Maria: Children’s Book Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria with her 2 daughters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lex: The Multidisciplinary Artist

This is story 2 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

Picture of Artist, Lex, with one of her paintings

Lex is a Los Angeles / Bay Area-based Afro-Latina artist. Her talents range from digital art, drawing, designing posters, and so much more, but her preferred medium is painting. Her art is heavily inspired by her culture. Being a Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman, Lex’s goal is to uplift and inspire women of color with her artwork.

“I have been exploring art mediums since I was a little girl, I was always known as the ‘artsy kid’ at school,” Lex shares. “Art has always been a way for me to express my inner voice and it’s a calming meditative activity. I am passionate about bringing art into my community to uplift voices…”

Lex’s mother always encouraged her to take art more seriously if it was the profession she was trying to get into. So she started to get serious about her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, she tried to take AP Art, even though she knew it was only offered to seniors. But Lex tried to shoot her shot anyways and spoke with the AP Art teacher. She explained that she didn’t want to wait that long to hone in on her craft, so the teacher suggested that Lex apply for a scholarship program that would allow her to utilize her time where she could still learn art at a higher level until she was a senior. She is so grateful that she made the decision to talk to the AP teacher because she ended up applying to the scholarship program and getting in.

This wasn’t a typical high school course. In fact, it was actually a college course at Otis College of Art and Design. Different art professors from around Southern California and other universities would teach high school students art. These classes taught high school students the basics and fundamentals of different art techniques. Lex remembers working with acrylics in the class, and has used those skills to this day. The course touched on different styles like figure drawing, portraits, drawing, body proportions, architecture, shadows, and perspective. Lex was completely open to whatever the teachers had to teach, even if she was more interested in some lessons more than others, she knew that everything taught was for her benefit.

This is a scholarship program meant for those that take art seriously and are dedicated to learning more. This is because it’s a course that takes place during the weekends. For 3 semesters, Lex spent her Sundays at Otis for 4 hours. She remembers trucking her art supplies and portfolio back and forth to class every Sunday without fail. Lex never missed a class because her parents wouldn’t allow it, but also because she never wanted to. She was totally immersed in all the new techniques that she was adding to her art toolbox. The course never gave a grade for any project. Instead, they would get critiqued on how to improve or do better. It was an experience she was so grateful to be a part of, because it expanded her artistic knowledge.

After being in the scholarship program for 3 semesters, Lex was finally able to be in the AP Art class at her high school. Even though she transferred high schools, she is still grateful for the art teacher at her old school for introducing her to the scholarship program. It really made Lex more focused her senior year, and her last year of high school was dedicated to building her portfolio and strengthening her techniques. To this day, many years later, Lex still looks back to her earlier projects from high school for inspiration. She likes that she can improve an old idea, make it come to life in another way, or digitalize it with the new skills she knows now. For her, her old work is inspiration to keep creating because she can always go another direction with it.

“I’m going back to them and trying to think how I can make them better in the way that I do digital art,” Lex explained. “Or even my paintings now, I’m like, ‘Okay, that was a nice idea, but how can I reform that into something better?‘”

Her freshman year of college, Lex mentally laid out her options on the table. She wanted to pick a major that was more technical but still allowed her to be artsy. Lex entertained the idea of graphic design because she knew she wanted to do something creative in the long run. She was inspired by the idea of all the different work possibilities that graphic design could offer. So she searched up if San Francisco State had a graphic design program, and to her luck, they did. She applied for the program on the very last day and got in.

It was stressful at first when Lex took her very first graphic design class. At this point, she was so used to physically creating art. She felt as though she had mastered acrylics and was always trying to find new materials to practice on. Anything she got her hands on, she would experiment with it. Now, it was a different ball game. Lex wanted to be on the same level as her peers who already had knowledge on graphic design. But her peers were very supportive – reminding her that she’s there to learn, and never to fear because YouTube will always help you out! With that, Lex was excited to learn more about digital art and totally immerse herself into her major. Throughout her college years, Lex would do her best to juggle being a student, having jobs, and working on her own art side projects outside of school assignments.

Lex is the first in her family to pursue an artistic profession. Before she went to college, her parents’ vibe was very supportive. They knew how passionate Lex was about creating art, so they encouraged her to learn and practice as much as she could. When she got to college, her parents were a little worried about her decision to pursue art, but only because they had the typical parent reaction to their child pursuing something outside of the medical or law field. But they have always came back to the same conclusion – as long as Lex was passionate about what she was pursuing, confident about her work and in herself, and knew what she was doing, she had their full support. They didn’t know too much about design, but they genuinely felt like it was a good choice that if she were to study art, San Francisco is where Lex should be.

And the Bay Area is where Lex remained even after graduating college. She jokes that she still feels some type of way about referring to herself as a “Bay Area-based artist,” because she wasn’t born and raised in the area. She grew up in Southern California and considers herself an LA-based artist because of it. Even with 6 years living in San Francisco under her belt, Lex laughs that she doesn’t want Bay Area natives coming for her because she respects and loves the Bay. She does find herself traveling to SoCal often to see family, friends, and attend art events, so she is very much so equally a LA/SF-based artist.

For Lex, representation is everything. Her art gravitates towards her feminine energy. She absolutely loves painting women of color. Lex appreciates all the love and support that she receives from women who resonate with her work. This is really important to her because the margin of women in art galleries are about 3% of the total, leaving the other 97% to men. So she makes it a point to represent the women of color who are not represented in the art scene. Lex loves to paint women with really curly hair. Her Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan roots shine through her pieces. She knows that women of color will only make it in mainstream media if women of color continue to push out content of women of color.

Lex likes to sell her stickers and her prints at any art event she can attend. She appreciates that she can showcase her art in that way. She always tries to attend art events mostly in the Bay Area or SoCal because she wants to be a part of the artist community. Her friend, who is also an artist, will send Lex information on any art events that she knows of, and together the 2 friends will apply. They’re always finding new events through word of mouth. Her goal is to meet new creatives and surround herself with like-minded individuals. Being around creatives and other artistic people inspires her to keep creating as well.

Lex goes against the grain in many ways as an artist. She doesn’t sell her art with the hope and intention that she blows up and can turn it into a big business one day. Instead, she creates when she wants to create and makes sure that she enjoys the process. To her, quality over quantity is the key. Lex knows that there are people out there that will take her work seriously, she doesn’t have to try too hard to get people to recognize her work. If people resonate with it, awesome, if not, then it doesn’t. For those that do appreciate her craft and ask for custom pieces, Lex is always happy to take personal commissions.

Lex is aware that commissions are not necessarily what she would want on canvas, but more so what the other person wants. She has her own style of painting that attracted the customer, so it is “hers” in that sense, but at the end of the day it’s the customer’s vision and opinion that matters. This is why Lex makes sure that on top of commissions, she is also working on art for herself. She did a commission for a family friend where she did a family portrait with simple shapes. This inspired her to start a new series trying to capture the essence of family and what that looks like to different people.

Her series focusing on families is inspired by Africana art, using simple geometric shapes, a lot of color, and minimal details. Lex’s vision was to grasp the meaning of family and togetherness, emphasizing that family looks different to every person. To Lex, your family and those you choose to surround yourself with makes you who you are. Your identity stems from your family roots. Family looks different to everyone, whether that be your blood family, friend group, or even a pet. Who you consider family is a reflection of yourself. She has posted some of these paintings on her Instagram pages, @graphixbylex & @mythirdeyee.

“I find creating art as my meditation,” Lex said. “I find so much joy and confidence in it that sometimes I stray away from posting every art piece on the internet because of harsh criticism, people /companies stealing your ideas, or setting an expectation that if I post online – it will gain ‘this amount’ of interaction.”

