An Answer to the Failings of Traditional Journalism

September 12, 2021By Focal NomadCOVERAGE, EJ Reflections

If you’ve been following me on social media lately, you’ll notice that I stopped sharing content around January of this year. That’s nine months, of near-silence. For someone who likens themselves to be a photographer, content creator, and blogger, that’s a huge gap. Even I was surprised when I noticed that gap this evening. But it makes sense, given the trajectory my life has taken since then.

In January I was studying my ass off for my entrance exam for the last bit of my application for the one graduate school I gave a damn about: the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY (ie, Newmark J-School). Alongside the application process, I’ve learned more about a movement in journalism that I never knew existed, called “Engagement Journalism.” Carrie Brown, who founded the program at the Newmark J-School, sat down with me over Zoom a couple of times to try and explain what exactly this was, and each time I left both intrigued, and scratching my head. I know I’m not the only one who has had this reaction, as Brown found it necessary to create a video interview series with former students of hers, who each expressed what it meant to them.

In the video with Luis Echegaray, class of 2015 and current on-air analyst at CBS Sports Digital, I was most taken by what he said about this being a form of journalism where you have to check your ego at the door. This has sort of expanded on the assigned summer reading on the myth of objectivity in journalism, “The View From Somewhere,” by Lewis Raven Wallace. Which, perhaps you guessed it by now, yes, I got into the program, and yes, this MA is the one I chose to pursue. I had been thinking about applying to this school, but not this MA, for six years. The goal for me was always to have a career where I could come home and feel like I did something good in the world. Maybe there’s ego in the whole “leaving something of value behind” adage, but when I look back on all of the projects I’ve been a part of in my life – the ones that no one coerced me into doing, that didn’t pay me a cent, and resulted in almost zero recognition – were always projects that involved engaging with an underserved community, and putting my resourcefulness and leadership skills to work to try and find a solution to what these communities were grappling with. When I realized that I have accidentally been doing engagement journalism in this way since I was 19, that kind of made my decision for me. And that natural flow into those things, to me felt more void of ego than anything else I’ve pursued over the years.

For this program, we were tasked with choosing a community that we will be working with during the next 18 months of this program. The intention here is to collaborate with community members, as well as top-down sources, to assess the needs of the community, and how to best address those needs.

I’ve known my whole life that I was adopted, and was very fortunate with the family that raised me. It being a closed adoption, however, has left me with a lifetime of questions, and some attachment issues. I’ve known for years that I wanted to do a very long-term project centering around adoption as a way of both raising awareness of issues surrounding the many complex scenarios related to it, as well as hopefully doing a bit of healing myself. Because of this, I’ve chosen to focus on birth parents who have placed children for adoption, as my community. As I was speaking with a top-down source today, Ellyn (founder of Queer Birth Project), the topic of trust came up. Together we realized, that a space that is not being taken care of very much, is teenage parents – and to connect with this community, she recommended a few TikTok accounts I should check out. This made me realize that my TikTok account had been dead for nearly a year now. It also dawned on me that I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve talked about my own adoption story, as well as the intersection of my being queer, openly on social media.

I think my privilege of having ended up with loving adoptive parents who are pro-LGTBQIA+ prevented me from feeling like I should have a say in this narrative. But then every time a doctor asks me about my parent’s health, without stopping to ask me first if I’m blood related or not to my parents, or the insurance coverage issues I’ve had for not knowing my medical history, or every time someone says to me “but who are your real parents?” I remember that I am in a community that has been historically underserved, even if I’m still a relatively privileged person.

In a piece by Pacinthe Mattar for The Walrus, she used the term “Only One in the Room” to describe her experiences as a Racialized Journalist in a predominantly white industry. Having to walk the very thin balance beam of writing pitches from her lived experiences, but not go too far as to seem “too unbiased;” to be the voice of her race, and yet, be questioned and made to cross-examine all of her sources if they weren’t white. When she asked an anonymous Black colleague of hers what she thought of covering stories that hit close to home, she was uncomfortable by the notion, because it was to somehow engage in advocacy. Mattar’s argument was that her interests were to just be allowed to report the truth. My question to this, granted as someone who doesn’t wear her adoption story on her skin, is why is it not okay to be an advocate for the communities you’re reporting on?

I think this is possibly where Engagement Journalism and traditional Journalism diverge. The reason readers and media consumers are trusting journalists less, is because those who hold power in newsrooms aren’t answering to them, and further, readers don’t have any way of holding the fourth estate accountable. The fifth estate however – bloggers, influencers, independent content creators – is acting by it’s own internal compass and therefore garnering more and more traction. I would argue that the future of news rests in the hands of these creators, and if we want to prevent movements like QAnon from continuing to hold this much weight, we need something to counter that focuses on the needs of the people first. With that we have to think about how to reach the people where they are, not where we think they should be. And with that I realize that by speaking out about my own experiences, on platforms that the communities I may want to connect with are active on, I am building this sense of solidarity, and thereby this sense of trust.

In the Q&A with Anita Varma, found on the Humanitarian News Research Network’s website, Varma says that “reporting aligned with solidarity represents people’s lived experiences with a central focus on shared conditions, as well as structural factors that create and uphold communities’ marginalization.” Her argument is that studies have down that empathy has psychological limits. When people meet those limits, they begin to hold resentment for the source that made them feel. This is counterproductive to the goals here. While solidarity journalism focuses on a more fact-based approach, that puts the communities most afflicted by the news events, front and center. What I loved about this, is that the focus is on directing the reader’s motivations towards creating solutions; rather than, by way of empathy, feeling so shitty that it seems hopeless to try.

