Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The holiday season is officially upon us and Christmas is only one short day away. I always find myself feeling very conflicted during the holidays, torn in so many different directions as to what the best or right way to celebrate is.

Being an American in the year 2009 means celebrating the holidays by camping out in front of Target at 4am the day after Thanksgiving, only after having fingered through newspaper ads to find that they've got the best sale prices; by dropping an obscene amount of money in over-packed shopping malls while weaving through crowds of bargain hunting moms toting around screaming children; by spending countless hours hanging Christmas lights from rain gutters and scrutinizing Christmas trees in the Home Depot parking lot. Being raised Christian means erecting an inflatable nativity scene on the front lawn to ensure your neighbors know you're in on the "real" reason for the season, attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve and pretending it hasn't been exactly one year since you stood in a church, and by refusing to abbreviate with "Xmas" because you think it's a crying shame people are taking the Christ out of Christmas.

Last Sunday I decided to surprise my mom by showing up at church. My dad plays in the worship band so during half of the service my mom sits alone, and while I'm sure she doesn't mind, she always seems to appreciate when I'm there. I'm by no means a church goer, not because I'm not spiritual, but because… well that's a whole other blog. The point is, sitting through a Christmas service at a Baptist church was an awkward reminder of why exactly I'm not a church goer. The service started out with some familiar Christmas songs, which I always enjoy. It just feels good to spend a wintry Sunday morning there in the second pew singing "Oh Holy Night" next to my mother. It wasn't until the sermon started that I wished I wasn't in the second pew, because it meant everyone at the 11-o-clock service would know that the Warne's non-church-going daughter slipped out half way through the message and, oh dear, how rude that would be. I understood why the pastor was agitated about his kids being on "Holiday Break" instead of "Christmas Break," why he disliked being greeted with "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas," and why the multimedia of a manger scene touched him so deeply. I knew because I too used to feel that way. The only thing about that sermon that I couldn't just shrug off as "Christian culture" was when the pastor insinuated that the non-religious were trying to steal "their" holiday and take all of the "true" meaning out of it.

Most children would say that Christmas is about being good all year so Santa Clause will squeeze down your chimney and leave goodies under your tree. Most Christians would say that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the fulfilling of God's promise to send His Son, our Savior, to Earth, and recognizing that God is with us. Most Americans would say Christmas is about shopping, baking, drinking, and enjoying the company of friends and family. So what is the true reason for the season and the purpose for such celebration? Perhaps they're all wrong.

December 25th was first celebrated as Brumalia by the ancient Greeks, a holiday dedicated to multiple solar deities. Brumalia was also observed by the Romans as a month-long celebration of Bacchus, a character in Greek mythology believed to incite ritual madness, drunkenness, and ecstasy. The early Christians, in an attempt to gain converts, allowed the holiday to be celebrated but turned the last day, December 25th, into Christmas, a day to celebrate the fulfilling of the prophecy of Christ. Over time other traditions were adopted and the holiday called Christmas became a globally celebrated season of trees, wreaths, lights, gifts, and of course, Santa Clause. Christmas trees are an adaptation of the pagan Roman practice of bringing evergreens indoors to celebrate winter solstice. Santa Clause originates from the reputation of Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Turkish bishop, who was a generous man with an affinity for children, and was often said to have performed miracles.

So are we to celebrate winter solstice? Most no longer believe in Greek mythology. Are we to celebrate the birth of Christ? It is widely accepted that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th. Not even early Christians recognized the day as his birthday, since at that time the observance of anyone's birth date was considered a frivolous and self-absorbed pagan practice. The only conclusion I can draw from all of this is that Christmas is whatever it means to you. It is the celebration of whatever warms your heart and fills you with festive cheer. I choose to celebrate American and Christian Christmas traditions not because I believe them to be true, but because they are my culture. My Christmas is taking the opportunity to buy gifts that show my loved ones they are a special part of my life, by enjoying delicious meals surrounded by friends and family, and by observing traditions that define the time and place in which I live.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Adventure of Failure

I have started and restarted this blog a dozen different ways attempting to draw from some analogy that would mask the more venerable and personal aspects of its origin. Screw the analogies. This blog entry is about the raw ugly hard part of life that I don't usually send off into cyberspace for fear that it will taint others' ability to view me in a strictly professional light. However, I honestly believe that the most precious thing we have to offer one another are our stories, because in doing so we can inspire, motivate or even provide accountability to those around us. So allow me to begin by saying 2009 was not my year.

If you had asked me at 21 what the next ten years of my life would look like I'd have told you that I was going to finish my degree, get a job as a photojournalist, travel the world, fall madly in love, and that the rest of my life would be a long string of momentous occasions. Because why the hell shouldn't it be? Here's the truth. Two men have loved me enough to marry me, and those same two men have cheated on me and left me. For five years I immersed myself in all things journalism only to spend two years working in a corporate cubicle before watching my career swirl down the drain before it had really even begun. There are days, today even, when I allow the doubt, the defeat and the resentment to creep in and take hold of my mind and my heart. There have been countless times in my life when the only thing that kept me pushing was knowing that there were people who cared what happened to me even when I didn't. Perhaps that's the trick to a good life; always surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and love you through the tough stuff.

So back to 2009... After a year and a half in my cubicle I had gotten stir crazy and was itching to go back to school. My company had an opening in Tempe, AZ and would help me pay for my MBA at Arizona State. I told myself that if I got that opening it was a sign - I was meant to go. So when I got it, I did. Perhaps I should have seen the red flags popping up when HR messed up my transfer paperwork, or when my car fell off a U-Haul trailer just shy of Palm Springs on the drive over. I tried to stay optimistic and just passed it off as clumsy luck. As my three months in AZ slowly crept by, I found myself dealing with endless HR problems, drama with my ex back in CA, and even went into kidney failure thanks to the triple-digit dry desert heat. I threw in the towel. I shoved as much of my belongings as would fit into my Ford Focus and abandoned the rest. I headed back to NorCal, but this time through Vegas because, hell, who wouldn't have needed a weekend in Vegas at that point. Upon arriving home I didn't even apply for unemployment because I couldn't imagine it taking longer than a couple weeks to start working again. Four months later I found myself caving in and accepting a job pushing papers in a small office for barely over minimum wage. I worked hard and learned quickly and my financial situation slowly began to get better, but only as my personal life once again fell to pieces.

