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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Seems Like Old Times.

You can see the big image here.


I don't do New Year's resolutions. I might have in the past, in fact, I'm sure I did at some point in life. Somewhere along the way, I dropped that tradition. Probably wasn't making much headway in whatever I had resolved to do.

And I don't make those lists of things I did in the past, either. I can hardly remember what I did last week, let alone try to scratch out what I was doing a year ago, or heaven help me, a decade ago (this being a more pivotal, albeit still arbitrary date, people really seem to be taking this whole decade thing to heart).

I just figure if I'm going to do something, for good or bad, I'll just do it when I decide to do it. That keeps it pretty simple for me.

That being said, I wanted to give a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who responded via email or on the blog about helping HAMO and the Diapers for Everyone 2010 Diaper Drive. I have to say I'm a little behind in getting back to you all who volunteered to donate or help in some way, but know your offers are duly noted... and you'll be contacted soon.

I guess I do have a sort of resolution process. It's called Looking Forward to Good Things. Some of those things, like the Diaper Drive and working with HAMO, I know about. The rest: I'll just have to wait to be surprised!

Wishing you the best kind of New Year's Eve in whatever manner you choose to celebrate it. And mostly, a year full of Looking Forward to Good (Surprise) Things.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Diapers for Everyone in 2010!

Can't start the new year fresh without a new project, right?

Some (many?) of you might be familiar with the young homeless family that I was helping last year. I'm assuming that most of you know part or all of the story but if not, the link is here. Blogging about K's story is how I came in contact with a lot of you in the first place. ;-)

Meeting K (the homeless mother and domestic abuse survivor) and her young children (ages 9, 7 and three months) was a life-changing, eye-opening happy/sad experience. I learned first-hand about the dangers, fears and daily life of a family living on the edge of society in my beloved adopted hometown: San Francisco.

Right after I met K, a young mother named Lisa wrote to me and asked how she could help. She met me at a run-down hotel in the Tenderloin, 2 kids in tow (ages 3 and 1), and brought diapers, bags of clothes and toiletries and nursing supplies for this family. I can't tell you enough how happy and needed these donated supplies were to K. Especially the diapers.

I came to know Lisa and also to help her when I could with her budding effort called Help a Mother Out (HAMO) which she had just started with a friend. Through constant effort, Lisa and HAMO have collected over 130,000 diapers for shelters, crisis nurseries in the SF Bay Area. The Bay Area does not have a diaper bank and there is no other organized way of helping needy families get diapers for their babies.

Why all the explanation?

When I was working with K and the kids over the course of several months, I learned a lot. Let me give you an example.

When I first met K, as a homeless mother, she was not on any sort of assistance at all. She fled an abusive, dangerous husband with all the cash she could gather and found a cheap hotel in the Tenderloin. That hotel was $60 a night. The day I met her was her last day in the hotel unless she could come up with more money (which many of you were kind enough to help with). The following month after I met her, she started to receive welfare. These are real numbers below. I became very familiar with them over the course of months last year.

  • $583 a month for a family of four for housing (that means finding housing for $145 a week in SF. Try to imagine what kind of housing that will get you.)
  • $380 a month in food stamps for a family of four ($95 a week/$23.75 per person, per week. That doesn't go far, trust me.)
  • The part that gets left out... diapers. If you're on food stamps, it doesn't provide for diapers, just food. So if you're already struggling, you don't have any extra money for diapers.
  • Also, diapers are expensive, especially in San Francisco where you don't have access to Target, Costco and big box stores or online. Small corner groceries, especially in the Tenderloin, means more expensive diapers than moms can purchase in other neighborhoods.
I'm using K's situation as an example because it's really how things were. I saw it with my own eyes. This kind of situation is replicated in many families just in the SF Bay Area alone.

Why diapers?

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that a baby in dirty diapers gets sick more. Goes to the emergency room more. Means more stress and hardship for a child and a mother living under already incredibly stressful circumstances. Many parents can't afford diapers and food, so they get food. They try to wash out disposable diapers and reuse them. (BTW, laundromats have various rules about washing cloth diapers, and many do not allow it, in case you were wondering. And having enough cloth diapers on hand is obviously another expense most families can't afford either.) So if you're low income or homeless, odds are you don't have a washer and dryer for cloth diapers.

These kids get sick and that affects all of us. (I know in K's instance, she must have taken the baby to the emergency room at least six times.)


So now to the project at hand. What I'm working on with Lisa:

The Mother's Day Holiday Playdate (sometime in May 2010). So even though this may not sound like a lot here, our success at this event will dictate the direction HAMO can play in helping families in a more established and meaningful way.
  • HAMO’s Mother's Day Playdate will be held in the Bay Area (most likely SF).
  • The goals of the event are:
    • to physically collect diapers and
    • to raise awareness of the need for diapers, why families may not have access to them, and the health and social repercussions of going without diapers, and
    • HAMO online gives people easy ways to help. (HAMO also has diaper drive kits that can be utilized in any city where someone wants to create their own event.)
  • The event will be a 2-3 hour playdate at a location TBD.
    • We hope to have a major sponsor to underwrite the cost of the facility rental (unless we can get a place to donate a few hours for the cause). We're working on it. But more than one sponsor is definitely encouraged and welcome.
    • Guests are asked to bring a pack of diapers in lieu of the normal per child admission price.
  • Attendance goal of 100 families.
    • Invitation list will include bloggers, entertainment professionals, and social media and tech-savvy locals as well as local mom and dad influencers.
What we need:

  • A place to hold the event (SF would be ideal but we're open).
  • Catering or help with getting food and beverages
  • Donated shwag for gift bags
  • Media coverage – local print, web, radio, television
  • Other nice to haves:
    • Door prizes
    • Live entertainment – musician preferred.
    • Funds or talent donations to cover additional entertainment (ie: crafts, body glimmer art, balloon animals)
So that's the purpose of this post (if you've read this far, thank you!).

If you can and want to help in some way, you can do one or a few of these things.

  • You can go online and purchase a pack of diapers on Amazon through HAMO's donation link that will be sent directly to one of the shelters or nurseries in the Bay Area. Now, or now and again in May.
  • You can come to the event in May and bring your kid (if you have one), a package of diapers and meet us.
  • If you have kids and know other parents that can help, please pass this on to them. Schools, nurseries, day care, churches, synagogues, other organizations... all around us are people who can help if they knew about it.
  • If you have access to catering or food to provide...
  • If you know people in the media or can help us network and get more exposure...twitter, facebook, blogs.
  • If you would like to be involved in planning the event, let me know! We would like to have a host committee because Lisa and I can't do this all by ourselves.
Any or all will be most appreciated. I'm just getting started on this but you can't plan too early, right?

