I was raised in a little desert town called Banning. It’s a place unknown to those who haven’t already been there. It’s located in that part of southern California that they don’t showcase in films and television; not a single beach or tall building for at least 100 miles. I graduated from Banning High School as a proud member of the Class of 2007. I was ASB President my senior year and I remember on graduation day I stood up in front of what felt like the entire city’s population and gave a speech in which I expressed gratitude and hope for the future. I carried those feelings with me when I moved to Irvine to further my education at University of California, Irvine. It wasn’t my first choice school; in fact, it was the only school I got into. However, what I didn’t know on move in day was that that amazing university would come to be the place that stole my heart. I truly, completely, and unashamedly love UCI and I always will. I now live and teach in Reseda and I love my students and feel blessed to have the job I want, the job that I am passionate about, but if there was a way for me to live in Irvine while working here in Reseda without having a six hour round trip commute everyday, I wouldn’t hesitate to make that a reality. I say it with pride: Zot! Zot! Zot! So, I live in Reseda; but for me, home will always be Irvine. Anteater for life!!!
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
There are so many amazing things about Irvine and the surrounding area of Orange County, but I want to stick to answering the question and challenge myself to choose my personal favorite. So, I’d have to say the best part is the incredible balance between big city and small town. Irvine is not small, but it’s not too crowded, not too loud, and absolutely beautiful in its rich, green scenery. It has the fun and excitement of the big city. It has the art and the culture of places like Broadway and Downtown LA, but it doesn’t have giant buildings blocking out the sun and sky. It doesn’t have hundreds of people shoving their way through the crowds on the sidewalks. It doesn’t have cars stuck in endless traffic (with the obvious exception to the nightmarish 405) filled with frustrated drivers blaring their horns. It’s close enough to Angel Stadium and the Honda Center that you can easily go catch a game. It’s close enough to Disneyland that many UCI students go to Downtown Disney (and sometimes full blown Disney if you’re one of the lucky season pass holders) as a casual, any day occurrence. Seriously, there were times when a trip to Disneyland was a spontaneous decision for my friends and I; for a kid from Banning who used to have to plan for that kind of experience months in advance because of how far away it was, that was incredibly exciting. It’s also close enough to all the best beaches in Southern California that taking a trip to the awe inspiring Pacific Ocean was all fun and no challenge. So, yeah, the very best thing about Irvine? It’s got everything you could want to do with your spare time right there in town, or no further away than a half hour drive in perfect weather.
What turns you on creatively?
My students have asked me why I call my poetry blog Genuine Silver Poetry. I tell them it’s because of all the things I want to be, the single most important thing is to be genuine. If I am happy, I want to be genuine about it. If I am sad, I want to be genuine about it. Whatever I am feeling; whatever occupies my heart and mind, I want to be genuine about it. I want to embrace what I’m feeling no matter how much that may hurt and I want to learn and grow from processing what I’m feeling. I went through some very hard times at a pretty young age and for a while I tried my absolute best to keep the emotional fallout contained, ignored, and forgotten. In the end, that only made things worse and I learned the hard way that what I’m feeling is important and making those feelings a part of who I am is what the struggle to be genuine is all about. I’ve also learned since then that staying genuine doesn’t require a change in the formula. Becoming genuine and staying genuine both require the same dedication to embracing, processing, and learning from every emotion you feel. So, one thing that definitely turns me on creatively is when the artist is expressing a genuine statement of emotion that they are not ashamed to make public. Whether it be through a novel’s theme statement, a painting’s use of particular colors, or a song’s rhythm and lyrics; so long as the author is trying to be genuine with their work, I feel inspired. The second word in my poetry blog’s title is “Silver” and that is just as deliberate as the first word. I struggled with the loss of my older brother as I had known him after he fell ill with a very serious brain condition. It changed him inside and out and for his littler brother it was devastating. I had looked up to him and saw him as the best version I could one day become. I have since learned that it never should have been about being the best version of my brother. My life should always be about trying to be the best version of me that I can be and until then, I am, at best, the second-best version of the me I could be. So, as of now, I am the silver medal version of myself, which keeps me motivated to one day earn my gold medal for being the best version of me I could possibly be.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
My favorite word is unconditional.
