First Bracelet

When asked to write one word to describe herself and her life: "Survivor."

When asked to write one word to describe herself and her life: “Survivor.”

You recognize a survivor when you see one. You recognize a fighter when you see one. – Elizabeth Edwards

Some weeks go by fast, and some really slow. This particular week has felt like an oncoming storm with new opportunities and experiences. All in good ways. I was able to reconnect with Roxy yesterday and sat down for a few minutes to input her medical information into her bracelet. It worked effortlessly and she was really happy about having the backup technology. It feels good to know that she has a safety net now. She doesn’t have to worry so much about having her stuff tossed or stolen. The bracelet is literally just one small thing, but I hope it helps.

When asked to write one word to describe herself and what it is like being a homeless woman, she shared: “Survivor.” It was perfect. Roxy has been through hell and back, and yet she still carries herself with dignity and maintains a positive outlook on life.

We talked about our lives — what’s been happening, how things are going, etc. She always seems keenly interested in how I’m doing in law school. I shared my anxiety over an upcoming mock trial for a clinic. I couldn’t help but laugh when she told me to stop hanging out with the homeless and study/prepare instead. She’s right. If I were representing her, maybe that would have made the facts of my case seem/feel more “real.”

I’m still partly in the ivory tower — I have a ladder that I like to use to escape every now and then. Camera in hand, of course. It’s a good balance.

Life is interesting, isn’t it? When I look back at this journey I recognize that it all started with a camera. I started documenting the homeless as an undergraduate student, and went to graduate school with the desire to learn more about the healthcare system so I could continue developing my project on Birth Culture. And somehow it evolved into focusing on social justice issues through the lens, then law school. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue developing this story, and I’m amazed at how my own personal life has unfolded to bring me closer to the people I reached out to in the first place. I do believe something greater is at work here. Call it God, the Universe, Mother Nature, whatever you want…

Every day is a new day. Every day is an opportunity to grow and learn from others and ourselves. Tonight I’m thinking about how all the little things in my past led me to meeting Roxy. Believe it or not, she has actually helped me to understand some of my unresolved feelings about my own mother. What it means to love someone, but from afar because it’s the healthiest way. And I’ve been able to share what it’s like to do the same, but as the child in the relationship. We were both equally touched by our emotional exchange about the feelings of loss in letting go of those we love… and accepting that some people can stay in your heart, but not in your life.

It is a beautiful thing when perfect strangers can meet with open hearts, open minds, and simply acknowledge the other in a mutually respectful and loving way. I’m glad I can share these kinds of memories and look forward to continuing the journey.

-Diana

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The Quiet

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood." - Helen Keller

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
– Helen Keller

It has been a quiet month since the Kickstarter was successfully funded, and I feel as if I’ve been in a period of hibernation. I have to admit that the attention I was receiving made me uncomfortable at times. Airing out my “personal life” wasn’t exactly what I thought I would be doing to help the homeless. I had always thought that I could just focus my lens on others, share their stories, and hope that their voices wouldn’t get drowned out by the media storm.

And so here I am. My father is still doing great given his circumstances, and I have been reminding myself to not place any unrealistic expectations on either of us. The relationship will be whatever the relationship will be. I think that on my part, it will always require an exercise in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Nothing changes over night.

The project itself has been evolving on many personal levels. I have been spending a lot of time flipping through old journals and a handful of photographs from my childhood. Reliving the past has become such a crucial piece in this process, and I recognize that there are many elements of my past that I would like to share. For now, I am allowing myself the time and freedom to go through these experiences and capture them on paper.

It is not easy. It is ugly and messy. It is complicated and fragile. But it is also painfully precious because it is who I am today.

I am still learning how to be comfortable with all of this. I know that there are many others who still struggle with the feelings woven into a loved one who is/was homeless, mentally ill, and/or abusive. I have felt guilty… helpless, vulnerable, heartbroken. There were times when I wished that I could just walk away from my father. All of my childhood feelings of being abandoned would swell up, almost as if it were challenging who I had become. The little girl in me wanted to kick and scream — she wanted to run away and hide and forget my father the way he forgot about me. But I knew deep down inside that my heart would never be the same if I left him there. It would never be the same if I didn’t do something… do anything.

