I am passionate about photography & have been making photos since I was a little girl. I have been a stunt woman for twenty five years. I have a passion for exploration, discovery, and escape. I dream of every place I seek to travel to. A recovering adrenaline junkie, I seek authenticity in everyday experiences. I love Kundalini Yoga,travel, books,writing and authentic, real experiences and people. I brake for squirrels. Que le vaya bien!
As I made my way up the familiar road to Michael Jackson’s final resting place, I wondered what I would write about this year. Then, I saw Miyuki Amano, my friend from Japan. We both reached out to hug one another. It has been two years since she was able to travel to Los Angeles because of Covid. I met Miyuki at Forest Lawn Glendale on June 25, 2010. That was the first year that I started paying my respects to Michael and creating a blog to share with fans around the globe. My heart has been heavy lately and I hoped and knew that by heading to Forest Lawn, the magic there would help. Being around my MJ friends is healing.
Miyuki’s handmade MJ dolls were in front of a sign from Japan as the glaring hot sun was beating down. I asked Miyuki if I could make a photo of her with her dolls in the shade. It’s my favorite place to make photos at Forest Lawn because of the green grass, trees and hills in the background and I love the subdued light next to the tree. “Yes, of course you may.”
She gathered all her dolls in a bag that she put on her shoulder. After showing her the tree I liked, she started to set the dolls up in a way she liked. When I first met her, she wasn’t creating the dolls but rather was traveling from Tokyo with store bought MJ dolls. As she set up the dolls, I asked her how long it takes her to create them. “One month takes each doll with the body, clothes, shoes, everything.” Hardest to make is Remember The Time Doll.” She speaks such wonderful English. It would be so great to be able to speak Japanese the way Miyuki speaks English. “Do you check the dolls in your luggage” I asked, already knowing the answer. “No, I carry them in a backpack. I’m worried to put them in luggage.” she responded.
Every year since 2010 Miyuki travels to Forest Lawn to pay her respects. “I couldn’t come for two years. I’m so appreciative of my friends. I would send my card with friends.” A group of Michael fans in Japan would gather handmade cards for him and send them to Forest Lawn Glendale.
Miyuki’s passion for Michael always moves me to tears and is part of what inspires me to create this blog: so I can share it with fans around the globe who love Michael and cannot travel to Los Angeles. I asked her to help me create my annual MJ doll photo. Thirteen years later, the Thriller doll is missing its shoes and the Billie Jean doll have seen better days but these little dolls still make me smile.
Next I see my friend Siren. This year Siren has created multiple drawings of Michael. For years, before I knew who the artist was, I would resonate with her drawings. Finally, around 2014, I met the mystery artist and was inspired by her story. Her heart is wide open and pure.
Siren and I spoke of the spiritual discovery of Michael and our journeys. “I started to be afraid to look too hard because I didn’t want my bubble to burst but the closer you look, the more you uncover the vault of love. That vault of love is so huge of a love. It was like expanded love, oneness, universal. I couldn’t contain it. Too much for my mind and body. As I studied about Michael, I expanded. It’s not intellectual, it strikes the soul and bursts the heart open. It took me two years to unravel the threads until my mind could believe what happened.” We agreed that the pain alters us, suffering gives us an opportunity for healing. Siren continued. “Michael felt everything. He had a capacity for emotion that he would transmute into his art. We can transmute dark emotions. We are all here to learn from the anger. ” We spoke about his History album and the songs that he created after the false allegations in 1993.
And, Brenda, who traveled with Siren from Canada came over to hug me and we made a photograph as well. It felt good seeing my old friends. Brenda’s artwork is so beautiful to see up close. Her details and colors are so bright and lovely. It made me smile and happy to see her and the latest art.
It’s been thirteen years without Michael Jackson and today, more than ever, I find it encouraging to see people come from different parts of the world to celebrate him all these years later. The creativity behind the cards, paintings, letters and flowers inspire me and it feels good to be outside, amongst other people who could feel the love that this man carried within and shared with his music. Michael wasn’t just one of the greatest artists to walk this earth. He was a kind, compassionate, generous, heart centered, loving and forgiving soul. He teaches us what’s important. We have gone through some dark times the last two years and being at Forest Lawn today gave me a breath of fresh air. I’m grateful I discovered Michael Jackson and the community that he touched. We all have a different story of how we came to know his magic. Mine started after I broke a few ribs on Iron Man 2 the day Michael took his last breath. Sharing our stories brings us together in love which is all Michael ever wanted to do: heal the world. Now, more than ever, our world needs healing and being around others who understood his mission, helps heal my heart.
