Welcome to ‘Beyond The Ink’ an Original series where we explore our writers beyond the ink-side that we’ve gotten to know. A series that delves deeper into the personal and everyday lives of our poets and writers.
Benjamin, many readers and writers will recognize your published work on Spillwords.com as you’ve been a collaborator for quite a while already, having two series of poetry on our pages.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and could you share what it is that you do outside of writing?
I’ve had a passion for writing since my junior year in high school. That passion has continued to grow throughout the dozen years since then. However, writing is not the only thing for which I have a strong passion. I earned my minor in education and my coaching certification while attending UC Irvine. It was during college that I cemented my interest in being a teacher. I’ve studied the craft rigorously, improving my skills with each day spent in the classroom. I teach high school English at a small public charter school in the San Fernando Valley, Reseda specifically. I love my students and have formed powerful, meaningful connections with many of them. I’ve learned so much from them and gained a great deal of strength from the energy they bring into the classroom and the compassion they show me as a person; not just some robot that comes to work to download academia into their brains. I’m not only known as the teacher with all the geeky posters all over his wall, haha, I’m also known as Coach. I have had the amazing privilege of coaching a multi-championship winning girls volleyball squad. I have made some of my best memories while coaching those inspiring young ladies. Over the past few years, I’ve expanded the program by keeping alumni involved and creating a junior varsity squad. Our family has grown and with that growth has come greater challenges and greater rewards. Looking forward, I have a lot of goals for our program and every step I take towards those goals, I take with the Lady Warriors at the top of my priority list. In recent years, I added boys volleyball, girls soccer, and cheer to my coaching responsibilities. At first, I was certain I didn’t have what it would take to coach multiple teams, but thanks to the strength my athletes give me with their passion for the sport and dedication to their teammates, I not only feel good enough to coach, I feel empowered by the opportunity. I have had students ask me in the past if I would leave my teaching career behind if my writing career ever took off. I’ve answered that question the same exact way every time, “I could never stop teaching, not ever. No matter what I write, I will always be a teacher.”
What does a day in your life look like, and how do you find time to write?
I wake up before the sun comes up and get myself to work to set everything up for the day. At times it can be a real challenge getting up that early all the time, but I want to have a great day in class just as much as I want the kids to have one. I can’t expect to have a great day if I’m scrambling from a lack of preparedness. I really don’t like to improvise my lessons, especially since every time a thoroughly planned out lesson goes exceptionally well, it reinforces the idea that I’m at my best as an educator when I take the time to prepare. I’m highly involved in the after school culture: providing tutoring/office hours, coaching sports, advising the senior class, etc. Once I’m clocking out and I’ve made it home for the day, usually around 6 PM, I eat a quick dinner and let myself shut down after using my brain to make at least a few dozen split-second decisions throughout the day. As I relax, I’ll reflect upon the day and certain feelings will rise up and in the moment of processing whatever I’m feeling, the pen comes out and my emotions become poetry. As it is for many poets, poetry is my form of emotional expression; my way of letting everything inside of me come out, instead of bottling it up to a boiling point. For my larger writing projects, I make use of the weekends and breaks from school, such as winter and spring break; the consecutive days off really come in handy when I’m trying to work on projects with multiple chapters.
How do your career and coaching affect your writing and/or vice versa?
Time and time again, I have been inspired by the students that I teach and the athletes that I coach. I have written poems in their honor and based characters on them. I am challenged by them to try my absolute best. I pour more effort into my writing because of the expectations they have of me and the support they show for me. I am empowered by them and feel far more confident in my evaluation of my own moral standing. I am made to feel like my voice is one worth being heard. Thank you kiddos 🙂
What creative challenges do you face?
My greatest challenge for the longest time was acting as my own editor. I have since learned that that is a great challenge to most writers. I have overcome that challenge through a fortunate meeting with Aberrant Literature at a local science-fiction convention. My dad walked up to the booth and after he figured out what they were about, he started talking me up (he’s always been one of my biggest supporters). He then encouraged me to establish and maintain a connection with them. Here we are, more than a year later and thanks to the amazing work of Aberrant Lit, I have a short story ready for publication. In fact, it’s due out in January as part of an anthology of short stories from various authors. My writing has always been so raw, coming straight from the heart and sometimes the finer qualities of great writing are lost to the tangent-like odyssey my pen embarks on. However, thanks to the high-quality editing skills of Jason Peters (founder of Aberrant Lit) my wild ride was turned into a slick and smooth journey through my internal, emotional struggles. I am ecstatic about my work being included in a book that will be available on the mass market. The idea that people I’ve never even met, reading my work in a book they hold in their hands, is quite literally my dream come true. My next challenge will be to find a way to improve my collaboration skills, as I am very interested in breaking into the comic book/graphic novel market, but I am sadly not a talented artist.
