photography, process, therapy, work


Layers of pretty lies crowd your craft,
allowing only diffused light to get through –
not your full shine
that is left at the door
that cracks open every third heart beat,
and only wide enough to slip one iris by
to catch glimpses 
of the work that visited you last night
and told the story of you.
Marivic Pinedo
May 1, 2017

Freaks and Geeks and Affairs

adulthood, family, television, therapy

I’m watching an episode of Freaks and Geeks where one of the kids sees his friend’s dad hugging a woman who isn’t his friend’s mom. The poor kid is crushed because he always thought this dad was cool. It made me think of how affairs don’t just affect the immediate family. The trust a child has in a friend’s parent is huge, and when it’s broken it’s confusing and sad.

In 4th grade, my best friend’s mom was having an affair while her dad was deployed – ouch! Her mom was nice, fun, and cool. But it all changed when she and another neighborhood mom started dating these other guys. I saw enough (nothing bad) of the affair that I kept my distance. I did mention it to my mom and my mom told me I couldn’t hang out at her place for a while. Months later, when my friend’s dad got home from duty, I biked over to her house and noticed everyone had been crying. In fact, I may have just arrived when all the shit went down. My friend told me her parents fought, and that was why there was a hole in the closet door. It was rough. And at some point, the other neighborhood mom (who lived across the street from my house) definitely got into it with her husband.

So, the point of all this is that affairs have a huge blast radius. It breaks up families and messes with kids ‘heads.

Fighting Reality

adulthood, anxiety, art, creativity, empowerment, Health, Learning/Education, life, mental health, Motivation, photography, process, therapy

As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?

-David Bowie

The death of a celebrity is a time when the world gathers to talk about how someone lived, and how that person’s existence changed their lives in some way. It’s a time of mourning, but can also become a time of self-reflection.

In 2014, as the men’s World Cup was coming to a close I thought about how the next one would be in four years. I’ll be 40 when that happens. 40. 4-freakin-0. So many thoughts have been running through my head since then:

Where did the time go? What have I been doing  with my life? Why am I still “figuring it out?” How is our 20 year high school reunion is just around the corner?

But if there is anything you cannot dodge, it is the passing time. So what do you do? You may have read about how I found a book that inspired me to quit my day job and pursue photography. I did indeed do that. And I was successful in achieving my first goal of showing work at a coffee shop in the 8-week course period. It’s been encouraging. I’m lined up to show work in Feb, June, and July!

However, it has not always been smooth sailing. I have been managing a constant level of anxiety for years now, and it rears its ugly head in times of transition and daring. On great days, the existence of it is barely there. On bad days, my body can shut down to the point where I can’t leave the house and don’t know why. And when that happens, the squirrels in my head start running around and judging me. They ask similar questions to the ones above, but with awful, shaming tones. Read them again like it’s a bully yelling at you, and change instances of “I” to “you”:

Where did your time go? What have you been doing  with your life? Why are you still “figuring it out?” Your 20-year high school reunion is just around the corner! Yeah. It sucks.

One night the self-shaming tone that lodged into my head was “You’re getting old.” I had been told I was getting old when I was 21-22 and living in Hong Kong (different standards). Back then, I could ignore them. It was easier to see that my life was ahead of me. I had years before I needed to “figure it out” and “find myself.” At my current age it is difficult to make that statement without a hint of heavy-handed cynicism.

I am not a spring chicken. My 20s are gone, and my 30s are nearly behind me. When someone tells me I’m getting old, it is very easy to just nod and agree and accept that my knees periodically do not want to do what they used to (like flex without pain). I’ve never seen one’s 40s as a person’s prime (MANY have proven different). As I pursue a career to sell my photography, it is very easy for me to see myself as having showed up really late in the game. I worry about how I appear in gatherings when the sea of people around me are in their 20s. They are vibrant, endearing, and have a childlike curiosity others just eat up. And let’s not forget that they probably look super hip and fashionable. I recognize that there are overly-eager ones who visibly can’t keep their cool,  but my brain can only see how everyone else is probably better than me at everything. They are more in-the-know, are well connected, have been invited to fabulous parties, and have a higher alcohol tolerance (getting older really sucks in this department).