Since the 80’s, I have had a serious love affair with Mexico. From Acapulco (let’s forget about the tequila incident though) to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Loreto, La Paz, Guadalajara, Isla de Mujeres, Zihuatenejo, Ixtapa, Oaxaca to Mexico City. My last sojourn and adventure was to Cuernavaca, Mexico, a place I can count on for culture with artists like Frida Kahlo, yummy food, kindness from strangers, caring and big hearts.
Without incident, I have traveled to each and every place. A dear friend whom I’ve known for nearly three decades offered me their family home pre-covid in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos state. Amongst the reports of danger that the U.S. consistently feeds us a steady diet, I told my friend that I can’t and don’t live in fear and it was perfectly safe to travel there.
A mere 3 hour and 10 minute flight from Los Angeles, and voila, there I was in Mexico City Airport. Always looking for signs from the universe so finding a 50 peso bill on the exit from the airport seemed like a good omen to me. The Pullman Morelos direct bus to Cuernavaca couldn’t have been simpler to find and my window view included the passing of tall pine trees, various green bushes, green mountains, fields of lush greens, corn fields, Disponible (available) signs, towns with small restaurants one after another, rocks that seem as if they were artfully placed in piles and less than 2 hours later, I was in the Casino de la Selva bus station of Cuernavaca. A ten minute taxi ride and I was brought to an open floor plan home complete with 2 cats including Paquito, who was instantly welcoming and slept in each and every corner of the house as if the entire house was made for him, to Mabel, the second cat, who was convinced I was going to bring her harm and ran from me at every turn. And, Juana, a gentle soul with an open heart who kept the house clean.
John Wayne, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton & actress Brigitte Bardot all had love affairs with balmy Cuernavaca. Walking the undulating hills to the colonial city center to see where Cortez made his home was straight out of a fairy tale of ancient lands.
From its colonial charm with 16th-century architecture and narrow, cobblestone streets to street merchants selling corn on the cob smeared with fiery spices, to the periodic rain storms, I was smitten with Cuernavaca.
In the nineteenth century Alexander von Humboldt nicknamed Cuernavaca “la ciudad eternal primavera” “City of Eternal Spring” because of its warm, stable climate. It’s basically constant in the 70’s. Foreign princes, archdukes, and other nobles have been attracted to this place because of its flowers, sun, fruits, fresh-water springs and waterfalls. Even Bauhaus designer Michael van Beuren had a home here while fleeing the rise of Nazi Germany where he studied and practiced his profession and a colony of Bauhaus designers grew in the city during World War II. Many Mexican residents maintain homes in Cuernavaca and many students go to study the Spanish language. Interestingly, another place that I fell in love with decades ago, Guatemala is also nicknamed “The Eternal Spring.”
Another interesting part of history is Timothy Leary tried psilocybin mushrooms in Cuernavaca for the first time in the summer of 1960 and returned regularly to repeat them. Erich Fromm founded the Sociedad Mexicana de Psicoanálisis from his home in Cuernavaca and helped promote new ideas in psychiatry, even incorporating Zen Buddhism. This attracted many artists and counterculture types.
Each city has a main square or zócolo. After settling into my room, I made my way out to restaurant Casa Hidalgo. With multiple levels to choose from, I went straight up to the top balcony and was given a view of the Palacio de Cortés and the zócolo. I ordered chili relleno, which arrived with arroz, frijoles, con queso a tortillas. (rice, beans with cheese and tortillas.) Part of what I love about Mexico is the attention to details and the ambiance everywhere.
Cuernavaca is mas tranquilo, mas agradable y major ambiente de DF (more tranquil, nicer, better atmosphere) than Mexico City. The primavera pajaros (Spring birds) make such a happy, chirpy sound when they’re singing. Juana asked me why no one in the family had visited their home and she said “No pasa nada de estar aqui, todo es tranquilo, fresco, muy agradable.” “Nothing will happen here, everything is tranquil, cool and very nice.”
I’ve learned not to hit the ground running after a full day of airline/bus travel so I spent the next day exploring the four bedroom home and enjoying my breakfast of mango and Mexican coffee with milk and toast with butter. That evening I made my way to La India Bonita, the oldest restaurant in Cuernavaca with full Mexican décor whose name came from Emperor Maximilian’s lover. From the smile I was greeted with by the hostess to the lush courtyard, I was smiling. I ordered chile en nogada –poblano pepper in walnut sauce.
