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.

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

3 Sides

They say that there are 3 sides to every story – your side, their side, and the truth. This saying is very logical and makes a ton of sense on paper. However, when it’s applied to real life scenarios, the gray area starts to creep in. This saying could easily be interpreted as “gaslighting” depending on who you’re talking to. And it can be easy to get blindsided by your own reality. If everyone is interpreting things completely different, what is even the truth?

I have been in this situation many times where you’re debating what was said or done with someone else. It can be a very frustrating position to be in. Especially when, in theory, these little discrepancies don’t even matter when you’re looking at the bigger picture. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I have even mentally threw in the towel a couple of times, knowing that arguing the details will make it that much more harder to move on and come to a conclusion. I have even expressed wishing I had video footage so we could just rewind and really see parts of our lives play out right in front of our eyes so we can see who was really right.

Sometimes I do think of what it would be like to have footage of the exact time and scenario being brought up. I think about this often, and how convenient it would be to hold everyone, including myself, accountable. Have you ever been put in a situation where someone or some people got you fucked up and you want to rewind that shit to prove every point you’re trying to make? Because same. Sometimes it takes embarrassing, moded, undeniable facts to hold people accountable to their actions.

In the past, when someone or something had me fucked up, I’d put so much energy into trying to prove my points. Especially when I knew what I was arguing was the “truth,” I’d put my heart and soul into proving my point. You’d think that my ass was studying law with how much I tried to defend my stance and case. I’m very opinionated, and when I’m very confident and believe something to be true, it takes a lot for me to back down. I admit that sometimes that shit blows up in my face when I am in fact, wrong as hell. But it takes a lot for me to change my mind if I’m confident in what I’m saying.

But the truth is, fighting and arguing over what your reality is versus someone else’s is exhausting as hell. Because you end up both going in circles just trying to justify your own points. It quickly turns one sided and you’re talking to just speak over the other without trying to hear their side. Everyone is just saying their own points as to why they’re right or why their stance or actions are valid, and it just becomes people talking out into space. No one cares what the other is saying, but they sure as hell need to make sure that at the very least, they’re saying their peace. Even if no one is listening. And like I said…. it’s exhausting as hell.

I have been on both ends of the scenario where I feel like I’m being gaslit or someone feels like I’m gaslighting them. And it’s not a fun position to be in. Because you start to second guess yourself, you start to second guess them, and then you start to second guess what the truth actually is. It will literally have you doubting which reality, if any, is valid. If there are 3 sides to every story, is there even a “truth,” or are we all just set in our own ways and realities?

I actually have no answer for these questions. But what I do know is this: I gave up on trying to convince people of my reality if they are unreceptive to my words. It doesn’t even have to be an argument either, I mean that in every scenario. I have hit the stage in my life where I no longer feel like I have to explain myself, my truth, or my reality to anyone that isn’t deserving of it. You don’t need to explain yourself to those that, from the get, want to have a certain perception of you. Learn not to waste your breath.

I saw this meme that was circulating that basically said not to put in effort to try to clean up your name when you know what’s being said isn’t true. At first, your first reaction may be to defend your name and set the record straight. But it’s your truth versus theirs, and if people want to see you in a certain light, nothing you say will change their mind. And if that’s the case, let people think what they want.

There are always 3 sides to every story. I didn’t get the full magnitude of that saying until recently. When I was younger, I would hear that saying and think, “…Ok but there’s really only 1 side… the truth.” But I’ve come to learn that it’s all about interpretation. All of our realities and what we believe to be true are all subjective. Your reality and truth can be crystal clear to you, but can be interpreted so differently to someone else. Just like how another person’s actions or intentions may seem one way, but can actually be another. But in both scenarios, both parties are “right” in their own respect because it is their interpretation and own understanding of what’s at hand.

There are 3 sides to every story if you want there to be. It goes south when people start to deny another person’s perspective, feelings, or reality. And sometimes, that shit can be hard as fuck not to do, because it can feel like someone else’s truth is so out of left field that you can’t even begin to try to see their point of view. That’s the harsh reality I’ve been having to come to terms with – people are entitled to their own opinions and truths, but they’re not obligated to understand yours. So there are 3 sides to every story if you understand that your truth may be different than someone else’s, under the same exact scenario.

POV: 2017

As I stood there impatiently, for what seemed like a 10 minute long wait to fill up my Hydro Flask, I thought back to what my reality was like almost 5 years ago. Even writing the title of this post: “POV: 2017,” I had a “damn” moment, realizing that 2017 was literally 5 years ago. I can’t wrap my head around that. In my mind, it still feel like I’m in the year 2019. 2020 at the very latest. I can’t believe such a significant amount of time has passed.

Anyways, there I was, standing in my kitchen on a Thursday night, thinking of all the work I had to do the next morning. The preschool is nearing the end of the school year. That means a lot of things need to get done to close out this school year before we shut down and we go on summer break. I thought about my current position at work and where I stand in my life in general. Even though the next day’s stresses were weighing heavy on me already, I thought back to a time where I couldn’t imagine being where I’m at now.

I thought back to 2017, and damn, it took me back. I had flashbacks of me sitting in that gray chair leaned against the wall of the Kid’s Club at the gym. Those 4 walls of Fitness 19 were my life from 2014 – 2017, and I ain’t talking about working out. I spent 4 hours a day in that little room, I’ll never forget that blue carpet with the colorful crayon pattern that, for some reason, went halfway up the walls. I had made that space my own – bringing in my own movies for the kids to watch so I’m not watching Frozen for 4 hours straight, even though that’s what ended up happening anyways. To this day, I can probably recite every word to Frozen, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, and some episodes of Super Mario Brothers.

I had great memories working at the Kid’s Club – I took care of some awesome kids, befriended their parents, and had a lot of deep talks in that small room with close friends, new friends, and members of the gym. It was also the room my friends and I used to workout in when we felt insecure about being judged by the regular gym goers. I’ve had countless phone interviews for articles I was writing for Xpress Magazine where I sat crisscross apple sauce on that nasty ass ABC mat. It was the job I had while I was in community college, and for a while when I was at SF State. It was the job that got me by, and even though it just barely got me by, given that I lived at home and had no real bills to pay, it was a great first job to have. It reminded me of simpler times, where all I cared about was my social life, school, and having fun.

But clearly, working at the Kid’s Club at my local gym was not my dream job or end goal. When it got slow at the Kid’s Club, I have vivid memories of staring off into space, completely zoning out. Don’t worry – the kids were fine – probably watching a movie or playing amongst each other. But with 4 hours to basically sit and watch kids who have made friendships with one another and waste no time chopping it up amongst each other, it left a lot of time for me to sit and think. At times it felt like that room was my mental prison. I was always thinking of what the next step of anything would be – the next stage of life, the next stage of school, the next stage of my career, the next stage in my relationship, the future as a whole.

Now, I know I said the job reminds me of simpler times, which is true. However, that’s me in the present looking back at it now. Back then, I was equally as stressed out, just in different ways. The pressure of school deadlines, maintaining my grades, a social life, all while being broke as shit was no walk in the park. Looking at it now, I was just at the threshold of adulting, and if current me could give 2017 year old me any advice, I’d say that the current stresses in life would just be replaced with different ones – enjoy the mother fucking process. But 2017 me was 22, in the thick of my school career and on the cusp of trying to get my life together.

I enjoyed my job, but at the same time I knew I wanted more. Obviously working minimum wage as a glorified baby sitter wasn’t my dream job, but I knew there were other ways for me to feel more fulfilled for the time being until I graduated and figured out what to do with me life. 2017 Marinelle felt uninspired, lost, and burnt out working at the Kid’s Club. I felt the anxiety from deep within my soul when thinking about the future. I would sit on that gray chair, staring off into space, and literally wait for time to pass by.

One day, with the usual 3 favorite movie rotation, I managed to sneak in a movie other than Frozen. To my satisfaction, Tangled was playing in the background as I did my routine – kids comes, they play with each other and ignore me, I put on a movie for background noise, and I watch and manage the kids as my mind wanders. I can distinctly remember the next steps of my relationship was heaviest on my mind. At the time, Christian was going from living situation to living situation, staying in the Bay Area solely for our relationship. All first generation Filipino Americans can relate – moving out is a big deal. It’s not just financial independence and venturing out into the real world, it’s also nerve wrecking and a drama-filled topic to even bring up.

I knew the next steps in our relationship would be to move in together. But I was stressed as shit knowing that I was nowhere near financially able to do so. I wanted to do things the “right way,” and I was incredibly overwhelmed with the fact that we literally live in the most expensive area in the country. I felt like there was no “right way” to check all the boxes to appease everyone. I was stuck, emotionally exhausted, and I felt like my life was at a standstill. I dreamt of the day where I could say that everything building up until that moment was worth the struggle, the fight, the late night stress. I wanted more than anything to be done with school, start my writing career, and live a comfortable life. I had no idea how I would get to that point.

In the thick of all of these anxious thoughts, the song, “When Will My Life Begin,” started to play in the background of the Kid’s Club. I’m a singer – not the best out of the bunch, but that never stopped me. I sing because I like to, not because I think I actually have bars. So like any other day, I sang along to the lyrics. Usually, I would sing the background song while casually scrolling through my phone, not paying too much attention to the meaning and what I’m actually saying. This specific day though, the Tangled sound track hit a little different. Singing the words, “When will my life begin?” hit me. Damn, that’s deep. I felt that shit in my soul. I couldn’t relate more. That’s exactly how I felt in that exact moment in time. I remember daydreaming about having it all together and figured out in the future, looking back to this exact moment. That’s what I wanted so desperately – to know that it was going to get better and things were going to sort itself out eventually. And it did.

I stood there, my Hydro Flask just barely getting to the top, finally. And I remembered that I would’ve never guessed to be where I’m at now back then. I remembered that what I’m living and doing right now is exactly what I wanted just 5 years ago. Sometimes I need to take that step back to realize that even though I’m not exactly where I want to be in life, in my career, in XYZ… I’m still making progress in the right direction. That’s not always so apparent from day to day life, but when you see the picture, you see how far you’ve come. I need to appreciate that life happens in mysterious ways. I can only imagine where I’ll be 5 years from now when I think back to this moment – filling up my water bottle on a Thursday night in 2022.

Valentine’s Day – Celebrate Love

When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was definitely one of my favorite holidays. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up a hopeless romantic, or because the fact that Valentine’s Day is the day before my birthday. When Valentine’s Day things start selling at stores, that was my way of knowing that my birthday was just around the corner. Valentine’s Day and my birthday went hand in hand. I loved love and I felt the love on each of my birthdays.

Growing up I thought Valentine’s Day was one of the most important days to show your significant other / crush how much they mean to you. I mean, it is the holiday of love. I dreamt of the day when a boy would surprise me with chocolate and flowers, confessing their love for me and worshiping the ground I walked on. Of course that’s the fairytale the media tries to feed you, and I gobbled that shit up as a kid. I was a hopeless romantic in my young adolescent years, and when feelings weren’t reciprocated, my ass would be emo as fuck. You know, young teen feeling like you’re forever in the friendzone.

I’ve had my fair share of cringe experiences regarding Valentine’s Day that I thought was the end of the world at the time. One of my best friends, Julie, will never let me forget that one Valentine’s Day in high school. We joke about it now, how it was the worst Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had, and how she was my emotional punching bag for a split second. (Love you, Julz.) And for a while, the magic of Valentine’s Day kind of faded away for me. It was definitely a mixture of growing up and realizing not everything is like the movies, but also not having the best luck in love. The holiday just wasn’t a big deal to me if I didn’t have someone to celebrate it with.

Valentine’s Day is sold to us as a day to celebrate romantic love with your significant other. You must shower your loved one with gifts, flowers, chocolate, dinner, and maybe even a social media shoutout or 2. The 14th of February is supposed to be romance all day, being totally infatuated with one another. And if it isn’t all the above, we are made to feel like the relationship is lacking, not real or genuine, or the feelings are not mutual. Are the expectations of Valentine’s Day ruining the holiday all together?

It seems like there are always 2 main types of Valentine’s Day people – the ones that are hopelessly in love and take the holiday very seriously, or the singles that dread the day because it reminds them that the are not paired up. We have taken a holiday that is meant to show and express love to only be meaningful if it is a romantic relationship. But there are so many more relationships than just romantic ones. And putting those unrealistic expectations on each other for Valentine’s Day can easily make the holiday a big disappointment.

When Christian and I had our first Valentine’s Day in 2015, I felt all that Valentine’s Day magic come back. He got me my first bouquet of flowers and we had our first real date together. It felt as though I finally got what I hoped for as a little girl – someone to spend Valentine’s Day with and do all the cliché date and gift exchanges. This Valentine’s Day will be mine and Christian’s 8th Valentine’s Day together. Clearly we have gotten to know each other very well over the last 7 years, and it has made me view Valentine’s Day in a completely different way as a result.

Christian and I still spend every single Valentine’s Day together, no matter what day it falls on. I can always expect flowers, chocolate, hot cheetos, and little gifts, accompanied by a dinner. But over the years I feel like we have made the holiday less of a “big deal,” and not in a bad way. We don’t need a specific day out of the year to tell us to appreciate each other, and be thankful for each other’s love. But the day is a great reminder to reflect on it. Sometimes when you’ve been with someone for so long, you forget to celebrate your love.

And since we have been together for so long, the holiday isn’t about gifts, or the dinners, or the flowers anymore. For me, Valentine’s Day is more of a reminder. It’s a day where I can acknowledge that I am not rainbows and sunshine all the time. That’s just reality and real life. Each person, whether that be a lover, friend, acquaintance, has their short comings and things they need to work on. There are definitely days where I am not easy to love. There are times when I’m a straight savage, my words hurt like daggers to the heart, and sometimes it may feel like we take 1 step forward and 10 more back. But Valentine’s Day is that reminder that even when I have my moments of being unlikeable, I still have someone who is sticking it out with me and genuinely loving me for me.

And that’s a beautiful thing – to confidently know that despite your differences, someone is willing to continuously love you through your many stages of growth. Throughout the years, we have definitely had our many ups and many downs. We have seen each other at our complete worst and best. We have got to know all the different parts and versions of each other. Though Valentine’s Day is just one day out of the whole year and can’t possibly contain all the love you have for a person or relationship, taking a day to just hangout together and acknowledge the love that is there is a great feeling. No pressure, no expectations, just mutual feelings of love. The holiday serves as a gentle nudge to take us out of our comfort zone and usual routines, even just for one day.

And Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be just limited to romantic relationships. Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen the holiday be more about love in general than romantic love. And that’s the same in my personal life as well. I started celebrating all aspects of my life where love flows. Love for my partner, friends, and family. I used to view Valentine’s Day as a day only meant to celebrate romantic relationships. But now, I am so grateful for my small circle and those I surround myself with, that the holiday is a lot more fun to celebrate when you broaden it to everyone you love in life.

I go about Valentine’s Day like a second Thanksgiving at this point. Just celebrating those I love and letting them know their friendship and place in my life is greatly appreciated. I hope all my readers feel the love especially today. Let today serve as a gentle reminder to be grateful and thankful for the ones that love you for you. For the ones that have seen you at your worst, know your flaws and shortcomings, but are still by your side.

A Day I Tried To Forget

In the summer of 2007, my mom’s mom, Mama, was nearing the end of her life. By that point, she was in and out of the ICU, along with her husband, my Tatay Celso, who also had his fair share of health complications. Our family spent a great deal of time visiting Mama and Tatay every weekend for hours on end. Each family would bring food – little snacks like bread and other baked goods. We would be all gathered around their bedside picking at the food that each family brought. Multiple families crammed into those hospital rooms to visit at the same time. Before this, we met every Sunday at Mama’s house for lunch. Things were different with her and Tatay Celso in and out of the hospital. “Mama’s house” didn’t feel like Mama’s house without them there. So, we’d bring “Mama’s house” to them.

My family and my cousins would visit often, every Sunday to be exact. My little sister would bring her Nintendo DS to pass time. We would use the DS’s messaging feature to pretend that our Bratz dolls were “AIM-ing” each other (lmfaooo, what a sign of the times). We really had a whole scandalous story line and everything. My sister and I would spend so much time typing out each word with that damn stylist, send the message, pass the DS back to the other, and wait for the other’s reply. We had full on Bratz dolls conversations through one DS. That’s dedication… and boredom.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins would come regularly with us to visit, and we would basically occupy the waiting rooms if they were in the ICU, or their bedside when they were stable enough, or in the Convalescent homes they were in when they were recovering. Everyone would try to come around the same time, but each family left on their own time. No matter where Mama and Tatay Celso were transferred to, whether that be the hospital, ICU, in and out of Convalescent homes, our family was there.

When Mama and Tatay Celso weren’t in the same facility, we would divide our Sunday afternoon to make sure both were being visited. When someone is sick, we really do show up and show out for the ones we love. We roll deep in numbers and make it a family gathering, just like Sunday lunches at Mama’s house. They were never completely alone for long. Especially during the weekends, when everyone was off school and work. That’s when they had the majority of their visits.

However, Mama’s health was declining way before she was in and out of the hospital. It was emotionally exhausting to witness her health decline, slightly improve, then decline, slowly improve, and then decline again. It was like false hope each time. And at 12 years old, it was a lot to take in. I knew Mama had diabetes and that she was sick. But looking back, I didn’t realize how tedious her routine was due to her sickness.

I’d get off school and walk to Mama’s house Tuesday through Friday, waiting for my mom to get off work and pick us up. Everyday I’d see Mama on the couch watching TFC. I’d greet her with a “mano po” by picking up her hand and having her “bless” me by putting her hand to my forehead. This was my usual routine from preschool until 6th grade. When she was in and out of the hospital, it was weird to get off school and open the door to Mama’s house and not see her on the couch. With her health declining, I would open Mama’s front door and be greeted by an empty living room.

We were visiting so often that it felt like the hospital was our new stomping grounds. We were always there. There was always food. And we were always there for helllllllla long. It was routine for us at that point. We would go to 1 o’clock mass, and instead of heading straight to Mama’s house for lunch, like we did every Sunday since I was born up until that point, we would go pick up food to bring to the hospital. I remember this time specifically because it would soon become a day I regretted.

It was your typical Sunday, and this hangout at the hospital was no different than the others. My mom and my aunts were chatting it up with Mama as she laid on the hospital bed. By that point, we have been there for what seemed like a couple of hours. Don’t get me wrong, I liked visiting Mama because I knew throughout the week when all her kids were at work and us grandkids were at school, it can get pretty lonely. The weekends were the only time the whole family was available and could gather together since the weekdays were so hectic and busy. I knew that us visiting would make her day. So I knew the importance of visiting and that the quality time meant a lot to my mom. But we would stay for a looooooooong time.

At the time, my 12 year old self dreaded the extended hours, only because there was nothing for us to do. I didn’t have a phone, the TV didn’t have good channels, the chairs were uncomfortable, and don’t even get my started on the hospital smell. 1 hour was cool, 2 hours was chillin’, but longer than that, boredom started to kick in. And this particular visit, I hit my limit again. I was getting bored. My little sister, my dad, and I sat outside the hospital room where it was more open. I hinted to my dad, more so irritatingly suggested, that we should get going since we been there for a long time. I was over the DS and writing back and forth with my little sister. But, as all Filipino parents do, they tell their kids 5 more minutes, even though they know it won’t be 5 minutes.

I whined to my dad tirelessly for us to leave. I already knew that we would be there doing the same thing next week. Then, I would go to my mom and try to discreetly tell her we should get going. I was met with “yeah, yeah, yeah’s,” and being shooed away. Being a preteen, moody, with no phone, nothing to do, and just sitting there to pass time seemed like the hardest thing to do at the time. Looking back, I was definitely just a bored brat.

Like any typical Sunday visit, we left after a couple of hours, and we said bye to Mama, planning to see her again the week after. However, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, her health declined and she ended up back in the ICU, where she remained until the day she passed. We never got to visit again. And that last visit haunted me for a long time. I felt so guilty, so selfish, so foolish for pushing to leave early that day, not knowing that it would be the last time I saw Mama fairly well and alive. That last visit I urged my parents to leave early because of my boredom, and even though they ignored my advances, I still felt guilty for wanting to leave. I was completely unaware that that would be my last visit to Mama.

I felt guilty for a long time. I was hard on myself years after the fact, and the regret was heavy on my conscious. I’ve come to terms with it now, 14 years later, knowing that I was literally just a kid who couldn’t have known what was to come. And now, I find myself trying to make up for it in different ways in the present day. I prioritize family events, especially when it was events for Tatay Jack or at his house when he was still alive. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to be so present and available when Tatay was living out the remainder of his final days. He was my last living grandparent, I didn’t want the same situation to repeat. I wanted to make up for my past by being present, showing up, and not being impatient.

Now as an adult, I see the importance of spending time and giving quality time. Your time is really all you can give. Now I understand that. That last visit with Mama has been a day in my life that I have tried to forget because I was so ashamed of my attitude and restlessness. I battled with myself and replayed that day in my head for a long time, wishing I could go back and change how I acted. That day really slapped me into reality and taught me the bittersweet lesson that you never know what the future holds.

2021 – My Emerald Year

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

I have a ritual of reading my monthly horoscope when Susan Miller posts them on her website. You see, I’m not one to fully trust and make decisions based off of what my horoscope predicts, but I do like to see what is alleged to happen. You know, kind of like a little fun guide into the near future. The extent of my belief in my horoscope forecasts does have its limits though. I definitely don’t map out my month according to my forecast, but I do like to read back at the end of the month and see if anything predicted was true. I make a mental note of when planets retrograde, if there’s new moons, eclipses, etc., because to me, the stars and astrology don’t lie – the other planets have to affect us in some way.

I remember reading my forecast for 2021. I’m an Aquarius, and 2021 was said to be my “Emerald Year.” The Emerald Year for your sign is said to be when you’re at your luckiest. 2021 for me was “the once-in-12-year visit of good-fortune Jupiter to your Aquarius Sun,” (Miller, Susan). Meaning, 2021 was going to be my year of growth, good fortune, and claiming what is mine. Of course with that information, and being a believer in astrology, you start to get excited that astrologically, your sign is the luckiest sign of the year. I was excited to see what 2021 would bring me. I was very hopeful for the new year – my Emerald Year…

But 2021 was by far one of the hardest years for me. Of course there were great moments as well, but I personally felt like the theme of 2021 for me could be summed up by saying it was a struggle. A struggle to pick myself back up after losing 2 people who were really close to me, a struggle to find motivation to do the things I wanted to do, a struggle to make time for myself, a struggle to balance out my life, a struggle to establish myself professionally, a struggle to push forward, a struggle to correct habits of mine that I wanted to change, a struggle maneuvering through this pandemic, and so forth. But of course with struggle comes a lot of growth and realizations. I guess I had my Emerald Year, but I had to go through the mud for it.

2021 was a really sad year for me. As the months passed into the new year, I slowly, yet quickly, saw my Tatay transition out of this world. I know I wrote a whole ass series on my Tatay and all my feelings that came with his passing, but I still can’t believe it. For the first half of 2021, Tatay’s health was one of my main concerns. I wanted to be there every Sunday to show him that we didn’t just forget about him during the pandemic. The remaining second half of the year I wanted to be at his grave every Sunday to show him that we won’t forget him now that he’s gone.

Tatay passed away in mid-July, but I feel like I’m just now coming to terms with my grief. After he passed, I felt like I was just existing throughout the rest of 2021. I was trying to stay motivated, I wanted to be on top of my writing. I was close to 100 consistent blog posts and I planned to buy my website, collaborate with more people, get stories lined up, and finally get ahead. Tatay passed away a couple week before my 100th post, and all my plans kind of went out the window. I wanted to do all the things that I planned, but couldn’t find the motivation to do anything. I bought my website, but my head was in the clouds.

Even though I had so many plans and ideas that I wanted to accomplish, I didn’t try to force anything on myself. I knew that this was a difficult time in my life, I had just lost my last living grandparent, the one I was closest to at that. Now wasn’t the time to put pressure on myself to produce content when I was simply struggling to just exist and move forward with my life. Of course, on the outside, I was handling shit that I had to handle. But on the inside, I felt a part of me died, that I didn’t care about much, but at the same time I cared about everything. I didn’t feel like myself. It went on for so long that I wondered if this was just the “new me.”

It took months for me to really process what I was exactly feeling in regards to Tatay’s passing. What really helped me sort everything out and get my emotions down was publishing his Series. And I really hesitated on that. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was using my grief for some views. I decided to follow through with Tatay’s Series because I knew I had a lot of unpacked baggage that I needed to let out. Also, he was such a major role in my life, it felt disrespectful not to. Writing was one of the few ways I felt I could adequately pay homage to his life and what he meant to me. But most importantly, it didn’t feel right to not write about something that had cut me so deep. Yes, I could write about other things, but I knew my mind would be elsewhere. I pride myself in authentic writing, so producing other content just didn’t seem genuine – my heart and mind was totally engulfed in grief and anger at the time.

In the midst of my grief, I lost another family member who I was very close to. 4 months after Tatay passed, my aunt / cousin, Rhonda, passed away due to her ongoing health complications. I couldn’t believe it. When Tatay died, I already dubbed 2021 one of the worst years of my life. But when Rhonda also passed away, I thought, “Okay, Universe, are you fucking serious right now?!” I felt like I was being kicked in the face while I was already down. Rhonda, Tita-Lola (Auntie – Grandma), as we liked to call her just to piss her off, was someone I hold very dear to my heart. This was another type of pain. I felt like the Universe was taking punches at me from all kind of different angles.

Tatay was someone that was in my life since day 1. He lived with my family for some time, was someone I saw on a consistent basis, and has been the closest grandparent to me since I was a kid. But with Rhonda, even though we were related, I never really saw her consistently, didn’t grow up around her, and didn’t even have a conversation with her until I was a teenager. Rhonda was someone I chose to get close to. She was someone that chose to put in mutual effort to get to know each other, chose to encourage me, and chose to be there for me to give me advice during the early years of my young adult life. I tried to be there for her as she maneuvered through life’s many challenges as well – her personal shit going on, her health complications, her dating life, and every random thing in-between. We got really tight over the last decade or so, so this was the cherry on top of 2021 being the shittiest year to date.

However, I processed Rhonda’s death a lot differently than I did Tatay’s. Rhonda was an open book, she let everyone and anyone who had access to her social media pages know everything about her life. Social media was like her diary. She showed her dialysis treatments, the medications she had to take on a daily basis, and gave us visuals and documentation of her daily routine. Rhonda would post her true feelings on social media, she didn’t sugar coat anything. At times you’d be reading and think, “Rhonda why the fuck are you posting this online?” But that’s what made her experience all the more real and relatable. I feel like just from her posts, I could see what kind of life she lived on a day to day basis. On top of what she would vent to me about, I knew that this sickness was a lot to handle. Her declining health really took a toll on her life.

Rhonda was such a family oriented person. The way I yearn to see Tatay again is the same way she yearned for my great-grandparents (her grandparents). Her grief for those in our family that have passed away was so immense, she was truly an individual that loved with every fiber of her being. But she focused that grief on trying to educate the younger generations of our family history. She was passionate about our family and keeping the memories of my great-grandparents alive. So when she passed away, I definitely was sad. But I was at peace knowing that she finally got the reunion with all of her loved ones that she so desperately wanted. I was relieved to know that she was no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer grieving people she loved. That was my peace.

2021’s biggest lesson for me was realizing in depth the phrase, “life is short.” Of course, this is something I already knew, but it takes on a whole other meaning when you lose people close to you. Death will really have you see things for what it is and see people for who they are. Death made me realize money truly ain’t shit. All that matters in this life is time and showing up for people that matter to you. All you can really give people is your time. At the end of the day, time is the only thing that matters, and how you choose to spend your time is completely up to you.

When you’re at the end of your life, you’re not going to give a shit about how much money you have. Instead, you’ll think of the people that were there, made the effort, and showed up for you. So I’ve been trying to “show up” more for those around me. Like making it to the spontaneous hangouts, the hikes with family, take a drive with my dad to keep him company when he runs errands, and attempting to do things that my partner and I say we want to do but never really get around to doing. I’ve been so used to isolating and sheltering in place that my attempt to put in effort to show up was significantly effected. In order to be a good partner, friend, and family member, I needed to show up and make the effort for those around me. That need to show up definitely came to light because of Tatay.

I had to make the effort to show up for others, but I also needed to realize when I needed space. With all of 2021’s craziness, it was the year I had to learn the hard way that in order to be there for others, I first had to be there for myself. And that means taking those mental breaks if needed. I personally take a long time to recharge after interaction. And with my emotions already drained from personal tragedies, I was made very aware of other things that can leave me feeling drained when my cup was already half full. I love my alone time. I am a homebody by definition. So during my time to recharge, I would find the little things that bring me joy – like eating my favorite food, binge watching a show / many murder documentaries, sleeping, or simply doing nothing. The power of doing nothing when you feel drained is so powerful. Sometimes you need those lazy days to detox.

2021 gave me a lot of set backs. With the pandemic persistent and showing no signs of letting up any time soon, I really had to come to terms with this current way of life. I had to realize that this pandemic isn’t going anywhere, I needed to learn how to adapt and make changes so I wouldn’t get burnt out / bored with the same routine. There’s no use in wishing things can go back to how it was pre-pandemic, because that’s not our current reality. But I did not want to live in fear. I wanted to continue to live my life, but safely. At this point, all we can really do is take the proper precautions and go about our lives. COVID isn’t going anywhere, so we need to learn how to survive and exist in this current age without it being detrimental to our own mental health in the process.

Living through the pandemic another full year has actually helped get my priorities in order. It’s ironic because the whole world is kind of in limbo with the pandemic, and that has added to me feeling stagnant with my dreams and aspirations. But it has really given me a lot of time to figure out what I want to do, what I want to accomplish, and make baby steps to get to those points. With cases rising and uncertainty continuing to circulate, it’s comforting to know that I can at least attempt to build out my future plans. The feeling of life “slowing down” due to the pandemic has helped me tune into what it is I truly want out of life.

A lot of those plans are obviously in regards to my writing career and what steps I want to take next. Like I said, 2021 brought a lot of set backs for me. I’m already naturally a procrastinator, so when life threw in a tragedy or 2, I just didn’t know how to deal. There are still times where I think, “is this just the new me?” But as time passes, I’m starting to slowly get back to feeling like “me” again. I needed that break. I needed that time to allow myself to fall apart. I wanted to keep writing and continue with my content, and luckily it all worked out. But if I’m being completely honest, there were a lot of lazy days. Days where I didn’t want to get ahead, where I didn’t care to work on anything, where I worked on things last minute.

At the start of 2021, I had so many deadlines for myself to meet. But it didn’t go as I planned at all. And usually, I would beat myself up about it. But surprisingly, it was the opposite. I knew that the last thing I needed to do was be angry with myself for not meeting deadlines as I dealt with the death of 2 close family members. I decided to show myself kindness. I needed to feel those emotions, go through the crazy rollercoaster of grief, and sort out all my emotions, because if I didn’t, I know I would just self-destruct.

But through the set backs, I have accomplished a couple of things last year that I’m very proud of. Even though I was in a rut, I never once put my writing on hold. I still connected with so many new people and pushed out a couple of Series. And I’m so glad that I’ve connected with so many people who gave me the privilege to share their stories on my platform. I know that this is just the beginning.

My horoscope said that 2021 was going to be my Emerald Year – where I work hard for what I want, grow as a person, and have the universe in my favor. 2021 was supposed to be when I was supposedly astrologically at my luckiest. When Tatay and Rhonda passed away, I thought, “How the hell is this my emerald year? This is the by far the worst year of my life.” But then I took a step back and saw all that was accomplished, all the lessons I learned, all the realizations I had to come to terms with, and all the growth that took place because of what I went through this year and I think, “I got my Emerald Year… just in the most fucked up way possible.” 2021 definitely challenged me in every way possible. I had to re-establish what matters the most to me in this life and that brought a lot of growth and self-reflecting. And I know that all the seeds I planted in 2021, whether I knew it or not, will start to bear fruit in 2022 and the years to come.

2021 was the year I had to struggle. It was a struggle to even get those seeds planted. But I know they’re there, and I’m waiting for my blessings to come. 2021 was the year I lost people very close to me, 2022 and onward is trying to make them proud.

Last Year

Every first of the month, I stalk Susan Miller’s Twitter to see if she posted her monthly horoscopes. May 1st was no different. I went on and read about my Aquarius horoscope for the month of May. I paused. Wait, MAY?! It’s crazy to me how we are already in the month of May, and I can’t help but feel like this pandemic is speeding up and slowing down time simultaneously. To me at least, it’s like ever since March 2020, the months are just bleeding into each other, and all sense of time is completely fucked up. The pandemic has been around for such an extended period of time that pre-COVID life seems like ages ago.

I couldn’t believe that it’s May 2021 already. Not in the actual sense – given that I don’t live under a rock – but it’s crazy to me how fast time is flying, and how much things have changed. It made me think back to this time last year, and I realized that it is the anniversary of when my life drastically changed. To those that have kept up with my journey, I bet you’re like “omg, girl, you moved out, calm down.” To others, moving out is something exciting. For me, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life to date. Sounds dramatic but it’s true.

Around this time last year I got an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity to move out of my parents’ place. It was the end of April when this opportunity was brought to my attention, and little did I know that for the next 2 and a half months, I would be in a constant state of stress. This opportunity would give me the privilege to start saving money, live in expensive ass San Francisco, and take the next step in my relationship – but it also gave me headaches and countless sleepless nights. From the end of April 2020 – July 2020, this decision weighed heavy on my mind 24/7.

At that time, I just wanted to look into the future. I wanted to channel my inner “That’s So Raven,” and see what my outcome would be. I was so mentally stuck and conflicted that I didn’t know how to go about my life anymore. I was put in a position where whatever decision I chose, whether I accepted or denied, my life would drastically change either way. I was so stressed out. I feared change and didn’t want to mess up my family dynamic, but at the same time I was so curious to know what life would be like if I accepted the opportunity. There were pros and cons to both decision, and I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I begged the universe, my ancestors that have passed away, God – anybody or anything – to give me a sign on what the fuck to do with my life.

One of the months while I was in silent mental torture, I read my horoscope forecast for the new month. I can’t remember which month it was, but I remember reading it in awe. My horoscope basically described that I was going to be put in a position where I had to make a big decision. Now here me out, I love reading my horoscopes. It’s something that I think is fun to read and feeds my curiosity of the universe, future, and my life. But I don’t make big decisions in my life based on what my horoscope says. At this time though, I wanted a sign. I read my horoscope by Susan Miller, and not only did the whole thing seem very relevant to my life and my current scenario at the time – it seemed creepily spot on. It said I was going to have to make a tough decision, but whatever decision I chose, I could never go back to how life was before. Susan Miller described this transition like as if I were crossing a bridge, and that bridge falling apart right after I made it to the other side. Meaning, I was moving forward with my life, and whatever decision I made could not be undone. She also mentioned how I would make a commitment for at least 2 years – which tripped me the fuck out because the deal that was on the table required at least a 2 year agreement. I was shook. The universe doesn’t lie.

However, I didn’t make the decision I made because my horoscope was spot on at the time. But I do think of my mindset one year ago, and how I so desperately wanted to know what life would be like if I chose either decision – to move or not to move. It’s like I wanted a crystal ball to help me see what was the “right choice.” A year ago, I was so stressed out and really felt like I couldn’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like no matter what I chose, someone would be upset or disappointed with me. Fast forward to now, the present day, I look back and think damn, 1 decisions really changed my whole ass life. And here I am now, 1 year later, in a totally different headspace, happy with my choices, and growing as a person. It’s crazy what time can do. It’s true that 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc. – your life can drastically change. I kind of chuckle at how stressed I was a year ago – not because it’s funny, but because I should’ve known I’d be just fine. I’m exactly where I need to be.

Anti-Vax to Fully Vaccinated

I walk through Moscone Center’s doors and I am happily greeted by the staff every step of the way. It’s not crowded and doesn’t look all over the place. In fact, everything is so organized and in order. For some reason I expected chaos, long lines, and spending a good chunk of time there. But from the long row of check-in booths, to the stickers on the floor that tell you what direction to go in, to the sitting area where you wait with 2 big clocks on each side, everything was planned out accordingly and in a very efficient way. Each of my visits for the 1st and 2nd dose, I was in and out in less than 20 minutes.

When I entered Moscone Center, for just a second, I forgot I was on my way to get a dose of the vaccine. I expected the vibe to be serious, but I was surprised to find a light-hearted, welcoming, and joyous atmosphere inside. Workers were dancing happily to the music while escorting you to the next step. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised with how this vaccine site was operating. Even more so surprised with myself, since I never expected myself to be so eager to take a vaccine.

I’m the type of person that only visits the doctor’s when I absolutely have to. That’s just how I was raised to look at the hospital – you don’t go unless it’s a must, if it’s not that serious, you treat that shit at home and drink water. I would go for the necessary documentation, like if I needed a TB shot for work. I have all the vaccines that I needed to go to school, but if it’s not required, I wouldn’t take it. So when COVID happened last year and talks of a vaccine started circulating, I was dead set on not taking it once it was available.

Like many others, I just didn’t trust putting foreign things in my body. Trust is a big reason why people refuse to take the vaccine. There’s a distrust in the medical field, in doctor’s advice, and how this pandemic is being handled in general. There’s just so much opinions and beliefs that all point to people not trusting the vaccine. And I totally get it. But being in the pandemic for over a year and seeing what effects it had on people, businesses, and people’s every day lives, it really made me reconsider.

I can only speak from my own experiences, and I know at the end of the day everyone is entitled to their own opinions and are in control of their own bodies. But the last year alone has really changed my perspective on the medical field and people in general. This pandemic brought out the good, the bad, and the ugly out of people. For me personally, COVID really showed me who took the guidelines seriously, and who was just out for themselves, acting selfishly for their own pleasure and not for the safety of others and those around them. I found myself so conflicted with trying to keep myself safe, my family safe, but still trying to keep peace of mind. It was so hard not seeing my friends for a long time, and nothing to do but stay home, watch the news, and be fearful of what’s spreading.

From mid-March until June 2020, I woke up everyday and had the same routine. I would anxiously watch the news, seeing cases rising in California, and seeing the effects of what COVID had on my community. I watched Gavin Newsom make his speech everyday, his raspy voice calm and collected, while California watched in uncertainty. I got used to life indoors – not going out to eat to meet up with friends, wearing masks, not seeing people I regularly saw before, and so forth. When we first shutdown in March 2020, I never would’ve thought that over a year later, we would be in a similar spot. I had no idea that life would still be like this in 2021. When news of the vaccine distribution started going around, I was totally against it. I wasn’t in the first tier, so it didn’t really matter if I wanted it or not, it would still be a long way until I could even make that decision.

Initially, I was against the vaccine, but didn’t really have solid reasons why. For some reason, I believed that more people would be against the vaccine than being for it. To my surprise, it seemed the opposite. I had some time to think about whether or not I wanted the vaccine since I’m a childcare worker. I definitely wanted to wait a while first to see how people reacted to the vaccine before I decided if I wanted it or not. To my surprise, my older relatives got the vaccine. Most importantly, my 97 year old Tatay got it. That really made me change my mind. I wanted things to go back to normal so bad, and finally, the vaccine was that hope for me.

At first, I wanted nothing to do with the vaccine. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t get vaccinated. Since the beginning, I took the pandemic seriously. I follow the rules, I wear a mask, I keep my distance, I trust the doctors’ opinions, but also know that this pandemic is something new to everyone – they’re not always going to be right, so I keep cautious anyways. I despised people that refused to wear masks, not follow the rules, and make a commotion because they feel that staying inside is taking away their rights. I was tired of everyone being only about themselves and being selfish – helping to spread the virus around because of their own selfishness and carelessness. Though in the beginning I was anti-COVID vaccination, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted life to go back to normal, if I want to keep myself and those around me safe, and if I wanted to help end this madness, this is what I needed to do. Not believing in the validity of the vaccine would be contradictory to what I’ve been practicing this whole pandemic – which is being safe, believing in the severity of this virus, and playing my part in reducing the spread.

I didn’t know how bad I wanted the vaccine until I couldn’t get an immediate appointment. When it was finally my tier’s turn to get the vaccine, I was in no rush. I saw that there were a lot of appointments through Moscone Center, but didn’t sign up right away. At that point I knew I wanted the vaccine, but didn’t make it a priority because I was still a little nervous about it. That all changed when I realized Tatay already had his appointments to get vaccinated. I read that people who are fully vaccinated and are not part of the same household could be indoors maskless. Suddenly, I wanted to be fully vaccinated right then and there. I desperately refreshed my phone with no luck, everything was booked. This pandemic has taken a toll on Tatay’s memory. In the 2-5 minute visits that we make to his house every Sunday, he questions why we have masks on. At 97 years old, he is not aware of the pandemic, and it breaks my heart to slowly see him not remember who we are, where he is, or what time frame he’s living in anymore. I’m anticipating the day I can remove my mask at Tatay’s house, hoping that my face triggers his memory, to be able to give him a hug hello and goodbye without feeling anxious about it. And that day draws near as I just got my second dose.

Never in a hundred years did I think that I would be desperate to be vaccinated. I was hesitant because this is all so new. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if people back in the day had the same mentality for Chickenpox, Tuberculosis, and all these other diseases that are basically no threat now and not common, we would still be battling those same diseases at an alarming rate right now. Nobody thinks twice on why children need certain vaccines to get into school because they have been a requirement for some time. I believe that’s where the COVID vaccine is headed – it’ll be a required vaccine to get to attend schools, etc. And it only seems like a big deal right now because we are the first wave of people getting it. But with time, herd immunity will kick in, and we will slowly go back to where we were before the pandemic.

The past year has had so much change. People have been isolating themselves, nervous to go out, and worried for their health. For me, getting the vaccine is a glimpse of hope. Not only am I protecting myself, but protecting my family, people I come in contact with, and even the people that don’t want to get the vaccine. I know to each their own – I was anti-COVID vax, but changed my mind. And I know there will be a lot of people who won’t change their mind. But speaking for only me – I chose to believe in science, even if I’m a little uneasy. This year alone has proved that staying home and living the lockdown life works, but isn’t going to rid the world of COVID. I’m optimistic about the future, as I see cases dropping and things scheduling to move up into the next tier.

The sticker board where you can place the sticker they give you with your time stamp on when you can leave 15 minutes after your shot, was near the exit of Moscone Center. I don’t believe it was there when I got my first dose, but noticed it on my way out after my 2nd dose. Seeing this wall reassures me that things are looking up.