I could easily end this entry there and wait patiently for your, "I'm so sorry!" and "Keep your chin up!" replies, but that's not the point of this entry at all. The point is that 2009 might have topped my list of disastrously disappointing years, but it has been jam packed with adventure.

I went to a rave in Mexico City and got drunk at a soccer bar with the locals. I attended my second Southwestern Photojournalism Conference in Dallas. I had an action packed road trip to Arizona. While I was there, I got to deepen my friendship with one of my dearest girlfriends and hung out with cousins who I grew up only visiting every couple years. I watched the sunset from the top of "A" Mountain and played volleyball in Lake Powell. I road tripped to Vegas... twice. I spent a weekend helping my college best friend pick out a couch for her new apartment three blocks from Venice Beach. I went to a fashion show with an old friend who didn't mind sharing a bottle of cheap wine in soup cups. And perhaps most incredible of all, I watched my nephews start preschool and was able to be around when they began using all sorts of smart words.

2009 can't have been a bad year, it was just a year full of the unexpected. The author of "Eat, Pray, Love" wrote about how agonizing her transition was from who she was before the one-year adventure that became that book and the woman that book allowed her to be. By being stripped of everything she had, including her financial security and her relationship, she found a new and better woman inside herself and began to thrive. I challenge you, I challenge myself - Let 2009 not be a year of brokenness but a year of refiner's fire that segways into a 2010 overflowing with blessings and success.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Does humanitarianism perpetuate poverty?

A friend and I had a long and lively debate this evening about whether or not Western humanitarian aid is ultimately helpful or hurtful to developing nations and what role the government should play in foreign aid compared to charities. I admittedly approach this subject from a more heartfelt and emotional standpoint, having been actively involved in humanitarian work from early childhood. This friend is also well traveled and has been living and working in a developing nation for the past several years, however he has very different thoughts on how Western involvement in developing nations should be carried out.

The conversation was sparked by my forwarding of a promotional email from a non-profit organization. My reasoning for including this friend on the forward was not so much that I expected him to donate as that being a photography enthusiast I assumed he would enjoy the photographs, which were taken by another friend of mine who we've spoken about in the past.

My friend promptly refuted my support of this non-profit's work by giving historical context to the inability of Western charity to contribute toward a lasting betterment of developing nations. I defended that there is more to charity than solving global issues; there is the meeting of basic human needs be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. I was enraged that this friend dared attribute my compassion for these peoples' livelihood to propaganda for a flawed and ultimately damaging practice. It took some time for us to both set aside emotion and talk facts.

We agreed that if humanitarian efforts met only the physical needs of the people and did not address the overlaying issue of government corruption that the government would never assume a sense of responsibility for meeting its people's needs, and that the people would grow complacent and not be motivated to rise up and force their government to do so. We did not agree on how Western nations should alter their approach to this situation.

The United States government is selective about which countries and which types of conflicts it will become involved in. Africa is, as a continent, rather abandoned by government intervention from the US. It is my opinion that the US does not involve itself in African coups and civil wars because there is no African nation capable of being a militaristic threat to it and most of the commerce between African countries and the US can be met otherwise. Unrest in parts of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, on the other hand, is of concern to the US because there stands a greater threat. It was not directly stated, although I can fairly assume that my friend would agree that the US justifiably must consider its own physical and monetary well being when approaching any foreign conflict. However, where we part ways is in our views as to the balance between political and humanitarian motivation for Western intervention.

My friend stated that the best way to dissolve a dictatorship is to politically endorse and finance a new and better leader. I strongly disagree. I simply cannot imagine a way in which the American people would be able to agree upon a way to carry out such a policy, and should the US government do so without consulting its people, there would be widespread outrage. Not to mention that this theory entirely neglects to address the very grim probability of the new leader being any less corrupt than the last. A man who has not been shown compassion does not know how to be compassionate. A man who rises up solely out of selfish ambition will address his political office as a self-seeking leader. In order for a political figure to effect positive socioeconomic change in his country he must first understand what the needs are and have a genuine desire to meet them.

There is no quick or simple answer, but I will definitely continue researching and trying to gain a more inclusive understanding of the issue. I'll probably revisit and rewrite this blog entry several times as I gain new perspective.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Confrontation and Standards

This conversation happened via Facebook a while back and the more I thought about it the more I felt inclined to post it. One thing that really bothers me is when people confront others about their perceived lack of moral standards without first giving their own standards some thorough analysis. Why do I believe this? Where did I get this from? Is it something subjective that I've chosen for myself but might not necessarily apply to everyone else? Am I even in a position to genuinely confront this person?

Hopefully I opened up this former roommate's eyes a bit, especially considering she hasn't seen and and has hardly spoken with me in eight years.

(HER FIRST EMAIL) "Hey Kimberly, So I know that I am not there to tell you this to your face but you know me and you know that i would if i could, so I will just do the next best thing and send you a message about this. Eph. 4:31 "Let all...evil speaking be put away from you.." It is so weird to see cursing in your messages to people, like about you being someone's b-word. What is that??? I am not judging you...I love you and I am just holding you to a higher standard like we were taught to live. Those years at TM were not a waste of time...they were years that should affect us and change us for a lifetime. I hope that I don't offend you b/c that is not my intention at all. I just want to see the beautiful woman you are on the outside shine even brighter b/c of the Jesus who lives on the inside. Talk to you later Kimberly."

(MY RESPONSE) "The only 'bad' word specifically identified in the Bible is using His name in vain. Outside of that, words that are identified as 'bad' are based on societal standards, which shift based on the time and the place and even one's social status. For example, I will only rarely use the 'F-Word,' however my dad would be deeply offended for me to even use the word 'crap' in front of him. And I'm assuming 'crap' isn't a word that you would generally take offense to even though my dad would scold you for having a wicked tongue at the word's usage. So allow me to give you some accountability. Who are you to decide what language is appropriate and good for me? Do no allow yourself to become a Bible brandishing zealot who boasts of their purity to others and expects their own personal standards, set merely by you and those around you, to be applied to the rest of society. I am fully aware of and comfortable with the situational appropriateness of the words that I choose."

