at himself? Especially when we are so happy with him? How can I rejoice as he rejoices when he does play well, but not feed into the philosophy that he only counts when he achieves? How can I make our words that it doesn’t matter how well he does ring true, when we go bananas when things go right, and we emphasize that it takes a lot of practice to do things well? How can I make it make sense to a seven year old perfectionist that we really, truly ARE just as proud of him if he plays well as if he strikes out every time, doesn’t catch a ball, and make true errors of judgement? Because what counts to us is that he goes out and gives it his all every time, no matter what. But how do I make our words and actions align to prove that to him?

While my mother heart aches, my perfectionist heart resonates. I know just how he feels, for I feel the same thing every single day. It’s hard to enjoy a meal I prepared, knowing the mistakes I made or things I COULD have done better. It’s hard to walk through a house that isn’t perfect, knowing that if I tried a little harder, maybe just maybe, I could make it neater. It’s hard to photograph, feeling that even if I like an image there are twenty things I could do better. I often don’t see the joy or the beauty - I see the mistakes. I see the places where the composition is weak, or I chopped body parts, or I didn’t nail focus, or most often, just isn’t the vision I saw in my head when I set out to capture the image.

I’ve heard it said that expectations are premeditated disappointments. How TRUE.

Disappointment is a few fine grains of sand away from a loss of hope. And the loss of hope is a very, very dangerous place. Hope is essential. Vital. But the continuous build up of disappointments always sends me down this path of losing hope. I cling to the walls, hoping not to submerge and succumb to it.

I learned that it was easier, less potential for a feeling of hopelessness, to simply hedge off the disappointment by not allowing myself to have expectations. If I didn’t set an expectation, allow for the hope of success, then I wouldn’t feel the disappointment at the lack of success, and couldn’t lose hope. You can’t lose what you don’t have. So I felt that expectations were bad things. Evil things. To be avoided. Eliminated from my life. In all aspects and facets.

What I didn’t realize was that in taking away the potential for disappointment, I thus by default also took away the potential for pleasure. Brene Brown wisely says "“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” Removing the expectation of success meant I also never get to feel the joy of succeeding. I thought that if I just removed the expectations, I could feel surprised joy when I did well. But what I found was, the joy wasn’t the same joy that existed when I allowed myself to feel the full gamut of human emotion.

So, how do I apply this realization to my parenting, to guiding and raising my mini-mi perfectionist 7 year old son? Telling him not to focus on the faults is ridiculous. It’s as effective as telling a two year old who’s been stung not to be afraid of a bee. You can’t just TELL a child something and expect that to change the behavior or mentality. You can’t just tell them to get over it. This is temperament, personality, birth order. It is who they are. We cannot be slaves to it. We cannot use it as an excuse. But we need to face it head on with honesty.

We can accept the places we erred, we can use that to fuel our practice, motivate us to do better in the future. But we cannot let it paralyze it, and usurp the place of joy in our lives.

“Buddy, do you feel like you can tell me anything?”

He nods.

“Buddy, Momma is a safe place. You can always, always tell me anything. Any of your thoughts, your feelings, your frustrations. You always share those with me, okay, Buddy?”

That’s all I know to do for now. To tell him that I’m sorry he missed those balls. I know he’s disappointed in himself. That I know I would be disappointed, too. Affirm his feelings, so he’s not double dipping in that pool of self condemnation for being a failure and then for FEELING that way in the first place, that something is wrong with him for feeling what he does. Tell him that I know he was trying as hard as he could, and that’s all we ever ask of him. And that I’m so pleased with the things he did do well. So much so, I didn’t even remember those balls that got by.

I shot these with my Nikon D800
Nikon 85mm f1.8
Nikon 50mm 1.4D
Sigma 35mm f1.4

Topsail Topsail

We spent June 1st through 8th at one of our favorite places on earth:  Topsail Island, North Carolina.  I would probably say that my favorite place to photography in this entire world is at the ocean.  The light and reflections at the seaside are just.... sigh. They are just so beautiful. I love the new challenges of somewhere outside of my norm with such spectacular beauty surrounding me.

I took 3,376 photos.  That is not a typo.  Three thousand, three hundred and seventy six.  WOW!  I am absolutely dying to process them.  Believe it or not, I've never gone back and processed the photos from our beach visit to Topsail two years ago!  Alas.  I have a little girls birthday party to execute, and finances that I'm behind on to do, as well as twenty other around the house projects to do before I can allow myself to DO this set of photos.... but I DID allow myself to edit a handful from our first hour out on our favorite stretch of beach.

