Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
May Flowers 2017

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Actress and Screenwriter TONI ANN JOHNSON presents her first novel: REMEDY FOR A BROKEN ANGEL

Christal Cooper -6,267 Words (including excerpts)

TONI ANN JOHNSON:
SCRAPBOOK OF AN ANGEL RENEWED
www.toniannjohnson.com


Screenwriter and actress Toni Ann Johnson’s first novel, Remedy For A Broken Angel, was published by Nortia Press (http://www.nortiapress.com) this past June of 2014, and it all began with a dream . . .   



“I dreamt that I came home to find my mother having sex with my husband. It was such a shocking dream that it stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wrote a short film based on the dream. My intent was I’d act in the short.


I gave the short to a friend, Tico Wells (http://www.ticowellsblog.com/?page_id=27), and he wanted to turn it into a full-length script. We worked together on a feature version. At the time the movie Basic Instinct was popular and Tico thought we’d have a better shot at selling the script if we turned it into a thriller. We did that and it wasn’t very good. I began getting busy as a working screenwriter and put that script aside.


But the mother/daughter characters wouldn’t stop bothering me. I kept thinking about them and they kept banging about in my mind, as if demanding that I tell the story as they wanted it told. I was busy doing other projects, but when I’d have time, I’d sit and tinker with a new version of the story, beating out an outline. It became an outline of a novel.”


Remedy For A Broken Angel is a mix of Girl Interrupted and a spiritual help book for those entrenched, particularly mothers and daughters, in emotional turmoil due to deception, lies, mistrust, the passage of time, and that one thing that people can never escape from – human frailty. 


Artie witnesses a sexual act between her estranged mother Serena and her husband Kendall.  She enters the mental psych ward under the care of psychiatrist, Dr. Phoebe Ligon.  Dr. Ligon is dedicated to her patients, and, even though pregnant with a wanted child, is apologetic that Artie has to see someone new while she is on planned maternity leave.


The disconnection between Artie and her mother Serena has been years in the making.  Artie is torn between her wounded musically talented parents – Rico, her father, who is helplessly in love with her mother Serena, but cannot understand her disconnect from their daughter Artie; and Bermudian Serena, who has secrets of her own, and recognizes this strong disconnect from her own daughter, to the point of blunt honesty, and in the process becomes a famous jazz singer.
We soon realize some of the pains that Artie and her mother Serena share are caused by Rico, the deliberate creator of a Miss America Pageant between Serena and Artie – though the prize is not the crown, but more time spent with Rico.  This breeds jealousy and instability between mother and daughter.  Soon the abuse lends itself to sexual abuse – not directly, but where Rico displays (though accidentally) his sexual lifestyle as well as his nudity to his daughter’s own eyes.


Dr. Ligon is pale today. Her voice is hoarse.
“Yes. A few things come to mind. I remember you telling me that he used to take you to the beach, without your mother, which seemed to make her jealous. Now the reverse, he spent weekends with Serena, and left you by yourself.”
“But I wasn’t jealous. Just mad. I mean, I was only a kid, he was supposed to look out for me.”
“Yes. But look at the dynamic. Your father’s behavior set up a competition. You mentioned a while ago that when you came home from the beach, Serena accused Rico of treating you like the wife. ‘Going on dates.’ There’s a presumption of inappropriate intimacy. And she was onto something. Rico made you aware of his sex life. Walked around nude in the home he shared with you. I can’t know what was going on in your father’s mind, but his behavior points to provoking competition between you and your mother.”
“Ew,” Artie says. “Well I certainly wasn’t trying to compete.”
                           “Of course not. You didn’t ask to be put in that
situation. But you were, and you were powerless. That twelve-year-old-girl had a lot to be angry about. She needs to have a voice.”
Excerpt from Remedy For A Broken Angel,
Page 106
Copyright granted by Toni Ann Johnson     


Both women share more than just a blood chain of mother daughter, but love of Rico, and love of the arts – Artie for her photography and Serena for her jazz music.
There are issues of race, acceptance of identity, and the courage to accept who you are, even if society deems otherwise. 
In the end, what is a story about a little girl interrupted in a mental institution, becomes two little girls interrupted at different intervals throughout their lives, only to be hurt by well-intentioned people, who thought a lie was better than the truth in order to protect the one they love.
Remedy For A Broken Angel asks the question, not what it means to be human, for the characters in this book understand humanity all to well, but rather, what does it mean to be a joyful human?  What does a person need to do or believe in order to obtain happiness, peace, and joy? 