I had been so afraid of sharing this story because of the unknown. What would people think of me? What if people judged me because I don’t “look” like the type of person who would have a homeless dad? Wait a minute, what would that “look” like anyway? The hardest part has been getting over my own self-created fears in discussing homelessness with the public. I have been emotionally and physically hurt at so many levels by my parents that I feel instinctively on-guard having to discuss homelessness. Why? Because homelessness, as a social circumstance, represents the bottom of the barrel that my father, mother, and I have all experienced at different points in our lives. So, when I see statistical figures or categorical subheadings in a policy brief compartmentalizing the homeless issue based on mental illness, substance abuse, or youth runaways — I think about my father, my mother, and myself as a 16 year-old… in that order.

There is so much beneath the surface. There always is. I hope to continue sharing as the project progresses. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for those darn bracelets to come in. That’s what I get for making a pre-Christmas order of 100 medium-sized bracelets thinking that it would fit the average male. The good news is the large-sized bracelets are in production and should be here by the end of the month. It’s a bit of set-back time wise, but I’m sure it’s all happening this way for a reason. I have learned that patience goes a long way… and I’m sure this project will continue to require a lot of thoughtful periods of reflection, and moments of patience before charging forward.

-Diana

 

 

Thank You

An unfinished watercolor piece done by a resident at the Next Step Homeless Shelter in Kaka'ako.

An unfinished watercolor piece done by a resident at the Next Step Homeless Shelter in Kaka’ako.

The Kickstarter project was fully funded as of two weeks ago, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the CARE Medical Bracelets. The outpouring support has been an incredibly encouraging and motivating source of energy these past couple of months. There are many individuals in my community who are interested in also helping with the outreach and bracelet distribution!

I wanted to take some time to thank the Kickstarter backers who opted to have a personal thank you credit appear on this website. For those of you who I know in-person, you can expect a hug from me when I see you again! And for those of you who I do not know yet, I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude for supporting this cause.

Kickstarter Backers – Thank you to:

Casey Ishitani, Backer #4

Doorae Shin, Backer #7

Noah Hawthorne, Backer #17

Nara Eko, Backer #28

Kim Huynh, Backer #43

Genevieve Julien, Backer #47

Kim Harris-McCoy, Backer #63

Lani Tak, Backer #74

Shamir Colloff, Backer #75

Christina Lynn, Backer #79

Thomas Yokota, Backer #87

“Sarah”, Backer #89

Ron Fitzherbert, Backer #105

 

With love,

Diana

Today is Today, Tomorrow is Tomorrow.

Everyday is a challenge, everyday is an opportunity.

Everyday is a challenge, everyday is an opportunity.

Just a few weeks ago, I had a phone conversation with my mother-in-law about my father and his improving health. I was on my own personal Cloud Nine. She was relieved and happy for me, but also said something that I had initially taken the wrong way. There was a lot more to our conversation, and she truly supports me in every way… but, all I heard at the time was:

He is good for today.

I didn’t want to hear that he was just good for today. I wanted to hear that he would be good forever. I wanted a guarantee that he would never be on the streets again. Selfishly, I just didn’t want to hear this because I couldn’t bear the heartbreak to see him cycle back to the streets again…

My mother-in-law has watched me grow for more than half of my life, and I have usually been pretty good about not responding impulsively if I don’t agree with something. But for whatever reason, I felt incredibly jarred by those words and took it the wrong way. I felt incredibly defense at the time, but I completely understand what she meant by it now.

The best I can do is appreciate the time I have with him today. I don’t think it really quite hit me until after meeting Malia. I watched a video that she shared on YouTube of her mother, specifically one where her mother was having a good day. The contrast between our parents’ good days and bad days are startling. All I could keep hearing in my head was:

I grew up like that, I grew up like that, I grew up like that…

There are all of these connections that are forming in my life right now… old conversations that are starting to make sense, people who I have known in different capacities now crossing paths because of this project, and I’m growing deeply at a personal level because of all of it. This is far greater than just one story about my father’s personal life, and my desire to help. This is really about our community and the people in it. My mother-in-law taught me the lesson of appreciating what I have now, and reminded me that my father battles a severe mental illness, but he is good for today. And on those days when he has mental clarity, I’ll join him in sharing a laugh and taking photographs together. Everyday is a challenge, everyday is an opportunity.

