Cut-Off Culture

Is cut-off culture toxic?

I cringed a little just typing that out. This is why: I personally believe that the word “toxic” has lost its meaning in the last couple of years. It’s become an automatic trigger word, and anything or anyone deemed as “toxic” is immediately canceled without question. The word itself doesn’t quite hold the same magnitude and meaning as it once did since it’s being used to describe every scenario – from something or someone actually being toxic to just using the word to describe any minor inconvenience. But, for the sake of simplicity, I beg the question once more… Is cut-off culture toxic?

To answer the question, “Is cut-off culture toxic,” I would say yes and no. There are legit times and situations where cutting someone off is necessary. The act of cutting someone off is not in itself toxic or wrong. Depending on the situation, cutting someone off can be for the better. However, the act of glorifying cutting people off to uphold a certain persona and façade is toxic. The “trending” trait is to put up a front and be proud of being unempathetic, petty, and quick to drop someone if things get hard. Social media plays a big role in that, the idea that the cheese stands alone and doesn’t need anyone’s companionship. Though that is admirable to an extent, it’s also very unrealistic. The act of cutting people off turns problematic when it’s done in such a high volume for minor issues to avoid communicating and confrontation.

There seems to be a division between people’s view on cutting people off. Removing someone from your life in an abrupt and obvious way because of an argument, misunderstanding, or history of manipulation can be very liberating. Overall, the trending advice is in support of cutting people off. But where do you draw the line? When is cutting someone off too excessive and not justifiable? There are those that are proud of their ability to throw out a relationship, whether that be family relationships, romantic relationships, or friendships. Usually when someone says they cut someone off, we tend to congratulate them – assuming that if they’re the one that did the snipping, the other party was automatically in the wrong.

Depending what algorithm you get on your socials, other people’s opinions on cut-off culture can become an echo chamber. Ironically, my Instagram algorithm literally brings up both sides of the coin. I come across posts that praise others for cutting off toxic people that were once in their circle. A lot of these posts are intended to be empowering and motivation to others to “clean up” their social circle of all the untrustworthy, draining, and “toxic” people in their lives. These posts glorify how liberating it is to remove people from your life. Though that may be true, it doesn’t give the full scope of what someone goes through if they do decide to cut someone off. Yes, it can be liberating, but that’s usually later down the road when everything that transpired has been processed. The general message circulating is that cut-off culture is a good thing, it’s what people who want to heal do. Cutting someone off is sold as a way to protect yourself.

The problem with the media’s oversimplified justification and support of cutting someone off, is that viewers start to think that the only way to achieve happiness or find peace is to dispose of a relationship that isn’t perfect. As we all know, no relationship or friendship is perfect. There will always be disagreements, small tiffs, and room for improvements on both sides. Like the old saying goes, there is growth in staying and growth in leaving, you just need to know which one to pick. And with time, the answer may change. The nonchalant support of cutting someone off doesn’t clarify on what grounds you should consider severing ties with someone and when to keep trying. But of course, it is all personal preference.

Like with most things, cutting someone off is not as simple as black and white. It’s not fair to say cutting someone off is 100% right or 100% wrong. There is always a gray area with pros and cons. When you plan to remove someone from your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re just upset with them and plan to give them the cold shoulder for some time. A real cut-off is removing someone completely out of your life. This is usually a permanent action one takes when they feel like they need to protect themselves emotionally, mentally, or physically from another. It may or may not bring closure to both parties, and it is not uncommon for one party to be totally lost and confused as to what happened. Prior to the cut off, an explanation may be made, but it isn’t mandatory. Cutting someone off is like the death of a relationship and ghosting all at the same time.

Sometimes distancing yourself and ending relationships with people that you were once close to is necessary. Cutting someone off is not always a negative thing. In certain scenarios, it is necessary for someone to move on, get closure, or put themselves first. And putting yourself first and being selfish is not always a bad thing. When you put yourself first and start listening to your wants and needs, you will learn more about what you will and will not tolerate. When you find that some people or situations don’t meet that requirement anymore through their actions and words, it is up to you to set that boundary. When someone else can’t respect that boundary, they may feel the need to cut that person off. When it’s not meant to hurt someone and it’s more so coming from a place of self-care and self-respect for yourself, you know that ending ties with someone is for personal growth.