There are fountains of tears from the oceans near Bermuda, Coney Island, and finally to the Pacific in Los Angeles. 




Each woman discovers her own spiritual place of heavenly water, before both are entrenched in tears and forgiveness.  But more importantly, an eternal spiritual connection that nothing can conquer, and that connection is baptized by Serena’s ultimate gift and sacrifice – her music.  
"What makes Serena's music so special is her particular pain.  She puts the life experience unique to her into her music and tries to transform her experience with it.  I think for Serena her music, her writing of music and lyrics and her singing, has a spiritual component to it.  It transcends the human experience and reaches for the divine.  She seems to find the divine in Charles Mingus, who is, in her mind, a spiritual guide for her."


Remedy For A Broken Angel is fiction but there are many similarities between Toni Ann’s life and those of her characters.


“One of the most emotional parts was Artie admitting to herself that her mother did not love her, (and) the reason that is/was so emotional is because I know what that feels like and it’s not something that’s easy to recover from. Not feeling loved by your own mother shapes your perspective of yourself in relation to the world.   I identify most with Artie and Serena.  But I identify on some level with all the characters.  I write by acting - playing them, acting as if I am them.  It's the only way I know how to make them emotionally authentic.  I become and feel my way through every character to understand their perspective and motivation.


My own life experience has some similarity to Artie's, although it is NOT Artie's and I am not her.  Neither of my parents is a jazz artist, I did not grow up in New York City, I'm not Latina and I'm not a photographer, I did not fall in love in middle school and marry young.  BUT, my mother was a narcissist as is Artie's.  Some of the abuse that happens to Artie happened to me.  Some of the struggle to forgive that Artie experiences, I've experienced.   
I also share some experiences similar to Serena's, but she is not me.  And though my mother was a narcissist, Serena is not my mother.  But in writing Serena, I can put her on, get inside of her, and BE her when I need to be.  I have been in love with and in relationships with other creative artists, including jazz musicians.  I've experienced big successes and great failures in my own work.  And though I haven't suffered the guilt of abandoning a child I can find the psychological path to understanding it."


Toni Ann Johnson was born in Goshen, New York, and like Artie’s parents, Toni Ann’s parents also had a tumultuous relationship:  her father, Dr. William L Johnson was a chronic adulterer and her mother, Vera Johnson, was self absorbed.  


"My mother was my father's second wife.  My older half-sister lived with us every other weekend.  She left for Cornell University when I was seven, so I was raised mostly as an only child."


Dr. Johnson, was the first African American to hold the title of chief psychologist at Orange County Mental Health Clinic in the early 1960s, and maintained a private practice in Monroe and Greenwich Village until 2013, due to illness; and her mother owned her own successful antiques business, which she still maintains to this day, in Tuxedo, New York.    
"My father was interested in theories and ideas, always working on things he was writing.  He did well financially.  My mother is still an antiques dealer.  She opened her own business when I was very young.  She was a print model in her youth - did fashion shows, beauty contests, and a few ads in Ebony.  Then she worked on Wall Street for a bank prior to marrying my father.  She still is wise with money."
Toni Ann’s parents were among the first African-Americans to move to the area from New York City.  Initially, they were met with discrimination.  In the development where they rented, a few residents threw eggs at their car and shouted racial epithets as they left for work.  A bottle was once thrown through their window.  The developer cut the water supply to the home just before they moved in.


My father had to hire a lawyer to file a complaint in court to get it turned back on. Eventually things settled down. They made friends in the community and they never left. My mom still lives in the area.”
         The Johnson family definitely stood out in their community being one of the few African American families in the area; and for having the financial stability to travel extensively to Europe, Asia, Africa, Japan, the Caribbean, and Turkey, which was not typical for African American families during that time.  




"We also skied and played tennis.  My parents were interested in art, theater, literature, travel and they exposed me to all of that. They were also pioneers.  My mom and dad weren't interested in the restrictions put on black people.  (Nor were they interested in the restrictions black people chose for themselves.)  Though New York wasn't the Jim Crow south, there were still places where blacks weren't welcome and my parents didn't care whether they were welcomed or not.  They did what they wanted to do."


