It’s Okay To Pause

One thing that I’m constantly working on is my schedule. I’m always trying to carve out the right time to write, to do or watch things I enjoy, and to have some leisure time. It came to a point where I was so frustrated with myself because I would hold off all of my writing until the weekend. I would be left typing my ass off in the wee hours of Sunday night into early Monday morning. I would sleep like shit leading into Mondays because the start of the work week, but also because the stress of not being done with my post. It would keep me tossing and turning the whole night. I’d wake up early in the morning, about an hour before I had to get ready for work, and type my ass off until it was time to start my day. My coworkers know that once it hits 5 PM on Mondays, it’s time to dip. I switch from my work laptop to my personal laptop by 5:01 PM, trying to throw something low effort into the air fryer for dinner.

I was tired of that shit. Finishing everything entirely under pressure worked in high school and my college days, but this shit wasn’t sliding in my late 20’s anymore. I was tired. Tired in every possible fucking way – tired of stressing myself out, tired of scrambling for time, tired of being disappointed in myself that I didn’t put in my all, tired of not getting my shit together, and literally physically and mentally tired. I knew I had to make the change and effort to come up with a routine where I wouldn’t be in such a disarray time after time. I still procrastinate and still stress about it on Sunday and Monday, but it has gotten a lot better, and I give myself a head start throughout the week.

A switch went off in me earlier this year, I’ve made it a routine to write a couple of paragraphs daily Monday – Friday, Saturdays being my rest days, and Sundays were writing days as well. After reading a couple chapters of Atomic Habits by James Clear, I knew to make a new habit, I had to be consistent. So I didn’t want to break the momentum. I would think to myself “throw future Marinelle a bone.” Meaning, even if I’m not feeling like writing, writing one paragraph rather than nothing will still help me in the long run.

Doing something just twice is the start of a new habit, so I knew that breaking my good habit would be the start of a bad habit. So I tried my best to avoid that at all costs. “What would Marinelle with good habits want me to do?” “This will be the start of a bad habit.” “Future Monday Marinelle will thank you.” All these justifications would come up every time I even thought of skipping a day. I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to fail myself or put more added stress on future me. Why stress if I could work on a post little by little? Why stress myself out if I could avoid that feeling all together?

I have this way of thinking in other areas of my life. Since the pandemic, I found myself not as active as I once was. My role at work and the fact that my morning and night commute was 100% cut out, left me the least active I have ever been in my life. Especially since we stopped going to indoor gyms consistently since the pandemic hit. I wanted future Marinelle to be proud of the decisions that I was choosing to make in the present. I have these burst moments where I decide to take immediate action on things – being active is a consistent reoccurring one.

I decided to try to incorporate time for me to focus on my health daily to find that balance. Like I’ve said many times in many blog posts, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. I find it very difficult to balance out everything I want to do, and in the end, one or two things end up getting neglected, and I eventually drop the ball. But my goal was to find ways to avoid dropping the ball so often, or at the very least, know how to pick the ball up quicker once it falls.

I came up with many different routines to figure out the best time for me to write. I tried to fit it in during my break, after dinner and a shower, during early mornings, you name it. Every time I found something that “worked” I would realize there’s other things that need my attention as well, so I’d move it around. This particular instance though, it was me focusing on trying to be more active. So I thought I found the perfect equation to my day – wake up at 6 AM to write, start work at 8, walk for an hour on my break, and wind down after 5 PM. And for some time, it worked.

However, I’m a sleepy girl. I usually spend my 1 hour break sleeping, since I don’t drink coffee or tea for energy. I’m constantly running on my body’s natural energy, which is close to non-existent. With waking up so early in the morning and powering on through the rest of my day, I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open at 8 PM. Then what needed my attention was quality time and rest. For about 9 months plus, I was consistently writing Monday through Friday without fail, proud that I was building a new habit and actually keeping up with it. But switching my writing to the morning quickly had me feeling burnt out.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I took a trip to SoCal in October. I was so tired from the drive and traveling, that when Monday came around, I purposely turned off my writing alarm and went back to sleep. “It’s okay, it’s just one day.” But it happened the day after that, and then the day after that, and then the day after that, for 2 weeks. Oh no. A new habit. And this time, it wasn’t a good habit. I was disappointed in myself. For a little over 2 weeks, I went back to my old habit from almost a year ago – saving my writing for the last minute days before.

But the thing was, I knew I was disappointing myself, but I didn’t care. I thought I would care more that I was breaking a good habit and ending my “streak.” And for the record, I’m super anal about keeping streaks going and “throwing myself a bone.” I was bummed out that I ended my good habit, but at the same time, I was going easy on myself. What made this time different from the rest? It was the fact that I knew I was putting in hard work up until that point. It would’ve been a different story if I was half-assing it the whole time.

The idea of having to be productive at all times, even when you’re continuing to push yourself to your limit, knowing you’re about to hit a wall, has detrimental effects. Working yourself until you’re completely burnt out and out of gas is not sustainable. There’s a difference between being lazy and not pushing yourself versus working hard and knowing that you need a break. It’s okay to pause whatever task or dream that’s taking up a lot of your time. Pausing doesn’t mean you’ve given up, it just means you need time to recharge so you can work efficiently.

I was going hard for so long that I knew I was bound to feel burnt out eventually. I was completely ignoring the part of me that knew I needed a break. When I fell off my routine for a little over 2 weeks, I didn’t stop writing all together, I just found other ways to go easy on myself when I was mentally fatigued. I allowed myself to be lazy, to step away, and write last minute like I used to. Technically, I was still “getting it done” in the public’s eyes, just not how I would want it to be.

You’re not a failure if you’re not being productive 24/7. That’s a lie used to guilt trip us to work until we mentally crash. To avoid consistent burnout, I have to listen to that part of me that is asking for that break. Sometimes a pause is much needed, especially if you’re doing creative work. I knew to go easy on myself because the plan was never to just stop, it was to pause and get back on it when I was ready. I gave myself a timeline on when I was going to get back on a routine, that way I could enjoy my downtime without guilt. This time around, it took a little over 2 weeks. The goal is to take consistent pauses to avoid the mental burnout.

Pause if you need to.

Lunch Date Thoughts

A couple months back, I took myself out on a lunch date. I was home alone for a couple of days, which rarely happens, so I wanted to make the most of it. I was so excited to have some much anticipated “me time” that I drafted a list of all the things I would do and eat when I was finally by myself. One of the things I really wanted to do was dine out solo without feeling insecure over the fact that I was alone. It sounds like something small and foolish, but it was really important to me to check that off of my list. I’m used to eating solo at the mall food court when doing errands, or eating by myself during my college days in between classes, but not going out to eat somewhere nice with the intention of eating alone.

I don’t know why, but I was really determined to make this solo date happen during my alone time. I knew that if I didn’t, I would be really disappointed in myself for not feeling secure enough to be at a table of 1 in public. I had a tight schedule, given that I only had a couple of days to myself, so I really only had 1 day to make it happen since I had other plans. I made it a personal mission to make this date happen. I had to prove to myself that I had the security to be out in public, dining, and not giving a shit if I looked like a loser.

If I’m being completely honest, there was a part of me that thought of standing myself up and not following through. The anxiety of looking like a loser to those that might be dining in was creeping in, but I forced myself to do it anyways. I knew I would be so disappointed in myself if I backed out. This solo date, in a weird way, was like a test – a test of how secure I am to be by myself. And to be even more brave, or maybe more annoying, I decided to go balls deep and pick a Japanese BBQ place. Yup, table for 1 to have a whole ass grill to myself in a place traditionally meant for multiple people to gather and grill meats. I thought, if I’m going to go solo, I might as well give myself a challenge and pick a place that you don’t usually see people eating by themselves. Yes, I’m well aware that I tend to make things more difficult for myself for no reason.

When I was in the Uber, I was so glad that I chose to follow through. When I’m feeling overwhelmed about going somewhere, I like to break it down into steps. Okay, first get dressed, then get ready, then call the Uber, then get there. Taking it step by step makes it less stressful and overwhelming. I always feel good about following through with things when I’m already in transit to the destination. The hardest part is getting started, that’s true for many things in life. But in this case, getting started means getting my ass out of bed to get ready for where I need to be. I’m such a homebody that it’s not uncommon for me to want to do something or go somewhere on my day off and end up not doing it because I’m too lazy to get ready.

I hop out of my Uber and enter in the Japanese BBQ restaurant. “For one,” I said confidently. All my worries went out the window when I entered and smelled the delicious scent of Toro beef in the air. That’s deadass the reason why I picked this restaurant in the first place – the Toro beef. The last time I went to this restaurant with my friends, they only allowed 2 pieces of Toro beef on the grill at a time. We were fucking baffled – all of our orders were Toro beef. We had to take turns grilling 2 pieces of meat at a time, it was torture, given that there were 3 of us and we ordered at least 2 orders of Toro beef each. The staff kept checking on us to make sure that it was only 2 at a time too, which made it even more awkward. So when I came back by myself, I was more than ready to have a grill to myself.

I sat at a table that was split down the half and with a divider. The divider had a design with plenty of openings, so I could still see the person next to me and the person across from me on the other side. There was no division between my seat and the guy that sat next to me, so I guess the divider was just there for some sense of privacy for 2 separate parties of 2. I already knew I was getting at least 2 orders of Toro beef, and my eyes were drooling at all the other options on the menu. This was my time to absolutely gorge myself – I didn’t have to worry about what someone else liked, sharing an order, or splitting a bill – I just had to worry about my damn self and pick what I wanted. As you can tell, I’m definitely a foodie, I take my food and alone time very seriously.

I tried not to depend too much on my phone to keep myself feeling secure, but I felt like there’s not much to do while waiting for your food when you’re dining out solo. I tried to just observe the restaurant, but then I felt like the couple next to me would think I was eavesdropping on their conversations… I mean, I totally was, but I didn’t want them to know that. So, I started to send emails and catch up on responses to the candidates of the Creatives Series I just completed – these series take a lot of planning ahead and there’s a ton of back and forth.

My food finally came to the table, and I was overjoyed. Food is my love language, and I was showering myself with love that afternoon. I’m a huge fan of “treat yo self” especially during work vacations. Anytime I treat myself, it almost always includes food. I was trying my best not to just inhale the food in front of me. I wanted to slow down and take advantage of the fact that I had an open afternoon to myself. The best feeling there is is knowing you’re not in a rush to do shit, cuz you don’t have shit to do after. As you can tell, I’m a busy gal, and when I have down time, I sulk in it.

Since I was enjoying my own company, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversations of the couple next to me. We were basically in the same table that seats 4 people, but the fence-like barrier on the table was the only thing keeping us separated. I could still see them through the holes, but tried my best not to look like I was staring. For the simple fact that I have fucking ears, I couldn’t not listen in on their conversations. They seemed like friends who were catching up or who haven’t seen each other in a while by how they were talking.

They got on the topic of art, and how they both like to visit Asian Art Museums. The different Asian cultures really intrigued them and they compared their similarities and differences. This was the segway into the next topic – the woman casually brought up her Japanese background and how her grandma was forced into the Japanese Internment Camps during Word War II. She shared with her friend that her mom told her to never ask about the concentration camps, and especially never to ask the grandma. Her mom let her know that it pains the grandma to think about it, and looking back on her experiences in the internment camp really makes her sad. Everyone knew that her grandmother lived through that, but it was 100% taboo to bring up.

Their conversation made me think of how some people suffer in silence, and you may never know the amount of grief someone is holding onto. It made me think about how people deal with their trauma, or don’t deal with their trauma, and how it affects the generations that follow. It made me think about all the experiences and stories that people avoid telling because it brings them back to a point in their lives that they’d rather not revisit. It made me sad to realize that experience they were talking about probably changed the way her grandma viewed the world and life, and she never felt comfortable enough to share it out loud. And it also made me feel sad for the girl, she would never fully understand her grandmother’s story because she wasn’t allowed to bring it up and ask.

I know that everyone deals with grief, loss, and traumatic experiences differently. I also know that people react to similar situations differently, and what sticks with 1 person may not impact the next person the same way. People are entitled to deal with their own issues the way they want to. But it got me thinking of all the stories and experiences that get tucked away under the rug, and how lonely that must feel. To know is to understand, and not knowing makes it difficult to see why someone is the way they are, why they interpret things differently, or how they view the world.

I thought about how one person’s grief and experiences has a ripple effect and can affect the next generation – passing down the hurt, the isolating tendencies, and the unhealed trauma, and they are manifested in different ways, different scenarios, and different people. It made me think of my own extended family and all the stories and experiences I probably don’t even know, and how it has shaped them into the people that they are today. I’ve always had an interest in other people’s stories and lived experiences, especially of my family when they first moved to America. What was it like? How did people treat you? How did you feel? Were you mad? Were you homesick? How did you do in school? Hearing their responses really helps me see them in another light, I see why they value what they do, why they think the way they do, why they see life through a certain lens. Doesn’t mean that I always agree with them, but I’m aware why they think the way they do.