A big part of what makes cutting someone off toxic or not is how it is dealt with after the fact. When it’s dealt with privately and the person doesn’t feel the need to justify their actions to others or on social media, it’s usually a good sign that it was for themselves. Of course, they may talk with their close circle of friends to vent, but there’s no need or want to have to explain themselves on public platforms. This is where the true healing takes place. Healing happens when you don’t feel like you have to prove anything to anybody else, when you’re content with letting people think whatever version they choose to believe.

But even if going separate ways for good is the “right” thing to do, it doesn’t always mean it’s an easy thing to do. I’m sure that plenty can relate to knowing someone or something isn’t right for them, but it pains them to let that relationship go. This is why it’s important to really weigh out your pros and cons to see if cutting someone off is necessary or not, because it’s such a drastic step. Whether it’s a family relationship, romantic relationship, or friendship, we usually think long term and never anticipate that these relationships will fall apart. So when they do, and even more so if it’s your choice to let go of the relationship, it can feel like the death of what once was. They aren’t “gone” permanently like in death, but figuratively, they no longer exist in your world, and that can be a lot to process. And even if you’re the one doing the cutting off, it sucks to admit that it still hurts to some degree to do so, regardless of how “done” or confident you are in wanting to sever ties.

A lot of people think that cut-off culture is problematic because it gives people an easy out to avoid conflict. It’s so much easier to sweep something under the rug and act like nothing happened – or even more extreme – that someone doesn’t exist after a bump in the road. Some claim that cutting people off is an action done by people with poor communication skills. Yet again, I agree an disagree with that explanation. Yes, I do believe that people use cutting others off as a way to avoid the real issues at hand. Sometimes it can be something so minute, but it can lead someone to end a relationship. There are some people that would rather ghost you and act like you never existed than see their part in an argument and admit that they’ve caused some hurt. But on the flipside, if someone feels like they have been taken advantage of to some degree, they may not feel the need to explain why. Or maybe they have tried time and time again to communicate the issue and voice their opinions, but were shut down or ignored. At that point, I wouldn’t feel the need to try to communicate. But how can you tell which scenario it is – plain immature, or someone at their wits end?

For me, one of the biggest red flags is knowing that someone has a history of cutting people off. If someone is known for claiming other people are toxic and boasts about how they cut them off, it almost always has me questioning who was really the problem. When a person uses cutting people off excessively, or as leverage to manipulate others, is when it becomes toxic. This is probably why some think that cut-off culture is toxic, because it’s being used as a tool by people that go back and flip flop on their word. You know, the kind of people that talk all that mad shit when they cut someone off, but you see them with the same individual some time later. This is not to say that you can’t change your mind on wanting someone back in your life. But it all comes down to how it’s done. If you’re always having a dramatic exit with multiple people and publicize it for everyone to see, don’t be surprised when you’re labeled as the person that cried “cut-off.” It’s just a clearer indication that people like that really don’t know what they want and have poor impulse control.

We have created a reality where it’s everyone’s word against everyone else’s. This is a dangerous game because this gives people the power to claim toxicity with any minor inconvenience. Some have fallen into a pattern where any disagreement or differing opinion from their own is considered valid grounds to cut someone off. It becomes toxic when someone is just cutting people off because they don’t want to hear the truth, a different point of view, or don’t like what they’re hearing. Most of the time, the cut off isn’t mutual, and because of this, there will always be 2 different stories, 2 different realities.

I especially find cut-off culture problematic when people feel the need to boast about how they cut someone off on social media. It’s one thing to end a relationship for your own well-being, but to bring it up time and time again in an distasteful manner is something I get second-hand embarrassment from. It’s the bragging for me, when it’s apparent to everyone else that there’s still some hurt behind the gloating. The goal in airing out the tea on social media is to get people to back you up and see your side, and to see the other person to be in the wrong or toxic. Usually when this is done, the goal is to have others cancel them or at the very least, see them in a different light. And then for the biggest cherry on top for the second-hand embarrassment sundae is when these actions are claimed to be being the bigger person, taking the higher road, and choosing not to associate with drama.