After feeling rested from a good night’s sleep, I hired an Uber to bring me on a 45 minute drive to Xochicalco. Any UNESCO World Heritage Site is always on my list of first destinations wherever I travel. Even though the initial bus ride was a breeze, I wasn’t quite ready yet to tackle another one quite yet.
The name Xochicalco means “the place of the house of flowers” in Nahuatl, but it’s more like the empire of the flowers. This was a vast walled city-state, a mighty urban metropolis from A.D. 700-900. Its rise to power occurred right after the fall of Teotihuacán. Historians aren’t completely sure why Xochicalco fell but the prevailing theory is that it was destroyed from within.
My first stop is always a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What made this such a quieting experience is it’s large enough to make the drive worthwhile from Cuernavaca but not so big that it is overrun with tourists like the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.
As I walked around the site, I tried to imagine what this must have looked like during its zenith. As fascinating as it is today, it must have been formidable in its time. And, only about 15 percent of the ruins have been excavated. What was even better is after visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacán outside Mexico City, which is swarming with tourists, the pyramids of Xochicalco are a quieting experience, not overrun with tourists. I’m glad I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacán first.
Diego Rivera lived in a home around the corner from where I am staying so a 15 minute walk down Calle Ruffino Tamayo and there I smiled seeing the plaque ‘Diego Rivera lived here from 1951-1957’. An Italian restaurant that was recommended to me, Sapori, is also on the same street. My Bolognese pasta was excellent and tasted as if I was back in Bologna, Italy, where it’s nearly impossible to get a bad meal.
It was time to buy groceries for my extended stay, so off Juana and I headed to the bus station to make our way to experience Mercado Adolfo Lopez Mateos. Everything imaginable is for sale here from exotic fruits like lychee, dragon fruit, star fruit to various meats, a large bunch of Astro Melia flowers for 25 MXN and smoked chilies. It’s sprawling and if not for Juana, I would surely have been lost inside the maze as my sense of direction is no bueno. Here is a bowl of fruit I bought for 200 MXN, about $10 US.
Catedral de Cuernavaca, the fortress-cathedral built at Cortes’s request. It was easy to spend 4 hours strolling through this wonder with its fortress-like style that served a purpose to impress, intimidate and defend against the natives.
Jardin Borda – quiet, leafy sanctuary built in 1700’s inspired by Versailles. There are paths, steps and fountains laid out in a series of terraces. I love the typical colonial style where the buildings are arranged around courtyards.
Museo Casa Robert Brady – 16th century Franciscan convent. He spent his life traveling around the world collecting art he loved and lived in Cuernavaca for twenty-four years.
Parque Ecológico Chapultepec – Definitely worth a visit to see people, waterfalls, a butterfly sanctuary, ducks, a running stream throughout fed by waterfalls and lined with a lush jungle, large trees, a pair of crocodiles basking in the sun, peafowl and a way to experience lush Cuernavaca.
There is a tourist initiative called Pueblos Mágicos, or Magical Towns. These are designations given to small towns around the country that provide tourists with an otherwordly experience either through culture, environment or history. In other words, an authentic traditional environment.
Tepoztlán is the only pueblo mágico in Morelos. There is an ancient temple set high atop a cliff, a 16th-century former convent. Amongst gorgeous mountain scenery, and winding cobblestone streets nestled in a green valley, it has a mystical quality and a charm. I found the zócola filled with people selling clothing, and a natural products store where I bought shampoo made with rosemary, eucalyptus, aloe vera, basil, avocado bone, nopal, jojoba, verbana, royal jelly, mint and not one chemical in it. En route to Tepoztlán, I commented to a girl sitting next to me how pretty the bread was in the basket of mixed types and styles. She offered to open it for me, to which I politely declined not just because I wasn’t hungry but I didn’t want her to break open her lovely bread basket for me.
Taxco- Another bus ride, this time from Terminal Estrella Blanco. I was speaking to a girl on the bus and asked her about how to get to the Zócalo. Google Maps had me going in circles more than once and I knew Taxco would probably confuse Google Maps and me endlessly. She walked me all the way to the center. The kindness I found at every turn in Cuernavaca was the norm, it was consistent.
As I sat on the bus from Cuernava back to Mexico City, the bus driver waved at every bus coming the other way. Waved and smiled. “Que la vaya bien” “May you be well” said the girl to me in the bus station central in CD as we both tried to figure out where to meet our respective Uber drivers. I heard “para sirvele” “I’m here to serve you” over and over throughout my stay in Mexico.
