Welcome to the Wise Not Withered Podcast Season 2, the Character Showcase! This is Week 4. Today I am proud to highlight the Walk-in-the-Park Pageant Queen, Cassandra! She is a 65-year-old writer, blogger, mother, grandmother, former pageant queen, and celebrity from the fictional world of Filizuela.
The writer for this story is the lovely Izhar, from the Philippines. The illustrator was originally from Venezuela, but unfortunately she was going through some very hard times in her country, and she understandably had to withdraw her participation. Izhar and I decided to keep the name of the country though, “Filizuela”, which is a combination of the Philippines and Venezuela.
My original idea for this character was simply that she was a “Walk-in-the-Park Romantic”, who meets a nice man on her walks in the park. That’s all! Izhar really took it to the next level. The story begins with an interview on a talk show, where we learn about Cassandra’s extensive background and first claims to fame. She was almost crowned Miss Universe forty-three years prior to the start of the story, making history not just for the title but also for a catastrophic accident where she fell on stage and irreparably damaged her foot. Ashamed to leave the house right after the incident, she turned to writing, though eventually also public speaking, and she briefly ran a custom shoe-making company.
Takeaways from the Story “Renewed”
When Izhar and I first came up with ALL of these ideas for Cassandra’s background, I almost thought it would be too much, but one of the points of this project is to showcase the adventures that older women still have into their older years. Cassandra is sixty-five, so it makes sense that she’s been through a lot in six and a half decades! Not every character in the Wise Not Withered project has a fully fleshed out background that’s in the story, but when we decided to include an interview at the beginning, it seemed fitting to briefly mention a lot of stuff that she’s already gone through.
In the interview at the beginning of the story, we mention many life challenges that she’s faced and overcome, but the focus of the story is on her life now getting back into writing, and her budding romance with Sebastian, a fellow walker in the park. Her injured foot is part of her character, but just like her age, it’s not the only defining characteristic of who she is.
The rest of the story is told in first person by Cassandra. When she first meets Sebastian, he doesn’t speak much English, and Cassandra doesn’t speak much Spanish. From the start Izhar and I wanted to include some comedy in their interactions, using a translator app to communicate. Since the story takes place in the year 2054, I wanted to include an older woman who uses technology on a daily basis, as I assume Izhar and I and others our age will be, even in a few decades. I wanted to show that Cassandra already knows how to use her phone and all of its apps, and not need the help of her daughter or granddaughter, since she would have grown up with it.
It was very important to me that we also show challenges that Cassandra faces in her new relationship, reference her past relationships, and show how it takes real, concerted effort to not fall into assumptions that your new partner will make the same mistakes as old ones. In the middle of the story, Sebastian lies to Cassandra about losing his job at a resto-bar. She has the opportunity then to come to terms with the fact that people can lie sometimes to people they love, to save their own reputation; she had to learn to forgive him and ultimately realize that his lie wasn’t even about her. It was important that they specifically talk about being honest with each other, too.
Now a bit about the two artists behind Cassandra’s story:
The story ends with a lovely beauty pageant that Cassandra puts on for other older women. One of the most magical parts in the story is when Cassandra walks around the stage near the end, to show the audience a real beauty queen walk, and Sebastian comes out to accompany her on the violin.
The illustrator I found for this character was Laura Mendoza, from El Salvador. I wanted to find someone who spoke Spanish, who could check the words and phrases that Izhar and I incorporated into the story, between Sebastian and Cassandra. I first found Laura on Behance, and I was really interested in her imaginative and colorful style.
Laura and Izhar both took some time to introduce themselves and talk about the work they did for the Wise Not Withered project. So without further ado, here’s Laura!
from Laura Mendoza (illustrator)
“Hi, my name is Laura Mendoza, I am from El Salvador which is a very small and beautiful country in Central America. I am an illustrator and graphic designer. I also teach at two universities here. I like traveling, get to know new people and places, illustrated books, create characters and their stories, and learn new things.
My life experiences and points of view become part of my creative process with which I develop several illustration and design projects. I draw since I was a child, and I keep doing it until now. I got more conscious about this with the pass of the time, because I understood that I wanted do this professionally. So, I started to learn different media, developing my drawing skills and getting a more organized creative approach.
