Two Scintillating Poems to Stir Your Thoughts

Body Double

“Seeing promotes understanding, and understanding promotes the most practical kind of body education possible.” — Dr. Roy Glover, chief medical director, Bodies Revealed exhibit.
The body can’t get more naked than this –
peeled back like an orange
to the pulp, to the once-fluid
pulse, muscles the color of firebrick,
their topography filleted,
displayed like a prize Kingfish.
You should be swimming up
into the Spartina grasses now,
not raising hairs and questions:
What caused you to lose the talling
tides and land here, stripped
to stun our eyes?
Oh, how you wow the nail-biters,
who fight the tautening
line, repulsed yet riveted
by your graceful finning,
by the strangely familiar odds
and ends of this human catch:
A bladder deflated
and gray, a granite lung,
anemic strings of vein dried
and curling, a once-proud penis
wizened now and gone to seed.
“Spleen,” “Ovary,” “Third Ventricle of the Brain,”
I nod and twitch
my way through each display,
no longer smug
in the rhythm of my breathing.
I look in, look out,
but cannot turn away
from the glossy eye
in which I see my face.
I touch your bone
and feel my finger on my own,
ask for your name
though I know it is mine.

 

 

Stray Dog

Someone once tried to own him,
gave him a name, a drift of pine straw for a bed,
set out a bowl and chained him to a tree.
It took two men to get the collar on.
All that bucking and whining —
the beast could not make peace
with the thing, picked at it for days.
No one knew its true burden,
how wearing it pressed
the dog’s brain till it bled,
how it lade the divine lightness
of being born without a soul.

 

