Part 9: "Now You Will Feel No Rain, For Each of You Will Be Shelter for the Other"
An Apache Wedding Vow: "Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth."
I first heard this wedding vow about this time last year, at Kat and Kyle's wedding. I had just started my photography class at NYU, and though I'd been taking pictures for years, I was able to talk technicalities for the first time. It was my second time to visit beautiful Colorado, and it was in the beginnings of my and Skyler's long distance romance. We were really lucky that Kat and Kyle extended an invitation to me, as I hadn't even really met the two of them quite yet. I got to sneak some cute photos of the two of them throughout the ceremony and the reception, but I was still in the beginnings of my picture taking, and I was also shy about getting too close!
Kat and Kyle live in a beautiful home in Olathe, Colorado and during my last visit to Colorado, I got to visit them again and take some photos of the two of them and their many dogs on their beautiful property! It has been a year since I first heard that beautiful wedding vow, and taking photos of them was beautiful evidence that they had lived up to the Native American blessing.
Enjoy the photos of Kat and Kyle below and keep on making, everyone:
Part 8: Making Caring Sexy
I saw Kristina Bustos for the first time onstage at Raised Pinay, an incredible piece of theatre that I was lucky enough to be able to attend. It featured over a dozen Filipina women sharing their experiences of what it is like to be raised pinay. At the end of the show that I attended, I remember sobbing, realizing how untapped the Filipina experience often is when it comes to storytelling. I will forever be inspired by this piece of theatre. You can learn more about it here: http://raisedpinay.strikingly.com/
Kristina is an incredibly inspiring woman who is starting a blog that features art by Asian American women. I got to take photos of her to feature on the about page of her new blog, which I'm very excited to read! During the day, Kristina works with the elderly, a vocation that requires incredible compassion and love. My favorite quote from our time together was, "I want to make it sexy to care for the elderly." Oftentimes, when it comes to giving, it is easy to give to children or to other specific needs, like to the disabled or to the sick because we can tell ourselves that we are helping the future, and like Kristina shared, it's easier to see where your money or efforts are going and it's easier to see those efforts pay off and grow. It's harder to see that with the elderly, so it requires a really beautiful persona, like Kristina's to work for such an important cause.
Kristina interviewed me about The Creation Trade for her blog, Arawsol. I will link it here when it is available online!
For now, enjoy the photos of Kristina below:
“But there's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother's story, because hers is where yours begin.”
~Mitch Albom, For One More Day
This particular series of photos does not come to you from as clear a trade as the other series of photos have. It might be that this short and sweet set of photos is not the result of a trade, but rather an act of appreciation and gratitude I have for two very important women in my life. My mom, Elenita Cabrera, and my New York "mom", Doreen Henry, are two of the most inspiring women I've ever known. I have come to know myself because I have, more than ever, asked questions of them.
If Elenita Cabrera is the woman who brought me to this world, Doreen Henry is the woman who woke me up in New York. This year would have been impossible without the two of them in my life and I am getting emotional simply typing this up because it means that tomorrow, I will say goodbye to my sweet Ms. Doreen. Thank you for treating me like a daughter here in New York--everything from cooking dinners for me, taking me to Thanksgiving, warning me when there was rain. I love you.
Part 6: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
I know crystal because we are both recent graduates from NYU. Her program, Art & Politics and my program Art, Education, & Community Practice are sister programs. I met crystal even before the year began, at a mixer meant to introduce their cohort to our cohort.
Since we come from similar programs, it should be no surprise that we have many shared interests. We are interested in art, in culture, in politics, in community based work, in the youth. Since we both chose a one year track program, we also have in common that this year was tough. It's hard enough moving across the country--she too moved from California. Throw in the stress of finding a place in New York city, the job necessary to pay for that place in New York city, the desire to maintain relationships with friends and family across the country, the search for a community to build and share with, and well, a full time load of graduate classes, and you've got yourself one stressful year.
A common theme throughout my conversation with crystal was self-care. How do we take care of ourselves? How do we make space for ourselves and for one another?
Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
People who do organizing/activist work are people who work hard, often for little to no money, and often without ever being able to ultimately see the fruits of the seeds that they have sowed. There are times I've felt burned out like no other. This election year, in particular, I have grown weary of discussion, of the tiring road it is to get on the same page with someone whose values are different from my own. It's a difficult task, but it's a necessary one if we ever hope to live in a world where we can have different views and still love each other, respect each other and dialogue with one another.
What this all means, at least to me, is that if we hope to change the world for the better, we must first take care of ourselves. There have been times that I have felt selfish wanting to take care of my own needs. Sometimes that need is simply having a conversation that I know will satiate an anxiety or a discomfort in me. Sometimes that's me going home early because I'm just plain tired. Sometimes it means going for a run, even if there are a million other things that seem more pressing sitting on my to-do list.
Self-care is something I think that I've known was necessary in my gut for a long time. This year, though, I have found a beauty and wonder and glory in self-care within a community. While crystal and I did not get to spend as much time together as I would have liked this year (we are totally staying in touch and that will change!), her openness, grace and willingness to be vulnerable is something I recognize. It's the same openness that I felt when I was with my friends Erika and Emily all year. That same kind of desire to understand one another and ourselves, always constantly seeking to grow and find a more just world to live in in this physical space and on the spiritual plane that we all exist on as well. To taking care of ourselves. To allowing ourselves to be taken care of. To giving ourselves to others.
crystal makes beautiful jewelry that she traded with me. Here is a photo of the necklaces that are now part of my collection!
Enjoy the photos of crystal below!
“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”
― Alan W. Watts
It is fitting that this set of photos follows the photos that I took of Saleah, because PJ, like Saleah, is someone who believes in me and the work that I do. I met PJ at an event earlier this year, Worldwide Woodside, where I did a reading of Si Malakas at Si Maganda for a group of children. PJ showed me the coloring book that he had created, and it is that coloring book that I traded him for with this set of photos.
PJ's latest venture is a mobile Filipino Library, a growing collection of Filipino-authored books that he is bringing around Queens, a borough with a dense Filipino and Filipino-American population. This is a project that followed a book festival PJ hosted earlier this year in collaboration with the Queens Museum, where I got to read my book out loud again, and I got to meet incredible authors and listen to them read their works. some of their books are featured in these photos! PJ wanted photos of this project more than he wanted photos of himself, and so when we met on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, I did my best to do a bit of both.
This past year, I did a lot of reading about the Philippines, about Filipino culture and about Filipino-American culture. I learned more about my cultural identity here in New York than I ever did in a classroom throughout all my schooling. I learned that there are experiences I have in my family that mirror many experiences other Filipino-Americans have in their families. Something really beautiful about culture is realizing that you and your experiences are not isolated, but are interwoven in a larger picture. Learning about culture--whether it be my cultural identity in terms of race, geographic location, religion, etc., is a beautiful reminder that I am not small. Rather, I am interwoven with the experiences of so many others, and my story is an integral piece of that tapestry. PJ, among many others, was a reminder to me this year of how large and dynamic that tapestry is when it comes to Filipino-America. I look forward to learning more and hopefully weaving more colors and patterns in that big piece of art along the way.
Enjoy the photos of PJ below. I will also take some photos of his coloring book that he traded me with and add it to this blog when I get a chance!
Part 4: Believe in Others
“We truly believed in something back then, and we knew we were the kind of people capable of believing in something - with all our hearts. And that kind of hope will never simply vanish.”
― Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Saleah found me because she found the project that I am working on, Si Malakas at Si Maganda. She called me a few months ago, asking me about the work, and then asking if she could interview me for Kollaboration, an awesome organization whose mission is to "build bridges, out-create negative stereotypes, and promote diversity. We are a global platform to discover, empower and connect the next generation of artists and leaders to reach mainstream media prominence and change culture." You can learn more about Kollaobration here: http://kollaboration.org/. After we spent a bit of a while talking, and after exchanging emails, however, Saleah asked if she could instead write an article for her other work place--NBC Asia America. Naturally, I was honored at both requests, and her desire to bring attention to the work that we are doing at Invisible Storybook. You can find the article that she wrote about the work here: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/invisible-storybook-tells-relatable-tale-si-malakas-si-maganda-n607216
When I met her in front of Chelsea Market last week, it was the first time I had ever met her in person, although we had exchanged emails and phone calls many times over the past few months. I was so honored to meet her, learn about her and her passions, geek out about theatre, in particular about Ali Ewoldt's casting as one of the lead roles in The Phantom of the Opera, the first woman of color to ever take that role on Broadway--and she, like Saleah and I, is Filipino! Saleah recently interviewed her for Kollaboration, and I was so excited to hear about their conversation. It made me want to watch Phantom again!