(HER RESPONSE) "Wow! That is one thing I have always loved about you Kimberly! You know what your convictions are and don't let anyone sway you. I respect that. Your message is definitely causing me to think because I really cannot combat anything that you wrote. You are right that crap is not a bad word to me but it is to some people in my church to be exact. I was also thinking...I use the word whore and it is not a bad word to me but the first time I said it in front of my mother-in-law I got a strange look. Yeah oops. I guess it is a bad word to some people. Thank you for speaking your mind and for writing me back about it. It shows that our friendship is still there and that we can agree to disagree without being offended. I love you girl. Talk to you later."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hecho en Columbia

Kathy is a Columbian native living in Las Vegas, where I met her last month. When she asked me to return to take some photos of her I was more than glad to! She is an unemployed graphic designer who has taken up promotional modeling on "the strip" while riding out the economic slump.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gender and Purpose

Last weekend a friend and I were discussing our views on relationships, marriage, and life in general. We agreed that most of our friends had become single parents or entered into unhappy marriages. We speculated the "whys," trying to sort out the reasons behind the difference between the path our friends had taken and those we had taken.

Does it not defy our culture of the American Dream for us to be in our mid-20's and unmarried? To not have roots anywhere or a long term commitment to anything or anyone? This friend and I are both self-proclaimed adventurists with insatiable wanderlust. If asked to choose between domesticity and globe trotting, we would both choose the latter in a heart beat. This caused me to start analyzing what other factors outside of an obsession with travel and culture could be contributors to this lack of interest in the "American Dream." I decided that, at least in my case, there are two major factors.

The first goes hand in hand with wanderlust. It is one's world view. Why do I have a lack of interest in domesticity? Because I have seen enough of the world to know there is so much more yet to be discovered. Why do I not care about having a formal wedding and a status affirming diamond ring? Because I know how far $30,000 can go in in the pocket of a globe trotter, and because I have seen the devastating affects of the diamond industry on the developing nations where those stones originate. Why do I not care about having my own children? Because I have worked in orphanages where multitudes of abandoned children waste away discarded and abused. My world view is more broad than that of someone who has been raised to believe the world is only as big as their suburban town, and that their value goes only as far as their ability to become an integral part of that town.

The second factor and the one I want to focus more on in this blog has to do with my perceived lacking of "real men." I don't subscribe to the rational of blaming men in general or society as a whole for the struggles that my generation of women face; although I do believe that understanding the current condition of these things sheds light on the tug of war inside our heads and hearts. If society places a strong feminist emphasis on the equality of genders and the dissolving of "traditional" gender roles, we cannot be surprised to find a generation of emasculated young men stripped of their fight. Men are designed to have a warrior's heart and an adventurer's spirit, but when they embrace these things they are chastised for their machismo. My generation of women were taught that they shouldn't be dependant on men. In turn, our generation of men have realized that women don't need them. These men have begun to believe that unless they allow women to "wear the pants," they'll be trampled and lost. They sacrifice their masculinity in order to simply be kept around. I realize how controversial this is but I'm going to say it anyway - Feminism has deflated real men. But what we need are real men.

If a man doesn't know how to be masculine he will never walk with purpose. If a woman doesn't know how to be feminine she will never be satisfied. "A man needs to be tender at times, and a woman will sometimes need to be fierce. But if a man is only tender, we know something is deeply wrong, and if a woman is only fierce, we sense she is not what she was meant to be." – John Eldredge in Wild at Heart. Before a man or a woman decides who they want, they need to discover who they are. They need to be whole people in and of themselves with a sense of direction as to what they were created for, and then trust that IF they are meant to get married and have children then as they walk out their purpose those two seemingly polar opposites will align in way that works uniquely for them.

Not everyone believes in destiny or callings. I believe that these things are not only real but that their acceptance is an integral part of our ability to thrive. Some of our passions in life are more than fleeting interests; they are a part of our purpose and should not be cast aside for the sake of practicality or fitting the mold. I have often been told that my wanderlust is merely a subconscious aversion to commitment and that someday I'll deal with my "issues" and decide to settle down. However, I know that my wanderlust is a part of my being and cannot be ignored or stifled or treated because doing so would strip me of my purpose.

So where is the balance? I am a 25-year-old, educated, financially independent, single woman. I cannot live each day husband hunting any more than a woman who yearns for motherhood can live each day denying her calling to that. We cannot merely want what we are taught to want, or be the sort we are told to be. The focus should not be on finding someone to make us happy, but on finding happiness in being, and trusting that by walking down our own paths the rest will fall into place without any compromise or extraneous effort on our part.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Amber's Maternity Photos

Amber is 7 months preggo with baby Presley!
Here are some photos I took of her last weekend while I was in the Bay Area.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Decor of Sanity

As a college freshman living in my parents' home, I turned my bedroom into a "Tahitian bungalow" complete with bamboo ceiling. My college dorm room was shared, but it was very clear where the boundary was. My roommate had mismatched bedding, pig shaped lights strung over the window, and mounds of books and paperwork strewn across her desk. I had an alphabetized book shelf at the foot of my Tommy Hilfiger bed and two paper lamps hanging over a tidy desk where even the pen holder matched my color scheme. I have moved literally 18 times since I graduated from high school in 2000, and yet even when all my belongings could fit into my Ford Focus, I always managed to squeeze some style in the back seat. My current must have item regardless of the move is a large mirror with the most amazing vintage gold frame, which has hung in a bathroom, over a dresser, and leaned against several bedroom walls.

My mother may not have taught me about makeup or dating, but she definitely instilled in me an appreciation for keeping a neat home, or usually in my case a space, that is always "guest ready." When I come home it isn't to a space that looks as chaotic and disconnected as my mind often feels. There is an order to things, both in life and in the home, and they are meant to reflect one another. While my mother and I have very different tastes in decor, I think we are both good at creating spaces that are functional and appealing.

