One thing about the internet, people seem to find great joy in tearing people down. It’s the anonymity and power behind a keyboard. People will say things online that they would never say to someone’s face. I prefer to keep the internet a positive place and have always been a part of or created communities that are positive which is why we are going to have a semi-regular feature on here talking about the Women We Love. They may be friends, authors, celebrities, and whoever else we love.
I knew I wanted to create this feature but who would be the inaugural WWL? I was talking to a friend and realized she would be the perfect woman to feature. There’s so much to her that many people don’t know, she’s funny, beautiful and extremely talented but most importantly, she’s an amazing woman who I am honored to call a friend.
Mia and I first met virtually many years ago, sometime either in 2007 or 2008 (so hard for me to keep track of time). She was a fan of Karen Marie Moning’s books and was so inspired by her writing that she sent in some fan artwork, which was of course amazing! We struck up a friendship and she started channeling more KMM inspired work. Most of the original artwork that you’ve seen on KMM’s FB page are creations of Mia’s so a lot of you already know how talented she is. She also created a lot of the art for KMM’s Online store and she is the artist behind The FEVER Tarot deck, which unfortunately is no longer available for sale.
Mia was a student when we met, having been told to get the job she wanted, higher education was the way to go. Unfortunately, by the time she earned her Masters, those jobs were no longer available due to budget cuts and now she was overqualified for jobs. She has an AA in Liberal Arts, Bachelors in Behavioral Health Counseling, Masters in Forensic Psychology and Masters in Social Work.
With Mia’s incredible artistic talents, I kept telling her to become a graphic artist since she couldn’t find work as a social worker. She could make a living as an artist (can you believe she never saw herself as an artist?) but that wasn’t her calling. Art and photography her hobbies. She always wanted to help people, to make a difference. I tell her all the time she’s a better person than I am, after reading more about her, I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too.
Did you always know you wanted to help people?
Mia: Actually, no. When I was five-years old I wanted to be either a teacher or a secretary for their unlimited access to chalk or office supplies. Then my dad pointed out that they could be purchased by anyone willing to schlep to Staples.
I changed my mind a lot as a kid on what I wanted to be when I grew up. I went from wanting to be a dolphin trainer, to a zoologist and finally when I went into college, I settled on law.
When did you know you wanted to be a social worker?
Mia: I didn’t. I wish I had known right away that social work was where I was headed when I started school. It would have saved me a ton of student loan debt! I started out as a law major and in my second year I had a life changing experience. I walked in on a friend about to commit suicide (read the story below). The following semester I switched my major to psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by human criminal behavior and about the circumstances/life experiences that shaped them into criminals. As a kid I read a lot about the darker side of human nature. I am pretty sure the adults around me thought I was going to grow up to be a serial killer. I was a few weeks away from receiving my forensic psychology degree when my professor mentioned to me that if I wanted to be able to do more in terms of helping people, especially the imprisoned mentally ill, I should get a degree in social work because as a forensic psychologist most of my time would be spent pushing a pencil and he knew that my true talent was in treating people.
What’s a forensic psychologist?
Mia: A forensic psychologist is an expert witness who is called on in court to testify about a defendant’s behavior. Using interviews, psychological evidence and the person’s background, the psychologist gives their opinion on the mental state and behaviors of the accused.
Can you share some examples on cases you’ve worked on?
Mia: Actually I can’t due to the confidential nature of my cases. However I can tell you about a fellow workers case that haunts me to this day. The worker had a kid who had aged out of the foster care system. The kid had gotten into some minor trouble and had served a few months in jail. As luck would have it he was released on his 18th birthday. He had no family and no place to go. His former case worker picked him up from jail and stopped at a store and picked up a cupcake. He put a candle in it and sang happy birthday to the kid in his car. Shortly afterwards the kid told him might as well stop right here and got out on the corner. The kid was 18 and homeless, no job and no prospects. The worker had no choice but to let him out of his car. The kid got out looked over his shoulder, waved at his former worker and walked away. The worker never saw the kid again and quit his job soon after.