For Cassandra’s character, I tried to pay attention to the characteristics of a mature empowered woman, surrounded by a creative and artistic environment. A woman passionate about the art of writing and delighted by music. A fighter woman and excited about life.
I thought the project was different and very interesting for pursuing the identification of adult women as part of different situations, cultures, languages, and roles. For the fact of giving prominence to women of different ages who interact in diverse life situations and who get ahead in the different problems they may encounter and also, women that can become inspiring references for others.“
Thank you to Laura for sharing with us, and now, here’s Izhar!
Izhar Aloy’s Message (writer)
“Hey guys, it’s me! My name is Izhar and I’m from the Philippines. Today I’ll be sharing to you my thoughts and experiences about the story of Cassandra. So first of all, I wanted to tell you about myself: I was the one who wrote the story—actually, me and Juliana wrote about the character Cassandra.
I thought it was hard for us to connect at first, knowing that we live in different countries: I’m from the Philippines and she’s from America. But thanks to technology, we’re able to connect anytime with each other! So it was not that hard to pull the story off, and it turned out to be very beautiful and inspiring.
I’m twenty-three years old, and I am a writer. I have been a professional writer for three years now. I know it is my job, but I don’t want to call it a job. I’d love to call it a hobby! So writing is my hobby. It’s definitely my go-to whenever I want to do something fun. I write novels, poems, songs—most of the times songs, because I’m actually a musician too.
By the way, English is not our mother tongue, not our first language, so I apologize if my English is not very good, but I will try my best to communicate! (laughs)
Ever since I was a kid, I loved writing. It’s really one of the hardest questions to answer, like when people ask me when I started writing. I don’t know, because I feel like I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I love reading novels, I love reading books: self-help, inspirational… My greatest influences are Sydney Sheldon, Robert Ladlum, Jane Austen, Daniel Steele, Sophie Kinsella—classic writers! I love reading novels, and I guess novels in general are the things that inspired me to become a writer myself.
So let’s talk about the character. The character Cassandra is really, really beautiful. I wrote the story and then I gave it to Juliana and she edited it. So basically she did most of the work. (laughs) So when I read it, when she sent it back to me, I literally cried. The story is just so beautiful, and the character was so amazing. It was more beautiful than what I hoped it would be, like seriously. It [turned out to be] such an amazing project.
What inspired me to write about the character honestly was this project itself, the Wise Not Withered project. First of all, I wanted to say thank you Juliana for building this great project: it’s such an amazing movement to empower women all over the world. There was actually a time when I was writing the story that I didn’t know what’s next. I was completely mental blocked, and I didn’t know what to write next. I don’t know what I wanted the character to be, what will happen in the story… I went to the Wise Not Withered project website again, and I refreshed myself with the mission and the vision of this project.
Amazingly, it did not just help me to get through the story, to finish the story. It also reminded me that I should write with a purpose. Purely entertainment is good, but I should be more than that. I should be a woman of character, a woman who writes with a purpose. Not just write in general, if that makes any sense. So I was so happy that I became part of this project.
Maybe you’re wondering why I inserted beauty pageants in the story. I’m from the Philippines, and if you know someone who is a Filipino, you would know that Filipinos are so into pageantry. I don’t know, there’s just something about pageants that makes us feel excited, and connected. You know that feeling when you have someone who represents your country, represents your place if it’s a local pageant—it’s just amazing.
The best part is watching the Q&A’s, the question-and-answer portion of the pageant, because that’s when we really learn from the inspirational answers of the women in the pageant. Here in the Philippines, we like to use their famous lines in our every day expressions. I know it sounds crazy, but we do! (laughs)
What lessons do I hope readers will take from Cassandra’s story “Renewed”? There’s actually a lot. Hopefully readers will be able to get a lot of lessons and takeaways from the story. But maybe if there’s one lesson that I wanted them to learn is that… To never be afraid to fail. Failure is natural. We always fail, so let’s not be afraid to make mistakes, as long as we learn to get back up, and to learn from that experience, and to actually use that learning to be an empowered woman. Be renewed, start anew, and to continue life!
What I love about her the most is that she’s not afraid to fail. Or maybe she was at first. But she later on realizes that when we have a lot of downs in life, that’s when we are able to get up! And also, that makes us more patient to other people. We will also learn about forgiveness in the story. I feel like that’s the very reason why she was able to forgive—the story would hopefully teach us that patience is a wonderful thing. When we have failed a million times, we will be patient to other people who we see face the same troubles and the same challenges that we have had in the past.
