Friday, June 04, 2010

Onward and Upward!

I certainly don't want to get all weepy and sappy as I move this blog to my website.

So...keep your tears and throw some confetti because we are MOVIN' ON UP!

Update your reader and get to my new home:

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Illusion of Permission

I never earned a degree in photography, but I call myself a photographer.

No one ever taught me how to write creatively, but I call myself a writer in creative non-fiction.

There's an illusion of permission, particularly in the arts, that you really should have the right kind of credential or background before you call yourself anything, before you utter the word "artist" or "poet" as a descriptor.

Of course credentials are helpful. There's no dispute that a formal program or academic certificate offers professional development and advancement. But what I'm referring to is the community level, grassroots, center-of-the body need to create and express ourselves. And the unfortunate tendency is to self-dismiss our drive because we are not really "authorized" to do so. In other words, we - those without permission - dare not dip our toes into the creative process or artistic world. We let it slip away.

Who has the license to create? Who gives YOU permission to move, bend, and contort paper, pen, ideas, words, clay, textile, paint, beads, voice into something that expresses a peace/piece inside you?

Today I was talking to someone about photography and she asked me how I got into photography, if I had ever taken a class. I'd never taken a photography or lighting course. I never joined a club. Hell, I didn't even own a camera until I took my first job after graduate school.

But, photography always moved me. The color. The symphony. The patience of waiting for the right moment. I always felt that photography was about observation and timing. And as the youngest of four children, my whole life was spent observing the world around me. There were three eyes on by body, I often thought. The two on my face and the one in my brain, clicking a camera to capture a moment. The way Andrew smiled at me right before I received my first kiss. The shadowed foot steps of my family when we walked the beach in 1992. The electric blue bubble letters on a sign that read "Vote for Lisa" when I ran for class president in 4th grade. My father's hands as he drummed the steering wheel to old classic music in our Ram van.

The lesson plans of the camera are formidable and can be frustrating. There's a slight math and science to the camera; a sophisticated vocabulary that must be decoded before one can smoothly operate the camera as a tool. But I stuck with it. It started as fascination, then grew to a hobby, then flourished into a passion. And then I committed to it. I dedicated myself to learning it, with my love for photography tucked under my elbow. That's when I knew I was a photographer. I not only loved doing it. I committed myself to it.

It's very similar to romantic relationships. The real-ness of the relationship, what legitimizes it, what affirms the relationship to be authentic and solid and heavy does not come from those outside looking in. It comes from the commitment of the people to one another, to the relationship.

You must commit to the process, to the art as action. You must commit yourself.

Photography, as an art, takes practice. It takes vision.

I told my friend to stop waiting for someone to give her permission. "If you keep waiting for someone to tell you that it's ok to try something, you'll never start. And the only person waiting and sitting in disappointment is yourself. There's no permission needed. Just start creating."

I thought about that for a few hours afterward.

I thought about how long I waited to try. I waited for someone to tell me that I had an eye for photography. That day never came. It's no wonder either. The "you have a good eye" compliment never came because I wasn't DOING anything and therefore had nothing to show; nothing for anyone to reflect upon, critique, or admire. When you wait for permission, you wait in stillness.

Why did I wait for permission? Why do we figure we need to earn something EXTRA before we allow ourselves to draw or sketch or, dammit, even just TRY something creative. To raise our fingers to an unfamiliar block of clay, an untouched canvas, or a blank page takes a steel rod of bravery.

We are moving into an age where the single nomad, crushing himself into a starving corner is no longer the picture of an artist or master creator. Today, artists are single mothers with two jobs
and a bus pass. Photographers can be world travelers or lifetime small town dwellers. The elitism is bleeding out. Art is everyday. Artists should be as common as a worn kitchen table.

We may grow old. We may lose that fresh inspiration that wakes us up in the middle of the night. But the goal of creative work is not to be legendary or even remembered. The goal is to be free.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The 12 Startling Similarities Between God and the Right Editor

I've been a writer all my life. I cannot remember a time when my right hand did not grasp a pen and moved left to right on a page, documenting the significant and insignificant morsels of living.