But therein lies the danger of accepting the generalization that once you reach a certain age there isn’t much reason to try so hard. The scary state of mind when you start to believe that what you do is aesthetically pleasing at best, and bland and uninspiring at worst. With a little more thought, you’d think that it makes more sense to haul ass and get your life going given you might have less time than others. Then there is the thought that age really is just a number and a state of mind. I believe that we were born into this world with pure joy. And even though that joy took a bruising throughout the years, as long as you’re breathing there is still time to nurture it and bring it out to shine again and again.

Now, I know that I have to acknowledge setbacks, physical and emotional. But I want to use the awareness I worked so hard to harness and exercise, and turn toward my challenges, and change the messages that are coming at me to ones of courage, love, patience, hope, and faith. I can be whoever I want, whenever I want. I can’t slow down time, so I need to think about how I can take advantage of what I can do with what time I’ve got left.

Not convinced success can’t be achieved after 40? Check out Richard Feloni’s post in Business Insider UK titled 24 People Who Became Highly Successful After Age 40.

Do you have ideas you want to manifest into awesomeness but don’t know how to start? Here’s the 8 Weeks to Badass DIY coaching program I mentioned earlier by Jen Sincero.
Others who charge my mental energy. No Surprises here.

Brene Brown – Renowned researcher story teller who opened my eyes to the power of vulnerability and shame.

Elizabeth Gilbert – Who didn’t read Eat Pray Love? Her TED talk on creativity was a way to shift how I looked at creativity as something that wouldn’t kill me.

Debbie Lacy – I’m still getting to know her work, but think Lunch Challenge: What do you want?, a short talk she gave at TEDx Olympia was insightful.

Telling Stories

anxiety, art, creativity, Learning/Education, mental health, Motivation, photography, process, therapy, work

I woke up the other morning and felt a nudge to get myself to the kitchen table and start doing something – anything. I didn’t quite make it. I scrolled through Facebook for longer than I wanted, and then I made it to the kitchen. I put the kettle on the stove to get the coffee process started and then pulled out my notebook and pencil.

I stared at ruled pages and had nothing to write.

Last night before bed and after watching episode-after-episode of the 9th season of The Office, I peered over my husband’s shoulder and saw a book on henna art that had been sitting on a shelf of our sideboard for I don’t know how long. In fact, I had forgotten we had that book. We probably bought it thinking that it would inspire us one day, in some way. Lo, and behold, this morning, it did just that.

The last few months has brought on a tidal wave of activity and non-activity. I started and completed the 8 Weeks to Badass Coaching Program guided via videos and audio by Jen Sincero. I am happy to say that I achieved my goal within the 8 weeks. My goal was to get my photography shown at a local coffee shop. By week 3 I was able to secure a location and will be hanging my work up next month. There is still much work to be done before I hang my work up, but I’m set for this one goal.

Since then, I’ve been working on my online image and social media activity. I even have a friend working on my brand. It sounds artsy fartsy and hoity toity, but I was struggling to do it myself. I bit the bullet and hired my friend to come up with ideas and we’re getting close to something I think I’ll really love that will speak to my personality and style.

With all this in the works, it’s been a challenge for me to produce more work. I find myself to be creative in a general sense. I don’t think I’m all that profound or very original, but I do think I see things differently from others, and have an aesthetic people can appreciate. What I’ve come to realize is that my creativity comes in waves. For someone who can be really impatient with herself, it is hard for me to accept this reality.  I’m probably more likely to come up with work I really like on a quarterly basis than daily or weekly. But it is amazing how I think I need to produce something spectacular every time I pick up a camera. My brain says this is silly and unrealistic. Of course I’m not going to produce something amazing every single time. The monkey on my back, on the other hand, likes to piss me off and judge me, asking things like “Why can’t you be like [name famous artist here]?”  So I’ve been carrying this silly monkey on my back for a long time. I couldn’t name it. I couldn’t explain what it was. I just knew it was on my back and I didn’t know how to shake him off. Or even bribe it off. What I found out this morning was that the monkey on my back was questioning my creative process. “Why do you do what you do? Why aren’t you more prolific or active? Why is it so hard to be around other people? What are you afraid of?” I did not have an answer. So instead, I started to read.