beach vacation photo by Carey Pace

Nearly everyone loves the beach, but I find that people's reasons are so varied. It's so fascinating. Some love the ocean waters -- the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the salty spray. Some love to walk along the water's edge, feeling the teasing waters lap along their ankles. Some love to be tossed by the waves, have a glimpse of the awesome power of water and the sea, that unparalleled weightless feeling of being lifted up by an oncoming wave and then suddenly dropped low again. Some love the sand, whether just to wiggle your toes in it or to build mighty sand creations only to be destroyed by the next high tide. Some love searching for treasure with the patience of saints as they seek to find a rare shark's tooth or shell. Some love to explore and find the amazing creatures that make their home at the transition from land to sea, whether on foot or via kayak or larger boat. Some love the intensity of the sun, and it's so amazing how much stronger those rays feel with all of the reflection from the sand and water. Some love a beach rife with tidal pools hiding living treasures of all kinds, while others love a steep beach without much land. Some love to fish, whether from the pier or the surf. Others love just getting away from the distractions at home. Some love enjoying the seashore with others, perhaps a large group from home or perhaps even just meeting new folks staying nearby. Some love a beach so secluded that perhaps you don't see another soul all day long. Some find healing, both physical and emotional, by merely the presence of the seashore where the power of the water and wind are so strongly evident. Some love the creative challenge of photographing in a new place with new scenery and new lighting scenarios (I wouldn't know that person). Some like a rocky beach, while others prefer huge expanses of white sand. There are the Outer Banks beaches with their dark and churning intensity that are so different from Myrtle, which is so different from the hard packed wide expanses at Hilton Head, or any of the other South Carolina Island beaches like Pawley's, or Kiawah, or Folly or Edisto. There are the Atlantic Florida beaches, and then there is the whole other side of Gulf Coast beaches with their completely different scenery of soft white sand and crystal clear aqua water. Even more, all of the Northeast beaches I've never set eyes upon. And yet some, too, enjoy other things about going to the beach that really have nothing to do with the ocean like shopping at boutiques or outlet malls, the tradition of much too expensive but often quite elaborately decorated putt-putt golf, ice cream parlors dressed up in a time long since past, eating seafood at new restaurants, and I suppose there is a party scene or nightlife at some beaches as well.

When I see someone ask "where should we go to the beach this year?" or simply "what's your favorite beach", my heart gives pause. You cannot answer that question without qualifiers. For, my reasons to love a place may be the reasons you loathe it. My expectations for a beach vacation may make you shudder because they vary so much from your own. "Going to the beach" is about so much more that simply visiting a place where the ocean meets land. Particularly to an artist heart.

A few years ago I saw a video of the awed reaction of a group of teenage girls who had never been to the ocean before. It breaks my heart that in this day and age where folks travel around the world in a day, give no thought to how far away something is, there are still people who have never been to the seashore. This place on the earth so teaming with power and awe and beauty and might, where God's presence and influence reverberate, where even grown ups turn into kids again some times... everyone should have that at least once.

We've been visiting the southern tip of Topsail Island, NC for the last few years and adore it. It is the perfect answer for our particular family's preferences. It is an introvert's expanse, a nature and creature lover's dream, a fishing wonder, tide pools and waves and smooth sound waters and dunes and soft sand and shallow waters, shells and beach glass, sunsets and sunrises, meals with each other.

I shot these with my Nikon D800
Nikon 14-24 f2.8
Nikon 85mm f1.8
Nikon 50mm 1.4D
Sigma 35mm f1.4

burden and levity

Even now, acknowledging how much the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to accomplish it all affects me.... I don't believe I even have a full grasp on it.

Friday, I woke at 530-600 like normal and had my 'me time' before getting the kids up to get ready for school.
I took them at eight,
came straight home and showered,
went to Warrior's at 9am for the kindergarten field trip til 12 or so,
ran an errand,
went back to the school to help in (not so little) Buddy's class with a building creativity project (that was so wonderful and fun),
took the van to get gas,
came back to the school and picked (not so little) Buddy up,
came back home and parked in the garage,
we never went inside. They went straight to the backyard to play.

And I joined them.
Carey Pace on life and motherhood
And it felt SO wonderful.

It's not like I never play with them outside, enjoying their imaginations and creativity and this new stage of life now that they are 7 and almost 6. This stage IS so very much FUN. I cannot form coherent words around how wonderful it feels just to observe them interacting, seeing their own personalities, quirks, and attempts at learning how to relationally navigate the world. It's like I understand that look that came over older people's eyes when they'd gaze at you while younger - I know what they felt now.

So it isn't that I never do that, at all. I do. I may not enjoy or be very good at imaginary play... but I AM there with them. I will absolutely be midway through washing dishes, and throw them down and say, forget it! They will never be this age again and I"m going outside! Now, granted, I DO (albeit reluctantly as a good Anxiety Girl should) send them out to play, just them, without me there. I think that is important as well. But all of this to say, it isn't like I've never sat in the backyard while they played.

But yesterday was different. DIFFERENT.

Yesterday at 315pm, I hadn't been inside my home all day long.
I hadn't started any projects.
I hadn't half written any emails.
I hadn't started editing any photos.
I wasn't immersed in one of many loads of laundry.
I wasn't involved in an internet conversation with a hurting friend I was trying to counsel and encourage.
I wasn't halfway through cleaning a room.
I wasn't trying to get them started on homework.
I wasn't trying to get dinner prepared.
I wasn't trying to unload the dishwasher.
I wasn't trying to scramble to keep the house in a semi straightened order so it doesn't feel like clutteropolis when Shawn gets home.

None of that.

Because I was not here, at home, all day long, I could not begin anything. And hence, I felt no OBLIGATION to continue. No obligation to complete what I had begun. No echoes of the compulsion to FINISH what you had started, because that's what you are supposed to do.

And gracious, that felt so. very. good.

I could walk into the backyard, sit next to the swing set, and engage in their half decade old chatter, wholly.

How often does the weight that sits on my shoulders show in my face, to them?

I was reminded of how glorious it felt last October when we went to Hilton Head for a few days for Fall Break. I didn't anticipate it going in, at all. But we were away. There were no obligations placed on me. I couldn't do the many things piled up on my to do list, for we weren't at home where I even COULD attempt to accomplish them. So there was nothing to do but be free and enjoy the sand, the ocean, and my family. It was wonderful, and _I_ felt wonderful. That was the first time I really understood the weight that all these burdens was placing on me every moment of every day, at home.

I have learned about myself that when I feel that I have not completed a task, something I "owe", it eats at me. It continually chips away at my outlook, and I am weakened. It chips away at my mentality and replaces it with burden. Burden Burden Burden.

That is how I always feel: burdened.

And Burdened sucks my joy, and everything that makes me ME. A silent lurking leech, ever present, not so noticeable, but destructive all the same.

I got behind on managing the finances. So I would put it off til I had some more time. But then I was more behind... and then it would take more time... and then I had to wait til I had big chunks of time.... and then it was longer and would take even more time... until, I was ONE YEAR behind. I am so not kidding. ONE YEAR behind in my quicken work.

For ONE YEAR that sucked joy from my soul.

Now, granted, that is a personal flaw. I am not good at time management. I am most assuredly a paralyzed discouraged perfectionist that can find things to do in 20 or 30 minute chunks instead of accomplishing what I SHOULD be doing. Acknowledgement is the first step in recovery, right? I'm working on making better choices.

But the point of all this, if you've even made it this far, is that I am coming into awareness of how much these "tasks" of life, that this phase of life do not always lend themselves to providing COMPLETION, suck joy from me.

If I do not get the laundry done, I feel burdened.
If I do not get the dishwasher unloaded, I feel like I have a tally mark against me.
If I did not get a floor vacuumed, swept or mopped, I have failed.
If I didn't get these photos that I shot for free edited, I have failed.
I didn't get this done today....
This task took so much longer than I expected.....

I feel as if the stamp FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE is placed in red on my forehead, and everyone, everywhere I go, can see it.

Day after day after day is marked failure. For there are not enough hours to do all the things I want to do. all the things I need to do. all the things I've committed to do. I don't have enough hours to please me, to please the kids, to please Shawn, to please my role as manager of the house (what on EARTH do you even CALL that?), to please all the places outside of my home that I've committed my services. And I walk around feeling not enough.

A few months ago, I started pulling back on commitments. It felt awful and wonderful simultaneously. It felt like a quitter to say "I can't work on this anymore". I'm NOT a quitter. I know in my head that I'm choosing yes to my family (and my sanity), but in my heart it feels like QUITTER. It's HARD to say no to people. It's really, really hard.

Our family functions as a team.  As the children have aged and grown in abilities, they now have things they are responsible for that lessen the load on me as mother and homemaker.  Shawn is an extraordinary helper with initiative. I don't have to ask him to help - he sees what's left to do and dives in head first.  It's not at all that some oppressive amount is placed on me.  That isn't the point at all.  Even with pulling back from commitments, even with help from my family, I still feel overwhelmed. Too much to do, and every day just heaps more onto the burden pile and I feel like I will never, ever shovel my way out.

There is something in me that expects too much, and beats myself up for the lack of achievement.  Every day.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know WHY I chose to write this all down and share it here. Perhaps God is wanting to whisper to your hearts, as He is mine, that I will never be enough, and that is okay. That He is enough, and that is all I need. That this inner stamp of FAILURE, that I do believe is Satan's whispers, can drive me to seek Him more... instead of feel more and more discouraged.

Managing the home and caring for them HAS to happen and that is MY job. I don't get to drive away to work and leave it there. My job constantly surrounds me and echoes of things left unfinished reverberate into me, assaulting my perfectionism, whispering I am not enough. Sometimes I long for that sense of leaving, having a place to accomplish tasks, and then leave there to return home. That's how yesterday felt. I came home, to my HAVEN, and there were no pressures placed on my soul. I was free to sit and enjoy, sans guilt. Perhaps it is just a mere shift in my attitude. Perhaps it is more of a saying no to all other commitments. Perhaps is is ever more of a dependency on God to work through my weak, weak self.  Am I striving still?  Perhaps it is more self discipline to overcome the flaws of my personality that make it difficult to start tasks I know I cannot finish at that time.

But I've tasted the levity of the unburdened life... and I want to feel it more.

I shot these with my Nikon D800
Nikon 85mm f1.8
Nikon 50mm 1.4D
Sigma 30mm f1.4