Libby Swope Wiersema

A Single Piece of Exceptional Fiction

How To Become a Musician or, Have You Earned That Euphymia
Sarah Ketterer

First, try to fit in with the rest of the crowd at an early age. Be a jock, a brain, the school’s fashion icon. Fail through complete humiliation. Go home and sift through your sibling’s extensive CD collection. Look up an “emo” artist. Simple Plan. Yellowcard. Find their old guitar lying dusty and neglected under a pile of old games instead. Pick it up. Tune it. Fool around with different chords. Grab your old notebook filled with lousy poems – a recent attempt at finding a clique – and hunt for one that rhymes. Give it a melody. Play it for your mother when she gets home. She’s grounded and sometimes irritable. She has a son who’s failing out of school and a husband addicted to vicodin and booze. She’ll listen halfheartedly while scrubbing paint from her hands and advise you to put the guitar back where you found it before running to her third job in an attempt to make ends meet, turning off the heat on her way out. Continue playing in the kitchen until your fingers have lost feeling from the cold and bleed.
In your high school, fill an elective by signing up for a music theory class. Your teacher bears an uncanny resemblance to the druggie on “That 70s Show” and plays guitar with a violin bow. You discuss the importance of tonic and dominant and the magic of modulations. Your final project is to write a short composition. Walk home instead of taking the bus. Muse at the natural rhythm of things. Pull out the guitar and start strumming a melody. You want to write a barcarolle. Play a few lines. Pen them down. Count the beats. Wrong emphasis. Try and fail four more times. Move on to a waltz. A march. Feel chained down by time restrictions and write a piece without measures. Fail the project.
Save up your allowance and walk to Mrs. Capo’s – the local piano teacher – when you have enough for a lesson. This is middle C. The lines are E, G, B, D, F. Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. Make your own mnemonic. Even Green Baboons Deserve Friends. Start staying after school to practice on the school’s piano. Tell your mother you’re tutoring.
Next year join band. They need a trombone. Get laughed at by kids on the bus when you get stuck in between seats. Forget to put it in the car one morning and have your mother back over it. Drop band and take chorus instead. Graduate with a high GPA and no friends. Go to college as a history major. Toss your sibling’s guitar in with your luggage while no one’s looking.
Decide that college life isn’t all it’s cut out to be. Your roommate is loud and always there. Take to living in the music building and only return to dorm life to sleep. Attend every performance held in the music hall. Fill an elective with a music composition course. Your teacher wears keyboard suspenders and talks about music as the universal language. You listen to operas and learn the rules set by the masters. Mozart. Beethoven. Brahms. Learn to hear things in music – death, longing, a conversation between lovers.
Fall in love and have your heart broken. Write a piece about the experience. Share it with your class and have them discuss your repeated use of parallel fifths and chord progressions that make no theoretical sense. Take it home and rewrite it to fit their unyielding rules. Hate it. Write another piece about the pain of a tree losing its leaves to the bitter winter. Your class says much of the same things “Your rhythms flow smoothly but you can’t logically have a IV, III, ii chord progression. The proper ending is a IV V I progression. Always IV V I” Get your manuscript back covered in red ink. Return to your dorm angry with Mozart.
Spend the rest of the semester putting sweat and blood into your composition class and let other classes fall by the wayside. Make the logical choice. Switch majors.
Pick up a smoking habit in the hopes of that scratchy jazz voice and live in a practice room. Coffee is your new best friend. The only happiness you experience is pounding out your emotions on a keyboard. Your mother thinks you’ve developed a social phobia.
Why are you a musician? Where does the music come from – sound, or silence? These are the questions you will ponder the rest of your career. They are akin to life questions like: Why do people love? Or: Where does love come from, familiarity or desire?
These are the questions you will keep tucked in your portfolio, like musical notations. Your theory professor says these are good to keep your music honest.
Develop bags under your eyes and a subtle twitch from that one piece that just won’t write itself.
Your composition professor this semester is stressing music as a way of telling a story. He wants you to compose an albumblatt that tells of a traumatic experience in your life. You compose a piece in A-Major titled “Brittle Hearts” and give Addolorato as the instruction. Pained. Afflicted. Your class looks at you blankly after you play. “You have a beautiful melody but you need to think about what story you’re telling”. Algorithmic composition states major is happy. Minor is sad. Return to your room angry at the supposed universal language that continues to elude you.
Later on in your career you will discover that musicians are simply souls with no real understanding of how to convey things through conversation and therefore must live and die through wordless communication. You have not yet reached the point where you can accept this social outcast state. You continue to attend parties and stand in the corner, the same way you tried to fit in with everything in middle school.
Start to wonder where music will ever get you. Will you compose? If so, what? Do you have any message to put out there? Or, will you just continue to make sure the dead masters are heard?
You will hear somewhere that there are two types of musicians: those that choose music, and those who music chooses. Limit pondering this truth to twice a week, like paying bills, it can make you weary.
Your mother will pay you an unwanted visit. She will notice the bags under your eyes and the nervous twitch in your left temple from high caffeine intake. She will exhale loudly and say: “Jeanne, honey, remember when you were going to be a teacher?”
Reply: “Mother, I like to play.”
She’ll say: “Right. You like to play, Of course you like to play.”
Write a composition about the life of a street rat. Write for unconventional instruments, like trashcans and brooms. Your class finds it too far fetched, and half your floor hates you for stealing the only trashcan.
Be glad you are taking some core classes. They further strengthen your resolve that your are a musician. There is room for no other identity.
Graduate with your master’s degree and complete a piece two years later. Your colleagues look at you vaguely and deem it “Absolute music”. Maybe some small, unknown group will play it in a few years.
Sit outside and lay on the grass. Feel the texture of the brown sun burnt blades in comparison to the sleek rich green ones. Think of what progression would best exemplify that. F-minor. ii to vi. Add this to your portfolio of tattered manuscripts.
Go on an occasional date with an interesting face and use them as your newest muse. They ask if being a musician is as freeing as they think it is. Say that sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s like wearing chains. Say it’s like living on a strict diet.
Your date smiles and hums the end of the piece playing in the restaurant – IV V I. Always, IV V I.

Euphymia – Song of Praise
Albumblatt – short 19th century piano piece
Absolute Music – The antithesis of program music. Condemned by most composers for lacking the necessary basis of poetry and drama
Algorithmic Composition – Predefined procedure and set of rules for composing

Brand New Non-Fiction #1

Old and Loving It

Joey Tabler

 

Last week, at age twenty-three and one fourth, I found myself at the precipice of a mid-life crisis.  A half hour of basketball left me incapacitated for a week and jogging without stretching was a guaranteed pulled hamstring.  Even the physically unexacting task of talking pop culture with youths left me listless and depressed (what’s a Dougie?).  I felt old.  Desperate, I frantically searched for my own version of The Fountain of Youth.

A new car was a possibility.  It was the first thing that characters in movies did to distract themselves from the aging process. In order to truly aid me in remaining youthful the car had to be outlandishly flashy.  I felt really old though.  The only car that was flashy enough to aid in my fight against time was the McLaren F1 (of course replete with suicide doors, spinners and an “ice cream paint job).  With a price tag of 970,000 dollars, I would be lucky to pay for this car’s tires by the time I hit thirty.  Not a chance.