And also, hopefully the people would be able to view life in a different perspective—that’s also another takeaway I hope people would get from the story. I read once that a life that you have lived for yourself alone is a life not worth living. That’s a quote from one of my favorite local writers. When I designed the story of Cassandra, I wanted her to be inspiring. It was not selfish! She was old and she realized that at the end of the day, at the end of your life, when you look back, it’s not that fun if you purely lived for yourself, and not for other people. When you die, what do you get? It’s good when you look back over the years, and you see that you have lived a life that you shared with other people. You have lived a life that inspired many people. You have lived a life helping others, being an inspiration, loving and being supported, not just living for yourself.
Hopefully this is a great message, especially for young girls, young ladies. We should hope to be someone inspiring, someone worthy to look [up to]. Not just someone who achieved the goals, achieve that, achieve this…
Lastly, why did I join the Wise Not Withered project in the first place? I live in the Philippines, and we have such a very patriarchal society. I tend to get less respect than anyone else, because I’m a woman, at least from my experience. When I discovered about this project, when I met Juliana, when I knew about this project, I was so excited. I was a yes man immediately when I saw this. (laughs) This is where I want to be part of. This project is what I wanted to do.
This project reminded me that I’m not just writing, I should write with a purpose. I should write to inspire other people. Being involved in this project makes me feel that way, that I am writing with a purpose, makes me feel like for once in my life, for a very rare moment in my life, I was able to connect to other parts of the world and actually be an inspiration hopefully, especially to young girls. To never be afraid, be yourself, to never be afraid to achieve your dreams, to fail, and to be a more empowered woman. We are all deserving of love, we are all deserving of respect, whether we are a girl or a boy.
I am so excited, like really really excited for you guys to check out the story. I think a sweet, mature, grounded voice, but at the same time patient. Really, really sweet! I think that’s the kind of voice quality that I want the character Cassandra to have for the voice-over. I’m so excited for this project to be done, to be completely done. I know it’s going to be a really, really great success! Thanks to you, Juliana! I love you guys so much! Bye!”
To end the episode, I will read a short excerpt from the story “Renewed”:
I got up from my bench and began to slowly walk toward the path home, when I came across a piece of folded paper on the ground. I picked it up. It must have fallen from someone’s pocket because it was folded up, a bit haphazardly but freshly dropped with the yellow color of the pages still untarnished. I unfolded the paper and stared at the words for a second, realizing it was written in Spanish. I tucked it inside my bag.
I always found writing of others so intriguing. Decades ago when Olivia was a pre-teen, we would go to the craft store and get journals and gel pens and write in our diaries together. Sometimes we’d share our entries, but most often not. I knew that Olivia still kept a daily journal; I had been writing in a journal for years too, and kept a somewhat inconsistent blog. Blogging was still pretty new to me, so I hadn’t put too much of an effort into it yet.
When I got home, I took out the paper again and gazed at it, intrigued by the arrangement of short lines. It looked like it could be a poem, though it could have also been a grocery list for all I knew!
When I arrived home, my granddaughter Sheen greeted me, “How’s your walk, Mamita?”
“It was fine. The sun was extravagant today. And,” I pulled out the paper from my bag and held it up, “I found something really interesting!”
“Oh, what’s that?” Sheen asked suspiciously.
“It’s in Spanish,” I told her with a smile, then suddenly got an idea, “I could use my translator app for this!”
I opened the app on my phone and checked the words out, line by line. And man, what did I find? A poem. A love poem. I grabbed a notepad and rewrote it all in English.
“The sun rises around the trees in bloom
The birds fly and my beautiful queen…
She arrives, radiant as always”
“The writer’s a natural poet, Mamita,” Sheen commented.
“Maybe he’s writing this for a woman he loves,” I concluded.
“What makes you think that it’s a ‘he’?” Sheen teased me.
“I don’t know, I just feel it.”
I spent the rest of my day keeping myself busy with house chores, while the paper and the poem buzzed around in my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder what the words were about, or who it was written by. The person who wrote the poem seemed so inspired to write. Inspiration… Something that had been lacking in my life for the past few years.
Stay tuned for more showcases of the Wise Not Withered characters, releasing every Sunday until end of April, 2020!