What role do social issues play in your life?
I teach an AP English Language class to seniors. The class is meant to educate students on developing a collegiate-level skill in rhetoric. The class is also meant to provide the students with a platform for addressing current social issues. We cover many difficult topics and unlike some of the adults who are supposed to be leading this world by example, my students maintain a strong sense of professionalism while making use of high-level rhetoric. I have gained new perspectives by allowing my students the opportunity to speak their minds in class. Furthermore, the more I experience this tumultuous world for myself, the more I realize what I can do to be more than just another person moving through it. With the strength provided to me by those that care about me, I feel that I may just have what it takes to make a real, positive difference in regards to the greater social issues that we face today.
What advice would you give others that are pursuing a career in your field?
I would recommend that they first establish a strong sense of financial security. The sad, simple fact of the matter is that being a teacher will leave most people who go into it surviving from check to check instead of thriving. Going straight into teaching isn’t a bad idea; it’s just that it’s an incredibly stressful situation brought on by not only the endless amount of work and expectations placed upon teachers, but by the lack of financial opportunities for educators. I love my career; I truly do, but there’s no hiding the financial burden it places upon my life. Therefore, my most important piece of advice would be this: become a teacher only if you are prepared for both the greatest and toughest of times.
What advice would you give to other writers out there?
Read and write every single day. If you must, start small, but never fall back to less than at least a little every single day. This may seem like it turns what should be a passion into a responsibility, but the truth is that a passion must be invested in. Your time and your energy are priceless, which makes it all the more important that they be put towards what you love to do the most.
What adjective best describes you and why?
The adjective that best describes me is grateful. The truth is that I am not a strong person; neither physically, emotionally, nor psychologically. I am easily hurt and I take more time than most to process that pain and move forward. Most of the time, I move forward without completing my introspection, because I have to and because I sometimes feel like I’ll never find the answer. Therefore, I am incredibly grateful to the people in my life that provide me the strength that gets me through each day, each challenge, each failure, and each success. Thank you to all of you who keep me standing no matter how badly I feel the need to collapse.
What’s a fun fact about you that would surprise many that know you?
There is no sport I’d rather be an expert at than dodgeball.
What inspires you to write?
I write whenever I feel strongly enough; whenever a particular emotion has taken over my mind. I do this in order to process these emotions. The majority of these emotions come from moments at work, which is why I would say that my students and athletes inspire me. They provide for me the content and the emotional motivation, but the desire to actually write and publish comes from wanting to have a voice in this world.
What are the things on your bucket list?
First, I want my own dog. I can’t have one yet, because I can’t afford to live in a home wherein the dog would have room to be happy. I want to raise that dog from the day that he is born. Second, I want to succeed in the literary world to the degree that I can make it onto the convention circuit. I want to meet the people who read my work. I want to be on the other side of panels, autograph opportunities, and photo opportunities. I want to be the kind of creative mind that I admire when I go to conventions, where I have made some of my very best memories. Third, I want to see as much of the world as I can. I have never left the country and that is definitely one of my greatest regrets. I look back at my college years and I realize I should have studied abroad in as many different countries as possible. I want to experience all the corners of this big world.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want those who are important to me to feel that they were loved and cared for; that I would have done everything that I could have for them. I don’t feel that I need to be remembered. I feel, instead, that I want those I cared about to be as happy as they could be. It would be fantastic if my writing could one day lead to renown success and that what I write could have a positive impact on readers’ lives. However, should it be that my writing never comes with notoriety, I will still feel fulfilled should it be that my loved ones are happy.
Writing my way through life's journey; finding inspiration in the people who make me feel like I deserve to be here. In their unconditional love that I find what little strength I feel I have to face this overwhelming world. Through my writing I find escape in expression of anything I'm feeling at the moment the pen makes contact with the paper.