Between the ruins of UNESCO World Heritage sites, walks into the city center, colors of red, orange and blues and smells of tortillas unique to Mexico, churches, gardens and museums I visited, Cuernavaca was a soul enriching experience. More than any aspect of my stay in Cuernavaca, was the care I was given by Juana. It wasn’t just that she made each and every meal so pretty to look at with hand made doilies that she had created and beautiful ceramics to eat out of, it was the actual care and affection from a complete stranger, from someone who wanted absolutely nothing from me and gave from her heart. There were heart-centered angels throughout my journey to Cuernavaca. “Agradezco” “I appreciate it”, Juana said when she opened the card I left for her, thanking her for her care and leaving her a gift. More than just courteous, I find the people of Mexico angeles centrado en el corazón, “heart centered angels.” Even as I leave Cuernavaca, I am dreaming of when I shall be able to return.
There was no possibility that I was going to watch the news or doom scroll on Twitter on election night. As I grabbed a back up battery, I rushed out the front door. I always carry an extra SanDisk card in case I forget my card in my camera which last night I did as I was anxious to get into the city and in my car I went. Beginning on Sunset Blvd, I headed east from Laurel Canyon. That’s when I began to see my city with boarded up stores as far as Western Avenue. I stopped by Objets d’Art & Spirit, to see the owner who has worked for decades to build her dream in Los Angeles. This store was on LaCienega for nearly three decades and is now on Sunset Blvd. My heart hurt to see her store being boarded up with plywood.
Motion Picture Editors Guild on Sunset Blvd.
Objets’ d’art and Spirit.
Self Portrait on Sunset Blvd.
This sign gave me hope.
I parked my car so I could walk my city. Yes, my city. I grew up in Los Angeles specifically in the San Fernando Valley. Back in the 70’s, there was less crime. The worst thing that happened here was a hub cap was stolen off a car. The abuse went on behind closed doors. Now, as I walked around with my camera near Western and Sunset, I saw the taco truck where people gathered to place their orders. One man was hanging lights as the others were cooking meat and vegetables and onions over a hot grill. I saw people on their cell phones and others waiting for the bus. Mothers holding their children’s hands, a couple taking off on their skateboards after a quick chat with me. I was filled with so much hope for my city, my country, our world.
As I drove south towards Melrose, I still had no idea how close the polls were. I thought of my father, who came to this country from Poland as an immigrant after working with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for five years, to get the proper permissions to enter America. His hopes were to start a new life, a life after the Holocaust and America was his chosen dream. My father taught me that with hard work, I could create my own dream and I did but it required dedication, commitment and a never ending drive and persistance to become a stunt woman in Hollywood.
As I drove west on Melrose and saw more store fronts all covered with wood to protect the stores from the inevitable damage, I stopped at another taco bar on the street. There were 4 people working there from the women chopping the onions to the one creating the warm tortillas to the men again cooking the various meats. I thought of my father, who worked at least 4 different jobs to put food on the table for his five children. I passed movie studios were I have worked over the three decades in Hollywood not only as a stunt woman but in locations. My dreams came true in this city. I know this city like no other from where to park without getting a ticket to where to get the best street taco. Still, I remained hopeful for the outcome of this election.
As I drove south on Highland and headed to Wilshire Blvd and onto Beverly Hills, I had heard that Rodeo Blvd was boarded up but I had no idea what was in store for me. Not only boarded up stores but all access to Rodeo Blvd was blocked with barriers, police and security guards. Here, I spoke to a young man and asked if he knew where we were in the polls. He said it was close. I asked him who he voted for as I could feel his answer in my bones. “Trump” he replied “And now I regret it.” I had no words so I stayed silent. This was the first time I checked my phone all evening to see the poll numbers.
Photographing Beverly Hills and all our city with boards up and down the streets hurt my heart. What has happened to our country and can we save it? When I awoke this morning, November 4, my dear friend Ruth, who has been building homes in Los Angeles for years, posted the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith on Instagram and wrote “America! I believe you have good bones.” Maggie Smith writes out of experience of motherhood, inspired by her children. And, Ruth, who has worked so hard to raise her two children in Los Angeles, gave me hope this morning.
I thought of my father, who would buy the crummiest homes because he said “It had good bones” and how he bought homes and built homes all over the San Fernando Valley to support his children and give them a better life than he had in Poland. I awoke with hope, again.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children. Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways, a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird. For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger, there is one who would break you, though I keep this from my children. I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.
Michael Jackson taught me what media bias is and the karma train has made another stop. Not one single solitary media outlet has reported the fact that James Safechucks’ multi million dollar posthumous lawsuit was thrown out of court again. This time it was dismissed with no fake technicalities as an excuse either. That makes two different judges who ruled for dismissal. Channel 4 is financing director of Leaving Neverland Dan Reed to be there.
