Sunday, September 30, 2018

You Had Me At CicLaVia


My cousin Lyn, my sister Nelyn & I
Ahhh, L.A., our old stomping grounds. We always wondered how our favorite city would look without the endless traffic snaking its way for miles. I actually didn't think it was possible to travel through L.A. without sitting in a car inching slowly to our destination. 

Today I finally knew what it felt like to cruise down Grand street in Downtown L.A. to Macarthur Park, Koreatown and finally to Hollywood near the iconic Capitol Records building without traffic congestion. My dude and I participated in our first CicLAvia event and we kick ourselves for not doing it sooner. 

My sister, bro-in-law and cousin have a few CicLAvias under their belts including a couple of Critical Mass events. I thought I had to be a hardcore cyclist to do these but my family scoffed. Although, after riding16 miles on my beach cruiser today I decided to finally listen to my dude and seriously save money for a road bike. 

Our meeting place in the morning was at the Grand Park Hub between the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Along the route from DTLA to Hollywood we were entertained by performers and musicians as well as numerous vendors. 

My dude converted his beach cruiser to an e-bike while my sister has an actual e-bike. I was the only one riding a beach cruiser and it was apparent within the first incline that I should be riding a road bike like the one my bro-in-law and cousin were cycling on. Had it not been for my dude who would grab my backpack, throttle his e-bike and push me up the inclines I wouldn't have made it. He said I was a trooper for riding the entire route (round trip) on my beach cruiser. 

Below are the photos I snapped on my phone and Sony A6500. I also shot a few with my film camera but that roll won't be developed for awhile. Of course, my pictures don't do CicLAvia justice. I dare you to go out and ride the next one! 
Taken by my dude early in the route

Thanks to the volunteers!
With my bro-in-law Stefano
We heart CicLAvia









These mandatory dismounts killed us
but we love all the volunteers!

When we knew the end of the route was near.
Hollywood sign was our beacon.





Ran into friends!

Silent dance partayyyyy

And here I was complaining about
MY bike! 


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Protect The Children | March For Our Lives

She was singing along to The Schuyler Sisters from the Hamilton Musical soundtrack when I interrupted her. 

Hey, would you be terribly upset if I didn't go to Grandparents D- 
YES!, she said, cutting me off. 

It's not that I didn't want to go to Grandparents Day but I was sort of hoping she'd let me slide for reasons I can't write about in deference to my kids. Grandparents Day fell on the same day as Valentine's Day so it was a double whammy of celebrations. 

My workload that morning was heavy as usual but I woke up excited for the eventful day. When I walked into the school office to check in I scanned the doorway and noticed the number of people who filtered in and out. I had a fleeting thought, jeez, anyone can just walk in here and start shooting. I hated myself for having those thoughts but can anyone blame me? If my mind were a movie screen in that moment you'd see how unfairly I profiled the people signing in after me. 

My grandkid and her classmates were engrossed in making their special crafts for the grandparents. The room moms, including my middle spawn, were busy with their room mom duties. I hovered in the background watching everyone until my daughter snapped at me to engage with my grandkid. I told myself to relax and enjoy the moment instead of indulging my paranoia. So I helped the grandkid finish the crafty magnet all the kids were gluing together for their grandparents. 

Driving home afterward I chided myself for being a total paranoid freak. Nothing happened, I thought to myself. With Grandparents Day down I had the rest of the day to celebrate all the glory cheesiness of Valentine's Day. 

I had the biggest smile as I walked through the front door of my house eyeing the bouquet of red roses my dude got me. My smile withered quickly when I heard the news reporter's voice coming from the t.v. he was watching. I ran to the living room and watched in horror as the t.v. screen was showing another school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At that time the death count was only at 14. Ha, only. 

The rest of my day was pretty much shrouded in heartbreak and tears as I learned that 17 people died because 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into the high school with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with the sole intent of killing. Valentine's Day forgotten, I spent a few hours alone that evening either weeping in despair or seething with anger trying to process the senselessness of the shooting. 

I sat in my car in a strip mall parking lot and remembered how earlier that day I laughed at myself for being a paranoid grandmother at an elementary school. I seriously shook my head at myself for believing I couldn't visit my grandkid's school without low-key profiling other grandparents. 
As of May 2018, there have been 23 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week.
This is the America we live in. The land of the free is now the land where my fourth-grade grandchild comes home and tells me they had a lock down drill instead of doing fun things. My teacher talks about bad stuff all the time, she lamented. Bad stuff as in what to do when the bad guys with guns start shooting people at school. 