The 2 friends briefly touched on her grandma living through the internment camp, but it got me thinking of a lot of things for the remainder of my lunch. So much so that I wrote it down in my notes to think about it more at a later time. I ate my Toro beef as if I wasn’t ear hustling on their whole conversation. It was interesting to me that some people find healing through sharing, some through silence, and maybe a mixture of both. I bought a bottle of the restaurant’s spicy sauce for my place and thought about their conversation the whole Uber ride home.

Don’t Be Afraid To Promote Yourself

One semester, I took a music class on Hip-Hop History when I was still taking general ed classes at Skyline College. We learned about the origins of hip-hop, how it came to be, and who were the ones to pave the way for future rappers. It was a really interesting class, so much so that it didn’t feel like the typical college course – dragged out and boring. We watched music videos and listened to a lot of artists I didn’t even know existed.

It’s crazy to say, given I felt like my college experience was so fucking long, but college just seems like highlights now when I look back. Of course, I remember what it was like doing the day to day things that got me to where I am today, but for the most part, my college days could be summed up by core memories from particular stages. Sitting in the back of my hip-hop class that day was definitely a core memory moment. I forgot what the lesson was even about that day, but my professor’s response was something that stuck with me. In the middle of the lecture, a guy in my classes raised his hand. I didn’t bother to look who was talking.

I don’t remember his exact question, but it was something along the lines of, “How do I get my work noticed?”

To which my professor asked, “What do you do?”

“I…I rap,” he said sheepishly.

Now, before that reply, I didn’t really care what was being asked or what the professor’s answer was. If I had to guess, I was probably looking at the clock, patiently waiting for class to end, or trippin’ about what I had to do after, or thinking about what I was going to eat for lunch, or dreading the 1 hour bus ride back home. But when I heard, “I rap,” my head turned so fast to the left of me to try to identify said rapper.

My eyes finally found the culprit. From what I remember – and just a reminder that this was probably 6 years ago, if not more – he was a very thin white guy, probably no taller than 5’3, with glasses, mustache goatee facial hair going on, and may or may not have had a beanie on. If “…” was a scenario, it would be this one. Not to be rude or in any way funny – he just didn’t look like the type to rap, or even listen to hip-hop for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good chance that he was good at rapping, he just didn’t seem like the type. My classmates were probably thinking the same thing, hence the momentary silence in the room.

The professor took a moment, pondering on how to reply, her eyebrows lowered, as if in deep thought. I was at the edge of my seat – was she going to rip this poor rapper to shreds, ask him to play one of his songs, or give encouraging advice? “Well, do the people around you know what you do? Do the people in your hood know about your music?” She said not verbatim.

“…No…” He said lacking self-confidence.

“Well how do you expect other people to know you’re a rapper when the people in your area don’t even know?” She said matter of fact. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, promote yourself, pass out your CD’s on the street, let people know what you do.”

Again, these were not the words verbatim, but it was the gist. And that shit hit me hard, as if Miley Cyrus came in with her wrecking ball and all. The rapper shook his head smiling, embarrassedly taking the advice. It seemed that he had an “Ah-hah” moment and was probably thinking, “Well shit, she’s right, I’m not promoting myself.”

I used to feel really cringe back in the day when I would try to promote my early writing on social media. I would overthink that nobody cared, they probably thought my posts were annoying, and people would soon unfollow if all I posted were writing posts. To be honest, maybe there were some truths to what I was thinking. But I came to terms with knowing that what I choose to post is not for everyone, and not everyone will be into it, and that’s okay.

Especially for creatives, promoting yourself to the public can seem awkward, intimidating, and at times overbearing. But if you’re not going to promote yourself, how do you expect others to? In this day and age, the saying, “Closed mouths don’t get fed,” has never been more true. The fact of the matter is, if you’re not claiming your craft on social media, real life, and to those that know you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

What my professor said that day really stuck with me, and it was her advice to Mr. Rapper that continues to keep me unapologetically promoting myself time after time again. Because it’s true – how do you expect other people to know what you do if you’re not the one promoting yourself? How do you expect to reach a larger audience when the people in your hood don’t even know what you do? How can people discover your work when you’re not even putting yourself publicly out there? Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to promote your work, it all starts with you.

Kenneth: Crescenciana

This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration started as an art project Kenneth did with his Lola (grandma) in 2014 when he moved back home to help care for her. She did the water color paintings and shared stories from her life and childhood in the Philippines, and he would draw on top of her paintings to accompany the stories and memories she told. He promised her that he would finish whatever she started. When Lola passed away in 2016, Kenneth felt so lost. He could barely touch the remaining paintings that Lola made, and at most got to 1 or 2 of them every year after she passed.

It wasn’t until the pandemic and shelter in place in 2020 that forced Kenneth to really evaluate what he wanted to do with his life. He took out all of Lola’s paintings and decided to keep his promise. 4 years after she passed, Kenneth was back and fully immersed in The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Finishing the drawings turned into finishing writing her stories, which turned into the idea to turn her stories into a memoir and artbook, which led to Crescenciana. Now, Crescenciana, named after Lola, can be found in a handful of independent bookstores throughout the Bay Area and the east coast. The book is also available through their website: https://www.lolaxkenneth.com/crescenciana

It has been a wild ride, indeed. Kenneth takes a trip down memory lane with LoveYourzStory to start from the very beginning of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. He had no idea that almost 8 years later, the project would transform into Cresenciana. For Kenneth, it’s more than their project being published into a book, it’s him and his Lola’s bond, love, and memories being forever a part of history. Lola is such an important person in his life, that it only made sense to do something in honor of her.

Lola helped raise Kenneth and his sister growing up since his mom was an overnight nurse. He comes from a line of strong women, being raised by his mother and Lola. Their relationship was so close that he considered Lola to be like another parent. There is a spectrum of “Lola energy,” but Kenneth knows he’s lucky to have had a very nurturing Lola. Her love was so overwhelmingly present in all stages of his life. He shares that he often thinks about what kind of person he would be without his Lola, and Kenneth is confident that he wouldn’t like any version of himself that wasn’t touched by Lola in some way. He credits his great characteristics to his mom and Lola raising him.

“My Lola taught me about love,” Kenneth shared. At this moment, birds began to chirp. “How to love and how to be loved… My Lola made me feel seen, just by loving me.”

The chirping was so loud, I had to interrupt and ask, “Kenneth, do you have a pet bird?” He didn’t. It was the birds chirping outside of his window as we conducted our interview over Zoom… at about 8 PM at night. The birds’ chirping were so overwhelmingly clear and audible that it sounded like it was straight from a movie when the main character wakes up to a beautiful day. The chirping began when Kenneth started talking about how much he loves his Lola and thanks her for shaping him into the man that he is today. I didn’t know what his views were, but I couldn’t help but blurt out, “I don’t know if you believe in signs–” “I do,” Kenneth said in disbelief. “Wow,” he said repeatedly, feeling emotional and believing that his Lola was with him in that exact moment. Her love transcends even after she has passed on. How beautiful it was to witness his Lola giving him confirmation and signs from the other side, letting her boy know that she was still around.

Lola taught Kenneth so much about love. He never asked to be loved, and she never made him feel like he was hard to love. Lola’s love was definitely unconditional. So much so that Kenneth wanted to be a better person and someone that is worthy of her love. They communicated in English, even though Lola’s original tongue was Ilocano. Lola’s English was pretty good, and Kenneth thanks her favorite shows, like jeopardy, for expanding her vocabulary. But Kenneth never felt like there was a language barrier with Lola, and didn’t feel like they could’ve been any closer had he learned how to speak Ilocano.

Like many first generation kids and their immigrant parents and grandparents, there is a generational gap in showing affection towards one another. Lola was the master of unspoken love. She didn’t have to explain herself verbally, she just radiated her love for those around her. On Kenneth’s end, he was the opposite. He always knew that with her age, it’s inevitable that time is limited, so he would over do the “I love you’s,” saying it every time he left the room while giving her a sweet kiss on the forehead. “Me too,” Lola would say, never saying the words back. When she was feeling sassy, his “I love you’s” were returned with, “I know.” Kenneth laughs at the lack of verbal affection, but knows that their way of saying “I love you” or “I’m sorry” came in different way like cutting him up fruit, or other acts of service.

After graduating from college, Kenneth had a tough time finding a job in the Bay Area. The post-grad blues were hitting him hard, especially since it seemed like his peers were all landing jobs and moving forward with their lives. He grew up on the notion that if you go to school, you get a job immediately after, and since it didn’t happen that way, Kenneth was growing frustrated. He decided that a change of scenery was necessary and decided to move to Southern California to live with his sister. It was still hard for him to find a job, but with some time, finally landed a job in LA.

“I was a Bangos (Milk fish) out of water,” he told me when describing how LA was treating him.

Southern California was so different from the Bay Area, Kenneth felt completely out of his element. He was living in SoCal for a little less than a year when he got the phone call from his mom. She let him know that she was getting knee surgery. Kenneth volunteered to move back home and help out with caring for Lola. Even before her call, Kenneth was already on the fence about moving back home. He was extremely homesick, knew Lola was getting older, and his contract at his job was coming to an end. When his mom called with the news, he felt as though the “stars aligned” for him to come back. Lola had a heart condition and had a fall back when he was still in school, so she was walker and wheelchair bound. But Kenneth admits that if his mom didn’t get knee surgery, he would’ve returned home not too long after. SoCal just wasn’t the place for him and he wanted to be back home – and home was wherever mom and Lola were.

Kenneth was back in his element when he moved back to San Jose in 2014. He gives all credit to his mom for being Lola’s #1 caregiver, and him coming in at #2. Mom still worked, so when she worked, Kenneth would be with Lola. Quickly, they came up with a daily routine. In the morning, Kenneth would use a wet warm towel to get out the eye mucus out of Lola’s eyes, he’d assist her in the restroom, and then they’d be off to breakfast. Lola would always ask for “something good,” which usually meant something sweet or dessert-like. Medicine would be after, then they’d paint, and spend the rest of the day watching Netflix. She loved her mystery shows and anything with a strong woman character. Once a week, they would do exercises with 2 pound weights, and even did Lola-friendly baseball and basketball! He would pitch crumpled pieces of paper and Lola would try to swing. During this time, the Golden State Warriors were killin’ it as well, so they would use a basket and see how many shots she could make out of 10.

Kenneth enjoyed his time with Lola, but there were still some low points that were happening at the same time. It seemed that every time he went on social media, he was bombarded with his peers’ accomplishments – getting jobs, falling in love, getting engaged, getting married, having new cars, and so on. All of these accomplishments seemed so far off from what he was doing. It made him feel like he was behind or not on the right path because he wasn’t hitting the same milestones. His worries manifested physically with shaky hands, feeling lightheaded, lips going numb, so much so that he called an advice nurse that let him know that it all boiled down to stress. It took him a while, but he soon realized that social media only shows you people’s highlights in their lives, when in fact, a lot of people feel the same way and are on the same boat.

Even though Kenneth was conflicted about his place in life, he still wouldn’t change anything about helping care for Lola. He valued his time with her so much, and if anything, wishes he had more time with her. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t missing out on anything, because the best gift there is is the gift of time. Kenneth admits that he never confided in Lola about his stress or feelings of being behind in life because he didn’t want to worry her with his struggles. Instead, he would have “me time” when him and his mom switched off from watching Lola. In that time, he would do things like take hip hop classes over the weekend or just hangout. Kenneth and his mom were really good at switching off and giving each other breaks. Lola was their life, and they wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

When Kenneth was little, he was known as the kid in the class that liked to draw. His mom once asked him what he wanted to do when he grows up, and Kenneth let his mom know that he wanted to draw comic books. His mom brushed off his hobby as something he could do for fun on the side, so Kenneth didn’t really think to take drawing seriously as a profession since it wasn’t an option as a kid. So, he continued to draw for fun. The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration started because of Kenneth’s artistic interests.

The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration first started in 2014 when Kenneth was trying to raise money to get a chair lift for Lola. The only bathroom in their home was on the 2nd floor, making it really difficult to get Lola up and down the stairs. He describes it as a “whole production” on bath days. Kenneth thought it would be a good idea draw and sell their prints, in hopes to raise enough money to get the necessary equipment to care for Lola. When people started to buy the prints, Lola would tell Kenneth, “Use the money for you.” That was just her personality – always looking out for him and being as selfless as can be. This is why Kenneth wanted to do The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration, because he wanted to do something for her. They never raised enough money for the chair lift, but it was the start of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Kenneth lightheartedly laughs and adds that the first 2 years of the project, they might’ve even lost money trying to make money.

When Kenneth looks back, he realizes now that Lola has always been a storyteller. Back then, her stories sounded more like fairytales to be age appropriate for the things he was asking. He didn’t realize until he was a little older that all the fairytales she was sharing wasn’t just made up, but her real lived experiences. Kenneth remembers being a little boy and asking Lola, “Where is Lolo?” “He’s on vacation,” she would tell him tenderly. It wasn’t until he had to record Lola’s interview for a class documenting her immigration story that he learned the truth of his Lolo. After World War II, Lolo was most likely suffering from PTSD. He was paranoid that Japanese soldiers were going to attack him, and he carried a lot of trauma from the war. Lolo was Chinese and originally from China, so his family sent him back to try to get some help and recover. Lola never heard from him again.

