Native American Regalia

Weekly Photo Challenge: Intricate
Intricate: what does it mean to you? Show us your interpretation.

With my iphone, I have become a drive-by photographer–one of those people who take photos that catch the eye. I’ve taken photos of big things like artfully/weirdly colored cars, of which there is no short supply of in Berkeley and small things such as a quirky card that I have no interest in buying, but is nifty enough to text “share” with friends. The technology of cameras in phones have desensitized us to notions of privacy. So much so that there’s a great deal of permissiveness in the idea of taking a photo of something you like or would like to memorialize for positive or negative reasons. Before cameras-in-phones, it was unlikely that you would take the liberty of taking a photograph of a stranger or someone else’s property.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a powwow at UC Berkeley. This was an unplanned activity as we saw the crowd and tents and heard the drumming from our seats outside a local African-Caribbean restaurant and decided to check out what was going on. We were pleasantly surprised to walk into a powwow.

The dancers’ regalia was stunning. The patterns, beadwork, and integration of feathers were done with such care that you could tell that for each person it was more than just clothing. It was a representation of a legacy that endured in spite of marginalization and near genocide. In a heartbeat I would have pulled out my handy camera-in-a-phone and taken photographs.  However, I agonized over whether or not to take a photo. I was dying to do so, and yet I couldn’t. I remembered learning eons ago in 4th grade Social Studies that Native Americans were not keen on photographs and that you had to ask permission if you wanted to take a photograph.

I ended up not taking a photograph (above photo is from the internet). I saw some people with actual cameras taking photos and I could have probably taken one without consequence. Yet I felt in my heart that to do so would be a violation of the sacred. These people were strangers. I would probably never see any of them again. Yet the gathering was sacred and it needed to be honored because it was an honor to catch a glimpse of a culture I know very little about. Not everything is meant to be consumed.

The People Cat

Daily Prompt: Menagerie

Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you? If no, why have you opted not to?
(Bonus points for adorable animal photos, and double bonus if they’re taken with your phone!)

Cat ala iphone

Cat a la iphone

Grayson is the youngest in our family of four.  He came to us, a spirited little thing. As a tot his favorite thing was to climb up our backs and perch on our shoulders like a bird, enjoying the view, while we carried on our chores from room to room.

From the very beginning Grayson has been Mr. Personality. While his cage buddy lounged, casually watching the humans peer in and out, Grayson was reaching out and pawing for attention. He seeks, rather than shies away from people. He is a people cat. Wherever we have lived, our neighbors have felt compelled to do things for Grayson. Our current neighbor got him a rug so he could be comfortable while sitting on our porch. When we were living in an apartment complex, one of the neighbors built him a make-shift cat shelter under the stairwell so he could be warm on cold days until we came home.

It hasn’t all been a simple life. Grayson’s first home was on an island. Because we lived in a state park, he was not allowed outdoors for fear that his instincts would kick in and compel him to chase down the birds. Indeed, this is what happened when we moved from Angel Island to Lakeshore. Very shortly after moving, we found a dead pigeon on the balcony with Grayson sitting a little ways away from it. It was the last time we left him unattended on the balcony and led to our decision to train him to go outdoors since we were away for much of the day at work or school.  Boy, was he scared. He wouldn’t even go in the hallway without quaking. Yet little by little he learned that outside wasn’t such a scary place as long as you found good spots among fragrant bushes to lounge hidden from passersby, but with a clear vantage point.

Grayson gained so much confidence that he crossed the street into the next apartment complex which had a high and open garden. When we were ready for him to come in, we would yell down 5 stories, “Graysie!!!” and he would come running up.  We eventually moved to another neighborhood that had several cats and a few racoons. The backyard had been vacant for awhile and one or two cats thought nothing of hanging out. One cat jumped the fence and walked into our house and taking a bite of the cat food before being shooed out. Grayson got into a few scuffles, but held his own. He wasn’t unscathed and one particular fight left him sick for days. The fights gave him more confidence, so much so that he started bossing us around. Now when he wants to go out or come in, he meows impatiently at the door and if he has been waiting too long to come in, grunts when we finally let him in.

Grayson is rarely naughty, but like all of us, he sometimes slips. When he does, all we have to do is to put him in the backyard. Isolation from people is torture. He’ll whine and carry on until we let him in. Grayson loves company, enjoys going on walks, and grooming (he does this on the sly) our daughter when she falls asleep on him or he falls asleep on her.

To You, Oh Wild Richmond

Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird
For this week’s photo challenge, get up early and explore the morning light.


On my way to work, I saw two wild turkeys crossing the road. As usual, I was running late, but I had to stop. I had to take note and witness these unexpected visitors to my pocket of average, unspectacular neighborhood. It was a sight to watch these turkeys strut across the road. And owned it they did!

I live in a suburban pocket within a larger urban section of Richmond. And Richmond has a reputation for wildness, but not the wildness people speak of with a twinkle in their eye. The wildness that, depending on the context, is associated with partying or being a free spirit or being a place of nature.

Richmond’s wildness, unfortunately, in the public discourse is synonymous with crime, poverty and poor education. The more provocative, headline crimes of black on black or poor on poor, but also the down-low, more insidious crime of uneven power dynamics of corporate laissez faire against average citizens and non-citizens who work to create a home for themselves and their families.

I remember growing up in LA and playing with the younger, the one closest to my age, of our next door neighbor’s granddaughters who visited in the summer. They lived in, “you know, that place, Richmond.” I had no idea where the heck that was, but my parents’ intonation was unmistakable. You could feel the cloud within Richmond and knew that there was nothing rich, nothing enviable about it. I felt sorry for the girls, but more glad for myself that I didn’t live in that place.

Looking back, here’s the thing: the girls did not seem poor, poorly cared for, or poorly educated. In fact, the eldest granddaughter competed in cheerleading competitions which can easily burn a hole in one’s pocket. My neighbors, the parents of my daughter’s classmates, the shopkeepers of the various carnicerias and clerks and passersby I encounter may not have a lot of money, but they aren’t poor or poorly cared for either. And the students in my daughter’s classroom may not yet be fluent speakers, but there are artists and comedians and free spirits who you can already see are beating their own drum, singing their own tune, living according to their own script. There is nothing poor in any of this.

These turkeys are more than the birds upon our tables come November. Richmond is more than a city of poverty and crime. It is a hard place, true, but a place where beauty struts. A destination for wild birds to visit from time to time.

Keeping One’s Head Above Water

Weekly Photo Challenge: Afloat
This week, show us what afloat means to you.

IMG_4909Afloat usually conjures up an image of a sailboat.

Sailing along in the midst of it all, the ability to persist even when life isn’t going your way is a combo of faith, grit, and showing up every day even when you don’t feel like it.

Here’s a silly photo of my girl keeping her head above water with ducky and turtle, two of her menagerie of bathub toys that made it into the photo.

Here’s to all of us staying afloat.

The Moment’s in the Smile

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur
A throwaway shot, or purposefully unfocused? This week, find beauty in a blur.

I take pictures almost exclusively with my iphone because it’s handy. I end up with a lot of blurred photos and delete without deliberation. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to delete this one.  Now I know why. Even though it’s blurred, P’s smile, her obvious joy makes this moment–a Wednesday moment of silliness at Walgreens–worth savoring. My motherly wish for her is that even when life isn’t picture perfect, feels unfocused, gets crinkly around the edges or is just smack blurred in the middle, to remember her joy.