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.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Marley and Me

I'm going to tell you a secret... I hate dogs. I know, I know... Join the masses in glaring with disgust and tisking at me for being so inhumane. Seriously though, I'm someone who enjoys their clean quiet living environment and has no desire for constant companionship. This is right about where some of you are probably going to get all Dr. Phil on me because this same sentiment clearly carries over into my lack of desire for a ball and chain followed by my very own pack of snotty nosed minions. But I promise you'd rather me acknowledge this now prior to adopting an animal.. or a family.. rather than once I'm all in. 

This evening Christopher and I saw "Marley and Me." I'm not going to lie, it was decent for a family-oriented, animal-loving, heart-warming movie.. Although I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the theatre full of tearful sniffles throughout the entire second half of the film. The main characters were a couple of hopeful writers, fresh out of college, who got married and moved to Miami to work newspaper jobs. One of the larger themes of the film was the husband's sacrificing of his journalistic passions for the sake of having a family. I'm fairly certain that the directors intended for audiences to applaud this man's accepting of his "reality." I pitied him. Sure he realized that he was an exceptional columnist; sure his dog from hell turned out to be an acquired taste; sure he and his wife were able to adapt as they transitioned into suburban parenthood. But all I kept thinking was "Damn.. Your best friend is freelancing global conflict stories for the New York Times and you're penning comical antidotes about how this week your dog ate your cell phone."

Walking out of the theatre, Christopher looked at me and said, "Someday when you get your first dog you'll understand." That's the same thing my mom tells me about having my first child. Apparently when they're yours they don't smell as bad? Who knows. All I do know is that movie didn't inspire me to put aside my own journalistic passions for the sake of domesticity, and it didn't get me all too psyched about finally adopting a furry little friend either. The only tears that movie drew out of me were alone in the car on my way home wondering if I was going to spend so much time trying to fulfill my passions that eventually I'd look back through my failure and wish I'd settled. Wishing you'd settled must be worst than settling in the first place. Then again knowing you're settling and wondering "what if" may be even more shameful yet. At the risk of sounding cliche, I suppose the best thing anyone in such a predicament can do is follow their gut and trust that persistence pays off.