Lola would share stories about what it was like to grow up during World War II, being occupied by the Japanese. These stories still captivate Kenneth, and he often asks himself, “What was Lola doing when she was my age?” His favorite story that he’ll always remember is when Lola shared that she went to a secret dance. It was during Word War II, Japan occupied the Philippines and took over her village. She was young and just wanted to have a good time and dance. Lola caught a ride to the next town over for a secret dance where she could freely tango and 2-step as she pleased. Next thing she knew, someone was saying that the soldiers were coming. Suddenly, everyone scrammed, running as fast as they could to not get caught. Lola jumped in the back of a cart and hoped it was going in the direction of her town. In all the chaos, she lost an earring, but managed to get back to the village where she washed her shoes in the middle of the night. That story holds such a special place in Kenneth’s heart because it showed her daring personality when she was young, and how not even a war could stop Lola from dancing!

Lola was full of stories. He remembers when he was in his 1st semester of college, he come home to San Jose to visit. Like most students, he brought back work that he could work on when he had downtime. Kenneth was trying to read a book on the couch, but found it really hard to focus. Lola was next to him and was non-stop talking, so he was rereading the same sentence over and over again. He knew he wasn’t going to get any reading done and closed the book with a sigh. He wasn’t trying to be rude, but he knew that the likelihood of getting any productive reading done was impossible with Lola talking his ear off.

“I’m so sorry,” Lola laughed as she covered her mouth. She was thoroughly entertained. “I’m just so happy to have someone to speak with.”

That definitely pulled at Kenneth’s heart strings, and that stuck with him. He put his book away and gave Lola his undivided attention. He made it a point to be present and listen whenever he visited home during college. It was important to him that Lola knew that he was there and listening. And when she wasn’t telling stories, Lola was trying to beat him in whatever game she could. She was a huge fan of games, especially cards and Chinese checkers. Lola was as competitive as a lola could be and loved to win. When she had a feeling that Kenneth was going easy on her and trying to let her win, she would tell him to play again so she could beat him fair and square. But Kenneth admits that even if he really tried, he probably couldn’t beat her anyways. She was just that good.

Painting came to the grandma and grandson organically. The idea to turn Lola’s memories into a book was never preplanned. One day, Kenneth asked Lola what she wanted to do that day, in other words, what did she want to watch on Netflix. To his surprise, Lola shared that she wanted to do something “with a purpose.” Jumping off of that, Kenneth and Lola started a family tree. She drew a huge tree and wrote down all the family members’ names that she could remember. Then Kenneth saw in the newspaper seniors doing art therapy. He didn’t know what that meant, and honestly didn’t even do any research on it, but he thought it was a good idea. One summer break when he was still in college, he tried to get Lola to paint on canvas, to which she didn’t show much interest in. This time around, she was open to the idea of painting with watercolor. Kenneth loved that this activity got Lola talking, because throughout their usual routine, it could get pretty quiet with just Netflix playing.

Lola would start the paintings, and Kenneth would draw on top of them to reflect the stories she told while in the zone. There were times when she would just start talking on her own, being very talkative and detailed. When they got deeper into the project, Kenneth would ask questions and poke around more. In one sitting, Lola would make about 4 to 8 paintings, while Kenneth trailed behind her trying to keep up. He laughs that Lola probably thought he was really slow in matching her productivity. The paintings that he drew on top of while they worked at the kitchen table together are more directly correlated to what she was saying in her stories. It was really convenient to ask Lola in the moment what she was trying to paint. It gave him the opportunity to ask more questions about her story. They collaborated side by side for 2 years, always asking the questions, “What are we going to make?” and “What were you painting here?” for clarification.

When Lola passed away unexpectedly in 2016, Kenneth’s world fell into a million different pieces. He felt so lost, confused, and didn’t know how to move forward with her gone. Even though Lola was in her 90’s, Kenneth never pictured what life would be like without her. Even now, 6 years later, Kenneth still finds it hard to talk about her in the past tense. When she had just passed, he found it interesting how people were so quick to refer to her in the past tense. He really appreciated a friend who wrote him a card speaking about Lola in the present tense, because it’s what he needed at the time. He was grieving the loss of Lola and trying to figure out his own life now that he was no longer caring for her.

Feeling lost was an understatement. He felt the same way he did when he first graduated college and tried to find a job. Only this time, it was worse – he was older, out of college for some time, and would have to apply to entry level positions. Kenneth felt as though he couldn’t do anything because the lack of experience he had, but now looking back, he realizes that he could’ve done essentially anything. He put so much pressure on himself to find his calling in life, but up until that point, Lola was his life. From 2016 to 2020, he did odd jobs here and there to test out the waters in different fields.

Kenneth was still doing The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration on the side after Lola passed, but it was really hard for him to fully dive into it again. When she passed in 2016, Kenneth could only manage to complete 1 to 2 of her paintings a year. Collaborating next to each other in person to doing it solo was too hard for Kenneth to come to terms with. That all changed when the pandemic hit in early 2020. The pandemic played a crucial role in the making of Crescenciana. Kenneth had no choice but to shelter in place. He was cooped up in the house with nothing to do and decided to take out all of Lola’s paintings.

“Okay, this is it,” he told himself. “This is the time. I’m going to finish everything we started, Lola, we’re going to finish this.”

From 2020 to 2021, Kenneth was focused on completing all of Lola’s paintings. This time around, drawing on Lola’s paintings were more complex – it was more like a puzzle, almost like a guessing game. He had all of her unfinished paintings and had to guess which stories matched with which paintings. There are over 80 drawings in the book, but not all of the originals are drawn on. Kenneth decided to switch to digital drawing so he could preserve her original paintings. In a way, he switched to digital because he didn’t want the collaboration to end. If he were to draw on all of her paintings, that would be it. But digitally meant that there is no end, it could go on forever.

“We will always have work to do,” Kenneth said when asked about The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. “I’ll always be grieving for her.”

He decided to publish Crescenciana because he wanted to preserve the stories of his Lola’s life. Kenneth wanted to make sure that he doesn’t have to rely solely on his memory to remember the stories she had once shared with him in person. He pictures the time in his Lola’s life, before he was even born, when she worked at a department store. Her job was to fold the clothes in the fitting rooms. Of course, Lola was happy to have an income, but Kenneth can’t help but think of all the people that might’ve passed by her in the store and treated her like she was invisible, just help, and not anyone important. It killed him to know that there might’ve been people that just looked at her as nothing more than just a worker who folded clothes, because she meant the absolute world to him. Writing and publishing Crescenciana is Kenneth’s way of making Lola feel seen and heard, they way she always made him feel.

So with that, Kenneth self-published in October 2021. He knew the self-publishing route was the road less traveled, but he wanted a say in every part of the book. The whole process was a constant reminder to him that Lola is still present. Kenneth wants people to know that Crescenciana happened organically – just a grandson expressing his love and gratitude for his Lola. It warms his heart to receive messages from readers saying how much they can relate, how they feel heard, and how the book was a starting point to ask their elders about their stories. He once heard his mom talking about Crescenciana on the phone with someone, stating that their story is not unique or “anything special.” Their family was not the only family to suffer or live the way they did – and that’s what makes it all the more beautiful – that many people can relate. Kenneth wants his readers to see themselves in Crescenciana, and wants others to feel seen and heard as well.

“Her story needs to live and breathe, and I want to make sure of that.” Kenneth said.

ORDER CRESCENCIANA DIRECTLY ON THEIR WEBSITE: https://www.lolaxkenneth.com/crescenciana

Kiana: Behind The Scenes

This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Kiana credits her love for film and documenting memories to her father. Growing up, her dad would always have an action film playing in the background. He was always behind the camcorder documenting whatever the family was doing. There are countless family home videos of Kiana throughout the years. He mostly recorded for the family to have home videos to look back on, but also because he was into photography as well. As his daughter, Kiana feels as though she got his creative gene.

When Kiana was about 10 years old, her dad bought her her first camcorder. She was fully immersed in capturing moments visually. Just like her dad, Kiana was always behind the camera. Kiana and her cousins would come up with random skits, and she would always be the one recording it. But it didn’t just stop at recording the footage – Kiana would take it a step further and edit the videos as well. She laughs at the idea of editing her family content through Windows Movie Maker, but a girl gotta start somewhere!

“When I used to film stuff when I was younger, it was more for fun on the spot skits with my cousins,” Kiana explained. “I think that’s where my love for documentaries came from because when you’re filming a documentary you’re literally getting footage on the spot. Nothing is scripted.”

Kiana always had a gut feeling that she wanted to turn her love for documenting, editing, and being behind the camera into a career pretty early on. She remembers a school project her senior year of high school that stuck with her. Her and 4 other classmates had to make a video about domestic violence in Polynesia, and that’s when she upgraded from Windows Movie Maker to iMovie! Her contribution was shooting all the of the videos and editing the footage. In the end, they didn’t even do the project correctly, but Kiana was very proud of the final video.

Even though Kiana knew she wanted to pursue film, she still ended up taking classes for a major she had no business being in. She chose occupational therapy. How the hell did she end up with that? When it was time to try to figure out what she was going to study in college, her mom and cousin threw out the idea of occupational therapy. This is partly due to the the fact that her cousin was an occupational therapist. The game plan was simple – the goal was to study to become an occupational therapist, work as an occupational therapist for a couple of years so she could pay for film school. Looking back, she admits that idea was nowhere near practical.

When it came down to it, Kiana just couldn’t be in those classes. Her heart wasn’t in it, and she knew that occupational therapy wasn’t a road she wanted to take – or never really wanted to take from the get. She had a talk with her parents and decided to drop community college and go to Academy of Art the next fall. The talk with her parents was really difficult to have, but it was so relieving at the same time. Her parents were iffy at first and needed some convincing – they had no idea how she could possibly make a career in film or TV. Kiana had to explain that there are so many different career paths that she can take in the industry – it’s not just directing, screenwriting, and all the roles people first think of when they think of film. Even though her parents were hesitant with the switch, they couldn’t deny how much Kiana was struggling trying to pursue occupational therapy. They knew their daughter’s heart wasn’t in it, so they supported her decision to make the switch.

Kiana’s glad that she made the switch because it changed the direction of her whole career and future. She graduated from Academy of Art University with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Motion Pictures & Television with an emphasis in editing. Now, she’s a Studio Technician for NBC Sports Bay Area, and freelancing on the side! There’s many different tasks as a studio technician, but she mostly works as a tape operator, working on live pre and post-game shows for the Warriors, Giants, and A’s.

To build her portfolio to be qualified for NBC Sports Bay Area, Kiana just kept creating and collaborating with others. One of the most important things that’s a must in this industry is networking. She kept creating, kept networking, and kept putting herself out there, and that’s how she landed her role in the industry. At first, seeing all the professional equipment was really intimidating for Kiana. She’s seen the equipment in some of her classes at the Academy of Art, but actually operating it without the help of her professor was definitely something she had to get used to.

“I personally prefer editing,” Kiana said when asked what role she prefers. “I love editing because it allows me to create and shape the story that the director and cinematographer envisioned. It’s kinda like I have the last say on how I want the film to be seen.”

Being an Asian woman in the sports industry can be pretty intimidating, but Kiana finds solace in the fact that she gets to represent. For her, it’s so much more than just her having a job, it’s letting the generations after her know that someone that looks like them did it as well. Everyone relies on the media for entertainment, so it’s important to Kiana to be that representation for them, it’s something that she wishes she had. Kiana didn’t grow up seeing too many Asians in sports or on TV, and even though it’s currently headed in the right direction, media still has a ways to go to make things diverse.

Creating and documenting is equivalent to Kiana writing in a journal. It’s her way of expressing herself, from whatever she’s thinking or going through in life. Majority of her work and projects are somehow related to her own journey and personal experiences. If she’s working on someone else’s project, Kiana would have to resonate with their story or relate to it in some way. It’s hard for her to put her all into something if she doesn’t feel connected to it, that’s why she’s so passionate about what she does. She takes pride in knowing that what she produces will only come from her and nobody else.

In fact, her film, “Love, Kiana,” started off as a journal entry. Kiana always wanted to create a film focusing on mental health. During that time, she was really diving into mental health in Asian families, more specifically, Filipino families. She wanted to create something where people who look like her could relate. She is well aware that the Filipino community is still very dated when it comes to talking about, accepting, and dealing with mental health. It was really important for Kiana to explain her own journey with mental health because the film also acted as an explanation to those around her. It was different for her to be in front of the camera rather than behind it, but she felt compelled to do so.

“…Whenever I tried to find visual examples I could show my parents, or my cousins, or anyone actually, the content was very limited,” She said when asked why she chose to make the film about her own personal experience. “So I wanted to put the spotlight on it. I needed it to be real, raw, and authentic because I wanted to show people how I’ve been really feeling deep inside.”