A few years ago, I was struck by lightning and had the tremendous opportunity to work with make/shift magazine, and with Jess Hoffman, and slowly begin learning about the fundamentals of editing.

Editing has its moments of excruciating difficulty. It is not the free flowing creative river that is writing. It can be an unpredictable whiplash that stings every time you work with a new writer. I've had the magnificent pleasure of learning from many different kinds of writers and editors and, today, thought of the countless similarities I began seeing in my relationship with God and my relationship with editing.

This is what I found...

The Twelve Startling Similarities Between God and the Right Editor

1) The Editor works with you and your ideas, trying to observe and guide and not intercede.

2) When you are excessively verbose, the Editor gets to the heart of what you are saying.

3) The Editor is patient, but nudges you from time to time.

4) The Editor knows that the writer must equally trust the Editor and believe in herself.

5) The Editor has worked with so many different kinds of writers, you know there's nothing that the Editor hasn't seen.

6) The Editor knows what is sacred and carefully addresses issues close to your heart.

7) The Editor has a vision, but it is co-authored.

8) Ultimately, the Editor wants your best self, your best work, and works with you to make that manifest.

9) Often times in conversation with the Editor, you realize hidden truths underneath a lot of rubble.

10) "I know what I know, what do YOU think?"

11) The Editor will never give you an assignment that is too large for you to handle.

12) The Editor has a way of arranging things that leaves you mystified, dumbstruck, and grateful.

So, to all the writers out there: I wish you not only deep, rich soil to till your work in, I wish you a gracious and visionary editor who believes in your ability to fruitfully open a truth for yourself to share with the world.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Seeing Myself in My Son

I was cleaning the office and found one of my baby pictures.

It was eerie. I compared my picture with Isaiah.

Oh my...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Birthing a New Feminism

On December 20, 2009, I gave birth to two things: a 9lb. 7oz son and a new feminism. It was the third time my reproductive organs had encountered surgical metal; twice to remove ovarian tumors and cysts and once to remove a breathing boy.

By nightfall, I was vomiting from the drugs administered to my body for my c-section. After an excruciating vomiting episode, my head hit my pillow in utter exhaustion and my newborn began to cry out of hunger.

I looked at my body. Like a meticulous and tedious film director wanting to capture every detail of a flowerbed with a camera, I surveyed every inch of my body. I started at my feet.

My legs were buzzing numb, still, from surgery. To keep from forming blood clots, my legs had been strapped to a pumping machine. Two pieces of plastic swathed my legs. They hissed when they squeezed my calves and lazily loosened after three seconds of tight holds. The noise prevented me from deep sleep and made my legs sweat.

A catheter was inserted. I saw the bag full of my urine with taints of blood. It was a horrendous sight.

The dressing over my surgical incision covered the most tender and vulnerable part of my birthing body, the exit wound of my baby.

An ugly red rash had exploded onto the top of my chest. Its bumps were just as unsightly as they were itchy. A reaction, maybe from the hospital gown? Or hormones?

My left hand was a splotchy mess from a messy IV insertion. Mounds of clear tape awkwardly held in a needle and dried blood itched under the surface. It was hooked to a machine, beeping and regulating my body. Bags of I don’t know what dripped into my arm.

My right arm held Isaiah as I tried to breastfeed him. His desperate attempts to latch on were beyond painful, but with the help of countless nurses and my husband, he drank.

Gulped, really.

My normally brown face was gray with remnants of drugs and fatigue. No food. No water. Only ice chips. My water was taken away when I drank too much too soon and vomited into the pan again.

Later, to help stir bowel movements, an enema was inserted.

And I surveyed my body, every orifice of my body was either plugged, bandaged, bleeding, dry, or fatigued. And as Isaiah drank, my breasts ached with new agony, unfamiliar with this new demand of nourishment and, suddenly, as if my leg pumps, catheter, IV, and surgery scars weren’t enough, I began having more contractions. My uterus throbbed with an intensity that made my eyes close.