There is always a gray area in everything. It’s true that cutting someone off can be valid in some cases, but toxic in other cases. There are scenarios where cutting ties with someone is necessary, and then there are other times when it’s not. Don’t let social media fool you, it’s okay to set boundaries with others and let time tell if the relationship with blossom or end. It’s okay to not jump the gun, don’t make rash decisions because the media is telling you that you should handle a situation this way or that way. Whether some like to believe it or not, we all have toxic traits. No relationship, friendship, or family is perfect. It just depends on who you think is worth the effort and grace.

Christmas 2022

Christmas has always been my most favorite time of the year,

both sides of my family have always went above and beyond to spread the Christmas cheer.

No matter the circumstances, Christmas always came on time,

our family got together, we enjoyed each other’s company, and everything was just fine.

As a kid, you don’t really feel the magnitude of what it means to be present and just be there,

until the people you love get older, some are gone, and you realize the holidays can be unfair.

Last Christmas, Christmas wasn’t Christmas-ing the way it used to,

it was the first Christmas without Tatay, and it was so different than what we knew.

Oh, what a year’s time can do!

I laugh a little because it’s true.

The holidays looked completely different for me and the Cabillo family this year.

I say this because more than half of the family weren’t even here.

I never really understood what it was like to have a good chunk of the family not near.

In fact, if you know anything about me, you’ll know that’s one of my greatest fears.

This year brought a lot of changes and relocations to say the least,

but that doesn’t mean that the holiday celebrations should just cease.

Phone calls, texting, sharing pictures and videos of all our different celebrations,

it still felt like we were all together, even if we’re in different locations.

Ironically, we are closer than ever before,

the distance makes us appreciate the quality time that much more.

Tatay is no longer here to celebrate with us in person,

but I know he’s proud of the way we remained close, and I know that for certain.

In my dreams he’s still present at our family events,

and in my heart I know he’s still there and that makes me more content.

On the flip side, the Cruz family was finally almost all together at last.

This Christmas celebration was bigger than most of the parties in the recent past.

I looked around at all the new faces and new family additions,

even coming up with some new family traditions.

I thought to myself, “If only Mama and Tatay could be here to see what they created,”

I started to feel a little sad, but then I changed my perspective and retranslated…

“Look at this huge family that they left behind, one that still gathers,

togetherness is all they cared about, and that’s all that really matters.”

It’s been so long since I’ve celebrated a Christmas with them both,

but on the flip side, look at the whole family’s growth!

I guess Christmas will never always look the same,

but it’s nice to look back and see how far we all have came.

Some have passed on, some will move away, and some will remain right here,

so enjoy the moment because it’ll never be exactly the same year after year.

So Merry Christmas to those near or far,

especially to the guardian angels who watch over us where ever we are.

Just Start

When I was a kid, I used to collect a lot of stickers. Any and all stickers – puffy stickers, the “homie” stickers you get from those 50 cent machines, glittery ones, leftover hearts from the whole sheet you would get when you purchased valentines, Sanrio stickers, Lisa Frank stickers, and even stickers that were kinda janky. I had all these stickers that I kept in a treasure chest box. I got it from a bookstore and begged my dad to buy me it. The buried treasure treasure box came with a parrot that could stay on my arm with a scrunchie-like elastic band attached to it, a telescope, an eyepatch, and more. I remember my older sister reading all the things that it was supposed to come with and realizing that a lot of things were missing. Anyways, I emptied out all of the contents and made it my sticker collection box. They were literally my greatest treasures.

However, I very seldomly used them. I just couldn’t bring myself to peel off their backing and stick them somewhere. What if I regretted it? What if I needed it in the future for a better reason? If I stick it on something, I will never get to reuse it again. Yes, I know, so fucking intense for a fucking 5-ish year old to be thinking about. I never wanted to use them because I wanted the security of knowing I could still use them at a later date. I thought there would be a time and a place where every sticker could be used. There were times where I would think of using a sticker and wonder if this is the “perfect time,” but I always refrained and talked myself out of it. “There might be a time when you’ll need it,” I would tell myself, as if there were so many times that would require a sticker. So, I would hold off.