I hope that by continuing to share these stories, it helps to raise awareness in our community.

Diana

Meeting Malia

I don’t even know where to begin with this post, so here it goes…

I met with a woman named Malia today. One of the attorneys working on the assisted community treatment issue thought it would be good for Malia and I to connect. We met at a coffee shop after my Torts exam and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve received both positive and negative feedback since my personal story/the Kickstarter was shown on KITV; but have learned to accept the good with the bad.

This meeting was good, really good. The kind of good that keeps you holding onto your belief in the greater purpose in life. She walked towards me with a huge smile on her face, radiating genuine positive energy and it was like we were friends in no time. It’s interesting to meet someone who already knows you at your most vulnerable level. There’s nothing to hide, there’s no need to try to be the best version of yourself to impress anyone (it’s not an interview), you’re just you. I was just me, and it felt like she was too.

We instantly shared a little more of our backstory, and I began to see the common thread weaving through us. We both have a loved one who suffers from schizophrenia, and have a desire to raise awareness. We both understand that society could probably use a little schooling as far as the complexity of this disease, and specifically how it relates to homelessness in Hawai`i.

A place to drive awareness of anosognosia and provide resources for caregivers of loved ones who refuse treatment.

A place to drive awareness of anosognosia and provide resources for caregivers of loved ones who refuse treatment.

I was truly touched by her inner strength. I understand the smiles that form on our faces and hearts are especially genuine because we’ve had to deal with a level of pain and suffering that many don’t understand. Malia’s mother has schizophrenia and due to anosognosia, refuses treatment and continues to get worse. 

Anosognosia is damage to the brain that prevents a person from recognizing their own illness.  It is a common symptom in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and one of the biggest reasons why people who need treatment,refuse treatment, thus creating a very challenging and frustrating situation for caregivers and family members.

She has shared her struggle to save her mother from this disease, and created a website for caregivers to get assistance. This resource is invaluable for the families who are experiencing the same challenges as Malia and I. I am so glad I met her, and look forward to continuing to grow our friendship and common goal in helping to educate our community.

You can check out her website/resource: http://www.anosognosiacare.org

Good things are happening. I can feel it. And I’m glad that there are other people out there like Malia who are willing to share their story to help raise awareness.

Diana

My Dad – The Street Photographer

 

IMG_0415.JPG

Dad, I love you. You’re a genius and I am learning more about the amazing mind you have with every new encounter. 

I visited my dad this morning and surprised him with an early Christmas gift —  the camera I had been using to document our time while he was living on the streets. As I handed the camera bag over to him, he raised his eyebrows and asked what it was. I anxiously told him to open it and watched him slowly open the zipper to reveal the DSLR inside.

As soon as he opened it and picked it up, I gently told him it was the camera I had used when I visited him. He was quiet and began to hold shift it around in his palms — I couldn’t tell if he liked it or not! Finally, he grinned at me and asked, “Is this digital?” I acknowledged that it was digital, and explained that very few people shoot with film these days because it’s so expensive. I wasn’t sure if he was some film purist even after all these years, so I added that many artists and die-hards have refused digital. His response cracked me up:

“Well, that’s kind of dumb if they’re already starving artists… they no more money, why make it harder?”

My father getting acquainted with his first digital camera.

My father getting acquainted with his first digital camera.

I still cannot believe he is off the streets. It’s almost like I have to consciously tell myself to breathe and slow down, so I don’t explode with my feelings and overwhelm him. I know that he is still adjusting and all we can do is take it day by day, but my heart is humbled and overflowing with pride.

We went for a drive to a local camera shop so he could get a lens cap. He was adamant that we protect the glass (shame on me for not replacing the cap), and stated “once you scratch the glass, it’s all pau… all buss’ up so it’s junk.” On our drive there, I couldn’t help but keep glancing over at him playing around the with the buttons of the camera. It warmed my heart to see him so interested and curious.