The Big Picture.

The Big Picture is that this event will kick off a month of awareness and diaper donations online through HAMO. Lisa has picked May since it's the month of Mother's Day. I have signed up to help her make this event as successful as I can. I'll be working on other projects with Lisa, mostly photographic, that will illustrate what we're doing, but this event is the most important part of the puzzle right now as far as the future direction of HAMO is concerned.

I am open to any sort of suggestion, advice, connections and help. Please contact me about any questions you might have, too (tangobaby2 AT gmail.com). Whatever it is you can do, and for some, a donation isn't in the cards (I can totally understand). But even passing this post along to others you know creates the snowball I'm looking for. I've experienced the snowball effect before and because of that, I know it can happen again.

I'm not a mother. I've never had kids. But even I know how a little something like a clean diaper can make a child's life better.

I look forward to hearing from you!


ps.: Facts to keep in mind

  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are over 60,000 children under the age of five who are living under the poverty level.
  • The cost of a healthy change of diapers for one child is about $100 a month.
  • Food stamps and WIC program do not cover the cost of diapers
  • In low-income and homeless families, babies often spend the entire day or longer in a single diaper. Inadequate diaper changing leads to numerous health risks and problems.
pss.: If you live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, you can do your own diaper drive. There's info on HAMO's website on how to get started!

Charming naked vintage baby photo found on this blog.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Tolerance Tribute

I don't know what it is about me and the writing lately. It's like I left the brain faucet on again. I should be sleeping.


The Boy recently found out what a "push present" is. (To be fair, I only found out what a Push Present was not so long ago, too. If you don't have kids, and don't plan to, there's just a whole entire vocabulary that you'll never acquire.)

He asked me if I had ever heard of the concept, wide eyed. To which I replied that I thought perhaps the concept of the Push Present is something akin to a Hallmark Holiday, wherein deBeers and Harry Winston, plotting in an evil jewelry cabal, cooked up a diabolical scheme to create another reason for an unsuspecting populace to buy fine diamonds.

I'm not sure when the Push Present hit the mainstream consciousness and I'll never be familiar enough with the demographic of new parents to know if this is the totally middle-class/ upper-class American phenomena that it seems to be at the outset. Did this particular gift find its start on the pages of People magazine? Anyway, I'm guessing that in the olden days (i.e., when you and I were born) that the Push Present was basically... the kid. Now it's the kid AND something encrusted with diamonds, which for an earlier generation of moms who never got a Push Present must be a little bummed to say the least, there must be some sort of retroactive compensation, to be fair?).

I'm not one for owning fancy jewelry, or even real jewelry. (Which is a good thing as I live with a guy who doesn't believe in buying it either.) I have a box full of costume jewelry and I'm BIG on rhinestones. First of all, rhinestones can be just as sparkly and exciting (and due to their being cheap bits of glass, you can have lots of them), and secondly, if a rhinestone falls out of a ring or an earring, you won't throw up thinking about how much that just cost you. I don't want the pressure.

However it did get me thinking about us non-child producing females. The Boy asked me what kind of present we should get. I don't know about the rest of you, but I decided that I should get a Tolerance Tribute (it's all about alliteration to make a catchy and lasting impact on the mind). For putting up with daily shenanigans more akin to living with someone who's part Spanky from the Little Rascals, part Harpo (as in the Marx Brothers) and the rest Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. In short, trouble.

The Boy can be a full-time job, too. I just didn't give birth him.

Yesterday we went to the "Cartier in America" exhibit at the Legion of Honor. It's one of those things that you go to, thinking This will be cool. I'm glad I have a membership so I don't have to pay and stand in line and end up leaving saying, Yeah, I totally need a tiara. Even if in your wildest imagination you had never considered a tiara, when you leave this exhibit, you will feel like owning one now is pretty much a necessity. And, that it should be a real tiara, with real Cartier-style diamonds in it. Granted, you might not have anything to wear with the tiara, but that's not the point.

On a less shallow note, the exhibit is pretty gorgeous and extraordinary. While your eyes are dazzled and you take in all of the exquisite detail and workmanship of these artisans of a bygone era (yes, because the newer Cartier pieces can't hold a candle to the Belle Époque stuff), you also can't help imagining the subtle pressure and competition amongst the elite who commissioned, bought and wore these items. Who will have the bigger tiara, the heavier brooch, the more elaborate cigarette case? It didn't mention on the descriptions which of these jewels might have been Push Presents, but you can use your imagination there too.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The other one.

Her name's Julie Michelle, too. And she got the domain name before me, dammit.


Since I never seem to have enough online presence lately, I looked into registering my name as an idea for my online store, which has been way too long in the making. A smart person would have done this BEFORE the holidays.

I think anyone who's been blogging long enough, and the reasons for doing so morph into other avenues over time, probably realize late into the game that perhaps their first chosen blogging name doesn't hold up in the long run. Certainly my blogging friends Beth Spotswood and Troy Holden have found this out. You grow out of your blogger name because eventually it's your real world name that most people need to relate to, not your alter ego/superhero name.

I feel like I'm confusing the hell out of myself, let alone other people who might decide to follow me. First it was tangobaby. Then TangobabyinSF on twitter. i live here:SF for the eponymous site. femmefotographie for my "real" website. And now Julie Michelle on CALIBER.

So when it came time to see if another Julie Michelle had beaten me to the punch, I was a bit bummed. It's not really that big of a deal, I could be JulieMichellePhotography.com or something similar.

I showed The Boy this other Julie Michelle and now he seems to feel like he's gotten the wrong girl.

And now back to being completely shallow...

Thank you all of you who commented on my last post. This whole issue with K and the kids became a litmus test of sorts for me, and not intentionally. It surprised me to see who came out of the woodwork and expressed some amount of care and support for me and the situation. It was certainly disappointing to see those people who I thought would do more to help end up doing nothing at all. This definitely colored my view of certain people and who I thought they were, and made it hard for me to keep in contact with some of them because of it.

I couldn't get past my disappointment. But then when I thought about it, I didn't want to. It surprises me how many people talk a good line... but that's it. It's so easy to rant about what everyone else is up in arms about and then live a life completely isolated from what one is so riled up about. I think this happens a lot in the blog world because the platform is so easily accessible. So passionate about political, social and religious issues but then how far do you take it? Do you walk your talk or just like to spread the flames about? I've decided personally that I'm not going to be one of those people if I can avoid it. I'll write about something if it affects me and my life personally so that my experience is what informs my opinion, for right or wrong, because it's what I directly know. There's too many directions one can be pulled in already, and too many distractions.

You can't save the world by writing about it and then hoping other people will do it for you.

But enough of that.


