A title's soul

Jan 10, 2023

What in the name is Inventus? Read on to discover more about our second artifact!

The dream

When I was a kid, I had a dream of being an inventor. This dream manifested itself in the most peculiar ways.

At home, my mom praised me for being able to assemble a new appliance, like a box fan, without looking at the instructions. My older brother chastised me after I learned how to change the admin password on his old Sony VAIO laptop through the control panel. My little sister wasn’t too happy when I constantly made a mess in our room, dissecting Nokia phones, playing with TV antennas, and even shocking myself when I messed with an electrical outlet - ouch.

I had this insatiable craving for technology and wanted to understand how things worked at the ripe age of 6 years old. In middle school, I boldly declared I’d go to college at MIT and shared the news with my teachers and on my facebook profile in ‘09.

Along the way, I unfortunately lost touch with that dream. Our family was financially insecure, and I distinctly remember my mom telling me to search for scholarships the summer before my freshman year of high school (come on bruh!). “Inventor” wasn’t a choice on the drop-down menu of college majors. My heart sank.

So I tried again, this time entering in “entrepreneur”.

No dice.

One night while watching TV I called up a patent agency after seeing their ad, promising to help inventors make their dreams come to life.

It was a ripoff.

My mind felt defeated, and the dream vanished into thin air what seems like overnight. We moved from cities to states and I enrolled in a number of different school systems, 14 at that, from K-12 as it's commonly called in the U.S. Looking back now, it's crazy to think life events can trigger neural responses causing memories to fade like childhood aspirations. I wouldn't end up meeting mine again for a long time.

The poem

In my senior year of high school, something changed. I joined a club at school called Kappa Instructional Leadership League, which was an auxiliary program hosted by the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. The year prior, I flaked on an interest meeting with them while I was in my sadboy-themed era (it was rough), and was more than determined to see it through in my last year of HS. During the program, we learned a variety of poems, but there was one that stuck out to me in particular. This special poem went by the name of Invictus, written by William Earnest Henley.

Some of you might already know this poem (looking right at you, D9). Some of you might not, and that's ok. It took me forever to learn Invictus, and back then, the stanzas didn’t “hit” me like they impacted my mentor and program advisor, DJavon Alston, who I endearingly call big bro to this day.

One night, one of the guys in our Kappa League brotherhood had really bad news. It was an emotional day, and our whole line got teary eyed. DJavon shared with us the intentionality of why we were learning poems like Invictus. It wasn’t for initiation or for regurgatating info when prompted. The poem was a literal invocation to summon strength whenever deemed necessary.

I’d learn later on that Nelson Mandela recited the poem frequently while jailed for 27 years for leading anti-apartheid movements in South Africa. Something about this struck me - how could a poem be that powerful? Sure, the lines “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” sound motivating to the untuned ear. But using it as fuel to overcome unimaginable harsh conditions, like the ones Mr. Mandela faced daily while locked up, is on a whole 'nother scale.

I'd have to experience a few more key life events until I truly understand what Invictus meant.

Bloody, but unbowed

Right at the start of my freshman year in college, I heard the terrible news that my dad had suffered from a stroke, leaving half of his body paralyzed from head to toe. I cut class and walked up the bleachers of Norfolk State University’s football stadium while reciting Invictus under my breath. It was an instinctual response. And it was the only thing keeping me from breaking down.

I’d recite it again 3 years later during an ambulance ride to the hospital after dislocating my right knee while in Michigan for an internship. My kneecap buckled and looked like a hammerhead shark after I launched a kick in Muay Thai practice. My leg, now a double-sided axe, was unbearable to look at and the pain was immense. The EMT in the ambulance looked at me questionably while I repeated the poem again and again.

4 months passed, and I was asked to do a speech for ACCESS, a local college foundation, and share a piece of my story about matriculating through NSU. I wrote diligently about the challenges I faced in academia and what I did to overcome them. Then on Sunday, two days before I was scheduled to deliver my speech, I heard news that my dad passed away from a rupture in his throat.

What. the. f**k.