Back to that book on henna. Henna. It’s pretty. I remember getting a henna design on my hand when my good friend was getting ready to marry. It was the one part of the week-long celebration I was most looking forward to. It was the only time I had done it. I flipped through the book and thought I’d go straight to looking at the designs, thought “I wonder how the paste was made? Then, I thought I should read about how henna became what it is. Where did it come from? Why is it used the way it is? I read about animals eating the plant that henna comes from which made their mouths look bloody. The shepherds who tended to them freaked out, thinking their animals were bleeding from the mouth. But after removing the plant from their mouths, they realized the red stained their hands like a pigment. It wasn’t blood. I read about how henna markings were used for celebrations and how it spread from country to country by the migration path of birds. Henna has a history. It has an origin. There is is a story behind it.

It’s easy for some to set a schedule, write down a plan, and do that plan. To take a walk everyday might be easy for some, but for others it is not. I get so much advice about going for walks and taking pictures. About meeting up with people to get creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, for me, these activities can cause me to freeze up. How can it be that trying to do the one thing I’m fairly good at can cause anxiety in me?

I think I found part of the answer to my question when I stopped to read this henna book. I want photography to be more than pretty images. I want it to speak to me. I want it to tell me a story. What I have found is that art tends to be more provocative and of greater substance when it comes from a place of meaning. Art is powerful when there is a story to tell. Simple quick snaps of my food might have some meaning and will cause pleasure for some to see. They’ll respond that it looks delicious or makes them hungry. But the meaning pretty much stops there. Now, think about a photo taken of a table filled with dishes left behind by a family in an empty restaurant. Where did that family go? Was it a family? Who is going to clean that up? Why didn’t they eat the bread rolls? Why are we only seeing one table? Why isn’t anyone else in the frame? Why is this a picture of an empty table of plates?

For me, photos have a greater impact when they can tell a story. I forgot that. It’s probably the one thing that people will tell you. That photos tell a story. That they’re worth a thousand words. But I forgot that. It isn’t always just about being aesthetically pleasing. It’s about telling a story. Not just any story, but a story that I can care about. A story that speaks to me that I really want to share with other people. I know it won’t be something everyone cares about, but that’s not the point, nor do I want it to be. The point is having a connection with a subject or situation, and how I can interpret the image I see to be able to tell a story. And the more I can connect with those instances and be authentic about my story the better.

My last blog entry about my nieces is an example of this very finding. I didn’t intend to write about my nieces. I knew when I took their pictures that I wanted the same vantage point, but that’s about it. I didn’t think much about how to process them. I hadn’t thought about how I had actually spent time with each of them. I hadn’t thought about how they inspired me enough to write about them. But each photo of their little faces did something to me, and the memories I had of them flooded back, so I wrote those down. I had to tell a story. So I did.

That is the photography I want to do. I know I won’t please everyone. I just want to be okay with my work and feel good about the work I do. I want to have greater intention when taking photos. I want to slow down. I want to understand the meanings behind the moments behind my camera. I want to use my camera as a means to meditate and connect. I want to tell stories.

Holiday Giving for Seven Star

Community, education, empowerment, family, friends, fundraising, giving, Health, Learning/Education, life, Martial Arts, mental health, Seven Star, therapy

Seven-Star-Party-Nov2013 (1 of 66)

It’s that time of year again. It’s time support local organizations that you care about. I continue to believe in the mission of Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu. Donations to this beloved organization go toward helping fulfill our mission to empower women and girls. Your money helps our school do the following:

  1. Run self-defense workshops. Each female who receives self-defense training makes our community safer for everyone, and decreases the costs we all bear. For instance, statistics by the National Institute of Justice estimate that assaults of adults cause an annual minimum loss of 192 billion dollars, or ~$773 per U.S. resident–tangible losses such as police response, medical care, mental health services, and productivity; and intangible losses such as quality of life, pain and suffering.
    What this look like
    : $1,200 covers the cost of our pro-bono self-defense program for one year.
  2. Funds a scholarship program that helps make classes affordable. We have never turned away a woman or girl due to an inability to pay.
    What this looks like
    : $480 covers the cost of one year of full scholarship for a teen who has just decided that she needs training to gain her voice as she enters high school.
  3. Helps in the school’s ability to provide free childcare. Finding time to exercise and have a block of time to herself can be a mother’s biggest challenge in life. At Seven Star we offer free child care service on training days for this very reason. We believe in giving moms the time they need to give themselves to be their biggest badass!
    What this looks like
    : $30 pays for childcare for one class – covering the cost for a single, working mom who has just gone back to school.
  4. Bolsters a rainy day fund for when building maintenance is needed.
    Bottom line
    : Our Kwoon is everything. We respect and care for our space and need it to provide the awesome training that we do. For some, it is a second home.

You can make a donation at Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu. Or, you can indirectly make a donation while doing shopping on Amazon by going through Amazon Smile. Make sure to choose which organization to support as Seven Star. And you don’t have to do this for the holidays. You can do this ALL YEAR.

Screen shot 2015-12-08 at 11.24.36 AM

Thank you for your consideration!

That wasn’t for me. So, what is?

creativity, empowerment, Health, mental health, therapy

It’s been a little over a week since I decided to leave my job. It’s another first page to another chapter in my life. About a month ago, A and I took a leisurely drive to neighboring Greenwood to check out a bar he had recommended. Sunny outdoor picnic table seating on a front yard of gravel was open. We sat down, had some drinks and yummy appetizers, and soaked in the remaining warmth of the summer. Fall was just around the corner.

It was a moment for us to talk about life and what was working and what wasn’t. For me it was more about what wasn’t. But I had a plan and had made a decision. My life would change soon, but timing seemed difficult, and too many thoughts about everyone else’s feelings would flood my brain. My stomach hurt thinking about it. We finished up and thought it’d be a good idea to go for a short walk. We ended up across the street at a book store. Feeling good from a warm, sunny afternoon, with a drink in us, eyes wide we perused the front section of new books and my eyes locked with these:


Amy Poehler and Jen Sincero spoke to me.

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please has been a wonderful read (haven’t finished). But Amy Poehler She is a talented and wonderful role model for women and girls, and I needed to add to my collection of autobiographies of comedians. And I really enjoy her Facebook stream “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls” which updates with information about young girls and women all over the world who are accomplishing great things and changing how we see women.

But the book on the right actually helped me by kicking me out the door to find the courage to be who I am. I had recently earned my purple belt in Kajukenbo (Chu’an Fa Kung Fu) and was feeling especially empowered, so a book titled You are a BADASS How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life was like like validating my accomplishments while simultaneously calling me out on how I have kept myself from being all that I can be. Where did I go with photography? Where did I go as an artist? As a creative person? It’s the one thing you’re good at, but have never fully owned and embraced. So, here was this book telling me to stop doubting myself so you can start living an awesome life. I almost left this book behind. I wondered if it was like all the other self help books that had exercises and was squishy, but it’s not, and she speaks frankly about attitude adjustment, having faith in yourself, learning how to develop a good relationship with money (because, let’s face it. Money, and spending it, can keep us from doing LOTS of the things we want to do), and how to just give yourself a break and love yourself. If you were asking, I’d say that I recommend Jen Sincero‘s book if you’re looking to make changes NOW.

I think the only thing I’d want to note is that I was ready to find this book. I was ready to own my identity as a badass and recognized, for a while now, that I’ve been holding back (read: sabotaging) who I am for various (not very good) reasons. But after a few attempts at being “normal” and “conventional”, I found that I am neither “normal” or “conventional.” At some point I’m sure I’ll find something steady that I might enjoy doing, but for now I’m going to feel it out and be me. Do what I want. Make what I want. Be who I am.

Sunday afternoon play time

art, creativity, mental health, Seattle, therapy

The days are longer but the sky is still grey and the rain drips like a leaky faucet. In an effort to stimulate my creative center I dug into some old files and felt like playing.


I’m not sure what I was feeling when I made this. I just mixed together some images I had laying around. I’m sure a psychologist could say more about what my subconscious was saying at that moment.


