Joy & Accomplishment

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

“Healing old hurts can only begin when the children we once were feel safe enough to speak their hearts to the adults we are now.”

—L.R. Knost

• When was the last time you felt nothing but joy? What was going on around you? How can you bring that feeling back?

Right now, my kids are fighting like cats and dogs, so it’s really hard to remember what moments of pure joy feel like. 🙃

I do not think it’s the most recent, but what immediately comes to mind is swimming with my friend Ayinde on Manhattan Beach. It was just around sunset, and Ayinde had been practicing swimming having just learned. I had brought a waterproof camera with me, and was snapping shots as the sun set. The waves were large and warm, but were not violent. They moved us in a gentle rocking motion up and down once we got past the breakers, and we laid on our backs and just floated until it got dark. It was wonderful.

I’d love to go back.

• What have you not accomplished yet this year that you feel is important that you do before 2021 ends? Why is it so important to you?

I’d really like to get the two books that I’m working on published.

For one of them, I have a 2-month deadline with a photography partner, and so I feel like that one is going to be easily accomplished and done.

The other I have been working on for years. It’s actually 99% done, I just have to take the time to polish it and get it estimated for publication. I just feel like I am constantly stretched too thin by client projects, and never have enough time for my own work. But my own work doesn’t bring in the funds I need to survive.

Goals & Gratitude

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

“Forgive the past.
It is over.
Learn from it and let go.
People are constantly changing and growing.
Do not cling to a limited, disconnected, negative image of a person in the past.
See that person now.
Your relationship is always alive and changing.”
― Brian Weiss

• What do you do every day to get closer to your goals? If you’re not satisfied with your answer, ask yourself, what SHOULD you do daily to get closer to your goals?

I claim I want to be healthier and more at peace. But I’m not working out enough, nor am I taking enough time to meditate. I’m not even coming to this class often enough. I’ve been prioritizing work over everything, and I’m not even getting paid properly right now.

I need to make sure I am active. I promised someone I would, but haven’t been. Even when Karate is cancelled, like today, I need to make sure I do something. I need to get up early and meditate and pray. I need to get to the beach and down to the water more. I need to prioritize myself and not work.

• What are you most thankful for? How do you show your gratitude?

Right now, I’m grateful for the help and support of those around me. I’m grateful for the little messages, the comments, the notes. Every day I make a gratitude list before I go to bed. It helps me to reset and remember everything that happened throughout the day. Sometimes because of my trauma, I don’t remember things the way the actually happened. The gratitude list helps me to reset some of that.

Habits, Priorities, Looking Forward, and Forgiveness.

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What habit would you most like to break? What habit do you wish to
create?

I think I’d like to break the habit of absorbing what other people say about me when they do not have love for me. I soak hatred up so readily, even when I’ve been given a ton of love and the hatred is only a tiny portion of what I receive. As soon as the hatred comes, it will affect me, irritate me, and ruin other good things in my life. This bothers me.

I’d love to recreate a healthy workout habit. It’s tough because I feel like I’m always trying to play catchup, fitting exercise and walks and meditation into the cracks of my schedule. I know that’s no way to live, but I always feel like I’m in survival mode and don’t know how to break that cycle for myself.

• What are your top priorities? What keeps you motivated to accomplish
your goals?

Right now, my priorities are my kids, and saving up for whatever the next step is. It really feels like I’m in a bit of holding pattern in a lot of ways. Amazing opportunities have come through and I’m taking advantage of them, but they’re all local and tied to this space. So I’m listening and working on being content here.

I’m also working on my stress level. As the weather warms, that means I need to be getting out and hitting the beach and the forest more. It means eating properly and on time. It means paying attention to my mental health even when I’m busy.

• What are you looking forward to in the next 30 days? 90 days?

I had to look up when those would be. I don’t usually have the bandwidth to plan more than a week in advance.

I’m really looking forward to being a lot more active outside. I want to be at the beach a ton. I want to travel. I’m hoping restrictions get lifted soon so I can visit my parents.

• Is it easier to forgive yourself or someone who has wronged you? Why?

It is much easier to forgive other people, because I do not give myself enough worth. I know myself intimately, and I’m very hard on myself. I find it easy to forgive other people because I don’t know their entire situations, but I know mine.