Well, after all of that, I thought I might have something else to add, but apparently I'm all out of ideas!

Guess I'll have some breakfast instead. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Not Full Circle

I wonder where she is today. I miss them very much.


This is the post that I've avoided writing for months. Mostly because I've so wanted to have a different ending to this story of K and the kids. But in fact, this story only ends with a mystery and that is very saddening and dissatisfying to me.

I am not one for uncertainty, as most people aren't. I expect explanations and causes and reasons and facts. I expect to get the answers I'm looking for.

But in order to feel like there's not a shadow hanging over me anymore, I'll post this non-end, non-story and hope that after I finish, I'll have picked up some sort of lesson learned.

Shit, now I'm crying as I type this. I didn't want to cry but I can't help that now.


Many of you were so kind and generous to support K and her family when I first met them on a cold sidewalk in April. I can't even begin to backtrack this story but most of you who will read this already know the journey of this little family. I think it's because of you that I've been holding out on wrapping things up, mostly because I know that you as well as I wanted to end this story in the manner that we had envisioned.

It's not like there's a bad ending to this story. It's just that there's no ending, no satisfaction I can give you. My goal had been to help them get set up in their new home, which they may very well be living in by now. I had many of you onboard to donate household items and things for the kids. All I needed was the address to send these things to.

At the end of July, early August, right after my grandmother passed away, things were coming to a definite direction with K and the kids. They were days away from moving into their new home. Just about at that time, I lost contact with them. K's second cell phone was broken and supposedly it was getting repaired. I had no more money to give them, but we tried to keep in touch. She gave me an address where they would be moving so I could set up the wishlists for people to send items to. But the address was incomplete, or wrong.

Long story short, I could not get back in touch with her to confirm the address. I had made K promise not to leave town without saying goodbye and she had given me her word that I would see them again. But I never did. I've looked for them downtown so many times and in not seeing them in places I would have expected to, I can only hope that for whatever reason I do not know where they are, that they are warm and safe and healthy.

I did not think that K's birthday would go by without me seeing her and giving her a present. She turned 29 this past October. Her daughter's birthday is two days after mine. And now here it is, Christmas Eve, and my heart just breaks. Not because I can't be with them, but because it makes me sad to think that I won't know how those kids are, what will happen to them. They're beautiful, good kids, trust me. Those of you who met them know this.


I haven't written this post because I just couldn't bring myself to do it. For the longest time, I blamed myself for failing in some way. Which is ridiculous but it still didn't keep me from feeling like a total loser. If you know me, you know I don't like to do anything half-assed and I don't like to fail. And all this felt like was a total FAIL.

And I still get emails from people who want updates, which is totally normal and expected. It's not normal for someone to disappear from your life like that, poof! without some reason why. I can't explain it myself and the last thing I've wanted to do is cause others to doubt K and the fact that she truly needed us, and that we truly helped her. Because we did and that is something I DO know.

I've had different reactions from people, some who are angry at her on my behalf ("after all you've done for her?!") and the expository questions ("do you think she went back to her abusive husband?", "do you think she was lying to you?") and after a while, that stuff just made me extra crazy too. Honestly, I kept waiting for the phone to ring. And I didn't want to feed anyone else's imagination when I didn't have the facts.

In my heart of hearts, I know K is a good mother. She had to be to take her children away from such a dire and dangerous situation. I am trying to be okay with the idea that this is really where the story ends, as far as I am involved. It's hard. It's not what I wanted.


At the end of the day, what I hope most for them is that they are happy and well and taken care of. I know I played a tiny part in their lives to that goal. Along the way I made new and wonderful friends that I still cherish.

Perhaps someday that phone will ring and I'll know more. K has my number. Perhaps, but I won't wait on it anymore. It's time to move on and let the story be what it is: unfinished. I never thought a story without an ending could be a good one but I'm going to hope that this one is.


ps. To all of you good hearts out there who are reading this and understand, thank you. I do feel better for writing this all down now.

pss. I have to thank Lisa at HAMO for inspiring me this morning to sit down and write this post. Like me, she is just a regular person who wanted to make a difference, and in her way, she is doing amazing things to help mothers and children in need.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Internet Tantrum

I'm up early for what looks like another marathon day of nose blowing and figuring out which corner of the sofa I'll be foxholed in all day.

Apparently, yesterday was the Solstice, so had I not been so self-absorbed (not possible, really) I would have written introspective and heart-searching things but dammit, I missed all that. I guess now it's too late. I'm still in mourning that very soon we will not be able to get Egg Nog Lattes from Pete's, which is a terribly seasonal injustice.

Nobody guessed what the brown thing on a stick was from yesterday's post (although some of you surmised it was chocolate: close, but no cigar). And then I got all hung up in reading my own past posts that bear the tag "bitching and/or whining". Not surprisingly, there are quite a few posts in this vein. A preponderance of illnesses, work gripes and public transportation fiascos, some of which I barely remember. But at the time were all foot-stompingly, indignantly worthy of the tag.

I guess in looking back at my past internet tantrums, all I can say for myself is that I'm grateful they weren't really significant. A cold, yeah... we all get them. And if you live in SF, you LIKE making fun of MUNI, no matter what you say. And jobs? What are those again? I'm broke as hell but I love not having to deal with a dysfunctional group of prima donnas anymore. (I guess I'll have to delete this part of the post when I start sending out resumes again). So life is good, despite the tag I give it.

So, here I started out making wads of used Kleenex on my desk and deciding what to bitch about this morning... and still got all (slightly) introspective despite myself. I'm sure I'll get over it soon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I am my own Grinch.

If you can guess what this is, I will give it to you. (A hint: it is not a poo on a stick. But it is something on a stick.)


I am trying to figure out what happened to me today.

My mood has gone from zero to 60. Zero as in this morning I was going to walk up to the Carmelite Monastery of Cristo Rey at the corner of Fulton and Parker and sit in the pews. No joke. I was. It was misty and grey this morning but I wanted to walk there to smell the incense. I know you must think I've lost my mind. But I like churches, as places. I can't even explain it right now. (I could perhaps trace it back to watching Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story, but that would mostly be making it up.)

In the meantime, between wanting to be a pretend nun and sit in a pew, I have come down with the cold (again, WTF?!!) that I had last week and now I hate the holidays. I don't celebrate them, but I'm so over them.

And zooming to 60, as in now I feel like writing terribly sarcastic letters to tangential people I know that annoy me and am feeling very badly that I don't own a typewriter. All of a sudden, I really really want a typewriter. I want to smell the typewriter ribbons and the dust that gets inside the keys. I want onion skin paper to type on and those crappy eraser thingys with the little fan to brush the eraser crumbs off at one end. And I want a real phone. A phone with a twisty cord and a heavy receiver, the kind of receiver where you could screw off the end of it and see all the wires and shit inside of it. The kind of phone you can slam down in the cradle. I also want a Texas Instruments calculator, like the kind I had in 6th grade, where the keys made these clicky sounds and the numbers lit up in little red LEDS. I want a transistor radio so I can take off the back and look at the circuitry that looks like itsy-bitsy buildings and roads.

