This project is about domestic violence, mother-daughter reconciliation, forgiveness, compassion, family and hope.
Daniel Milnor wrote an eloquent blog about photographers helping other photographers. It’s the basis of why we are all here, not just all artists but all humans. There is more to life than eating, sleeping, working and vacation. We are meant to reach out and touch each other.
There have been so many angels helping back this campaign. We couldn’t do this without all of your support and belief. I believe that the photographers job is to reveal the truth, even if it’s not the most popular subject. I immerse myself for years at a time with dedication to my photography and cannot pretend for the sake of protecting family secrets. We must uncover truths especially if it’s sad because our job as artists to help others feel. I’m not afraid to be a truth sayer. Photography is a journey of self discovery and at the same time, helping others.
I am partnering with FotoEvidence, who has created 24 photography books documenting social injustice. From their website:
“FotoEvidence Women is a new chapter of FotoEvidence Press, a space for free expression, devoted to engaged women photographers who want to tell their stories in the form of a photo book. Though their lenses women can shape the world differently and we want to give them this chance. “
I’m grateful to announce that my ten year project on my mother, has a publisher. This has been a 10 year journey of writing and photographing her. In the process it began a reconciliation of a mother-daughter relationship after domestic violence, as well as a story of forgiveness and compassion.
This is Part Two of the series, My Mother’s Dolls. These photos are a continuation of the series: He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, which began in December 2009. My mother is in a wheelchair, brain damaged from her second husband’s abuse. She cannot pick up the phone when she is feeling lonely to hear a familiar voice. Or take a walk in the neighborhood, listening to birds singing. Reading a book isn’t an option. She can’t reach out for a dog or cat to pet. Yet she manages to smile at the littlest things, like her dolls. Small reassuring beings, friends in quiet moments.
I have been a participant observer, documenting my mother’s nearly adult lifetime confinement to a nursing home after a brutal beating by her second husband.
I will continue to focus on the comfort objects that help my mother get through her day. These nurturing dolls are my mother’s friends, day and night.
My mother’s birthday is around the corner, and I am ironing nametags onto the various stuffed animals I have chosen for her. I run the hot silver plate over the back of a stuffed grey and black kitty, sealing my mother’s name onto his back, making it hers. My mother loves her stuffed animals. They are her companions, keeping her company and bringing her comfort during the day and late at night.
My mother is in a wheelchair, brain damaged from her second husband’s abuse. She cannot pick up the phone when she is feeling lonely to hear a familiar voice. Or take a walk in the neighborhood, listening to birds singing. Reading a book isn’t an option. She can’t reach out for a dog or cat to pet. Yet she manages to smile at the littlest things, like her dolls. Small reassuring beings, friends in quiet moments.
I have been a participant observer, documenting my mother’s nearly adult lifetime confinement to a nursing home after a brutal beating by her second husband.
My mother is the longest living resident in her home for the aged. When she entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed, too, if I ended up crippled, but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions from frustration. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point where she cannot walk, feed or clothe herself.
This is Part One of the series, My Mother’s Dolls.
These photos are a continuation of that series; He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, which began in December 2009. I am focusing here on the comfort objects that allow my mother to get through the day, nurturing and loving dolls that stand in for the life she lost.
As a bittersweet sidenote, I was awarded the Julia Margaret Cameron Award, 6th Edition, 1st Prize – single Documentary photo from my series on my mother, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard.
That project also made it to the finalists for the CDS/Honickman, Duke University 1st Book Prize in Photography 2014.
Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
Yes, I’m still alive. I had a magical Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was with my two closest friends on the planet. It was pure mind blowing happiness making food, laughing, and being in each other’s presence. L.O.V.E.
In the meantime, I love this quote from Mary Oliver and I love peonies. Oliver reminds me to find the beauty in a single peony. There are multiple versions as to the meaning of the peony flower. One legend is that the peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), who was the physician to the gods, and was given the flower on Mount Olympus from the mother of Apollo. Paeon was a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Another legend is that same doctor was saved from dying by being turned into the peony because Asclepius became jealous of his pupil. What’s with jealousy? I mean, Othello strangled Desdemona because of that scarf that Iago planted, right?
Personally I love peonies because they are constantly changing, just like we are. Really they are never the same twice. They are closed and tight when you first get them, then they open and you get red flowers. They close up at night and then you have pink or white and it’s the flower that keeps giving. Peonies last over a week, sometimes ten days. They are so special they are only in season a short time. Symbolizing a happy life, happy marriage, good health and prosperity, my most favorite part of peonies is they symbolize compassion. I give them to people I love.