         Like Serena and Artie, her parents both have an interesting racial history.  Her father has European, Jewish, and African American ancestry and her mother has Jamaican (African) and Russian Jewish ancestry.  Her mother, like Serena, is adopted. 
          "My mother was adopted and because of that, sometimes when I see a person who has similar features to my mother, I wonder if they're related.  I don't know any of my biological family on that side and there is a tendency to fantasize about who my family is.  I have yet to find out - it remains a mystery, just as Serena's paternal line remains a mystery."
Even with the diversity of her ancestry, Toni Ann has always identified herself as African American, and experienced racial discrimination; for example, this incident from when she was in the fourth grade: 


"I was the only black kid .  In class with me was a boy named Brett.  There was a period wherein Brett called me nigger every day when we'd line up to go to lunch.  The way he said this was:  "You're a nigger" in a tone that seemed intended to remind me, as if I'd forgotten, and loud enough to let the other kids know.  Part of this was because I didn't look black the way many of my peers understood blacks to look.  My skin was not that much darker than theirs, and my hair was long, curly but not as tightly kinked as some.  Brett had known me since kindergarten, but apparently only figured out my race by the fourth grade.   
Every day that he'd look at me, point and laugh and say, YOU'RE A NIGGER, I would tell the teacher.  She would keep him inside during recess.  I'm not sure how long this went on, but finally one day when I told the teacher again, she frowned at me and snapped, "Can't you just ignore it?!"  
Her annoyance was more hurtful than his taunting.  She didn't seem to care about my experience.  She was tired of keeping him inside.  As I saw it, she didn't want to continue to punish him, but it was okay for him to keep calling me a nigger, which he did.


I was only dealing with it the way I'd been instructed by my mother - to tell an adult when another kid was bothering me in that way, but my teacher let me know that I was the one bothering her.  There were no trips to the principal's office, no discussion, no requirement that the boy apologize to me.  I was expected to just suck it up and take it.  And this pretty much sums up my experience growing up where I did.  I ALWAYS had to take it when I was racially taunted, because there was no real outrage about racism then.
The irony was that most of these kids were not as well off socioeconomically as my family and most of their parents were not as well educated as mine, yet, because I was not white, they considered me inferior." 
It's no strange coincidence that individuals who experience racial discrimination seek comfort and escape through an art form. In this case, it was acting, Toni Ann's first love.


Stranger still, is Toni Ann's first memory, where, at the age of two, she is the actress, her costume the gauze, the stage the balcony of her parent's home, the audience her babysitter's son.
"I had the mumps.  I woke up, came out of my room on the balcony overlooking the dining room, called for my mother and she was not home.  There was a babysitter in my house, but it wasn't my regular babysitter, Mrs. Empy, it was her son.  I was shy around men and was uncomfortable that he was there.  I was also embarrassed because, having the mumps, I had gauze wrapped around my head and looked very silly and was well aware of that.  Even then I wanted to look cute in front of boys."
She first remembers wanting to be an actress when she was three, but her mother didn't think she was serious.
"I was three years old.  I wanted to be an actress at three - not when I grew up. I wanted to be on TV and in movies then.  My mother didn't think it was a serious interest.


My mother did enroll me in ballet, which I took until I was 8.  I liked it, but I was terrible at it.  My teacher made fun of me one day when I couldn't remember the combination and I was so hurt and embarrassed that I didn't go back.  


My parents were not in the arts and didn't take my interest too seriously when I was that young (and) the fact that I quit ballet worked against me.  My mom thought I'd never stick with anything.  But by age 12, I was insisting on studying acting and my mom finally enrolled me in a theater workshop." 
One thing that could explain some of her fascination with acting is the strong connection she felt for Martin Scorsese, who was her father's patient during the 1960s when Scorsese was a graduate student at NYU.   


"Despite never having met him, as a child I felt that there was a connection that I was meant to meet him.  My fantasy was that I would be in his movies one day.  I saw his films and I also became obsessed with Robert DeNiro.  The next fantasy was that I would go to NYU and find a Scorsese there who would put me in his or her movies.  


I did meet Spike Lee when I was very young and I eventually worked with him, (on School Daze) but needless to say, my acting dreams did not manifest as I'd hoped.  Still, I would say that DeNiro and Scorsese and their work had the biggest influence on my early interest in movies and acting."  


At 14, she enrolled in The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute   (http://www.methodactingstrasberg.com) in New York City.