The hormones stimulated by breastfeeding will cause contractions. This will help your uterus descend and go back to its normal size.

And Isaiah’s latch intensified.

Never, in all the days of my life, had I ever undergone anything so life-giving. Never had I myself been so life-giving. Every part of my body was simultaneously healing and giving.

But I was in much pain. The lactation consultants were so beautiful and caring, I wanted to weep into their laps.

They gently touched, massaged, and handled my breasts. The nipples, swollen and red, screamed with pain at the slightest touch of a hospital gown. Maya, a middle aged woman from Russia, was sharp, informative, and decisive. Her teaching was fast, her hands careful, but her eyes were business. She recognized the pain, she knew how hard this was. Myra understood that I was thisclose to losing my sanity.

She understood that while the vagina or, in my case, the abdomen, was the door to life in the womb, it was the nipples that were the entry point of survival for my son.

The body, my body became a poem, a poem of survival.

I stayed in the hospital room, save two hours to walk down the hall for a parenting class, for four days straight. My dreams were in neon and my breasts were engorged. What I remember about that period in my life was how unbelievably gentle and kind people can be when you are in pain.

Briefly, like a loose leaf lightly touching a windshield before moving on, I thought about Feminism. Now a mother. Never again like before. Never just I.
My life just took the most radical turn. That morning I had made myself chocolate chip pancakes. Six hours later, I was a mother. Everything had changed in the blink of an eye. And in that change, I came to a realization that there were two kinds of feminism. The Feminism of issues and the feminism of our lives.

I realized the Feminism that is perpetuated in mainstream and mainstream-like media is not the feminism of our lives. It is the feminism of commerce. It is the feminism that picks and chooses the winners and losers, the visible and invisible, and accessible and ignored. It chooses what will sell and what sells focuses on status climbing, material wealth, and westernized independence. Things that bring pleasure, not transformation.

The Feminism that has stepped on the backs of women of color and ignored the backs of trans and disabled women is the Feminism that camouflages itself with diverse panels and collectives but neglects to modernize its definition of social liberation in the era of digital media. It is the feminist theories stuck in the academy with no implored action. It is the round table discussions reserved for annual conferences that result in no true connection or building blocks.

This is the Feminism that has the time and luxury to ask leisure questions such as, “Why don’t you identify as feminist?” and “Where are all the women of color bloggers?" The same Feminism that circulates the energy over the same privileged circle of the educated, the employed, or as I call it, "the Sames;" the ones who stand an inch into the outskirts, banging on the "equality" door but who also ignore the women whose heads are in toilets cleaning their bathrooms or nannying their children.

This is the Feminism of fruitless banter and recycled conversations. The space to bring these issues up could be a hopeful sign of progress, however, the repetition of those conversations and the predictable accusations and defenses serve no other purpose than keeping the pendulum swinging in balance. Aka, the status quo.

This is the same Feminism that haunts the academy and academic support offices such as Women’s Centers and elite conference gatherings. The conversation of the privileged becomes priority over decision-making. Consciousness-raising is imperative for transformation, but it cannot begin and end with questions. There must be forward motion, however slight.

Simply putting 50% of women into anything male dominated may alter the demographic, but that’s not necessarily transformative. Putting a woman’s face where a man’s once was, without any sort of critical change, is not equality but appeasement. And before Linda Hirshman takes that quote of mine again out of context, let me explain further.

The purpose of feminism is to end itself. Andrea Dworkin called it one day without rape. Others have other land posts measuring feminism’s victory. The purpose of feminism is to one day find ourselves where we don’t need to fight for human rights through the lens of women’s oppression. Note: I didn’t write that the purpose is to bring down the man. The purpose is not to have a female president. The purpose is to transform the infrastructure that holds kyriarchy in its place. Replacing men with women – of any race, ethnicity, creed, or ability – who refuse to acknowledge the insidious and mutating face of gender oppression is not forward stepping. It’s a perpetuation of history.