Processed with VSCOcam with se2 preset

This image was an attempt at remembering what summer felt like this past year, which was wonderful – a welcome blanket of warmth for longer than previous years, and giving us these spectacular sunsets. I miss them.

A private performance in my living room

music, therapy

Instead of watching more episodes of a show I’d scene a million times (something I do when I feel anxious), I flipped through the few television channels I have and happened upon The All-Star Orchestra | Gerard Schwartz, Conductor. It was brilliant. Below is the episode I saw. The second piece by Schumann has got to be the inspiration for the theme song for the movie Willow (the Ron Howard film featuring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer). Enjoy!

Johannes Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish”

Chillin’ and Jammin’

creativity, friends, life, Loss, Love, Motivation, photography, therapy

It’s been a grey day, and it’s been rainy. I’ve been watching too much of The West Wing on Netflix. I wanted to shake things up as I folded laundry. I pulled up a drawer of CDs and found this:

Eleven years ago, my friend Ryan died of a heart attack. He was 26. I worked with him very briefly at a company in Hong Kong back in 2001. We sat across from each other in low-walled cubicles. He was just about 2 feet taller than me. A better memory of him is my “anonymous” response to his death on my friend’s page.

No one was ready

Ryan was a beautiful person. The moments I sat across from him at Lemon were moments I cherish whenever I see something that reminds me of him. Whenever I talk about politics, I think of how he was a Republican, even if you couldn’t believe it. How he consoled me in the trenches of my always sinusoidal path of life. There are times that I dream about Ryan. I think about how much of a great friend he was, even if it was for a short period on an island far far away. His tall frame, child-like personality, his tenacity and drive to succeed… it can go on for years, my thoughts and feelings about someone as bright as he. I sometimes think that one day we’ll meet up in San Francisco. We’ll finally go to the Stinking Rose for that garlic dinner. We’ll take a trip to Berkeley and visit the Asian Ghetto for some really cheap Asian food. Ryan will always be in my heart, and I wish I could see him laugh his big laugh, his leg stomping the ground and hand slapping his knee. He was a mentor for me at a time when I really really really really needed some understanding of professionalism. I still look to those times to help compose myself in business situations. He was the man.

About the CD. On his one-year death anniversary, his family and friends put together a compilation of songs chosen by his friends and family. It took up 2 CDs. One disc was called “Chillin'” and the other “Jammin'”. I had chosen “One of these things first” by Nick Drake. Other songs were “Angel” by Aerosmith, “Float On” by Modest Mouse, “Say Yes” by Elliot Smith, “When She Loved Me” by Sarah McLachlan, and songs by Chinese artists. I can’t remember the last time I listened to these, so I played the “Chillin'” side first. Upon the first note of the first song, I sat on my coffee table, my eyes soft and staring at nothing in particular. It clicked that it was the anniversary of his death around this time. Specifically, it was last Wednesday. I remember how I found out, and can picture what I looked like holding my mobile phone in an apartment lit by Christmas lights, my boyfriend cooking dinner. It wasn’t a scream that esaped, but a wail of complete sadness. My boyfriend and friend came running.

So, I guess I chose today to mourn and self reflect. Yes, homework has been plentiful, and volunteer efforts feel foreign and hard to wrap my head around. I am building on self-awareness and finding my passion. Finding ways to do good things for the world I care about. And while I’m at it, I’ve been enjoying the company of very close friends. Sharing new moments of laughter, joy, challenges, and heartache.

Today, I celebrate someone I knew only briefly, but still carry in my heart as a reminder to be strong, lead with my heart as well as my head, and paint the life I want in broad colorful strokes.

Roselyn, Ryan, Me, Jenn - Jan 2002

Roselyn, Ryan, Me, Jenn – Jan 2002

Photo of the moment – Try

art, creativity, life, photography, therapy, Uncategorized


Something about the delicacy of the strips of light against the coarse and peppered concrete are like my attempt of finding the potential greatness in me only to push through a barrier and be greeted by harsh reality and unyielding obstacles and challenges. But somewhere there’s a raft, a blanket, a patch of grass to rest my head and take a breath.