In Memory of My Dad

My dad died from pancreatic cancer on June 5, 2014. Since then, the 5th of June has always been a day of mourning. My father was well loved and well known so my social media feeds are usually clogged with sad posts that I can’t avoid because everyone tags me, my mother, and my siblings in them. I’m usually surrounded by everyone’s grief and I usually can’t escape it. But this year, I’m doing something different. I’m going to celebrate his life, not mourn his death. I wish I had more pictures of him but he wasn’t a picture taking type of guy. So enjoy this tribute to my father.

I love you dad and I hope you’re proud of what I’ve become.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Weight Has Always Been A Struggle

My Troubles With My Weight Started When I Was Six

Puberty hit me like a train and I went from a string-bean that use to climb through the railings of my family’s dining room table to a plump little dumpling. As a child, I was a bookworm and was too uncoordinated to ever play any sports so all the normal trappings of childhood that would have helped me lose weight didn’t really apply to me. Plus, I wore glasses and my parents hated replacing them.

As a child, I didn’t overeat but I also didn’t eat a lot of vegetables.  I loved my sweets (still do) particularly cookies and ice cream but my parents never overindulged me although both of them liked to snack after dinner. This is a habit I took with me into adulthood. I find myself craving a dessert after dinner, most nights.

I was always just a plump kid. Never too big for people to worry about my health but never the “right” size either and I was fine with that, for the most part. I didn’t become aware of the fact that I was overweight until I was in middle school. You know, the stage in life where it becomes more apparent that kids like each other in a romantic manner. But even then it wasn’t really a problem. My self-esteem was suffering from other things back then and even though my weight and how people perceived me for it factored into my low self-esteem, it wasn’t the root cause.

In my 8th grade year, I got really sick and lost a lot of weight. I think it was about 20 lbs and that’s when I noticed how much my weight had factored into my social life. Suddenly, people were interested in me. Suddenly, people noticed me. Suddenly, the boy I had a crush on showed interest. Suddenly…

That Was A Wake-Up Call

That was the mentality I went to high school with. My freshman year of high school I worked out every night and maintained my weight loss from the previous school year. Everything was going fine until I was diagnosed with scoliosis. My physical therapist told me to stop working out a) because they were worried about my spine and b) because it was taking my muscles too long to relax during our sessions and I was wasting time and money. So I stopped working out but I didn’t stop eating the way that I had been eating. So the weight started to come back. I went from a size 8 to a size 10 to a size 12 to a size 14.

I remained a 14 for the rest of my high school days. After physical therapy ended, I tried to get back to working out but I didn’t really want to. Eventually, I got back into the groove but I wasn’t doing the right type of workouts. I was doing toning exercises with very little cardio, so I ended up with a very toned solid body shape. Meaning I was a 14 but I didn’t have a whole bunch of flab except for my arms–those things are the devil.

By the time I went to college I noticed that I was losing weight again. I probably dropped down to a 13 but they don’t really make those so I was a loose 14 most of my freshman year. Then my dad died and I ate my feelings and I went from the 13 to a 16 in the span of a summer. Grief will do that.

I stayed a 16 until my junior year. That year, I actually used the school gym and I did a mixture of cardio, resistance training, and toning exercises commonly found within pilates. I went from a 16 to a tight 14 and then during that summer I went to Europe and got down to a 12. Europe was magical. All the traveling, hiking, and walking–plus the food was healthier–Oh my God! Europe was magical!

But All Fairytales Come To An End

Once I got back into the U. S. the weight started coming back. It was a combination of a lot of things. I wasn’t able to workout because I was too busy with classes and work. The food, even though it was home cooked, wasn’t as clean as Europe’s food had been. And I was actually able to afford food again because I was no longer exchanging my dollars for Euros, Swiss Francs, British Pounds, or Icelandic Króna. Those exchange rates really take a bite out of your budget.

But anyway,  before it became apparent that my weight was going back up, I’d started buying new clothes. You see, Europe changed me. It made me realize that I was an adult and that I should start dressing in a more professional manner. So when I got back home, I started buying better clothes. I’m not putting down jeans and T-shirts because those were my go-to clothing choices but they were also a way for me to hide myself and any discomfort I was feeling about my body. So this new found love for myself and comfortableness with my body coupled with the fact that most of my clothes no longer fit me, thanks to my European adventures, led me to redo my wardrobe. I was blissfully unaware that my weight was rising until one day I looked in the mirror and realized my belly was hanging again. And the tightness in my pants wasn’t because I was drying them too long. I was gaining the weight back. My size 14s were hugging just a little too tight once again.