When I first got into documentary filmmaking nine years ago, I was most inspired by the film, Food Inc. Every doc I had seen up until that point was either an entertaining history lesson, or something that just made you feel like the you were helpless to the evils that were occurring in the world. At the end of Food Inc, however, the filmmakers argued a very simple point: that Walmart had only started carrying organic products because people were buying them. That money talks more than anything in America, so every time we buy something at a store, we are casting our vote for it. As someone who was a dedicated vegan at the time of seeing this film, this message gave me a lot of pep. Here was an actionable thing I could do, every single day, to try and enact change on a systemic level. And sure enough since then, the plant-based organic movement has been growing at a rapid rate; so much so that now even the small Bodega on my corner in Brooklyn carries Veganaise.

It’s this reason I got into documentary filmmaking, and it’s this reason I chose the Engagement Journalism program at the Newmark J-School. This is just the first of what I’m sure will be many weekly reflections as I move through this masters program. I hope you’ll join me for this journey, and would love to hear what your thoughts are to anything I’ve said in the comments below.

Sunrise from Jersey City

March 14, 2021By Focal NomadBLOG, SUNRISE SERIES

Photos taken and words written in January 2019. Jersey City, NJ.

I didn’t think very much. I just reviewed my list from a year and 8 months ago and figured it was valid. I got to this park that is supposedly great for sunrise… except when the PATH got me to Newport, I looked on the map, and saw that the route was taking me through a mall and over light rail tracks. It felt like I was going to grandmother’s house.

I arrived to this “recommended sunrise spot,” and it was just a small city park surrounded by brick buildings. I then noticed one street that opened up to the east and tried to imagine the light coming in through this NE roadway and hitting the surrounding buildings with a golden hue. The problem was that there was a building directly where we might see the sunrise and full cloud coverage. 

I had two choices: either stay here and find the beauty in this small park mostly covered in shadow, and have to wait 45 minutes at-minimum to notice the light changing, or, I knew the river faces east, and I’m a mile and a half away from it. But the sun rises in six minutes. I’d miss its initial ascent even with a Lyft. So stay, make the most of it, or go to a place that is closer to what I want, and potentially not get what I want anyways.

To stay or to go. This has been a ponderance for the last few months.

Sometimes the answer is obvious, like, when I was given the opportunity to stay in NYC for an extra six days. But with this, and with other things, it’s often not a matter of do I want what’s better, but can I actually have  it?

I’ve been saying no a lot lately. And it’s strange that every time I say it, I turn myself on a little bit more. It’s also made it easier to hear that word. There’s something in my body that wants to stay untouched. It wants time to rid itself of the past. I tend to merge with others so easily that they never forget what it was like: me touching them.

I realize that my touch is a gift. My passion is astral. It is felt and experienced beyond the body. Giving this gift binds me to another – I can feel the other persons’ intentions, desires, thoughts… the hard part is, they don’t always want me when they have me, and I can feel that, too. They can’t always experience what I’m giving in the moment, because they don’t always know what they want. This confusion feeds into me: when I wasn’t doubting before, I have now taken on theirs. So “no,” and “go” are the answers for now!

I’m being highly selective; so far no one has made it through my filters. I’d rather be a few minutes late on the sun rising than stay some place I don’t want to be, that keeps me in the dark. I was rewarded for this, this morning. As the space in the clouds that let the rays in was about 20 minutes above the horizon. 

I know what I want. I want to smell the ocean, I want to be staying still with my tripod, as the morning commuters race past me. I hope I’m reminding them to look over the water every now and then. To not take for granted the view that people like myself would make a special trip for. When I find my person who I feel safe letting in, I won’t forget how rare it is. I will look at them every day with the same sense of awe that a tourist views the Manhattan skyline. I will remember that healthy love hasn’t ever been a normal occurrence for me. I will remember how hard I’ve worked to get to a place where I love myself enough to say “no” this much. Where I appreciate my vulnerability enough to be more selective. Where I honor the power of my touch enough that it is treated as the gift that it is.

I will not give this precious energy to just anyone. This energy has shit to accomplish. This energy will stay focused and stay on task. I’m feeling myself right now and it feels sensitive.

I’m allowing life to happen as I experience the flow of it. I let the river pull me downstream and I stop fighting the current. I’m ready and tapped in. I go where the Hudson River wants to take me. I follow my bliss, even if it’s a little late, because never really is.

Sunrise from Marina and Craig’s

March 10, 2021By Focal NomadBLOG, SUNRISE SERIES

Photos taken and words written in January 2019. Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York.

Put the phone down. Put your computer away. Focusing on him won’t change the fact that he’s gone. Thinking so hard about whether or not he’s thinking of you won’t suddenly make him think of you again. How many weeks of  processing, spontaneously crying on the sidewalk and playing detective is it going to take to understand that he’s just not coming back? Will knowing anything more actually help? Should I reach for that phone and search for the answers some more?

The answers are in the silence. The darkness you’re sifting through tells you everything you needed to know. Look at reality. He hasn’t called He hasn’t text. He hasn’t made any efforts to help you understand; because even he doesn’t understand. And you’ve seen this before. He will sit on his hands and say there’s nothing he can do. He will fill his cup with Monster Zero calorie so he can plow through projects and work but stay dehydrated – never getting the nutrition his body needs – depleting himself and then telling the world around him that he can’t do what needs to be done. He can’t take on a new form and purge his past because he’s “just” too busy. He doesn’t see that if he just stepped aside and dropped the baggage, mailed some of it back and burned the rest, that he could move forward faster without all that extra sugar.

And universe – haven’t I done enough suffering already? Hasn’t it been hard enough, long enough – can’t I just enjoy love already?