We met mostly to get to know one another, but I could not help but ask to snap photos of Saleah, who I hope will become a lifetime friend of mine! We have so many passions that we share, like the passion to write and the passion for theatre.
Something that I found myself reflecting on as I walked to the train home was how much we have to be grateful for. Currently, I am teaching 2nd and 3rd grade and there are days that this gets frustrating and difficult. It is never not challenging, and I don't ever know what to expect when I get to school. Saleah was such a lovely reminder that there are so many things to be grateful for. It took us a while to finally meet between both of our busy schedules, but I will forever be grateful for Saleah, who believed in me and my art without ever meeting me in person. We can spend our lives trying to do good in the world and trying to create and sometimes, we, or at least I can feel that this work is unimportant or is going unnoticed. Saleah is a reminder to me that sometimes, people do notice. And not only do they notice, they send you love and they let you know that they see you in the world. Sometimes, they'll believe in you the way that Saleah has believed in me. Let's believe in ourselves enough to create. And let's look at the world with bright, open eyes so that we can believe in others too.
Enjoy the photos of Saleah below:
When Erika asked me to come to the courthouse on Monday morning, she was pretty relaxed about it. I, being me, was ecstatic. I know I'm in my 20s and so many people around me are getting married, but it doesn't make all the unions and love and happy things any less exciting! I was especially excited because Erika and Gordon have become two of the closest friends I have made in my time here in New York, especially since Erika and I were in our small cohort of grad students together and worked together a lot throughout the year. There have been lots of cups of tea, lots of long conversations on the stairs outside the Barney building, evenings at their apartment with absinthe and vegan yumminess and a lot of exchanging of knowledge and readings and friendship.
One of my favorite things that Erika has given me throughout this year is loving, critical and reflective conversation. We live our lives so quickly and move so fast and are connected, thanks to technology, almost 100% of the time. An acquaintance from high school posted a photo from a page of a book that she was reading and it said, "Diagnostico de la civilizacion: En algun lugar de alguna selva, alguien comento: Que raros son los civilizados. Todos tienen relojes y ninguno tiene tiempo." I translated myself so if anyone's reading this has a correction, please chime in: "A Diagnosis of Civilization: In a place in a forest, someone commented: How strange is civilization. All of them have watches but none of them have time." This was a moving passage for me, and it made me think of what is lost when we move too quickly, and the first thing that gets cut is reflection. Even in the classroom environment, when I'm running out of time, it is that closing circle and exit ticket and reflection that gets cut, not because I want to, but simply because of time. In life, then, it becomes extra important to carve out time to reflect. To think about what we've done and why. To decide, now that we've removed ourselves a little bit, whether we've made the right choices, what drove us to those choices, and what we should be doing next. Erika and our other friend Emily have reminded me this year of how imperative it is that we build in this time for ourselves and with each other in order to live more fulfilling, more compassionate, more just lives that are in line with love, harmony and peace.
Erika also has gifted me with so many profound literary resources this year. My favorite has been Dreaming the Dark by Starhawk. An excerpt: "Love connects; love transforms. Loving the world, for what it is and our vision of what it could be, loving the world's creatures (including ourselves), caring for the stream, picking up the garbage at our feet, we can transform. We can reclaim our power to shape ourselves and the world around us." It has become so easy to feel small in our world and it's become almost natural to feel like what we do or say does not matter. We have to actively reclaim our power to "shape ourselves and the world around us" and for me, creating is one of the ways that I do this and begin to feel big again. It's a way for me to feel like I have things in me that do not yet exist in the world, and perhaps I could be of use. Reflection is a way to remind myself that I am already of use and it helps me get grounded in the fact that the small things do matter. If I don't pick up that trash, who else will? Whose day can I help by picking it up myself since I see it right now?