I'm tired of iPhones with their slick, smarmy screens.

I want buttons I can PUSH.

I think what I'm trying to say is that I want things to be real. Like they used to be.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fairy Godmother Photographer

My original image, with a very nice crop and rounded edge provided by Melissa, who is writing a magical baby blog for the daughter she will be meeting soon, Everly.


I've decided that January is my month. It's the month where I'm going to make things happen, photography-wise. Networking, marketing, whatever I can do. Like I mentioned before, it's not enough to just take the pictures now. I have to try to do something else with them.

I'm hoping that some solutions and ideas will come naturally to me (mostly because I really don't know where to start) and also because what I want to do most is take the pictures.


A few weeks ago, I did a maternity photo shoot with beautiful Melissa (who was one of my early adopters for i live here:SF) and her handsome and talented husband Brent (who is the latest subject). I'm loving how their set came out and found the shoot to be very inspiring. I'm also enjoying taking photos of parents and their kids and I have a few more shoots like that coming up. And some parties, a wedding. Maybe more in the hopper, who knows? Let's hope so.

Anyway, there's something very sweet about being on the sidelines of someone else's life. You get to peek in, share some beauty, and then give them something to remember forever. Kind of like being a fairy godmother. Bibbity bobbity boo!

So if any of you have ideas for me, business wise, networking wise, client wise: let me know. I'm looking for all kinds of connections and advice. You never know where the next great meeting will come from.

I'm still updating my site, and will be as more shoots come along.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TONIGHT! Blush Wine Bar! Meet Us!

No joke. Me, Troy and Stuart...we want to meet you! Hang out, chat. That sort of stuff. (I mean, you can buy things if you want. But I'm all about having a reason to dress up a little.)

Hope to see you tonight at Blush! (476 Castro @ 18th.)


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Beating

Just the other day, The Boy paid a man $25 to beat me up.


To be fair, he paid another guy the same to be pummeled from head to toe.


We went to the Relax Feet Spa. (Actually I'm playing with you. They didn't beat us up. It only felt that way. Sometimes. Sometimes I liked it.)

Actually, I'm still playing with you. Mostly I liked it except for the few times where I thought I might have a fractured bone and had very bad thoughts about the man who was wreaking havoc with my entire nervous system. I did check the following day to see if I was covered in bruises and I wasn't.

This little reflexology foot massage place is a few blocks from our house. I had passed it several times on errands and took this photo with my phone. I was so excited to see this place, meaning that I didn't need to go to Chinatown for this particular brand of exquisite torture. I have a feeling that reflexology massages like this have some sort of healthy outcome, if not solely for you being super grateful when they are over with. I do want to think that other modalities of health care have merit even if we Westerners don't understand them because we only go to doctors once something is messed up. We don't go to them to prevent illness.

(On a somewhat tangential side note, I don't know about you but I keep getting a lot of emails from Barack Obama and friends about last-minute lobbying for the health care public option. You might notice that I have stopped entirely cold turkey about blogging about politics since the election. I have given up. I now think both parties are totally useless. But I digress...)

When we walked in, a young girl handed us a laminated menu with several exotic selections for our foot baths. We both chose the Chinese Medicine bath. Not only did we get foot baths and foot and leg massages, but that $25 entitled us to entire body massages. The man beating The Boy was the one in charge. He pointed at The Boy after our massages and said bluntly, "Too fat." To which we both stood silently, with big eyes. I did not tell the massage man that we had a grocery bag full of melting ice cream, a big bag of marshmallows for cocoa, and some other things that aren't super healthy.

He kept repeating it. "Too fat. Too fat." We nodded to say we understood. "Broccoli," he added. "Good poopy. Broccoli." And then preceded to trace imaginary veins up his forearms. I'm not sure exactly what that signified, but it wasn't looking good. Anyway, we'd managed to make some small talk with him ("Charlie") just because, in his direct and concerned way, despite the beatings, we liked him. He was sincere and so hard working. He told us he came from Peking (he said distinctly Peking and not Beijing, which I thought was interesting). He had lived in Alaska and Minnesota and Southern California, working in Chinese restaurants wherever he went. Now he was "too old" to work in a restaurant, so that is what brought him to San Francisco.

Despite the language barrier, it was obvious that he wanted us to be healthy. Despite the feeling that we had been punished for transgressing the physical needs of our bodies, we got a golden VIP Card so we can go back to Charlie and his silent buddy Michael for more pummeling. Perhaps they'll help us get healthier, who knows. At least they care more than the people in Washington DC about that sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Advisor

Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself. ~ Cicero


So this morning I gave an interview to a writer for the SJSU alumni magazine, Washington Square. She had found me via the San Francisco Chronicle article that came out on October 1 about i live here:SF. I'm going to be part of a laid-off alumni finds new direction in life kind of article. It's flattering just to be found and contacted, let alone think that someone would actually be interested in 1. my story, or 2. my pearls of wisdom. But it still feels quite odd, mostly.

I think part of my dilemma is that I don't really feel qualified to give much of a chat about anything...yet. I'm not an expert on photography or even portraiture, nor an active alumnus, or even someone who really feels down-and-out even though technically I am unemployed. When we talked about my major and my school days, it seemed like an achievement made by someone else. I vaguely remember going to school at this point. Lord knows where my diploma is. (Last time I found it, it was with a bunch of old CDs under my bed. I did not mention that to the writer.)

I thought back to my previous post about Julie & Julia. One of the commenters there pointed out that Julia has probably misrepresented her connections and qualifications in the publishing world, as she started her blog on Salon.com and that's not really where the newbies go to get their first blog. And here I am, thinking I'm totally the opposite. It makes me wonder really what it is that people see in what I'm doing. To me, the purpose of blogging personally hasn't really changed, and although i live here:SF is a blog written by other people, I still see it as a local thing and mine. Even though other locals (and some not so) seem to love it, too, and I'm really grateful for that.

I get the you should do a book/video/other creative thing advice a lot from people lately. I guess I will. I mean, I know I will. Someday. But why push it? When the writer asked me for what advice I had for other laid-off people who are struggling at this time, all I could say is that they needed to have hope, to hang in there. That something good would come of all of this eventually but to try to force things to happen just makes life harder. That's probably the most experiential advice I could give. And to have fun, if you can.