Kiana’s work is inspired by the people she’s met, the places she’s been, and the things that she has seen. When creating, her goal is to make something she hasn’t seen on the screen before. She loves watching other people’s work. The different styles of writing, directing, or editing always inspires her to think outside of the box for her own projects. It’s a crucial part of growth – to take everything in around you and find a way to make it your own.

Aside from her sports editing job, Kiana makes sure to feed her creative side whenever she has the chance. Most of her personal side projects start off as just for fun. But there are times where she gets emails announcing film festivals that are open for submissions, and when she sees one that aligns with what she’s working on, she’ll submit it. Currently, she’s working on a “Stop AAIP Hate” campaign and a personal project focusing on San Francisco State’s women’s basketball players’ work ethic and journeys. One of her favorite projects that she’s worked on is a project called “The Crossover” for MYX Global. The Crossover highlights popular artists crossing over to new international markets for the first time like Inigo Pascual, Kiana V, KZ Tandingan, Moira Dela Torre, and more.

Most of the jobs and gigs that Kiana has gotten are through networking and referrals. Kiana tries to capitalize on all of the events and sets she attends where there are a lot of people that are in the same industry. She scopes out the place and tries to make out the individuals that she would want to work with in the future or get to know more. She is one that respects people’s time, so she always tries to think of what she’ll talk about with them before approaching. Kiana’s advice is to try to leave a lasting impression with whoever you’re connecting with because you don’t want to waste their time. Don’t be afraid to follow up with the conversation in the future. Kiana has found that networking casually in person is a lot less intimidating than a formal interview. It allows her to be herself and make natural conversation.

“I feel like as a creative, the most important thing you can do is collab and network with other creatives/filmmakers,” She said. “I love surrounding myself with people who are open-minded and also like-minded when it comes collaborating.”

Even someone like Kiana, who has successfully found her niche in her profession, still has doubts from time to time. With all of her success, there are still moments when she doubts herself as an artist. Kiana tends to compare her work to other people’s and will overthink her own ability, accomplishments, and talents. “Do people even like my art?” “They’ll probably hire someone else,” are some of the thoughts that cross her mind. When those thoughts of self-doubt creep up, Kiana tries to remind herself that her art will reach the audience it’s supposed to and everyone has their own different style when creating. She is aware that she’s her own worst critic. Another thing she likes to do is take a social media cleanse and draw inspiration from reading, watching movies, and just hanging out with family and friends. Her family and friends have been her biggest supporters throughout her whole journey. They’ve been there through it all – her burnouts, her long days, the times she’s sitting for hours on end at the computer editing. The love and support they give her does not go unnoticed.

Kiana doesn’t let her own negative self-talk sabotage her art, so she practices every time she gets the chance to. There are times she goes out and films random things to edit when she gets back home. Other times, she goes into old project files and messes around with them to see how different her cuts and style is now. It’s the perfect way for her to see her progression as an editor, to look back on her old content and edit again with more experience and different techniques. Those old pieces that she dibble dabbles in every once in a while is a constant reminder of where she started, and it truly humbles her.

It usually takes Kiana about 1-2 weeks to complete a short doc. But she admits that she gets very picky with her cuts, so she’ll watch something over and over again until she’s satisfied with it – and she’s completely okay with that. Her goal in film is to finally make her short narrative film come to life. She feels as though her whole film career has been focused on making documentaries, so she really wants to tap into the inventive and imaginative side of storytelling.

Kiana’s advice to other creatives is to keep creating what you want. It doesn’t matter if others think your idea is dumb – you are allowed to create what you want to create. She tries to remind herself that the best part of working in a creative industry is meeting new people and building connections and relationships with them. Somewhere out there will resonate with your work.

“It’s gonna sound hella cliché, but I would tell younger Kiana to never give up,” She said when asked what she would like to tell her younger self. “It’s gonna take some time, there’s gonna be people who doubt you – especially being a woman of color in this industry. You have to work 10x harder than some other people but it’ll be worth it.”

Ingrid: Content Creating Mama

This is story 8 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Ingrid isn’t your typical Disney fan that grew up visiting the parks and experiencing all things Disney, though this is a common misconception her followers may have. Ingrid is known for her social media presence as an influencer. Her posts about Disney outfit ideas exploded on TikTok in the thick of the pandemic, and she has not looked back since. However, she doesn’t limit herself to just posting everything and anything Disney, she also posts outfit inspiration, mom tips and experiences, trips, the occasional collaborations, as well as anything else she feels like sharing. Ingrid has definitely found her creative niche on social media and has enjoyed sharing her journey online, as well as connect with other creatives and mothers.

Ingrid and her family moved from Mexico to the US when she was about 4 years old when her grandma passed away. Her fondest memories are the times her and her family would explore San Francisco, which is why the city holds a special place in her heart. She remembers visiting a Disney store in San Francisco when they first moved, memories like these add to her love for Disney. However, Ingrid wouldn’t consider herself a Disney super fan that collects everything and is up to date with everything revolving around the company. Her love for Disney mostly revolves around the family time and effort her parents took to make the memories happen.

Disney has always been a huge part of her life growing up. Ingrid’s mom tells her stories of how she would collect all the classic movies when Ingrid and her brother were kids. She reminds Ingrid of how much she used to love Mulan, watching it over and over again. To this day, Ingrid still remembers a very specific Winnie the Pooh outfit and that trip to the Disney store in San Francisco when they first moved. Disney was always incorporated in her childhood, but going to the parks and meeting characters weren’t any of those core memories. And that’s because Ingrid’s first time at Disneyland was when she was about 13 or 14 years old. Her parents saved up to take the family to Disneyland for her brother’s 16th birthday, and Ingrid loved the entire experience and being able to look back on the home videos they took.

“I think my love for Disney is tied to all these core memories I have with my family,” Ingrid shared. “It didn’t come easy for my parents to take us to the parks or buy us Disney merchandise at the time. So now looking back, it’s something I genuinely appreciate and I often find myself getting emotional now that I get to experience that with my own kid.”

Ingrid never thought that her personal love for Disney would someday be such a staple in her online presence and side profession. It only seemed right that Ingrid attend school in the city that she grew up to love – she graduated with a Journalism degree with a minor in Humanities from San Francisco State University. Her college years allowed her to learn so much about herself and got her thinking of what she wanted to do in the next coming years. When Ingrid graduated, she didn’t have a set goal to find her dream job, let alone knowing the next steps to make that happen. She kept working retail and played around with social media to keep her occupied.

Working her retail job led her down a whole other path – marriage and motherhood. She met her husband at work and they welcomed their first baby in the midst of the pandemic. When Ingrid and her husband first started dating, they connected on their similar upbringing in regards to Disney. Even though her husband had childhood experiences of going to the parks at a younger age, Ingrid exposed him to a whole new Disney experience when they first visited for the first time together. She showed him so many things at Disneyland that he wasn’t even aware of, despite his previous visits in the past. Now, visiting the parks is something the couple both look forward to, especially now that they have their son.

Being a first time mom is already scary with not knowing what to expect, but having a baby during a pandemic was a whole different ballgame. When Ingrid first found out she was pregnant, she was in a “completely normal world,” being able to have a gender reveal party, visiting Disneyland with her husband, and going to doctor’s appointments together. The 2nd half of her pregnancy was completely different – everything shutdown, she attended appointments alone, her husband wasn’t allowed in the room until she was in active labor, and had to wear a mask while pushing. They welcomed their son in June 2020.

Ingrid had her baby in the thick of the pandemic. Everything was closed and restrictions were at their peak. She suffered from postpartum depression, and not being able to go outside, or do anything really affected her mental health. Like everyone else, she found herself extremely bored. Ingrid grew up watching YouTube and taking pictures – she loved consuming content but never really had intentions of getting into it other than just for fun. Her experience with going viral happened entirely by accident.

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, Ingrid isn’t entirely sure if she would’ve joined TikTok. But she hopped on the TikTok wagon in an attempt to have a creative outlet. Originally, she wanted her TikTok to focus on mom content like creating sensory bins for her son. But her love for fashion proved to be a hit online. She has always been into uploading outfit ideas, but it was 2 videos, “Outfits I’ve Worn To Disney,” that went viral. A huge chunk of her TikTok followers came from her videos that went viral. Ingrid was completely unaware of the Disney community on Instagram, so when she decided to merge her socials, she saw more of a consistent following from the Disney community through mutuals and networking with other Disney creators.

“Because majority of my content included sharing my love for Disney, I was able to reconnect with past networking contacts from a story I wrote in college and everything kind of just spiraled from there,” Ingrid explained.

Ingrid’s first collaboration was with The Walt Disney Museum, where she was invited to check out the museum in exchange for TikTok content. She was all in and not skeptical at all because she had already networked with them prior to in college when she featured them in one of her stories for a class. Not only did Ingrid see this as a great opportunity to collab with the Disney Museum, she also thought it would be an amazing way to network as well. She believes networking is so important – more important than followers and numbers. When they allowed her to bring a few guests with her, she invited local Disney content creators to join her so they could not only produce content, but introduce herself and meet new people.

Ingrid has never been one to be intimidated by someone who has a bigger following than her. She genuinely wants to see others succeed and be happy with whatever they choose to do. If there’s any way that Ingrid can share her success with others and open doors for them, she’ll do it. Ingrid humbly admits that even though it can get easy to let the followers, likes, and feedback from others get to someone’s head, she chooses to not let any of that data cloud her judgment. This is something she likes to do for fun, and she knows at the end of the day, this is all just pictures and videos she likes to share. And she admits that if she were to care about statistics, followers, competition, and other things that come with being an influencer, she would stop posting. This is something that she does for fun and never wants it to bring out feelings of jealousy, competition, or stress.

“I never want this to feel like a competition or a job, that’s what makes it not enjoyable for me!” She said.

In fact, Ingrid is the opposite of competitive. Instead of trying to one up others that post similar content, she tries to befriend them. She has made so many connections and friendships through her social media platforms. They range from other mothers, Disney lovers, park goers, fashionistas, and so on! She has even met some of her online friends in real life – going to Disneyland and featuring in each others’ content. The community is very friendly and supportive if you want it to be. It’s pretty cool that we live in a world where a simple follow and commenting on each others’ posts will build a relationship, so when you meet in person, you feel like you already know each other. Of course there are some nerves when it comes to meeting new people in person, but so far, Ingrid has been pretty lucky with everyone she has met being super nice and friendly.

Photo By: Taylor Jaxson (Instagram: @taylorjaxsonphotography)

Disney is such a huge company, and having a connection with anything tied to the company has opened so many doors for Ingrid and her fellow content creating friends. Ingrid has found that brands usually reach out through email. It will usually include a proposal of what product they want you to feature on your social media, as well as the rate of pay. It varies from asking for actual posts on your feed to posts on your stories, it all depends.

When it comes to collaborating with other companies, Ingrid finds herself turning down the majority of the brand deals sent her way. There are times where the brand is expecting too much for what they’re offering, so they go back and forth before making a decision. But more likely than not, Ingrid turns down companies for the simple fact that she just does not agree with their product, enjoy it, or fits her audience. Every brand deal that she has moved forward with, she has used prior to working with them! Ingrid makes sure that she endorses brands that she can personally stand behind.

When it comes to collaborating with other companies or people, Ingrid’s advice is to just reach out! Reaching out can be a very intimidating thing, especially when you are approaching brands, but the worst that can happen is them saying no or not responding. Her advice is to just go for it and believe in yourself, because you never know what can come from it. Especially since Ingrid has met most of her internet friends from collabing, she knows first hand what a simple direct message or email can do.

When Ingrid first dipped her foot into the influencer and collaborating world of social media, she was never really skeptical or hesitant of what it would lead to. It was never really a conversation that had to be had with people around her, she pretty much just did it and didn’t make it a big deal. Of course, she was cautious of what she posted, but she didn’t have to think long and hard about her decisions. Since she was so chill about her social media presence that her family and those in her close circle followed her lead. Her family has always been huge Disney fans and watch content on YouTube, so they think it’s pretty cool that she’s a part of that community on TikTok. Her family has been very supportive – from her mom’s constant encouragement by giving her ideas for future posts, her brother and husband being her behind the scenes camera men, to all her friends and followers that share and repost her content.

Content creating has sparked Ingrid’s creativity in many ways. Now that she’s in the influencer world, she can appreciate how other influencers put their own flare on things. It’s so interesting to her that content creators can have the same niche, but add their own personal touch to make it different. This has challenged Ingrid to ask herself the question, “What makes this me?” when posting new content. Creating has allowed her to express her love for fashion – something that she has always been passionate about. She laughs that even though she builds outfits for videos, she also uses her own content to pack for trips.

As a content creator, the pressure to post and produce new content can be overwhelming. Ingrid knows the way to grow her following is through consistent posting, but she never wants creating to feel like a job that she’ll end up not enjoying. She likes the beauty and freedom of freelance work – it may not be steady income, but the ball is in your court whether or not you want to expand. Her goal is to feel comfortable and happy with what she’s doing, not feeling the need to let her followers know what she’s doing 24/7.