I was perfectly okay with just admiring my sticker collection. I didn’t use them, but I would open up my treasure chest and lay out all the stickers I had out in front of me very often. It would bring me so much joy knowing that I had such a vast collection. Maybe deep down, I knew I could never bring myself to use them because I liked the security of knowing that I had every single sticker I’ve ever had in one place, unused, and still perfect. Still, I would think of made up scenarios of when I would maybe use them. I was motivated and excited to use them, but never used that motivation and excitement to convince myself that it was worth it, and that the perfect time was right then and there.

At a young age, I learned that you have to think ahead and plan out things strategically. But in doing so, I never really got to enjoy my stickers. If I used them, I could’ve enjoyed them, even if it was only for a short time. I was so focused on the future and thinking that there would be a “better time” for the sticker to be used, that I never got the chance to use any of them. Instead, they remained in my treasure chest, unused and collecting dust. They were nice to look at, and I loved the collection, but I never used them at a later date like I had carefully calculated. I essentially wasted all the stickers I treasured because I was thinking there would be a better time to use them in the future. What sucks even more is the fact that I don’t even know where that treasure box is anymore.

The idea that there is a “perfect time” for certain life events and when to take risks is a belief that was hard to unlearn. Often, we rob ourselves of opportunities and growth when we think that we need to do XYZ first. Thinking that certain things in our lives have to align first before we move onto starting another task will just have the process be delayed. When I find myself myself in the mindset of thinking there will be a “better time” to do something, I notice that I just lag on getting it done. I psych myself out and end up not following through with what I was so excited to start.

Sometimes, there is no “better time” to do something than now, in the present. I know that may sound cliché, but it’s true. Especially if it’s a desire to start a new habit or the first step to a goal, the earlier you start, the better. I have fallen into the habit of saying “now is not the right time,” when things aren’t happening the way I had planned. And though that may be true for valid reasons, it’s way easier to have an idea remain just an idea than to make it a reality. And you don’t want to set yourself up for failure. When you have the motivation and inspiration to do something, act on it. Because if you’re anything like me, the procrastination will kick in and you don’t want to risk not following through at all. You’ll never regret just starting.

Thinking that there is a better time to do something, and waiting until you have all your ducks in a row, will have you waiting for the “right time” forever. Like my stickers, I missed out on enjoying them in the present day because I was too hung up on the future. You can’t plan everything down to a T, but you can do yourself a favor and get that head start in whatever has been on your mind. You don’t want to risk the possibility of regretting not making a move in the past, or not capitalizing on the present. You will never be in the position where you think, “I need less time to do this.” If anything, the real planning happens when you give yourself more than enough time to be able to take your time. Progress comes in baby steps, so don’t wait too long to take the first step.

I started this writing journey over 3 years ago in 2019. I decided to take the leap of faith to write consistently when I was the most confused in my life. I had just finished college, walked the stage 5 months later, and didn’t know what to do with my life. A lot of things held me back, mostly self-doubt, but I decided to just go for it. I literally had nothing to lose, and the anxiety of not doing anything writing related had me wishing I had the courage to start. I would think about it every day. I kept saying after XYZ I would start, and never got around to it. I knew that I was just playing myself at that point – the longer I took, the longer it would take to see progress. And at the time, I felt like my time was limited and I had to do something before I actually lost my mind in the post-grad blues.

I was so nervous when I started sharing my content online. Like I have said many many many times before – so many times that I feel like I’ve written about 10 blog posts saying the same thing and same stories, but whatever, dawg – I worried about how my current followers would react to the sudden shift in my content. It was no longer me sharing highlights of my personal life, it would be sharing my thoughts, my views, my own lived experiences, but also the experiences of others. I didn’t know how long I could keep the blog going, I didn’t know if my topics were interesting, I didn’t know if people would care to read. But I knew I had to take the chance.

I re-started the blog again in summer 2019, but I was thinking of it long before I actually did it. I wanted to write consistently on it after my class ended in May 2016, but found it easy to neglect because I was still in school. It was one of those things where you hope to one day get around to it, but you know in the back of your mind there’s a great chance that you won’t. When I was officially done with my studies at the end of 2018, I had literally nothing holding me back. I tried to weasel myself out of it, saying that now I was too busy with work. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t playing anyone but myself.