As most of us do when we're feeling all kinds of pissed off we take our rant to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If not to change minds at least to unload the heavy burden from our chests. I took to Twitter hoping to alleviate the boiling level of my anger which quickly turned to disbelief when my feed showed a stream of adults bullying the Parkland teens fighting for gun reform. More shame, more anger. Yet, also more hope. 

The teens from Parkland weren't taking this sitting down. They galvanized a movement and called it March For Our Lives encouraging young adults to register to vote. 

June 21, 2018

I started this post at the end of March right after the March For Our Lives event in Los Angeles. Obviously, it's taken three months for me to finish writing it what with world events happening at breakneck speed. I can't keep up. 

Where are we right now

The inspiring kids from Parkland are touring the country lobbying for stricter gun control, speaking up against gun violence and encouraging people to vote. Those kids are our future and their fervor to create change is one of the reasons why I marched on Saturday, March 24th. 

You've seen their faces on t.v., social media, magazines and online newspapers: Cameron Kasky, Emma Gonzalez, and David Hogg to name a few. While dealing with the aftermath of losing their friends during their school's Valentine's Day massacre they've been attacked on social media and accused of being actors by adults. ADULTS! 

Instead of enjoying spring break and living like carefree teenagers facing college prospects they're using their voices to create change in a broken system. 

What they're trying to accomplish: 

1. Fund gun violence research.
2. Eliminate absurd restrictions on the ATF.
3. Universal background checks.
4. High-capacity magazine ban. 
5. Limit firing power in the streets. 
6. Funding for intervention programs. 
7. Extreme risk protection orders. 
8. Disarm all domestic abusers. 
9. Gun trafficking. 
10. Safe storage and mandatory theft reporting. 
***To read more about these reforms in depth click here for their website.***

As I've repeated many times to people who oppose the change these kids are fighting for I'm not advocating for the disarmament of responsible gun owners. Newsflash, we are responsible gun owners. 

In a perfect world (or perfect country) my granddaughter would have the freedom to go to school without the fear of shootings looming over her head. Is it too much to ask that my granddaughter doesn't come home to tell us how their day was spent in practicing lock down drills while her teacher "talks about bad stuff"? 

Or what about my daughter-in-law who's employed in an art school where they practiced lock down drills so much that when a real one finally happened they sprang into action without hesitation. They immediately barricaded themselves in the classroom for an hour and a half until the campus was cleared of all threat. 

Is it too much to hope for a world where my daughter-in-law, who was seven months pregnant, doesn't have to barricade herself in a classroom with her students due to an imminent threat on campus? 

Are my concerns legit? Am I wrong to want to protect my grandchildren, daughter-in-law and other innocent children from gun violence? This problem won't disappear on its own as the number of victims of gun violence continues to grow. We need to be part of the solution. We have to back these kids up who are touring the country helping others to register to vote and educating them on gun reform. 

Head to the March For Our Lives website to find out about #RoadToChange or text CHANGE to 977-79.

Head over to my photography blog to see the rest of the images I shot from March For Our Lives. 




I brought my film cameras to the
March for Our Lives event in Los

Angeles. You can see all the inspiring 

people and photos on my website: 





   

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What I Would Have Missed

The rain was falling softly on my windshield as I cruised in my car rocking out to The Clash. I don't know what it is about driving on a rainy night with my favorite playlist flooding out of my speakers that elevate my peace barometer. 

I experience an unnatural state of happiness in those moments of solitude in my car. Yet, it wasn't always like that. 

As I drove two nights ago in my sublime state I had flashbacks of another time in my car when I felt the opposite. Actually, there were a handful of moments in my car when all I wanted to do was drive myself straight into a wall. 

The memories flooded into my car and mingled with the music. For a second I, again, felt the despair, hopelessness and oppression of being in an abusive marriage that would compel me to entertain the idea of smashing myself into a wall. But that second came and went like the rain that softly dropped on the roof of my car. 

I drove with a deep sense of gratitude for my present life, my present state of mind and my present spiritual journey. It was painstaking work to get here, the road littered with lessons of growth. 

There was a time when my youngest, my boy, was only three-years-old and I almost succeeded in ending my life. Hundreds of memories have faded into the ether but the time I sat in my idling car in the garage with the exhaust fumes lulling me into nothingness remains a technicolor snapshot in my mind. 