This standard often causes extreme tension in my shared space. The only thing worse than coming home to your own mess is coming home to someone else's, be it shoes in the hallway, mail strewn across the kitchen counter, knickknacks on the coffee table, or pet hair caked on the couch pillows. I haven't decided yet if God insists on keeping me at a roommate necessary standard of living to break me of my OCD or if he's just gets a kick out of watching me have mini-meltdowns every time I find my toothbrush holder sitting at the wrong angle on the counter. Either way, I greatly anticipate someday entering a life season in which I can have a place, modest as it may be, where I can create a Zen untouched by less acute sensibilities. I dream of lazy overcast mornings curled up in a breakfast nook with a newspaper in hand, Elis Regina streaming on Pandora, and the delicate scent of freshly cut stargazers competing with that of the steam rising off my French press. I don't care much where you place that scene... In a San Francisco Victorian, in an Ann Arbor loft, in a Cape Town flat... As long as there's a good man strolling sleepily into the kitchen after me, and a genuine anticipation for the job I'll head to a short while later.

On a lighter note! I'll share with you some of my favorite places to score decor bargains! Of course my favorite items are ones I've accumulated through my travels, but there are countless places to find unique pieces locally while shopping on a minimal budget. When I'm in designer discounter stores like TJ Max, Marshall's, Ross, or Nordstrom Rack, I always keep an eye on the clearance racks where I have scored $1 bathroom counter accessories, $5 towel sets, and $20 bedding. Pass up those outrageously priced vintage drawer knobs at Anthropologie and find yourself an estate sale! As tacky as it may sound to some, garage sales are a fun way to find beautiful pieces for pennies. Of course, there is Ikea, where European inspired minimalism descends upon broke college kids and frugal self-decorators alike. I also recommend Z Gallerie for their affordable and trendy decor that carries enough variety to satisfy all tastes and avoids the stigma of having "that Ikea stuff."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prop 8 Upheld

Yesterday the California Supreme Court ruled that the state would uphold Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage. However, the court did decide to legally recognize the 18,000 marriages that were authorized between the court's pro same-sex marriage ruling in May 2008 and the November passing of Prop 8.

Protesters gathered outside San Francisco's City Hall shouting "Shame on you!" and 162 arrests were made. Even larger gatherings were reported in Los Angeles and San Diego.

According to the court's only Democratic appointee Justice Carlos Moreno, the decision "is not just a defeat for same-sex couples, but for any minority group that seeks the protection of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution." I should expect that Moreno is well versed in the rights that are in place for the protection and equality of the LGBT community, and should be aware that they in many ways exceed the rights of straight couples who want to live together outside of a legalized marriage. Most companies now include a clause in their insurance policies allowing same-sex couples to add their life partner to their coverage, a benefit that is not usually extended to non-married straight couples.

In November, Prop 8 was about gay marriage. Today, Prop 8 is about the will of the people being upheld. This is democracy! The people vote and their decision is respected and enforced by the government! The passing of Prop 8 does not inhibit anyone's right to the American "pursuit of happiness" or strip them of the ability to find employment, housing, and health care. It doesn't even ban them from having wedding ceremonies, living together, or raising children.

California, and more specifically San Francisco, has been a front runner in the progression of LGBT causes over the last 30 years, including the securing of equal employment and housing opportunities, and the rallying of support for the fight against AIDS. It is inevitable that eventually same-sex marriage will be legalized and, in my opinion, the sooner that the cause is approached in a professional and strategic manner the sooner conservatives will become receptive to it. Not everyone is moved by masses of drag queens chanting into megaphones and waving cardboard signs. Lawmaking happens in a three-piece suit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Four Murdered OPD Officers

Yesterday afternoon four Oakland police offers were murdered at the corner of 74th Street and MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland while attempting to subdue a parolee.

Several TV news stations lined up in front of the OPD administrative offices.

Flags flew half staff in memory of the officers.

An officer gazes out the front door of the apartment building on 74th where two of the officers were fatally shot.

A mother and daughter who witnessed the aftermath of the murders hanging a flag outside the apartment building where two officers were shot, as an officer looks on from the doorway.

View of the apartment building on 74th from the corner of 74th and MacArthur.

When I arrived at 2:00pm only one neighbor was brave enough to stand in support of the fallen officers. Dozens of vehicles passed shouting obscenities, celebrating the killing of police, and shaming the elderly black woman for being a "traitor."

The neighbor woman and I arranging flowers on the corner of 74th and MacArthur. (Photo by Christopher Salas)

The surprisingly barren corner of 74th and MacArthur.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I spent a few days in Mexico City to visit an old friend, attend a music festival, and check out some of the little surrounding towns. I'm in love with Mexico City! And can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jury Duty

Today I had the rather unique experience of going through the jury selection process for a criminal trial. The defendant was being tried for drunk in public and resisting arrest. During the course of his arrest, in which multiple officers were involved, the defendant allegedly became violent with the officers and a tazer gun was used to subdue him. The defendant was also suspected of gang affiliation.

Because I am still registered at my parents’ address in Tracy, I had to serve jury duty at the Stockton courthouse. I wasn’t all too happy about doing the extra driving, but knowing I had dibs on my parents’ couch and that my office would pay me for up to twenty days of trial, I was fairly excited to participate in the civil process. However, by the time I was dismissed this afternoon, I was rather disappointed by the experience.

The defendant, his defense lawyer, and the prosecuting lawyer were all present for the entire jury selection process. I was among the first dozen randomly selected persons asked to be seated in the jury box for questioning, and remained there until the very last round of dismissals. Every time a new person is moved into the tentative jury, they are asked to respond to a set of general personal questions, including what is your name, where are you from, what is your profession, do you personally know anyone in law enforcement or in the DA’s office, have you served on a jury before, and so on. I must have given satisfactory enough answers for both sides because I was asked relatively few questions throughout the rest of the interview process.

Toward the end of the day I began to assume that I would be on the jury, which I didn’t mind since the judge had already informed us that the trial would be finished by week’s end. Initially our group had been intended for selection for a child molestation case, which would have lasted much longer, but new evidence had been admitted, delaying the trial’s start until next Monday. My case was to be a misdemeanor filler until the other case was ready for jury selection.

I was curious about our case, ready to see the evidence and hear the testimonies. I was beginning to get excited about participating on a jury and having the opportunity to take an active role in the judicial process. It was no surprise when the man who had been charged a few years earlier of accessory to murder was dismissed, or the woman who outright admitted that she could not be fair in a case with charges so similar to one her son was facing the following week. There were a few others who were clearly saying whatever they could think up that might get them dismissed for bias or inability to “fairly” judge the defendant. I felt like I was different. I had never been arrested, never gone to court, never known anyone to face the same charges, had no harbored hatred toward lawyers or law enforcement. I understand the value and purpose of jury selection, and am conscious of how significant it is that I, as a woman, am allowed to participate, when not so long ago only Caucasian property-owning men were permitted.