The sunrise says back to me,

“This suffering is of your own making. Am I responsible for you checking your phone, looking for answers that you know will never satisfy you and dwelling on a person that through action has shown you that they don’t want you in their lives? You are not in the dark about anything. I’ve shined light on it all. I’ve shined light on his absence, his silence and his not being there when you needed him most. Isn’t that enough for you? Don’t you know that you know that you deserve better? Don’t you know how strong you are?

You have woken up every day for nearly two years and asked yourself how you can do better. How you can strengthen your body, your mind and your spirit. I have watched you run miles under my direct light, through tears, heartache and headaches. I have seen you watch me and appreciate me by getting up to watch me rise, to allow us to have conversations about life.

I have seen you on a hilltop watching me go away and you never cling to me. You never mourn, you appreciate the goodnight and the remnants of blue I leave after. Because you know I will always return to you. Whether or not you’ve made mistakes, whether or not you meditated that day. Whether or not you’re on your mountain. I will keep coming back because that is what is in my nature. I see you. I see all of you – and I can tell you – you deserve someone who sees you like I do and who will keep coming back. You deserve someone who will love you like I do. Like the sun does.”

Sunrise Through the Rochester Trees

March 5, 2021By Focal NomadBLOG, SUNRISE SERIES

Photos taken and words written in January 2019; Rochester, NY.

There was neon orange. I could tell what the sunrise would look like from another vantage, from some rich person’s home, probably. Why build on this hill and then surround the hill with trees, blocking the view? How much of a terrible human am I to be asking that? These trees are massive. They’ve been around and came about before a selfish decision to cut them down for the sake of a view could be considered. And a view of what, exactly? Buildings protecting humans from weather that would otherwise kill them. There are people out there now that are dying on the sidewalks. Someone told me that they actually count the homeless up here. Is it even possible to do so in LA? When I was working for a homeless youth care shelter, I learned that a third of the homeless in LA are underage: mostly runaways. I think that’s the difference between up here and down there.

In SoCal, people are running away from the bad weather, their broken homes, their dangerous country, harsh criticism, illegal weed and anyone telling them they have to be something or a certain way. Up here, in the northeast, people stick it out, almost stubbornly so. It’s cold? Put on another layer. Had a fight with your family or spouse? Go to the pub. Don’t like what someone said to you? Ask yourself why you don’t like it, try to apply that lesson. Or just tell them why they’re wrong and move on with your day. Someone suggests maybe you’re going down the wrong path? Find new friends, or hey, maybe they’re right. Deal with it by smoking illegal pot and just pick out the seeds.
So where’s the balance? 

I get it. I get asking yourself, “Does it actually have to be this hard? Couldn’t we just go somewhere where these conditions aren’t so prevalent? Where the culture accepts fluidity and Peter Pan syndrome and acts as a beacon for lost boys who want to stay young forever?” But do you actually want to die young? Years on you but, never having grown up? Never having evolved? Never having faced the things the people in our path reflect back at us, and coming to grit decisions about who we are and why we chose to come to that conclusion? Every time I come back here, I always hope the spirit of the northeast rubs off on me in this way; so that I can enact this in a place that doesn’t cause my fingers and toes to lose their mobility. If your appendages don’t work, you lose your balance. I need them to work. I need the bite of the cold to wake me up sometimes and show me my strength. But I need for blood to still circulate to my hands and my feet, so I can stand in tree pose and not fall over. So I can grind up against a potential new lover in a goth club. So I can walk around my neighborhood as the sun sets, staring at the pink in gratitude of the bookends we receive every day. So I can improve my chaturanga. So I can run my hands through someone else’s hair. So I can take these photos. So I can write these words. 

Sunrise off of McDonald Road

February 23, 2021By Focal NomadPOETRY, SUNRISE SERIES

Photos taken + words written January 2019; Town of Onondaga, New York.

It’s negative one degree’s out.
I don’t know why I thought, even the few minutes I’d be out here,
I could handle this with kid gloves on.
My chest feels tight; I was holding my breath.
It’s hard to stay present when the temperature is killing you.

I read yesterday that all that is not “matter”
Is nothingness;  and in that nothingness
We can connect with the unmanifested.
That is to say, by paying attention to the 
Space between things, between walls, between us and them,
We can find our soul.
But an hour later I was in a sauna wondering,
“What about temperature? What about oxygen and carbon monoxide?” 
What about the very things that allow us to BE
In these bodies as manifested in solid matter?
Are these nothingness? We can’t see the space
Between these molecules, because we can’t see the molecules.
Therefore, if space is the portal into the unknown, 
and matter we can see represents the known
What about the known matter, that we cannot see?

I know I am sad and scared and nervous to get back to Los Angeles,
Yet I cannot see these emotions. Perhaps
They are just chemical: a physical
manifestation that my soul wanted to experience
Through the sensitivity of humanness.
I try to trust that this is what is supposed to happen.
That I signed some contract many lifetimes back
That would hex me against technology and lovers where I
Would in turn get so used to it that I would
Hex myself. So what I’m still trying to figure out is,
Am I meant to somehow fight against all this?
Claim that I deserve better,
It doesn’t have to be this way,
Break my back to overcome every obstacle
And actualize my life into one that my soul and ego were proud of?
Or do I surrender into what is? Surrender that 
Maybe I won’t ever get married or have a family
Maybe I will have to move back home
Maybe I’ve made my family’s life worse by being in it,
I keep seeing myself make mistake after mistake.
I try to do better, yet the resistance is powerful.
I try to overcome every self-destructive tendency
Until pleasure wants to take over and
Just run the show.

He was going through this same battle. 
He surrendered.
I was still fighting. I am
Still fighting.
But I no longer blame him
For breaking our contract. 

Sunrise Over Denver

February 16, 2021By Focal NomadPOETRY, SUNRISE SERIES

Photos taken and poem written in November 2018. Denver, CO.

