The College Girl’s Coiffetta Sequel: Papillon Noir Concept Art

I’m not particularly great with art, but I like to draw concept art and profiles for the characters so I have a reference point when making my story. I thought I’d share some of it with all of you. Please forgive my low quality coloring. I’m not used to drawing with a tablet. Still, I hope you can kind of visualize the character through it.

Here’s the story synopsis: Papillon Noir tells the story of Mahieu Len, the grandfather of Korbel. When Gatsby is struggling to find the reason for Korbel secretive behavior, he confides in Mahieu for advice and support. Along the way, he can’t help but ask the story of how Mahieu met his late wife, Seraphina. The answer will shock him.

Travel back in time to 1944 in France, when a young Mahieu Len fights at D-Day in order to liberate France and gain back the Len Estates in Champagne. Along the way, he finds himself tangled in the complicated life of a young prostitute from the Papillon Noir maison in Cherbourg, France.

Character Concept Art
Full Book Cover of Papillon Noir
Kindle Cover of Papillon Noir

I hope you all are as excited for this book as I was in making it. It was one of my favorites to research and write. Thank you all for your support, and Happy 4th of July to all my American friends!

Written Essays

“You Should Smile More”

Now, I’m sure a lot of us, especially in the US, have heard people put their two cents in on this topic, one way or the other, and I’m going to put mine in now, too. And, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the idea that a person sees another person not smiling (for any number of reasons) and feels the need (again for multiple reasons) to say, “Smile”.

So, let’s look at a few scenarios, to examine why this might urk someone.

First of all, I think it’s a hugely contextual issue. No, I don’t think every person encouraging a person to cheer up is wrong, but I think a lot of it has to do with how it’s worded, who says it, and the body language involved. Additionally, having spoken with my husband on the topic, it became much more apparent to me that this isn’t a female-only issue. My husband has also had women say this same thing to him, to very similar effect.

Scenario A – Done as a Come-on or a Cat-call

I’m sure a lot of you have seen plenty of videos and parodies discussing the scenarios where, generally, a guy sees an attractive lady minding her own business and tells her to smile, because she’d look prettier if she smiled or something along similar lines.

Again, this does happen to both sexes and with different initiator situations involved. I’d like to debunk the stigma that only a woman can face behavior like this. Whether it is more commonly occurring to women or not is another issue, but a lack of respect and personal boundaries towards another person, sadly, is a trait that all sexes can share.

Anyway, when this happens to me, it makes me obviously uncomfortable, because I’ve been sexually harassed by men and women of all ages since I started puberty at nine. There is nothing creepier than a 40-50 year-old man (who I thought wanted to hire me) texting and IMing me randomly over the span of months with just “Hi” or “How are you” or the female co-worker who felt the need to constantly comment about the size of my breasts. No one should have to deal with having a former boss (and married, I’d add) ask you out on a date and make multiple comments about your appearance. No mother should have to glare at a truck driver who was literally honking, ogling, and making lustful eyes at her 13 year-old daughter on the freeway the way my mother has had to do. I can still recall how my high school had the unofficial “Slap A*s Friday” where girls and guys (but in my case, mainly girls) would attempt to touch me inappropriately, and so on and so on.

It’d be easy to go into a whole essay on sexual harassment, but the point remains, when a person (man or woman) looks at me with lustful eyes and says, “Smile more, you’d look pretty”. My first instinct isn’t to smile… It’s to cover my body in close and hide what makes me beautiful. It makes me feel like nothing more than an object of pleasure to this random stranger. So, please, don’t tell me “I’d be pretty if I smiled” like a compliment. Even if it is meant as one, it’s hard to see it that way after dealing with trauma after trauma due to someone else selfish sexual desires.

Scenario B – Done as an Attempt to Cheer Someone Up

Okay, let’s get the lustful pervs out of the way and address the other side I’ve encountered. I’ve had well-meaning people, who are obviously not attracted to me or trying to flirt, say something very similar (both men and women), and again, it doesn’t warrant the effect they want. Here’s, for me anyways, why.