It wasn’t until the defense attorney questioned my views about the limits of law enforcement that my seat was scrutinized. I still stand by my answers; they were simply not what the defense wanted to hear. When the lawyer asked whether I thought it was okay for multiple officers to arrest one person, or if it should always be one on one, I responded that if more than one officer was needed to subdue a person then yes it would be an appropriate means of force. When asked whether I thought there was ever a time when it was okay for an officer to use a tazer, I responded that under some circumstances I could see where a tazer would be necessary. From that point it was clear that the lawyer was done with me, and when he was asked to eliminate one last juror, there I sat in chair number 12 with a big red bulls eye on my forehead.

I quickly gathered my belongings and left the courtroom, rode the elevator to the basement and turned in my badge, validated my parking, and headed home. I felt like a cheap date. Like I had done everything right and was discarded for having done just that. There were several people who the lawyers questioned at length, people who could hardly form an intelligible sentence in response, and admittedly knew nothing of the laws that pertained to the case in question. How, I wondered, could these people be more able to decide this case? Sure, this was a rather minor infraction with relatively low consequence to the defendant, but what if we had gotten that child abuse case. Would these same people be selected to apply their awkward personalities and socially inept presence toward making a decision that affected people’s lives in such a huge way?

The judge repeatedly mentioned that a jury had to remember that their decision wasn’t a popularity contest; it was to be based solely on the facts. Why does that same reasoning not apply to jury selection? The judge dismisses those who are most blatantly not willing or able to participate, but then it is up to the lawyers to take turns questioning and dismissing those who they don’t want on the jury. Had the lawyers mistaken a lack of general intelligence for neutrality? Probably not. One can only assume that each lawyer will make selections that they believe are most likely to benefit their side. But if that is the case, where is the justice in such a trial? It’s like childhood kickball in the park, with each team captain selecting the players they think will be of most use to them, rather than selecting in the interest of who will create the most fair and balanced athletic experience for the game as a whole. Sure, in sports that’s not how it works. But in court, isn’t that hypothetically how it IS supposed to work?

And so as it is, I will not be juror number 12. Why? Because I believe that it is the right of law enforcement to use the force we as a society have bestowed upon them, even though I do support the reasoning that some officers may abuse that force, and also that it is the defendant’s right to pursue legal accountability for the officers he has drawn into question. Rather than being dismissed from jury selection feeling proud to have participated in a legal process that our nation boasts as a central function of its democracy, I am coming away feeling disheartened by an experience which has made me acutely aware of how at the end of the day even the “due process” of “justice” is merely bureaucracy.

Monday, March 2, 2009

SWPJC 2009

This was my second year attending SWPJC, and while it was different from last year and even different from what I had expected this year would be, I am so glad that I went. I initially anticipated spending the weekend with my dear friend Esther and hearing a photojournalism great, James Nachtwey, present some of his work and talk about his career. However, Esther took a last minute assignment with Charity Water in the Central African Republic, and Nachtwey was assigned to cover the conflict in Gaza. While these were both very disappointing changes, I knew that there would still be priceless networking, relationship building, and industry discussion going on.

Toward the end of the weekend, two friends and I were discussing what each of us was walking away from the conference with this year. I couldn't say that I had learned any new skills or heard anything mind-blowingly new. What I took away from the conference was a renewed faith in the work that we as journalists are pursuing regardless of whether we are industry employed or not, and much needed face-to-face time with like-minded friends who's passion and faith are inspiring and refreshing.

I am the first to point out my number one character flaw... I'm a total control freak. Honestly, read my last blog. It's never enough for me to know that things will always work out as they were intended to, which they always do, but I have an extremely difficult time slowing down and enjoying life. When I can't see any open doors, when I feel like all my hard work leads nowhere, I get overwhelmed and discouraged. This weekend I was able to step outside of my routine and gain some much needed perspective. Has God ever let me fall flat on my face and left me there alone? Not once. The problem is always me. Me not letting go, me not seeing the glass half full, me not accepting that my plans and my ways are not always what was designed. 

For all my frustration with my career, I need to accept that one of my professional strengths is in administration, and I am blessed with the opportunity to be refining that strength in my current role. If I do everything within my power to get transferred to the Phoenix office and it simple doesn't work out, I am not meant to be there. If I have a desire to further my education so that I am more able to pursue the things I know I am called to do with my life, I have to trust that when I am walking down the path that is meant for me, opportunities will arise when the timing is right. 

Call me silly, but anyone who dines with me very often knows I take my fortune cookies seriously! Yesterday my fortune cookie said, "You will make many changes before settling down happily." Even though Keegan cracked his cookie first, which technically voids my fortune, I brought it home and put it next to the one I got while back that says, "You have a charming way with words and should write a book." 

I have no reason to not be happy. I have no reason to not feel fulfilled. I have no reason to not wake up and joyfully welcome whatever each day brings. I am blessed, and I am loved, and that should be more than enough.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Employment Rant

I've blogged about it many times, you've all heard me rant, but here it is again... Yah, sure, I know the economy isn't doing well and there's an alarmingly high unemployment rate, but when I look on the job boards I see plenty of listings. I apply for plenty of those listings.

Obama just got done preachin' on about how we as a nation need to be pursuing higher education. Well, Obama, here I am desperate to get to Phoenix so I can start my MBA at ASU, but I can't get a job there to save my life! Last month there were five openings at my company's Phoenix office that I knew I was more than qualified for, and now it is down to one. Two that have already been filled did call me back, were interested in my resume, but went to other applicants who had more "applicable" employment experience. Now I'm not talking about I.T. jobs or anything like that where special skills are required... I'm talking about admin jobs. I'm talking about keeping calendars and files for some exec at a level important enough to get a window of his very own. 