Let me get this straight. We were supposed to believe a fully sedated man sat up in bed while his doctor, who was being paid $150,000 nuts a month was out of the room while Michael prepared a complicated injection for himself because he was suicidal?Ch’mon. Propofol is injected via slow drip, not just by jabbing a needle in your arm. Michael killing himself wasn’t going to fly. That’s not a viable line of defense. Or as Dr. Shafer explained at the trial. “People don’t just wake up from anesthesia hell-bent to pick up a syringe and pump it into the IV, It’s a crazy scenario” as he explained how complicated the procedure was. And that is part of why Conrad Murray has been sentenced to four years in custody for the death of Michael Jackson.
Here is a rap re-mix of MJ’s Monster by Bigspookloc and the lyrics by Justice4MJ, which is organized by Erin Jacobs and Amy Kimes, who have rallied and organized fans around the world. I love the passion of MJ fans. They write songs, show support with signs, organize banners, travel internationally to see where Michael lived.
Murray’s defense kept crumbling. If he was trying to ween Jackson off propofol, why did he order 4 gallons? Murray was so grossly negligent, it is criminal. If Murray really was a friend to Michael as he stated he was, he would have enlisted help so Michael could sleep. Friends don’t let friends use propofol.
Thank G-d for the testimony of propofol expert Dr. Shafer. Two doctors who evaluated Murray’s conduct for the California Medical Board gave the following quotes. Dr. Nathan Kamangar described Murray’s conduct as “unethical, disturbing and beyond comprehension.” Dr. Alon Steinberg enumerated deviations from the standard of care and said “if all of these deviations didn’t happen, Michael Jackson might have been alive.”
Here are some photos from the courthouse today.
Jackie Papier from Redondo Beach said “the day I’m celebrating is when the sentencing came down. I’m happy for the prosecution.” She created this t-shirt which she sells and gives the proceeds to two of Michael’s charities: Center for Apes & Unicef.
Taaj Malik is a treasure who has been fighting relentlessly for years on behalf on Michael Jackson with dedication and devotion. She fought to make sure that Michael’s charity would continue as he wanted. I love Taaj, she never, ever backs down.
When you are being paid to monitor your patient and keep him alive you don’t diddle daddle in another room while patient is on a slow drip of propofol. How about the fact that propofol was being fueled into Michael’s veins even after he was dead?
Jackson signed up for a concert tour, he was in rehearsals and yes, he was filled with anxiety. Who wouldn’t be? The coroner’s report clearly stated his body had no signs of substance abuse. Here is what one of the people who treated him during the first half of ’09 said:
“He wasn’t looking to get high or feel good and sedated from drugs,” she said. “This was a person who was not on drugs. This was a person who was seeking help, desperately, to get some sleep, to get some rest.”
When will the travesty against this man end? The lack of humanity was stunning. Murray violated every standard of care while operating outside his area of speciality. No monitoring equipment, delayed calling 911, a botch job on CPR, hiding evidence, lying to paramedics, lying to UCLA doctors, and injecting MJ with a lethal dose of propofol. Not to mention shipping propofol to his girlfriends’s house. Talk about a non-existant morality. His hubris and lack of regard for Jackson cost his life. Oh, and tape recording Michael in the privacy of his own home, his own bedroom. What was Murray planning to do with that?
His story changed four times at the last count. I find it deplorable that Murray’s defense was banking on twenty years of lies, false accusations, skewed stories and sheer brutalization. Maybe when Murray goes to jail, his lying lawyers can visit him with some sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication and maybe twenty-five mg of propofol.
This trial began long ago not June 25, 2009. It began in 1993 when Evan Chandler blackmailed MJ for twenty million. When he didn’t get what he want, he sought to destroy MJ. MJ was the victim of a 21st century lynching while the media loved the news and the scandal. Thomas Sneddon, the vindictive DA of Santa Barbara, was crazed in his desire to destroy MJ. MJ was victimized twice, Conrad Murray ran for 3rd base and hit Michael right out of the park.
The lies continued when Gavin Arvizo’s desperate mother Janet decided to come up with the preposterous tale that MJ molested her cancer stricken son. Since when did character assassination become part of a trial? This is what MJ lived with and died with. When will we learn the lessons. We need to stop blaming the victim.
MJ was known to have insomnia when he toured. His stress levels were on overload. How about if Murray told the truth about this talented philanthropist and entertainer. The defense wanted to slice the pie and hand out pieces of blame. Conrad Murray baked the pie and he overcooked it forty-seven minutes too late while he was on the phone. Oh, and propofol is only usable for twenty four hours after it has been opened or punctured. How about the fact there were open propofol bottles all over MJ’s bedroom?
The media doesn’t reflect the facts. When it comes to Michael Jackson, it is about profit and always has been. Propofol should never be administered in any setting other than a hospital with life saving monitoring equipment not some quack sitting by texting and calling girlfriend(s). Since when do you put someone under anesthesia and then gab on the phone?