Thumping to a count of 10
My heart pitters then jumps
It’s often overwhelming
When I look outside in Denver.

The crisp of the air, not killing me,
But chilling me. Strengthening 
My ability to handle the changes.
For if I’m braced for winter, I can
Handle any weather.

If you don’t like what’s happening
Wait. It will change. It has to. I 
Used to relish this knowledge:
Knowing if I didn’t like where I was
I would never stay there.

What about now when I don’t want
To go anywhere? When the changes are
Rapid but I don’t want to go on tonight’s
Plane? What if I wanted to slow down
The pace of the day, so I could 
Spend more moments in pure

Every day taken off, hand held, sacrifice,
Gas pump, Late-to-bed followed by
Early-to-rise… every time I said something 
Fear-based that was met with understanding.
Every little action that adds up to love
In action. I’m seeing it. I’m feeling it.
I’m trying to believe it and want it to stick
Around to see if it stays.

I don’t want to stray; I’m just scared of
What will happen in this city without
My influence. What will happen when
I’m in a position that requires faith?
My heart is thawing. I’m melting in
Wonder. I give myself over to the
Unknown. I give myself over and let go.

A Meditation on Gratitude

November 26, 2020By Focal NomadBLOG

Thoughts while meditating on the subjects of gratitude and abundance, on Thanksgiving in 2020.

Me resonating with the energy of “The Lovers” card from the Spiral Tarot deck.

Before I get into anything about today’s meditation, I feel it is important to update you all on what I’ve been going through emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, over the last two years. My blog’s description states that I “will not hold back from rawness,” and it’s about time I lived up to that expectation.

As you might have noticed, it’s been over a year since my last post. Being that my last posts were eulogies I wrote for my father’s funeral, I really didn’t know how to follow it up; anything I thought to write felt unimportant by comparison, or just, inappropriate. On Instagram I was able to move forward by focusing on what I still have with me, but I think the idea of a more concentrated blog post on the subject just was hard for me to wrap my head around, because my heart has been closed off for so long now.

My dad showing off the woods right after he purchased it in 2013.

There were events in 2019 before my father’s stroke, that just had me in survival mode all year. Abuse from a narcissist who nearly got me fired from my job because of lies he spread about me. A bad acid trip while contemplating my potential demise as I waited to hear back results of a biopsy of a lump that had grown in my right breast. Social defamation from a somewhat-famous Uber passenger who refused to exit my vehicle after I asked him to leave because of incessant verbal abuse; and it taking nearly a year to get Twitter to take the posts down. Then my without warning, my dad had the stroke.

It was feeling like 2019 was one curveball after another, and the only way to survive was to consciously shut off my emotions. While he was in the ICU, my family and I got into a couple of excruciating arguments; the worst were with my sister. These triggered every baseline fear that has been the main cause of my clinical depression and anxiety since I was a kid: abandonment, not feeling wanted or desired (as a lot of adopted kids tend to feel), not being appreciated, feeling left out in the cold…

My family and I keeping the apple picking tradition alive in 2010.

These feelings have been reflected in my adult relationships, too. So when the person who had been pursuing me and flirting with me right after I had raced home to be with my dad in the last few weeks before his death, who then established a sexual relationship with me when I came back to LA and then Burning Man briefly, pulled a 180 on me and left me to pursue feelings he had for his coworker right before my father’s funeral, I completely broke down. This one relief from the mountains of trauma that I had been experiencing, this one space where I felt safe to let down my guard because it was a source of good feelings, had abandoned me right when I needed his support the most.

Looking back, I see now that I was operating from a place of scarcity. I wasn’t seeing how much emotional support I really had around me. I didn’t trust it. I would start to open up about all that I had been through to a friend and then would realize that they had no clue how to respond. When you haven’t experienced loss like that, it’s just difficult to know what to say or what the “right way” is to support someone going through something like that. So, from fear of losing the friends that I had left, it just felt safer to close up, and put my energy into helping others. My dad was always there for his friends and neighbors; and if you read the second eulogy I wrote, you would remember that I felt the transference of his more gracious traits onto me when he passed.

Decorating the tree at my church in 2019.

With everyone moving inside, and being released from the pressure to constantly be job hunting, because my industries were shut down and I was earning unemployment, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t have to so actively wall up anymore when I was safe being alone most of the time, anyways. I gained more energy, and with more energy, an opening started to happen; and with that, my rage started to surface. At first I was angry about societal conditions: mask deniers, the arts not being appreciated nor funded enough, police shootings, racial injustice, and the Senate totally failing us. Then the deeper roots of my anger came out: being mansplained to, the producers and gate keepers of the industry I’m still breaking into being condescending, sexist assholes; fair-weather friends, and people who weren’t showing up for my successes; dishonest love interests, people who have hurt me deeply continuing to deny what they have done; my work and efforts going unappreciated; not feeling seen, and not being heard.

A photo I shot from the aftermath of the initial BLM protests that broke out after George Floyd’s murder.

It sounds like torture, but it was part of opening back up again, and all the anger in it’s own way motivated the hell out of me. I put all my anger from mask deniers into creating a PSA on COVID-19 Etiquette. I put all my anger from the person I co-wrote the script with, continuously talking down to me and mansplaining to me, into making the PSA better than it would have been had he stayed on the project. I took the anger I had from the composer dropping out of the project at the last-minute, after refusing to take any of my notes on the music, into getting it into as many drive-in theaters as possible; yes so it would get seen and have an impact, but also, if I’m being totally honest with myself, so he would feel like an idiot screwing me and the project over so much. Revenge success I’m learning is a real thing, and it is quite the motivator. My anger and disappointment in myself for not believing in myself enough to push The Family Tree, the feature documentary about my dad, forward, I channeled into applying for a post-production documentary course put on by none other than Sundance Collab. And I got in! With The Family Tree, and the PSA, I kept exceeding the expectations that I originally had set out for myself; I started to trust myself more and more.

