Welcome to Week 7 of the Wise Not Withered Character Showcase! I took a break last week, and I will take another break in another six or seven weeks, so thank you for your patience! I am so excited to showcase Tsalo-Sesha Serena, the Mother of Nature. This character is particularly special because from conception all the way through to the completion of her story, she is truly the product of collaboration, between me and the talented writer RatoMil from South Africa.
When I sent the list of 25 characters to RatoMil, she proposed a new character, the 110-year-old Amazonian "Real-Life Mother Nature". The backstory that RatoMil created for her was this: She used to be a city girl but lost everything she had worked for to an abusive marriage and found herself lost in the wild. For some reason she connected with nature and decided to settle there away from the toxicity of the city. She discovered she has a connection with the plants and animals thus she can hear and understand them and vice versa. She discovered her super powers and used them to survive in the wild and also protect wild life and nature.
I looked through my list of characters to see if there were any that could be combined with RatoMil's idea, because I found it very intriguing and different from anything I had come up with on my own. Scrolling through my list, I stopped at the 48-year-old Legless Rock Climber and realized how perfectly the two characters could be combined. So, I proposed a new character who would be 79 years old, right in between 48 and 110.
Updating RatoMil's original description, this is what the character's final synopsis became: She used to be a city girl, but lost everything she had worked for to an abusive marriage. Following a near-fatal plane crash in her 30s, she found herself without legs, lost in the wild. Ethereal plants and creatures helped her heal, and she connected with nature and decided to settle there, away from the toxicity of the city. She discovered she has a connection with the plants and animals thus she can hear and understand them and vice versa. Using her superpowers she has been able to survive in the harsh jungle environment for decades, and can also protect wild life and nature. Even without legs, she has powerful upper-body strength that allows her to swim against strong currents, and climb her way up and around trees. Working together with vines and leaves, she can also traverse effortlessly across the jungle floors.
RatoMil and I chatted on the phone about the character and the story, and we decided that she would have two names: the first would be her given name (which would then become hyphenated with her husband's), and the second would be the one she chooses after awakening in the jungle. Her new name would show that she is fierce yet calm, gentle yet strong; the change of names would indicate her transition of letting go of her past and stepping into her new role and embracing her new reality.
One of the most important aspects for the Wise Not Withered project was that for each character, the story's focus must be on her NOW, at her CURRENT AGE. Understandably many writers wanted to include backstory and/or flashbacks, and while backstory is essential for the writer in creating a well-rounded, believable character, I was very firm about needing the focus to be on present-day events.
However, because the Real-Life Mother Nature character essentially has two lives—her city girl life, and her post-accident awakening—I thought it would be appropriate to give a bit of backstory as to who she was in her first life, and to show the stark contrast. Instead of writing it out like a story however, RatoMil and I collaborated yet again on an opening poem, which you will hear from RatoMil herself at the end of the episode.
While I was drafting the poem, I thought about how beautifully ironic it would be to compare the restriction our protagonist felt in her marriage to the tight grips of vines and drowning in water, while later she connects with and finds solace in vines and water, this time in a drastically different and intensely liberating way.
The illustrator for this character was Eazala Maria, from Argentina. When I first saw the close-up illustration that Eazala made for Tsalo-Sesha, I was in tears. She so perfectly captured everything I wanted the character to be, with wrinkles and sunspots, looking very peaceful and kind. I love the colors she used, and the details are simply incredible. The main illustration for this character happens to be my profile photo on Instagram!
Now onto this character's incredible name! RatoMil speaks Setswana, one of the eleven official languages in South Africa. She suggested "Tsalo-Sesha", which means "rebirth". Eazala speaks Spanish, and proposed "Serena", which represents tranquility. RatoMil and I were talking about full names, and I thought it would be interesting for our character to have a long name. I myself have two middle names, in addition to what I grew up thinking was an excessively long first name. I used to be really embarrassed about my long name, but I love it now. So instead of picking just one of the names that the artists suggested, I decided to combine them, and our character's full name became Tsalo-Sesha Serena, which just feels right.
The rest of the story recounts a group of invaders who come to the jungle in search of a mystical flower. The leader of the group reminds Tsalo-Sesha of her ex-husband, and I purposely left characteristic details about this man vague, so that readers may envision him however they want. There is another woman with the group, named Anna, who realizes that she no longer wants to help the others find the flower, and decides to stay with our protagonist in the jungle. The ending implies that Tsalo-Sesha is mentoring Anna as the rest of the invaders give up their search for Anna and leave.
And that's about it from me about the story of Tsalo-Sesha! And now here is RatoMil, first introducing herself, then talking about the story, her experience with the project, and finally reading the poem that we wrote together. In the next phase of the project, voice actresses and composers will add even more life to these characters, and I am happy to announce that RatoMil will be the voice actress for Tsalo-Sesha's story. So without further ado, here is the one and only RatoMil!