I know you volunteer, can you tell us about it?
Mia: I tend to do volunteer work in secret domestic violence abuse shelters for women and children. In order to volunteer in these you need to come in through a social work agency and vetted. The locations are kept a secret for obvious reasons. I don’t even get the address of the place until the day I have to be there. The violence that these woman and their children have lived through are horrific. It says a lot about women as mothers that they work up the courage to escape their abusers for the sake of their children.
With the exception of a few programs, most of the stuff I volunteer with is very sensitive and I can’t discuss due to confidentiality agreements. However, I encourage people to go out in their community and volunteer. YOUR help is needed whether it be to serve food or hold the hand of an elderly patient at a nursing home. I come from long line of social workers, some were professional some not.
My late grandmother had a weak spot for the mentally ill and homeless. She ran a portable soup kitchen. On weekends she would get up at the crack of dawn and cook at least 50 meals. She would package these meals, load them up in a shopping cart and head out into the park to give out to the homeless. In the winter she would often come home sans coat because she would give her coat to someone she felt needed it more than she. Back when AIDS had no name and no one was sure of how it was transmitted, my grandmother was caring for several neighbors who had the disease when no one else dared to.
As a kid it was not unusual for us to have homeless teens living in our home. My parents would take in kids provided they adhered to a simple rule: they had to go to school. All of the teens my parents took in turned into adults with productive lives that give back to the community. Among them are social workers, teachers and EMT’s.
I think given the example that I was as a kid, it was inevitable that I would find my way into social work. It seems to be in my blood. My favorite volunteer gigs are ones where I get to work with the elderly and with kids. I have been in situations where an at risk youth is all closed mouth giving a worker attitude and shutting them down and then I come in. First of all they always assume I am way younger than what I am and then get a glimpse of a tat, start asking questions about my tats and hear my background story they open up. My style of interaction with clients is different than other people, we each have our own style. When I work cases I try to take down the wall that is automatically put there due to my position of authority. I let my clients know that I am not there to judge them, I am there to help them in any way in which they will allow me. I talk to them the same way I would talk to a friend, there is never a reason for me to talk down to them, there for the grace of god go I, is my motto. When engaging with a client. I encourage them to ask me any question they want whether it be about me or the next step we will be taking together. More often than not, they will ask personal questions about me and I will answer them truthfully and we will build a rapport with each other. This method has worked for me, prisoners have confessed crimes to me and closed mouth clients suddenly became chatty Cathy’s. I recently assisted on a case with a kid that was rather disturbing. The kid was a phenomenally talented writer. We were able to successfully resolve her case and when I left for the day I left the kid sitting at my desk while the lead investigator handled her paperwork. The next day I came in to work and when I opened my desk drawer found two poems written for me by the kid. I’ve never been described as a princess before. These poems are now my most treasured possessions.
How to keep the horrors of what you experience from getting you down?
Mia: No matter what you see you have to always keep in mind that you are helping. If you let if affect you to the point where you are down then you are in the wrong profession. No one has ever said that being your brother’s keeper was a pretty job.
Being a social worker is such a practical job and an artist is so creative, does your art help you deal with what you experience as a social worker?
Mia: I bet you you’re thinking I am going to say yes but in reality it doesn’t. What helps me deal with what I experience on the job is that I know that when I am done, I have helped lead someone to a better life.
You said that you never saw yourself as an artist prior to working with Karen Marie Moning. Why is that?
Mia: Until I showed my art to YOU and you showed it to KMM I had rarely showed my art to anyone outside of my family. The turning point for me was when KMM was having a graphic novel done by my idol the late Al Rio. Al Rio was the reason I started delving into digital art , I had been a huge fan of his since I was a teenager. Anyway so I created this character drawing just for me holding a tarot card. The tarot cards were something I had designed out of the blue b/c I was into tarot reading and thought it would be cool to do something based on my favorite paranormal series which at the time happened to be Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series. Mr. Rio saw the character drawing I did and actually had someone ask me if it would be okay to use my character and he in fact became the basis for Mr. Rio’s rendition of the Fear Dorche. I must have read that email like 20 times and geeked out. It was at that point that I thought of myself as an artist.