I'm basically getting by. Scraping by is probably a better way to put it. I've had some inquiries about other gigs, and have sent out some estimates, and am waiting. If these jobs come to pass, then that will be awesome. I'm finally looking at how to market myself, and use my recent experiences to carry over into something bigger and-- well-- paying. Now I feel like I'm the newbie.

I've been taking pictures, pictures, pictures. But after that, where to go next? How do I take the next quantum leap?

I should probably take my own advice.

You know who you are.

Yesterday I asked you to read a beautiful story about a breast cancer survivor and new friend named Sonia. At the risk of repeating myself in two places, you can read the followup here...

I do believe that human beings make the best angels, and so you know who you are.

Thank you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Stories of Our Lives.

"Three big things happened to me when I moved to San Francisco: I found myself; I met the love of my life; and I got breast cancer." ~ Sonia, i live here:SF

This is the second time in about two weeks that someone has emailed me their i live here:SF story to me and I've read it on my iPhone, crying, in a public place. The other person was Mike. I'm so touched how beautiful (and beautifully written) some of these stories are, and then so blown away by what people want to share with me, and you, by proxy.

I really don't know much, if anything, about my subjects. I like to be in the dark. I don't really want their stories to influence how I take pictures of them. I did know that Sonia had had breast cancer. I didn't know anything else about her life.

Her story is a beautiful San Francisco love story. Read it, share it with your friends. Leave a comment for Sonia on i live here:SF (she'll like that), and then find someone you love and TELL THEM you love them. Or hug them or kiss them — I don't care. Just be with someone YOU love.

ps.: I wanted to thank all of you who commented on my recent post about Julie & Julia (you know, the post where I actually wrote something and didn't immediately send you to another website.)

I keep meaning to come back to you here and share another story. I have a few in the hopper of my mind. But like all things last week, something else inevitably comes first. And then there are other stories that are so much better than what I was going to say, like Sonia's, that I just have to let them get in the front of the line.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dottie Oh Dottie

"I was deployed on September 11 for homeland security. At 21, I was in Iraq as a prison guard (No. Not there.)"

Read the rest of Dottie's story on i live here:SF.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Julie & Julie & Julia

Last night, The Boy came home with a DVD (why do we call them videos anymore or is that just me?) -- it was Julie & Julia. You know, the movie based on the story of NY blogger Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about her year of cooking through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Actually, he also brought home a boxed set of DVDs of the entire history of WWII, but at 9:45pm, that seemed a little too intense to get into before bedtime.)

So I'm assuming that all of you have seen Julie & Julia and I'm the latecomer here. I read the book early on in my blogging life and proclaimed it "cute." I really wasn't in any sort of hurry to see the film (obviously) as I'd read the book, despite the adoration of Meryl Streep.

Anyway, watching the movie was something of a very humorous revelation. Yes, Meryl Streep was wonderful. Yes, Stanley Tucci was adorable and sexy. Yes, it made me pine for Paris and all foods cooked in butter.

The humorous revelation actually came from The Boy and his increasingly regular outbursts at the screen: "That's OUR life up there!" "What did they do, put a spy camera in our house?" Or he'd just shoot me a charming look composed of equal parts smugness, martyrdom and incredulity. ("Are you going to write this in the blog?!")

It's not that I would compare myself to Julie Powell at all, aside from the fact that we both blog and yes, our first names are the same. (And the somewhat occasional yet maniacal attachment to our blogs as a representation of ourselves to an imagined audience.) But now watching this movie through The Boy's eyes, almost three years after my foray into blogging, it was a somewhat revealing portrait. I'm guessing that many other bloggers felt the same way seeing this film.

It did make me reflect and take inventory of the color and shape my life has taken since I started blogging. As this blog, tangobaby, was my first and still my "real" blog even though other passions and projects have moved to the forefront, the majority of the lessons learned and connections made have come from here. In the crucible of boring office jobs, a yearning for creative outlet and an unsure self-worth... how many of us fall into blogging? As a combined escape from the mundane or outlet for our desires, the numbers of us out there must be staggering.

I guess I just haven't given much thought to how the practice of blogging as a cultural phenomenon has been portrayed in our society. Although there are many bloggers out there, there are still even many more people who've never read one or heard of one. The Boy made a comment about the future trend of movies will now be based on the lives of bloggers, but boy howdy, I'd much rather watch one of those blogging inspired movies than one based on yet another comic book character.

In retrospect, I can't think of a reason not to blog given where I've come from as a result. This blog in particular may take on different levels of importance depending on what other creative pursuits land in my lap, but I can't help feeling that the essence of tangobaby is at the core of a lot of it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Size Matters.

I'll be blunt here. Yes, size matters.

Ever since we launched CALIBER (which, btw, has been going gangbusters and I'm so excited to see how the site's evolving), I've become addicted to seeing my photos the way they should be seen:

So that template format really put a bug in my craw and made these little Blogger templates all of a sudden totally unsatisfactory. Small and wimpy.

But I know NOTHING about CSS and just the thought that I might accidentally fuck up my template again (like I did the last time), has kept me from changing things around. This past weekend, though, I finally had had enough.

Plus, in wishing for the "Magic Button" that would do most of the heavy lifting for me (ie, bring over 70-odd posts from i live here:SF without screwing up my entire year's work), it turns out that Wordpress actually DOES have something called the Magic Button.

Et voilà! I get my big hunky photos and i live here:SF looks goddamn fine now.

So, if you link to or bookmark the old site, change your links:


Like I said, size matters and BIG is Best!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How do you measure a year in the life?

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes: How do you measure,
measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.
Seasons of love.

~ From "Seasons of Love", RENT


Like other parts of my life, the Grove now brings me full circle. Just as I say that when I am in San Francisco I am alive, the same holds true for the Grove.

What the Grove embodies is that inexplicable but unmistakable reason why I live in San Francisco. When I am in the Grove I am alive.

I know the City has flaws and challenges and its own problems, but this City has more of one thing than any other city I have ever been to – heroes.

~ Mike Shriver


Something has been accelerating lately... a cosmic push that's led me to some eye-opening and life-changing meetings. I can't describe it exactly but some of the people that have been meeting me, many of whom will appear soon on i live here:SF are filling me with appreciation and awe.

There's been a concentration of happenings — I don't know what else to call them exactly — of people who have entered my life and awareness, almost en masse. These meetings bring into question my supposed belief that there are no coincidences, that we place too much importance on things happening for a reason. That we ascribe importance to random events that really are only random events, but our need to believe in a universal something makes us yearn for a design, a plan.


Only a couple of weeks ago did I meet Mike. Perhaps it's the new camera, but when I have it around my neck, people come over and talk to me. It's like part of my uniform now.