"Hello, I am Lerato Mileng, also known as RatoMil, all the way from South Africa, and I am a creative writer and storyteller, amongst other things. My first writing pieces, or written piece, was when I was an adult. I started writing creatively at a very late stage, as an adult. I was going through a very tough time in my life. To be particular, I was going through abuse. The experience was very painful whereby I could not find words to utter and express the feelings, and the next best thing I could do was write. I did what I call "bleeding on paper". Through that, poetry was birthed. I realized that this bleeding on paper created poems. I don't remember the first particular pieces, but it was poetry. I started writing through poetry, which was birthed by writing therapy.
When I recognized it as well as the passion, the love for writing, then I took it further, decided to go further into creative writing. From poetry, to now books, books to scripts, scripts to... You know, the journey just grew like that, at a very rapid speed. I believe that I found myself in writing. I found my calling. So that's how the journey of me writing started, through writing a poem, and bleeding on paper basically.
So I am the writer of Tsalo-Sesha, who is the Real-Life Mother Nature. Initially the idea was an Amazonian woman who was a hundred and ten years old, who becomes the real-life mother nature. It is an idea that came while I was going through the list of characters to choose to write about. And while I was going through this list, this story just came to me. I felt like actually, this story needs to be written. I want to write this story.
I suggested to Juliana, the facilitator of Wise Not Withered, how about a story like this? She loved the idea. However, we decided okay, let's come to a common understanding, common ground. There was a character on the list, that was a forty-nine-year-old World War III veteran who lost her legs. So we decided to join the two stories and make them one.
We worked on the story together, combining the two characters. Eventually our character became the seventy-nine-year-old Tsalo-Sesha, who is the real-life mother nature—the legless mother nature. She loses her legs in the process of the story.
Yeah, it's a beautiful story. You know, the story flowed through me. I feel that writing is a very spiritual thing. Some stories need to be told, and I feel that it was one of those stories that flowed out of me that needed to be told. It was easy for me to write it, because some elements of it I could relate to, referring back to the abuse I went through as well. It's best to write what you know about. Elements of nature, turning into mother nature... Was just a beautiful twist to the story that developed. With Juliana also writing this with me, coming in to add other elements, it just grew into a beautiful narrative.
Tsalo-Sesha was not originally born as Tsalo-Sesha. She is an African woman who was named Sammy Tswana by her parents. Sammy Tswana fell in love with a foreign man, from overseas, America. She went against her parent's will and eloped with this guy. They got married, they were happy, this guy was doing these great things for her, being the perfect guy.
Sammy loved plants, she loved nature, and had a good hand at growing plants. In this new home in America, she could not seem to grow her plants. The environment as well, there was no outside, it was this apartment... Concrete jungle, you know? She would grow her plants indoors, on the balcony, but they would always die. There's something about plants, they're very sensitive to bad auras. That was the subtext of the story, that the plants always died.
Eventually the main reason the plants died came out, which was that her knight in shining armor was not so much of a hero or a good guy. He was actually a criminal and an abusive person, and with time his character started showing. And this woman was now trapped in her home, abused and depressed, losing a part of herself every day. Through the story, Sammy had to escape.
She was good with art. She was a creative person and she loved flowers. So she started painting, and making some money. Eventually she raised enough to go back home. She escaped, she ran, on the first plane flight back to Africa. The plane crashed, and that's when she loses her legs. Somewhere in the jungle, that's where the plane crashed. Now she became reborn into Tsalo-Sesha, and became one with nature, and grew into something beautiful that lives for and protects nature.
Later on there were more characters in the story that came looking for something very precious. They wanted to take it back to use for wrongful means. There was a lady there that was special. Tsalo-Sesha was able to hide in plain sight, like a mystic being. The special lady was the only one who could connect with Tsalo-Sesha in a spiritual sense, and could feel her presence. Eventually they connected and became friends. It turned out to be a beautiful narrative. I just love the story, it's a beautiful story... It narrates how a woman can come out of a negative situation, a very testing situation, and grow from it, and become a powerful force.
I joined Wise Not Withered because I wanted to be part of the force, the collective that works on changing the narrative of elderly women in the industry, particularly the game industry, as well as the whole entire world. Elderly women are seen to be frail, withered. The wise element in them is overlooked. They can change a lot of things, if the world can connect with the wise element of elderly women. I wanted to be part of that force that changes the narrative, and I knew that I could write stories that showed that part.
It has been a beautiful journey. It was a joy writing that story with Juliana, and the poem. It was just blissful! It just flowed. How I wrote it, how she also had pieces gel together, making one story. I loved the process so much. I can't wait to see how far this goes. I can't wait to see the finished product. I can't wait to have these stories, written by women, globally... This whole concept of the global collaboration project, changing the narrative of the elderly women, in the gaming industry, as well as the world. Thank you!"
Stay tuned for more showcases of the Wise Not Withered characters, every Sunday until May of 2020!