It wasn’t until I returned back to school to walk the stage and have my graduation ceremony months later, did I realize how much I was playing myself. I saw my professors that I haven’t seen in a while, and it re-sparked my inspiration to write. The only person getting in the way of me and my success was my own damn self. And even after realizing all that, it still took a couple more months for me to just say, “fuck it,” and get it started.

I always told myself that I needed to have a plan before I started posting consistently. I wanted to make sure everything was in place and in line for me to get the ball rolling. But, like many things, it did not go as planned. I knew that was just my own way of prolonging the process and not taking accountability for my actions. I wasn’t going to get the ball rolling because I was too lazy to get the ball rolling. I kept postponing the start date because I was nervous and let the self-doubt speak louder than my desire to start. But it came to a point where my anxiety of falling behind gave me the greatest push, and I frantically started with no plan, no schedule, nothing. And here we are, 3.5 years later.

My advice to anyone wanting to start something – whatever that may be – is to just start now. There will never be a “perfect time” to do something. Don’t wait for yourself to be ready, wait for the spurts of motivation and inspiration you have, and act on it in the moment. There will never be a better time to start than right now. You never hear people saying that they regretted starting too early, it’s always that they regret not starting earlier.

Waiting for the right time to do something is just a lie we tell ourselves when we’re unsure of the future. Like my sticker collection, 5 year old me waited and waited for the “perfect time” to use them. I refrained from using my stickers because I was always worried that there would be a “better time” to use them in the future. Instead, they remained in my treasure chest collecting dust. Don’t let your goals and dreams be like my sticker collection. Capitalize on the moments where you have the motivation to follow through with your idea. Don’t have your amazing ideas collecting dust in the back of your mind. Act on those ideas and just start. The first step is the hardest step, but you’ll never know where it might lead you if you don’t take the leap of faith. There is no better time than right now.

How Do You Ask For Help?

How do I ask for help? In short, I don’t.

People handle stress and personal problems in different ways. I’ll never forget when I dropped blog post #10, where I shared my struggles with body dysmorphia and my weight. In the post, I touch on an old relationship that was ridiculously toxic and was essentially the catalyst of my eating disorder in high school. I remember posting it that night, and seeing the huge response it was getting. I was sitting in my traditional spot on the couch in the livingroom while my older sister sat in hers. Everyone was reposting me, the likes were skyrocketing, WordPress was notifying me that I was getting a lot of traffic all at once.

My utter shock to the support I was receiving made my older sister read what I had just posted. At that point, my little sister was reposting me from her room, quoting me directly from the blog. I awkwardly laid there, knowing that she was reading something that I never really shared in depth with others. It’s ironic that I felt awkward that she was reading something so personal, yet I published it online for the whole world to see. Sometimes I forget that aspect – that literally anyone could be reading this right now – it’s a weird but cool concept. By the end of it, she expressed her approval of the post.

She stood up and walked over to me, “Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?!” she said in tears, halfway laughing and half way pissed. We awkwardly hugged, an uncommon act in my family dynamic. My eyed welled up with tears.

My sisters and I are fairly close. So it was somewhat of a shock for her to read what I went through and not knowing the severity of it all. I struggled with self-esteem and my body for as long as I could remember, but reading it all laid out on the table like that was probably overwhelming for a loved one to read. Her older sister instincts kicked in, and she clung onto certain parts of my story. She was so bothered to learn that I had experienced disrespect to the point where I questioned my own value. I don’t remember what I responded to her accusatory statement, Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?! But we didn’t go too in depth as to why.

But the real reason why I didn’t open up about my struggles at the time? Shame. Embarrassment. Fear of being judged. Not wanting to involve family in my personal matters. But I think everything boils down to the fact that personally, I don’t know how to ask for help. Or better yet, I don’t know when to ask for help. When I finally ask for help or admit that I need help, I’m already drowning in the mess that I have helped create. I carry the burden until I am at my absolute breaking point, then in a panic, I will let others know that I’m in need of help. And I think a lot of people can relate to the fact that opening up about certain things to those around you, whether big or small, can be really difficult.