And so the question comes: how invested are you in the liberation of women?

Because if you agree that the liberation of all women carries more weight than the identification as a liberal feminist, the feuds over whether feminism is dead becomes irrelevant. The uproar should be about dying women, not a dying Feminism.

There was something so entirely miraculous about those four days in the hospital. I witnessed myself birth life. Bones from my bones. Blood from my blood. Life from my womb, I brought a person into the world. From two, I grew my family to three.

This awesome mystery/reality settled itself in bits and fragments.

My father told me that the birthing woman is different afterward. Her power is different. She herself is different.

My power is different.

For months, nearly everyone I encountered – friends and strangers alike – offered their opinion on what parenting should and would be for me. It was in that hospital room, where Nick slept uncomfortably on the couch without shaving and I, hooked to monitors and machines, understood a profound difference.

Parenting is the responsibility that we both shared. Together. It would be the late nights of feeding, rocking, and soothing that we’d walk together, he and I. But mothering, becoming a mother, was an entirely different bond. To me, motherhood is a yearning helplessness. Yearning to love more, yearning to teach better, yearning to make the world right – however impossible that might be. And recognizing that impossibility often made me cry.

I suddenly had this crazy urge to clean up the world for my son. I needed to organize.

The feminism of my life unfolded in a love story that resulted in the birth of my son. Gathered at my bed was my mother, the woman I’ve thought of and written so much about. The woman who I have processed more than any other human I’ve met. My father kept stroking my hair and muttering concerns over my state.

The feminism I had begun to build was a house of love that no longer shunned my parents out of frustration, but embraced our difficulties and disagreements. Filipino culture was not something I needed to understand to live, it was something I needed to live out.

Nick held the can for me while I vomited. He wore scrubs and, in the delivery room, wore a surgical mask. The shade of the scrubs made his hazel eyes deep green. I saw him between hurls. I saw my son. Our son.

Anything that I would dedicate my life to had to include, even demand, men. It may prioritize the lens of women’s experience for the liberation of all, but men had to be there. Where was I going without my son? What was I creating if not for him? I didn’t want to go where my family would not belong. It no longer made sense to separate myself and be alone. There was no division between the world I wanted to build and my son’s participation in it. I wanted freedom. Mine and his.

The Feminism of issues serves its purpose well. It informs us of the problems. But we’re more than issues, are we not? Isn’t our life worth more than the issues?

The feminism of our lives is the story of love, survival, testament, death, and epitaph. It is what we dedicate ourselves to and what we will pass on as truth to our children. Whether or not we identify as “feminist” is a sandbar to the oceanic movements of feminisms.

In my community, there is so much work to do, so much silence to break, that for the brief minute of a life where I get to use my voice, I am not going to expend my breath on explaining whether or not I identify as feminist. And the back-breaking work of so many women and men who never use the word feminism is not qualified or standardized on the arbitrary use of the word either.

The awareness matters. The intentional work toward eradicating inequality matters. The feminisms of my life matters. The use of the label does not.

Listen. Listen closely. Can you hear it?

The revolution will not be a movement. It will be Birthed.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

APAD 2 (A Poem a Day)

Food is the miracle

What we do with it -
How we do it -


will determine our revolution

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spring for Brownfemipower

For my dear BFP,

Depending on what camera you have, all factors can play a critical role in the colors popping in your pic.

I went out for a walk and was eyeing the same tree. I took a few shots and got the effect I think you are talking about -- lighter sky, deeper flower color -- and I got it by playing with the shutter speed. That's my area that I always play with.

I have a Nikon D80 with a ProMaster lens, 17-50mm.

Keep playing around with yours until you get it. The colors will come!

APAD 1 (A Poem a Day)

Thanks to Mamita Mala for this idea. I'm late, but I'm going to try and do this...

I'm going to try and get over my fear of perfection (because that leads you to a brick writing wall of paralysis) and just WRITE.