Erika and Gordon have one of the most loving partnerships I have ever gotten the privilege of witnessing. They cook for one another, clean together, cuddle their adorable cats together and truly consider one another partners and equals in their relationship. You can tell in the way they look at each another that both of them have a deep and profound respect for the other. It is love like this that needs to exist more in the world. Love like this needs to be celebrated more. This is the type of love that you see and you just know: those two have it. That thing that we're all looking for.
Erika is one of the most reflective people I know and it seems to me that this is one of the cornerstones of strong, powerful relationships. I can only imagine that Gordon is of the same mindset. Erika and I are both the type of people to ask: "what did I do in this situation?" rather than point fingers and say, "Look at what this person did to me!" This kind of reflection, this turning inwards to find understanding leads to dialogue. Dialogue leads to understanding. Understanding then seems to lead to real love.
“It is when you lose sight of yourself, that you lose your way. To keep your truth in sight you must keep yourself in sight and the world to you should be a mirror to reflect to you your image; the world should be a mirror that you reflect upon.”
~C. JoyBell C.
Enjoy the photos from Erika and Gordon's loving Monday morning below:
Part 2: Reflection & Selflessness
I know Thanh Ta from our shared time at the University of California, San Diego. Before moving to New York, I had very little contact with Thanh save for the occasional facebook like on a photo or a status. But we had paths that were similar at our time at UCSD, from both of our loves for theatre and for literature and writing. We saw each other at auditions. We worked on shows in the same theatres. We had writing classes together. Our lives stepped in sync with one another, two people interested in the Humanities, on separate but intertwined paths.
I'm sure we all have people like this in our lives. People we weren't exactly close to, but close enough to know one another, develop respect for one another, see one another's work and gifts and talents. What was interesting about being with Thanh for our shoot was the amount of reflection I did during our time together. We talked about where some of the other people in our lives then are now and we talked about what we are both up to here, now, in New York city. While I still do theatre occasionally, it is something that has stepped to the back burner for me, my soul favoring instead the work of education. My love for the art form has not decreased, though, and I still find myself in theaters constantly, watching theater, breathing theatre, attending theatre as if it was a form of church. Listening to Thanh talk about her time here in New York, particularly her time in conservatory was enlightening.
She mentioned how selfless her conservatory peers and mentors were during her time acting and learning with them. It was beautiful to hear her speak about this, and when we ran into a friend of hers from conservatory, it was easy to see how loving and supportive they were of one another and of one another's work and I could only begin to imagine what an entire collective of people with similar vibes would look and feel like.
In an almost backwards way, reflectively thinking about selflessness makes me feel almost selfish, because my thoughts have turned inwards and I'm now thinking: How am I selfless? What are the selfless things that I've done recently? How can I be selfless today? I, I, I, I, I, into a spiral downwards that could only lead to some mirrored world of narcissism. It makes me think about a Louis C.K bit I saw once where he talked about how happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin and perhaps most of life is like this and what we really need to talk about is raising consciousness of all of the worlds that exist within us so that we can do a better job of choosing the side of good.
In this project, I am exploring two sides of something too--giving and taking. Gifting and receiving. And doing both with grace, and compassion and generosity and love.
What can you create?
NOTE: Thanh will be trading me with a painting before I leave for San Diego on August 9th! I will post a photo of it in this blog as soon as I receive it.
Enjoy the photos of Thanh below!
Part 1: Simplicity & Ambition
When I met Blase on the corner of West 25th and 10th Avenue, we started chatting about his relationship with Iris, who I met through Unipro (Pilipino American Unity for Progress, Inc.), an organization that "educates, empowers, and connects the Pilipino American community by providing a platform for dialogue and growth. We unite Pilipino Americans through collaborative action, leadership development and advocacy". It turns out that Blase, like me, met Iris at a Unipro event.