Activities & Hateful Comments

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• Name an activity you hate but pretend you like to stay in the good graces of friends or family. Why does it matter to you?

Sometimes the exchange of my kids with my ex is harder than I let on. Lately it’s been much easier, but especially when the divorce was fresh, it was really really hard. Old, angry feelings would arise and dominate every thought, making it tough to relax or even get through it at all. But I had to grit my teeth, force myself to relax, and smile.

It matters, because it’s important to my kids. They need the stability. They need to know that their mother and I are on the same page. They need to know that no matter what, they’ll be loved. They know that, and that makes it all worth it.

• How do you respond to insensitive or hateful comments in a group setting? Tell us about the time you failed to speak up or a time you did.

I get a ton of hateful comments in a lot of public settings online. It’s slowed down a bit this days, but it really used to bother me a whole lot. What people think of me is something I think about often, often in really unhealthy ways.

I remember reading that Martin Luther King Jr. used to save all the hate mail and death threats that he got in a box, and so I started doing the same. I created a separate Twitter account that was dedicated to just that, and I would post screenshots of the hate mail I got there.

After a while, it got really depressing, but a close friend reminded me that I also get a lot of other messages that are much more positive and kind, and that I should save those too. I created a Twitter account for that as well. And somehow, the good messages always outweigh the bad.

Geeks, Luck, Skills, Aspirations, and Being Somewhere Else.

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• Are you a geek? What it something your are completely passionate about?

I’m a complete geek about design. And honestly it’s hard to turn off sometimes. For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been completely immersed in design, and it means that everywhere I look, I see things that are designed. Virtually everything that people have created has been designed in some way. But that also means I also see a lot of things that are designed badly, which can be a kind of torture. In design classes, you learn about something called kerning, which is the study of space between letters. And now, I see bad kerning everywhere I look. Before I learned about it, I had just walked around in complete ignorance, and it didn’t bother me at all.

• Is love luck, or is it designed? Explain why you think so.

I think love is luck to start with. The person you happen to meet, a friend of a friend, someone you’re randomly paired with on an app, but I think it rapidly becomes more and more designed as you go on. I think that some people have a natural inherent connection, but I also think that it’s something you have to work at as well. Love that lasts a long time takes work and effort. You take the skills you’ve learned, and apply them to a person. I think there’s beauty in that.

• What is one skill you already have that you’d like to improve this year?

I really want to be a more dedicated artist. I feel like I’m a good artist that has flashes of inspiration and episodes of art. I want to be more consistent about it.

• When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? How do you feel about what you wanted to do now?

When I was young, I wanted to own a junkyard! My father and I used to go to junkyards when I was kid, both to pull parts of the old cars so he could fix our aging Jeep Wagoneer, but also to explore.

The junkyards would have lots of really old cars, with gigantic chrome bumpers and huge tail fins, and to me they looked like spaceships. Owning a junkyard seemed like the perfect place, because people would drop things off for free, and I would get to sell them!

I don’t think I’d be terribly happy doing it now, junkyards are dirty, polluted places. I really love having trees and woods and fresh air. Junkyards are still fascinating places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live in one.

• Is there somewhere else you’d rather be right now? What are the good parts of where you are right now?

I’d really like to be on a beach right now. Somewhere with warm soft breezes, with water I can swim in, trees to string a hammock up in, and doze.

There is some really beautiful parts about where I am now, though. Spring is coming to Baltimore, and everything is budding and blooming. The weather is warm but not yet hot, and the nights are still nice and cool. I can have the windows open, which I love, and the scents of all the flowers blooming in my backyard are filling my house. There is always somewhere else I could be instead, but being here is pretty nice right now.

• What is something that makes you smile without fail? What always brightens your mood, no matter how you’re feeling?

Sunsets always brighten my mood. No matter how I’m feeling, how tough my day has been, or whatever I’m going through, taking a moment to watch the sunset is always something to makes me feel so good.

I have an app on my phone that reminds me when Golden Hour is approaching, which is when the sun dips low right before sunset and turns everything to gold. It’s been wonderful watching that time get further and further back into the evening as spring comes sweeping in.

Life Lessons, and Celebration

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What important life lesson did you learn the hard way?

I think I didn’t really know how much having kids changes the way a relationship works. I absolutely adore my kids, and I’m glad there here, and I would never trade anything for them.

