Mannequin Monday – Who Tells Your Story
Once again, creating the word on Mannequin Monday. This week, Africa-based fantasy fiction, with Nnedi Okorafor sharing her stories and her journey.
And viewing Hamilton this weekend got me thinking about some of the show’s lyrics. George Washington sings of Alexander Hamilton, “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.
To close, I offer my own story, “The Kiss.” You have no control after a word is spoken.
This Week’s Story
Like many thousands of viewers, I watched Hamilton this past weekend. One lyric that caught my attention: you can’t control who lives, who dies, who tells your story. It got me thinking. Who tells my story? Who writes my story? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics may say, you can’t control who does. In the long run, it will be readers, family, friends, maybe critics, who tell my story. But for now, I tell my story. I write it. No one else will.
Searching on the topic of telling my story led me, serendipitously, to Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor. She is well-known, award-winning, for her Africa-based sci-fi and fantasy writings. Her novels – and comics – draw on African mythology, folklore, tradition. She has among her credits four issues of Marvel’s Black Panther.
In a 2018 conversation with ideas.ted.com, interviewer Patrick D’Arcy says of her work: “Okorafor dove headfirst into creating the stories she never found on library shelves growing up — ones with strong female protagonists of color, African locations, speculative technology, aliens and magic, as well as complex and relevant social themes like racial identity and gender violence.”
Okorafor talks with generosity about the journey to finding her voice, her story. Her advice to writers: “Write your story, and don’t be afraid to write it. Don’t go changing your story to fit the default — that’s the worst thing you can do.”
She stresses, “You may be able to find great success, and it works — I’ve seen it work many times — but if you really want a deep shift, and also deep creative satisfaction, you stay true to your own story.”
Much of Okorafor’s writing is available to read free online. See her own website for a number of stories. And, as of this writing, one of her graphic novels, Shuri Vol. 1: The Search for Black Panther, is available to download at no cost on Amazon Kindle.
Slate magazine online posts a story by Okorafor titled “Mother of Invention.” Read it here.
The Hamilton cast sings as the show comes to a close: “And when my time is up/have I done enough?/Will they tell my story?” Okorafor assures the writer your story will be told, if “you stay true to your own story.”
The message for me, for all writers and creatives, indeed, for any one of us, is: I cannot rely on anyone else to tell my story. It’s on me.
My Current Writing
This is a story I wrote for a writing course assignment. Two different voices in a distinct setting. The spoken word cannot be withdrawn.
“I can’t ever kiss you again.”
Erica leaned against the railing far out on the Malibu Pier. Late afternoon. The sun ready to drop behind the horizon. Adam stood next to her, feeling like he was going down with the setting sun. Both stared unseeing at the surfers, the breaking waves, the gulls swooping overhead.
Adam whispered, “I told you I’m sorry.”
He turned to look at her. Saw the fading sun coloring her face.
He said, “My father had to pull an extra shift. He needed me to babysit my sister.”
Adam twisted his hands together. “I texted Max to tell him I couldn’t go to the party…I asked him to kiss you for me.”
Erica twisted to face him, almost shouting over the squawking gulls. “You couldn’t have texted me?”
“Yeah…I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Erica stared at Adam. “It was horrible. Boys are pigs!”
Adam flushed. “Yeah…”
“You have no idea. When I walked in, Max ran up to me. Said you couldn’t make it. That you told him to kiss me for him. And he did. Wet, sloppy, gross.”
Adam saw shadows inching across her face as the sun sank.
“Every boy at the party lined up behind him to kiss me. Some of them pushed their tongues in my mouth. Max stood behind me so I couldn’t move.”
Adam ran his hands through his hair. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it. You have no clue what it felt like.”
He heard her sniffle. Turned to see tears running down her face.
“I’m so sorry.”
“A couple of the girls stepped in and shoved Max out of the way. They took me outside. I was shaking. Wiping spit off my mouth!”
“You have to know…I didn’t ask them to do that.”
“Shit! You started it.”
“You know I really care about you,” he said.
Erica leaned her elbows on the railing and buried her face in her hands. The streetlamps on the pier blinked on.
Erica lifted her face out of her hands to look hard into his eyes. “I can’t ever kiss you again.”
The nearest streetlamp cast a sallow light on Adam’s face. “I get it.”
“No, I don’t think you do.” She stepped away from the railing. “I like being with you, Adam. But I can’t kiss you. It would make me remember…”