So I'm in Dolores Park, on my way to meet someone I've never met for a photo shoot, as is my way. ;-) This slight man, wielding a larger camera than mine makes eye contact and asks me if I've ever seen the red-tailed hawk that lives in the park. I haven't. Then we get to talking: about birds, camera, being obssessed with photography, and one things leads to another and then it's like I've known Mike forever.

I have no idea how the subject of the National AIDS Memorial Grove comes up. But then it turns out that we have a mutual friend, a wonderful man named Jack Porter who helped found the Grove. So we had even more in common.

December 1 was World AIDS Day. Mike texted me to see if I could help him cover the day's events and help him take photos of the celebration, awards and speakers. Of course, I got there as soon as I could. I have photos to share that I'll be uploading soon. What I will try to relate as well is the feeling of incredible love and hope that exists today for those on the forefront of fighting AIDS and discrimination for HIV+ people. What I learned about this disease, now in the 25th year since its discovery, shook me deeply and also made my eyes fill with tears of compassion for the people who live with this illness on some level daily.

For those of us who think our lives are not affected by AIDS and never will be, it's just not true. I asked Mike to share his special SF story with us and it is a beautiful story. I hope you'll read it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Biggest Scoop (so far)

This young lady was more reticent than Garbo to share her story. Normally, I don't really ask people to participate in i live here:SF. In some cases, I do, but mostly I rely on volunteers and referrals to make the project happen.

This is my little friend C. You might remember her from previous posts... she's one of my treasured local buddies. Nine going on 39. I've told her about i live here: SF before and although she sounded mildly interested (in between quizzing me in long division and using up my cell phone battery to play games on my iPhone), I didn't think I'd ever scoop her.

Somehow The Boy was able to pique her interest, so today I was gifted with a sheet of binder paper containing her handwritten thoughts about San Francisco. I'll be posting the story tomorrow morning so we can all read it with fresh eyes. (I'm excited!)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Day After, again

Reflections on a Thanksgiving.

Thought 1. I am very glad it doesn't occur to me to cook like this all the time. I mean, I love my Thanksgiving recipes and mercifully seem to forget all about them except for once a year.

Thought 2. Preparing the food is probably more fun than eating it. By the time the turkey is ready to go in the oven, I'm so grossed out by the thought of eating it that the cooking of the turkey is almost like an afterthought (I'm really all about the stuffing, actually. The turkey is the vessel). Something you have to go through with since you've come this far already.

Thought 3. I believe Thought 2 firmly until the crispy turkey skin smell starts invading the house. Then Thought 2 becomes downright silly, and what am I saying? Of course I'm going to eat what I cooked. The turkey skin is my favorite part. Stuffing has now become Second Favorite Food.

Thought 4. As I finish the Crack Potatoes, I'm very grateful that some important things do come to me in the form of dreams. This year, I dreamt of Egg Nog Bread Pudding, which upon being awake, I concocted with toasted bread, sliced apples, rum, grated nutmeg and cardamom, and lots of egg nog. I made homemade whipped cream. This pudding rivaled the Crack Potatoes in terms of sheer delicious mouthfuls of ecstacy.

Thought 5. The Godfather (Parts 1 and 2), when watched together in its entirety, can keep you fully engrossed and entertained not only during the preparation of Thanksgiving food, but while you're eating it. (First of all, it's about family. Second of all, it's not that gory. You can't watch Goodfellas while you're eating.)

Thought 6. I hate the Food Baby. Good thing my XL Bill's Towing t-shirt hides it. But I can't wear this t-shirt outside. I am trapped indoors until the Food Baby goes away.

Thought 7. I will never eat again. I'm going on a juice fast.

Thought 8. How on earth can I be hungry again?! Dammit.

Thought 9. Cold stuffing and turkey being picked off from the pan in little bits without utensils but dipping in warm leftover gravy is the ideal.

Thought 10. Now wearing the XL Little Shamrock (local bar) t-shirt. Very glad Thanksgiving comes only once a year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Star Monk is back.

John Dobson is back in town until Sunday. Read the rest of the story here.

Morning Mystery

I think part of the reason I love taking photos of people is that some of them absolutely fascinate me. So many worlds to be exposed to.

Above and below are Calli. She contacted me about being part of i live here:SF way back when, in the early days. We went out for tea on a cold afternoon and she told me a lot about her life and her life studying fashion and art here in the city. And then for a bunch of different reasons we weren't able to get together to take photos.

Now all these months later, we finally did. And the wait seemed to be a very good thing. I don't think we would have achieved some of the haunting and extraordinary images that we did until now. Above is Calli in a bodystocking. She explained it as a way to disappear, when you want to be by yourself but you're surrounded by people. The look of it, and the concept fascinated me. I guess I can relate. I also learned a tiny bit about Butoh, just enough to intrigue me and make me want to learn more. As I learn, I'll share with you.

I now have a new camera. One of these photos was taken with the new one, and one with the old (which I'm now calling the Security Blanket Camera). I'm happy using both as I learn my way and how my camera influences my style and what I'm capable of capturing images of. I know I'll need more lenses to do what I want to do but already I can see the quality of photos improve from having a larger sensor. I love being able to control the depth of field, something I was never able to do before.

My mom lovingly gave me a large part of the money for the new camera for my birthday, and I subsidized it with some of the money I made at Tedda's show in September. I think I will name the body of the camera Bunny, after my mom. That seems very appropriate and special. She has told me that she would like to give me some money from my grandmother's account to pay for a lens or two. So I will call the lenses Helens or Little Helens.

I really really like the idea that my grandma, wherever she is, is helping me to see the world more beautifully.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Head of the Pack: Group Show in the Castro

Click on image for a larger version.

I'm excited because a) I'm in this show, and b) the curator chose my image for the flier!

Mark your calendar... December 17 is the opening. You can also meet the CALIBER dudes, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Horse with No Name

I'm home. I'm back. I'm planted at my desk going through 1700+ photos.

Who would have thought the barren desert would have provided such golden photographic opportunities for a city girl like me? Whoa!

I'm slowly sorting through and processing my favorites. I've already blogged two of the images on CALIBER (where the best ones will go due to the large size of the template--yay!) and all of the selections will keep being added to the flickr set.

So you can see what's there for now. This will take a while to digest and work on but I think this set is STELLAR. Hope you do too!


Thank you all so much for the birthday tweets and comments and emails! They poured in all day and your thoughtfulness made me so happy. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Desert Hearts

Princess Chubness and her pal, Wolfie


It's the day I leave Las Vegas, and now I wish I was just arriving. The perfect, identical suburbs, the wide open barren places and the crazy confabulation of "entertainment" in this town leave me feeling lonely.

But nestled in amongst all of this are pure and sweet hearts. You see two of them here.