So, heeeeerrreee goes...

Lolo and Lolo
I never knew my grandfathers
- grand clocks who stopped before my time -

My Lolo Fernandez rode the train
and loved basil gardens

My Lolo Factora believed soup bones
healed birthing mothers

One Spanish, One Filipino
One engineer, One soldier
Two invisible vines
encircling one garden

When my mother smells the basil in the grocer
Or moves her face into the wind, she says
I'm thinking of my father

In early December, my father grows quiet
And wordlessly heads to a morning mass
He's thinking of his father

They never speak much of them
But I see their eyes change
when Lolo moves in their presence

And the stopped clocks tick one last tock
through my parents

And I listen to their memory.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Changes of Spring

And suddenly, in Isaiah's world, this THING happened. There was no build-up. There was no transition. HEAT appeared.

And just like that, I had to explain it to him: SPRING is here. Or as Nick says, "Just tell him that each day is the best day of his life because the weather keeps getting better and better for the next six months." That's true if you were born on December 20th.

Isaiah's legs are suddenly bare, no more extra onesies and winter caps. The warmer has been removed from his car seat to keep his skin air cool and his plumpy aura pleasant. It's suddenly warm and the first day it went from the 40s to the 80s, Isaiah slept almost half the day, as if his body went into some sort of confused mode that drank all of his energy, "I have to regulate the temperature of this big baby, we need to shut down," is what I imagine his cells and neurons communicating to one another.

It's been about three and a half months since Nick's and my life took a radical turn. And things are indeed different, as I reflect on the past year. I believe Isaiah was conceived during this past week and, if you believe that life begins the moment of conception, Isaiah is technically a year old already. He friggin looks like a toddler anyway, so that feels appropriate to write.

When he's fussy or won't stop making noises, sometimes I pick him up and go outside and show him all the signs of new life in the world. The tulips springing out from the ground in our back yard, the tiny budding flowers, and the tips of green beginning to open themselves into leaves on the trees. Isaiah's fascinated by the color and the wind on his face and I start laughing to myself when I look at him look at spring. For me, Isaiah's the ultimate sign of new life and here he is, grazing the new spring grass with his chubby foot.

The gorgeous weather has also permitted us to go for long walks together and that has made ALL the difference during the day. No more being cooped inside the house, no more praying for the snow to stop trapping us indoors. I feel free! Boundless! And I'm enjoying it while I can because I know in a handful of weeks, my allergies will bound me to the house once more and I will be unable to take meds because of nursing Isaiah. This will definitely be interesting. I'm going to look like a bloated, congested goat.

Isaiah's life keeps changing our world and the worrying, planning, and mild anxiety doesn't seem to stop. Ironically, accompanying all of this is a deep serenity that I was not prepared to find in parenting. Sometimes, when it's just me and Isaiah, and I'm singing him to sleep, I kiss him on the top of his head and can feel the soft spot. A physically vulnerable place on his body revealing his pure youth - his skull is still fusing together, his brain is still growing. And in this place where I rest my mouth, I can feel his heartbeat. His heartbeat. I can feel his actual heartbeat at the top of his head. Something about that often makes me cry. In so many ways, Isaiah is this utterly dependent little thing of a human who can only wiggle around, half roll on a couch, and yelp for his needs. And yet he is his own person. He's a completely separate human being from me and Nick, a person who will grow into his own, and experience his own choices and trials, failures and triumphs. He has his own heart. He doesn't need mine or Nick's.

That realization startled me. Isaiah is his own person.

Somewhere in the future I see myself struggling to let him go. Whether that's his first day at kindergarten, his first boy/girl party, his driver's license, or college decision, I don't know. I can't fathom how this little miracle is someday going to leave us and show us his own heart's identity.

For now, I'm just enjoying those moments of realization and relishing in all the little epiphanies he brings me on a daily basis. For now, that is more than enough.

Isaiah is a gift that is endlessly unwrapping.

Sunday, April 04, 2010