But This Time Around, Things Will Be Different

I turn 22 next month and I’m tired of my weight yo-yoing. Last night I looked at my pictures from Europe and graduation and noticed that I look nothing like what I pictured I would look like at the age of 21. I feel like I don’t look like an adult. I’ve always had a curvy body. The type of body shape that made people wonder if you were a child or an adult but once they looked at your face, they could clearly see that you were a child. Yeah, that was me. Sweaters and hoodies because my father didn’t want unfriendly eyes on me.

But now at 21, I do not FEEL like I look like an adult. I feel that my face is too chubby or my limbs are too full. I feel like if I slimmed down, I would look older. And to look older or more specifically, my age, is what I’m aiming for. I don’t have any health problems in relation to my weight. The weight loss I’m seeking to achieve this summer is purely for aesthetics. I want to be the carefree Black girl that you see on Tumblr, at film festivals, and at the Afropunk festivals. I want to be vibrant and youthful. I want to feel vibrant and youthful and self-assured. I want to look 22 this summer and so I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to get down to a size I’m comfortable with and I’m going to keep my weight steady. This is a promise I’m making to myself and I don’t break my promises because I’m a woman of my word.

Short Stories, Novels and Screenplays: How I Became A Writer

The Early Days

Writing was always a hobby of mine. Everyone has a hobby when they are children. Some people paint, some people draw, some people collect bugs or stones from their backyard. Not me. Nope. I was always the writer. One of my earliest recollections of my childhood was the day my parents painted my bedroom white.

Now picture this: I was four or five and my parents painted my entire room white. I thought it was paper. So I went to my room for a few hours, I choose my favorite crayons, I searched for the perfect spot to start, and then I scribbled out a story. And it was beautiful. It was probably filled with adventure and suspense because even at that young age I was a sucker for suspense (I personally blame that on my dad and his love of horror films). So, fast-forward a few hours and my masterpiece was complete. I rushed down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom and asked them to come to my room—I had something to show them.

When I showed them my story, I was so excited and I couldn’t figure out why they were so angry. Looking back on it, I can understand their anger. After all, the paint had just finished drying when I decided to write my “masterpiece”. But after that, my parents started buying me notebooks and I started writing my stories down there. Shortly after I started writing, I also developed a taste for drawing. Look at me, being all multitalented and everything, but in all fairness, my father and older sister were great artists as well. So, after I started drawing, I started to create posters and cover art for my stories. It all started off as little doodles here and there and then it turned into actual character sketches.

Childhood drawings_1-3

False Pretenses and other Disasters

I was in elementary school when I started “publishing” my work. I would go home and spend hours writing in my notebooks and drawing cover art and posters. Then I would staple my stories together with the artwork and bring it to class the next day. I would share the stories and artwork with my friends and eventually my teachers. One of my elementary teachers, Mrs. Martin, used to call me little Stephen King. I’m not comparing my work to his in any way but she saw similar themes. I was a horror junkie as a kid and my taste for horror eventually lead me to discover the action-filled world of science fiction and fantasy. Sci-fi and Fantasy became my preferred writing genres.

By the time I made it to middle school, I was firmly in the realm of fantasy and instead of having stapled pieces of paper; I had spiral notebooks I would share with my friends. The ring of sharing was getting smaller and smaller. Everyone knew I was a writer but only about 3 of my friends ever read my musings in middle school.

My eighth-grade year of middle school, I decided to write a book. Well, let’s say I loosely decided to write a book. Up until this point, all of my writing projects had been stand-alone short stories or serialized short stories. But in eighth grade, I had this wonderful idea and it was called False Pretenses. I know, the title was a bit presumptuous for a 13-year-old to come up with but it fit pretty well. It was a story that spanned centuries and talked about tyranny and corrupt governments before I could even truly understand what all that meant. It started with a girl named Sarah. She would soon learn that her new friends at her new school were not human. And they’d been sent to find her to bring her back to another realm that needed her help because she was a lost ruler that had once saved their world and through magic and reincarnation she was the only hope. The story had three different “Ladies of Sorrows” which is what they called her because she would only manifest in times of sorrow. The story talked about teenage problems but also world problems that at the time I was aware of but didn’t fully comprehend in the same fashion I do now. It was also the first time I knowingly wrote for a YA audience.

Childhood drawings_1-2

False Pretenses cover art/character sketch.

So I gave my two notebooks to one of my friends and she came back a week later telling me that it sucked. Not only did it suck, but she also fell asleep reading it to her little brother who later told her, he thought it needed more action. I was crushed. No one had ever said they had not enjoyed my writing before and I trusted her opinion because she was my friend. Therefore, I sat down and reread the story and to my amazement or dismay, however you want to look at it, I saw that she was right. It was boring. It lagged too much on the first act (even though at the time I did not know that was the real problem). In my 13-year-old mind, I thought the problem was that I spent too much time focusing on Sarah’s life as a human. I spent too much time in the human world and not enough time in the magical world that I was starting to develop.

During the summer before high school, I typed up the story and did a second draft, although, at the time, I didn’t know that’s what it was called either. I also didn’t know that my friend reading my work and giving me feedback was considered beta reading and that it was part of the editing process. So I added more pages and more depth, death, characters and feeling to the story and ended up with 50,000 words and carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, I ended up with a great story with many layers that could be expanded upon in later books. But that never happened because tragedy would strike when I least expected it to.

Trying To Get Published

Do you believe in cosmic warnings? The universe sending you messages? God intervening? Well if you do, you can take your pick because no matter what I did something always happened to prevent me from moving forward with False Pretenses. Let me back up and explain a little bit. During that summer I’d also read the Den of Shadows series by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. She was 14 when the first book in that series, In the Forests of the Night, was published. She inspired me to try to become a published author.

So all throughout the summer, I revised False Pretenses and when I started high school that fall I continued to revise the novel. I made a new group of friends and they read my novel and gave me the praise I desired. I even tried to get my literature teacher to take a look at it. I don’t think he took it that seriously when I brought it up, but once he saw the size of the book he realized I was serious about writing. I don’t think he ever got around to reading it though, but he’s still one of my favorite teachers. Anyway, I said all of that just to prove that I was serious about submitting this book to a literary agent in hopes of getting it published by the time I was 15. But that never happened because “accidents” kept happening.

First, my sister drove over my flash drive that had the book on it and then the computer that I wrote the book on crashed. All of the files had to be erased in order for it to turn back on. And then one of the two physical copies I had disappeared. One of my friends that had read the book took it with her when she graduated and moved. So I was left with one copy of the book and when I tried to scan that copy onto a new computer, that computer also crashed. I took it as a sign that False Pretenses should never see the light of day. Ever.

I’m actually glad that I was never able the query an agent for False Pretenses because my life was determined to go another way. Throughout high school, I continued to write short stories and even attempted to write a sequel to False Pretenses titled Defying Serenity. That story was a prequel to False Pretenses. It was the story of the original “Lady of Sorrows” which was hinted at in the first book. But during my junior year in high school, I was given the opportunity to write for a newspaper.

The St. Louis Public School district participated in a program that allowed students to produce journalistic works and get their work published in newspapers. The entire system was run by students and aided by adults. My article was the only one from my school selected for publication. I still have the physical newspaper my article appeared in because I’m a collector. My article, Scoliosis in My Life, also won an award for being the most read article on the SciJourner website at the time (I don’t know if it still holds that record though.) The experience opened my eyes to a different form of writing and for the first time in my life, I considered being a journalist.


From Journalism to Screenwriting

By my senior year in high school, I had my sights set on journalism as my major for college. I applied to Saint Louis University and Webster University, looking at their journalism programs. I was accepted into both colleges but ended up going to Webster University. I was in the journalism program for a semester before switching to Scriptwriting. I hated the program. I was more excited about going to my German classes than I was about going to required classes for my major.

Scriptwriting at Webster University encompasses writing screenplays, stage-plays, teleplays, and radio scripts. During college, I had a few ideas for books but was unable to seriously write any of them because I was always busy working on other writing projects, classes, or actually working. But looking back at everything, I can honestly see how I’ve grown as a writer. All of these years of writing has helped me hone my skills and develop a specific “voice” for my writing. It’s given me the chance to learn how to market myself as a writer and provided me with the opportunity to have more work published over the years.

For example in my junior year in college, I was hired by my university to write a series of short films about sexual assault. I can’t link the produced version of the films because Webster University owns the rights to them and that’s alright with me because I was paid for my writing. Having work that was paid for and produced has made me an official screenwriter before I even graduated. Mission accomplished.

I wrote this post to show how writing has shaped my life but more importantly how life can shape your writing. Had I not had each of these key events happen to me, I probably wouldn’t even be writing this blog, let alone be interested in becoming a published author and a successful screenwriter. Big life decisions can come from the smallest of things. My entire writing career started with four blank walls and some crayons. What is your writing story?