Had I not heard my sister's voice calling me in my almost unconscious state I wouldn't be here. It was her voice that woke me to reason and led me to turn the car off. It was only when I went back inside the quiet and darkened house that I realized she and the rest of my family were sleeping. 

I wish I could say that my life became better and brighter afterwards but it actually hit lower than rock bottom. When I say it was painstaking work to reach this half-a-century-young milestone it is not an understatement. As I write this blog post I have a smile of satisfaction on my face. 

It's the kind of smile that shows the world that I triumphed over the effed up mistakes I've made and learned to stop blaming others for them. Taking accountability for my actions unlocked the doorway toward my freedom. It wasn't until I stopped allowing abuse to define me that I began traveling on the path to inner growth. It's not easy and I've learned to forgive myself first before others; love myself first over others; and respect myself first before I extend it to others. 

Today, as I woke up on my 50th birthday I went down the list of everyone and everything I'm grateful for including what I would have missed if I didn't hear my sister's voice that one night in my family's garage. 

I would have missed...

This year my first grandkid turned 10, I turned 50, my mom will be 80 in August and my middle child will enter her 30s in the Fall. My youngest who was three when I sat in that exhaust-filled car almost 24 years ago is going to be a dad in June. His wife is more a friend than an in-law and will be the mother of my second grandkid. My oldest will be getting married next year to a man whom I already think of as a son. 

The boy I had a crush on when I was 15 has been my partner for the past 9.5 years and has taught me more about relationships than any I've been in.

My siblings (in-laws included) keep me grounded in who I am. Without them I would flounder with my head up in the clouds where I always seem to find myself in. 

My gang of nieces and nephews have brought me much joy every time I hang out with them from the littlest to the oldest. 

My cousins who are my closest friends make me wonder what my life would be like if we didn't have each other. 

My family (and the ones I've acquired through my daughter-in-law) remind me that it truly does take a village to raise one another. I don't know what I would have done during my dad's sickness and death without them. 

The friends in my life (y'all know who you are) bring adventure, playfulness, camaraderie and companionship that I look forward to all year. (Shout out to the friends who always invite us over for UFC fights!)

My job, along with my manager and teammates, give me a purpose every day even in the midst of hellacious busy seasons and heavy workloads. 

My activist life has expanded my entire being, first with fighting against human trafficking and now for social injustices in our current climate. 

The unsung heroes/sheroes I've been fortunate to meet who inspire me daily to be a better version of myself. 

My photography journey has been quite an adventure of Alice in Wonderland proportions with me picking up good friends along the crazy ride. It's helped me discover my authentic voice and how to use it to tell a narrative through my portraits. 

My dad's death almost two years ago was an experience most people would probably prefer to avoid. It was a difficult time, yes, but it was his death that helped me see the importance of celebrating birthdays and cheesy holidays. I used to be low-key on birthdays and militant about being anti-Hallmark holidays. But when you see a parent on his deathbed wishing he had more time to live life and celebrate another birthday you learn quickly to have no shame in celebrating each birthday and cheesy holiday. My parents were one year shy of their 50th wedding anniversary when he passed away. 

It was during this time that I also learned that living life to its fullest means embracing the bad with the good. I finally stopped running away from pain or protecting myself from it. One of the most important lessons I learned in my 49th year is summed up in a quote from the book, The Untethered Soul
The path of letting go allows you to free your energies so that you can free yourself. Right in the midst of your daily life, by untethering yourself from the bondage of your psyche, you actually have the ability to steal freedom for your soul. This freedom is so great it has been given a special name---liberation. 
I've always said that my 40s have been the BEST years of my life but I have a sneaking suspicion my 50s will outdo my last decade so I've buckled myself in and off I go! 


My friend, Isaiah, posted this on his
Instastory last night. It is exactly
how I live my life and will continue on to
this next decade! 






Thursday, March 8, 2018

I Want To Be The Female In My Family Who Stood Up and Stood Out

It was the eve of the Women's March and I could barely contain my excitement as I logged off my work computer for the day. It was time. 

I laid my camera gear around me to charge my batteries, format my memory cards and pack my rolls of film. This year, I was only going to take one film camera and my digital as opposed to the three I lugged around last year. 


While my camera battery was charging and I started cleaning my lenses my oldest spawn sent me a text. 


Hey Ma, excited for the Women's March tomorrow! Are you making a sign? 


Hi, I wasn't planning on it. Were you? 


Yeah, let me send you some ideas from Pinterest. 


I silently laughed when I received her Pinterest examples. I knew they would be the kind of signs she'd boldly display at her first march. The kind that had an expletive in it.This year I was taking my niece, Micaela, again so it was going to be a family affair with my eldest joining us. 


The lyrics of the song, The Schuyler Sisters, from the Hamilton musical replayed in my head. Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. 

For thousands of us in this country we don't feel lucky with the present leadership. I mean, why would over 600,000 people wake up at the crack of dawn on a perfectly good Saturday morning to march down the streets of Los Angeles standing up for justice if we felt lucky? 

That line of the song was a reminder of the freedom we still have in this country called the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It's the freedom of speech I don't take for granted and I'm grateful we can protest in this country without getting shot at or arrested by law enforcement as in other parts of the world. 

While I hummed along to the song in my head I reached for the white board I used in my photography shots. As if my hand was moved by an unseen force I started to create my own sign and knew that I would be raising my voice more than my cameras at the march the next day. 



I'm no stranger to hitting the pavement in protest against social injustice as I've participated in several walks for My Refuge House and other anti-human trafficking organizations. (Peruse this blog archive and you'll find my blog posts about them.) With the monumental wave of change happening in this country the time for standing up for what's right is crucial. People are waking up, putting on their activist hats and using their voice to speak up for the first time. 

Marginalized and oppressed people, especially women, are fed up and no longer remaining silent. With the advent of the #MeToo Movement that galvanized survivors to finally speak out about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment I knew the number of participants in the Women's March would double this year. 

We are now using our voices to demand respect, equality and fairness. This is not a new fight but it's a battle that needs to be waged instead of brushed under the proverbial rug. I believe that in times of peace we become complacent and I can only find the positive in this tumultuous time by seeing more people rise up and take a stand. 

Then there's the blatant, ugly evil of racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism that has risen and encouraged by the person I can only call #45. He is not and never will be my President. I've had a handful of friends on social media who seemed gleeful that they can finally express their true feelings about certain minority groups. Or, voice their support for this man who is emblematic of dishonesty, corruption, infidelity and hypocrisy. While I accept the differences in others, I know that I can't be friends with people who refuse to see the blatant wrongs this leader has committed. I can tell you that I no longer call them friends.

This isn't the time to tolerate pure unadulterated hatred. We need to collectively stand up and fight against the spread of hatred and ignorance that is perpetuated by #45's actions and words. That's the decree of the Women's March and the reasons I spent a Saturday with my daughter and niece to wake people up, get them to the polls and vote for those who would advocate for us. 

Today is International Women's Day and it's not a day I take lightly. While writing this blog post I saw a tweet from My Refuge House as to the origins of this historical day. 
The impetus for establishing an International Women’s Day can be traced back to New York City in February 1908, when thousands of women who were garment workers went on strike and marched through the city to protest against their working conditions. “Like today, these women were in less organized workplaces [than their male counterparts], were in the lower echelons of the garment industry, and were working at low wages and experiencing sexual harassment,” says Eileen Boris, Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.
This year's theme is #PressforProgress which is "A strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

Today I honor all the women warriors in their homes, jobs, families, schools, churches, etc. who rise up when no one is listening or paying attention. I bow down to the women who are activists in their own quiet, unassuming, yet, powerful way because I know you move mountains. I salute the women who oftentimes felt defeated but nevertheless persisted. I cry for the women who are victims of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual slavery, domestic violence and human trafficking---the ones who are paralyzed with the fear of retaliation. We stand with you and are fighting for you! 

As for me, I want my granddaughters (and future grandsons) to know that I was that female in the family who stood up and stood out. 

I want them to know that I marched and fought for the progress that they deserve. 

I want them to understand that I live my precious life today with their future in mind. 

I want them to believe that I used my purpose and calling to help create a better world for them and their children. 

I want them to see that I paved a way for them to make a difference in their lives and to use what they have to fight for others less fortunate. 

I want them to learn from my actions so that they can pass on to their children the empowerment we're all raising our voices for today. 


The Ancestry tweet today that inspired
my words in this blog post. 
These are the photos we took at the Women's March with our phones, my digital and film cameras. 







My niece, Micaela, is the assistant editor
of her school's newspaper, ZU Media and was
covering the Women's March. You can read her
article here.