If at 18 I successfully completed a year of living in a tour bus traveling around the nation as the assistant manager of a multimillion dollar merchandising company, I think I can answer a multi-line phone. If I can organize logistics for summers of romping about third world countries, I think I can keep a calendar in Outlook. I have been with my company for a year and a half and have proven to be extremely competent both professionally and intellectually. Yet again I find myself wanting to stand up in my cube and scream "For the love of God, people! I have a Bachelor's Degree!" 

I would estimate that around half of the people doing my job at my company have their BA. Therefore, I am not using my BA, because clearly it holds no baring on whether or not the company will employ me. Because I am still one of the newer employees in my department, and because pay increases are being withheld this year, I make just enough to have an acceptable standard of living and pay all of my bills... including the one for my last year of that useless BA. I'm sure you can understand my frustration at the fact that I rent a room in Oakland so that I can pay my student loans, while many of my twenty-something coworkers live at home with their parents not paying rent or loans, thus having a much more comfortable standard of living. Clearly, I need my MBA. Being only one academic level above these people is obviously not doing a damn thing for my career. 

Okay I'm done ranting. That was likely one of the least eloquent pieces of writing I've ever done, but I had to get it out. I'm telling you right now... Someday when those people who were more "qualified" to order pens from are still doing just that, I'm going to be a tremendously successful and highly educated professional with every right to the phrase "I told you so."

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I've decided that adapting to "adult" life and single life simultaneously is one of the more awkward transitions I've been through yet. When I was younger, being newly single meant belligerent nights downtown with my girlfriends, bonding in our mutual man-hating, and barfing away our sorrows in the wee after-hours. I like to think I've done a lot of maturing and soul searching in the last couple of years, enough so that at 25 being newly single means nights of curling up on the couch with a glass of Mondavi Chardonnay and watching romantic comedies solo is not only acceptable but enjoyable.

It's a difficult thing to explain to people who aren't at that same place, and I don't say that in a condescending way toward myself nor the "others" insinuated. We all take different paths, thus passing through different stages in our own time and way. For me, 25 has so far been a season of enlightenment, and not always the freeing kind so much as the potentially depressing sort. It has been the acceptance of realities, such as that my career path no longer exists and that the people who have been an integral part of my life for all my life are as flawed as I am.

I ran away to Bali for the week of my 25th birthday, not previously calculating that in Bali my birthday would arrive a day sooner. I suppose the irony was appropriate. During my 22-hour layover in Hong Kong on my way home from that trip, I spent a great deal of time sorting out life frustrations through my journal. I had just finished reading a book called "Eat Pray Love" which, thanks to Oprah, has become a top seller. It is an autobiography of one woman's journey through a year of post-divorce soul searching. I remember feeling like I could be that woman, middle-aged and miserable even though she had all of the conventional pleasures lined up for her, including a beautiful home and husband, and a solid writing career. I remember feeling compelled to continue pursuing my passions, despite the speculation that even I had for myself after a decade of dabbling with no promising leads.

I can't say that in this moment I feel the same intense determination to faithfully wage on in those pursuits, but that inferno has not been extinguished so much as tended, evolving into a steady determination to simply be myself. I'm still figuring out day by day who "myself" is. But one of my most refreshing realizations at 25 has been that there's no shame in not knowing. In fact, there should be some level of pride in the ability to honestly and openly accept that life is a constant journey during which we are shaped and molded and forged into the best "me" that can exist.

What do I know about myself? I know that from early childhood I have had a fascination with the world. I know that for the last decade I have been passionately pursuing the use of journalism and photography as a means to expose the western world to the issues and needs of developing nations. I know that I have friends and family who absolutely love and support me as much as I do them, and have grown to value those relationships in a deeper way. I know that regardless of the roadblocks that I encounter I will more than survive, I will thrive, because a woman walking out her destiny is more powerful than any failing economy and stronger than the locks on the doors that have slammed in her face.

It doesn't matter what my past has held, and it doesn't matter if a man doesn't hold my near future. There are too many opportunities for lived experiences laying ahead to focus on the rear view mirror. Life is before us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Orion on the Economy

Economic crisis according to my four-year-old nephew:

Orion: "Auntie, I got fired!"
Me: "Oh no! From where?"
Orion: "From over there by the lego box!"
Me: "What happened?" 
Orion: "Well I don't know, there was a big fire all over the place!"

Ok so maybe he doesn't quite grasp the concept, but I was impressed none-the-less.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Warm Wispers

It's driving through the countryside on a warm summer night with your arm out the window and soulful acoustic music blaring. It's sitting on a dew soaked hillside in South Africa as the sun peaks into view, the crisp breeze turning your cheeks pink from the chill. It's free falling from an airplane at thirteen thousand feet and closing your eyes because you don't care about the view, you just want those weightless sixty seconds when for once the world isn't falling down on you, but you're charging at it with every ounce of your being.

I don't know if the feeling is the same for everyone, or if we all experience it differently. But for me it's that moment when you know in your soul that there is something right in the world. When your fickle friends and your difficult family and your frustrating career can't touch you, because you, in that moment, are at peace. In that moment you are filled with the realization of the wonder that is around you and the strength that you have by embracing rather than rejecting it.

Missy Higgins - "Your warm whispers, out of the dark they carry my heart. Your warm whispers, into the dawn they carry me through. I'm weeping for honey and milk yet you stay surrounding me. Your warm whispers, letting me drown in a pool of you. Your warm whispers, keeping the noise from breaking through."


While Esther was watching the inauguration from a castle in Ethiopia and Aaron was shivering out on the Mall in Washington DC, I was sitting my office's auditorium watching CNN's coverage. I had considered calling in sick to join the masses in San Francisco's Civic Center, but decided against it. I was feeling rather pathetic for allowing such a momentous day to pass just like any other weekday, but I suppose in the end it didn't matter where I watched it, so long as I did. Obama is no Jesus, but he is a glimpse of hope for our generation. I'm excited to see what he does with the opportunity, trust, and support that he has been given by our nation.

iPhone pic of the auditorium during Obama's speech on CNN

Obama cookies!

Alicia, Me, Lamba

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gold-Digger vs. Career Woman

I was having a conversation with a friend today and in the process of trying to outline my parameters for when and how I'd like to go about settling down with a husband and a family, I made myself sound, in his opinion, like a "gold-digger." Of course my friend, being an affluent man, was terribly offended by the suggestion that I wouldn't want to get married unless the guy had a decent career going and we were able to have kids without it being a financial burden. I attempted to back petal and redefine, but when the conversation ended I could tell that he was still stuck on my initial statement.

