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:
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!
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