As we drove back, we entered an area of the Honolulu where I had approached him just less than 6 months ago. I wrote about that experience in an older entry, “The Ring Pop Bearer.”  Even though my dad was sitting right next to me, I could still see his silhouette on the corner of the street. It’s hard to brush that one off.

I want him to stay in this good place, to continue getting healthy, and to be able to share his talents and purpose with the world. It still scares me that something could go wrong, and I know the reality is that he could easily stop his treatment plan and find himself right back on the streets again. It is a reality that happens all the time, but I’m hoping that sparking his interest in photography will give him something to look forward to… And who knows, maybe he could earn a little something too.

For now, we’ve made plans to meet-up on certain days so I can help him store his files and show him how to edit them. He shared the importance of communicating our “personalities” through our photography, and that this is the only way the commonplace things in life can stand out. Be yourself. Show yourself. And most importantly, share yourself.

Ironically, we parted ways in front of the Hawaii Public Radio building. My final capture of him (below) was just another reminder of how fragile and fleeting our lives can be.

Life is good. Keep moving forward. There are many others still out there.

-Diana

P.S. Please pledge to my Kickstarter Campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dianakim/the-homeless-paradise-a-photography-project

It’s all or nothing, so if I don’t hit the goal… I don’t get any of the pledges.

My father looks towards the Hawai`i Public Radio building, where I shared our story.

My father looks towards the Hawai`i Public Radio building, where I shared our story.

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Art, Shelter, and News

Outside play area at the homeless shelter.

Outside play area at the homeless shelter.

Nearly three years ago, my husband and I started an art workshop for children at a local homeless shelter. The Art Department at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa was generous enough to provide us with donated art supplies, and we made it a family activity to visit the shelter every Saturday. Although I am not sure where the children are today, I do hope that they had a positive experience in spending that summer with my family, friends, and student volunteers.

A university student helps two children draw an outline of a sidewalk chalk game.

A university student helps two children draw an outline of a sidewalk chalk game.

Some of my friends and family were both surprised and curious as to why we included our own children in this. I saw the value in exposing the children to other conditions, and wanted to teach them an early life lesson: People come from all different walks of life, and not all are as fortunate as we are.

My children became more socially sensitive to these childrens’ circumstances, and would ask questions about the shelter and living conditions. At the time, my children were 4 and 5 years-old. I’ll never forget one of the dinner conversations we had shortly after beginning this workshop. My sons had asked why these children live in boxes, and became concerned about their day-to-day lives.

“Do they go to school?”

“What do they eat?”

“Where do they sleep?”

I was touched by their concern. I wasn’t sure if they would understand the value of what we were trying to impart by including them in our activities. Ultimately, I think they became more patient and understanding of differences and were willing to extend help because of it.

My sons went into their rooms that night and started creating a tornado of a mess. I went upstairs preparing to bark at them to clean it all up, and they quietly explained that they were giving those toys to the children at the shelter. I teared up. I think it really hit home for them when the realized that these families literally live in one cubicle no bigger than half the size of their bedroom, and had very little “extras” in their lives.

Students from my Spring 2012 FAMR course pose for a candid photograph with some children from the shelter. My oldest son (in blue) peeks out with a wide grin.

Students from my Spring 2012 FAMR course pose for a candid photograph with some children from the shelter. My oldest son (in blue) peeks out with a wide grin.

As I reflect on some of the experiences we shared with those children, I am bubbling with the anticipation of getting this Kickstarter funded. I’m really not sure how it will turn out — whether the piece will be effective in communicating my heart’s desire to bring the world of photo, public health, and law for positive social change. I used to wonder if I could ever bring these areas together, and I really do believe this is a good first step in the right direction.

I’m really touched by the fact that my former students who volunteered during that summer are now reaching out again to help with this project. There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved, and I’m looking forward to getting back to my roots. For now, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and watching that pledge number rise. Who knows what the future has in store. All I know is, I intend to help and I hope people can see that.

-Diana

A woman who lives at the shelter uses donated watercolor supplies to create a piece of art.

A woman who lives at the shelter uses donated watercolor supplies to create a piece of art.

KITV Interview – 12/7/14

Dedy and Kai being filmed by KITV.