In the past, Lex tried to keep up with social media algorithms to promote her work. As an artist, of course you want your work to be seen, so it can be easy to get lost in the rules and restrictions to make sure your account is successful. Instagram is Lex’s social media platform of choice, but after a while, it stressed her out keeping up with the different tips to essentially stay relevant. All the algorithms made Lex feel as though social media forces creatives into posting a certain way and fit into the same box to gain followers, and that was something she was not okay with.

Lex decided a while ago that she wasn’t going to stress herself out with all the tips and tricks to be more “visible” on social media. If she were to abide by those standards, she feels as though her creative process would be rushed. She doesn’t like the pressure of feeling the need to post every 3 or so days to stay relevant. Instead of promoting creativity, it restricts creatives and becomes chaotic. It starts to feel like a mandatory action, which takes the enjoyment out of the process. For Lex, it’s quality over quantity. She enjoys taking her time creating and doesn’t let the idea of views get to her. Instead, she uses social media as a tool to showcase her work that she’s most proud of, nothing is ever forced.

She knows first hand the struggle of wanting to be totally immersed in her craft, but knows at the end of the day she has bills to pay. She took on a job during the pandemic and felt as though it took all of her time and energy. Lex didn’t really have much of a summer, didn’t have time to travel, and then also got COVID which resulted in a time period of huge creative block. She wanted to have time to create for herself like she used to, but had to find a balance in her life to make that possible.

On top of that, 2022 brought on a lot of changes. After she lost someone close to her, her motivation to create was non-existent. Lex knew she had to focus on her family at the time, so gave herself grace and patience. Lex thinks the most important thing as an artist is to remain grounded. She didn’t force herself to create during the difficult times in her life, but instead chose to do things that made her happy. Lex finds solace being in nature, sometimes literally grounding herself like taking naps in the botanical gardens when she had a chance. She takes time to recharge by allowing herself to take breaks, go to art museums, and talking with family and friends to spark that interest again.

A big goal that Lex hopes to achieve on day is being recognized in Art Basel. Lex describes it as an event where they highlight artists in the community and sell their paintings. She would love to be recognized in that platform, not for the clout or attention, but because it would mean that people resonate with her art at a higher level. Lex wants people to know how much representing her culture means to her. She wants to represent women of color in her work until she doesn’t have to say she’s the first / only Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman to do XYZ. She thinks it’s so important to make roots in the communities that she’s a part of, so you’ll always find her supporting women of color, going to art events up and down California, and being invested in the community. She is also part of the reason why SF State has the Afro-LatinΓ© Club.

Another personal goal that Lex has is to open a program for children in the next 10 years or so that is art and science based. This is something that her and the person she lost earlier this year would talk extensively about. Lex is very passionate and motivated to get that program running and focus on the 5th grade level. Growing up, Lex wasn’t a science person, but believes that had she had access to it at a young age, it could’ve been a possibility. There are not many programs that focus on science and art, so she feels that this is something her community could benefit from. It’s important to her to funnel back that love, support, and inspiration back into the community.

Lex’s creative journey has not been an easy road. She has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs: dealing with art block, having to go to school while balancing 2 jobs, feeling the pressure of posting consistent content online, and losing family members along the way. Life has thrown her many curveballs, but nonetheless, she still chooses to use creating art as her favorite form of meditation.

Teaching Preschoolers on Zoom!

My alarm goes off at 8 AM, I pick up my phone and slide the alarm off. I look at any notifications I may have, and scroll through social media. I might even Google something random that I think of. Had this been 3 months ago, I would not have the luxury to chill in bed and look through my phone at 8 AM. Around 8:20, I finally get out of bed and get ready to start my Zoom classes.

Yes, you read that right. My Zoom classes with my 2 year old students. I lazily make my bed, and walk up the stairs to brush my teeth. I’m usually greeted by my mom, who is also working from home. In fact, everyone in my family is home. I quickly eat something right before my class. I’m usually not a breakfast person, but once my Zoom classes are over, I try to go back to sleep until it’s time for lunch. Why? Because I can.

My janky laptop, that I’ve had since 2013, only works when it’s plugged into the outlet. And even then, my poor shot dead battery reads, “Plugged in, not charging 0%.” This Shelter in Place made me realize how I need to stop lagging on getting a new laptop. My camera quality on this laptop is so pathetic, but I make do.I used to do my Zoom classes in the living room, but our WiFi is so bad there, that I had no choice but to do them from my room. I would literally freeze, or I’d have robot voice. The look of confusion on my students’ faces tell me that im probably frozen. The first week of Zoom classes, I did them upstairs in the livingroom. And without fail, after every class, my mom would come out of the room, pausing her work flow, just to mimic the songs I just sang with the kids. Haha! These are crazy times!

It’s been almost 3 months of Sheltering in Place in the Bay Area. In the beginning of this lockdown mid-March, I was relieved because this was the break I so desperately needed. Sleeping in was so nice, we didn’t start live Zoom classes until April. I had so much free time on my hands I didn’t know what to do. But as the Shelter in Place kept getting extended, I started to follow a routine. Zoom classes, go back to sleep, eat lunch, watch paranormal shows on TV, do 1 on 1 Zoom chats if I have someone signed up, go for a walk, shower, dinner, watch more TV, fall asleep on the couch, and make my way down to my room around 2 AM.

The Shelter in Place got extended twice, and here we are more than half of May done, not knowing if it will be extended once again. Its crazy to think that by the time everything opens up again, 2020 will be atleast halfway over. Its been so long, I can’t picture myself going back into my pre-COVID-19 routine. I’ve adjusted to this Shelter in Place gracefully. I’m already a homebody as it is. So when the Governor says “Stay at home unless you absolutely have to…” I’m like… say no more, sir.

Since this Shelter in Place, a lot of the parents from the school have expressed their gratitude to me and all the other teachers. Everyone knows that being a teacher is not an easy task. There are good days and bad days. Especially dealing with 12 kids 5 and younger, a lot of the times you find yourself with your hands full. Being Sheltered in Place with their child/children, has given some parents more insight on being an early childhood educator.When we decided on doing live Zoom classes, I will admit that I was a little skeptical. How was I going to capture the attention of 8 two year olds in each Circle Time class? Getting all of them to sit still and participate in person is challenging as it is, how much more through the computer?

“If anything,” I thought, “These daily Zoom classes will keep the structure that they know from school, while letting them see their friends and teachers faces.”

I had to switch up my teaching style to convert to the online world. Muting everyone is a must, raising hands and thumbs up and thumbs down are our new norms, me speaking in Dora the Explorer fashion (asking questions and pausing, reading their muted lips through the video screen) was kind’ve awkward at first. But we all had to adjust.Nobody expected the Shelter in Place to last this long. We are almost 3 months deep into social distancing.

Yes, that’s a long time for us adults, but for young children, this must be a lifetime to them. I imagine what it will be like once we go back to school. Almost 3 months of not being at the school will be like their first day of school all over again. So it’s nice that we get to see each other over Zoom.

We have also been writing letters back and forth with our pen pals. We divided up the school roster among the teachers, and have been keeping in touch with our penpals since April. Its so sweet to read what they want to share with their teacher, and what they look forward to.At the end of April, when we were hit with another Shelter in Place extension, we decided to switch it up. Our Zoom classes were going well, but we felt like we should add another component. That is when I suggested doing one on ones – having students sign up to talk to any teacher on Zoom to have a video call. By taking away the learning component, and just having a casual conversation between teacher and student (most of the time with a parent), we hoped that this would help our school community feel more connected. This proved to be a hit.

In one of my Zoom calls, my 4 year old student told me all the things she’s been doing since Shelter in Place. I was telling her how I’ve been spending my time, and how I miss her and all her friends. Since this was the first week of the Zoom 1 on 1 calls, I brought up how nice it was to talk to her 1 on 1.

