I’m still here! Part one

The storm is over. The ocean’s merciless waves gave away to the smooth horizon of still water. The sky is clear of dark massive clouds that hovered over like shadows. Everything is quiet. Perhaps too quiet, but definitely peaceful, a complete opposite of what happened last autumn.

It’s funny how I used this metaphor to describe my life right now because fishing is one of Renny’s favorite things to do. Last October was the last time we did something together with our son as a whole family. We went fishing at Matagorda, a small and quaint fishing town just off the Gulf of Mexico. It was Rex’s first time playing on the beach and Renny caught a flounder.

Last March I visited Renny at the Travis County Jail after four months of silence. It was painful seeing him behind the thick glass window. He seemed fragile; he broke down crying and apologizing, but there was nothing I could do for him anymore. There was a little left inside me that missed him, but I had to leave him there. Last April, I wasn’t home when the judge sentenced him to the state prison in Huntsville, around seventy miles north of Houston. I wasn’t even in Texas when he rode in the inmates’s bus to his home for next several years or so.

Renny and I still write to each other. It was hard reading his letters. His words frustrated and angered me and I replied with ugly words. The letters became more civilized as time went on and we understood each other better. Of course, too much damage had been done and we will never go back to the way it was in the beginning of our relationship.

I got many opportunities to travel this year, hence the reason why I haven’t been keeping up with my blog. I know a lot of you who read my blog in the beginning are curious about what’s been happening to me in the last six months. I had to put a hold on my film project because my wounds were still fresh, but my desire to see it on the big movie theater screen is still strong.

In my travels, I met a lot of awesome people and when they asked, it was hard for me, but I told them my stories. They were impressed by how positive I sounded when I recounted the dark and frightening moments, but they didn’t know that these moments still sometimes sneak up on me unexpectedly and I become scared for a few seconds. I became resentful toward Renny for that reason. But I learned on my journey that letting go is the best thing to do.

The Beauty of the Frog

Academy Awards Nominees for the Best Documentary Features

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you ever got in your career?

Once someone gave me a little trinket from Japan. It was a wooden frog. They told me that the beauty of the frog is that it can’t move backwards nor sideways but can only leap forward. It was a reminder to stay focused. To this day I bring that frog with me on every shoot and it hangs out on my desk when I edit.

This was a question on the 84th Academy Awards Nominee Questionaire answered by T.J. Martin. He, along with Dan Lindsay and Rich Middlemas, won the Oscar for best Documentary Feature for their work, “Undefeated.” They followed the Manassas Tiger team, the dark horse from the inner-city district of Memphis, in their battle through the 2009 football season to eventually win the first playoff game in their high school’s 110 years history.

I like the frog metaphor because it really hits home for me. I have nowhere to go with no choice but to move forward. However, I learned that some of the things that happened in our past are important enough to preserve and pass on to our next generation. We lived and experienced many days where there were events that changed our lives forever, and often we don’t make a record of them. Maybe we thought, at those times, that they were too personal or not important enough to be memorialized. Then, years later when we reflect on those days, we realize they were the most important days in our lives and we have nothing but memories of it to hold on to. That’s the beauty of documentaries. “Undefeated” may talk about winning one game, but to those players, that game was the most important game of their lives. Once that game was over, they must move on. We all must move on forward. The difference between them and most of us is that now they will have a tangible memory of that life-changing game because it was documented.

I’ve always wished that my life would be as fantastic as Chelsea Clinton in the White House or dramatic as Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family or unique as Jessica Watson, the youngest person to sail around the world solo at age 16. I wished my life is at least that interesting. After last two years I’ve come to term that every single life is worth being documented, regardless how uneventful a life can be. No matter how long a life is, or where the journey is, it’s the sixty seconds in a minute in which a life is changed matters the most. When your life is changed 180 degree in sixty seconds (or ten or two), that is when things start getting interesting. I just happened to have hours and hours of footage about a few life-changing moments on my desk that I believe are worthy to see.