Dedy and Kai being filmed by KITV.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

I had the opportunity to interview with KITV a couple of days ago, and was initially hesitant about doing it because of how personally sensitive this topic is to me. But I knew that the only way their stories would get exposure is if I’m willing to put myself out there with them. I hope that the viewers can see what Dedy and I share in common as human beings, as opposed to setting us apart because he lives on the streets and I don’t.

I was really touched by Dedy’s willingness to share his thoughts and feelings about life on the streets, as well as his view on the project itself. I felt a sense of pride as I listened to his responses to the reporter’s questions — he finally had his opportunity to share his story. We were both a little nervous, and we talked about it before the reporter arrived. He was actually reassuring me about the project, and that the interview would be good. It was heartwarming.

We spent an hour just sitting, chatting, and I even managed to study a little for my final exams. I think it really does shake the senses for some people to see me sitting there next to him, with a law textbook propped open and scribbling around in a notebook; while he’s listening to the Backstreet Boys and eating a burger. As we talked more about his life, I asked him about his hopes and dreams. What were they?

Dedy and Kai share a moment before their interview with KITV.

Dedy and Kai share a moment before their interview with KITV.

Dedy had wanted to be a firefighter growing up. His dream was to be in a helping profession.

Unfortunately, his circumstances during his younger years posed certain challenges and he never graduated from high school. Some would say it was partly because of his life choices, and partly because of circumstances beyond his control. Regardless of the past, I asked him what he looks forward to in the life that he has today. He wants to continue working and would like to get a better job to afford a small studio. I asked if he would consider going to a community college if he were to get a GED, and he was definitely open to those kinds of options.

I smiled and immediately told him “You can do it!” I know it’s possible. I shared my personal story with Dedy, about my challenges and experiences with homelessness. I told him that I believed in him, that if he wanted to get his GED, he could do it. There are stories out there of people who were homeless and went on to get an education. I could see the sparkle in his eyes and shared a smile in knowing that anything is possible, and as long as we’re alive there is still an opportunity to turn things around or go down a better path.

I really hope that the project gets funded so I can have his opportunity to continue humanizing homelessness in Hawai`i, and to give them an option in safeguarding their IDs and important documents. Until then, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed and anxiously waiting to see what airs this Sunday morning and evening on KITV.

Diana

Meeting My Father

My father entering a Buddhist temple.

My father entering a Buddhist temple.

I feel like I just met my father for the first time today. I had gotten a phone call from an unknown number, and decided to pick it up. I’m so glad I did. He asked if I was available this morning to have coffee and catch up. I ran straight out of the house.

Our meeting was truly a miracle. We met in the same area where he was homeless not so long ago — the same street where he once owned a photography studio, and right down the road from my last workplace. As I pulled up into the parking lot, I saw my father’s figure and my heart nearly stopped. He looked better than I had expected, and so different from the last image I had of him in the hospital. I had been waiting for the right time to meet him, waiting for him to reach out when he was ready.

He smiled at me.

I jumped out of the car and immediately ran towards him. I could not believe this was happening. We must have hugged for a couple of minutes. It felt so good to see him so healthy, and standing so tall again. The emotions were overwhelming as we collected ourselves, and found a place to sit to talk. He had gone through so much, and I didn’t want to overload him with a lot of questions so I let him do most of the talking.

The first digital photograph my father has ever taken of me.

Smiling at my father.

His words were so touching, and revealed that he really was listening to me all those days and nights I went to visit him. He remembered that I had visited him after my wedding ceremony, and mentioned how glad he was to be able to see me that night. He continued and described his experiences living on the streets. I was amazed at how familiar he was of other homeless individuals in the area, especially with his statement that “homelessness should not be criminalized.”He explained that many of those who are homeless in the area are just mentally ill, and desperately need to take their medication and receive training for employment.

It was truly as if I had just met the person under the illness. My father explained that he had been battling some serious issues since 1990, and our relationship had been impacted because of it. For over 20 years of my life I never had this conversation with him. He wasn’t mentally capable… it was almost as if his mind cycled through the same memories and thoughts, and none of our conversations really went anywhere — he was a wall for most of my life.