Purchasing something flashy and somewhat expensive was the answer though.  I was sure of it.  Soon, I found an apparently perfect tool through which I could be revivified.  Everywhere I turned people, especially youngsters, were reading e-books instead of conventional books.  Who could blame them?  They were much lighter and more convenient than carrying multiple conventional books.  They could be read on mediums that doubled as gaming consoles and music players.  They even looked cooler than books.  With Borders’ recent bankruptcy and the plethora of amenities that e-books offered it was clear that e-books were the wave of the future.  If there were a key to youth’s door, surely this was it.

Soon I found that e-books were not as amazing as I thought they were.  E-book ownership stressed me out far more than it rejuvenated me.   For starters, conventional books do not crack.  Unfortunately, the screens of iPads and Kindles do.  A critical reader will note that book pages rip.  This is true, but when the pages of a book rip, only one book is left unusable, when the screen on an iPad cracks one’s entire library is unreadable outside of the comfort of their home.  Any lapse in judgment in handling your e-book medium and you could be left bookless and footing the bill for new e-book medium screen.  This is enough turn anyone’s hair grey.

Maintaining a charge for my e-book medium was also a huge problem.  Picture this.  You are on three hour flight.  You have to finish reading a book by the time you land for some assignment.  You get right to the point of the e-book that contains the information necessary to complete your assignment and then everything goes dark.  That is probably about as stressful as it gets.  Trust me, I know from experience.

In my quest to find youth, I learned instead that e-books provide an opportunity for everything that can go wrong with reading to go wrong.  From fragility to maintenance, e-books and their mediums required far too much effort.  If confronted with the same choice between feeling/seeming old and becoming hip I certainly would never think about becoming hip through usage of an e-book again.

 

 

 

 

Brand New Non-Fiction #2

Away from the Grind

Daniel Ezelle

In the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” college-aged intellectual heartthrob, Will Hunting (played by a young Matt Damon), is asked to get coffee by an attractive brunette Ivy League scholar named Skylar. The exchange continues with Will’s response:

Will:     Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

Skylar:  What?
Will:     When you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.
Skylar: [laughs] Okay, sounds good.

Skylar’s reaction is probably synonymous with the consummate American public. Jack Maxwell of Beverage Digest reported that in 1969 U.S. consumption of coffee was around 40 gallons per capita. Coffee consumption drastically fell to about half of that by 1998—largely due in part to the popularity of soft drinks. A resurgence in the coffee industry of recent has been propelled by the increase of coffee shops entering the marketplace. The National Coffee Association found that an estimated 80% of Americans drink coffee at least occasionally and upwards of 50% drink coffee every day. The Specialty Coffee Association of America presented findings on the motivating factors for coffee consumption, “Women indicated that drinking coffee is a good way to relax. Men indicated that coffee helps them get the job done.”

With consideration to the prior statistics, it would be reasonable for the average Joe to assume that a co-worker, client, fellow student, theologian, or potential hot date would enjoy a conversation over a cup of Joe. The American public acting on that assumption and the apposite reaction from entrepreneurs in the marketplace combine to create a consistency in the lives of Americans—a reflex plan. I must elaborate—a reflex is an involuntary and nearly instantaneous response to a stimulus.  Thus, the presence of something which is commonly accepted (General public drinks coffee) provides a platform for “incognizant” or reflex decision-making in the form of going to get coffee when all decision-making parties ignore supplementary opportunities for the use of their time.

I challenge you to learn from Will Hunting and question the arbitrary action of getting coffee. Query for alternative settings where you may spend your recreational time with colleagues, friends, prospective lovers, scholars, canonists, or an individual you would like to get to know better. Explore the possibilities that your surrounding area offers—whether it be enjoying the great outdoors, experiencing the arts, dancing at a club or in the streets, engaging in something dangerous like hang-gliding or cliff-jumping, volunteering to help the less fortunate, beginning a new hobby like crocheting, setting up a game of croquet, building something out of wood, blowing up something made out of wood (as long as it’s legal), brewing beer, picking up litter or learning how to make your own espresso based beverages.

I am certainly not an antagonist of coffee shops. In fact, I am writing this while perched on a faux leather chair within the encasements of earth-color-dawned walls, speakers playing The Shins, and wood grain surroundings of an archetypal coffee shop. All I’m sayin’ is, “When you’re away from the grind, get away from the grind!”