I think of most people as balls. We see balls bounce and roll around. They’re resilient, mostly predictable and, no matter what angle you look at them from, they always look the same. But occasionally, we see a person who is an egg. Those are the extraordinary people. To the many balls, the few eggs look and behave oddly, and they clearly are not their kind and don’t fit in. Some of us are ordinary, conforming, uniform balls and others have no choice to reach in search of our limits and, as a result, stretch ourselves out of shape into eggs.
It’s apparent Michael was an egg. There is something about all that stretching that seems to make eggs fragile. If you throw them onto the floor or up against a wall, you can be sure they are going to break. We all know that. America was determined to break Michael Jackson into little tiny pieces. Then the media was focused on MJ sleeping with a doll for more media sensationalism during this trial. When will American media obsession with journalism of personal destruction stop?
We have waited so long for this trial. Did justice prevail? Michael Jackson meant so much to me, not only as an artist but as someone who cared about humanity. He cared about our planet, he cared about children, he simply cared. His neglected childhood would be the catalyst to the makings of a complex man. I think Michael was always a child at heart. As far as MJ being strange, I applaud his unique ways. Aberrant, abnormal, astonishing, astounding, atypical, bizarre, curious, different, eccentric, erratic, exceptional, extraordinary, fantastic, far-out, funny, idiosyncratic, inexperienced, irregular, marvelous, mystifying, new, newfangled, odd, oddball, off, offbeat, out-of-the-way, outlandish, peculiar, perplexing, quaint, queer, rare, remarkable, singular, unaccountable, unaccustomed, uncanny, uncommon, unheard of, unseasoned, unusual, weird, wonderful.
Being different was nothing to be ashamed of. He had a pure heart and he was able to reach people emotionally with his unique gift from G-d. He was among the kindest souls to ever walk the planet which is why so many loved him. With A Child’s Heart is one of my favorite songs. It was Michael Jackson’s anthem and it was what he lived. A child’s heart sees no danger, hatred, sadness, or prejudice, but rather love, peace, and unity. Heavy was the head that wore his crown. He carried a lot of pain, disappointment and sheer loneliness that seemed to plague his heart his entire life.
Michael was a mirror, mirrors always show us the truth whether we want to see it or not. It’s too scary for most of us to look at ourselves so we spend time bashing someone we never knew. MJ had nothing but pure love and goodwill in his kind heart and never hurt a soul. America met him with judgment, resentment, deceit, lies, bigotry, hypocrisy. Why? Because he didn’t womanize instead he preferred being around children and animals.He brought beauty and joy to our world. I would have loved to have been friends with him. Climbing trees, water fights, Disneyland, playing with animals, watching movies. Yes, if that is odd, then I’m on board with the odd train. Troubled soul? Half our planet is filled with troubled souls. Myriads of us walking around day after day but we don’t have the media dropping the ball on our every move. Of course, half the planet took the gossip and dirt and ran with it. Oh, and by the way, I sleep with a doll.
I’m going to see my mother I decided as I was speaking to a friend on the phone. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone who visits a mother with regularity. For me, it’s mammoth. For decades, I wasn’t able to go at all. Then I could only go with my sister. Then, for a while, only with my intuitive healer as she held my hand. When I became able to go alone I could do it only with my camera in tow. My camera provided me with an extra wall of protection from my feelings.
“You’re too sensitive” my father would tell me when I was a little girl. “Hannah, you have to control your feelings, don’t let your feelings control you.” he said later when my mother wound up in intensive care at UCLA hospital. My mother is the longest living resident in a home for the aged. Perhaps it would be easier to accept if she ‘d actually been aged when she entered the hospital-like setting thirty-one years ago. She was forty-one years old then and my family had been trying for five years, between rental homes and hired help, to take care of her after she suffered brain damage at age thirty-six. She had left my father for another man. That man abused her to the point of life in a wheelchair. That man, whose name I still can’t say, was no longer in her life.
When my mother entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed too if I ended up crippled but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point of not being able to walk, feed or clothe her self.
I pulled off the freeway and into the familiar lot. I just wanted to see her and tell her I loved her. A wave of emotion came up inside of me and as I backed my car into a parking spot, I realized I couldn’t go in. My eyes were red, the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt utterly exhausted from the emotion. Sometimes my emotions overwhelm me and all I can do is crawl into bed, into the fetal position that I sleep in, my way of saying I want back in the womb. “Mami, some days just bring the feelings back” my friend said to me on the phone that afternoon. Mami is a term of endearment we say in Guatemala. It seems to have stuck with certain friends.
“But why” I asked as if she could give me an answer. “I thought I was doing so much better.”