For me, my inner circle of friends and family know the gist of what’s going on in my life. I may not go into detail each time or tell every single story, but they can give you a little synopsis of what’s happening in my life. I’ve noticed too that I vent to different people for different things. Some I go to for life advice and worries, relationship woes, vent about friendships, family matters, work drama, hopes and dreams, etc. Some of these people know all the above, while some may just know about some of the topics listed. We all have our go to people to vent to, and we confide in different people depending on the matter at hand.

I think back to my middle school days or high school days where every single problem, fight, or situation was shared with my best friends and those closest to me. I can’t count how many detailed petty arguments and stories my friends have been through and told me about. And I can only imagine what they remember from what I used to share. I’m sure plenty can relate – when we’re younger, we tend to overshare, vent about everything, and ask for advice – maybe even too much advice. So much so that everyone else’s opinions helped weigh out what you were going to do. It was a group decision, rather than your own.

Now a days, I find myself just generalizing how everything is going, and if I’m really feeling saucy, I might give a couple of stories to back up my reasoning. It’s not that I don’t have time to update those around me anymore, I just find that the older I get, the more private I’m becoming. The irony since I literally post weekly blogs about my personal life and my views, but whatever. And I don’t mean to say that in a secretive way. I’m not hiding anything, and I still overshare a lot with my close friends, but not all things need to be shared all the time. Nobody has the time to be updating everyone on everything. The important things will come out, as well as the funny and small things if it’s relevant.

I have a really bad habit of isolating myself when I’m going through something stressful. There is literally no in between for me – it’s either I’m telling detail for detail, every story, every step of the way, or I say absolutely nothing about the matter until much time has passed. Even in my writing, I realized I write about things after the fact, when everything is said and done and over with already. It’s exactly what happened with my older sister. She couldn’t believe everything I had bottled up inside and dealt with alone. I tend to isolate when I’m so stressed out that venting out to someone seems like more work than relief. I’m so lazy that if I don’t tell you the very first thing in the story, I probably won’t say anything until it’s relevant because I don’t want to start from the beginning when too many things have accumulated to the present day.

When I find myself in a pickle, I turn to those closest to me for advice. When I really thought about it though, I don’t go to people for help. Instead, I go to them to vent, to be heard, to say how I really feel in the moment. I’m not necessarily expecting to be given an answer on what to do, I just want to let it all out. For me, I realized that as I get older, I bottle everything inside until I’m pushed to the edge and need to go on a venting rage. Only then will every single detail be shared and every story be told. I literally wait for the situation to fall apart or boil over to some extent before I notify anyone. And even then, I’m not asking for help, I’m just saying how I feel out loud.

When you’re venting, you want to express everything you’re feeling in the moment, you want to feel validated in your emotions, and you want to hear opposing thoughts and opinions. Usually after a good venting session, I leave the conversation feeling more calm and like my thoughts are clearer. Saying what’s bothering me out loud helps me sort things out in my head. It also makes it more real when you vent out loud. Almost every time, the person I’m venting to offers their wisdom and advice. Sometimes you need to hear your friends’ points of view to see the bigger picture. They know you pretty well and can help steer you back in the direction you need to go. And there are times where you need to hear the truth, no matter how hard it is to take.

I find it difficult to ask for help sometimes because I have the stubborn notion in my head that I need to deal with things on my own. I never want my personal problems to be someone else’s burden to carry because I know that nobody is responsible for me or my personal issues. My way of reaching out for help is venting. And even then, I’m not asking for help. I’m simply keeping those closest to me in the loop of what’s happening in my life. The advice comes naturally, and even though help was not outwardly asked for, it’s what’s given through words of affirmation. Sometimes it’s the advice you get from others that will actually help you help yourself.

I may not outwardly ask for help, but I’ll ironically be lowkey offended when my loved ones struggle in silence. Naturally, I want to be there for those I care about that are going through it. I want to be of assistance when I can be, and don’t want anyone to feel alone. Yet, there are times when I do exactly the same thing and isolate when the going gets tough. Sometimes we need to see ourselves through our loved ones eyes – they don’t want you to feel alone. It’s okay to ask for help, whichever way you express wanting that help. You don’t have to do figure out everything on your own.

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

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