The PSA playing on two screens at once, at the Mission Tiki Drive-In.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to feel myself break open. The walls crumbling down, feeling vulnerable again for the first time in over two years. I’ve been feeling scared, excited, hopeful, worried, aroused, and even… giddy! Opening my heart in the dating space again, has been the most intimidating. What if they pulled a 180 on me? What if my judgement is missing red flags? What if I can’t keep my balance with my many, many projects and goals, and developing a new relationship at the same time?

Today, it being Thanksgiving and all, gratitude had been at the forefront of my mind. I was reminded that gratitude overwrites fear, worry, and scarcity; and I had been disconnected from that feeling. But if I was open enough to feel all of these negative emotions, I was open enough to feel the positive ones, too, right? And I think that’s what scared me most about the positive; what if they were going to just, go away? And it hit me; there are fundamental things in my life, and with my own human self, that aren’t going to just disappear. So I went into a deep meditation to focus on the abundance in my life to remind myself how held I really am.

At first, my gratitude went to more immediate things: my friend who invited me to her place for Thanksgiving with her and one other friend, my church community whom I volunteered with today, my mom and neighbors who I Facetimed with. Then, it went to my physical things: my brand new bike and the freedom it gives, my Canon 5D miii and not only the pleasure shooting with it gives me but also the money it’s brought in over the years; and of course my computers that allow me to connect and create on a daily basis.

Then, I reflected on the relationships I have in my life, and how life would be like if I didn’t have them. It hit me then, too: if I didn’t have two particular friends in my life – Robert and Camilla – I might not be here typing this right now. A year ago, the impetus to my going back on antidepressants, was an intense breakdown that I had, that lead to my being suicidal. My father’s death, the fears deep inside of me that came to the surface from the fights with my family, and the abandonment and betrayal I experienced from someone I was romantically involved with… it all just came to a head, and overloaded me with fear, grief, pain, and anxiety. One thing they don’t tell you about breakdowns leading to suicidal episodes, is how it’s not just the events that lead to the breakdowns, but the breakdowns themselves, that can cause trauma. With the events that lead up to it, you lose faith in other people. With the breakdown itself, you lose faith in yourself. And I can tell you right now, I’m 95% sure that if Rob and Camilla hadn’t been there for me when I needed them the most, I probably would have killed myself. I was that much on the edge. In the moment of this really landing on me today, I felt the most profound gratitude for these people in my life, and everyone else who has supported me along the way.

Camilla and I in front of the Magic Castle, when she took me there as a belated Birthday present.

The last time I was suicidal, I was in college, reeling from a horrible breakup from a toxic, abusive relationship, and no one seemed to believe me when I was expressing how much pain I was in. So I swallowed a bottle of Motrin to make it clear, and I was kicked out of school for a semester, because afterward I had regretted my actions and called the ambulance to the dormitory. I’ve never talked about it publicly before because the way the school treated me after that, was as if I was a liability. I was rarely trusted after that, and entering back in with a new class of freshmen, I was quickly the outcast. While I have no shame in what I’ve battled personally, the stark reality of how other people will shame you, and rip you of opportunity because of how afraid they now are of you, has been a harsh reality that I’ve lived with most of my life. In confidence with close friends, it’s always been something I’ve expressed from a place of gratitude. That I experienced that much darkness at such a young age, I have been more prepared than most for what has since transpired in the world. I’ve had a deepening of empathy, and non-judgement for others’ struggles. I’ve discovered that I am strong, and can survive anything. I’ve seen that if you hang on long enough, you will experience joy again. So going through that just over a year ago, with everything I learned from that, and being fourteen years older and wiser, I reached out to these friends telling them how I felt, wanting to be saved. And I was. I then found a new therapist, a psychiatrist, and requested to go back on antidepressants, for the first time in over ten years.

I tried numerous medications and all of them just made me feel incredibly numb, with bad side effects. The numbness was safe, but it wasn’t living at all. I had been processing all my pain with my therapists, and a tea ceremony group that my friend Brett leads. I had projects and opportunities I created for myself that gave me a sense of divine purpose. I was in tune with my intuition, and teaching tarot, and coaching people; and feeling value in myself and what I was doing with my life. It was time to feel again! So finally last summer, I was ready to go off of antidepressants again, and try a new therapy called TMS (trans-magnetic stimulation). For six weeks straight, five days a week, I would have a magnet pointed to the part in my brain that controls mood, that would send magnetic pulses to that area. For 40% of patients it’s proven to reduce Depression symptoms, with zero side effects. I’m very grateful today to say that I am part of that 40%.

Me, being really into this King of Wands energy.

I can feel again. I have a range of emotions that I’m experiencing for the first time in years, all over again. It’s amazing how in one hour I can go from worry, to gratitude, to competence, to peace, and back to worry all over again. It’s reminding me how important my mindfulness practices are. It’s reminding me how important non-attachment is. And today, it especially reminded me of how, with my current healthy mental state, my brain largely controls how I feel.

So if I think about all the things that could potentially go wrong with a love interest, I start to feel worried, and desperate. But if I switch that focus to, the friends I have in my life, who are part of the reason I am still here today, I feel profound gratitude for what I already have – and in that way, losing something feels less scary because of all of the abundance in my life.

Me totally feeling myself in Dancer Pose at my campsite in the Sierra National Park, camping with my friend Suzie.