This was all so new to me to have a reciprocal conversation with such depth and mutual understanding. As we opened ourselves to each other, I shared that I had started a photo project on the homeless and was bracing myself to hear disapproval. Instead, what I heard amazed me again. His response, “You better finish it.” I chuckled at the thought of my Kickstarter, and how ironic it is that “finishing it” depends on the collective effort of those who believe and care about this. And to be honest, I believe in miracles more than ever now. I know that if it’s meant to be funded, it will be.

My father paying his respects to his late mother.

My father paying his respects to his late mother.

My father is a standing, living, breathing testament in my life that good things can happen. I grew up never knowing this man, and was so jolted by the fact that I had always gravitated towards the homeless and to have it hit so close to home. All I could hear in my head was: What are you going to? What are you going to do? What are you going to do? I’m so glad I didn’t give up on hope, even during those darkest days where I felt like my purpose had been shattered. I’m so grateful for the blessings in disguise, that someone called the police when my father nearly died in the streets. There is so much more to life if we hold onto the belief that we can make good out of our most painful experiences in life.

I know that his well-being is also in his own hands, and that I cannot control his actions even though I want to believe that he will never find himself at rock bottom again. He made a choice to live while in that hospital, and I am so grateful for that. I know that it concerns my friends and family who have had to watch me quietly suffer through the painful experience of not being able to help him when he didn’t want it. I still remember how he would change his mind in receiving help, I still remember how he didn’t recognize me that first day I came back from DC. But, to have an opportunity to even share a glimpse of our lives is better than none. To have come so close in watching his body fail on the sidewalks of Honolulu, and then to see his body regain life to the way it has is a miracle in itself. I want him to continue doing better for himself and for others. And I don’t mind having hope in that.

My father shares some of the photographs he had held onto.

My father shares some of the photographs he had held onto.

He has his second chance, and so do I. I know we have this beautiful gift of an opportunity to get to know each other and to share the life we have.

Our parting conversation was sort of a “what’s next” topic for him. He believes in the value of working, and explained that it keeps him active and living a life with more purpose. For now, he explained that he needs more time to regain his strength and get some things in order before moving forward. On a personal note, I mentioned the possibility of him taking photographs again. Secretly, I am planning to find him a used DSLR as a Christmas present. I shared in passing how it would be wonderful if my Kickstarter were funded, we could also show his photographs in a gallery… maybe sell his prints again. For now, we are taking it one day at a time and I’m grateful that whatever happens with this Kickstarter, I have my father and an opportunity to have a relationship of a lifetime.

Photograph of my father taken in August 2014.

Photograph of my father taken in August 2014.

My Journal, 4.26.2013

The family and I are getting ready to run a few errands this morning, but I wanted to quickly share an entry I came across last night. Everyday, I want to post something to remind myself why I am doing this Kickstarter project, and why it is so important to get it funded.

Here it goes.

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… I can’t believe I’m actually going to be in DC with our Congresswoman. I’ve always wanted to make a difference and leave my mark on this world to help others… to have my voice and story told, but as life goes on I realize that there are so many others who have equally powerful, and amazing stories… commoners, powerful people, the rich, the famous, the poor… I really just enjoying getting to know people and our world.

I feel exhausted right now. There has been a lot going on in my life with my dad, my grandma, the news of my award, my family, school, and work. I think I really just need a day to sleep it off and gather my thoughts.

I guess it starts with doing one thing first and going from there. I can’t believe I have to do everything by May 15. It’s truly amazing…

4-26-13

Things are feeling a bit crazy these days. I’m getting ready to finish my first year of law school, and a lot is happening a usual. I saw my dad again today, and he wasn’t looking so good. He doesn’t want to go see a doctor and refuses to take his medication. It is a shame… all I can do is keep trying to ask. I hear that Halmoni (Grandma) is not doing so well. She has lost considerable weight and isn’t able to get out of bed. She’s really weak. My dad’s lease… or her lease… will be expiring, and the landlord isn’t going to rent out to her. I believe she received 45 days notice, but now the landlord isn’t giving him 45 days. They’re requiring that he leaves by the first of the month. That’s in 4-5 days.. I really don’t know what options he has.

The boys are doing really well. They have their soccer games tomorrow. It feels like there’s this never-ending list of things to do… It makes me feel better to write them out, so here it goes:

…..