"Learning about Lee Strasberg and his work and approach to artistry definitely has had a lasting influence.  My approach to writing began with acting and my approach to acting comes from Strasberg's Method Acting."


While studying acting, the tumultuous marriage between her mother and father, and feeling marginalized in Monroe only made her want to leave the home as soon as possible.  She strived to do this by taking extra courses in high school, and graduated (with honors) one year ahead of her high school graduating class. 


She attended the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (http://www.tisch.nyu.edu/page/home.html), took extra courses, and received her BFA in Drama a year ahead of her college graduating class.  


"My experience in acting school at NYU (where I was studying acting/singing/and dance) was sort of reminiscent of Fame and The High School of Performing Arts."


During her tenure at the Tisch School she completed a summer semester in London where she studied Modern Drama In Performance and English Literature.  Once back on campus in New York, she studied screenwriting with Arnaud D’usseau and Veneble Herndon.
After graduating from NYU she studied script interpretation with Stella Adler, and playwriting with playwrights Charles Fuller, Leslie Lee, and Judi Ann Mason. 


She enrolled as a non-matriculated graduate student at City College of New York in Harlem (http://www.ccny.cuny.edu) and studied playwriting with Arthur Kopit and African Literature with Chinua Achebe.
During this time, Johnson worked as a professional actress, member of Equity, SAG and AFTRA and appeared in plays in New York and regionally, and in movies and television, including films with Spike Lee, two ABC soap operas, All My Children and Loving, and a CBS School Break Special, “What if I’m Gay?”  






After she auditioned for a musical by Paul Streitz, Streitz paid for her voice lessons with renowned vocal coach Robert Marks (http://www.bobmarks.com) for over a year.   She also studied with renowned jazz vocal coach Hal Schaefer (http://www.halschaefer.com).


Emory Taylor (director of Harlem Opera Society) later taught her on scholarship for several years. She performed in showcases, as well as in Taylor’s Harlem Opera Society jazz musical “Solomon and Sheba” in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. 


In 1992, Toni Ann moved from New York to Los Angeles where she transitioned into screenwriting and received her Certificate in Cinema Production from Los Angeles City College. 
"I wanted to work in Film and Television more than I was working in NYC where I was acting and writing plays.  It took two years, but by 1994 I was signed with literary agent Dave Wirtschafter who was then at ICM and I had my first screenwriting job at Disney's Touchstone Pictures."    
After her play Gramercy Park Is Closed to the Public premiered a successful run, she began writing for studios and networks including Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Fox, HBO, ABC, Lifetime, and Showtime.  She found that writing proved to be more stable than acting.


“I love acting, but writing was something I could be doing all the time, even if no one was paying attention, so I felt I had more control.  But when I do my readings, I enjoy playing the characters and get my acting fix that way.”


For ten years she enjoyed a successful screenwriting career, but by 2003 she was tired of developing and writing material that didn’t represent her own voice.  
"There was one dance movie I was asked to develop and after doing a lot of work on a story based on a real B-Girl, the producer asked me to turn it into a crime drama to make it more commercial and I realized that if I didn't firmly decide to tell my own stories, I'd be wasting time coming up with pitches that might not sell forever and possibly have no good work to show for it."  
She decided to focus on her fiction writing, and took a break from random screenwriting jobs, purchased a small home in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, shut herself in the house, and focused on writing her novel, which began with the dream . . .  

Artie, 2004
Two months ago, Artie drove home late one night when her husband Kendall wasn’t expecting her. She pulled into their driveway behind his road-hogging Escalade and heard his band’s CD cranked up on the car stereo. She called his name. He didn’t answer. She climbed out of her car, zipped her cardigan as her heels clicked up the stone pavers to his open window, and on tiptoes she looked in. He wasn’t in the driver’s seat. A spicy fragrance wafted out the window into her face. Opium. Her mother’s scent. Sweet notes of jasmine and mandarin tempered with amber threatened to take her someplace she didn’t want to go. Artie hadn’t seen the monster in years, so she was shocked to find her reclining in the passenger seat with her dress hiked up above her waist. Kendall was upside down; the six to her mother’s nine, his face buried between her thighs.                                     
Excerpt from Remedy For A Broken Angel 
Page 1
                             Copyright granted by Toni Ann Johnson  

        Toni Ann started her writing day by taking long morning walks at her neighborhood park, where she would meditate on what she wanted to accomplish that day.
        "Walking helped me settle into the headspace I needed to get to in order to work."  
        She'd then return to her home, surround herself with plenty of coffee, candles burning, green plants, and write directly into her laptop until early evening. 
        She also listened to jazz music as she wrote during those five to six hours per day, which only seemed fitting since Artie's parents Rico and Serena are both jazz musicians.
        She listed to Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Black Note, Dianna Krall, Norah Jones, Sade, Cassandra Wilson, Diane Reeves, and Ella Fitzgerald. 





