Posting consistently isn’t Ingrid’s priority either. She’s a mother balancing everyday life, work, and freelancing. Because of this, she doesn’t have a game plan when it comes to posting. Ingrid prefers to post on her own time and only sticks to a hard deadline only when she’s working with a brand deal. It’s a good feeling when she wakes up motivated to shoot content and post, but if she isn’t up for it, she won’t force it. She enjoys creating on her own time and advises people to just post whatever they want regardless of what people will say, think, or who will watch it. If Ingrid isn’t feeling it, she’s just not even going to attempt to try – she definitely has to be in the mood and mindset to create. When she’s feeling burnt out, she doesn’t log onto her socials and takes a break for a couple of days.

Ingrid and her husband are expecting baby #2! She would consider herself a part time content creator, but being pregnant has drained her of any motivation to post. She has been taking extended breaks because she’s just not up for it. She has a part time job, aside from content creating, but her fulltime job is being a mother. She had so many ideas of content she would love to post when she got pregnant, but all those ideas have since gone out the window. It was really hard for Ingrid to go back to work and leaving her son. So she tries not to do too much or do things that take away from the time she has with him on days she has to go to work.

“If I am off then I’ll try creating during his nap unless I need him for a picture,” Ingrid explained. “I never force him to do anything so if I see he’s not up for it we try again later or the next day!”

Ingrid’s public accounts have allowed complete strangers to interact with her and give her feedback. That’s part of the reason why she loves what she does – it allows her to connect with other people. Positive feedback that she’ll receive is mostly what her followers want to see more of, which is usually requests for more outfit and friends videos. She loves when she gets questions about Disney recommendations or motherhood advice. Ingrid thinks it’s so special how she gets to be the shoulder some moms lean on when they need someone to talk to. Her account has allowed others to feel like they can trust and confide in her.

Being on public platforms means that you reach a bigger audience, but that also means that you have more feedback and unsolicited comments. Luckily, Ingrid hasn’t had too many instances with haters, but she’ll get the occasional, “I would never wear that,” comment. She once posted a video of her son taking his first steps at Disneyland, and trolls came to tell her that it wasn’t real. She just shrugs it off and doesn’t take anything personal. Ingrid knew what she was signing herself up for, so she has learned to have thick skin and not focus on the outliers that try to make silly comments.

Ingrid and her husband are annual passholders to Disneyland, so they are at the parks every 2-3 months! People approach her all the time when she’s at Disneyland, and she thinks it’s the sweetest thing. She loves to meet her internet friends and supporters, and loves that people feel comfortable enough to approach her in person. Even though her and her little family go to Disneyland pretty often, she doesn’t think she’ll ever get tired of visiting. The parks are always changing – the food, rides, movies, shows, etc., for her to explore. However, she does draw the line at only a couple days at Disneyland, she is definitely not a “let’s go to Disneyland for a week” kind of gal, after a couple of days, she needs a break.

Ingrid has thought about doing content creation fulltime, but it’s still a hard decision for her to make. She would like to say yes, but there are some cons that hold her back. Many of her followers have suggested she make a YouTube channel, and she doesn’t know whether she wants to raise her kids online or not. She can take hate comments about her outfits or other dumb things people say online, but she sees how other creators deal with comments about their children or their parenting style, and that’s just not her cup of tea. For Ingrid, there is a thin line between sharing and oversharing and setting boundaries with followers. For now, she is sticking to TikTok and Instagram.

Creating content online has opened Ingrid’s eyes to slow down. She learned that she didn’t have to put so much pressure on herself to follow a certain path after post-grad. Covid has also contributed to her changed mindset. Being a part of this community has allowed her to see that there are so many other things in life that can bring you joy or make you feel proud. Holding a specific job title or working for a certain company isn’t the only path to success. So to anyone out there wanting to start something but you’re too afraid, Ingrid’s advice is to just do it. Even if someone else is doing something similar, just do it because you’re the only one that can do it your way.

For Ingrid, one of the best parts of creating is meeting new friends. She thoroughly enjoys connecting with people who share a similar interest. By far the best feeling is seeing Disney through her son’s eyes. It’s such a magical feeling that she almost can’t put it into words. Giving her son these experiences makes her appreciate her parents even more. Growing up, her parents didn’t have it like that to bring her and her brother to Disneyland consistently, so now as an adult, Ingrid understands what it takes to bring your child to the parks. She cried her first time being so thankful for everything that her parents have provided for her.

It was truly a full circle moment taking her parents to Disneyland with her and her little family for Luka’s 2nd birthday. It was an amazing feeling seeing her parents walk around the parks with her son and going on rides with him. All the questions as to why her parents did the things they did, are now answered now that she’s a mother herself. She understands the struggle, sacrifice, and planning it takes to give your children experiences that they’ll remember for years to come. Seeing Disneyland through her son’s eyes has truly been one of the greatest joys she has felt as a mother. As her family expands, Ingrid’s wish is that her children will be grateful for all the experiences and quality time that they had and will have at the parks.

“I just want them to remember all the amazing moments we shared and be thankful we got to experience what we did!” She said. “I never want to take what we have for granted.”

Dez: Creativity Is Limitless

This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Dez has many hobbies and creative outlets that include, but are not limited to: fashion, writing, cooking, interior design, gift giving, DIY projects, event planning, and more. During the interview process, Dez found it hard to focus on just one creative subject, so, she talked about all the things that brings her joy. Here is her story written in her own words:

“My hobbies have always included areas that allow me to be creative. Because I’ve struggled so much with figuring out what I wanted to do career-wise, I’ve found refuge in all my creative endeavors. I love creating in many different forms: fashion, cooking, interior design, event-planning, story-telling, gift-giving. I don’t believe I’ve mastered any of them but being able to tap into these different modes of creativity has really filled my soul. The idea of doing one thing as your career for the rest of your life truly bores me and I’ve found a lot of resistance to the exploitation of labor that this country expects from us, so exploring all the ways I am able to escape from that, especially through creation and art, reminds me of all the pleasures we human beings should be allowed to experience everyday. 

I absolutely felt pressured to pick a major going into college. It’s interesting how much your future relies on your 17/18-year-old choices, an age where I barely experienced my own autonomy yet nor had I explored my interests enough to even know what I wanted to do/be. Coming from a Filipino family, the expectation to be a nurse was set from a very young age. So once I finally got to the age to apply for college, my whole mindset is set on following the pressures I’ve received my whole life, but that was also taking away from me thinking about what I really wanted to do. My decision was automatic of what major I should be applying for, the only career I ever had an idea of doing, which was nursing.

I applied to about 6 colleges, and my number one school was San Diego State University for their highly favored nursing program. I ended up getting waitlisted, so I accepted at San Jose State as an undeclared major. A week later, I got an acceptance into the nursing program at SDSU, and it’s glorious news. I get to move to a completely new city when I’ve barely even traveled to new cities on my own before. As a freshman at SDSU, I got really caught up in the social aspects and trying to build community over my actual education. I also was super used to getting good grades naturally (because high school is a joke) so I thought the same would apply in my college courses. To my demise, I couldn’t have been more wrong or more unprepared for the load I was given.

I ended up failing my first class in my entire life in my first semester of college, and what a sobering reality that was. In just my prerequisites alone, I struggled and already fell behind my peers. As soon as my nursing courses started in my 2nd year, I struggled miserably. I was such a bad test taker, always in between two answers and picking the wrong one, and all my nursing courses depended on passing these rigorous tests. It was super discouraging to think I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to continue my nursing school successfully. I failed my second test in my clinical nursing class and that was an automatic failure for a 6 unit class. This led me to being dropped from the nursing program entirely because you could only fail 2 courses throughout the entire 4-year program. ABSOLUTELY INSANE. 

So now I’m freaking out, scrambling about what tf I’m gonna do now. I actually didn’t tell my parents that I got dropped for my entire second semester of that school year because I was too afraid to let them down. I was too afraid they were going to pull me out of that school because it was the only reason I accepted there in the first place. I basically had to start from scratch when picking a major because all of my prerequisites I took were for nursing.

I went one semester undeclared, then in my 3rd year I chose Child & Family Development as my new major. This major was going to extend my time by 1.5 years over the original 4 years planned, and if I had all the money in the world I would’ve done it, but I felt pressured to be in school as little time as possible for financial purposes since I was only paying with loans. I found a nice program where you can emphasize in 3 majors and get your BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, it was meant for “indecisive” people. It allowed you to choose the classes you wanted to take as long as you reach a certain amount of units for each emphasis. This allowed me to graduate in 4.5 years total. 

This was truly one of the most stressful experiences of my entire life, and I still get frustrated thinking about all the time and money I wasted doing that nursing program when I know now that I would have never succeeded in nursing. It’s not where my passion and heart lies, although I admire the profession so much. I know that everything happens for a reason, and of course I learned so much about myself, but it took away from a proper college education experience. 

It was so terrifying to admit to my family that I got dropped. My dad wanted me to leave SDSU immediately, which I knew would be his reaction. My mom was pretty disappointed but she still supported me in my education, and understood why I didn’t want to leave my school in the middle of my college career. Eventually, she expressed that she just wants me to be happy and successful, however that looks for me. I know she worries about me financially, which I completely understand, since she grew up prioritizing labor in order to survive. My dad is no longer alive but he never really supported my dreams, nor did I feel comfortable sharing what my dreams even were because of how traditional he was. My mom is much more adaptable and knows that I have goals and dreams to be my own version of success, and I am comforted in knowing that she is always proud of me no matter what.

If I could change it, realistically I would have started off my college career as a Child & Family Development major from the get-go because I find so much interest in learning those courses. I love applying it to real-life situations that I witness. If I could change it to anything, without caring about the judgment from my family, I would probably do interior design. I feel like that knowledge would have allowed me to explore my creativity so much earlier instead of exploring it after college.

 In college, I was more focused on creating experiences and making the most of my time away from home. I also don’t remember having much time to pursue many hobbies because I was always trying to be involved in organizations, struggling as a full-time student, working part-time jobs, and exploring/adventuring any time I had the chance to with friends. Thrifting was always something that existed in my life at the time but I didn’t consider it a hobby at the time. I practiced my creativity through the roles I had in my orgs. For example, I was the sisterhood chair in my sorority and we had to plan bonding activities. This was the perfect opportunity to get as creative as possible because I hated doing basic stuff lol, I was always looking to make a unique experience for any event that I was in charge of. 

My journey with fashion has truly been a pillar in my evolution. It’s been the best and most obvious way I can express myself. Ever since I was younger, I loved buying clothes with my mom at the mall or finding cool shit at the thrift store, and I would take photos of my outfits and post them on MySpace or Tumblr. Even though my fashion taste was disgustingly 2000-2010s, it paved my love for dressing myself up. It was also the foundation for my love of the thrift store because finding something old or previously used and revamping it into my own style was always extremely gratifying, I would, and still do, feel so proud of myself when someone asks me where I got something and I respond ‘I thrifted it.’

I think I put my love for fashion on a back burner when I moved to college because I was trying to assimilate myself with friends/people. I very much cared what other people thought about me at the time and I focused more on having my personality liked over my clothes. It was also hot as hell in San Diego (like 108 degree weather in my first week of school walking 20 minutes to class raw dogging the sun) as opposed to what I was used to at my foggy home in SSF, so I was wearing super basic shorts and tanks all the time. In SSF, I was good at dressing for the cold; I loved layering and was obsessed with jackets. Moving to SD was a complete 180, I didn’t even own more than one pair of shorts. My closet was honestly funny to look at because I brought hella jackets from home and I think I only ended up wearing 3 of them. And I had to lug those jackets every year I was living in San Diego, stored away 95% of the time. That was so drastic so it definitely took me awhile to find my style again.

Thrifting is what inspires me the most when it comes to fashion. I’ve always been a broke hoe and brand clothing was never that enticing to me. Probably because I’ve always been a broke hoe and never had the money to even consider it. I just love finding a random piece on the rack and envisioning how I can experiment with it. It provided a low risk way of experimenting with my expression and taste. Through thrifting, I learned that I really love color, patterns, anything inspired by the 60s-90s, and anything bold. I also learned I am super passionate about upcycling old clothes and finding a way to give them new life. A lot of clothes that I think I’d never wear, I saw on the racks one day and was like “maybe I’ll try it” and ended up loving it. That’s exactly how my taste and style continue to evolve. It’s also a sustainable way to create a unique closet for yourself.

Nowadays, having a good outfit for any occasion makes me feel good. My closet is actually mostly comfy chic clothes but when you color coordinate or accessorize, your outfit can be amplified by 10x. During the pandemic, I started experimenting and elevating my looks a lot more because I had so much time and I had literally nothing better to do in quarantine. I also was incredibly inspired after watching Euphoria when it first came out. All the makeup and looks in Euphoria made me feel so much joy, and I thought to myself ‘I can do that. Ever since, I’ve been unafraid to really play around with makeup, accessories, jewelry. I started spreading that encouragement I felt to experiment to all my friends around me, and now I’ve become an unofficial thrift advisor and fashion stylist for some of my friends.

