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.
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.
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.
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.