What is your favorite medium to work in?
Mia: Right now digital but if you had asked me this a few years ago I would have said it was a tossup between water paint on canvas and pencil and paper. The reason I am digging digital right now is that you can combine things like photography, photo manipulation and drawings to create on piece and if you don’t like it rather than whip out the art gum or paint you can just remove layers in your art program and fix what you want. Plus you don’t clutter your place up with canvases. Eventually though, when I get the space, I will start creating on canvas again. One day, I will give in to the few invitations I get here and there to do showings of my art.
What and who inspires you as an artist?
Mia: I am inspired by the world around me. Seriously, anything can and often does wake up my muse. Music, random conversations, quotes, life situations, it is all fodder for the muse.
Your dream is to eventually run your own non-profit. I’d love to hear more about this non-profit.
Mia: I want to start a non-profit organization for kids being aged out of the foster care system. Too often these kids are left with nothing, and no place to go.
My dream is to have a building as a hostel for these kids and provide the following on the premises: counseling, medical services, mentoring, college prep programs, housing assistance, rehab services, educational services, day care for students and working parents. These kids would be referred to us by children’s services and social workers and would stay with us until we are able to find them their own housing.
Thank you so much Mia for sharing some of yourself with us. I know that one day you will achieve your dream, because I know you and now others know why you’re a Woman We Love!
Please check out Mia’s website, Happi Anarky to see more of her artwork and what services she offers as an artist or you can check out her online store to purchase some of her art. While the FEVER Tarot deck is no longer for sale, Mia has a deck that she’s giving away. Incredible artwork like the image below are a part of it. While it perfectly encapsulates Mac in the church (for those who have read the FEVER Series), Mia actually painted this image due to the death of a friend who commited suicide. The original art for this is hanging in her friend’s mother’s home in Ireland. For your chance to win a copy of this incredible deck, comment below and subscribe to both Mia’s Happi Anarky site and to The Lu Lu Lifestyle. A winner will be contacted at the end of May.
Why Mia switched to Psychology in her own words:
My goal when I started college had been to be a lawyer but The Fates and their sidekick Destiny had other plans for me. Hands firmly planted on my ass they continuously tried to
shove guide me down a certain path despite my repeated attempts to bitch slap their hands away ignore them. Then one year the powers-that-be decided to send someone my way to press their case. He’d prove to be the one that ultimately set me on the path I’m currently on and it all started one summer night…
He was the product of dysfunctional parents who cared more about themselves than their children. The walking wounded was a term that always came to mind when I looked at him. Life had been especially cruel to him, abandoned by his father as a child; his mom had recently died and now his sister had run off with a man, abandoning him as well. In truth the brother was a hard person to get along with. He kept people at a distance. To the outside world he was defiant, angry, cold, obnoxious, and mistrustful of everyone, especially women. He expected the worst from people and was rarely disappointed. My family and I knew a side of him no one else did. We had long ago figured out that his public persona was just an act, that in reality he was just a scared kid. I chose to define him by the rare moments when he allowed me to see who he really was, rather than the role of arrogant bastard he played in public.
One day, I awoke panicked from a nightmare; he’d been shot and died. Which, given the way he was living his life at the time, was a prophecy waiting to come true. As the day progressed, a feeling of dread intensified in the pit of my stomach. Unable to shake off the nightmare I decided to head out to his place earlier than usual. Even though I loved her dearly I mentally cursed his sister out for running out on him during the entire bus ride to the South Bronx.