I love how much freedom and fluidity that exists in fashion as long as you’re willing to try it. I also learned that just because I see something I like on someone else doesn’t mean it will always work out for me, so trying things out on my own has been the most beneficial. Individuality is of the utmost importance to me, so I will always be finding ways to share that. I don’t believe there should be any rules to how someone chooses to dress and express themselves. Fashion allows me to express my personality, and it will always be for my joy and not for anyone else’s.

Cooking was never my forte growing up. I didn’t cook much of anything my first 18 years of life, nor did me or my family really explore many different cultures of food. My family only ate Filipino food and fast food. When I got to college, I realized my experience in food was super limited, to the point where I thought it was pretty embarrassing. I think I learned how to cook an egg my freshman year of college. My first 2 years, my ‘home-made’ meals were really just college struggle meals – something quick, cheap, and filling.

I began cooking a lot more on my own probably my 4th year in college when I was living with only one friend in our own apartment. I enjoyed trying new recipes with friends and realized that cooking with people you love is one of the sweetest and now my most favorite pastimes. As I began cooking more, I then realized that it is one of my favorite pastimes to do with just myself too. Back then I would pretty much follow a recipe to the T, exact measurements and ingredients. But with more experience and a more reliable flavor palette, I am able to use my creativity and create a more free flow in my cooking. 

I began a healing journey once I moved out of San Diego to San Jose to live with my partner at the time and some best friends, mostly so I could be somewhat closer to my family back in the Bay. I felt very out of my body because the entire life I spent the 5 years in SD creating was suddenly over, and I was put into this brand new environment that really put me into shock. During this healing journey, I found refuge in meditation and learning how to stay present with myself. Cooking became a form of meditation for me because it was a set time where I only had to focus on the food I was preparing and cooking. I didn’t have to think of anything else in the moment other than creating a yummy and beautiful dish for me to eat.

I found every single part of the cooking process comforting and relaxing (even washing the dishes sometimes). The more comfortable I got with cooking, the more confident I felt to experiment with flavor and presentation. I always wanted my meals to look pretty and taste even better. Then after all that hard labor, you’re able to sit with yourself and enjoy what you made. I started to understand the importance of food and nourishment through cooking, that there was more to connect with it. Cooking gives me a blank canvas where I am able to use spices and sauces to amplify a basic dish. It allows me to use all 5 of my senses; I can see what I’m making, hear the sounds of chopping and sizzling, smell the fragrant aromas, feel the different textures of the ingredients I’m using, and most importantly taste through the process and the final product.

Interior design is a fairly new practice for me but I’ve watched interior design shows and YouTubers since I was young. It’s so fun to see the big and small ways you can completely change a living space. There are so many elements that can elevate a room, whether it be the colors, the furniture, the feng shui, the accents, the lighting. I wouldn’t even say I’m good at interior designing yet, I think what I’m good at is styling a room, but I’ve been able to practice in my own rooms since I moved away from San Diego. I think creating a safe space for me was vital in order to feel comfortable after moving. I created a color palette and tried to design my room as cohesive and as cheap as possible. I think I’m just a budget-friendly girl in any aspect because similar to thrifting, you can elevate the look and feel of a room without buying expensive ass stuff. 

In my own space currently, I wanted it to be both whimsical and serene, colorful but also calm. I create a color palette, I’m super into lavender and pastels at the moment, so I try to include little accents of those colors in my room but make sure it’s not overpowering so that I can still feel that sense of serenity. I am a collector (borderline hoarder) of random things that I think are pretty, so I try to put those on display in an intentional way to sort of deflect all the clutter I’ve hoarded over the years.

This year was my first time trying to paint a mural for my wall and it was such a fun and inspiring process. I visualized, picked the colors, drew out a sketch, and put the vision to life on my wall. It was so rewarding. I make sure to add little details everywhere in my space because I think life is all about the little details. I can’t wait to own my own space because everything I do currently in my spaces are renter-friendly, but as soon as I have full reigns, I am making it the most magical space to be in. As of now, I will continue to find small, thrifty ways to elevate my space. I’ve also been offering my services or have been asked for advice for room design from friends, so eventually I would love to create income from this passion of mine. I am excited to see how much I will be able to accomplish the more I dive into this passion of mine. 

Event planning has been something I’ve done since high school, usually for the organizations I was a part of. I helped plan my junior prom and senior ball when I was in ASB, along with the many other events I’ve had to plan. I’ve planned my own cotillion. I created bonding events in both the Filipino org and sorority I was in at SDSU. I also had a big themed birthday party every year since I turned 21. I think what I love about event planning is that it’s an opportunity to create a unique experience that brings people together. Now that I am not in any orgs that require me to create events, I mostly plan parties for special events with my friends. I am for sure one of the main party planners in my friend groups. 

My birthday usually gives me the most control so I really go all out for my birthdays. For my 21st birthday, I had a huge birthday bash that had over like 70 people come through in which I managed a Facebook event for, provided drinks, created a huge banner, and got absolutely shit faced. For my 22nd, I wanted something more wholesome so I did a paint & sip at my house – I provided a bunch of card stock paper, paints, brushes, alcohol, good music, and it was a freakin vibe. For my 23rd, I created games, bought my own piñata, had a copious amount of alcohol (as always), and watched the sunset. For my 24th, my first birthday in quarantine, I wanted to go camping but didn’t have the chance, so I made a camping theme at home where I make shifted am aesthetic tent, created a nature scavenger hunt around my apartment complex, had the bombest food, painted, danced with bubbles. For my 25th, I did a Met Gala theme at the most luxurious Airbnb I’ve stayed at so far; I encouraged all my friends to come with the fits and we dressed up, hyped each other up, made a beautiful dinner as if we were really at the Met Gala. And this year for my 26th, I did a groovy day in Golden Gate Park.

I think with the society we’re living in, especially being in poverty to the lower-middle class in the US, we are literally programmed to be exploited for our labor, mindless machines who spend their days worrying about paying their bills on time and achieving the ‘American Dream’ of success. They make it very easy to fall into a mundane state of life, an endless cycle of working until you can retire. I think exploring your creativity and passions is revenge against this system. Art in all forms molds the human experience. It allows us to connect with one another, express our individuality, and explore the humanness that we should all be given the space to find for ourselves.

Above all, feeding into my creativity invokes inspiration, sparks my joy, makes me feel whole. It’s refreshing that lately, I’ve been reminded of how creativity can exist in so many different forms. It’s an ever-evolving learning and experimental process. I feel so much more inclined to continue creating just about anything because I wasn’t encouraged to focus on that growing up; I’ve only been encouraged to do everything in my power to find a good career that will make me enough money to live comfortably. The same way our country believes in the freedom of speech, I wish it would encourage freedom of expression. For an individualistic country, the majority of the US sure hates it when you express your individuality. They don’t want us to open our minds because they’re afraid we’re gonna realize that we’re being used as puppets, to be lifeless cogs in their machine. Those who have been able to open their minds understand the flaws in the system, and we fight against it by truly being our whole, free selves.

So to that I say: dye your hair any color you want, get tattoos whether they have meaning or not, write a poem that doesn’t rhyme, color outside of the lines, learn how to do something even if you’re not ‘good’ at it, step out of the boxes we’ve been forced into since we were brought into this world. I love creativity because it says FUCK THE RULES. Do what makes you happy in this one life. Keep the fire in your soul ignited and continue discovering what you’re capable of. Cultivate your human experience without guilt or shame as long as you’re doing it in love. 

I enjoy living an unconventional life. I have trouble envisioning what or where I will be in 5-10 years because I feel like my soul can truly take me anywhere. I am constantly trying to understand the meaning of existence, trying to find every way I can to live a life of purpose. The idea of being tied to one expectation or timeline of life makes me want to rebel against anyone who tries to place that sort of control on my own life choices. My plan is to keep elevating myself every year, picking myself back up faster every time I encounter obstacles. Even though there are always going to be vicious cycles and limiting beliefs that are lurking in the shadows, I believe it’s all about embracing all that life has to teach you. 

For me personally, it’s important to be creative in different areas because discovering my interests and passions will only come from exploring what my options are. I also get bored easily, so having all these different areas that I can dabble in makes me feel like there’s always something new I can try, or maybe something I can revisit if I haven’t practiced in a certain area in awhile. I am a complex, multi-faceted being and I find pleasure in having my interests mirror that. I’m also learning how empowering it is. I always said that I wish I was a dancer or a singer or an artist so that I could master one realm of creativity, but I’m understanding that I may not be a master at one thing, but I am good at a plethora of things. And that makes me feel proud of myself, as opposed to how I used to feel ashamed of it. Plus life is SHORT! Do whatever tf you feel like, as long as it’s safe and done with love. We seriously only have one life to live and I am not about to die living with any regrets.

I feel like there’s so much pressure to be ‘good’ at something and if you’re not ‘good’ at it, then people wonder why you’re even doing it. Fuck all of that noise. What’s considered ‘good’ is so subjective, what we should really be focused on doing is being authentic. I’ve spent so long thinking that I was talentless, that my hobbies are small and meaningless. Now as I rediscover my love for those ‘little hobbies,’ I am being reminded that they are actually little fires of passion that ignite my soul. They encourage me to tap into my authenticity, vulnerability, and humanity. And if you can figure out a way to intertwine your passions with your success, then that’s a win in my book.” -Dez

Joniel: Representation In Modeling

This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Joniel’s intro into the modeling world is not what most people would think. He was always into fashion and interested in modeling, but never really had the motivation to take those necessary steps to get his foot in the door. It was actually a traumatic experience that motivated him to change his style, which led to him modeling for well-known companies like Nike and The North Face.

It was 3 days before his high school graduation, and Joniel was racially profiled in front of his Bay View home. He remembers there were about 6 police cars and 2 S.W.A.T buses. Joniel was detained at a block party because he matched the description they were looking for – Black male, his height, wearing a black hoodie with white writing. Joniel was in disbelief that he was in this scenario, it was this moment that changed his life completely.

“I was like, ‘Well I live in a black neighborhood, you can ring anyone’s doorbell or go down the street and you’ll find someone in the same thing,'” Joniel said as he remembered what he felt in that exact moment.

The trauma from being racially profiled switched something inside Joniel’s brain. He got motivated to look more into one of his interests – fashion. Before this, he tried to achieve the Bay Area hypebeast streetwear look. Joniel made a conscious effort to dress differently, drop the hypebeast look, and invest in a completely new wardrobe. His motivation was to differentiate his style from others so he no longer “fit the description” from the traumatic experience.

Joniel started doing his fashion research. He was really inspired by GQ and took notes on their style. Growing up, he always looked up to Will Smith for his fashion and acting. David Gandy inspired him because Joniel feels like he changed the game of male models – from the slender, more feminine looking men, to beefy bulky guys. He was also inspired by Joshua Kissi – just a guy from South Africa who didn’t grow up with a whole lot. Joniel admires how he made his statement in the fashion industry by not giving a shit what people think.

Getting into fashion is a whole other ballgame for creatives. Simply for the fact that this is a form of art where you have to dish out a lot of your money to achieve certain looks that you want. Joniel wanted to stray away from streetwear looks and shifted his style to looking dapper. He wanted to be that one guy in the room dressed up in a suite, pulling it off, but yet maintaining a chill persona and not trying too hard. Joniel had to put in a lot of his own money to stay creative. There was a point where he realized that changing his whole wardrobe was getting too pricey, so for a while, he attempted to make his own clothes. At the end of the day, the price of his clothes didn’t worry him too much because it was an investment worth doing because the garments would always be his to keep. And most importantly, the clothes made Joniel feel good about himself.

Growing up, Joniel wasn’t the most confident kid. He had his fair share of feeling insecure, self-conscious, and overanalyzed things about himself. So finding the new found confidence through fashion made him glow in a different way. He loved that he was investing in himself to make him look good, but feel even better. Joniel’s uncle really liked the way he dressed when he changed up his style and asked him if he was finally modeling yet. “No, but I should,” Joniel responded. It was always something that crossed his mind, but at that moment he decided to actively try to pursue it.

Joniel took the researching stage pretty seriously. His goal was to get signed by an agency, and he was going to make sure it happened. He spent a good chunk of time looking at reviews and talking with people about certain agencies. Joniel took matters into his own hands and reached out to other models under different agencies and asked them how much work they actually got and what their experiences were like with the company. All it took was Joniel taking the initiative to slide into their DM’s to get the relevant information he needed. His research narrowed down his options, and at the end of it, he knew which company he wanted to work for.

When Joniel finally decided which agency was a right fit for him, he stalked them on social media. At the time, he didn’t have a portfolio and no one was helping him out to get discovered, so he used social media to his advantage. He kept up with their whereabouts often and waited for the agency to be at a certain place at a certain time. They would post when and where they would be scouting, so Joniel was always alert on when they would be coming close to his area. Finally, the day came where the agency posted that they would be scouting at the mall. The only problem was that the workers wouldn’t be at a table, but walking around the mall. Joniel made sure to wear his best clothes and went to the mall, in hopes of running into them.