        Toni Ann wrote the novel the way she thinks - the characters living in the present, but something triggering them to think of a certain event in the past, what one would describe as flashback or time shifting.   
        "It is the way my thought process works.  Often, in the present, a situation will cause me to think back.  The characters were also in a therapeutic process, which involves recalling the past."
        She continued to read through the writing of Remedy For A Broken Angel, and found One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera to be highly influential on her writing. 





        "Both novels contain elements of magical realism, and while I don't feel my book uses magical realism in exactly the same way those books do, the influence remains."





        It took her two years to finish the first draft of Remedy For A Broken Angel and she gave it to her screenwriting agent.  Remedy For A Broken Angel, via the switching of different agents' hands, ended up in the hands of New York book agent, Marie Brown.  Brown sent Remedy For A Broken Angel to numerous big publishing houses and it didn't sell, which proved an extreme disappointment to Toni Ann.  She didn't allow the disappointment to crush her, and, instead decided to improve her fiction writing skills by enrolling in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Antioch University. (http://www.antiochla.edu/academics/mfa-creative-writing/).



        "Just as I entered graduate school, I booked a screenwriting job (Step Up 2:  The Streets) and that money allowed me to focus on school without having to find another job."



        After she graduated from the program, Toni Ann took a break from Remedy For A Broken Angel, and instead, worked on short stories and completed an environmental community beautification project in Los Angeles.





        She revisited Remedy For A Broken Angel, and by 2011, produced a new draft.  She completed the final revisions by April of 2012 and sent Remedy For A Broken Angel to publishing houses, and to agent Marie Brown. 
        "While waiting for her response I got more notes and made more changes and several more drafts over the next few months.  I kept waiting for her response, but in the meantime, a couple of people offered to help me get it to some people who might be able to help."
        One of those people was author Kit Reed (http://www.kitreed.net) who recommended that Johnny Temple of Akashic Books (http://www.akashicbooks.comread Remedy For A Broken Angel.  Temple kindly rejected her but encouraged her by letting her know the book had gone all the way to the committee.  






        "His company was the first publisher to read the book and though they passed, the fact that it made it to committee was very encouraging."  
        Toni Ann still had not heard from her first agent Marie, and decided to send out queries to other agents; unfortunately most of the agents were not interested, admitting the writing was excellent but that they did not think it would sell commercially.
        She queried Nortia Press and received a response:  Nathan Gonzalez, of Nortia Press, wanted her to submit the entire manuscript, which she did.  Gonzalez contacted her two months later with a set of notes on how to make the book even more compelling.  



        "His notes were amazing and forced me to go deeper into the relationship between Artie and her father.  It also forced me to think more about Serena and her voice and we made the Bermudian accent more pronounced, which has been a fun challenge to bring to my readings.  After I handed in my revision, he asked for a bit more work, which I delivered in December.



        He did a round of edits and sent it back to me, requesting a lot of cuts.  That was the hardest thing.  I didn't want to cut.  But I did make as many as I could.  He coordinated with the distributor, we got a publication date, and then I began doing what I could to promote the book."  







        Thus far Toni Ann has performed reading events in Bermuda, Los Angeles, and New York City . . . 
    