I know you mean well. You see a person who either has a blank expression or looks sad, and you want to cheer them up in the most simplistic way you can think of, but may I suggest some other options: “Hey, how are you doing today?” or even just smile at me, yourself. I’m generally a very happy, optimistic person, so more likely than not, if you smile at me, I’ll smile back. However, more importantly, contrary to the whole “it takes more muscles to frown, than smile”, sometimes a resting face doesn’t naturally turn upwards. It’s just still and straight. Some people say this, assuming I’m sad or mad, and actuality, I’m just walking from point A to point B. I could be thinking about something and not even paying attention to you at the moment. I could be tired from work or a long day. Or, I could just be walking.

So, guess what is going to happen if someone out of nowhere says, “Smile!” to me? I will instantly feel an awkward, forced smile appear on my face for the second they are in vision, and then, once they are gone, I’ll resume with resting me face… The effect is not likely to make me ponder, ‘Do I look that sad? Do I look mad? Maybe, they are right. Maybe, I should look on the bright side, and smile more.’ No, my thought process is, ‘Oh, joy, I was doing just fine, and now, I’m annoyed that some random stranger thinks I’m a performing monkey… Anyway, back to what I was doing.’

Scenario C – A Person Saying this to A Christian

Okay, this probably sounds very specific and random, but I make no attempts to hide my faith from people whether they co-workers, classmates, etc. So, I’ve encountered this moment where, again, a well-meaning person (either a Christian or just a random acquaintance) says, “Hey, come on. You’re a Christian. Smile! God tells us to feel joy in His blessings!”

Again, I know where they are coming from. As a Christian, I do have a hope for tomorrow that can never be taken from me. No matter what I face, I have faith that God is always going to have me in the palm of His hand. Still, I cry and feel pain as much as any other person. I feel exhaustion and burn-out. God even acknowledges this in His Word. In one of my favorite verses, John 16:33 (NIV), it says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Now, you may be saying, but that says to take heart! In other words, perk up! Yes, it can be a very inspirational verse, because it shows that God already won the battle long before I was even a speck in His plan, but remember the part, “In this world you will have trouble”. Other translations use “suffering”, “tribulation” “distress”, and so on, but the point remains. Yes, we are not to lose hope in the suffering of this world, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t feel it. God guaranteed it in that verse, but we can hope in His future. So, to recap, yes, we can feel joy in what God has planned for us, but at the same time, Christians are going to hurt, too. We aren’t always going to have the energy to scream “Hallelujah”. Sometimes, it may be more of a “broken Hallelujah”, and I believe that’s okay. God loves me so much, and He feels my pain and struggles. So, I don’t picture Him up in Heaven feeling disappointed that little Sarah Macatrao (Ham) isn’t smiling every moment of the day.

So, I’d lovingly say to Christians and mentors the same. Maybe, reword it as, “I noticed that you seem down. Can I pray for you, or is there something I can do?” I can’t guarantee I’ll always open up, but I’m far more likely to be receptive to that than, “Smile, goshdarnit, you’re a Christian, so act like one!” (Exaggerating, of course, but we get the point.)

Scenario D – My Husband or a Close Loved One says, “There’s that smile… I prefer that.”

We see this trope in romantic novels and tv shows of the love interest, trying to cheer their loved one up with this at the end. Some might roll their eyes and boo it along with the other scenarios, but I disagree.

See, the difference is the person telling me this, I trust. I love this person, so when they say something like this. I know it’s in love, not in making me an object or shoving random advice down my throat. Can it come across as condescending? I’m sure there’s some situations where it could. If I’m trying to vent, and this was the response without any other context or addition, then, yes, I might take it differently.

However, a person I love telling me that they prefer to see me smile than cry, to me, shows that they care about me. They want to see me happy. It’s not about the actual smile; it’s about knowing I’m okay. Again, this is generally in response to me letting out all my tears and frustrations, them consoling me, and then, pointing out that I seem happier now. So, I take it differently than any of the other scenarios.