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=353a555187&view=att&th=12ee4b14d32d2543&attid=0.2&disp=inline&realattid=f_glmsa0ye1&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P9DNNGPoJtllEW2UkNSp0vz&sadet=1349743000657&sads=8hYQjnODde4TRARQNbKxYrsY5J8

Brand New Non-Fiction #3

Retail Therapy
Brittani DuBose

A is for apple, B is for boy, C is for cat, or so the alphabet song goes. As you get older, the tune changes—especially when you work in retail, or any other job specializing in customer service. In the spirit of things, I have decided to do the same. Today’s letter—S…as in S is for sales associate…not slave.

I work at a popular clothing store; many of you probably shop here twice a month because of our constant commercials promoting a new sale. But this article isn’t about what we are selling. It’s about you, or someone you know. You see, my job is to make your shopping experience one that will make you come back. The hard thing about that is me not wanting you to come back when you leave me with a sour taste in my mouth wondering how God could tolerate humans for as long as he has. Alas, this isn’t about me either, so here are a few things you should now when you spend a day shopping.

If you have never worked retail before, try it. It’s not all bad. There are people out there who are the reason why I’ve come to love the job. They are the ones who have actually been in my position. As for the ones who haven’t. Imagine this: you have been folding a wall of t-shirts all day—a kind of organization any obsessive compulsive person would salivate over—when out of nowhere a mother and her daughter come up beside you and manage to pick through each meticulously folded shirt. You can’t help but wonder whether that pink small is a tad larger than the orange small, or no…the white, brown, grey or blue are different too! Amazing, right? BUT, since you are on the clock you have to smile and ask if everything is working out ok, instead of saying where they could shove those shirts.

Side note: The Bible says God tests us everyday. If you want to be tested every five minutes, work in retail…especially on the weekends.

The fitting room is a new form of hell. I was born in the South, where people still say yes ma’am/sir, open doors for females and say grace before every meal. Now how come those semblances of manners don’t apply to picking up after yourself? I have always wondered how people could put on something, decide it wasn’t cute, then take it off and leave. I’m pretty sure when you walked in, I said I could take everything that didn’t work out. That doesn’t mean leaving a nice stack for me in your dressing room to clean up. Does it not cross anyone’s mind to put back what you don’t want? People complain all the time about fitting rooms being a mess. How can you point the finger at someone when you are the person leaving that mess behind for us to straighten up?

Register etiquette. I’ll make this short and sweet. If I make small talk—ask how your day is going and what your preference is for bagging your clothes, please answer. Otherwise, as your cashier I will be obligated to stuff the clothes—and your receipt—in the bag, dismiss you, and turn my bright smile to someone who will talk to me and appreciate what I do. #thatisall

Retail isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s actually a reality show gone wrong—ahem, Jersey Shore. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I just wish others would experience what associates have to go through on an everyday basis. Respect your space, and others.

Three Nonfiction Pieces

Never Smile at a Monkey
Athan Makansi

Monkeys are cute. Lovable characters from my childhood, such as Curious George and Abu from Aladdin, were monkeys. At the zoo, monkeys attract adults and kids alike. Zoo-goers love to see the monkeys act like…well, act like monkeys –eating bananas, grooming each other, and swinging from branch to branch.

So, when I arrived in Himachal Pradesh, India to spend a year teaching English at a rural high school and discovered monkeys were ubiquitous on campus and the surrounding hills, naturally, I was excited. Very early on I had an intimate meeting with these primates.

Occasionally, I go for a jog around the rustic school campus. During one of my first jogs, I turned a sharp corner and ran directly into a family of monkeys. Surprising each other, we paused and stared for a moment. Stunned by the unusual chance of being so close to monkeys, I just stood perfectly still. Not knowing the proper etiquette of greeting a family of monkeys, I simply flashed the cuddly monkeys a wide smile. Something was lost in translation; upon seeing my bright, shiny teeth, the biggest monkey growled and galloped towards me. My smile vanished. I turned heel and frantically sprinted all the way to my house. That was the fastest part of my jog.

I was further surprised to hear that this doesn’t only happened to hapless travelers. The monkey problem regularly grabs the news, prompting threat awareness surveys and attack reports. Recently the state has ramped up its efforts. “Operation Monkey,” enacted by the state wildlife authority, allows farmers to have special gun permits specifically to hunt monkeys for a temporary period of two weeks in December 2010. And in February 2011, the state government began a monkey sterilization program.