Joniel’s tactics worked, because a photographer started following him around. He knew exactly what was happening, but decided to play it cool. Joniel asked them why they were following him, to which they said, “I work for this agency, are you interested in modeling?” From there, he got to meet the owner. It was really important that Joniel worked under an agency where the owner was a person of color, this is information he already knew prior to meeting them. When they finally met in the mall, he felt as though he was meeting with an uncle, whereas other agencies went straight to business. The owner had Joniel walk down the mall and back, and he left with the owner’s contact information.

It took 2 and a half months for the agency to contact him back. But after that, Joniel was signed to hist first modeling agency. Joniel has always believed that closed mouths don’t get fed, so he really took matters into his own hands to make his modeling career a reality. He played it smart by utilizing social media to his advantage. He laughs and jokes that in a way, he manipulated them into signing him. Joniel signed with an agency in 2013, fresh out of high school. It’s crazy to think that that was almost a decade ago.

Being a model and being able to represent people that normally wouldn’t make it on your screen is something that is very important to Joniel. He wants to help other people feel confident about themselves because he knows that he wasn’t the most confident kid growing up. Joniel explains that being Black, Filipino, from Bay View, and has Vitiligo on his face are all the reasons why he wouldn’t be a potential candidate to be a model. According to him, “the odds weren’t in my favor,” but he still made it happen. Now, he takes pride in representing the people that look like him, come from the same upbringing, and can relate to him in any way.

Social media has never been Joniel’s strong suit, in fact, it is still a work in progress for him. Before getting into the modeling world, he had about 500 followers. When he finally got signed, he would try his best to post consistently to get engagement. That would mean posting 3 times a day. It was a lot to keep up with, but in a year and half he grew his following from 500 followers to 10k. It took him 2 and a half more years to get to 19.6k. Joniel and some other friends from the agency started a social media group where they would text when they posted something so everyone could comment, like, and engage with it.

All in all, it took Joniel about 3 years to see progress in his modeling career. In the beginning, it was hard for his old school parents to get on board with his modeling. They constantly told him that he needed to get a real job. His dad was a little more understanding, due to the fact that his dad also modeled back in the day, but he also wanted Joniel to have something more serious with a steady income. After his first year of modeling, he mad about 12k for the whole year. This gave his parents more grounds to prove their point – he needed a new job and needed to start taking school more seriously. Joniel changed his parents’ minds 2.5 years into modeling when he took them to their first runway show.

“That’s my anak (child/son)!” His mom cheered happily.

“That’s so cool!” His dad later confessed.

Now, whenever he’s on TV or does a shoot with a well-known brand, it’ll definitely end up on mom’s Facebook page or the family group chat. They have learned to support Joniel and be more open-minded with where modeling can take him. It’s a very surreal moment when you see your child walking down that runway or on that ad. They finally understood his passion.

Modeling has challenged Joniel’s creativity in many ways. Fashion helped him find himself. Focusing on his sense of style and what made an outfit “him” really helped him discover the true him. He feels as though all of his modeling experiences has made him more open-minded. He dresses how he feels and does it for himself, not for anyone else. The different kinds of shoots he participates in allows him to just have fun as well. He enjoyed working with Nike because he didn’t even feel like it was work. Joniel described it as if a camera was just there and he was just having fun playing games on the field with other models.

When Joniel graduated from college, he was modeling full-time. He humbly admits that he was really busy and making a lot of money. But when his 26th birthday loomed around the corner, he started to reconsider his career path. Once someone hits 26 years old, they are no longer eligible to be under their parents’ health insurance. This encouraged Joniel to dip his feet into the personal training gym world. When COVID hit, he stopped modeling and training all together. When things started back up again, Joniel picked up from where he left of training and modeling. Now, he doesn’t have plans to model full-time anymore and prefers to do it on the side for fun. He loves that modeling allows his to express himself and do his thing. He loves it a lot, but he’s making realistic steps for his future, and future kids and family.

“It can either be really great or really shitty,” Joniel said when explaining being a full-time model. “And I got to make sure everything’s really great all the time.”

Joniel’s advice to other creatives and models is to keep your head strong and take everything with a grain of salt. Not everyone in the industry is going to be nice to you, so just stay true to yourself. From experience, Joniel has dealt with snobby models and models that throw shade because the industry is a competition. In those cases, he advises to keep your distance. But for the most part, if you’re on the same set, there is mutual respect and understanding that you were all hired to do the same thing, so there is no jealousy or reason to be stand-offish. Joniel thinks it’s important to remain humble.

Joniel thanks his upbringing for his humble demeanor. Growing up without a silver spoon in the Bay Area has shaped him into the man he is today, and it’s important for him to represent the Bay Area every chance he gets. It means a lot to him to maintain the Bay’s original culture, but to also represent the different groups he falls under. He wants people to know that he’s a very caring, protective, and passionate individual.

“I very much care about how people feel, making sure that I can help them avoid some of the feelings that I have felt,” Joniel said. “It’s important to help represent different groups so they can have their own journeys in a safer environment.”

Joanna: The Baking Lawyer

This is story 5 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Joanna may be a lawyer by profession, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get down in the kitchen. For the most part, she’s a self-taught baker who enjoys making baked goods for all the people around her. Baking is Joanna’s happy place. When she first meets people, she tells them that she bakes and they’ll usually reply with, “Oh, me too!” But Joanna makes it a point to clarify no, she “baaaaakesss.” She humbly admits that her baking skills are not quite up to par with professionals, but her improved skills throughout the years has put her baked goods well passed just good enough to eat. In other words, Joanna is not your regular-shmegular “I bake for fun” out of the store bought box baker.

Joanna’s introduction to baking started at a young age. She remembers being in the kitchen around 6 years old, helping her aunts bake bread for the family. Her Aunt Carmen and Aunt Lilia sparked Joanna’s baking curiosity since they were always baking and would try their best to incorporate Joanna in the process. Aunt Carmen baked traditional pastries like dinner rolls, chiffon cakes, and butter cookies. Aunt Lilia was more adventurous with her baking and took it upon herself to watch the Food Network channel and bought tons of cookbooks to switch it up. Joanna has fond memories of measuring out the flour for their recipes and playing with the dough right before they popped it into the oven to bake.

Joanna was about 8-9 years old when she baked by herself for the first time. Her cousin used to make lemon cupcakes with her sister and the whole family loved them. So Joanna was inspired to try out her own lemon cupcake recipe. In the end, the cupcakes were edible and “nothing too special.” But her parents wanted to encourage her to bake more, so they hyped her up and overexaggerated how good her lemon cupcakes were. She realizes now as an adult what her parents did, but at the time being 8-9 years old and baking solo for the first time, Joanna took the compliments proudly!

For the most part, Joanna considers herself a self-taught baker. The most education she has for baking and cooking were 3 years of summer classes. She attended these classes from around 9-12 years old during the summers. Joanna’s mom put her in a lot of extracurricular activities growing up, and baking is the one hobby that stuck with her. She continued on with baking even outside of the class, and it seemed to be her leisure activity by choice. Her fondest memories growing up wouldn’t be the act of baking or cooking, but watching her family and friends eat and see what she had made for them.

“Of all of the activities that my mom put me through when I was young, mind you, I was a nerd, I had piano, violin, art classes, extra classes for random subjects over summer, baking was the one that really stuck,” Joanna shared. “It was something I would want to do even if no one asked.”

When Joanna was young, she always wanted to bake, but she also always wanted to be a lawyer. When she graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she asked her mom for advice whether she should go to culinary school or to law school. Mom’s advice was to go for the profession that is more financially secure, and the obvious answer was to pursue law school. Joanna believes her mom’s advice was due to the Filipino-Chinese culture – thinking baking and cooking is a natural hobby that does not need formal education. Especially being from Cebu, Philippines, where the market is “thrifty” compared to Manila. So, Joanna took her mom’s advice and went on to law school.

Joanna wasn’t bummed that her mom encouraged her to go to law school because she always wanted to be a lawyer anyways. She knew that her other love, baking, would always be there and it just depended on her to make time for it. When Joanna first started law school, she didn’t have much time to bake since she had to read so many cases, books, laws, and study. But she would make it a point to make time to bake for special occasions like her parents’ birthdays. She’s the kind of person that likes to plan ahead, so she would throw her future self a bone and made sure she always had ingredients ready at home so whenever she would have free time, she could bake right away. Joanna graduated from law school in 2021, prepped for the bar exam, and now, she’s officially a lawyer!

“I didn’t have to sacrifice my time for school for baking because baking wasn’t something I had to do, it was more of something I could do during my free time,” Joanna said.

To get her to where she is today, Joanna would just kept tweaking a recipe until it was to her satisfaction. She usually follows recipes from online or cookbooks. What she usually tweaks is the sugar content, since she grew up baking for diabetics, and with time, makes the recipe her own. She will try a recipe 3 times, and after the third time, if she can’t crack the code, she respectfully throws in the towel on that recipe and admits that she can’t make it. This doesn’t happen too often because Joanna already knows her niche, cookies!

Joanna’s all time favorite thing to make are cookies! Cookies are her personal favorite, and tops her love for cakes and cupcakes. She jokes that there’s something about cookies that have a special hold on her that other baked goods will never have. Joanna believes it’s due to the fact that a cookie is already complete in itself – no need for extra icing or fillings, has the perfect amount of sweetness and flavor, and there’s no beating the texture of being crispy and chewy all at the same time.

Joanna is very particular when she’s motivated to bake. She literally has to set the mood for herself for the atmosphere to be just right. She needs it to be a calm place, and doesn’t want anyone to bother her. Joanna doesn’t like when people watch her or talk to her when she’s baking, so she prefers to be alone. She truly enjoys her calm, quiet, solitary time to herself. Joanna laughs that she will play music in the background, which is the only noise that is acceptable in her kitchen! And when she’s in the zone, she’s IN THE ZONEEE. So much so that she knows her favorite part about baking is the mixing process. To Joanna, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching the batter or dough transform into another texture – wet to dry, crumby to smooth, vice versa.

Joanna is known for different signature baked goods depending on who you’re talking to. Her friends adore her cookies, while her family and other relatives go crazy for her buko pie. “Buko” in Tagalog translates to coconut, but it’s a “young coconut,” meaning it is still green and not fully matured. Currently, Joanna is only taking orders from people she knows. Her friends have recommended her to other people for special cake projects, but she hasn’t accepted those kind of commissions just yet because 2 tiered cakes are a bit too complex for her, but she hopes to one day take them on. For now, she just showcases her work mainly on Instagram stories and the occasional post on her profile. She laughs that it’s probably better that way because her tiny oven can’t handle that many commissions at a time!

There are times when baking goes according to plan, and then there are times where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. When she was younger and things didn’t turn out the way she wanted in the kitchen, she would end up crying. Now as an adult, she gets really mad, to the point where her whole day would feel ruined. She will avoid anyone that would ask or bring up the topic of her recent kitchen disaster. But when everything goes right on a recipe, Joanna has about 10 minutes of bliss and awe. But she admits that the bliss is very short lived, because after that, she’s back to scrutinizing everything she should’ve done to make it faster, more efficient, or overanalyzing every detail, looking for a “mistake.” It’s true that the biggest critic is sometimes yourself.

The pros to Joanna being so hard on herself, is that she always finds the best process, a new technique, and learns something new that will help her in the future, especially when it comes to decorating. She gets her inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and really enjoyed Christina Tosi’s Chef’s Table episode on Netflix because she was the most relatable – baking, cookies, nothing too fancy, and lots of colors. Her creativity is always tested when it comes to decorating because there’s so many possibilities that one can create. So to narrow it down, Joanna always tries to go into it with a goal of what to design – preparing a picture, watching YouTube videos to see how to make those designs, and everything else that comes with prep.

“When it comes to the actual recreating of the design, it’s really something else, so many other factors you have to consider – heat in the Philippines, stability of the icing, color palette, piping skills,” Joanna shared when it comes to decorating with a plan. “So I’d really have to think on my feet when things don’t go according to plan. I would just adjust and adjust until I would actually get the hang of it.”

The Philippines’ heat makes it very challenging to decorate. Joanna describes it as a nightmare for an at home baker. There’s so many things to consider when you’re baking and decorating in a really hot area. Not only do you have to work faster because the heat of the environment, but the baker radiates their own heat as well – the warmth of their hands when they’re holding the piping bags. The heat also effects laminating dough and takes a longer time. And a big issue with the heat is how fast some ingredients spoil from being in rooms without air-conditioning.

Joanna finds decorating pies to be the most challenging to decorate. Again, the heat in the Philippines factors into the result of the products. So for pies, it can really be a guessing game of how to get it right. It’s either the dough is too cold, which makes it difficult to roll out and work with, or it’s too soft and shrinks in the oven and considered “overworked dough” which then needs to be rested. Decorating has tested Joanna’s patience in every way, and the thing that she has learned while decorating in the Philippines is to have lots of patience and versatility.