Not one media outlet would publish anything pro about Michael after the Leaving Neverland mockumentary, fakeumentary. The media flooded the public consciousness with MJ guilt bullshit all over again.
Michael Jackson was always innocent from Evan Chandler’s extortion case in 1993 to the Me Too Arvizo’s in 2005 to the attempt from Wade Robson who not only was the first witness for the defense in the 2005 trial but whose attempt to obtain millions from Michael’s children’s inheritance was thrown out of court in 2013 as the lies were so preposterous that the judge said no one could believe them. Two white men slandered a dead black man, the media treated their allegations as fact without offering a platform to the defense of the dead black man.
No more dirt being thrown at Michael’s name with false accusations. The accusers were after money, they were always after money. Michael has been proven innocent multiple times, the accusers discredited and caught in lies multiple times and the only reason “Leaving Neverland” was made and released was because he’s not alive to defend himself.
Unless you have read “Conspiracy” by Aphrodite Jones or “Redemption” by Geraldine Hughes, unless you have read the court transcripts and the police reports and the FBI report and watched Square One on Prime and truly researched the truth of the witch hunt against this man, as I have for ten years, then you don’t know the truth.
You do not know the truth about Michael Jackson, you only know the lies the media force fed the public for 27 years. It’s time to stop judging someone based on media propanganda. Michael Jackson was a loving, giving, compassionate person whose only goal was to create music and heal the world. He gave away 500 million dollars to various charities in an attempt to heal the world. All Michael Jackson accusers from Evan Chandler to the Me Too Arvizos to James Safechuck and Wade Robson were after money. As Michael wrote in “Money” – “They don’t care they’d kill for the money.” Let’s stop with the slander against a dead black man who is not here to defend himself.
I leave you with this. In 1994, Michael Jackson was responsible for the life-saving surgery for Tamás Farkas (previously Béla, 28) by paying for his liver transplant in Brussels. They stayed in touch until Michael’s death. It was a rare occasion when Jackson’s charitable act received publicity and media attention. This is who Michael Jackson was.
UPDATE: April 20, 2021: Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark A. Young has tentatively dismissed the last of the cases brought by choreographer Wade Robson against the Estate of Michael Jackson. On this final ruling, the judge’s decision was “no triable issue.”
Final ruling: April 27, 2021: Dismissed again, for the 3rd time. Robson’s cases against Jackson and his estate came out of a left field claim that he was sexually abused when he was a child. Troubling and suspicious as Robson testified in Jackson’s defense in his 2005 trial and continued to sing his praises, even after he died. Only after the estate rejected him to work on the Michael Jackson “One” show, did Robson make the claims. Leaving Neverland was filled with so many holes, that it was debunked within the first month of release.
The truth is I wasn’t going to blog on the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s 62nd birthday this year. Not only have we been in a heat wave in Los Angeles but I have been trying to manage with my mother locked down in a nursing facility, left brain damaged from her second husband’s abuse. For the past six months, she has not been allowed visitors but I have been given permission to see her from a gate for 25 minutes, in the sun, with traffic whizzing by, two times a week. The isolation is getting to her as she does not understand why she has no visitors coming inside even though I have tried to explain the situation to her. She asks me to “come inside”, “let’s go” “vamanos” and “open the gate.” Finding a perfectly ripe avocado made me happy, because it’s the only food they allow me to bring her.
The medical director of the facility told me “We need your voice, don’t back down” so I haven’t but it’s exhausting. Then, to make matters worse, I was told that the facility working with the Dept. of Health would open up a safe, social distanced arrangement where family can visit without endangering the residents, staff or visitors at the end of August. There were 5 new cases in a building in the same campus two weeks ago, so the residents have been locked down once again.
In place of boredom, I offer my mother spontaneity. In place of loneliness, I offer companionship. Instead of feeling helpless, being able to visit with my mother gave me the opportunity to take care of another human being. I look forward to the day that will we set them free from this tyranny.
As I pulled into Forest Lawn Glendale, I was wondering if Michael would be remembered this year as more people tend to visit on the anniversary of his death, rather than his birthday. As I saw the intricate, creative cards and the stunning arrangement of flowers, I knew I had to share these photographs with his fans so here I am again.
Helena Ong – Malaysia
My heart is filled with sorrow because of my mother’s isolation and if I can bring a smile to someone in the world, sharing the love I am witness to at Forest Lawn, then I have accomplished something meaningful today. No one understood this better than Michael Jackson, whose genuine love and caring for humanity was part of why he touched so many hearts around the globe. Michael Jackson was the embodiment of love, kindness, caring and the most creative soul to ever walk this planet.