As soon as I entered the apartment, I got a vibe that something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I set my keys on the counter and pulled the Tupperware containers out of my back pack and put his dinner in the fridge. Glancing around, I noticed a stack of dishes in the sink and the absence of his usual note for me on the table. Back then, due to our conflicting schedules, our main source of communication was a flurry of humorous notes left on the kitchen table and the occasional dinner at my house. The phone rang a few times as I cleaned the kitchen and the answering machine picked up; it was his girlfriend, she wanted to come over tomorrow and get laid. Then a mutual friend called inviting us to a Christian team’s softball game. Our balls are soft for Jesus we jokingly called them.
I left a note for him and got ready to leave. Still unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong, I made a quick inspection of the apartment. Satisfied, I attempted to leave but the front door wouldn’t open. I twisted and turned the door knob, even jiggled the lock several times but still the door refused to budge. I noticed my sneaker laces were untied and as I bent down to tie them I caught a quick movement out of the corner of my eye and froze. Great! I am trapped in this hot ass apartment with a mouse or a really big water bug. Rodents I can handle, water bugs however scare the crap out of me, go figure. Don’t laugh people, Bronx water bugs have been known to carry weapons, just so you know. I pulled at the door again, no luck. I leaned back on the wall and closed my eyes thinking about my next move. Okay Mia don’t panic… Give it a few minutes, the lock is probably jammed. Call mom; have her send Tank and Brad over. They’ll get you out. If it’s a mouse, stomp your feet. If it’s a water bug, arm yourself with a meat cleaver and lock yourself in the bathroom.
My eyes still closed, I was wiping the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand when I suddenly felt a burst of cool air gently blowing over my face and a light caress on my cheek. It felt like gentle fingers… or the beating wings of a water bug. I felt a scream in my throat waiting to emerge. Don’t panic, do not fucking panic. Don’t scream or it’ll fly into your mouth. I opened my eyes slowly, there was nothing there. I was about to pull out my cell phone when it suddenly hit me that his bedroom door had been closed, which was unusual because the bedroom doors were always kept open to allow the air to circulate in the apartment. My chest tightened as I was hit by the over powering urge to check his room. As I ran towards his room, I hoped the door was closed because one of his play dates slept over and not because of what had just flashed through my mind.
I pushed the door open and ran in practically tripping over his backpack. The room was dark, the blinds were drawn, and the smell of mango-pina weed was over powering. He was alone sitting on his bed looking like crap, an empty sneaker box at his feet and a pillow on his lap. Besides him there was a half bottle of Hennessey, and an ashtray with the remains of several recently smoked blunts. He was not happy to see me. “What the hell are you doing here so early?!” he snapped as he pulled out one of his hands out from under the pillow. “Eww. Did I just walk in on a special guy moment?” Not waiting for an answer I asked, “What are you doing here anyway, shouldn’t you be at work?” He shrugged his shoulders,”Check out the dresser. I got an eviction notice. Since my sister bounced, the landlord says I can’t stay in the apartment.” He’d been born in that apartment, his mom had died in that apartment, and it had been the only home he’d ever known. “Damn.”
I sat down next to him ignoring the pillow on his lap. We said nothing for a few minutes then I stood up in front of him and broke the silence. “I’m going to turn around and give you a minute to put whatever you got under that pillow away and then you and I are going to my house.” He started to protest and I interrupted him, “Please.” He looked angry and glared at me for several seconds, I glared back at him. “Go ahead give me dirty looks, we can do this all night and I can do it better, my eyes are bigger.” He shook his head and motioned for me to turn around. My back to him I heard the heavy sound of whatever had been in his lap being put into the sneaker box and slid back under his bed. “Listen the front door is stuck. I couldn’t get out when I tried to leave.” “Most likely the heat is making the paint in the door jamb stick.” He replied. I nodded my head, “Sounds good to me. Oh and by the way I think there’s a water bug the size of your dome flying around the house.” He grabbed my hand pulling me out of the room behind him, “Pendeja.” “Pendeja my ass, those things are nasty!” As he walked to the front door I grabbed my knapsack from the kitchen table and leaned against the wall expecting him to struggle with the door. The door opened easily for him. “What the hell!?” He grabbed my bag from my shoulder, “You’re weak son, you have no upper body strength.” “Screw you puto, that door was stuck. I must have loosened it for you.”