There was then a shift in the meditation, where I found myself feeling gratitude for myself. I hugged myself so tightly, and I let the tears burst out like a geyser. It had really landed on me how much I really can trust myself. Because in the end, I still had the strength to reach out to my friends, before taking any irreversible actions. I had the humility to find a psychiatrist to relieve myself of my most destructive feelings, so I could recover and heal. I had the self-awareness to know when I was ready to have emotions again, and was brave enough to try new methods. I’ve left behind friends who have drained me of my energy, and left me feeling unappreciated. I’ve drawn healthy boundaries with a family member who mistreated me and wouldn’t take actions to work things out. I had the intuition to know when prospective romantic connections weren’t right for me. I had the gumption to not give up on my dreams, and instead, created new opportunities for myself.

In the end, this whole year has really been about proving myself, to myself. Knowing that I deserve success. That I am good enough, smart enough, talented enough, loving enough, and above all, reliable enough. That I don’t have to lean on or rely on anybody else, when I have myself. But that choosing to open my heart again, is a choice I can make in order to enrich my life with softer emotions. Emotions that make me cry from laughing too much. Emotions that get me excited about sharing my future. Emotions that expose me to all that I am capable of. Emotions that have me staring at my phone like a goof. Emotions that make me feel safe enough within myself, to be sharing all of these things with you, whoever you are.

Thank you for being in my life by reading about my life. More important, thank yourself, for being present for your own life. Happy Thanksgiving.

A Second Eulogy for my Father, Happy Birthday Dad

October 29, 2019By Focal NomadBLOG

As usual, my father did it again. Today I had been debating whether to go to an EFT Tapping workshop (“Tapping into Financial Flow”), a Halloween party at Cloak & Dagger (this goth-like members-only dance club I am apart of), or just stay home and try to catch up on some coursework. My impulse had been to go to this party, even though I knew I was way behind in my coursework. …this will make more sense in a bit.

I’ve been feeling very emotional lately, which in my book is a good thing, at least right now. Ever since my father’s death, I’ve been having a difficult time letting my emotions out; yet for the past week the tears have been coming. Maybe it was that I finally started to get some closure on a recent heartache I had, maybe it’s that my apartment is back together and I’m feeling the physical space to be safe enough to cry, or maybe, it’s my father speaking to me again.

Last night, I did a New Moon in Scorpio ritual, and to prepare for that ritual I did a guided meditation where I imagined an angel cutting the chords to all of my attachments that no longer served me. Sitting right behind this angel, I saw my father. Last winter we had had a fight where he told me “you’ve gotta stop doing that video stuff!” It was the first time in my life I ever felt my father not supporting my passions, and the first time I ever felt like he was scared for my future and didn’t understand what I was doing. Yet for the past week I’ve been highly motivated to apply for all media-oriented jobs. As archangel Michael severed the chords of the negative attachments to unhealthy attractions, friendships, behaviors and habits, I saw my father smiling at me. He then said to me “I was wrong. I’m so grateful I get to watch you do this. I’m so happy that I’m not in charge of your fate.” My dad had always talked about how he talked to my grandmother after she was gone, and I felt like I was starting to understand now what that was. The tears started pouring out. It was the first time I had felt this connected to my dad since Burning Man.

Me filming “The Family Tree” documentary; the film about my father’s pursuit of his dream.

I had to numb myself to my grief in order to get through everything that went along with the funeral: creating and executing (and fixing) the tech of the slideshow, learning and singing Danny Boy, writing and reading my eulogy, and mostly, talking to roughly 150 people during calling hours (not to mention the 24/7 influx of neighbors and family friends coming in and out of the house), most of whom were strangers to me; but all who had emotions and memories about losing my father. As someone who is highly sensitive, this was a lot to take. I was not only having to grapple with my own grief, but was feeling everyone else’s grief around me, pretty much non-stop. It was either stay open, and not be able to perform my duties as a daughter for the funeral, or close up, and hold it all in so I could do what I needed to do, until it felt safe enough to let it all out.

Me practicing “Danny Boy,” which I sang at my father’s funeral.

It was for these reasons, that I chose to read the eulogy that I had read, which is in the previous post. What most people don’t know, is that one was actually the second version I wrote, and that this first version felt much more personal to me. When I got to the church on the day of my dad’s funeral, I was still undecided on which to read, and even undecided after it took me an hour to fix the screens showing the slideshow. After another hour of calling hours, I retreated to the pastor’s office, to get his opinion. He said, “Now, they’re both very good; but I would ask yourself, with the first one, with everything going on, do you want to show this much of yourself?” I had realized that the answer was no. This funeral wasn’t about me, it was about my father’s community and everyone else who shared a part of his life, and it was my job as his daughter to help facilitate an experience where we could all share memories together. I knew that this first eulogy would be for the blog. And so, here it is:

A headshot I took of my father last January, for his LinkedIn profile, because he never wanted to stop working.

“Hi everyone. As many of you know I’m Amanda, Terry’s daughter. Or as he might have called me, “Cakes,” or “his favorite youngest daughter.” While I have been living in California for most of the last decade, I did take three years to come home to shoot a documentary about my father and his pursuit of his dream of having a barn and Christmas tree farm. So I wasn’t just his daughter, I was also his film’s director. What no one will tell you when filming a documentary about your dad is how close it will bring you two as you start to see the version of your father that is the man inside his own story, and not just in relation to who he is as the man who raised you to become a strong, independent woman .

A photo of my dad talking about the changes he’s made to the woods, which first inspired “The Family Tree” documentary.

Within being taught that independence and strength, I was also taught authenticity, so I’m going to get a little weird on you. For most of you here today, you don’t know me, or you still think of me as the little girl who was pursuing Broadway dreams. Well hi, I’m 32 years-old, and have become a bona fide working photographer and hippie. Therefore this next bit I’m sorry but I need to talk about my recent experience of going to Burning Man, which is the reason we’re here on this date and not two weeks ago closer to when he passed.