I want to hear from you, those of you who are the experienced and emerging documentary filmmakers. What is the most valuable advice given to you in your career? What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process and what is the most challenging part? What advice will you give to somebody who is getting into the documentary world (like me!)?

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Goodbye, Chuck

The memorial service yesterday for famous Deaf artist Chuck Baird was touching and special. It seems that there are three kinds of people that connected with him: those who are closest to him and have personal relationship with him, those who are art lovers, and those who are Jesus Christ followers like him. It is obvious he was a very well-liked and well-renowned man. Not only was he a great artist, he was also a great storyteller. He touched thousands of lives, including mine, in one way or another, and for that reason, he will be forever remembered.

He died a simple man, yet he showed the abundance in everything- especially in his paintings. He was profusely creative and his love for art was endless. He showed his love and his beliefs in all of his artworks.

He stopped by my home twice, the first time in October and a second time in December. The first time, Renny was living with me. That time I didn’t think Renny would relapse again a week later. Chuck talked to us about his faith in Jesus Christ and how he found love through Him during his long battle against cancer which was ravaging his body and eating away at his bones.

Sitting in a recliner, Chuck told us about the power of praying. I’ve read and heard about how powerful group prayers could be. I am not a church-goer, nor is Renny, but Chuck told us that his church was praying for Renny’s recovery. We were very grateful for that. After a hour or so of talking, we thanked him and he left. We pondered about him for the rest of that evening but eventually his visit moved to the back of our minds and we moved on.

After Renny’s relapse, Chuck stopped by my home again. I was surprised, but, of course, always pleased to see him. I noticed he had lost a lot of weight as I led him to the recliner. His appearance changed drastically in a short time since the last four years he’s been fighting his cancer. We chatted a bit and then he paused. He said, “I was in the area when I thought I’d stop by to see how Renny’s doing. But the real reason I came is that I want to tell you how much I admire Renny.” To him, Renny was an unique man with a great vision. Chuck saw the glow in Renny’s eyes as he talked about the things that excited him and noticed how Renny had the charismatic ability to attract people. I was in the midst of grieving and feeling angry that it took Chuck’s observations to remind me of the good things I’ve forgotten about Renny. Despite the few times we met, his description of Renny was spot-on.

We spoke of forgiveness; that we can only move on in our life if we forgive others for their wrongdoings. The concept is universal, found in every religious book out there. I learned, “Forgive the person, not the action.” While I agreed with Chuck, the wound was still so fresh that at the time, forgiving Renny wasn’t in the picture.

After I left for my parents’ house in Ohio for the holidays, Chuck’s health deteriorated rapidly and when I got back, he was always in and out of the hospital. Last Friday, my friend broke the news of his passing and I was heart-stricken. The fact that his physical being is gone forever finally sank in. He was thoughtful for paying us visits and I wish I could say the same about visiting him. That’s why I felt the urge to write this blog post as a way of remembering our conversations. It’s been almost three months since Renny went away and I still have mixed feelings about forgiving him, but I know that deep inside me I will forgive him one day. After seeing Chuck near his final days, I can imagine that his soul is out there right now, cancer-free and among the angels, celebrating the amazing life he had on this earth. With this thought I can’t help but smile.

Memories and changes, what have you done to me?

I just celebrated my 29th birthday 10 days ago. I love that my birthday is in January because it’s so close to the New Year’s Day and because of that, I see it like it’s my chance to begin the new year. I always feel like that day belongs to me, and only me. So it’s fitting that I like to write my wish lists and resolutions for the year on that day. It’s also close enough to Christmas so I end up getting a lot of gifts in a short period of time. Who doesn’t like getting gifts?

In the midst of birthday wishes from my family and friends, I thought about my last two birthdays. I am still flabbergasted at how clueless I was on both of my 27th and 28th birthdays when I thought about how my life would turn out. While driving on my 27th birthday, I told myself that this year was going to be my best year ever. Sure enough, it was the most interesting year for me. I became really involved in the documentary and traveled across half of the country for it. I became accustomed to the new lifestyle in Austin. We got married. I also did many new things I never thought I would do if I still lived in D.C. Our married life was full of ups and downs but it was a very interesting learning experience for me. On my 28th birthday, I just arrived to D.C from Peru a few days before. I was seven month pregnant. A month of constant traveling and adjustments to the new environment and handling Renny’s relapses took a toll on me. Despite that, the best thing that ever happened to me during that year was Rex.