We spent the rest of the evening in silence, watching horror movies. When I caught myself falling asleep on him around 1 am I took my pillow and headed a few feet away to the love seat. He looked so tired and worn out. “You’re staying out here with me tonight?” he asked. “Yup, you and I need to talk about some things.” “I don’t want to talk Mia.” He spat out angrily. I shrugged my shoulders at him and said, “Fine. Homo thug.” He gave me the finger. He turned off the television and the room became pitch black. After a few minutes I felt myself nodding off. “Yo wonder twin?” I chuckled at his use of my mom’s nickname for us. “What?” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t stress it count chinkula.” I replied using my nickname for him. “Respect your elders.” “Oh please you’re only a few days older than me.” Silence, complete and utter silence it was so quiet the humming of the air conditioner could be heard.
Finally, he spoke,“Mia?” His tone was serious. “Hmm?” More silence followed by a sigh. “I was about to kill myself when you walked in. The gun was under the pillow.” “I know.” “Yeah I figured you did. ” We laid there in, you guessed it, more silence. I’d never realized until that moment how loud silence is. “How did you know to come for me?” “I had a feeling something was wrong. I guess it’s true what they say, for every soul there is a guardian watching over it.” I replied. “Are you that guardian?” he asked. “No I’m just assisting in this operation.” “Smart ass.” We didn’t talk anymore, instead I listened as he fell asleep. Ever since his mom had died he’d been plagued by nightmares, it was the main reason he hated sleeping alone. When I finally heard his soft snoring, I allowed myself to give in to my exhaustion.
I’d been sleeping for awhile when he called me out of my dreams, “Mia?” “What?” “Can I go over there with you?” “You’re too tall for the love seat.”He must have had a nightmare. “Hold up, I’ll come to you.” I grabbed my pillow and stood over him as he scooted over on the sofa to make room for me. He took my pillow added it to his and rolled over onto his back. He then patted his chest above his heart; I turned on my side facing him and laid my head where he’d indicated and he wrapped his arms around me. After awhile he spoke, “You’re my best friend even though your boy friend hates me.” “Well we’re even then because your girl friend hates me.” “True that, but you beat her down. Gave her a black eye and shit.” He chuckled. “Oh please, she hated me before the beat down. The behemoth shouldn’t have mouthed off to my mother on the phone. No one disrespects my mama.” “Word” “Thanks for beating up her brother for me.” “I wasn’t about to let him touch you.” “I could’ve handled him.” “No doubt ma, no shame in accepting help though.” “That’s what I’ve been telling your dumb ass all along. So why don’t you take your own advice? ” I sensed he was getting ready to shut down on me so I held back on the lecture I’d wanted to give him. It had taken me a year to get this far. This was going to take time.
He hugged me tighter and I could feel his protective wall crumbling. I patted his stomach,”That’ll do pig, that’ll do.” He laughed at the Babe reference. “Ma, do the singing mice for me.” “No.” “Come on I love when you do that shit.” In a squeaky voice I sang, “If I had words to make a day for you… I’d sing you a morning golden and new… I would make this day last for all time… give you a night deep in moonshine!” he laughed and then asked “Would you really?” “In a heart beat pig.” He hugged me tighter, “Dude. I. Can’t. Breathe.” I managed to rasp out. He loosened his grip and tugged at my hair, “man, who would have thought a girl as my best friend?” “Word son, what would the guys back on the block say?” He shoved me playfully, “Fuckin’ smart ass. You just can’t help yourself can you?” “Nope.”
The following semester I switched my major to psychology and minor to counseling and when I entered my psych class for the first time I could’ve sworn I felt that The Fates and their sidekick Destiny give me an encouraging pat on my back. ~Mia