A photo of me at Burning Man in 2016, shooting a wedding documentary.

See when my father was in hospice, I was trying to figure out whether I would be attending this massive, like 75,000 people massive, social experiment; building a temporary city in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, where I was instrumental in building what we “burners” call a theme camp. This is a group of people that put together an experience that is a gift to everyone who attends and participates in the event. Our camp was called Resolution, and our gift was to host New Years’ parties where we would help people come up with their New Year’s resolutions through counseling with helpful wheels they could spin, an open mimosa bar, a ceremonial ball drop complete with a massive mechanical ball and custom-made cups we were gifting with a decoration station. I had been planning this thing since April and was a lead of the camp and felt conflicted about leaving – but knew my father would want me to go.

At Burning Man they have a Temple where you can leave something behind in or write on its walls to memorialize a loved one. The city is as much about celebrating life as it is about understanding the impermanence of it all. The wooden man structure at the center, the Temple, and much of the art, are all burned down at the end of the week. So I took a wooden flying pig with me to be burned at the Temple in remembrance of my father. As you know my father loved flying pigs, and would keep them around the house to remind us that anything is possible, because pigs really do fly.

When I got to the Temple, I thought I would start writing this, the eulogy, what I’m reading now standing in front of you today. What I got instead while writing, was a lot of rambling, and a thought that maybe he would come back as a flying pig. I tried to talk to my dad; I tried to get some of his wisdom passing through me, but I got nothing. Just a conversation with myself – trying to understand the meaning in all of this. So instead, I felt the best way I could honor him would be to ask myself in every moment “what would my dad do?”

The wooden bench in the Temple I wrote to my father on.

Maybe it doesn’t surprise you that that resulted in a lot of champagne and whiskey, dancing, supporting someone I had feelings for, and making every moment about giving back to those around me. I found myself keeping some folks on track for our build when they just didn’t want to finish the work. I found myself saying yes to every shot of whiskey offered to me. I found myself expressing most passionately, and even telling stories spontaneously during my timeslot on the city’s center camp stage, as opposed to sticking with my plan of just reading my poetry. I found myself staying up through an event I didn’t even have a volunteer shift for, to support the person I stayed up all night dancing with. I found myself caring so much about fostering that community and giving people insight as to the life changes they could be making through my resolution counseling and tarot readings. I even found myself making a confidant, boisterous remark to someone who hurt me several years ago who didn’t recognize me at all when we ran into each other.

I was celebrating! I wasn’t sad, but I also was sad, and a bit numb. At the end of the week I went to go see my friend Daniel, who refers to himself as my “spiritual big brother.” He asked if I had any quartz on me, which I did have on a necklace. He then waved his hand and said “there, I put your father in your necklace.” I was perplexed; he saw the confused look on my face and said that my father was there with us, and had been with me all week. His wife got a shiver up her spine and said the same thing; they could feel his presence with us right as we were standing there. I told them I couldn’t feel much of anything at all. Daniel simply said, “just wait, you will.” Reflecting later that day, tossing my necklace over in my hands, I looked at my actions and my behavior within this years’ burn; and then I realized I had become my father in so many ways. Dad and his love of community, clinking glasses, making sure everyone is taken care of, and holding others to a certain level of accountability. I mean for goodness sake; I was throwing epic New Years’ parties all week just as he did every single year ever since I was a kid! How did I not see this before?

It made me realize, that we can either keep being upset at who we lost, and keep wondering why now, how did this happen, who am I without my father, husband or best friend? Or we can remember that my dad touched us all so deeply, and lived so fully, that if we allow ourselves, we can all be a little bit more like my dad, and in that way, he’s never really gone. Now, I know we’ll all miss his gregarious laughs, Santa-like twinkle in his eyes, and the way he would get super excited about his next project and just have to show it to you. We will never be able to replace him, and I sure do miss him more than I’ll ever really feel comfortable showing. But my father always said, “life is for the living” and that’s what we have to keep on doing. Thank you.”

My father at my cousin’s wedding, ever the life of the party.

Since then, my quartz necklace has gone “missing.” I put that in quotation marks because there’s a spiritual belief that crystals don’t ever get lost, they simply have given you all that you needed and find new homes to those that need them more. After the funeral, I felt the weight of that crystal lighten. It was at the NYC Burning Man Decompression, that the crystal found a new home. It was here that I was gifting tarot readings again, telling stories on stage again, and focusing deeply on my community. If what they say about crystals is true, then maybe it’s because I had come to a place where I didn’t need my father’s spirit to be with me, for me to live in celebration of him. I had grown up, and he had moved on. So with all this being said, I’ve chosen tonight to go clink some glasses in celebration of my father’s life. As much as my father loved to work, he loved most when he got to work with his friends, and celebrate with them after. In this spirit, cheers to you, dad! I miss you, and always will. Happy Birthday.

A Eulogy for my Father

October 23, 2019By Focal NomadBLOG

Hi everyone. As many of you know I’m Amanda, Terry’s daughter. Or as he might have called me, “Cakes,” or “his favorite youngest daughter.” While I have been living in California for most of the last decade, I did take three years to come home to shoot a documentary about my father and his pursuit of his dream of having a barn and Christmas tree farm. So I wasn’t just his daughter, I was also his film’s director. What no one will tell you, when filming a documentary about your dad, is how close it will bring you two as you start to see the version of your father that is the man inside his own story, and not just in relation to who he is as the man who raised you to become a strong, independent woman.

As many of you know this event was not at all expected. My father had so much more he wanted to do, and had so many gifts left to give. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? We could all be really angry right now – but I just miss him. It’s clear we all have as the house hasn’t been silent since we came home from hospice; and as much as I’ve been admittedly frustrated that you’ve all been taking my mother away from me with all that ruckus – that is the life my father created, one of friendship and community. And if I were in Los Angeles that is the kind of support I would be getting too, because I was raised to believe that family has hardly anything to do with blood. It is all of us, sitting here right now, in common ground that we all have this man that we lost, and how he’s affected our lives, and in many cases truly profound ways. 

I remember when I was probably seven or eight years old, my father had this pink neon sign in the basement that read “Passion” on it. I asked him what it had meant, and to be honest, I don’t remember much about what he said, it was more how he emoted it. I remember him waving his arms, and expressing with reverence about its meaning. Since, that word has driven me to pursue the things in my life that light me up just the way that word did for him. You saw it in everything that he did! When I was about 12 I remember a crane coming down into our backyard to move a giant boulder to build the first iteration of our pond. That first round was gorgeous, right? We were all so proud of how the water moved gracefully down that long stream. But for my dad? Nope, had to be bigger. In fact, every year, it seemed as though the pond was never big enough. And having named the rock sitting on the pond after my mother, well of course it had to be grandiose. Adding larger koi fish, putting in two water falls, and little fountains in the middle. When that was finished, he had to build a greenhouse, out of wine bottles, against the shed; for my mother of course, for her! After that? Well, we all know what came next; the barn. The barn was to service my father’s dream of having his own Christmas tree farm, yes, but it was about more than that – as everything my father did was. Nothing was ever just about the pond, or the shed, or the barn, or the farm. It was about creating an opportunity to connect over projects, to show my mother his love for her, to be outside and get your hands dirty, to stay active and to build friendships. The barn, was to foster MORE of that – and have a roof over his head while doing all those things. Why do you think he kept a fridge stocked with various kinds of beer in it anyways if it was just about the equipment?

It’s just like that saying he always tried to instill upon me: “If it is to be, it is up to me. If it is up to me, it WILL be.”

And yet, one part I can’t seem to get out of my head while filming The Family Tree, is when he’s talking about convergence, and how the barn represented convergence to him. He soon after says “I just want, at 218 days away from my 65th birthday to figure out what it all means after all these years.” Although I think that’s a pretty normal question to ask yourself, it shows us that my dad was always in pursuit of something, even if he didn’t fully understand why. It’s something I saw drive my father to grow emotionally and spiritually even long after most people settle on who they decide they are. Perhaps my fathers dissatisfaction with the current status quo is what kept that growth going. And, you know my dad wasn’t perfect. Sometimes his drive to have what he wanted manifested as stubbornness. He would get so set in his beliefs about things that there sometimes would be no convincing him otherwise – and would sometimes say he would do things just to spite people who tried to stand in his way.

He also never wanted to stop working. Growing up, on a near-daily basis, he’d walk in with blood on his hand, or leg or face… and we’d ask horrified if he was okay and he would just casually “oh this? Yeah I cut myself while working” and leave it at that. In the hospital, he would be moving his arms as if he was organizing his shelves when he was asleep, and was constantly trying to get out of bed, and sometimes he did manage to turn over just enough to have to be lifted back onto his bed. You know at first I was optimistic, I was thinking, finally! He might get comfortable with sitting down! He’ll be forced to use his right brain and he’s left-handed so you know, maybe he’ll take up creative writing! Because you know my father always had a way with writing words, and telling stories. 

Now I think he was still contemplating that “meaning of life” question following his heart surgery, as he was still making changes in his life. He had new ideas with what he wanted to do with the Christmas trees. He originally wanted to sell them to whole-salers, but after the heart surgery, he wanted to donate the trees to veterens and those who couldn’t afford to have their own. He was going to come out and see what my life is like in California, and see his granddaughter more in Sydney… Yet it seems to me that the meaning he was seeking was all around him. The meaning of life perhaps is just the word itself. To live.

Now, I know we’ll all miss his gregarious laughs, Santa-like twinkle in his eyes, and the way he would get super excited about his next project and just have to show it to you. We will never be able to replace him, and I sure do miss him more than I’ll ever really feel comfortable showing. But my father always said “life is for the living” and that’s what we have to keep on doing. I want to thank you all for coming, and just close with we can either keep being upset at who we lost, and keep wondering why now, how did this happen, who am I without my father, husband or best friend? Or we can remember that my dad touched us all so deeply, and lived so fully, that if we allow ourselves, we can all be a little bit more like my dad, and in that way, he’s never really gone. Thank you.

Sunrise Over Grassfish at Mendocino Magic

July 11, 2019By Focal NomadPOETRY, SUNRISE SERIES

Photos taken and words written in July 2018. Mendocino, CA.

Pulling my left then my right lids down.
I can’t vouch for my creativity when I can’t see the lines I’m writing between.
Feet out, lean back,
The sun will crest over eventually. Let it be your alarm clock.
Nature had a different tone. When you get the call you have to go.
From bronze to gold to bright, bright green. It’s all relative and irrelevant.
When you plan to cheat,
Take the work, less healing
When the sun is further
In the sky.

These are extreme conditions.
Big love, four nights, one tent.
Seventy-five burners. I know no
One. Social stamina muscle
Is built, voice is broken.

It feels so good to listen,
Especially since everyone
Has had a wild ride
So far.

The Art of Not Giving a Fuck employed.
Grab that tambourine, feel the beat, or miss it, pick it back up again.
The point is to have fun trying.
To show people that you’re not afraid of your ego dying. Make a big mess of yourself now. No better time to let those fucks go. No one can do you like you can – and it’s needed here and hey – it’s needed everywhere.

The more you try to fit your gifts to what you think other people want, the further away you get from doing just that.
Yourself is what’s needed.
Sing a song and trail to a tangent then click away knowing that you can take the shifts and changes within and without you and it is always going to be needed, whatever your gifts so happen to be.