Finally, last but not least, the love between Gloria and her fiancé, is so heart affirming.
I must admit that the title drew me in because from a spiritual perspective, and as a long time kundalini yoga teacher, breathing is what gives us our life force or prana.
This is the last novel by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector. Published posthumously in Brazil in the late 70’s the book takes the form of a dialogue between a male author and his female creation Angela Pralini. I wonder what Lispector would have thought of it had she lived to see it published.
Clarice Lipspector began this book in 1974 and finished in 1977 on the eve of her death. She was dying from ovarian cancer.
There was a mountain of fragments ather death. These fragments form a dialogue between this godlike author who infuses the breath of life into his creation which is the speaking, breathing & dying, Angela Pralini.
It was assembled by Lispector’s friend Olga Borelli from the hundreds of fragments “written in agony.” Each paragraph takes time to mull over, for example:
“In every word a heart beats. Writing is that search for the intimate truth of life. Life that disturbs me and leaves my own trembling heart suffering in calculable pain that seems necessary for my maturity – maturity?I’ve lived this long without it!”
“I write to save somebody’s life. Probably my own. Life is a kind of madness that death makes. Long live the dead because we live in them.”
These paragraphs feel like ethereal meditations. I read this book during the covid outbreak, which made it more intensified with the fragility of life all around.
After ten years of blogging about Michael Jackson on the anniversary of his death, I had decided last year, that I would not be writing a blog on June 25 anymore. I felt that I had nothing more to say that I hadn’t already said before. And then this year, covid.
As I pulled into Forest Lawn Glendale, I started to feel a sense of peace in my heart chakra. It’s as if my body knows I am heading into a place of healing and love and I need that now, more than I can ever remember. My mother is in a nursing facility, left brain damaged from her second husband’s abuse, and for the past four months, has not been allowed visitors from family. I managed to get permission to see her from a gate and the experience has been exhausting knowing how isolated and lonely she has been. The last few times she has asked me why I can’t come inside and I have tried to explain to her even though it makes no sense. Yesterday on my 25 minute visit, she asked “is this all” meaning am I ever going to be able to come in, brought me to tears. She held onto the large avocado I brought her as if it was the only thing in the world she could hold onto. Then, to make matters worse, I was told that the Dept. of Health said if she did not have a covid test once a week for a month, that she would be isolated in her tiny bedroom. Last night I could not sleep thinking about how painful this has been for her and all the elders, in a similar situation across the U.S. I prayed to my father and Michael, to help me find someone to help me set them free from this tyranny.
I arrived to the familiar place where cards and flowers are placed and must admit it was not the same without all the red roses that Robyn Starkand organized for the past ten years. However, I saw Silvily, setting up cards from fans around the world. Seeing Silvily Thomas touched my heart, someone I know and love from the “soldiers of love” community and I felt myself getting emotional. I told Silvily I was not going to create a blog this year but after seeing the cards, roses and sunflowers, I changed my mind.
Eleven years later and why am I still moved to write about Michael Jackson? Because now, more than ever, we need to love and care for each other and the fans that normally travel from all over the world to come pay their respects to him, cannot travel this year. My heart is heavy because of my mother’s isolation and if I can bring a smile to someone in the world, sharing the love I am witness to at Forest Lawn, then I have accomplished something meaningful today. No one understood this better than Michael Jackson, who would visit children’s orphanages as well as sick and dying children, before and after his concerts.
Last year I meet Ada Lu who came from Beijing in April 2019 to study communications at USC. Look at all the handmade gifts she made for Michael. The creativity amongst MJ fans has astounded me for the past decade.
Here is Kenna Flowers, who has been a fan since she was a baby. “I was born in 1985. Always been a fan of Michael Joseph Jackson. I remember this day eleven years ago. I screamed. I feel really close to him. I always have and always will.” Then, she shares, as if she has to say it outloud, “I was adopted. This is my mother behind me. There’s just a lot. I wish sometimes, no disrespect, I wish I could know where I come from. I think she would be hurt if I tried to find out.” “I understand” I said as I hoped to hold a space for her to feel safe. Behind our masks, we were both crying.
My friend Gloria and I met and I was so happy to meet her at Forest Lawn, along with Eric, another heart centered soul. Her heart is so beautiful and I went back to Forest Lawn in the afternoon, just to see her. As I was returning to FL after driving back home to get the majority of my blog created, Eric saw me and said “Everyone is in the back. There is a circle of love.” A circle of love is what this entire planet needs right now.
