Failure #22: Being unprepared

This post is dedicated to Bonnie, who has looked for lost earrings with me since we were children.

I’m running down the street in my green dress boats, heading to the park a block away from my house, where I’ve got an appointment with a professional photographer. When I arrive panting, she’s waiting for me in the parking lot and I tap her car window to let her know I’m here.

“Can you give me just a minute?” I say after introducing myself. “I’m looking for my earrings.” I yank my bag off my shoulder and dig frantically for the pair I hope are in there. The ones Stan made from the handle of our old barbeque before we took it to the dump.

“Oh no!” I say. “I can only find one! Well, it’s all I’ve got. I’ll just wear it and hope my hair covers the other side.”

Lori, the photographer, has only just met me and doesn’t say much. Perhaps she doesn’t want to criticize her client’s fashion sense, or maybe she’s trying to figure a way to calm the woman she has to capture on camera.

Last week, after I got a cheque in the mail for a published piece of writing, I googled Lori Trost Photography and decided to invest the cash in some professional photos. I needed a decent head shot to go along with my bio when submitting articles and was tired of making my kids work a miracle with our cheap camera. But despite my business rational, I am still self-conscious about the whole thing. I feel silly posing by myself  and hope no one else sees us. Surely they will wonder at such a frivolous and self-indulgent woman.

The sun isn’t out like I hoped it would be. I know these trails well, know how the setting sun makes the dogwood willows shine and warms everything with its buttery light. But not today. Lori smiles and says it will be okay. I touch my hand to my hair and tell her that I’d been skiing, moments before our session, and was hoping the sweaty toque hadn’t wrecked my style. She laughs. I laugh too, and hear the click of the camera. She asks me to spin around and let my blue poncho fly in the wind. I do and she snaps some more.

“What’s your favourite subject to photograph?” I ask Lori.

“Women,” she responds right away. I can tell she is speaking from her heart and not the persona of a salesperson. I understand, now, at the end of our session how she might feel this way. How rewarding it might be to see a woman who is always behind the camera, or posing with children at their celebrations (birthdays, graduations, weddings…), bloom in a moment of her own. In the last 20 minutes Lori has taken me from I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this to I-feel-pretty-twirling-around-in-the-snow. In fact, I start to make a list of all the mothers and women I know who definitely need a professional shoot.  Whose families need pictures of the woman in their life before the obituary shot. And how I want to gift them with 20 minutes of Lori and her camera.

Two days later Lori drops off the USB stick with the pictures. My stomach knots up, as I dread the upcoming images, but when they appear on screen I am somewhat relieved. Despite the fact the pictures look just like me (was I hoping for a magical transformation?) I am happy. Mostly. Except for the missing earring. The rest of my family circles around the monitor, as if watching breaking news, and ooh and aah while Vivi laughs. I suspect it’s the very idea of her mother being all alone that she finds so hilarious.

“Why…” Stan trails off while clicking through the files. “Why didn’t you wear…”

“Two earrings?” I finish for him. “I was rushed, I thought it wouldn’t matter.”

And then I groan at myself. What was I thinking? Why couldn’t I have prepared a little better. Can a person photo-shop in an earring? And my hair. It looks like I just skied a few miles in a toque, which I did, but now I’m chagrined. I should have done what other people would do before spending money on photos. I should’ve attempted to style my hair or used machines or tools or rollers or spray or something.

“Maybe you could play a game with people? Like, What’s Missing in This Picture?” someone suggests.

“Well, it makes the selection process easier. There are plenty you can use where it’s not noticeable,” says another.

After scrolling through them 2 or 3 times I decide not to investigate photo-shopping. Perhaps no one will notice. Or perhaps they will. Maybe I will write about it and realize this is simply my real life. That lost earrings and toque hair are me. And that they show who I am better than matching jewellery and a coiffed hairdo. Every time I look at these pictures I will remind myself about authenticity and accepting imperfection. And maybe I will laugh.

Thank you Lori for your work and sharing your creative gifts!

*I’m curious about failure. This post is written in the spirit of my 30-day blog experiment in which I observed moments of failure and recorded scenes without adding further commentary.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Debrief on the Failure Experiment

027Whew! Well, that was fun. I mean, fun in a way that sharing your shortcomings with the world can be fun. If you’ve been reading along for the last month, thanks for checking in and being a part of this. Thanks for commenting, giving me feedback and relating your own stories of failure; connecting and swapping ideas with you on this theme was definitely the best thing that came out of the experiment.

Like this, for example. Remember when I compared myself to Anne Lueneburger? When I googled her, then observed my feelings as I scrolled through her site, I knew I had to share about it here. I ended up writing a note to Anne, feeling sheepish, but still wanting her to know that I featured her in my blog. She responded with this.


Other people who I hadn’t heard from in years also got in touch along the way. In emails, phone calls and conversations I was gifted with some of your most hilarious stories. Thank you.

More connection.

I even got out of bringing baking to church after a friend read my blog and offered 2 dozen dainties in my place. Now that’s connection and generosity!

Though my inner pendulum naturally swings towards the positive (like relating the anecdotes above), it’s been intriguing to train myself towards the negative. When I started I assumed I would be immune to any “blue” feelings because of the blog. I was wrong. While I found it mostly entertaining, there were times when I felt extra self-conscious, extra vulnerable, and extra low while concentrating on all the things I do wrong.

My older children, on the other-hand, thoroughly enjoyed it. “So what’s your failure today, Mom?” they asked regularly. And, “I think you are definitely failing at so-and-so. Maybe you should write about it?” They jumped on the bandwagon and offered up a wealth of content for this series in a way that only 11 and 13-year-old children could.

Lastly, I failed at blogging about failure. I didn’t do it everyday like I thought I would, for one. But more importantly, I haven’t been completely honest. Had I not filtered my stories, these pieces would’ve read much differently. For the sake of my children and husband I didn’t publish my bigger, more real, failures. And for the sake of my readers I tried not to drivel on about constantly feeling inadequate when I write, even though that motivated me to begin this series in the first place. I wanted to know: How is failing part of making stuff? How do we define failure? When is failure “worth it”? But who wants to sound like a broken record? So I admit, I curated this series in order to save face, just as you knew all along.

Thank you for understanding. For your generosity and grace. For connection.



Ps. Success and Failure in Art is the theme of Wonderscape 2018. If you come across any books, articles or thoughts of your own on this topic, please let me know. I’d love to hear your suggestions!


Failure #21: Not knowing how to say “No”

My answering machine light is blinking red. I press play and listen to the message: Just wondering if you’ll be able to donate some baking for the sale coming up…

My heart sinks. Baking? Sale? I can’t do it-I can’t do it-I can’t do it, immediately runs through my mind. And then, I should do it-I should do it-I should do it, follows as if I’m playing a game of mental tag.

How can I tell them “No”? How can I explain that bringing baking is harder for me than almost any other job at church. That I would rather clean toilets, hold crying babies, connect with sullen teenagers, and even sing and dance than offer up a few dozen cookies.

It’s not just that I’m celiac and don’t want to work with wheat. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes I could whip up, and maybe that’s what they’re looking for. Still, it feels like I’ve been asked to jump a 10-foot wall. I will visit the sick, I will host people in my home, I will preach a sermon, but please, please don’t make me bring baking to church.

The next morning I fire up the computer. It’s another day with another failure to record. Perhaps writing about the situation will clarify how I should respond to the message left on my machine. But here I am, still tottering on the edge of “shoulds” and “nos” and “can’ts” and “I’ll do it.” I don’t even know how I’ll define this failure. Is it saying “No” and my refusal to help? Is it my inability to say “no”? Is it my poor baking skills? Or is it making a big deal out of nothing?


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #20: Not connecting

While I’m pulling into our driveway I see the moving van. It’s parked a couple houses up the street. I heave Vivi out of her car seat and wander down to chat with my neighbour, who is running between their house and the van.

They’re a young couple who’ve only been here a couple of years, and now they’re moving back East. I’m disappointed they’re leaving already. We never even had them over for a barbecue like we said we would. In fact, we never visited with them for more than a few minutes, only briefly interacting while lending a shovel or running into each other in the back alley.  This is unfortunate because they liked music and canoeing and cross-country skiing. What was our problem anyway? What were we waiting for?

But there’s no time now. He’s not wearing mitts and his hands are getting cold. Besides, they’re busy and have other things to do besides making small talk. I wish him well, turn around and walk inside my house.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #19: Seeking approval

I peel the onions and start slicing through them with my biggest knife. Whump. Whump. Whump. Wow, this is different, I think to myself. The knife actually seems sharp. Suddenly chopping is much easier than usual. Did an industrial fairy come along last night and do some sharpening?

I wipe my hands and send a quick email to Stan to ask about it; we rarely communicate during the day, but this seems urgent.

“Yep. Sure did,” he replies. And that’s it.

If I wouldn’t have asked he may never have said a thing, which is just like him. And not at all like me. That same afternoon, when he was sharpening the knife, I cleaned up the house with the girls and when he came in from the shop I’d asked, dramatically, how he liked our tidy space. Did he appreciate that we’d slaved away?

I always want feedback. I make a speech, clean a toilet, write a post, grow a cucumber and seek approval. Was it good? Did you notice? How does it taste? I’m a sucker for affirmation and wish I wasn’t.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure 18#: No recognition skills

I look at the guy sitting beside me out of the corner of my eye. Who is he? Do I know him? I have two choices: I can act is if I’ve never seen him, or pretend we’re already buddies. Both are a gamble and I have no idea which is a better bet. I decide to go for the former. Extending my hand and smiling, I say cheerily, “Have you been here before, I don’t think we’ve met?”

He looks at me for a moment, then gives me his hand. “Yeah, I’ve been coming here for awhile.” He tells me his name and adds, “You know, you’ve introduced yourself to me before.”

Oh no! It’s happening again. I failed to recognize his face. For all I know we may have already had a deep conversation about the meaning of life, and here I am, acting as if we’re meeting for the first time. There’s a diagnosis out there for me somewhere, that would explain why everyone’s facial features look the same. I want to tell him this. That it’s not his fault. That he doesn’t necessarily look forgettable. That it’s me.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I fumble. “I have a real problem. It’s a facial recognition problem. It’s, like, a real problem.” I realize I’m sputtering now, so I turn away and release him from the awkwardness. We both breathe a sigh of relief.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #16: Hypocrisy

“You should be done by now,” I remind Susanna as I stick my head into a roomful of steam. “Get out of the shower!” I yell as I pass the bathroom, again, a few minutes later. “You’re using all the hot water! Your time is up!” I say while marching to turn off the tap.

Belén is waiting to shower, and there are only a few minutes left before the bus comes. How long would she stand under the water, wasting time, if I didn’t push her? I wonder.

Later that evening it’s my turn. I dial the faucet as hot as I can stand it and let the day wash over me. My mind wanders to paragraphs and sentences, conversations and phone calls, possibilities and peculiarities. I solve problems and come up with new perspectives. All while wasting time, just like my daughter.

“Wow, Mom,” Belén interrupts me, “how long have you been in here? Probably a half-hour, at least.”

“Nah! It can’t be more than 15 minutes,” I say. “Besides, our water bill is part of the cost of creativity in this house. I need time to think without distraction.”

“The cost of what?” she asks. “Never mind, I can barely breathe in here it’s so foggy.”

I hear the door close and feel a bit sheepish, reminding myself to be more patient with Susanna tomorrow morning.


morning view outside our window

*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #15: Explaining 13 years

I open my email and read the new message:

Can you send me your bio by Nov. 1?

Vivi is playing on the couch beside me, snot running down to her lips while she narrates the drama between her stuffies. She seems happy enough so I wipe her up and decide to respond right away. This won’t take long, I think. All I need to do is copy and paste, then tweak it a little.

I scrap a few phrases and re-read the paragraph that’s left. I can explain why I spent four years in Bolivia, wandering dirt roads and drinking chicha, but the 13 years that follow–when I started having a family–are harder to summarize. I write a couple sentences that seem awkward and vague at best. How do I spin staying at home, for more than a decade, with a professional sheen? I type some more, read it out aloud and immediately press delete. Not right again. It takes me the entire morning, between snacks and laundry and picture books, to come up with something reasonable. My failure is not the choice I made to work at home with my children (and community)–that’s something I’ll never regret. My failure is the limp words I use to describe it.


Halloween cowgirl

*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #11: No advice

“You know how there are good mornings and bad mornings?” she asks me.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I say. “Why? Was this one good or bad?”

My friend goes on to tell me about the horrible start to her day. How her child refused to eat breakfast, refused to get dressed, refused to put on her jacket–when she did it was backwards, and then left for school hungry. How she pushed and pushed and pushed all morning long just to get her kids out of the house and how, at the very end, she lost it. How rage simmers and then suddenly erupts. How anger twists faces and voices into something we don’t want to recognize in ourselves. At the end of her explanation she looks at me for advice with tears in her eyes.

“You’re further along this journey than I am. Surely, you must have something? Some tips or wisdom?” she trails off hopefully.

I’ve been murmuring “I know” all along. I hate the rush, I hate it when kids don’t listen, I hate how I feel when kids don’t listen, but when she asks me her question I don’t have any solution. I am empty-handed. All I have are the tears to match hers. “We’ve tried everything at our house; charts, schedules, you name it. None of it works… nothing lasts for more than a couple days or so, and then it’s back to square one,” I say. It’s a pessimistic response but it’s also true. “I’m sorry,” I add.

Studies show that it takes 10 years of practise to master a subject. I’m 13 years in on parenting, and when faced with a simple question like How do I motivate my child to get ready in the morning? I fail the test.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.