I did not anticipate how unready me and my partner at the time were for the stresses of parenting, though. I wish I had known the value of therapy, counselling, and support networks much earlier.

I am glad I know those things now, and my kids are definitely healthier for it.

• Do you celebrate yourself enough? List 5 things you are excited to have
accomplished in the last year.

I surely do not. 😂

Let’s see. In the past year, I managed to get my housing situation under control. I completed a bunch of new art commissions. I’m bringing in lots of new work for my business. I’m being much more intentional about my exercise and health. I’m choosing moments of peace when I need it.

Deepening values, The Gardener and the Flower, and 6 Months of Getting Better

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What has surviving a pandemic taught me to appreciate or value deeper?

Hugs. I love them, and I really feel like I took them for granted so much. Not being able to access human touch has been hard.

I’ve definitely value my health more, and have been taking the time to work on it and make sure I am more fit.

The time I do get to hang out with people, I’ve been appreciating a lot more. I am much less inclined to be on my phone at all.

I’ve been appreciating the outdoors so much. I feel like I’m so much more in-tune with the weather, and get out in it when it’s pleasant. I took that for granted so much more.

• Are you a good receiver? How does it make you feel when people do things for you or buy you gifts? If it’s hard for you to receive, why is that?

I’m a terrible receiver, but I crave it.

Whenever someone does anything for me, or gives me a really thoughtful gift, or even is considerate of me, I melt completely. I tear up, and just don’t know what to do.

I think this is because normally I partner or am around people who tend to take more than they give. It feels more familiar to me, because I am someone who will give until there’s nothing left. I find joy in being useful and appreciated, and giving like that often brings that feeling. It makes me happy. But many times, if paired with someone who is constantly taking, I end up being used.

Because I am so frequently paired in friendships and partnerships like that, I crave being taken care of and catered to, because it nearly never happens. But I’m also scared of it, because being taken care of requires a certain level of letting go and trusting someone. And being with people who constantly take has made me wary.

During the class, someone asked “In your relationships, are you more often the gardener, or the flower?”.

I am almost always the gardener. But I’m learning to be the flower.

Melony gave the following advice during class on how to learn to be a flower:

  1. Set your standards and boundaries
  2. Treat yourself the way you expect others to treat you
  3. Teach them how to treat you
  4. Spend time only with people who make you feel good and/or special

• What has gotten better in your life in the last six months? How
have the improvements added to your life?

I got vaccinated! I have new contracts for work. I am close to signing the contract on my house. I’ve grown friendships with people who care about me and make sure I’m ok.

All this has put me more at ease, and taken some of the stress off of the anxiety of the pandemic.

Saying No, 20-Year-Old Me, Procrastination, and Purpose

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What things in life do you need to start saying no to? What do you need to start saying yes to?

I need to say no to immediate gratification things that don’t have long-term benefits, and say yes to things that last longer. Watching some funny videos might make me feel a little better, but taking a nap would make me feel better for the longer term. Having a snack might make me feel a little better, but cooking a full meal would make me feel even better.

• If the 20-year-old version of yourself could see what you are up to today,
what would they think of you? What type things would they say about your life?

When I was 20, I was beginning my last year of college. I was falling in love with the person I am now divorced from, I was bright eyed about travelling, and art, and living on my own.

I think they would be completely shocked about where I am now. I think it might be such a shock that it would send 20-year-old me spinning into depression. I definitely was not as strong as I am right now.

I think they would be proud of me being able to make it through, but they definitely would not expect this my heartache to be part of my life. They would be proud of me for continuing to make art. They would be proud of what I’ve made with art. They would be surprised at how little music I make these days.

I think they would be worried about me.

There is some of that bright-eyedness that I’m choosing to hold on to and grow. I was recently interviewed as an artist, and the interviewer was marvelling at all the things I was doing, and asked what I didn’t do. Off the top of my head, I said “I don’t know how to surf, but I’m learning this summer!” The interviewer’s eyes lit up, and they said “You’re living everyone’s dream!”

I had to stop and think about that a bit. There is a lot I have to be proud of. I need to let myself feel that more.

• How does procrastination show up in your life? What type of things are you putting off until “later” or the “right” time?

Procrastination manifests for me as overly planning. I won’t buy things, do things, or create things unless I have done a ton of planning. Most of the time, planning is a good thing, it helps me from making foolish decisions, but sometimes it really holds me back from being able to get things done on time.