It is fitting that I am kicking off this artistic adventure with Blase and Iris for a few reasons:
1. This is a project of love, and I was excited to be capturing the love that these two share, particularly since we got to shoot at The High Line, where Blase proposed to Iris just 3 weeks ago.
2. The three of us are tied together through activism--through community and the desire to educate, empower, connect, dialogue and grow. While this project might seem like happy unicorn fluff on the surface, it does stem from something very serious. It seems that all I read about today is all the places where we are doing wrong, where we are suffering and feeling pain, particularly with the tensions of race in our country, international violence, and this current presidential election. I know I'm putting all of those things mildly, and that we must continue to discuss these issues. However, I can't help that these things make me feel stuck, as if I cannot move or make anything change in my world. This project is me combatting the feeling of being stunted. It is me fighting the feeling that I have nothing to offer. It is me reminding myself and those who choose to participate that we are not helpless. We have the power to make, and create. "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation." is a quote from one of my favorite musicals, Rent. The more destruction and pain that goes on in the world, the more we have to make. This project is not meant to be a deflection of what is currently happening in the United States and the world, although I know it may be read that way. You should all know that I will very gladly have all of those conversations. However, as Rumi once said, "Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion." I will not be small. I will not focus on only the pain part of my universe.
3. When I asked Blase what tied he and Iris together, he said, "We are both simple. But we are both ambitious, too." Later, when asked the same question, Iris responded that they are, "Partners. We are equals. We empower and support one another." You could not have taken the words out of my mouth better to describe this project as a whole...
It's a simple project. 1 hour of photos in exchange for something you have put love into. But it is also ambitious. It is me forcing myself to create in an often stifling world where we are too busy with work and work and family and bills and school to pursue our own passions and the things that make us burst with creativity and curiosity. And it's asking anyone who comes into this adventure with me to do the same. To take that pause. To listen to yourself. To answer yourself. To let your hands move and make and come alive in a way that makes your whole being come alive.
In this project, I consider everyone I photograph and who returns art to me as co-authors.. We are equals. By creating for one another and the world, we are empowering and supporting one another as a whole. The idea of "trade" is something that I will likely continue to discuss throughout this adventure. Anyone who knows me knows that I think that the concept of money is often a trap. I tend to agree with Shakespeare ala Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo trades gold for poison with the apothecary, saying, "There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls, Doing more murder in this loathsome world, than those poor compounds that thou mayst not sell. I sell thee poison. Thou hast sold me none" (Act 5, Scene 1). It's not that I denounce money completely; I mean, how can we possibly when our world basically runs off of it? Money simplifies things in some ways, I admit. What I do think we can do better is remember that money, in its inception, was symbolic. If anyone listens to This American Life, I think there's an episode on the origin of money. The paper or the pebble or the coin used to represent something much larger that couldn't be moved and traded on the spot. I advocate for truer trade. I think we can trade with one another in a more honest way, more often, and not let the stifling concept of money get in the way as often as we do, especially when it comes to trading with the people that we love.
As a teacher, there are exchanges that happen in my classroom on a daily basis. I teach something and I learn something. Every day. It's what keeps me in the classroom, even if teachers aren't paid a whole lot. It's a true trade that happens between me and the students that I work with, because it's a trade that is founded in love and our mutual recognition of one another's humanity. When students pour love into work, I pour my heart into grading it so they can be better. When students pour love into an activity, I reciprocate. I think sometimes we get stuck in money. Someone does something and we pay them off, trying our best to match the monetary amount of what they have given. But what if we were to more often respond with love? Give love, get love, continue onwards.
Blase has sent me a beautiful video of him free-styling dance to Cigarette Daydreams, my favorite song, and the song that I would probably call "our song" when it comes to my own romantic relationship with Skyler King.
Iris shared with me a beautiful and very useful document of Filipino-authored literature that is going to be very useful to me in the coming years. You can add some Filipino-flavored literature to your reading list by checking out the list here: Click me!
As for my half of the trade, enjoy the photos of Iris and Blase below:
"The opposite of war isn't peace. It's creation." ~Rent