To Summarize

Body language, wording, and personal context can completely change a situation from making a person actually smile versus look at you with repulsion. I know not every person that has said this is thinking, ‘Oh, that girl’s hot! I want to tap that!’ But, if you present yourself in a way that suggests that’s what is on your mind, my reactions will likely match that assumption.

If you want to cheer me up or see if I’m doing alright, ask yourself if someone else doing the exact same thing to you would make you want to genuinely smile, too. If you question it at all, then maybe re-approach it. Communication can be a tricky part of life, especially between different sexes, cultures, environments, and so on, so try not to make assumptions on what another person is or isn’t comfortable with. I still grow in this day after day and have constantly had to catch myself saying something that was well-intent but didn’t translate that way to the other person. Grow, learn, and love one another. After all, I think that’s what a person with genuine pure intentions is trying to accomplish with this statement… They want to see an actual smile, for you to be happy and encouraged.

Written Essays

Normal is Still Weird

(Response Essay to my Normal is Weird post)

I’ve already introduced all of you to the concept that normal is weird, because to be weird in this daily world has become the equivalent to being normal. Now I wish to expand on that. Sometimes being normal by the more dictionary definition of it is now the oddity. I wouldn’t say I’m normal by older standards. I still share traits that match up to today’s norm of weird from having a stuffed animal collection and binge watching anime series on Netflix or Crunchyroll rather than Stranger Things or Game of Thrones, but it’s also very clear that just because you are today’s definition of unique doesn’t mean you’ll fit in with other “unique” individuals. In fact, I’d argue that because we’ve become so obsessed with being this weird standard of different as normal, it makes it harder and harder to latch on to any form of connection or normalcy. See people often associated conformity with a negative connotation. Being conformed to a societal view of normal is today’s version of selling out on yourself or being a follower, but at the same time, I’d argue that why is that so wrong?

Today more and more people are identifying themselves as introverts and borderline agoraphobic, and yet, people can connect on that basis. It doesn’t make it easy, but don’t mistake any form of conformity as a weakness, an oppressive concept on your right to be different. Because in doing so, it’s now become up to these so-called non-conformists to connect without connecting. See, sometimes conform is simply that, adaptation, and that’s not an unhealthy thing. You don’t want to lose yourself in conforming, but don’t be so afraid of conforming that you hide what makes you beautiful. It’s like a twisted cycle. Susie likes to bake, but she doesn’t want to be identified as a baker lest she be put in a set bubble. Yet, in doing so, she misses out on the advantages of at least interacting with that bubble. People tell us not to be ashamed of who we truly are but then, say don’t follow the crowd as though these two things are automatically connected. You can follow a crowd and still be proud of yourself.

I don’t identify well with people my age, because I feel constantly rejected when I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to connect to them at all. Yes, it’s often disappointing when they follow the pattern I expect, but I’ve also found that talking to some of the people I’d expect to reject my mindset has led to friendships I’d never trade and wouldn’t have gained without the courage to risk “conforming”. Conforming can be negative. It can be giving up yourself to place on a mask to fit in, but conforming can also mean opening your mind to a world you’d otherwise be too scared to touch in your current “weird as normal” lifestyle. The only way we can grow is to listen, absorb, change, and learn. There are things I felt back as a child that I’ve since learned aren’t cookie-cutter set in stone. There’s things I’ve learned in the last year that aren’t what my mindset thought was accurate a year ago, but the only way I came to that conclusion was to open my mind to these truths that if I stayed stuck in my current state would’ve been placed aside for my own stubborn “truths”.