“I like how I can talk to you and have a conversation with just me and you!” I told her.

“Yeah! And I like how both of our mics are turned on!” She replied eager and happy.

When she said that my heart melted. This is the new norm for my students. And since she is one of the older students, she is aware of the pandemic, why school isn’t in session, and why we have to learn through the computers. It made me sad when she said that, just because we are living in such a different time. Kids this age shouldn’t be refrained from talking and sharing their thoughts. But essentially that’s what we have to do when we mute the kids. We don’t do it for malicious reasons, but for the simple fact that sometimes there would be more than 15 kids attending a class, and the background noise just gets to be too much and too distracting. These memories and way of life will truly go down in our history books. She’ll grow up to tell her peers, “hey, remember in 2020 when we had to sign up for Zoom Circle Time classes when we were 4?”

Another student I had a 1 on 1 conversation with, is 5 years old. We can carry out a real conversation for maybe hours. But since these are scheduled chats, she knows she has a time limit. In the middle of showing me her toys, she cuts herself off…

“Marinelle, how many more minutes do I have left?” She said gently knowing that I would possibly have another meeting right after.

All these questions and responses pulling at my heart strings! I felt pretty sad that she even had to ask that question, that this is the current situation we’re in. Little did she know, I didn’t have anyone else scheduled, and was letting her take up as much time as she wanted.

Since I’m teaching the youngest of our preschoolers (2 and younger), they don’t understand what’s going on. Most of their side comments when they raise their hand for me to mute their mics are just little random sweet nothings. But I’m okay with that and its honestly the cutest thing. I will literally be in the middle of a lecture of whatever it is that I’m teaching, and someone will raise their hand. I unmute their mic and ask them what they would like to share with the class.

“Dinosaur! T-Rex! Roarrrrr!”

“Look at my lovey elephant!”

“I love pancakes!”

Everything totally irrelevant to the topic at hand, but oh soooo sweet! Kids really do say the darnest things. And if anything, I’m always left with a smile on my face or laughing out of cuteness or randomness.

Its been a challenge to keep my 2 year olds engaged. I have to think of new ways to spark their interest. I’ve found the reward system is really helpful. My kids love them some felt stories! I always tell them in the begining of the class what we have planned, and if we do very well during our learning component, we will get a very special felt story. Kids love the simple things. And it could seriously be the same felt story everyday, and they’ll still be interested. Its something to look at, something to sing along to, something familiar from school.When I see that they’re restless, I like to call on each of them at any given moment for them to answer a question. It keeps them on their toes, and they like the opportunity to be unmuted and share with all their friends. These are definitely some trying times – where my creativity as a teacher is being tested.

Two weeks ago I logged onto my first live Circle Time class. One student joined the class, and set up “Teachers plant the seed of knowledge that lasts a lifetime!” “PHK Teachers rock!” A second student joined in, excitedly telling me she drew me something- a green heart with “Thank you Teachers!” I was so confused and surprised. I thanked them and told them how much I loved their kind gestures. When I signed onto my second Circle Time, I was greeted with more love.

“Teaching is HEART work, thank you! We miss you!”

“Thank you Teachers!”

“Thank you!” With a beautiful flower

“Thank you! I miss you.”

” ‘Why do you love your teachers?’ ‘Because they give me lunch.’ ”

My heart! Seeing all these signs (literally all to the screen at the same time) gave me an overwhelming feeling of love and appreciation. I took pictures of my screen, but won’t share because it has my students’ faces in it. But I was so surprised that I wanted to cry. I didn’t even know that it was teacher appreciation day/week, but I definitely felt the love and gratitude through the screen. I told them (even though they’re 2) that I felt like it was a surprise party for me and I was so happy I wanted to cry. I – who by the way, am horrible at receiving surprises – said “wait…… I’m so confused, did y’all plan this or something 😭🀣.”

Teaching is not an easy job. There are some days where I feel defeated and wish I had more patience, or handled a situation differently. But at the end of the day, its moments like these that make me feel so fufilled as a teacher. Especially with Sheltering in Place, the parents have expressed their gratitude and appreciation more often. Its funny, before each vacation break we have, parents will always say goodbye with “you deserve this break. I don’t know how you guys do it.”

Being a teacher is hard work, but so rewarding. Especially at the age that I’m working with. They’re so funny, energetic, and hyped for everything. I made them a tooth project by hand and drew all the food, and they were so hyped for the different snacks I drew. I miss hearing “byeeee, love ya!” “I love you, Marinelle.” “You’re so funnyyy!” And all the random things I between.

During this Shelter in Place, several of my students have asked me to come over their house to play 🀣. “Maybe one day when Coronavirus is over, you can come to my house.” “Maybe my mom can set up a playdate so you can come to my house.” “Maybe you can come over one day so we can play this game!” I must be doing something right if I have multiple playdate offers. Hahahaahha.

Vacation: Finding My Balance Again

This is the time of the year I’ve been anticipating for so long. The perks of working at a preschool is staying on the “school” schedule, something I was not ready to let go of after I graduated. These periods of paid vacation give me time to unwind, think, get in touch with myself again, and hopefully recharge and get re-inspired.

The last couple of months, but more so the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling like I was dragging myself to the finish line. That finish line being this break. I was running out of gas, and faster than usual. I feel like I always get like that when I’m anticipating a long break/vacation. But this one felt different. Last year, I dragged myself to the finish line and had graduation to celebrate at the end of it all. It was the most relieving feeling ever. Now, I dragged myself to the finish line of winter break, this time, not much to celebrate.

Everytime my work has an extended amount of time off, I try to do things that I know I enjoy and things I never have time for. This morning, Justine and I hit the gym at 8 am. We used to go 2-3 times a week at 6 am, before my hours increased to fulltime. Now, I wake up at 5 am every weekday for work. It felt good to have an outlet to relieve some stress. And it also felt good to not have to rush to do something else right after.

I’ve been waiting for this break for so long because the best plans for me is no plans at all. I’ve been day dreaming of laying down at home watching TV, nowhere to go, no actual plan, in my pajamas most likely asleep. I’m constantly doing something everyday, and I just want a break. A break from adulting. And I definitely will have a couple days like that during these 2 weeks off! But I realized, this is the time to act and do.

During my summer break at work, where I got 2 consecutive weeks off, I did the whole “no plans, multiple days to yourself” thing for a little too long. I started to get so bored that I knew I’d regret not doing anything once work started up again. So I plan to do this break a little different.

I want to workout as many days as I can, when I want to, and if I want to. I want to catch up on shows that I always end up falling asleep to because of how tired I am at the end of a workday. I want to read the books I’ve put off to the side, and get re-inspired by feminist authors. I want to continue reading the Avatar the Last Airbender comic books that I have, because damn these comics answer a lot of questions I have! One of these comic books revealed the story of Zuko’s mom, and I was truly shook. Avatar is my obsession. I try to watch it from beginning to end every other year to feel more spiritual and woke. I’m not even kidding. To some it sounds ridiculous, but Avatar the Last Airbender is so deep, and holds a special place in my heart. Avatar faithful. I’ve been due for another showing from beginning to end, but my DVD player has been weird, it plays the DVD and then 5 minutes into any episode it blows out the speakers. The weirdest thing. So I haven’t been able to watch my Avatar for a minute. Christian tried to fix this problem by getting the whole series on Blu Ray, but he took the ps4 player with him while he visits SoCal during the break, so I’m still Avatar-less.

Anyways, I always try to get ahead of the game during these breaks and write a couple stories, so I’m not stressed out when Sunday/Monday comes around. I have 3-4 stories I have in the works right now, of people that want to share their stories. Right now I’m just doing all the interviewing and getting those details. I imagine this is what being a fulltime journalist will feel like. Except it’s kind’ve hard when I work 40 hours a week, also trying to maintain a social life, but keep my true passions in check all at the same time.

Keeping up this blog is basically like assigning yourself a final paper due every Monday. I’ve been out of school for a year, but I knew I would never be done with deadlines if I want to pursue a career as a writer / journalist. So I started assigning Mondays as my forever deadline, until I make it, and then you’ll catch me in a magazine or news columns. Breaks like this from my actual 8-5 job is what gives me that break to think creatively again. Reconnecting with myself is an important thing.

I thought I knew the definition of “self-care” when I was in college. Don’t get me wrong though, college was not easy. There were many times where I was literally mentally breaking down, and had to take a break. That’s where “self-care/treat yo-self” came into play for me. This would be in the form of a nap, face mask, literally walking away from the assignment, hanging out with friends, etc. But the thing with college was, once the final was turned in, once the presentation was over, once the whole ass class was over, there was relief. This adulting life…. this is different.

I think about this often and ususally think, “first world problems.” Because it’s true. I’m grateful that I wake up every morning and have a job to go to. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to go to school and finish up a degree. I’m hopeful that there is a writing job out there that I will feel fulfilled. But I realized since I got out of school, that I relied so much on my next “break,” my next “vacation” period that would get me through. “Just X amount of days until ____ vacation,” is what would get me through in school and in work. But I realized, once I get out of the teaching field, I’m not going to have any long “break” to look forward to. And then what?

My mental health is so focused on break / vacation, that I really don’t know how I’ll transition to working a writing job not on the “school holiday” schedule. Break is where I recharge myself and give myself a break to relax. When I’m full blown adulting, I won’t have these 2 weeks to fall back on.

And it makes me wonder, how do people recharge? I already know that for me, it’s so easy to lose track of the things I love and enjoy doing because life and priorities get in the way. I have to work 8-5 to make money, I have to do xyz in order to get to xyz point. And in that routine, sometimes I lose track of what I really want. I get trapped in the labyrinth of adulting. But my break/vacation is what brings me back. I get the time to do things that I can’t regularly do when I work 40 hours a week. And it made me realize that that’s how some people get lost in their journey. They kind’ve get side tracked with doing adult grown person shit, and in doing so, lose sight of the end goal. Especially since it is so hard to transition from 1 career to the next. And I feel like that’s how some people get trapped into not doing what they really want, or not following their dreams.

This crossed my mind as I started planning my 2 week break. Since I’m fortunate to have these 2 weeks off, I plan to use it to my advantage, since I know I won’t always have this opportunity to unwind and relax. I also want to take this time to really hangout with friends. With life and everyone’s schedules, it’s so easy to just fall off for a couple of weeks. Everyone is in different stages of their lives, and for me and my friends, we like to catch up and talk about it, ususally over food.

Sadly, I’m kind’ve passed the point in my life where my friends and I can all just say “hey let’s all meet up at ____’s house,” on a whim. But I’ll gladly take these 2 weeks to remember what it’s like to not have any responsibility, to fall inlove again with the things that I have put to the side, and remember who I am.

Rob The Barber

I recorded and edited this video of Rob 2 years ago. At the time, he was an aspiring barber that was coming up in the hair cutting world. He took an interest in cutting hair when his aunt gifted him some clippers. He went from cutting his own hair, to his coach’s, to asking the homeless if they want a fresh cut, and now, cutting is his main source of income.

A lot has changed since Rob recorded this video with me. The 22-year-old finally declared a major and is finishing up his AA at Skyline. Before applying to SFSU, Rob is planning to take his love of barbering to the next level.

“I’m just about finished at Skyline,” he tells me. “After taking my sweet time chasing (my) AA in psychology. I’m finally at the point where I feel like I have to make the decision about what to do with my future… I have decided to take hopefully half a year off to pursue my barber’s license before applying to SFSU to further my studying in psychology. I hope to eventually work as a professor, counselor, or something that allows me to be a positive influence in my community, similar to barbering.”

Check out his story:

Much Needed Reunion

I know I usually talk about the negative effects of social media, but there are some positive perks.

I love how I can connect with people I’ve grown up with, people that have watched me grow and have helped in my upbringing, and people I want to keep in touch with. Social media gives us a chance to stay connected in certain people’s lives, regardless of distance and time. There’s some people I haven’t seen in over 5-10 years, but I could tell you what’s going on in their lives from what they post on social media. It’s kind of nice to stay in touch without really staying in touch.

With life and goals constantly on my mind, I admit that I have lost balance in keeping up and keeping in touch with friends. I guess that’s just life. We get busy, life happens, we start realizing there’s not enough hours in the day. In other words, I started adulting. And to be honest this shit is depressing. And I’m a little upset that nobody really told me how you gradually disconnect with friends and you realize you’re living your own ass life. And at some point it hits you, wait, I haven’t seen or talked to blah blah in years.

Anyways, y’all know I’ve been feeling a little disconnected and just not myself lately. Riding another wave of the post-grad blues has not been easy, I’ve been dealing with it by trying to talk and hangout with friends more.

This weekend my best friend of more than 15+ years baptized her son, and made me one of his primary godparents. I officially became Jalen’s Ninang. And it’s crazy. These are moments that me and April would talk about growing up. She’s been one of my best friends since 4th grade. We’d always talk about going through life together, being at each other’s weddings, being Ninangs to each other’s children, living on the same block and being neighbors (πŸ’€πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈ), and all these milestone life events that we would share together. And here we are. Actually living it.

I don’t know why I’m surprised haha. Obviously these life moment were eventually going to happen. But it really got me like, wow, time really waits for no one. ClichΓ© I know, but it really feels like just yesterday we were talking about all these “future events,” and this weekend, I stood behind her and watched her son get baptized.

After the baptism took place, I looked around in the crowd. And I saw a familiar face. I gasped and walked over in pure excitement to greet Mrs.Volpe. A person that means so much to me!

Mrs.Volpe was our school librarian, but she deserves the title of Mother of Epiphany. I attended this school from kindergarten to 8th grade. She literally watched me grow up right before her eyes, but we got really close during my middle school years. Like 6th grade to 8th grade is when I needed her the most.

Like I said in a previous post, by the time we hit 8th grade, for the most part, we’ve been riding with the same crew and classmates for almost 10 years. We ran deep with each other and gave some teachers hell just because we were a team and going through our rebellious phase. We were a hand full to say the least.

I admit that I was a rebellious kid. On a one-on-one basis, I was pretty well-liked by teachers. I was that student that gave you hell, but behind closed doors you hated to admit that I could connect with you on a personal level. And for just a second they could forget that I talked my ass off in class and questioned authority figures. Our whole class got a bad wrap, but for the most part I feel like I had a reason to my rebellion. I was always that kid that questioned authority figures that expected me to act a certain way just because they said so. The more they tried to control me and demanded respect, the more I resisted. That was just my nature. A true mess. Hahaha. Bless all of their hearts.

But since I had this reputation, sometimes I felt like I wasn’t given a fair chance most of the time. They already labeled most of us “the problem.” And it was like there was no changing any of their minds. And the person we would all run to would be Mrs.Volpe. And she would actually listen to us. Hear our side. When it was our fault, she would tell us. She wasn’t afraid to let us know when we were being little assholes. She’d try to make us see our teacher’s point of view. And even though we didn’t like it or what she had to say sometimes, she always told us the truth. But when we weren’t being treated fairly because of our prior reputations, she would also stand up for us. And that’s what a lot of us “rebellious trouble making kids” needed. Someone to atleast hear our side, to ride for us when everyone else was against us. And that was her. And to be honest, she was a lot of people’s go to person to vent to. She just got us. And during a fragile time in our early teenage years, she was our voice of reason. We all truly saw her as the mom of Epiphany, because she gave us an earful when we were in the wrong, but stood up for her little ducklings when they were being targeted. There are so many current students and alumni that look up to Mrs.Volpe, me included.

Mrs.Volpe is one of those people that I kept in touch with on Facebook. She’s never missed one of my birthdays without posting a sweet message on my wall. For every life event, she has always came through with a comment. She watched me grow up all through my Epiphany days, and has continued to watch me grow through social media. There has been multiple times where Mrs.Volpe has crossed my mind, and I wanted to message saying lets catch up, and I’d always tell myself I’d message by this day/date and forget. Or I’d plan to message and visit during my spring break, any vacation, etc., but didn’t come around to it. It’s a lame excuse, but this is real life. Things just get in the way and sometimes you don’t get to hangout with the people you want to. We had planned to grab lunch or dinner in August, but there was so much going on in Mrs.Volpe’s life as well, that we never got around to it.

And there she was. In the crowd. The person that has been cheering me on from the sidelines for so many years. We embraced and I couldn’t believe that she was at Jalen’s baptism. My heart was full! Especially since I’ve been feeling weird and off lately, this is the reunion my heart needed.

At the reception she met my boyfriend. And it was something special. I’m telling you, she was the mom of Epiphany, so it really meant a lot for her to meet the guy I’ve been with for 4.5 years. We talked and we caught up, and it was such a good time. I think I ran into her at Safeway once, like almost 5 years ago. Come to think of it, I think she met Christian that day, but it was a brief catch up. But other than that, I haven’t had one of Mrs.Volpe’s in person pep talks in 10 years. I graduated Epiphany in 2009. And here we are 2019 catching up. Funny how life works.

We caught up and I told her how I’m currently a preschool teacher and jokingly said I’m getting my karma for being such a rebellious child. She couldn’t believe it. How much time has changed! She expressed how proud of me she is, and I really needed that. She has always been cheering me on from afar. And I’m so blessed to have a person like her on my team. On my side. It has been 10 years but I know if I needed her she’d be right there. Like she has always been.

It was then I realized that she is everything I want to be as a teacher. Even though teaching isn’t my forever career job, it is still currently my job. And talking to her on Saturday made me realize that I want to be a Mrs.Volpe in someone’s life. Tell them like it is, but hear them out. Be firm when you need to be, but show so much love and support at the same time. And if I can be atleast half of what she is as a teacher, I’d be doing a great job.

This is a woman who has seen and witnessed her fair share of heartbreak and pain. But you would never realize by how she lives her life and treats others. Hands down one of the sweetest, loving, supportive, and most of all happiest people I have ever met in my life. And she has blessed so many Epiphany students and families with her presence and support.

It was important for my boyfriend to meet her, because I really feel like she knows the true me. She has witnessed honor roll Marinelle, rebellious Marinelle, angry Marinelle, heart broken Marinelle, and all the above. And I feel like she’s a person from my past that he should meet. I never thought they ever would honestly. I always imagined she’d meet him at my wedding or something haha. I’ve described her to Christian on multiple occasions as the only teacher who was ever on our side. And now he finally got to meet and talk to the woman I’ve talked about for all these years.

I told April, “Your party is what I needed.”

And its true. I’ve been feeling off and emo as hell riding this post-grad wave. Who are you? What do you want to do? What are you going to make of yourself? What career path are you going to take? How will you accomplish that? What’s your next goal? By what deadline? What are you doing with your life? Figure it out. Come up with a plan. Hurry. Time is ticking.

And for a second, those anxieties and worries faded. I was surrounded by my best friend of 15 years celebrating her son, my godson. I was reconnecting with a teacher I adore and look up to. My man is with me and around people that I grew up with. Life is good.

I needed this in so many way. Seeing people that take you back. Back to less stressful times. It took me all the way back to the times when meeting up for the movies was our biggest issue. 🀣 It was a meeting that my heart so desperately needed. That even though time is moving and life goes on, these people that have been with me since day 1 are still with me, are riding with me, and still rooting me on from the sidelines. They remind me of who I am and where I come from. They took me back to simpler times.

The Podcast Pitch

I just want to say thank you to everyone that took the time to read / share / comment/ support my last post. Like I said a billion times, it was a story I’ve been wanting to share for a long time. My Body Positive journey has definitely been one of the most difficult things I’ve had to force myself to do. In the beginning, every day was like a new challenge. Was I going to keep pushing and unlearn everything I’ve ever known up until that point and truly accept my body at any size? Or was I going to give up and fall victim to the same ideals that have held me back for so long? When I say it was a mental battle – Me vs. Me – every day, I mean it in every aspect. It was exhausting.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is what it would feel like sometimes. Was it too late for me? Am I already set in my ways and I’m in too deep? How long will this take before I throw in the towel? It was truly a metamorphic experience. It took a really long time to get to where I’m at. Not saying I don’t feel shitty time to time – I definitely do. But for the most part I am can truly say I live a body positive lifestyle and it really brought me inner peace.

Especially studying in the Women Gender Studies program, I felt more enlightened. I was taking classes in this field while concurrently working on my mental health and body dysmorphia problems. And it seemed like everything was all meant to be. I was meant to make the conscious decision to accept my body and go down the self-love journey, all the while learning about women empowerment and feminist ideals. I love that my program really stressed the importance of intersectional feminism. It made me realize that just me as a person alone is a rebellious act. I’m a woman, a person of color, plus-sized, and in the terms of living in San Francisco – a broke bitch.

When I started progressing in my mental health journey, I realized that I was acting and thinking exactly how corporations wanted me to. They’d rather have people be insecure and unhappy so they can sell products to their insecure consumers. And I refused to be another statistic.

Self-love really does not happen over night. It’s a journey forreal. And when I say journey, I mean a whole life long journey. You’re constantly changing, growing, adapting, making new experiences. Nothing remains the same, circumstances are always different. And you’ll feel those same highs and lows in your journey as well. It takes time. A lot of people reached out to me after I posted my last post saying they don’t know if they can ever start/ get to the point of accepting their bodies. But it’s really never too late to work on yourself. Best believe I’m gonna be an old ass grandma still struggling with my inner demons and trying to resolve my shit. I feel like as long as you’re conscious and aware that you want to change up your way of thinking/ make steps to becoming a better you, that’s all that really matters. Because there’s nothing more lame than a person who gives the excuse “Well, that’s just how I am.”

Working on my body dysmorphia and discovering the Body Positive Community made me realize that self-love is so much more than just liking and accepting what you see in the mirror. It’s internal as well. It made me realize – looks and appearance aside, am I a beautiful person inside? Am I good human being? I could be the baddest bitch out there, but if internally I’m rotten and toxic, what’s the point? And this journey really opened up so many other doors and layers of myself that I didn’t even know existed. You start discovering yourself. Is this really me, or the me I want people to know?

Anyways, that whole ordeal of me in class unfollowing everyone on social media that made me feel bad about myself happened towards the end of 2016.

Fast forward to last year, Fall 2018, my last semester of college. It was close to the 2 year anniversary of when I decided to accept my body and fall in love with the body positive attitudes and beliefs. And in those 2 years, I’ve tried to brand myself and advocate for bigger bodies and size diversity. I’ve decided “that’s my niche, that’s what I’m going to be known for” -in the writing world and in general. I’m out here putting it on my bio, occassionally writing about it here and there, and doing things that – at the time- I believed made it “obvious” what I stood for and believed.

Since my last post was so heavy and somewhat triggering, I’ve decided to share one of the most embarrassing moments in my life.

To all my friends and family that I’ve told… Yes, it’s the story of when I cried infront of my whole class πŸ˜­πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈπŸ˜«

Listen, this was my last semester of college and then I was done.

I was in the Online Journalism class with Sachi as my professor. I’ve had her in the past, and she’s cool as hell. Every assignment she ever assigned to me – either in the Online Journalism or Multimedia Journalism class – it seemed like she knew that’s what I’ve been wanting to do/ start but didn’t have the balls to do it on my own. Of course, how would she know… but that’s really what it felt like to me! As if the Universe herself was like, “Listen, I’m tired of you dreaming up these ideas and never following through with your lazy ass… so0o0 I’m just going to make your professor assign it to you so you have to do it.”

I’ve always wanted to start a podcast. Of course one that focused on body positivity or anything along those lines. So when Sachi told us our assignment was to come up with 3 podcast ideas, I was all for it. She explained that a good friend of hers who is well-known in the podcast industry would be coming to our class to hear our pitches. We would have to give our reason, why it’s important, why would anyone care, who its geared towards, who we would interview, and basically do our best to try to sell our idea.

And then, the nerves started to get the best of me. When I was planning out my 3 pitches, I even considered not adding the body positive one at all. I’ve never given my “why” infront of people. I felt dumb for parading all through social media that I’m a body positive advocate, yet I’m scared to give my back story. In fact, very few knew why it was so important to me and why it pulled at my heart strings.

“Podcast on ghost stories” I wrote down. The amount of done that I had with myself πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈ ….. I ended up writing out the body positive podcast pitch, explaining that I’ve been insecure my whole life, how I was in a verbally abusive relationship in the past, my eating disorder, and all the above. Basically, my last blog post summarized into a paragraph.

I had my pitches printed out and ready to share that night (it was a night class). Originally, Sachi said we’d be sharing all 3 ideas. But with the amount of time we had and the number of students that were in the class, we’d be there 5 ever. So she said pitch our #1 idea, and you know what else? Fuck it, don’t read from your paper, make it conversational and sell it to her!

πŸ˜«πŸ¦‹πŸ˜«πŸ¦‹πŸ˜«πŸ¦‹πŸ˜«πŸ¦‹πŸ˜«πŸ¦‹πŸ˜« went my tummy.

What’s crazy is I usually don’t really care about presenting. Yeah, it kinda sucks and I get a little nervous, but for the most part I’m like, whatever let’s just get this over with. NOT. DISSSS. TIMEEE. πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€.

Each classmate went up in front of the whole class and pitched their idea to our guest – Sachi’s friend who is well known for her podcasts. Sachi was standing at her desk behind her friend. My classmates were killin it! They were mad chill and sellin it! Nobody read from their paper, shit they didn’t even bring it up with them when they got up. The passion in some of their voices was inspiring. You just knew it was something they were passionate about. Some you could tell it’s their niche in a podcast pitch. I envied how relaxed everyone was.

Because from my seat, I was a mess express. My heart was beating as if I took 2 shots of preworkout. When the person in front of me went up to pitch, I was freaking out. Holy fucking shit. I’m next. I don’t want to do this anymore. Maybe I’ll just pitch the ghost story one. But I knew I’d be annoyed of myself if I took the easy way out and didn’t pitch what I’ve always wanted to start a podcast on.

The classmate in front of me was done. Everyone clapped. Fuuuuckkkk meeeeeeeee. I screamed in my head. My hands began to sweat, I turned red, my heart was racing so fast that I thought I was going to throw up and pass out all at the same time. I decided that I had to read from my paper no matter what Sachi said. I was way too nervous. It was either read from my paper or pretend like I didn’t do the assignment.

I walked up. “So I’m just going to read from my paper….” I said. Sachi looked at me like, bruh… really…. 🀣 I started reading my pitch, and I could hear my voice trembling and cracking. Literally so embarrassing. When I got to the part explaining how I was in a toxic relationship and how I developed an eating disorder, I knew I was going to cry. It built up inside me, I could feel my eyes watering. This was the first time I ever presented to people my why. Yeah, I’ve told those closest to me, but here I was, intimidated as hell because I was pitching to a well known podcaster infront of my professor and peers. My voice got deeper (if that’s even possible) and cracked some more.

Wellllllll if you’re gonna cry you might as well cry now because everyone knows you’re gonna cry anyways. I told myself. …..K! And then bust out crying. Not even talking about like a tear or something, but legit the ugly cry where you’re trying to talk but you’re uh-uh-huh-ing trying to catch your breath. I put the paper down, no longer reading or hiding behind it. I started freestyling on why the topic is important and why women need to hear this kind’ve stuff. It all just came out like word vommit – with a mix of ugly crying of course.

Towards the end of my speech, the girl towards the front of the room where I was standing handed me tissue. Y’all, she got up out of her seat to go to the bathroom to get my paper towels πŸ˜­πŸ’˜ I thanked and her continued on. By now, Sachi was crying and the well-known podcaster was wiping away a tear or 2. I ended my rant with, “Sorry! I’m embarrassed. This is embarrassing.” Sachi and her friend quickly tried to snap me out of it saying it’s not embarrassing and that it just shows how passionate I am about the topic.

Still, I was so embarrassed. Seriously, probably one of the top 5 most embarrassing moments in my life. Everyone clapped as I sat back down and I was even more embarrassed. The insecure in me thought “Y’all are only clapping for me cuz you feel bad 😭.”

But what was even more of a FML moment was when I sat down back in my seat. The classroom is basically a lab room, so every chair had a computer infront of it. YOOOOOO, WHEN I TELL YOU I SAT DOWN AFTER MY PRESENTATION AND SAW MY DAMN REFLECTION ON THE BLACK IDLE COMPUTER SCREEN πŸ˜­πŸ’€πŸ˜­πŸ’€πŸ˜­πŸ’€πŸ˜­πŸ€£πŸ€£πŸ€£πŸ€£ THAT WAS THE MF CHERRY ON TOP OF MY EMBARRASSMENT SUNDAE πŸ˜­πŸ˜­πŸ’”. I literally look in the computer, staring at my reflection, internally Selena Gomez-ing it with the smile cry thinking “… literally why?! I hate you hahahahaahhahah why are you like this! 😫🀣” Forreal “when you look in the mirror and realize you played yourself.” My post cry computer reflection could seriously be a meme.

Anyways, I was so embarrassed that I really thought of dropping the class and taking it the next semester hahahah. But I was graduating and already applied for graduation. Dramatic. But that was really the first time I told my why. My reason. My back story.

Every single person that I’ve told that story to has literally laughed their ass off while I told it 🀣 To the point where my girls will be like “send pictures of you crying so we know its real,” “but did you cry tho πŸ‘€.” At the moment it was so embarrassing, like I truly believed there was no coming up from that 🀣🀣🀣. But now I think its hilarious.

I told Sachi I’m going to return in X amount of years as a guest speaker and tell the story of how I cried in her class to her class. By then I hope I’m doing something great in the journalism world. It’ll truly be an epic moment, and I’ll probably cry then too. 😫✌🏽

Soar High Like An Eagle

Dedicated to Paul Taylor

Days before Thanksgiving 2018, I learned through Facebook that a teacher I had as a kid passed away. I attended the same school from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and a lot of the teachers I had at Epiphany literally watched me grow for 9 years. One of those teachers was Mr.Taylor.

My older cousins and older sister also went to Epiphany, so I knew of their current and past teachers even before I had them myself. They would tell me stories about different teachers they had and what to expect if I were to be in their class. So with all that said, I knew of Mr. Taylor way before I ever had him as a substitute teacher. Once upon a time he was the 7th grade teacher (I think) for a long time. My cousins had him as a permanent homeroom teacher, but by the time I had him, a number of years had passed and he was Epiphany’s go to substitute teacher, so he was still at the school very often.

The very first time I had Mr.Taylor as a substitute teacher was in the 1st grade I think. He had the cool dude vibes with his leather jacket, could play the guitar, and had this distinct deep voice that could command a room when needed, but was pretty laid back most of the time. As a little kid I thought he was the coolest dude, and got excited when he would be substituting. I remember my 1st grade class went wild when he tried to explain how double negatives in English makes a positive statement. Probably too advanced for our little minds at the time, and I totally didn’t get it at all, but I thought it was the funniest thing because I thought he was truly messing with us. Like whatchu mean it makes it a positive statement?! I said what I said! Hahaha

When I say these teachers watched me grow, I mean that in every sense. From 5 year old lil chunky ass Marinelle who loved to participate and got the honor roll every quarter, to the 13-14 year old Marinelle who was as difficult as one could be in class, going through that moody teenager stage where my peers’ approval was way more important than school …. still getting that honor roll doeee πŸ’πŸ»β€β™€οΈ. Some of my friends from Epiphany I’ve known since I was as young as 4. I literally grew up with these people, so the friendship bonds were so tight and strong at the time that once someone in the class went hyphy, it could trigger a whole chain reaction of hell for a teacher. In fact, that’s supposedly what the class of 2009 was known for.

Anyways, I was no stranger to giving my teachers a hard time. I could literally talk to anyone. I think my teachers realized that moving my seat wasn’t gonna really do anything because I would just befriend the person next to me anyways. I was always that talkative kid. It was crazy because by the time I hit middle school, all the teachers I had had a love hate relationship with me. They hated my ass when I talked up a storm in class and refused to take their orders, but at the same time on a 1 on 1 level, I had a real connection with all of them and vented about whatever teenage things I was going through.

So when I got the news about Mr.Taylor passing away, of course I was mad sad. But also, very remorseful. Not saying I was a nuisance to him majority of the time, but me and my friends were definately a hand full. I felt deep regret for my childish ways when I was…well, a child. And I know for a fact if I were to see him within the last couple of years, he’d hold no hard feelings at all, because he really did enjoy my presence.

I thought back to that time where he was about to give me a conduct referral (supposedly something really bad that goes on your record, and it’s basically a note home that your parents have to sign to acknowledge that you were being a little shit in school.) I don’t even remember what it was for, but he said he was going to “write me up.” I was pissed. Livid. Embarrassed infront of the whole class. Luckily, I had to alter serve for a funeral, and had to leave the class anyways. I got up. He asked where I thought I was going. In a sassy tone I said that I had to alter serve and if he could write my conduct referral so I could leave. He told me to come back during recess so he could write it.

When I came during recess I still had that same stank attitude. I had too much pride to apologize for my actions. I was expecting a conduct referral, but instead, he told me he was going back on his word and decided not to give me one, and just gave me a pep talk instead. Instant mood changer. I was so thankful because on the outside I was trying to act all hard with the “yeah whatever who cares, write me up” attitude, but in reality, I was scared shitless to bring that home to my parents to sign hahaha. I thanked him, and always remembered how he did me that solid.

I bottled the sadness and remorse I felt inside. 5 days after he passed away, I had a dream.In my dream, I was talking to April, Lucas, and John, some of my best friends from Epiphany. We were all talking about how we were going to meet up for Mr. Taylor’s funeral, and what a shock it was that he had passed away.

I departed from the group and found Mr. Talor working on a car. For some reason in the dream, I was talking to him as if he wasn’t him.

I told him,”I can’t believe Mr.Taylor died…”

He replied saying that yeah, it was crazy to believe.

I went on and burst into tears, “I just wish I could tell him how sorry I am for being such a difficult kid back then,” by this time it was one of those moments when you’re crying in your dream but also in real life. I was sobbing in my sleep but didn’t realize until after the dream.

He reassured me that Mr.Taylor (Yes, talking in 3rd person) doesn’t even care about or think about all that and that it was fine. He kinda down played it like I was feeling remorse for nothing. He went on to change the subject and we talked about something different.

I woke up. My pillow wet, my face tear stained. I didn’t end up going to his service like I had planned to because it was during one of my classes. But I bet it was a great one, cuz he was a really great guy.

I would like to believe that that dream was more than just my conscience manifesting, but that it was Mr.Taylor’s “goodbye” message to me. Whatever it was, it brought me peace of mind.

“I’m a Writer”

I think back to an exercise I had to do in my Women and Gender GWAR class my last semester of college. The “GWAR” class is one of the core classes you have to take for your major/ minor that is heavily writing-based. It was maybe the first or second day of class, can’t be exact it seemed so long ago… Anyways, it was one of the very first class meetings. My Professor, Nan, stood in front of the class and said, “Ok, I want you to introduce yourself to the person next to you by saying, ‘Hello, my name is ….. , and I’m a writer.”

What a simple exercise to do. My classmates went about introducing themselves as writers with a smile, probably thinking, “Ok, whatever.” However, I hesitated. Saying “I’m a writer,” hits different and has a completely different meaning when that’s actually what you want to be identified as. But I turned to a classmate and gave my quick, “Hi, I’m Marinelle, and I’m a writer.” I could feel myself getting hot and turning red. I felt embarrassed that I was taking this exercise way too personally, but it really made me reflect on why.

I always get self-conscious about calling myself a “writer” for a lot of reasons. For one, I feel weird calling myself a writer if I’m not getting paid to write. When I tell people I have a blog, I feel a little shy and awkward, knowing that my online presence is nowhere close to where I want it to be. A lot of the time, I’m writing about things I’m passionate about, or experiences and stories that I think can help someone in some kind of way. At the very least, I want people to relate to what I write. From the get I’ve told people that my blog entries and the stories I share would probably never make it on your local TV News station. This ain’t breaking news. These are your everyday life stories.

My Professor went on to say that the point of the exercise was for us to be comfortable with calling ourselves “writers.” She explained that no matter how good or bad we are at writing, no matter how many eyes we have on our work, whether it’s for the public or for ourselves, that at the end of it all, we write, so therefore we are writers. It was a boost for the class to be confident in our writing, since the class was basically a writing class. Nan stressed that we’re all writers at different stages, and we all have more to learn.

Later on in the semester during our 1 on 1 meeting, I brought up how that exercise really hit home for me. I told her that it made me realize that if I can’t even confidently say that I’m a writer out loud, how do I expect others to see me in that light? We went on to talk about my research paper, and all the little goals I had with it. She assured me that I was doing great in the class, and that she was impressed with my writing abilities. She went on to tell me that I’m such a pleasure to talk to 1 on 1, but in class I’m so disconnected and almost not present, in a sense that I don’t want to contribute to the conversation when I know the answer. I laughed because that’s typical me, full of personality when you get me talking, but totally unbothered and minding my business if not. Nan encouraged me to apply for the Women Gender Studies Conference that was going to take place at Fresno State. I took her advice and applied – mostly because it was extra credit if I showed proof of just applying. A few months later, I was selected to speak at the conference about my paper focusing on the Body Positive Movement.

I get so in my head about writing, that it is beyond writer’s block. I have so many ideas and topics that I want to cover. It gets to the point where I go over a possible blog post in my head over and over again – how I would start it off, what topics to cover, what my point would be, what correlations to make, etc, that I exhaust myself. It seems like I write it a thousand times in my head already, that when it gets time to actually writing it out, I’m over it. And that’s partly because I’m high key a perfectionist, but at the same time a scared lazy ass bitch. I want my content to be worth the read, and sometimes I think, “Maybe this idea isn’t as good as you think,” and I talk myself out of writing it. Butttttttttttt, I gotta stop that. I am a writer. If not now, then when? If I’m writing into outer space and nobody actually cares what I say except my best friends and those closest to me, then so be it. Enough of trying to perfect everything. I always say I’m going to be consistent but end up fallin’ off. A lot of changes have been happening in my life and I feel like I should write about them because I know there’s people out there struggling with the same things. So stay tuned for my rants and quarter-life-crisis’s. You know that feeling where you feel like you’re turning to the next chapter in your book of life? Well that’s me. My brain’s in shambles thinking about life decisions.