I felt awful about the entire thing because I am absolutely supportive women educating themselves and having self-sustaining careers. I got my degree, I make my own money and pay my own bills, and I pursue my passions in photography and travel. Never have I expected to sit back and wait for a wealthy man to leech off of. I am in a position where I am not married, I don't have kids, I have very few roots or ties holding me in to my current position, and I have the education and skill set to build a life for myself outside of a man if I choose to do so. Why is it such an absurd thing to say that if and when I get married I would expect that man to have a career and be fiscally responsible? That I would expect him to be able to provide a life full of opportunities rather than struggles for his family?

When people say "I'd rather be poor and happy than wealthy and miserable," I think it's an unfair assumption that there are only two options. It is entirely reasonable for a woman to believe that she can find a man who she's head over heels in love with and wants to settle down and start a family with, who has in his single life displayed passion and ambition that has maneuvered him into a financial situation where he is able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for his family. Gold-diggers are lazy, selfish, and greedy. Career women are ambitious, driven, and goal oriented. I have the ability to ensure that when I go into the wife and mother seasons of my life I will enter them set up for success.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oakland Riots - Photos

Shortly after sundown yesterday a large group of protesters marched down International from the Fruitvale BART station, where Oscar Grant was shot last week, to the Lake Merritt BART station. It was there that the protest quickly escalated into a riot. 

The first police vehicle to arrive was overcome by the protesters. One man threw a rock through the windshield, a dozen others jumped on the hood and rocked the vehicle in a failed attempt to overturn it. A dumpster was set ablaze and pushed into the front of the vehicle.

As riot police responded they were pelted with glass bottles and other debris. Tear gas was fired into the mob, forcing them to disperse. Many fled into Chinatown to regroup less than thirty minutes later near City Hall, leaving in their wake overturned garbage cans and newspaper stands. 

The largest stand-off of the night occurred near the intersection of 14th and Webster. Riot police surrounded the mob on three sides. Dozens of police vehicles blocked traffic and attempted to hold off protesters trying to join the mob. 

While some protesters shouted, "There is no looting going on, we're just mad!" others continued to throw newspaper stands into the street, set garbage cans on fire, and smash in windshields and store fronts. Several protesters laid down in front of the police lines, mimicking the position Grant was in when he was shot, on their bellies with their hands behind their backs.

An unmarked police vehicle approached one side of the intersection, and the driver could be heard over a megaphone beginning a ten minute countdown demanding that the rioters disperse. The mob only grew in number and intensity. As the riot police closed in, many protesters ran down 14th street. Others attempted to stand their ground but were forced backward with hard shoves and billy club jabs. When police attempted to grab noncompliant protesters there was a scramble, and several people were trampled. At least two members of the media were attacked by rioters. A cameraman from channel 7 news had his camera broken and was reportedly bleeding from the head. A cameraman from channel 5 news was punched in the chest and was experiencing difficulty breathing. 

Reporter Ken Epstein of the Oakland Post was in his 12th story office writing a story about the injustice of Grant's death when he heard commotion on the street and looked down to see his own vehicle engulfed in flames. He stated that while it was disappointing to see such a thing occur, he understood the anger being expressed by the protesters.

Once things settled down Mayor Dellums came out of city hall and walked a few blocks with a large crowd of protesters and media, answering questions and urging them to stand down and end the violence. 

A small news conference was held by officer Jeff Thomason at the Oakland Police Department's administrative offices. He stated that as of 9:30pm only 15 arrests had been made, 14 adults and one minor, for charges including assault on an officer, vandalism, and failure to disperse.

Shortly after the press conference protesters began to riot once again in front of City Hall's doors and police appeared to change strategies, arresting dozens more rather than continuing to disperse the crowds.

Oakland Riots

I will write an actual article about this later but while it's fresh in my mind I want to jot down the more personal side of this evening for you...

I pulled up to my house in Oakland shortly after 5pm. It wasn't until I stepped out of the car that I began to notice there were half a dozen helicopters circling directly above. Not believing there could be so many traffic choppers flying for the 5-o-clock news hour, I called Christopher and asked him to turn on the news and find out what was going on. He said there was a protest at the Fruitvale BART. I stifled my initial impulse to grab my camera and head over, since it was only a mile away, and headed inside instead. I set down my purse and slipped off my coat, fully intending to settle in for the evening, but as I reached into the closet to put away my coat I saw my camera bag sitting on the floor. Knowing I would later regret not checking things out for myself, I grabbed out my camera, flash, my Zoom audio recorder, and some extra AA batteries. After changing into jeans and a hoodie I headed back to my car and called my good friend Joe Vasquez, a reporter at CBS 5 News in San Francisco. Joe told me there had been a gathering outside the Fruitvale BART protesting the death of a young man who was shot by a BART police officer at that station only a few days ago. The crowds were marching down International toward the Lake Merritt BART, and he suggested I meet up there.

Using the GPS in my IPhone I managed to find my way to the Lake Merritt BART parking lot shortly after dusk. I considered parking on the street to avoid a parking ticket but crossed my fingers for luck, parked, and made my way to the corner where I saw a CBS 5 News van. Inside was photographer named Robert who I'd met while he was doing a story about gift cards a couple months ago in San Francisco. I reintroduced myself and told him I was looking for Joe. Robert told me Joe had arrived with Patrick, another photographer, but said it would be fine for me to tag along until we found them. I pulled out my audio recorder and camera and began gathering some initial clips of the the crowd chanting and marching. 

Within a few minutes we located Joe, just in time to watch the crowd turn into a mob as the first police vehicle arrived. The car drove into the middle of the intersection but had little time to act as dozens of protesters began jumping on the car, bashing in the windows, and rocking the car in a failed attempt to overturn it. A dumpster was set ablaze a few feet away. Riot police who had begun gathering prior to the incident rushed in to control the rioters. Tear gas was fired into the crowd in response to glass bottles and other debris being thrown at their lineup. As the police closed in the mob dispersed.

We followed the larger group several blocks toward city hall and waited to see what would happen next. Fifteen minutes later I began to see police units heading around to the far side of the block where we stood, and a chopper's spotlight was aimed the same direction. We ran toward the reassembling mob and began filming. They made their way down 14th street leaving behind a trail of overturned garbage cans, some set ablaze. Broken glass littered the streets, and through Chinatown boxes of vegetables set out for the garbage had been thrown around the street and on top of police cars.

An estimated 150 riot police gradually surrounded the mob until they were surrounded on three sides of an intersection. Several protesters lay on the ground in front of the police lines mimicking the position Grant was in when he was shot; laying on their bellies with their hands behind their backs. An unmarked police vehicle approached the intersection and over a bull horn the driver was heard beginning a ten minute countdown by the end of which protesters would be forcefully removed. Despite the police's attempts to hold off additional protesters hoping to enter the intersection, the mob continued to grow in size and intensity. A dozen photographers, videographers, and reporters remained inside the intersection, attempting to remain close to the action. 

At the end of the ten minute count down the lines of riot police in full gear began to close in on all three sides. A vehicle resembling a cross between a tank and armored truck entered the intersection with a dozen officers hanging off the sides. Many protesters attempted to hold their ground, but were forced backward by hard shoves and billy club jabs to the chest. As the police closed in the crowd became violent once again, throwing debris and setting more garbage cans on fire. They jumped on the civilian vehicles lining the street, bashing in windshields and denting hoods. At one point a few of the offers charged at the mob near us and we may have been trampled if not for being pressed up against a store wall. A vehicle exploded into flames a dozen feet away. I could not raise my arms to free my camera and get the shot. Another surge of bodies came, during which one of our camera men was punched in the chest by a rioter and told that he didn't belong there. I was hit with a glass bottle and other debris. Fearful of being separated from the CBS team, I reached out and grabbed Joe by his press pass lanyard and gripped it for dear life as I pulled away from the mob and tore down the street. We choked air through our sleeves, trying to block the thick gray smoke from our noses. Again the mob dispersed.

Joe, Robert and I reconnecting with Patrick, the second CBS videographer, at his news van nearby. Taking advantage of the lull, the CBS team began cutting their footage for the 10-o-clock news hour. I watched outside the van as small groups of looters ran past, shouting and kicking at the mounds of newspaper stands and garbage cans. The owner of the car that had been engulfed in flames not a full hour before came down from his office one block away and gave a short interview. Ken Epstein, a reporter for the Oakland Post, had been in his 12th floor office working on a story about what a tragedy Grants death was, when he looked down at the street and saw his own car being demolished. Parked behind him was a young woman, who did not wish to on the record, who had been enjoying her birthday dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant. She returned to her car only to find that all the windows had been smashed in and her belongings were scattered all over the sidewalk.

Around half an hour passed before we saw the Mayor headed down 14th street right toward us, surrounded by dozens of rioters and media. Patrick grabbed his video camera and I the microphone, and we worked our way into the center of the crowd until I could get the mic close enough the the Mayor to record as he attempted to answer the questions being shouted. The media wanted to know what was being done by law enforcement, and the public wanted to know what was being done to avenge the death of Grant. 

Patrick and I headed back to the news van, and he prepared footage as I slipped into the tail end of a small press conference being held in the lobby of the police station. By 9:30, 15 people had been arrested, 14 adults and one minor. The charges were a combination of assault on an officer, vandalism, and failure to disperse. I raced back to the news van, where Joe and Robert were now setting up with Patrick for the 10-o-clock live shot and gave them the update. During the next hour we stayed near the police station even though there were riots continuing on in front of City Hall. They were smaller and the police seemed to have altered their initial strategy of simply dispersing people and began making dozens of arrests. It seemed to be affective, since by the time Joe did his live shot for the 11-o-clock news the rioters appeared to have finally finished their rampage through downtown.

Once the 11-o-clock was wrapped, Robert headed back to CBS's station in San Francisco with all the footage that had been shot that night. Patrick and Joe dropped me off at my car back at our starting point, the Lake Merritt BART parking lot, where thankfully my car remained unharmed and un-ticketed. I tried to map the freeway on ramp with my IPhone GPS again but was having difficulties when a BART officer pulled up next to me and offered for me to follow him there. We introduced ourselves, his name was Donald. He mentioned I was lucky to have just missed the action. I laughed and told him I'd been in the middle of it from the beginning. He confided that he was torn on the entire ordeal, being a BART cop but also a black man, and feeling that the race card was being overplayed. He believed the shooting was controversial but was disappointed at the public's violent and destructive reaction to it. 

And now here I am at a quarter past one, starving and sore and tired, but feeling rejuvenated by having seized the opportunity to contribute to CBS's coverage of the day's events and validated by the journalist's instinct I displayed. There might not be any media jobs out there for me right now, but it's maximizing experiences like this that will keep me on top of my game. Before any worse exhaustion induced delirium sets in, I'll skip proofing this entry and will post it for you to read just as raw as it flowed through my mind and onto my keyboard. But I promise I'll organize my thoughts, review my note pad for better details, edit my photos and audio, and construct something more palatable for you tomorrow.

Sweet dreams.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wish list for 2009

I absolutely hate when photographers talk camera lingo because the majority of it is a techy photo nerd way of saying "I'm cooler than you" or somehow compensates for being an otherwise socially retarded individual. However, on this post I can't help but share with you the gizmos and gadgets I've been drooling over and am hoping a cut back in my other spending (a year around project I like to call "wardrobe expansion") will allow me to add these goodies to my camera bag.

Finally the Canon 5D has dropped in price after the release of the 5D Mark II. It is likely to go out of production soon so fingers crossed I can upgrade to the earlier model this spring at a back door price. Thank you tax return! I was able to fiddle around with one of Augie's 5Ds at our photo shoot yesterday and while it is different than my Rebel I think it should be a comfortable switch.

I've been renting this $1500 lens for the last couple years but I'd love to get one of my own so I don't have to deal with reservations, pick-ups, drop-offs, insurance, etc etc. The 5D is more important right now, but hey, a girl can dream can't she?

Think Tank makes this awesome waist strap with changeable lens bags. I first heard about their product line at a photo conference held at San Francisco State years ago. I've always wanted one but as a new product they were fairly pricy. I heard that they've since become more affordable.