He somehow flipped her seat back and she found herself reclining. The sunroof was open. She could see the stars. He eased on top of her, buried his face in her bosom and began sucking one of her breasts. She was stunned—it happened so quickly, like he was in some mad rush. Then he moved down, pulled up her dress and tugged at her knickers furiously. He was giving her a wedgie. He began to look farcical as he grew aggravated struggling with them. She realized he was trying to rip them. What made him think that was acceptable? They were Escada. She asked him to stop. Not that she wasn’t a wee bit excited for him to proceed with his plans, but she was concerned about those little gray bastards. Jamie didn’t mind them and she was, after all, almost fifty. Still, she, thought, I’d rather not startle the bye with geriatric pussy. But then he did manage to get the knickers off without ripping them and it was too late to worry about what he might find.
Horn blowers have exceptionally well trained tongues.
She would have said his name out loud if only she knew what it was. And was she ever grateful. He hit just the proper spot with just the proper pressure. Startlingly skilled. He was a nimble wanker, too. In what seemed like one smooth move, he shed his trousers and spun his body ‘round so that his below the belt business was pointing in her face. Quite convenient. And mutually satisfying for about a minute, but then the unthinkable happened: up came supper. Ghastly. This had never happened before, but she was a bit queasy to begin with, and he was well endowed. Her gag reflex kicked in and BLECH. All over her dress— food mixed with wine stinkin’ like a fetid puddle in Hell. Then she began to sweat. Profusely. In seconds she’d be drenched. Christ, she thought, fine time for a bloody hot flash.
She heard the boy say, “What the fuck?”
Then she looked up and saw someone through the open car window holding a camera.
“Oh shit,” he squealed.
Then the figure disappeared. It came back moments later and tried, repeatedly, to smash the windshield with what looked like a tripod. The glass merely cracked, but that was no less terrifying. The figure was a woman and she was patently intent on killing them. The bye got out of the car to restrain her. And only then did Serena realize who she was, and whose he was and what an utter mess she’d found herself in. Surely forces beyond her control had conspired against her. This was far too heinous to have been a random coincidence. Earth’s cry, heaven’s smile, indeed. The gods, or perhaps the demons, were havin’ a jolly laugh at her expense and she didn’t appreciate the blasted joke. 
Excerpt from Remedy For A Broken Angel 
Pages 148-150
Copyright granted by Toni Ann Johnson 


        Remedy For a Broken Angel is more than just a story about life and relationships; but rather about that great big question:  How does one obtain happiness and peace?  It is a question that Artie searches for, Serena searches for, in fact, every character in Remedy For A Broken Angel searches for, except Rayana, Rico's girlfriend, who loves Artie almost as if she were her own daughter. 
        A little bit of Rayana aka Ray can be found in Toni Ann as well.  She's finally found her peace, her view of a higher power, and finally she is renewed.
        "I believe that "God" whatever that is, is a loving and creative force and wants us to be loving and creative, too.  I do have a sense of a loving, creative spirit and I believe that my own creativity can connect with this energy to manifest my experience.  I believe that my thoughts and feelings have a vibration and that the creative force of the universe responds to that vibration.  When my vibration is negative, so is my experience and when my vibration is good, so is my experience.
        Bad things may happen while I'm in a good vibration, but they don't affect me in the same way as when I'm in a negative place.  My father died during a particularly good time in my life.  I was still very sad, but the loss didn't send me to as low a point as it might have in a bad time.



        God energy, to me, is energy that doesn't get bogged down with anger, resentment, revenge, hate . . . It's peace, love, gentleness, forgiveness, hope, happiness . . . As a human being, I can't always be in that pure, loving happy energy, but it's the goal.
        Carrying around resentments keeps my vibration in a place of negativity that attracts more negativity.  I don't want to keep attracting negative experiences.  I'd rather be happy.  So I try to shift my attention to peace as often as I can."




Artie leans against the wall and watches Ray as she lights vanilla scented candles, puts on her CD and settles down on the bed, too. She’s brought in a bottle of champagne and two elegant flutes. She deftly opens the bottle, with a gentle pop, and pours them each a glass. Ray is like a fairy, Artie thinks; the way she makes ordinary moments magical.
“You’re amazing,” she says, gingerly taking the glass. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. I’m glad you’re here,” Ray says. She sits near the end of the bed.
“Please don’t tell my dad about the weed, okay?”

“Oh,” Ray says, her eyes meeting Artie’s. “It’s his?”

Artie turns her head to stare at the candle flame. She takes a sip of champagne.

“Artie...” Ray sighs. “If he asks, you know I won’t lie to him.” 
“Hopefully he won’t ask.” Artie sets the glass on the bedside table.
She fingers the stem. Ray’s loyalty to Rico is irritating sometimes, but Artie admires their relationship. They still hold hands, go on dates, travel together, and generally adore each other. It’s more than luck. Over the years she’s watched Ray tell Rico what he was to her. For example, instead of complaining when he was a jackass, she would focus on times when he wasn’t and she’d say, “Oh, baby, you’re so good to me,” or, “You make me happy.” Eventually, strange as it sounds, he became consistently good to her and he did make her happy. He does. It’s an approach that takes more patience than Artie feels she’ll ever have.