Sometimes it’s just an email or a message back. But I’ll take all this time fretting about it.

• What tasks do you find make you feel most in your purpose or
element? What about them feels so right to you?

Definitely creating. Especially logos. I feel like all pistons are firing, like I am using my whole creative self to put those things together. Being able to use my whole self, especially at the beginning, is such a great feeling.

Artist Interview by OCA Mocha

Interview by Andrew Eisenhart of OCA Mocha (@OCAMocha)

From OCA Mocha:

“Benjamin “The Young Savage” is a graphic artist, illustrator and independent abolitionist whose art often uses themes of love, cultural understanding, and futurism to appeal to and inspire the imagination of diverse audiences. Through his art, Benjamin facilitates open-mined conversation about marginalized cultures with the hopes of educating the public. Benjamin is also the president and founder of Zerflin, an independent design business founded in 2000. We hope you enjoy the interview!”

Challenges, Nurturing, Priorities, and Boundaries

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What have been your top 3 challenges in the past 6 months? Are you happy with how you handled/are handling them? If not, what could you/would you have done differently?

I think the most challenging thing I dealt with was the uncertainty around my house. Nothing else really came close to that.

Shellpoint, my mortgage company, was threatening to foreclose on me, and kick me out of my house, and I didn’t really know what to do. They kept sending me more and more threatening letters, which compounded everything I owed up, until the Unpaid Amount I owed was over $40,000, more than the house is even worth.

I had gone into bankruptcy to try to delay the foreclosure process, but the bankruptcy was now over, and they were clawing for their money. There was no way I could possibly pay $40,000. I didn’t know what to do.

My bankruptcy lawyer told me not to worry, that because my mortgage was included in my bankruptcy, they could not go after me for the house, and that I could just walk away whenever I was kicked out.

I didn’t really want to be kicked out, but I just did my best, and started packing a box every month or so in preparation for the inevitable.

Although this was really stressful and definitely added to my anxiety, it also gave me a sense of peace and something to do about it, instead of just sitting and waiting for the sheriff to show up at my door.

Surprisingly, Shellpoint sent me a modification to the mortgage at the 11th hour. It’s a terrible modification; a balloon mortgage (which means I would pay a gigantic lump sum at the end of the life of the mortgage), but it does mean that if I make monthly payments, I can stay.

What did I do? I was patient, and prioritized my own peace, and promised myself I would roll with whatever punches that came. I think I did pretty well. Now I am in a place where I can come and go on my terms.

• How well do you take care of and nurture yourself? What is your self-care routine like?

Lately, I’ve been working on a morning routine that I do when I don’t have to rush off somewhere, which is about half of my days roughly.

I get up, without guilt for however long I did or didn’t sleep.

If it’s a day I don’t have Karate, I’ll do a short workout.

I’ll take my temperature, weight, and take a hot shower.

I’ll light some incense, turn on some guided meditation, stretch in honour of my grandmother, and do some breathing exercises.

I’ll water and check on my plants.

I’ll freshen up, take care of my skin, and get dressed.

I’ll make myself a hearty breakfast, feed Auta and change her litter, and tidy up the kitchen while I listen to big band music.

• What are your top priorities in 2021? What things are you
determined to achieve this year?

I want to learn to surf! Even if I can’t travel, I’m going to drive out to Ocean City and take classes.

I can’t afford one on my own, but I want to buy a jetski with friends of mine.

I want to go camping at least once a month once its warm enough to do so. I have everything I need to do it, I might as well.

During the summer, I want to go to the beach every other week.

I would love to get my business back to the point where I can hire someone again.

I want to publish my first book. I want to get the rough draft for my second book done.

I want to see my parents.

• When was the last time you felt the need to assert your
boundaries with someone? How did feeling the need to assert
them make you feel? How did the person handle it?

I recently had to tell someone specifically how they had let me down, and hadn’t been there when I had needed them.

I felt awful about doing it, even bringing up the topic felt really terrible to me. But I knew that I had to be open and honest about how I felt, and if they did not respect those boundaries and me asking for what I needed, then they might not be good to have around.

They reacted in a way I totally did not expect, with tenderness and apologies, and promising to do better next time. I had been bracing myself for admonishment and for defensiveness, but it never came.