Michael Jackson was a kind, generous man with courage, character, perseverance and he was a social activist who created art to last for all time. Thank g-d for his humanity. He made us better people, less judgemental. The way he loved to help people, his mission to help others was Michael’s walk. He is missed, all over the globe as millions of us felt he was the king of light and love and I feel blessed to have walked on the earth when he did.
A friend posted on Facebook that there would be a peaceful protest in the name of George Floyd and the 601 people murdered by police in LA County since 2012. The invite was benign and I arranged to have a parking spot by that same friend, in the immediate neighborhood. I noticed the invite indicated “Co-led by Black Lives Matter LA BLD PWR”
As I made my way to her apartment off Beverly Blvd, there were barricades placed in every direction indicating that only those who were locals could enter. That was the first sign of something.
The protest was filled with thousands of people from young to old, black and white, even dogs and children. There were chants of “no justice, no peace” and the one that brought tears to my eyes, “I Can’t Breathe” which everyone knows by now, was what George Floyd said to the police officer, Derek Chauvin, who had his knee pinned on his neck/throat.
I walked around Pan Pacific Park, chatting as I do with people in order to make photographs. I would give a gesture or a thumbs up and people were more than willing to pose while I was creating photographs. Then, we began to exit the park and head onto 3rd Street, as we passed Nordstrom and continued to chant together as a group, as shared brothers and sisters in sorrow and outrage.
I received an emergency message from my closest friend, which turned out to have not been made from her, which I took as a sign from my higher power that it was time to head home as we had been marching over two and a half hours at that point in the midday sun.
As I made my way east on Beverly Blvd, I looked up and saw black smoke reaching high into the sky. Instinctively, I started running back towards the smoke, as I wanted to document what was on fire, which turned out to be the first police car set ablaze. I spoke to a journalist from Vice who told me he was there to cover the news. In a matter of moments, the peaceful protest escalated to anarchy. It felt like orchestrated social chaos and it was not the same people who were peacefully protesting on the streets for two and a half hours prior. Now there were people inciting violence, raging and screaming. It felt as if the police vehicles were placed in a grid and someone wasn’t just blowing up their engines, the cars were being incinerated. Something that elaborate had to have been planned.
What I saw on Saturday, in the second part of the day, as an on-the-scene-witness was an orchestrated operation. I think the goal was to create circumstances to justify a crack down, the elimination of civil liberties and impose martial law.
America is literally burning with outrage. Systemic racism has always been here but it has grown during this administration’s regime. Racial tensions are at their highest levels.
It’s Sunday evening as I write this and I’m still trying to process what I saw and experienced. And if that’s not enough, my telephone sends out a text message that makes me jump because of the shrill sound, telling us Angelenos that we are in a Public Safety Alert Citywide curfew. Santa Monica is on lockdown from 4pm on. LA on lockdown from 6pm on and Malibu just went on lockdown as a precaution. This is after we have been on lockdown for the past three months. As I type this, there are buildings on fire in Santa Monica.
It has been 3 weeks since I have been able to see my mother because I was traveling out of the country as our book was being printed in Istanbul, Turkey. Every night I call the nurses station and one of the nurses brings her cell phone into my mother’s room. “Where are you?” she asks me. She knows something is wrong because I visit her multiple times every week. It’s been so hard not seeing her. I can’t imagine how hard it must be on her, as my sister and I frequently visit her. I was thinking how we are all being asked to not leave home. My mother has been forced to do this for the past forty years so I can do it for a month or two, if need be, for the highest good of all concerned.
Last night on Twitter I read about a man whose mother is in a nursing facility who just tested positive for #covid. She has a cough and slight fever. Her nursing home is under quarantine too and they can only see her through a window. He said she loves cats and to please post photos so he can print them and paste them in her window. And, that made me cry. So, here I am posting photographs of cats and thinking of this stranger and what he must be going through,not being able to visit her mother, knowing she is not feeling well.
Years ago I photographed the cats at my mother’s facility because she loves cats too and I hung pictures of them all around her walls. Here are some of the cats. I hope Michael doesn’t get jealous I am posting this, I don’t think he will.
I think cats are magical creatures, I do. I knew someone who once told me not to post cats photos because it wasn’t cool. Here’s to not being cool.
I made these photos years ago, not to worry that I’m out and about. Back in the days where I was photographing with a Canon 5DIII, for you gear geeks. Notice I don’t go on and on about gear. Because photography is not about which piece of equipment you used. It’s about understanding light, composition, timing, intuition and it’s the soul of the person creating the photographs.