I just turned 29 and I still have no idea what will happen to me. I asked myself once that if I knew what the future held, would I go ahead and make the same decisions I made before? Probably not, but that’s the whole point of living. We live and learn and we do it again. The only difference is that some of us decide to do it better next time and other of us just repeat same mistakes. We make our choices for different reasons.

Sometimes, we let our memories affect our decisions and sometimes, we just throw them out of the window. It’s entirely up to us to do whatever we choose to do. We can forgive others or ourselves and make the changes for the better right now. The only thing we can’t do is to go back in time and change what we don’t like. The mere thought of not being able to change the past can affect us emotionally and physically, usually not in good ways.

That’s why I try my best to eat, live, and think healthy. I try to buy organic food as much as I can afford them. I use earth friendly products (my guiltless indulgences are body and face products.) Affirmations and positive thinking also help a lot. As a Pinterest user, I find so many feel-good quotes and inspirations on Internet. I practice gratitude. I am thankful for every person who supports me. I am thankful I am not alone. With my husband in jail and I have Rex, I understand how precious a life can be.

I still think about the last two years a lot; I used to lose hours of sleep just ruminating on it, but I’m better at coping with it now. I take it one day at a time and good things are already happening to me. My birthday wish is to have this year be the best year ever.

It’s on

This is it. My biggest fear and challenge is standing right in front of me, staring me straight in the eyes like a bull staring at the matador’s red waving cape. As the bull charges, I’m officially entering the blogosphere as a blogger about something very personal to me. I believe what I am going to do will be the hardest thing for me to do in my entire life, but I believe it will accelerate my personal and spiritual growth. With that said, I can’t wait to see how the whole thing unfolds and what kind of impact it will have on me, people who are close to me, those who know me, and everyone else who decide to follow me.

I’m a generally reserved and private person, so for me to reveal to you my heavy and personal stuff is a HUGE deal to me. I mean, I’m face to face with my biggest fear and challenge in the combat right now, but my need to tell this story is way greater than all fears I have put together. So that fact, along with Catherine and Beatrice- my producer and my sister respectively, who also are wonderful supporters and champion confidantes- encourage me to build the courage to share my story with you the rest of world.

The story is long and most of it will be told in the documentary. To sum up, as I’m typing these words, Renny, my husband, is currently at the Travis County Correctional Complex for various drug-related charges. When I first met him at our friends’ wedding in Temecula, California in July 2009, he was in his fifth year of sobriety and a man with great intentions and even greater dreams. His biggest dream was to create a documentary that exposes the truth about the severity of drug addictions among the Deaf people and the lack of available resources and services that serve the Deaf and American Sign Language user population.

We worked together day and night on the documentary. We even had a production team. Then, one night Renny relapsed and everything changed. My life as I knew it ended. During the entire course of his relapses which lasted one year, I tightly grasped my faith that everything will work out in the end. Well, we can’t predict the future, can we?

Last Thanksgiving, I had an epiphany. We worked so many hours and had so much good footage and it was left to waste because it was supposed to be Renny’s story and now, he’s in jail. I realized I experienced everything just as much as he did. Pretty much the only thing that I didn’t do was smoke the crack. This story could still be told, but through my own eyes. I iChatted with Cat, my producer, about my idea and she completely supported it.

I just returned to Austin, Texas, from a month-long stay at my parents’ in Ohio. When I was there, I went to Cat’s house in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (wow that’s a fingerful as I’m typing this blog on my iPhone). It was a very productive week. We looked over the footage and worked on the storyline and strategized different ways to raise fund in order to shoot more interviews and scenes and, especially, for the postproduction aspect.

My wish for 2012 is to embrace this journey in which I believe will heal me.