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.

Discipline, Exploring, Mistakes in Parenting, and Hobbies

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

• Am I self-disciplined? How can I motivate myself more to accomplish the things I want to do?

I am pretty disciplined about doing work, but I am not great when it comes to prioritizing. I can be very disciplined about steaming through a project, but trying to pick if a certain project is more important than another project is a lot harder for me.

The best solution I’ve come up with is trying to set aside more dedicated time for me to work, and making time for more work so that I can achieve all I set out to do.

• Am I exploring and experimenting enough in my life? How can I be more
adventurous and try something new?

I really feel like life has been a bit boring lately, but as I’m working through some anxiety and depression, those boring routine things can help with stability. I do exploring a bit on my own, going out to explore abandoned buildings or exploring parks and forests. Those are moments of peace for me, they ground me and bring me back to center.

I’m hoping I can be more adventurous once I can travel again.

• What is a recent failure or mistake I have made? What have I learned from it?

My son Arion has started therapy recently, and I have had a couple meetings with his therapist. It’s made me realize that some of the ways I parent him aren’t always the best.

Sometimes I’ll put pressure on him to get things done that just don’t really work with his personality. He needs time to relax and calm down, just like I do. Also, he does well with lists, but has trouble keeping everything that he has to do in order in his head. So encouraging him to get things done step by step and writing them down has been helpful.

I’m grateful I’m learning these things now, so that I can learn to be a better parent.

• What are my hobbies? What is it about my hobbies that I enjoy?

My hobbies are drawing, writing, photography, music, martial arts, and riding motor vehicles like snowmobiles, motorcycles, and jet skis. I’ve not really had a chance to ride horses, but I think I’d like that too.

I think for the first ones, I love the creation of things. For the last ones, I love the movement. I love the wind in my hair, I love seeing new horizons, working my body. I think distilled down, those two things are the most important to me. If I can create or if I can move, I’ll probably enjoy it.

Crying, Fictional Characters, Admiration, and Importance

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

• When was the last time you cried? Have you healed from that experience? If not, what will help you move forward?

The last time I cried was during a movie, I teared up at the end of Rogue One. The kids and I have been working through every Star Wars movie. I know it’s not super significant and earth-moving, but I think it’s important to remain sensitive, and if you feel sad, to let it out. It always feels good to recover from crying.

• Name 3 fictional characters that remind you of yourself. Why do you resonate with them?

Cliff Secord from The Rocketeer. I relate to him just because he always tries to do the right thing, is passionate, caring, but he’s also kind of goofy. He trips over himself, makes clumsy mistakes, but makes up for it in heart.

Frank Hopkins from Hidalgo. Frank is someone caught between different cultures. He is half white, half Sioux. To survive in the growing whiteness of America, he has to hide a lot of his heritage and background, while still honouring both sides of himself. He then travels halfway around the world, and finds he can connect with the Bedouins, and anyone he chooses to open up to.

Chiron Harris from Moonlight. Chiron’s sensitivity and pain are something I related to, as well as his healing around food and water. I had a difficult childhood as well, and both his moments of peace and rage felt very familiar to me. How he was reminded to reopen that sensitivity felt similar to how I’ve felt lately.

• What qualities do you think your friends admire most about you?

This hasn’t always been able for me to see, but as I learn to love myself, I am learning more and more what those things are.

I am kind and generous, sensitive and strong, reliable and funny, courageous and passionate, deep keeled and consistent, and very very open.

• What has become more important to me in the last month? What has become less important?

My appreciation for being home has become more important to me. I think the constant need to be out and be around people has become less important. Instead, I’m investing more in specific people instead of groups, and I’m learning to have a deeper appreciation for being alone.

Learning from Work, 3-Hour Dinners, and Being Described

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

Note: I noticed the Mailchimp hasn’t been working for a few months, so if this is the first email you’ve gotten in a while, that’s why. I have been writing, and you can see an archive here.

• Other than money, what have you gained from work?

Working taught me a lot of things. When I was little, I go over to ᓄᒧᓱᒻ Tommy Einish’s cabin, and he would give me a 1$ coin for chopping firewood. When I became a teenager, Oksana Choulik hired me to paint the ageing McGill Subarctic Research Station. She paid me well, but the work was really hard, and my shoulders and back ached every day. I got an allowance from my parents when I was young, and always managed it reasonably well, but the hard labour really showed me how much each dollar was worth. After I started working, I held on to money a little more instead of spending it so easily.

When I worked my first design job at Huggins Printing after I graduated college, my boss, Chris Gustin, knew I was building Zerflin on the side, so he shared a nugget of advice that I never forgot: He told me to put aside 30% of all profits in a savings account for taxes, and put aside another 10% in a different savings account for emergencies with the company. It has helped me so much.

• Of all living people, who would you most like to have a three-hour dinner with?

This is a really tough question, because I am missing so many people in the middle of this pandemic. So I might as well just list them.

I’d love to have dinner with my parents. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them, and it really hurts to be so disconnected from them. I had plans to see them more than usual beginning in 2020 because I wanted to make sure I was joining them on trips to my home village. Instead, I haven’t even been able to visit them in their home in Ontario.

I’d love to have dinner with my ex-girlfriend Marilyne. We’ve remained really good friends, and still have a lot of love for each other. I would just love to see her and spend time with her again.

I want to have dinner with my best friend, Ayinde. I haven’t heard from him for a while now, and I worry about him. Communication seems to have gotten worse with the pandemic. It’s strange because even though there is more actual time to do things, daily life’s exhaustion is also heightened, making it harder to plan and connect. I think I’ll make it a point to send him a Marco Polo this week.

• How would your parents describe you? Were they accurate?

My parents have described me in a bunch of different ways. When I was young I remember my mom describing me as both conniving and recalcitrant (on two different occasions), because I had to look up what the words meant in our giant dictionary. I don’t think those were meant to be positive; at least I didn’t take them as positive at the time. It stung once I figured out what they meant.

Today, I wear the recalcitrant badge with honour; I question authority at every step, and make sure that the authority has the best interest of the people in mind.

Lately my parents have described me in much more positive ways. They have talked about how they’re proud of me, and those kinds of things help to heal old hurt. But also, growing into myself and learning to define myself and who I want to be has helped as well.

Biggest Fears, Overwhelming Anxiety, Inhibitions, and Personal Possessions

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

• What was your biggest fear as a child? What is your biggest fear as an adult? Are they connected in any way?

When I was a kid, I was afraid of a lot of things. But, I was afraid of letting people down the most. I didn’t want my parents to not be proud of me. I wanted my teachers to be proud of me. I wanted my friends to know I was loyal to them. I even remember crying when I lost a stuffed raccoon that I used to carry around everywhere, because I felt like I had let him down.

As an adult, those fears carry over. I don’t like the idea of not being there when my friends need me. I try to be the best romantic partner I can be, the best parent I can be, the best business owner I can be, and really try hard to hold myself to a high standard.

This means that sometimes I have trouble letting go and relaxing. It feels like there’s always something I should be improving or getting better.

It also means that whenever someone does compliment me, it melts me into a puddle. My father told me he was proud of me after watching an online art opening that I had this week, and it meant so so much to me. Because I’m so hard on myself, any bit of gentleness from people deeply affects me.

• Is there anything that gives you overwhelming anxiety? How do you control it?

I fear getting ground up in the gigantic machine that is the United States. Failing at my business and getting sucked under with taxes and bills. Being chewed up by an unjust incarceration system or abused by the police. I fear the ever-present violence that surrounds me; it feels both reminiscent of home, but I also know it’s traumatic to constantly be in. I fear raising my kids here, and worry about how it’s affecting them.

This is how I control it. Journaling, being in this class. I control it with therapy. I control it with meditation and going outside into the woods. Sometimes I control it by sleeping more.

• What are some of your goals for the year? What obstacles stand between you and accomplishing them?

I want to get on top of my taxes. I don’t want them hanging over my head anymore. I want to save for travel, so that when things do open up, I can just go. I want to learn how to invest properly. I want to set up proper retirement accounts so that I don’t have to worry about it in the future.

Most of these are finance related. My biggest obstacle before was knowledge and not knowing enough and not being connected enough to the people with the knowledge, but late last year I fired my accountant and hired a new one. I’m working through it with a new amazing accountant, which I’m excited about.

• If you had fewer inhibitions, how would you behave differently? Be specific.

I don’t feel like I have very many inhibitions anymore, and I am very much myself in very raw ways. I think what I’m working on now is twofold: looking at what I can do with the way I am, and learning to the aspects of myself that I want to expand on and grow. I feel like now is the time for nurturing and planting.

• What are some of your most prized personal possessions? Why are they so important to you?

I think probably my photos. Photos of myself when I was a kid, photos as a teenager, photos of my children. They help remind me of where I was, where I am, and where I can go.

Daily Ease, Purposeful Relaxing, and Numbness

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

• How can you make your daily life feel easier? Think of your daily morning and after work routine as well as your workday.

I’ve actually already been thinking about this a bit this week. I placed my first online order for groceries this week, which arrives tomorrow.

It’s been snowing and icy here, and nearly all of my outside obligations have been cancelled, and they kids are with their mother this week. So, I don’t really have to leave the house.

I’ve been doing this elaborate process every other week for groceries, bundling up, spraying down grocery carts, and avoiding people in the aisles. And it takes up so much time. From driving to the store, parking, gathering everything, driving home, and then storing everything, it sometimes takes up to 3 hours of my day.

If it goes well, I’m going to try doing it more. If I order more than $35 of food, the delivery is free.

• Do you spend more time being busy or being productive? What’s the difference to you? What does your life look like when you’re being productive?

I have found that purposefully choosing time to relax or exercise has been helpful. With my work, the list of things to do is neverending, because even if I finish my client work, there are mountains of personal projects, artwork, and improvements I could always be making.

So, if I say I want to go out for a walk for the sunset, or watch a TV show before bed, or set aside time to read, it provides a bookend to my working time, and forces me to focus on getting things done in that time.

I haven’t done it in a while, but streaming my design work also helped me to be more productive too, because I would have people watching me. It keeps me from goofing off on social media.

• In what ways are you numbing yourself or checking out of life? Drinking, shopping to excess, using food as comfort? Why do you do it? What could you replace it with?

I don’t think I’ve been checking out enough, honestly. I think that this is one of the reasons my anxiety has been so high lately. I don’t have enough ways to unwind.

I’ve been trying to go out for walks and watching Peaky Blinders, but lately the weather has been cold and wet, and Peaky Blinders is not a very relaxing show (even though it is entertaining).

I think I should go out in my Element more often. I’ve got everything I need to just work in remote locations, so it might be good to change the scenery and just be out in a place to sit and draw.