One of the gifts of being in self quarantine since returning from Barcelona, Spain and Istanbul is having more time to read and create blogs. Prayers for the elders and everyone on earth.
This one reminds me of Jackson, who was Michael’s brother.
This is one of marvelous fountains at the facility where my mother lives. We have spent many hours sitting here, just listening to the water flow and watching the hummingbirds stop for a drink. It’s magical just being present with her.
Every year in January, I head to Photo LA, and have been doing this since the 90’s. While walking around and looking at the photographs, exhibitions, and books, I was dreaming that one day I would be able to take my lifelong love of books and photography and combine those loves to create books of my numerous and varied projects.
On January 18, 2014, I waited in line with dozens of people, who were waiting to get a signed copy of Douglas Kirkland’s December 16, 2013 recently released book, “A Life in Pictures : The Douglas Kirkland Monograph.” For all my photography friends, you know who Douglas is. For others, you may not know his name but you know his photographs. Yes, the iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe draped only in a white sheet, was created by Douglas as Marilyn drank Dom Perignon and listened to Frank Sinatra. Not to mention many classic photographs such as Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Dustin Hoffman, Judy Garland with a tear rolling down her cheek, Audrey Hepburn smiling looking as if she has a secret, Ann Margaret on a motorcycle and Cher on roller skates in 1979. This legendary photographer’s book is a manifesto of his whole career. It’s his journey from a passionate teenager in Canada taking photographs with his box camera, and following his dreams to the twenty something photojournalist who worked for Life and Look magazine and had the guts to ask Elizabeth Taylor, who was the world’s leading lady actress, if he could photograph her. He was the only photographer invited to the 1983 Michael Jackson Thriller shoot.
Douglas’s story is about the passion of a young man, the drive, dedication and hard work of following your dreams. Even though he heard comments like “Doug, I think it’s time you should start settling down and forget all this New York photography stuff”, he listened to his heart not family and friends. He is a living legend but bigger than the legend is his heart of gold.
As I made my way to the table where he was sitting, I told him about the project I was working on for 5 years. He had written in his book that a friend of his had told him that if you wanted to contact someone that you really respected, you should write a series of very earnest letters expressing your feelings for their work and your desire to meet them and that you would get through to them. Douglas wrote to Irving Penn three times before he received a response. He ended up with a job working for Mr. Penn.
After Douglas signed my book, I handed him my 1961 Rolleiflex 2.8F and asked him to make a photo of me. Then, I asked if he would look at my project on my mother who has brain damage from domestic violence, which was called “Forgiveness and Compassion” at the time. I asked him if he could help me. He handed me his business card and told me to write to him. I wrote him an earnest, heartfelt letter and six months later I was in his Hollywood Hills home along with his beautiful wife, Francoise. On his coffee table and book shelves was the biggest photography book collections I had ever seen. He spent two hours carefully looking at all my porfolios I had brought and told me when he saw “Forgiveness and Compassion”, “when you make a book on this project, I will buy one.”
Douglas helped cement my belief that you have to ask for what you want. I wrote to him three times about my Kickstarter campaign. After writing to him two times in the last month, I knew I hadn’t heard from him because he was working and it turns out him and his wife were in Rome for the premiere of his documentary “That Click” the night before!
At 3:13am, I received an email from Francoise telling me “I think you have reached your goal, Greetings from Rome. We are at the film festival presenting the documentary about Douglas “That Click” premiered last night, was a triumph.” Douglas and Francoise had generously backed my project, pushing it to its goal!
Not only did I begin photographing nearly 5 decades ago, but I have succeeded in my first Kickstarter backing successfully. I am partnering with FotoEvidence, who gave me the honor of a finalist award in the first FotoEvidence W (Women) Award. FotoEvidence is a publishing house that creates photo books to draw attention to human rights violations, and assaults on human dignity wherever they may occur. As a side note, my book editor,Régina Monfort, worked for Irving Penn for seven years.
By photographing my mother for ten years, I laid the ghost. It feels like poetry that Douglas Kirkland, the man who succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in his dream of being a photographer, and taught me to keep trying and never give up, brought my Kickstarter to the finish line with a generous backing. This story is for all the dreamers. Keep going and the longer it takes, it just means the project isn’t ready yet. Don’t give up your dreams, ever. Being able to tell my mother’s story feels as if a weight is lifted from my soul. I’ve been carrying this around since I was nine years old. One of my writing teachers, Joyce Maynard taught me to “write like you’re an orphan.” That’s one of the aims of this book, to tell the truth.
Insert showing autograph from Douglas Kirkland on his “A Life In Pictures” book: