After the Silver Screen Fades

Every year, I try to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month (see deets at nanowrimo.org).  I have never completed the task, haha.

But I’m going to try again this year.  Just for the sake of it.

I don’t know if it’ll be any good, but here a short synopsis about what my novel is about.  My friend once called me a rom com gone wrong, so it’s kind of related to that:

This is the story about a girl.

You know the one.  She gets left at the alter when he realizes his one true love.  The one he’s with before he comes to his senses and realized it was someone else all along.  Yeah… her.  Nobody really tells you what happens to her after all the rigmarole that the leading man put her through.  But she lives on.  When everyone else is feeling good about the inevitable plot twist that take the main characters to their happy ending, she’s feeling something, too.

I’ve always felt that she feels matters.  She is not the smiling American sweetheart or heroine of the story who steals our hearts in the end.  Nonetheless, she matters.

I’m sure she had many names and stories, but for the sake of our purposes, her name here is Evie.  And this is Evie’s story.

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Continuum

This image really spoke to me today.  I was just reminded that when we encounter people, we get a small slice of someone on a continuum of life.  And for that one or handful of interactions, there’s so much more leading up to that moment…  While we may want to write off someone for a terrible first impression, you have no way of knowing if they are going through a loss, trauma or just hit a rough patch… not all of us were blessed with the skill of “faking it until you make it”. Because before that heart develops those scars that reinforces its strength, it’s wounded, it hurts and it has to heal…

So I try to give each person I encounter the benefit of the doubt unless I have some compelling reason not to.  If our interaction was sour, maybe that’s not the best version of themselves…. we’ve all been there.  I give them a chance and I’m usually pleasantly surprised.  Hope you all do the same.

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Blame

I’ve been thinking a lot about blame recently.

I think we blame when we want a quick answer rather than holding ourselves or an individual solely responsible for their actions.  It’s harder to entertain the fact that we as a species are a complex ball of contradictions.  Maybe human nature is not straightforward and cut and dry.  Perhaps we may never have an answer that is purely right or wrong and completely explains a person’s motivations, whether their acts are good or bad.

But you see, that would take time and require us to regularly challenge what we’ve decided for ourselves is truth.  That is scary, to have to believe that there are no absolutes.  So we find answers to the shameful things the best way we know how: we blame.  Someone has to be culpable and guilty.  It’s someone else’s fault.  It’s a culture’s fault.  It’s a religion’s fault.  It’s the parents’ fault.  It’s everyone else’s fault but mine.  Now, content in the fact that we are certain of where the blame lies, the argument ends there for most.

But on some level, I think we all know that it doesn’t end there.  When senselessness challenges our most solid beliefs and our faith is shaken down to the core, we realize that it’s not that simple.  Unfortunately, that often takes great or personal tragedy for us to come to that realization.

And until we do, we keep playing the blame game.

This rant aside, here’s a single lyric to a song that I’m positive will be the next to write itself (because I don’t write songs, I’m simply an instrument they use to write themselves.  These words and experiences are never my own…  And I’m not crazy).

It just got me thinking about blame so I thought I would toss my thoughts out there, failing a complete song…  Hope you enjoy it none the less:

Maybe opening up was a bit of a mistake
But where do you go when your head’s not a safe space?
And the biggest danger comes from within?

It was easy to get lost and forget for a moment
But how dare you accuse me, and say I should have toned it
Down…
When you’re complicit in this sin?

~L.A.

Trouble Sleeping

I have this reoccurring dream. There are no words or images, just sensations and feelings.

         All I know for sure in the dream is that I’m being attacked, that my life is in imminent danger. I need to scream. My body is bent over double, the pressure from contorting in such a way should allow this wrenching scream to come forth from somewhere deep inside, primal, guttural and beyond all comprehension; a scream that must escape the blackest of my insides. Only I can’t. The air is caught in my chest, and it can’t get out, as if being blocked. Something is steadily constricting my throat, asphyxiating me from one end while the pressure from the scream that can’t escape builds up from the other. The scream and my life force are matched in a steady deadlock in my upper abdomen and the tension builds up to a hard, desperate, feverish pain against my chest and it hurts like nothing ever has, but all I can do is let out a barely audible wheeze.

         It feels like I’m dying and it’s terrifying. This unknown danger that threatens to take away my life and my inability to relieve myself of this scream are both killing me.

         And I always wake up with my heart beating rapidly with a cold sweat on my brow. I’m almost sure that I’ve narrowly averted certain death. It feels so real every time.

To the Wonder

I know that, by society’s definition, I’m an adult now.  I’ve been trying to figure out what that means for the past few years.

I’ve discovered it can mean a lot of things.

It means being responsible.  it means being sensible.  Good lessons to learn.

But often, it means settling. Which means accepting mediocrity.  On some level, it means giving up on your dreams, because chasing a dream isn’t sensible, but having your feet firmly planted on the ground and stability are.

It seems that I missed the memo on some of these adulthood requirements.

I realize that I don’t think and see the world as most adults do.  From where I’m sitting, the possibilities still look endless.  I’ve never stopped chasing my dreams.  So I’ve failed to reach adulthood on some level.

There are names for people like me: dreamer, drifter, free spirit.

Will I always be that dreamer, drifter, and free spirit?  Maybe.  I don’t think I’m any worse for being like this.  By most measures of success, I guess I’m successful.  At least that’s what I’ve been told by my peers, other “adults”.

But I tend to measure success with contentedness and I’m not yet content, so there’s still yet to achieve.

I like the way I am.  I like challenging mind and self, the the terrifying freedom of it all.  I love the pursuit of higher thought and consciousness and doubt and questioning everything.  There never was a word as powerfully groundbreaking as “why” and the earth beneath me quakes as I use it every day, exposing virgin soil in barren lands: my gift to those firmly grounded in their adulthood.  I love the fresh perspective I bring to others.

I don’t plan on changing.  If it means that I’ll never grown up: so be it.

I never want to stop seeing the world as beautiful as it is in this very moment.

May the wonder never fade.

Zombie Apocalypse Unfolds from Within The Cubicled Confines of Corporate America

A creepy habit of mine:  I save almost everything ever sent to me (emails, notes, IMs, texts, etc).  I like to revisit the past sometimes, when the present isn’t all that engaging.

So when I was working back in Corporate America, at some point, to help pass the time, a few of us in the office had a running story thread.  It was fun and I really enjoyed what we got out of it, even though we ended up not continuing it…  

Given my creepy habit, I, of course, saved the thread.  So I share it with you…  Be prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse!

It might feel a little disjointed, but a bunch of writers contributed to it (including yours truly –> in the black text!).

It’s probably got a ton of errors, written between emails and the actual work we were supposed to be doing.  But I’m not enough of a loser to correct them (shocking!).  I’m sure you’ll survive the mistakes well enough to get the gist:

 

As the sun broke over the frozen horizon, he struggled to sit up, groaning as his back popped. Flummoxed by his surroundings, he scanned the horizon, suddenly spotting…

 

A samurai, clad in all black, blood of enemy still staining his sword.  The lost stranger trembled as the daunting figure approached him, as silent as the breeze that barely stirred grass.  He could not read the intent written on the warrior’s face and hoped that his visage was similarly absent of emotion as fear rose in his gullet (intense).

 

The dark warrior raised his blade with deadly and furious purpose, a gleaming bolt of crimson and silver against the brilliant blue sky. The stranger winced, life flashing before his eyes, reluctantly accepting his impending doom when…. SLASH!! The samurai struck down the impending threat behind him. The stranger opened his eyes and gazed upon the dead corpse of……

 

His colleague, who’s body was cleanly severed at the torso. the stranger gasped in horror as suddenly, flashes of events from their scientific expedition appeared in front of his eyes.  Again fear began to stir as he recalled his laboratory being invaded by zombies  and an explosion.  In that instant the stranger realized what his colleague had become.  He turned to the samurai and….

 

He turned to the Samurai and extended his arm out realizing if either were going to make it through the apocalypse they were going to have to work together. So here they were a Samurai and a Scientist fighting for survival in a world overcome by zombies. As they start they’re agonizing trek through the jungle the Samurai is startled by…….

 

the roaring fire that was barreling towards them.  Reluctant to retreat to frozen tundra that lay behind them, the Samurai lifted the scientist onto his back and started to run.  He could hear the inferno crackling behind them, the flames licking the back of his cloak.  It seemed that the Samurai had run out of options until…

 

The ice creaked ominously beneath the feet of the fleeing Samurai. Undaunted, and with few other options, he continued on. Under normal circumstances his lightness of foot would have safely carried him over the rapidly melting ice flow, but the added weight of the scientist made this a less than certain proposition. Fewer than 20 steps later, the ominous creak became the shotgun blast of a crack exploding around them. The ice broke free and the unexpected companions were suddenly falling, falling, down into a deep, black void. They landed suddenly, their fall broken by something soft and pillowy, with the faint scent of morning dew. The scientist, with his one helpful contribution thus far, produced a lighter. Hesitantly he ran his thumb over the wheel, the spark of the flint igniting the fluid contained within. As the soft glow of the flame began to fill the void they were amazed to see…

 

They had fallen onto a pile of leathers, skins and furs.   As their eyes adjusted to the blackness of the cavern, they realized that they were in the middle of what appeared to be a primitive settlement:  there were many small, leather huts erected by roughly tied stripped wood and scorch marks of fires marring the naked earth around them like black pock scars.  The pungent smell of zombie flesh was absent, but in the distance, glinting in the weak flame of the lighter, were eyes…  Dozens of eyes… All peering at them.  In curiosity or anger, neither scientist nor samurai could say.  Suddenly, from behind them they heard…

 

A burly looking man of vast stature with a thick black grizzled beard. He carried a large, brutal looking axe and was clad in ragged clothes and furs. He looked like a homeless, warrior version of Paul Bunyan. “Who are you? Why have you come here?” asked the man, readying his weapon for an assault. The samurai drew his blade in reply. The scientist observed the eyes shrouded it darkness. He saw a group of people – men, women and children. They seemed frightened, dirty, and broken. It looked like they had been surviving here for months on their own, hidden from the reach of the ravenous undead creatures above. And it seemed apparent that the intimidating axe wielder was their leader, the way they sought refuge behind his presence. The scientist began to think back to that day in the laboratory, and what exactly transpired. How long had he been unconscious for? And more importantly, was he somehow responsible for this disaster? What had caused the current predicament he found himself in. He strained to conjure his memories, grasping at them like puffs of cloud that dissipated with each attempt. The last thing he could recall before waking up and meeting his anachronistic samurai savior was…..

 

sterile tile walls….steel tables….bunson burners….flashes of out of sequence memories darted across the surface of his mind. the harder he concentrated on putting them in order the more it felt like they were slipping away…broken glass…screaming…angry yelling…panic began to wash over him every time clarity seemed close and just as suddenly it left. it was as though his mind didn’t want to remember what had happened. Just as he was beginning to give up all hope of getting anything useful from his suddenly antagonistic brain, one scene popped in and stayed there. It was the warrior in ragged clothes and furs. In this image he was wearing a lab coat, the name tag read…Schaffer, MD, he had no beard, this memory must have been from some time ago. Schaffer was yelling, angry, something about unsafe containment procedures, corners being cut. As realization began to sweep over him, the scientist rose, holding his hands out to signal surrender. “You tried to warn us didn’t you?” he asked hesitantly…

 

Schaeffer’s eyes were unfocused for a moment as recognition fogged his mind.  He blinked once, twice and in his dark eyes the scientist saw a spark.  And like the ignition catching fire in a hesitant engine, the two men seemed to recall almost in the same moment who was standing before him.  Colleague, collaborator and friend.  Schaeffer was just an apparition of his former self, and the scientist imagined that he must look the same to his old workmate.  “Yes, friend,” he said lowering his axe, but only slightly as he eyed the samurai in his peripheral vision while the samurai did the same…  We thought we were Gods amongst mortals.  But we were playing with fire.  Called it a miracle, the Fountain of Youth,” he said bitterly.  “By the time I realized what was happening it was too late…  But now that you’re here there’s hope, yet.”  He said.  “You were brilliant and I sure hope you didn’t lose that.  They’re not so unwise, the undead ones that walk above,” he continue, seizing something from around his neck his neck and pulling hard to break the cord that held in place.  “You would do well to not lose this or alert them that you have it.  They’ve been looking for me,” he said quietly.  He walked quickly up to the scientist and pressed something cold and hard into his hand, never breaking his gaze with the scientist.  Then Schaeffer was very silent and very still for several seconds…  He said two words so quietly that the scientist almost didn’t hear them…  “They’re coming…” he heard, followed by the nearly audible chill down his spine and the most blood curdling scream that would haunt his nightmares for years to come…

Shadows

— An excerpt from the novel that I’m working on (click here for more details).  Describing the children lost and forgotten within Child Protective Services.—

A shadow serves the essential purpose of confirming that an object exists and is firmly planted in reality.  You see, something that doesn’t cast a shadow can’t be real.

But most people don’t doubt the reality that contains them.  They accept what is around them as fact, concrete and solid.  They are so firmly grounded in that acceptance that they don’t even spare a moment to think about it.  They just go about their day and the authenticity of their world goes without saying: home, bed, bathroom, clothes, breakfast, vehicle, roads, office, building, home.  No need to check that these things are there, they just are, as they always are and always will be every day, as people carry on about their lives.

In the same way people don’t take a moment to reaffirm the existence of the objects in their lives, they don’t look at a shadow twice.  Most don’t even spare it that first glance, unless it creeps up on them unawares, thrown off at how quickly the sun had moved and time had passed.

Shadows are just there.

They were shadows.  They were cast and forgotten.  Their poor existence served as a counterbalance for those who were better off:  for each one who lived a terrible life, it confirmed that there must be someone out there who had a better one.  For there is no woe if there is no joy.

Any sense of belonging that they felt was temporary.  They were bounced around from home to home where most people couldn’t care less about their well being as they passed through, so long as the government sent the accompanying check with the custody of the minor.  Ironically, it was that same money that they awaited to receive that was meant to assure that child’s well being.

The younger or newer ones that were introduced into the machine that was the Child Protective Agency were too naïve and were too often taken advantage of, violated, brutalized and mistreated by those they trusted too hastily.  Throughout the years, the older ones would develop tough exteriors and a tendency to rebel against authority. They were often labeled as lost causes, those judging them not knowing that they only acted with self-preservation in mind, however misguided they seemed.  Their innocence had been ravaged and they had been abused too many times to let another in so easily, even the few who had good intentions.  How do you make yourself vulnerable and credulous when you were so often betrayed?

So, it was not uncommon for them to lie, steal, and distrust all except one another.  When held in the shelters and detention centers, they found solace in the company of their temporarily shared and unsure journey to either a permanent home or legal adulthood: whichever came first.  When the going got tough, it was not uncommon for them to run away and to fall off the grid, taking their chances with a life out on the streets of whatever European city they could get to with the amount least hassle.  Some times, the only thing they would have to their name was a bottle of cheap, harsh liquor, stolen or otherwise illegally obtained, passed around a half circle of them to keep the cold away.

They were the begging faces on the streets, looking so young, yet so worn and aged.  They were the dangerous looking wayward youths that made strangers clasp their purse a bit tighter as they passed  by on the underground stairway.  They were often the lost souls that wandered the streets intoxicated to numb the pain and forget their worries as judging onlookers shook their head.

They were the shadows of the normal lives that most take for granted, the shadows that were forgotten until they crept up unawares.

But just as quickly as most past them by, they are forgotten.  And life went on regardless of whether that moment was taken to remember that they existed.

About the Novel I Intend On Writing and Publishing

While I try to be open minded about the experience and identities of others, I can’t help but be drawn to strong, black women.  I know its because I see something of myself in them that I can identify with: a shared culture and world view that you can only understand if you’ve not only walked in the shoes of the black woman, but worn the bra of and shaken your hips as only the black woman can.  So recently, I’ve been compelled to write a fictional story inspired by a group of incredibly strong black women that I’ve met in London.

The story is loosely based on their past and present lives.  What is remarkable about their story is that their mother gave birth to seven girls and raised them largely without the involvement of their father.  They came from prominence and aristocracy, but, following the abandonment of their father, faced much poverty and hardship.  Yet through it all, the eight of them maintained their sense of family and steeled their faith against breaking.  Their strong wills helped them to come out of terrible experiences whole and together.

Also, parts of the story are juxtaposed onto that of a Nhara or senora or signare, who is an ancestress of the main characters.  These Nharas were strong entrepreneurial African women who secured wealth and status for themselves often by marrying or forming business arrangements with European men who wished to export slaves out of West Africa.  By many accounts, these women were forces to be reckoned with.  I’m still doing research about these fascinating historical figures, particularly in the regions of West Africa formerly controlled by the Portuguese, so that my Nhara character can be at least plausible if not historically accurate.

I want to complete this novel, publish it and dedicate it to strong black women everywhere.  From the Nharas to the fictional Santiago sisters (and the non-fictional sisters on which they are based), this is for you: the strong black women who continue to inspire me.  Perhaps one day, thanks to you all, I may just yet mature into an equally inspirational strong black woman.

.

~ L.  Astounded

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Preview of the Seven Sisters:

I am the very youngest of seven.  Yes, seven.  All girls.

I’m obviously quite happy with the number.  Any less and I wouldn’t exist.  ‘But why so many as seven?’ one might ask.  The answer to the question is a simple one:  I have African parents.

They weren’t just any run of the mill African parents.  My parents were aristocracy.  My father did not simply claim that he was descended of kings, as is en vogue to say with certain members of the African Diaspora.  My father had the wealth, influence and history to prove it.

He was a politician of some sort.  I’m not sure what exactly it was that he did.  I never bothered to ask or cared to know much about him.  However, I knew that his job took him to different parts of the world, which is why some of my sisters have really exotic birthplaces: Madagascar, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and Turkey.  I was born in London, my two oldest sisters (for those keeping track) were born in my father’s native country of Cape Verde.

As with any typical man from a largely patriarchal society with traditional values, my father wanted a legacy, someone that could carry on the family name when he passed: in short, a son.   Shortly after my birth, his seventh ‘failure’ as he so affectionately put it, he came to the strongly coerced conclusion that my mother couldn’t give him that which he desired most.  The sum of a loving wife and seven daughters was not worth as much to him as that elusive son.  So, he abandoned my mother in Europe to conquer a younger, fresher, dumber womb.

He didn’t just leave my mother, my sisters and I.  He took our passports, all of our legal documents and blocked any funds that my mother had access to.  He subsequently had their marriage annulled without her consent, absolving him of any financial responsibility to my mother or us.  Remember, he was a man of politics; he knew what channels he had to visit to make things like that happen.  What was more, she was stranded in a country (Belgium) where she did not speak the language well, with seven children ranging from several weeks to eleven years of age.

That coercion that I mentioned earlier wasn’t just against her supposedly sex-specific infertility.  It was also laced with years of accusing my mother of infidelity and placing doubt on my father’s paternity to more than one of her children, me in particular.  If my father had been a man of logic, he would have realized that his inability to have a son had nothing with my mother.  He would have perhaps relied on modern medicine to address this situation.  If he were a man of reason, he would have had the paternity of his children tested, as is reasonable when in doubt.  It was the early nineties; the technology was available and he was a rich man.  My father was, if nothing else, proud and passionate.   As a man of passion, he acted according to his slighted pride at his wife’s supposed infidelity and at her inability to give him sons.  Well the joke’s on him.  From what we here about him, twenty-three years, two more wives, and a dozen more daughters later, he still can’t have sons.

So, at the debut of the nineties a penniless, single mother of seven young children from a previous opulent, spoiled, pampered life had to learn to be independent.  It’s not where most people would have wanted to start, but it’s where this story, my life, started.

That’s all I care to mention about the man that fathered me.   This is not about him.  It’s about the six best friends and worst enemies that anyone could have been given.   And me.  I’ll try to share this story without getting those who follow lost in the potential chaos that so many breasts and egos inevitably bring.

-Angela Santiago