On the school campus, each of my students has his own menacing monkey story. Locals readily admit how frequently monkeys will steal food right out of their hands. The school where I teach even hires “Bandar aadme,” or monkey men, who wander campus every day with hockey sticks to chase monkeys off the campus. Some have scars from their efforts.

My meeting with the monkey menace also taught me to resist preconceived notions about the places to which I travel. Peter Matthiessen most succinctly summarized this lesson in his novel The Snow Leopard, based on his own journey into the Himalayas. Before Matthiessen sets out on the arduous trip, his mentor gives him only one piece of advice: “Expect nothing.” I’d like to add some advice of my own: never smile at a monkey.

Athan Makansi spent 2010 – 2011 teaching intermediate English at the Lawrence School Sanawar in Himachal Pradesh, India. He currently works in Washington D.C. as a Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton.

 

 

 

BATMAN BROKE MY HEART
One woman’s story about what came after “happily ever after”
Chelsie Boozer

I was raised at the end of the era that taught kids that divorce was a mortal sin. Bad juju on you. I know it’s far more common these days, and most people act like it doesn’t matter. Nowadays, saying you’re divorced is like saying that you cheated on your homework as kid: big deal.

I joined the military right out of high school and met my future husband at a base where we were both stationed. I was small town girl from Tennessee and he was a small town boy from Indiana. He had the most incredible blue eyes and a smile that made me melt like butter. He was a complete nerd and loved all things Batman. I fell madly in love and soon we headed to the courthouse. All was peachy keen until my knight in shining armor turned out to be the Tin Man, heartless and all – although if you ask him, he’ll probably say that his princess in the tower turned out to be Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction. Tomayto, tomahto. The gist of the story was that I married the love of my life and he ended up breaking my heart.

When my husband’s ex reentered his life, they were “just friends.” I’d by lying if I said the little voice inside my head didn’t go into over drive the first time I met her. But for the sake of my marriage, I tried to swallow my insecurities and play nice. I tried making friends with her and for a month or two it worked. But eventually I just couldn’t tune the out the nagging in the back of my head that something was off – and that was when the fights started. I would wake up in the middle of the night to find his side of the bed empty. I’d call him only to find out he was at her house. They worked together for 8 hours a day and then they’d study together for a few more hours. Once I came home early and found them in a compromising position on the couch. I didn’t have hard evidence, but all the signs were there. You don’t have to catch them in bed to know that your husband is in love with another woman. I’d accuse him of cheating; he’d say I was overreacting. As a woman, I can concede that per-maybe-haps I was a little eccentric about it. Maybe. Possibly. A little.

Once the suspicion set in, it consumed me. I could think of nothing else. You know what I’m talking about – I started rifling through his mail, looking in every nook and cranny of his hard drive, scanning the bills and phone calls, reading his text messages while he slept, asking around to see what any of our friends knew… The more things I found that added to the mounting evidence against him, the more I looked. I was angry, hurt, embarrassed. We would fight. Empty promises were made. But then a few days later, the nagging paranoia in the back of my mind came back and suddenly I was back on the hunt, looking for more things to condemn him and prove his guilt. I would tell myself that I didn’t want to know, that it hurt too much – but I couldn’t stop.

It was a vicious cycle that became an addiction. I wanted to stop, wanted to find the strength to either leave or make myself not care. But I just couldn’t. Once you suspect or know that he’s cheating on you, you have to prove it to yourself over and over and over and over and over. You have to stare at the evidence until you’ve degraded yourself beyond the point of no return.

When I was much younger, I saw a video featuring singer/comedian Mark Lowry. He was talking about himself and his brother back when they were children and used to terrorize the bejeezus out of their mother. Mark goes on to say that he wished all mothers had a little red light in the back of their heads that would start flashing 10 seconds before “ENOUGH”. At that point in my marriage, I felt like my little red light was constantly flashing. I had tortured myself to the point of overly-dramatic paranoia. If my husband did the slightest thing to piss me off, I’d fly off the handle into some crazy bizarre outrage. There was an over-abundance of southern-style hollering and name calling, mostly on my part, tears and insults flowing freely. And after it was over and one or both of us had stormed off in a huff, I’d smack myself internally. I kept saying that I wanted to make it work, and a part of me did; but with every fight I got angrier and angrier. The resentment between us kept building until there wasn’t much else. It wasn’t enough for me to make him feel bad – I was blind with rage and pain, and I wanted him to suffer.

Finally the day came where I had undeniable, black-and-white, in-your-face proof that my fears were valid. I’d jumped in my car, sobbing hysterically while ranting and raving, crying and screaming the whole way home. I imagine it would have been slightly funny to watch. I stormed into the house and quite literally ran in circles all over the living room for a good 20 minutes, beating pillows and calling him names that would make the devil blush. Crazy eyes, check. And then, I saw it.

The limited edition, very expensive, completely awesome, porcelain Batmobile cookie jar that I’d given my husband for Christmas was sitting on top of the refrigerator. It was his favorite Batman thing. The heavens parted and light shone down on it. My hissy fit stopped as I walked toward it with passion and reverence at the same time. Took it down from the fridge, turning it over in my hands and eyeing every inch of it. So smooth, so polished and sleek. A true work of art for the avid Batman geek. And just so expensive. Costly. Limited-edition. Did I mention that it wasn’t cheap?

Then I turned around, and held it high over my head, standing up on my tippy-toes for maximum height…. and brought the damn thing down as hard as I could. I wish I’d had one of those cameras that they use on Time Warp. The cookie jar didn’t make much noise when it shattered – it sounded like a Christmas ornament breaking. But you could FEEL the effect as it broke into a thousand pieces. Like knocking your cell phone off the counter or opening the cereal bag too hard or your beaded bracelet breaking….. The pieces just went everywhere. It was almost magical.

I stood there for a moment, looking at the kitchen floor. Then I gathered my things, walked out the door, and drove away. I felt better. Only later did it occur to me that I’d gone all the way home simply for the sake of killing a cookie jar. Go me.

Eventually, my one-and-only filed for divorce and a few months later, I was legally single. By this point, I was out of the military. No husband, no job, no home. I felt like going back to my hometown in Tennessee would be a step backwards, so I packed up what was left and moved to California to live with a mother I barely knew.

It was hard. Divorce aside, I was still jobless, homeless, and broke. With perseverance, I found a job and a small apartment. I was surviving, but inside I felt like I was drowning. It was hard enough to live with the heartache of being abandoned by someone I loved, but all of that was compounded with the shame I felt. When I’d walk down the street to pick up milk at the store, I felt like everyone was watching me; like they all knew that behind my forced smile I was screaming inside. “Embarrassed” or “mortified” don’t accurately describe the feeling. It was like someone had stamped DIVORCED on my forehead for the entire world to see; I just wanted to hide under the covers. I felt like the only thing about me that was worth mentioning was that I was divorced, like I ought to be shunned and sent to a divorce colony. Like it defined who I was, and that it would for the rest of my days. I’d lie in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking about it for hours. I’d get bored and doodle little cartoon pictures of myself, with one of those benign tumors growing off my face like another head and DIVORCED written on my T-shirt. Then I’d get angry at my ex-husband all over again. This went on for months.

My family was supportive in their own unique ways. My parents kept telling me to get over it, that it was for the best and, honestly, what else did I really expect? My grandparents had said they were sorry, but it was clearly an uncomfortable subject for them. The majority of my “friends” would conveniently have to get off the phone or log off of the chat whenever the subject came up. I could tell that everyone was tired of hearing me talk about it, tired of seeing me be the “angry and depressed white woman”. People kept telling me that it would get better with time; that the pain would go away when I found someone else – and it just pissed me off even more.

Wasn’t there a code for family and friends? Weren’t they supposed to buy me obscene amounts of ice cream and tissues, or a BB gun and targets painted like my ex? Weren’t they supposed to switch modes when I did: hate him for a week or two, and then pine over him for another? But no one was on that roller coaster with me. Everyone was tired of it, while I was holding a season pass.

I tried dating a few times but it was always a comical disaster. One date came over to my apartment but his truck got towed while we were inside, and I never heard from him again. Another one talked like the squirrel from Hoodwinked. I met a few creepy ones and a few jerks. While the dates weren’t exactly what I was looking for, they were always good for a laugh the next day at work.

By chance, I became reacquainted with an old friend from the military who had gone through the same thing. We stayed up will the wee hours of the morning talking about our respective ex-spouses and one day, he said something to me that changed everything. He said, “I hate her and I love her. I miss her, but I’ll never take her back. And it will always be that way.” Not exactly a profound statement, but it changed my outlook entirely. I suddenly realized that it was OKAY to be angry at my husband and still miss him. I didn’t have to pick one or the other because I felt both.