It may be nice to be an Auntie (Mame or otherwise), because you avoid the crying, the diapers, the sleep deprivation. However, you miss the giggles, the hugs, the clutching, furtive steps to try to walk, the joy in seeing other people love you for just being you.

Today is my birthday and I'll be spending part of it in an airport by myself, headed home to the city I love. But I'll be leaving a part of my heart behind in this desert, because a tiny girl has stolen it with her chubby hands and won't give it back.

Monday, November 9, 2009

All for Love.

Today is a banner day on i live here:SF.

I have a crush on Mat, as I mentioned earlier. But I'm probably in love with Catherine.

Tell me what you really think.

New crush. Smart guys and guys who can write... well, damn.


"I hate this place. It stinks and it's dirty and there's piss everywhere and needles and garbage and yesterday when I went for a run in the park I had to traverse a trail that had been completely covered in used toilet paper. I've been robbed at gunpoint here, just down the street from my apartment. San Francisco is expensive, and I'll never be able to afford to buy a home. The city government is corrupt, there's nowhere to park, the people are all fucking crazy, and don't even get me started about MUNI.

I'm never leaving, motherfuckers."

The rest of the story is here.
You know you want to find out what he says next.

The Odd Relative

Here I am, it's 12:27am as I write this. Las Vegas, Nevada. Sleeping on my sister's couch and trying to stop singing that goddamned song that Ariel sings from The Little Mermaid. The Disney Alert Level in this house is Orange. We are knee-deep in princess paraphernalia.

I fell asleep on the sofa tonight as everyone else was watching the season finale of Mad Men. Since I don't have a television and obviously do not watch the show, I had nothing invested in this episode or any other, and I fell asleep. Now my body clock is punishing me by mentally singing this infernal Disney song and making me write posts in my head.

Anyway, this weekend has been full of family and friends celebrating the littlest one's first birthday. I am staying in a place that is perfectly groomed and planned and made hospitable despite the raw nature that looms so hugely behind this housing development. I couldn't be any farther away from home right now. Not as an indictment of Las Vegas and the baggage/dreams this city inspires, but that all around us we are surrounded by the harshest kind of desert. Nevada makes me feel very conscious that I live on a planet. A rock in space.

Inside this new and lovely home, we don't feel the heat. The treeless mountains that loom behind us look as sharp as glass and are shaped like the fins of sharks. I can't decide if the mountains are protecting us from something even harsher or are just biding their time. I wake up thirsty and my lips are peeling.

In being introduced to my sister's friends and neighbors, and reacquainting myself with extended family that I rarely see, I realize that I am the odd relative. The one who doesn't quite know how to answer: So, what have you been up to these days?

The rootless one. I try to see myself through their eyes and wonder how I can answer that question in a meaningful way. Even if it's only in polite conversation, that question makes me paste a two-dimensional smile on my face that I'm sure is unattractive, and I can feel my eyes drifting off somewhere else and not on purpose.

I could say:

  1. I'm using photography as a metaphor for examining almost everything in my life and the world around me and cannot help doing so. It makes me extremely happy and self-conscious at the same time.
  2. I have a feeling that my life is in total flux and transition and although I'm not entirely uncomfortable with this state, it makes me impatient and often moody.
  3. I spent an hour curling my hair this morning.
  4. I'm doing great!
I've been going with Answer 4.


On Friday, my sister and parents drove me out into the desert so I could be my photographic self. I took almost 450 photos and some of them are stellar, even though I really can't see them until I get home and can import them into my computer. We four-wheeled it over rocks and dusty faint roads and they helped me notice things. In the desert, there is much to photograph.

So even if I am the odd unsettled relative, my sister and my parents understand. I will dedicate this next set of photos to them, for their love and in getting me to places I couldn't have gotten to by myself. I look forward to sharing these images with you soon.

ps.: There are two incredible installments on i live here:SF today. One in the morning (9:02am, Mat) and one in the afternoon (2:22pm, Catherine). I am BLOWN AWAY by these people for entirely different reasons but both have made me have crushes on them. Please promise you'll look at their photos and read their stories today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Mr. Widdicome, there's no such place as San Francisco. Please!"

Rosalind Russell as the incomparable Auntie Mame.


From way back when I could even remember thinking about it, I never wanted to be a mom. It didn't feel like something I wanted to be when I grew up. It wasn't a judgement: good, bad or otherwise. I just never envisioned myself as being a mom, like I never saw myself being a nurse or a firefighter.

Not that Mom is an occupation, mind you. But somewhere way back then it was just a lifestyle I didn't think much about.

However, I have always wanted to be an Auntie. And luckily for me, I am.


I can't remember the first time I saw the movie Auntie Mame on television. I do distinctly remember thinking how fantastic Mame was, in her exotic and fun clothes, surrounded by cigarettes and men and witty banter. Somewhere way back when, I did decide that if I was ever going to be an Aunt, I would try to be an Auntie Mame type.

I'm still working on it.


I'm leaving tomorrow to go to Las Vegas, as my delightful confectionery dumpling of a baby niece (aka Princess Chubness) is going to be One Year Old at the end of the week. !!!

I am also going to have a birthday (next week, but close enough) where I am going to be One Plus Many More, so we're going to celebrate together. I am already missing San Francisco, though, even though I'm still here and not even packed yet. However, the smiling tiny faces that I'll be kissing soon will get me over that tout de suite.

I'm covering my tracks by scheduling advance posts on CALIBER and i live here:SF so no one will know I'm gone. Maybe I'll make an appearance here... who knows, but I will be working hard on my Aunting:

"Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

photo from the New York Public Library.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A High CALIBER Event!

The tallest, cutest Sorcerer's Apprentice you ever saw.


Boy, our photo walk was really awesome. I think Troy, Stuart, Brad and I were a wee bit surprised at how many people showed up. It made us feel terrific.

Thanks to all of you who joined us. I know we'll be doing this again, hopefully soon!

Here's a little peek
at what I saw, but you can get the entire party picture on CALIBER, of course.

You asked for it.

Me, on Halloween at Teatro Zinzombie.


The Boy took this photo. He did a nice job, didn't he? He says I look like Ginger Rogers with dark hair.

I really think I was born in the wrong era. This is definitely my look.

Have a good night. I have to unglue my hair now.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Never too old for this sort of thing.

Ahhh, the enchanting and naughty Linda Darnell.


It's a good thing I live in San Francisco because I like to dress up and do the costume thang and living here gives people like me so many opportunities to do so, Halloween or not.

So I'll be emulating my favorite noir vixen, strolling/trolling Market Street with my camera-toting peeps on our first CALIBER related event.