With that said, I’m Marinelle Cabillo, and I’m a writer.

Kids Club

Blue carpet with colorful crayons that not only was on the floor, but also covered 40% of the wall. TV to my left, doorway with a half door to my right. If I look straight ahead I see the random column, also covered in that blue carpet.

This was my view for 4 years. I got my first job at the Kids Club in 2014, and it closed down officially June 1, 2018.

The start of this year, I got a new job at a preschool/ daycare, but I still worked at the Kids Club on Saturdays. Even when I had a new job, I couldn’t fully cut ties with my “roots.” There were rumors of the Kids Club closing, but I honestly didn’t think they would follow through, or if they did, it would be waaaayy after I graduated and have a Journalism related job. Wrong.

As I worked my last Kids Club shift, I started reminiscing on the last 4 years. All the people I met, all the parents I got close to, all the children I got to see grow right before my eyes, and the memories I’ll never get to relive. CHEEEEEESEEEEE. Yeah, I’m being cheesy as hell. But let me break it down…

This job was my new start in 2014. I was on my second semester in community college, I got myself out of a toxic relationship a month prior to getting hired, I just declared my major as “Early Childhood Education,” and this was my first job. Not only my first job ever, but also related to the field I wanted to get into. It was the start to my beginning.

When I first started working, the group of co-workers there were like my family. Even though we all went our separate ways, there’s a couple that I keep in touch with often and send non-stop memes to. I met so many people while working in the Kids Club. I noticed that I got close to a lot of the parents. On many occasions, I was the listening ear. Though I was (still am) young, many mothers looked to me for advice, to vent, to tell about their day or life in general. I built a lot of friendships with the mothers that used the Kids Club. I’ve heard their stories, I’ve heard their struggles, I’ve heard their side, I’ve heard (supposedly) the other side, I’ve heard what they’ve been through, I’ve heard the nasty drama they went through, I’ve heard their insecurities, I’ve heard the deepest parts of them that they so eagerly wanted to reveal and felt comfortable revealing to me.

I’ve always been all about the tea and beef. πŸΈβ˜• Ironically, I try to avoid drama within my own life, but when it’s someone else’s drama I’m like YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, SPILL THE TEA RIIIGHTTTT NOWWWWW, UPDATE MEEEEEE. I guess I’ve always been interested in other people’s lives, but not only in a nosey way, but also because I want to help somehow or give some type of input. A mom from the Kids Club would tell me all the time how she valued me as a friend because how wise I am for my age, and how I keep it real with her regardless of how she would react.

I’m realizing now that maybe this job steered me into the path I’m at now. I knew I ALWAYS wanted to write. I declared “Early Childhood Education” as my major, but I felt like I was settling. I love kids. I’ve always been good with kids. So 18 years old, fresh out of high school, in community college with an undeclared major, I’m like…. fuck it, just declare child development because you know you’re good at it. But deep down I knew I was taking the easy road – Not saying at all that it’s an easy job. I still work with children as I work towards my degree, and it is no easy task. But for me personally, I knew that I chose to play it safe because I was too scared to actually follow through with writing.

But how would I make a living off writing? What if it flops? Who even cares what I have to say? What if people think my work sucks? What writing major can take me further and open up more than one path?

But working at the Kids Club also made me realize that I was in the wrong major. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the kids, but something in me was like, you know… this is a great job for now, but you know that you’ll feel unfulfilled if you stay in this major because you’re too scared to take a chance with something else…

So I switched…. And I switched….. then I was undeclared…. then I switched again. And found myself in journalism. I’m glad I took many classes to see what I really was into. But for me, I always had to have a plan. Where would this major take me? What other opportunities can it get me if I don’t get that particular job I have in mind for this major? But at this point I was like: bro, this is the start of my 3rd year in community college, I need to transfer already. Yeah, Journalism, yeah, writing, sure, ok, DECLARED. I think I declared journalism as my major before I even took classes on it. I would over think every major I went into (and switched out of), but it’s funny that the major I stuck with, was a no brainer. I didn’t want to over think because I felt like I wasted a lot of time doing that. And partly, I was tired of switching. I wanted to pick something and transfer out already. I figured as long as it’s writing, I’ll figure it out. I was always uncertain if I was on the right track. And if I’m being real, there were many times where I was close to switching back to Early Childhood Education because I was afraid of the unknown.

It probably wasn’t until transferring to SF State that I realized this was for me. I realized journalism didn’t mean only hard news. Journalism was anything that I was interested in, with sources to back it up. People think journalism is just writing and doing breaking news, but it teaches so many other skills that can really take you down multiple paths. I realized that I’ve been doing journalism all along. My interest in other people’s lives and wanting to know their emotions / situations were pointing to journalism this whole time. In the beginning I wanted to write for entertainment, made up stories that I concoct in my head. But the more classes I took, I found myself wanting to use my work to put out a message. I wanted to inspire, to inform, to make some type of difference in the world even if my audience are a few individuals. What I wanted to do was right in front of me the whole time.

When I think of the Kids Club closing I get sad. I feel like it was such a big part of my life. I did a lot of growing and met a lot of people there. 4 years, I did a lot of thinking, self reflecting, crying, laughing, stressing, etc, in those 4 walls covered in blue carpet with crayons.

The Kids Club will always remind me of our love story. That was truly the beginning. When Christian and I first started talking I’d be trapped in the Kids Room while he worked front desk. I’d look forward to those “bathroom breaks” he’d take, and I would so happen to be standing at the door so we could talk. πŸ˜‚ I fell inlove with my co-worker, and we have the gym to thank for it.

I knew I wouldn’t be working at a gym daycare forever. I knew this day would come, where I had to let go of my first job. I’m such an over thinker that I can’t help but look at the last 4 years like a movie. All the things I went through, how much I grew, all the shit that happened in those 4 years, it’s crazy!

Just the thought of knowing that the room doesn’t exist anymore makes me sigh. Time is changing and time waits for no one. It’s like the end of an era almost. I guess the universe has a way of forcing you to move on and do better things in your life. I was always hesitant to find a new job or move on. It seemed like everyone I worked with found better opportunities but I was too afraid to find mine. I was afraid of the unknown. I didn’t want things to change because if it changed, that means I’m back to square 1, taking a chance on my decisions. And I didn’t want to do that. But at the end of the 2017 I knew it was time to start another chapter. I found the job I’m currently in and started January 2018, while still working the Kids Club on Saturdays. Not 1 month into my new job, and talks about closing the Kids Club started going around. And here we are 5 months later and it’s closed for good. I felt like it was meant to be. That the universe was like “bruh you ain’t neva gonna leave, we gotta close this shit for you to leave.” πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Change will happen regardless. My last shift, most of the parents took down my number for future babysitting. I looked at the walls, covered in drawings. Some of the artists of the drawings have moved away for years already. I sifted through the DVD ruins, and got the movies that I brought throughout the years. My “Kids Club” movie was over.

I told Christian that we had to take a picture inside since that room had so much meaning to me and our relationship. We got one of the new workers to take our picture, *snap* *snap* *snap*, 20 snaps later and our Photoshoot was over. I turned off the lights and closed the half door behind me. That’s a wrap.

Photo above taken by Manager B.P.