Her compassion and understanding were exactly what I needed. “Think of physics. Nothing can ever be at the same place at the same time. A spiral. If you start to go around the spiral, you can be right next to where you were but you will never be in the exact place. Does it ever end up at the same place.” Her words were so soothing as I was melting.
I gathered myself enough to walk into the metal doors. I took a deep inhale before I entered as always. Then I take a deep breath to exhale as I walk down the hallway of familiar linoleum floors that look as if they haven’t been changed in thirty one years. The smell hit me as I was buying a little time with my exhale. A combination of old, sick people, disease, disinfectant, dirty skin, age. I poked my head into my mother’s room. I notice the green curtains long ago faded by the sunlight. Three wheelchairs gathered in a corner of the room. A border of pink & blue flowered wallpaper along the top of the wall. A miniature lone Christmas tree on top of a cabinet from one of her room mates. Never mind that it’s April. My mother was sleeping while a woman in the next bed kept crying and pleading to no one in particular; “Oh, I didn’t do nothing wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything correct. Please G-d help me up. Please G-d ayudame por favor. Please help me up. I have no shoes on. Nurse, nurse” at which point her cry turned into a wail. To keep from crying myself, I had to pretend I couldn’t hear her.
How has my mother managed to sleep with all the voices, noise, lights, blaring TV? I guess after all these years she’s figured out a way to block it all out. I wish I could say the same for me. I am sensitive to certain voices, the sound of television commercials bother me, my cell phone ringing sometimes startles me and I have to switch it to vibrate, jack hammers make me cover my ears and run for my front door. I know I sound dramatic. I have exaggerated emotional responses to just about anything. I have a friend who used to say I was dramatic. She’s right. My brain behaves differently than the average bear’s. Part of the damage that remains for me after watching my mother being abused when I was nine until fourteen; when she landed in intensive care after one night when the beatings went too far. I had pestered my father to bring my mother one of the leather jackets he sold. She liked pretty clothes. That night, a fight ensued between my mother and her second husband. We all have secrets from childhood. My secret for decades was I thought it was my fault she wound up in the hospital.
As the nurse came to help the crying woman up, I turned to my mother in her single bed. Her eyes were closed. She was sleeping quietly. Seemingly careless to our world. She seemed serene. She wasn’t suffering. But I was. My mother taught me forgiveness. I have come down a long road to get to where I no longer judge her as a bad mother. She wasn’t a bad mother. She fell in love with someone else after my father. She listened to her heart, not her head. I’m not different from her. Perhaps that’s why I judged her. I was still judging myself. I’m not anymore. I love whom I love and I don’t care who judges me.
I fire off some photos from my camera. Direct, straight, honest, without pretense pictures. I don’t have a modicum of regret about expressing my feelings through my photos. These photos are meant to take me out of my comfort zone. When I return home to view the pictures I’ve taken, I experience my mother again and I feel my emotions without fear. I was in denial for so long. My photos force me to accept the reality of her right here and now. I wonder when she suffers. I know she remembers so much. That’s why she speaks in her mother tongue of Spanish; she remembers her past. I miss never truly having her in my life. I have the courage to feel all of the sorrow I ran from all those decades. She’s influenced my life in every way but she doesn’t know that which makes me feel an intensified anguish that seems unbearable at times.
My mother doesn’t need a fancy home or clothes or car to feel good. When I brought her a cheeseburger from Fat Burger and I asked her “le gusta?” “Do you like it? “She answered “me encanta.” “I love it.” She’s so in the moment it hurts because she mirrors back to me that I’m frequently not. She suffered to teach me to forgive her. It took me forty-seven years to meet the intuitive healer who would help me heal my anger at my mother for leaving. The healer that I love like the mother I never had, a long lost sister and a friend all wrapped up in one. That’s another story.
I looked at her feet. Her toes are permanently bent down in a way that says decades of not walking. Her feet have not been touched, or rubbed or massaged in probably 41 years. I mean really touched, stroked, cared for. You know the way you rub someone’s feet when you really love them. Part of my sadness is I was not able to visit her let alone rub her feet for too long to admit.
I didn’t need to travel around the world to deepen my spirituality. My greatest teacher was in front of me my entire life. I just couldn’t see it was my mother;a true Bodhisattva. She forgave me for not visiting her all those years and she did that without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving. For me, forgiveness is when you care about the relationship more than your ego.
One of the nurses banged hard into my mother’s bed while trying to help the woman crying in the next bed. My thoughts were interrupted and my mother was awakened. I just shook my head in silence. She can’t even get in solid sleep, I thought. I watched her open her eyes. I could see she was tired. She looked in front of her, couldn’t see it was me without her glasses, closed her eyes and fell back into sleep. After 31 years of living in that room, in that place that is her home, in that building, I suppose everything must make her tired.
This is my mother. No wonder sometimes I’m tired too.