The ad on my facebook page this morning (I have to admit, I still don't like facebook) is this: "Recommendations for San Francisco women in their 40s - including weekend getaways, beauty, wine - picked by people in the know."

My initial mental response to that ad was Oh yeah? Fuck you. (It is also my lingering, secondary response.) Probably not what this company's web ad pros had in mind.

I'm not that decrepit yet. I know what to do in San Francisco... even if I'm in my 40s!

Hope you all trick and treat well today!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CALIBER's Halloween Photowalk

Photo by Troy Holden of CALIBER.


Join us if you can, for our Halloween Photo Walk!

Get the details here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'll have what she's having.

Actually, I'll have more of what I'm having.



I'm not going to call tangobaby the forgotten blog or the neglected blog. Now that CALIBER has launched, and boy howdy has that site taken off like a rocket, and i live here:SF is going gangbusters, especially since that article in the Chronicle, I come back here and I don't see tumbleweeds.

It's a mite quiet, but it also feels like things are settling into their proper places. Like my blog life is getting more organized.

For the cream of the crop imagewise, I'm going to be posting and writing lots more over at CALIBER. So for those of you who aren't regularly checking in there, please do. Subscribe, tweet it, tell your friends. It's HOT. I'm going to be saving my most splendid photos for that site because, let's face it: size matters. I'll be writing over there too, just like I do here, but some images and stories will be exclusive to CALIBER. (Today was an especially exciting day on CALIBER because we got written up on Thrillist and our site's stats literally blew up. And then we also got picked up by the New York Times' Bay Area blog list... yes that NYT.)

And then i live here:SF, my amazing baby. I cannot tell you how many wonderful faces and stories are waiting in the wings. Seriously. I could be doing this for 8 hours a day lately.

Sooooo, tangobaby might seem a little less action packed, but it's just that the action is getting spread around a bit more, in all the right places.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


"Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?" ~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Yesterday I took a detour. In order to avoid waiting 22 minutes for the 44 bus, I took a walk that brought me back to age 25.

Instead of waiting near Green Apple Books for the bus to take me home, I decided to start walking, not home, but just walking so I wouldn't be standing in the bus shelter for nothing. I headed down Geary, towards the ocean. For some reason, I'm never on Geary, but it was a sunny day, fine for strolling and it seemed a lot better than waiting for the bus anyway, especially since I had no particular place to go but home.

The farther I headed down Geary, the closer I got to Russia. Ever since I can remember as an adult, random Russians (and probably Ukranians, too) have come up to me to ask me something, maybe the time, directions. But in Russian, not English. It used to make me laugh and was always a little surprising. How did they know? I grew up in San Jose. Sometimes I would ask, after explaining I didn't understand the question, and if they spoke English, they said they could tell I was one of them from my nose, my lips. My facial features gave me away.

I was so surprised. It felt odd, and oddly comforting, to be recognized by an ethnic group that obviously I am tied to by ancestry but not much else.

Today I did not get the questions, but some knowing, but very faint, smiles. I returned the tight-lipped smiles. As I walked, I walked further back into my past, into my twenties. I thought of my ex-husband and his family. They had left the Soviet Union, their home in Moscow, back in the mid-Seventies, during the diaspora that sent many Russians (mostly Jews) to the US or to Israel. My husband's father was Jewish by birth but had never been raised in a religious family. But his paperwork branded him Semite and that was enough to make his life difficult. My husband's mother was a Russian Orthodox. But that didn't stop the antisemitism from ruining their lives and his mother was an outcast from her own family for marrying a Jew, and his father was eventually fired from his job as an engineer for being born into the wrong race. In Soviet Russia, Jewishness was a race, not a religion. They had no way to survive or make a home for their two small boys, so they emigrated to the US. To San Francisco.

Little bits and pieces of that past life started to come back to me. I didn't meet my husband until we were in college, although I remembered him from high school. Very shy, with a very heavy accent, he got better grades in Honors American History than the rest of his American-born classmates (including me) and never talked to anyone, at least that I could tell. He had learned to speak English by watching television and had learned to read it by devouring comic books, his only boyish vice. All I wanted to do was save him. And then when I met his family, I wanted to save them too. I wanted to make them happy to be in America. Even though they could not go home, they never seemed anything but dispossessed.

The Russian people —not to stereotype, but nationalities do have their own distinctive character and I came to know the Russian one quite well— and not to be confused with the Ukranian Jewish background of my grandma Annette (and her tales of escaping the Cossack raids and her crossing to America in steerage), but the more modern, pre-Berlin Wall falling Muscovites that survived Stalin and his successors. That dark humor, developed from standing in endless lines to buy black bread, watermelons, cooking oil. The wry understanding that came from bribing officials with black market books and ballpoint pens. The plain white walls and the fake wood paneling. The meager furniture and dull, flat carpets covered in red and blue Persian rugs. The memories of the lazy summers at the dacha. The boiled chicken. The red beets. The pickles. The tea with jam.

They wanted for nothing. They didn't want anything. They only left the house when it was necessary: to go to the store, to run errands. The rest of life was spent at home, reading books in Russian, listening to the radio. I was their connection to the world: the entertainment, the storyteller, the birthday rememberer. God it was hard. It was more than I could handle in the end.

When I left, I didn't look back. Sometimes I regret that ending, but I don't know if I could have done it any other way without crumbling. I think that is why I hadn't been down Geary in a long time. I can go to Chinatown, the Mission, anywhere else in the city without having to deal with my memories. But when these random people smile at me, I feel a twinge, and I miss a little bit of that world.

I stood for a while in front of the Russian Orthodox Church and watched two men talking outside the front doors. One of the men was doing repairs. The golden onion domes sparkled so brightly under the blue sky. In the past, those domes had seemed so huge to me, like St. Basil's in Red Square. But this day, those domes finally felt small, or at least in perspective.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


From left to right: Brad Evans, Stuart Dixon, me, Troy Holden, after the Apocalypse.
(Actually, it's what was the old tuna cannery, otherwise known as the TIE building down in Bayview. Photo by Troy Holden.)


I wanted to introduce you to a new collaborative group I'm a part of. I'm really excited about it, and really excited to share some new photography friends with you.

Brad, Stuart, Troy and I have been part of a photographic mutual admiration society for quite some time, so us forming this group, now known as CALIBER, just came pretty naturally. We've been meeting for Irish coffees after the work day, talking photography and projects and now we have something we're really proud of to share.

Stuart and Troy (to those who knew him previously as Plug1 from whatimseeing.com) are credited for creating a fantastic template in which to showcase what we feel are our best images. We have some ideas and goals for where we'd like to take this group going forward, but for right now, we're happy to share some of our favorite images with you.

Please take a visit to CALIBER and tell us what you think. Thanks!