So, don’t be so afraid of the word “conform”. Don’t be so afraid to fit a societal definition of normal that isn’t equating normal to self-identifying ourselves as unique. Yes, we are unique. Yes, we have self-assigned identities as well as societal assigned identities, but guess what? Who ever said you needed to be only one? No one can fit in just one identity. That’s not how our biology works. We are built to adapt into our current situation, and you can do that without losing yourself in trying so desperately to conform. Rather than thinking of it as a constantly switching mask, try to think of it as a constantly switching wardrobe. Try to think of it as becoming you at your most confident in each role because guess what? You can be your most confident form in each identity without selling yourself out in the process. The facet of a mother differs than that of a wife or a daughter but that doesn’t mean she has to lose the traits that make up her in those role shifts. Be you as the most confident in each part of you. Stop being so afraid to conform that you isolate yourself in your uniqueness because while there will never be another one quite like you, no one expects you to thrive in that alone. If you’re a mathlete, find the other mathletes. If you’re a music junkie, find those who also get that spiritual high off an indie album or an oldie-but-a-goodie. Be you, be unique and amazing, but continue that trend in growing it in number. If you think you’re alone in it, try putting it out there. Not every time will you find a winner in the circle you are surrounded by, but more likely than not, you will eventually. So yes, normal is still weird, but at the same time, it’s okay to be the societal definition of normal, too.  

Written Essays

Normal is Weird

(Originally Written in 2015 for context)

In this day and age, normal is weird. What defines weirdness, really? Thirty years ago it may have been to be a person who wore hipster glasses that had tape in the center or suspenders, a nerd. Maybe, it was that one kid in the background that gave people odd looks but never said anything to anyone. Maybe, it was the woman that had fifteen cats and never married.

But what about now… with the 90s came the unorthodoxy era; grunge-style dominated, and conforming to the art of not conforming became the goal. If you were different, you were now celebrated. This practice has only increased in the millennium years and now the 2010s.

If you are a crazy cat woman, that’s okay because the internet loves cats. If you are nerdy, you can rest easy, because there are hipsters, bronies, otakus, mathletes, Goths, and more you can fit yourself into. If you are a guy who likes Barbies or a girl who likes GI Joe, that’s okay too, because who cares what others think.

I am weird; I know it. I was born with an old-soul and have always related better to adults than kids my age. I love Jesus, cats, anime, the 1920s, cameo, antiques, dresses, lace, the Saints, the Big Bang Theory, thrift stores, and I make cookies and muffins for a living, but to many people, that’s not weird. That’s just who I am.

I am weird; by the year 2006, I became aware that my personality wasn’t my only one. When my friends began bringing up the names “Xena,” “Rin,” and “Nicki” again and again and blacking out occurred more than once a day, I knew I was weird. But to some, that’s not weird. It’s DID, dissociative identity disorder.

I am weird; my father has so many ethnicities in his blood—mainly European—that they categorize me as Caucasian, but my mom is a native-born Mexican. So with my blond hair and blue-green eyes, I am the “whitest” half-Mexican my friends have ever seen and many acquaintances have questioned my ethnicity when it is mentioned. Still, even this to many isn’t weird. More and more people are coming to be identified as half this and half that, or a quarter this, an eighth that…

I am weird, but to many, I am not weird. In fact, to many, I’m rather normal. But then what is normal, really? We are a generation so defined in not being defined that the term normal is no longer a term used to generalize an accepted group of individuals anymore. White isn’t white, and black isn’t black. The line between normal and weird is now grey.

Some may say that normal is to have common courtesy, common sense, or even a common calling. But common courtesy isn’t so common anymore, not in a society where men, opening doors for women, is now sexist and not when a “God Bless You” in response to a sneeze is considered religious intolerance. Common sense is almost non-existent, when warning labels telling people not to siphon gas with their mouths or not to sleep with a hair dryer left on are needed. Even a common calling isn’t present; we are about as unified as a nation as there are different people in it. Each person supports one interest or another, but if we are unified at all, it is in the fact that we are all equally so different.

So what is normal? Really, what is normal; because it isn’t like the dictionary may have defined as usual, natural, or ordinary. Nowadays, there is nothing ordinary about being “normal” because being normal now is to be weird, to be diverse, to be yourself. So really, normal… is weird.