It’s all I could think to myself. I heard from my tía earlier that week that he was in good health and slowly recovering. I was just on facetime with him, watching him speak to me from his hospitable bed the week before. I broke down in my room that Sunday afternoon. I went out to a bar to drink the pain away. I stopped short in my tracks, remembering that my father struggled with alcohol abuse, and had a similar echo like Kendrick Lamar did not to let the bottle consume my soul.

Tuesday came, and I put on my best suit, shined my shoes, grabbed my portfolio, filled up my car’s tank of gas, and drove to the venue in straight silence. I put on a smile. Or at least tried my best to fake one. I remember some of the ACCESS staff asking if I was nervous about the speech. It was a big deal to them - of course they’d want to ease my nerves. But how could I drop a bomb on them with my life event? I decided to tell a few of the staff members I knew on a deeper level, in privacy, as we walked to the patio outside of the hotel.

They were understanding and empathetic after I shared news of my loss, and said it was completely ok to sit this one out. To me, it didn’t seem right to let them down. I asked a former staff member if she knew Invictus, and if she could recite it with me out loud while we stood in the chilly wind.

Afterwards we went into the ballroom, and a few moments later it was speech time. I grabbed my portfolio, took out the printed sheet, and did my thing. Towards the end I paused while feeling the waterworks about to burst and opened up about my dad’s loss, and that he’d want me to finish whatever I started. It was an unconscious ode to Invictus’s line: “my head is bloody, but unbowed”.

A standing ovation erupted through the crowd as I closed out. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t looking for pity, I just wanted to share what I was going through. There was an outpour of love from community members and distinguished guests through bearhugs and handshakes. Before I left, a waiter ran up to me and told me the back-of-house staff were in tears from my speech. It was a humbling moment I'll never forget.

I then learned how powerful authenticity can be when it comes from your soul. It would be an overstatement to say that William Earnest Henley and I have faced similar life events. William lost his father as a teenager, contracted tuberculosis at 12 years old, and even had the limb below his knee amputated. He even wrote Invictus while healing in his hospital bed. His poetry the depths of his soul, and was a testament to his unconquerable spirit. You can’t fake something like that, not even with AI.

Blending both worlds

I got to feel another author’s soul when I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist after COVID struck the world. A few days after reading, I heard my heart talking and felt the memories of my youth defrosting. My dream to be an inventor hit me like a boomerang making it's return. It was my personal legend, as it's commonly referred to in the famous fable.

And as if it was ordained, I spent that summer as an intern with IBM - even getting the opportunity to submit a couple of patents. I didn’t want to be an inventor in the physical sense, but instead a metaphysical inventor. A thought inventor. I was curious about the law of attraction and wanted to figure out how something simple as bringing an idea to life happens with pure thoughts. I wanted to reverse engineer the thought process behind people we look up to making their big break after being stuck in the sunken place.

My personal legend evolved into writing a story that had this message at the core of its being. As of now, I’ve written about 6 half-baked drafts that have all gotten crumpled up and thrown in the trash. Titling my novel “The Inventor” was too similar to Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, and I didn’t want to copy his style - that’s just not me.

Last year I watched an interview with Kobe Bryant explaining his process of creating his storytelling company Granity.

Greater. Than. Infinity.

It was that simple to Kobe. Yet it wasn’t trivial. He lived and breathed those words through his daily actions as a human and as a professional basketball player revered by many.

I might be 24, but hell I’ve got a story to tell as well. Creating a portmanteau with my dream of being an inventor, and with the poem I still hold dear to my heart (take a guess!), equals the title Inventus. Every chapter begins with an intentional poem I’ve written by hand. Each story arc, though fictional, reflects a part of my journey while on this earth. I knew I couldn’t write about taking the leap of faith into the unknown unless I actually did it myself. Leaving my job last January to start a startup and write this novel was scary AF, but that archived story is for another day.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more archives behind the story until the release date. If you have a favorite poem that means something to you, I'd love to learn more about it here if you'd like to share!

- Emanuel Perez

artifact #2: power