With all those challenges and road blocks, Joanna still manages to push out beautiful pieces out of her kitchen. Her favorite edible creation she has ever made was a birthday cake she made for her grandma. She made a main cake and tons of cupcakes for everyone else with flower decorations. When they were all displayed together, it looked like a garden. Joanna was so proud of what she created, especially since it was the first time she did a flower arrangement cake and cupcake duo.

One day, Joanna hopes to open her own little baking spot, but the thought of it is still intimidating to her. She knows that going down that route will be a lot of investment and competition. A big part of her wants to have a small shop at home which would lessen the costs of having a storefront and would keep the investment to equipment and labor. Realistically, Joanna knows that having a bakery by just word of mouth means that the products have to be amazing to compensate for the fact that the products are not always readily available. She doesn’t think that that’s too far fetched given that her aunt has given her the best compliment that she has ever received to date. Her aunt always tells her that her pastries taste better than a friend’s, who is a professional baker and went to culinary school.

Joanna appreciates everyone that has supported her on her baking journey. Her aunts were her first teachers and introduced her to the baking life. They would encourage her to sell muffins to their employees for snack, and she would bake every Saturday. Her parents, relatives, and friends have been her faithful customers and consumers of everything she made. One of Joanna’s cousins used to have a restaurant and would buy cookies from her every weekend so she could sell it at her shop. This encouraged Joanna to keep doing what she loved.

Joanna laughs and says that baking has taught her how to be really good at math. She does pretty good at math and attributes it to her love of baking because of all the fractions and measurements that go into baking a simple recipe, but also the conversions if you want to make more than one batch or downsize. But of course, baking has taught her how to be patient. Joanna describes baking as a guessing game where you’re unsure if the product is good or not until the very end. Unlike cooking, you can’t really taste and flavor as you go.

Ironically, Joanna tends to shy away from making Filipino baked goods. She doesn’t know if it’s the technique or the ingredients, but she just can’t seem to get it down. There is one exception though – her buko pie! But other than her buko pie, Joanna admits that she’d rather buy Filipino baked goods because she humbly admits that her dupes can’t compete. However, she is super motivated to learn more about Japanese and French baking. She admires how Japanese baking is very complex presentation wise, but flavor wise is very subtle and complete, while French baking is very complex and full of butter!

Joanna mastered her signature baked goods with consistent practice and the drive to keep creating for leisure. Her advice to anyone out there trying to get into baking or is feeling discouraged after trying different recipes is this “It’s really a matter of practice. The first bakes are not necessarily the best unless you fall under the exception. There are moments of disappointments and tears but do not let them sway you from doing what you love.”  

Maria: Children’s Book Author

This is story 4 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Maria with her first published book, “Blaine Loves Boxes.”

Maria always considered herself a bookworm growing up, so it’s no surprise that she wrote, “Blaine Loves Boxes” and became a children’s author. She loved to read and has very fond memories of being at the library as a little kid. Her dad would drop her off at the library while he got a haircut at the barbershop next door and Maria would go straight to the children’s section and get lost in all the different books. She has always been an admirer of picture books, not only as a child, but as a teacher, and now as a mother. A picture book never fails to enthrall Maria, and she thinks a part of it is because she’s a visual learner.

It has been Maria’s goal to write children’s books for as long as she can remember. Being a professional author was never really her end goal because her dream job was to be a teacher. But the desire to write her own book one day was always in the back of her mind because children’s books have a special place in her heart. So much so that her mom saved a story Maria wrote when she was 6 years old. They still have her hand written story of a pig and dog becoming friends.

Maria went on to pursue teaching, and being a preschool teacher and an early interventionist inspired her to eventually write “Blaine Loves Boxes.” She absolutely adored working at an inclusive preschool where she had the opportunity to teach children of all abilities – what some may call “typical developing” and “special needs.” The inclusive preschool made it so all kids of all abilities were learning and playing together. For about 8 years, Maria taught, did some administration work, worked with children in home therapy, and provided sessions.

She attributes her inspiration for the book to her hands-on teaching experience in the classroom. Maria explains the teaching reality – no classroom is perfect, it can be absolutely hectic at times, and no day goes perfectly smooth, but to see how the little ones are growing and learning from each other every day is the fulfillment of the job. And being in an inclusive classroom meant being able to adapt and change throughout the years to accommodate each new student group that came in. Everything about the classroom was inclusive – the kids with different abilities, the lesson plan and curriculum, and celebrating the different family cultures that they had in their program.

Maria was amazed by how much her students impacted her. Yes, her inspiration for the book was having that hands-on teaching experience, but it was the kids that brought it to life. She was completely intrigued by what little ones do naturally to help each other out. Since it was an inclusive classroom, with time, the students picked up on which friends needed more assistance or help. That would look like helping a friend get up from their spot after Circle Time, or holding a friend’s hand because they know they have a harder time with transitions. All of her students, like most young children, naturally helped each other out and tried to best support their friends that needed it or were upset. Maria quickly saw the benefits of an inclusive classroom and it got her mind thinking.

“I loved seeing what innocent minds did for one another, and I often thought, ‘If we could immerse kids in an inclusive setting as early as preschool age, what amazing effects could that do as they got older? As they became adults?’” Maria shared. “It made me realize how simple inclusion can be with the right support and mindsets.”

Her experience as a preschool teacher allowed her to still keep in touch with her first love – picture books! Every early childhood educator knows how important it is to read to their students and what an incredible tool a book could be to get a point or lesson across. One day it dawned on Maria that there weren’t as many inclusive picture books out there as there should be for young kids. She loves how the inclusive books that are out there right now represents children with special needs, like being in a wheelchair. But based on her experiences, she knew first hand that special needs doesn’t have to be labeled, defined, or be limited to medical equipment or a diagnosis.

Maria was inspired to make a book that anyone could relate to. She believes all children are unique and special just as they are, and shouldn’t be defined by labels. Right off the bat, Maria knew she didn’t want to label her main character to put them in a box, so instead, she created a character that liked to play outside the box, literally. In her book, “Blaine Loves Boxes,” Blaine is just a kid who loves boxes, anyone can relate to his character, but the reader can also see what makes him his own person. Blaine is unique in his own way and connects to the world around him through playing with boxes.

When Maria decided she was going to embark on this journey and write her own inclusive children’s book, she was definitely overwhelmed at first. Like anything new, you just don’t know where to start and you’re filled with so many questions. Maria wanted to know what she was getting herself into and what to expect in the process, so she took matters into her own hands and took to the internet to start her research. She was proactive in trying to gain knowledge from other people’s experiences, so she read articles, followed author groups on Facebook, watched tons of YouTube videos, and asked all the questions that came to mind, even if they were simple. Maria kept researching until she had all the answers to her questions.

Maria wrote “Blaine Loves Boxes,” in December of 2020 when she unfortunately lost her job to the pandemic. She connected with her illustrator in April of 2021, and from April onwards it was working on every single detail of the book until it was released in November 2021. Maria broke down the basic process: have your story, get the editing done, illustrations process, formatting process, and uploading are the big parts. But there are a ton of little steps that accompany those bigger steps. And in that process, there were many times when Maria just wanted to throw in the towel and quit. But she thanks her amazing support system that always encouraged and helped her along the way. Because of them, she stuck to her goal and made it happen.

One of the most important relationships she made was with her illustrator, Tasya. They connected over the site, Fiverr, a site a lot of self-publishers use to find freelancers. When Maria was on the hunt, it was important to her to find an illustrator whose art she could connect to, but also connect to as a person. She believes that with any successful relationship, there needs to be chemistry, especially since this would be someone she’d be working closely with to create what she envisioned. When Maria and Tasya connected, she knew that they would make a great team. She’s so glad that they worked so well together because Maria admits that the closest drawings she had for her book were stick figure story boards!

Maria could’ve went down many paths, but chose to go down the self-publishing route. She made this decision during her researching phase. She knew that her end goal was to just get the book done. Maria wanted to make sure that she was writing a book that she was passionate about and wanted her story printed and in her hands. It was operation “Just. Get. It. Done.” Maria always knew that the monetary benefits weren’t at the top of her list, and that really factored into her choosing to self-publish. She wanted full creative authority over her book and saw it as her “baby.” Maria liked how she got to make every final decision because it was really important to her to learn all the ins and outs of self-publishing.

“When self-publishing you are doing a lot of the decision making on everything,” Maria shared. “What size book are you looking for? What style of illustrations are you looking for? Do you want set pages to be illustrated as single or double spread? When self-publishing you are making all the final decisions. When looking into it, I wanted to be part of the whole process. If I was going to write a children’s book for its story to be heard and for my grandkids to have one day – I wanted a say in it all.”

Maria knew early on that making monetary gains weren’t at the top of her “why” list, which led her down the self-publishing route. But she knows that not all creatives take the same publishing path. For her, the mindset she had going into the process was really important. She wanted full authority of her book, and understood the reality that there are tons and tons of authors out there in the world. That means that there are lots of children’s books circulating out there and lots of stories to be shared. Maria did enough research to know that if you are not working with a big name publisher, the likelihood of your work getting into anything like the New York Bestsellers list is really difficult. But her mindset was focused on getting the book done and making it completely hers in every aspect. At the end of the day she is very content with her decision and has no regrets.

Maria believes what sets “Blaine Loves Boxes” aside from other children’s books is the fact that it focuses on some similarities that all children have with one another but simultaneously seeing what makes the main character so unique. Readers find themselves connecting to Blaine and his quirks, but then you’re able to realize that Blaine is not so different. It was really important for Maria to embed her own life experiences on how she sees the world. She loves to people watch, sitting in nature, and just listening and observing the interactions around her. So a lot of those simple details can be found in the book because Maria has a huge attention to detail.

Maria with her 2 daughters

Now “Blaine Loves Boxes” can be found in certain big name stores like Target and Barnes & Nobles, as well as other local stores. Years before her writing process, Maria always envisioned herself walking into a local bookstore and seeing her book on the shelf. This is a dream that intensified as she began her official writing process for the book. Even if she saw just 1 copy of her book at 1 local store, she would be ecstatic. Maria describes seeing her book in stores as one of the best feelings ever, especially since she gets to share this moment with her daughters.

“Living out something you’ve always dreamed of doing, whether big or small, is one of the best feelings,” Maria said still on a high. “And then to be able to share it with my daughters who I want to teach can do whatever they set their mind to?! It leaves my heart so humbled.”

Her daughters have seen the whole process. They saw mommy writing, they saw mommy editing, they saw mommy communicating with people over the computer, and now they get to see mommy’s book in stores. Seeing her children’s reactions when they see mom’s picture on the back of the book is one of the best feelings. Maria loves that she is leading by example, showing her daughters that they can achieve anything with hard work and dedication.

Maria is doing the website, marketing, and social media all on her own. She knows that there are different ways to gain more followers and get more eyes on her content, but realistically, she knows she can’t do it all on her own. So instead, Maria chooses to use the social media to promote “Blaine Loves Boxes” to the best of her ability and just have fun! Maria likes that she can post what she wants, how she wants, when she wants. She focuses on content that she would like to see on other people’s pages and topics that she would personally enjoy. Maria goes with the flow because she knows the most important thing to her was getting the book done, getting the story out, and sharing the message of inclusion.

The support Maria has received, big or small, means the world to her. When she gets tagged in a post of her targeted age, 3 years old, enjoying her book, she is so grateful because she knows that her book is teaching kids that they are special in their own way, their voice matters, and caring for others that may be different than you is a skill you should hold on to. Maria hopes to one day publish another children’s book. For now, they are tucked away in her Notes section of her phone and laptop, as she is very busy with being a full-time stay at home mom. But getting another book out there is likely, given that Maria would love to say that she has published more than one book.

Maria’s advice for anyone writing a story for young children – especially very young children – is to know your audience. Researching your target age is very important to make sure that the story you are writing is developmentally appropriate. You can have an amazing story with big ideas, but if you don’t make it a key point to make sure it makes sense for your targeted age, they won’t fully grasp the story and understand it. But most importantly, her advice to other authors is to just have fun with it and not be afraid. Maria believes that there is always space for more books that teach kids about different cultures, diversity, and all abilities. Even if your book can reach just one person to imprint on their lives, it is worth doing because “inclusive books help raise inclusive minds.”

Maria considers herself an everyday person. She is a bi-racial American-born woman, mom, and now self-published author. She wants people to know that she had a goal and saw it through. Maria encourages anyone that has a specific goal to go for it! She tries to take her own advice that she always tells her kids – never say you can’t. If you want something hard enough and work for it, you will eventually get there. Maria is grateful that she followed through with her dream of becoming a children’s author because she knows that “Blaine Loves Boxes” is helping to shape the young minds that read it to be more empathetic and understanding of those around them.

“Inclusion is important to learn at a young age because kids learn people are all different,” Maria said. “It fosters things like understanding, acceptance and kindness – something the world needs more of.”