Poetic Sentence: Whether it be love, support, or faith, may it be forever unconditional.
I was incredibly fortunate to be raised by two parents who have loved me unconditionally from the moment I was born. They have shown me support in everything that I have done and their faith in me has never wavered. Not only were they the best parents ever; they are also the inspiration for my ideal relationship. My father taught me, “Son, the one aspect of my life that has never been work is my marriage to your mother. I have had to work on being a better father. I have had to work at being better at my job. I have had to work at being a better person, but my marriage has never needed work and it never will, because I love your mother unconditionally and she loves me the same way. My love for her doesn’t depend on whether or not she’s working hard enough on our marriage and she feels the same way about me. If you want to spend your life happily married, find a partner with whom you never have to work at it with. Yes, you’ll have decisions to make together as a couple. Yes, you’ll have to work together to build a happy home for your kids, if you have any. Yes, you’ll have to work on keeping the check book balanced and your social lives active. But at the end of it all, she’s the one who you’ll hold in your arms when you realize nothing else in this world is as important as your unconditional love for this person.” I carry that lesson with me everyday and into every relationship that matters to me. I haven’t yet found the one to whom the marriage aspects of the lesson apply, but my friends, family, and students should know that I love them all and will forever do so unconditionally.
What is your pet peeve?
Hypocrisy is my biggest pet peeve. I encourage my students to be judgmental in a world that keeps condemning such a notion, while simultaneously being judgmental all the time. I explain to my students that the connotation of the word “judgmental” has been warped over time. Therefore, to specify, I want them to be the kind of judgmental that uses reason to avoid making mistakes in the first place, or at least sound enough logic to learn from those mistakes and prevent repetition. If a person has hurt you, yes you should judge them and their actions and come to the logical conclusion that you must now be cautious of that person. I expressed in the previous answer that it’s so important to be genuinely unconditional with your love for those that matter to you and I meant that. Being wise and using good judgment is part of loving someone unconditionally. Not letting people walk all over you, hurt you without reflection on such awful actions against you, and treat you in ways you don’t deserve is what a true friend, who cares about the ethical growth of their loved ones, would do. Don’t tell someone to stop doing awful things, but then turn around and do those same awful things. Don’t expect a person to just automatically know how they are affecting you and then get frustrated when they clearly appear to be oblivious. There are aspects of life that are beyond our control, but being a hypocritical spectator is a choice and not beneficial to anyone. Speak up and stand by what you believe in. Keep your ears open and use good judgment to either keep believing in what you already do or to soundly shift to a new opinion. Don’t call those who disagree with you ignorant and then turn around and be ignorant of those people’s opinions. Now more than ever this global community of human beings must engage in meaningful discourse and doing so is made impossible with hypocrisy weighing us down.
What defines Benjamin R Bray?
I am happily defined by my titles. I am a son with the best parents ever. I am a brother to my siblings and we went through the early stages of life’s journey right alongside one another. I am a Banning High School Bronco that worked his butt off to earn that diploma. I am an Anteater for life that earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and teaching credential all from the amazing UCI. I am Uncle Ben to the best dang godson I could have ever asked for. I love you Isaiah and I always will. You are an amazing Power Ranger! I am Uncle Ben to three little ladies that light up my world. Alice, Coraline, and Aerith, I can’t express in words written or spoken just how much you’ve changed my life for the better. You are each a living embodiment of genuine, unconditional love and I will be forever grateful to be your uncle. I am Mr. Bray. My students have brought more tears of joy to my eyes than can be properly measured. The pride I feel for my students wakes me up and out of my bed every day. I am Coach. My student-athletes are some of the very best people I have had the privilege of getting to know. Their drive and dedication to each other makes all the challenges of the job fade away. The family they become leaves me in awe. Finally, but by no means less important, I am Ben. I have been blessed with friends that can always be counted on; friends that will always have my back; friends that value my friendship. My family is my heart, my godson and nieces are my happiness, my students and athletes are my hope, and my friends are my faith in the kindness of others. Together, they are all my inspiration and I can never possibly thank them enough for helping me to become who I am today and who I can still become in the future.
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.