“I just needed to relax,” she says. Artie looks at Ray, whose legs are stretched across the width of the bed. “I’m kinda startin’ to lose my marbles again.” She combs her fingers through the hair on the top of her head.
“Uh oh. Sounds like you ignored the memo on forgiveness.” Ray winks. “Works better than drugs and the benefits lasts longer.”
“We can’t all be saintly, like you.”
“Saintly?” Ray raises her eyebrows. “That, I’m definitely not.” She lets out a giggle, sips her champagne. “I just try to have peace of mind, Artie. It’s preferable to stress.” With one hand she gathers her long dreadlocks off of her back and pulls them into a twirl that hangs down one side of her chest. She closes her eyes and hums along with her CD.
Artie watches her. It’s literally Ray’s CD. She wrote and performed the songs. They feature jazz guitar, and a voice free of anguish. They’re New-Age-y, praise-the-Universe kind of songs that sell at her “New Thought” church and online. Artie would be tempted not to listen if it wasn’t Ray, but it is. She admires how the woman knows what she wants to do, and she does it.
“You’re good at being happy,” Artie says.
Rayana opens her eyes. “Thank you. But happiness is a choice, love, and it’s a constant effort. I find myself angry and sad as often as anyone. Only difference is I’m committed to choosing happiness.”
“I’ve never seen you miserable or crazy like me.”
Rayana tilts her head. “That’s selective memory. You’ve seen me through all different phases. I just don’t stay in the negative places too long. But I certainly visit.”
“Hmphf. I do more than visit,” Artie says. “I bring all my shit and move in.”
“You just need to learn to release things, angel. You’re not bound by the past if you release it.”
“I don’t agree,” Artie says. She stares at the train of bubbles rising in her glass. “I think things happen and they shape you. That’s what makes us who we are.”
“No. The choice you make about what happens is what shapes you.”
Artie scratches her head and looks at Ray. Huh?

“You think your past makes you who you are and you think your past was unhappy, so you’re unhappy. The past is over. Let it go. Move on.”
“How? It’s not like I can erase it from my memory.”

“Release it, is what I mean. Disconnect from it. You were already who you are before you came here. And you’ll still be who you are when you leave. You’re a wonderful, creative, eternal being. Nothing can kill your soul. So nothing that happens can permanently harm it.”
Artie stares at Ray. “That’s a nice theory,” she says, “but no one knows for sure what happens to the soul. And the past creates the future here on planet Earth. This isn’t heaven, Rayana, it’s life.”
“The present creates the future, Artie. You can’t control the past, but you do have control over yourself and your choices right now. You can control what you say, what you think, and how you respond.”
“If something terrible happens that hurts me, I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt.”
“But you can let what hurts pass through you,” Rayana says, getting louder. “You can choose not to own it and invite it to live with you forever. You hold on and think that something that hurts is a part of you, but it only stays a part of you because you hold onto it. Let it go.”
Artie gulps some champagne. “Let it go where? I just don’t think it’s that easy. I think things happen to people that wound them, and some of those wounds never heal, and that makes them who they are. I think that’s life.”
        “For some people that’s life. That’s not how it has to be.”
Rayana can see that Artie’s doubtful. “Have it your way,” she says. “But just consider the possibility that that’s not the truth; it’s just a belief you have.”
“Yeah, alright.” Artie snorts. “I’ll consider it.”
“I can do without the sarcasm.”

         *Excerpt from Remedy For A Broken Angel
Pages 152 – 154
Copyright granted by Toni Ann Johnson





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Toni Ann Johnson at a book singing in a Bermuda bookstore.

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Toni Ann’s parents William and Vera Johnson back in the day.
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Toni Ann, far right, and at age 6, in Turkey
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Toni Ann in Greece
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Toni Ann
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Toni Ann in Amsterdam
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Toni Ann in Jamaica
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Toni Ann, age 8, in Morocco
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Toni Ann Johnson at the Red Carpet Premier of Step Up 2:  The Streets
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Toni Ann during an interview at a radio station in Bermuda promoting Remedy For A Broken Angel
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