From then on, things got better. It wasn’t that the pain dissipated or that I “got over it” suddenly…. I simply took the feelings as they came. 75% of the time, I was fine. I didn’t even think about my husband. Some days, I missed him more than words can describe… so I’d go home, drink some wine, eat ice cream, listen to sappy music, and have a good cry. By the next morning, I felt better. And when I hated him so much I couldn’t stand it, I go for a long drive up the mountain, listening to angry death metal music, and just let it out. Pitch a hissy fit right in the middle of nowhere. And when I got home, I’d feel fine. I recognized that it wasn’t healthy to squash my emotions for the sake of appearances. It was about rolling with the punches as they came. My life was a wreck and I needed to fix it in my own way – to hell with everyone else’s expectations.

Divorce is ugly no matter how you slice it, but it has taught me a lot about who I am. I learned how to stand on my own two feet and not to compromise my self-respect for the sake of others. I realized what’s important in a relationship and what is simply unacceptable. Most importantly, I found out that I was stronger than I thought I was.

This would now be the part where I’m supposed to tell you that I met Mr. Right and everything is great now… except it hasn’t happened that way. My life hasn’t magically transformed into some Hollywood happy ending – life never works like that. I did meet someone new and fell in love again to my utter astonishment. And despite the fact that THAT relationship didn’t work out either, it was so much better than my marriage because of what I had learned. There was no fighting or resentment this time, just love and acceptance and understanding. It was the kind of love that let us part on great terms and remain close friends. And while my life might not be right where I want it, being where I am isn’t so bad. Every day, in countless ways, I see the ripples of my divorce and how it affects the choices I make today. I have my bad days and my good days. My real friends have stuck by my side and helped me through it. And every breath I draw gets me a little closer to internal peace.

The moral of my story is that sometimes life is beyond your control. Sometimes, everything falls apart. But it’s up to you to pick yourself up and move on if that is your only option. As Buddha said, “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” No matter where you are in your life, your situation doesn’t define you. There is more to life than the pain. And when you’re feeling down, remember: If the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off.

 

 

 

 

Curry Mile
Kylie Pace

You’d have to stay focused to spot the small flag that hangs above an intersection on Manchester’s Wilmslow Road. “Famous Curry Mile,” it reads. It could just as easily be a direction – “Famous Curry Mile: two miles onwards” – as a geographic marker, but this is in fact what it means to indicate. Glitzy restaurant signs in Arabic, English, and Hindi fonts overwhelm the sign, and their shisha, falafel, and buffet lunch specials ignore the street’s title. Only curious Americans would naively show up here looking for a mile of curry houses.

My own lunch here on a recent Monday quickly confirmed that I had overemphasized both parts of the street’s nickname. A longtime fan of the gravies that my subcontinental friends cook up in the States, I set my sights on the assumed epicenter of the transplanted subcontinent. But the lamb kabob and nan bread before me demanded nothing of the imported red chile powder that I had been increasingly adding to my dietary regime.

Fortunately, the name Curry Mile is false in the best ways. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to walk farther than this shortened mile after sampling the easily-affordable yet satisfyingly-portioned food. And what Curry Mile lacks in actual length, it over-compensates for with geography. The entire eastern half of the ex-British Empire, plus Thailand, has melted down to form this street. Drivers who learned to parallel park in Delhi pause to question a restaurant promoter who is shouting out special deals. Loitering for five seconds risks eliciting the attention of these doormen, who “guarantee you top quality Indian food!” Or Pakistani, or Bangladeshi; these nationalistic distinctions really don’t matter here, as long as the food is halal.

British traditionalists blame the country’s significant Middle Eastern and Asian population for replacing English culture with foreign religions, languages, and customs. In Manchester, a growing ethnic minority demographic drove 86.6% of the city’s population growth from 2001 to 2007. Islamic centers housed in former churches create extra traffic on Fridays. Chicken tikka masala has replaced the roasts, fish and chips, and boiled vegetables of Anglo fame as the country’s most popular dish. From the perspective of an elderly driver with foreign-born neighbors, it is only a matter of time before the country entirely looks and speaks like Curry Mile.

If the mainstream popularity of ethnic food and culture is connected to the increase in foreign-ancestried population, though, it isn’t a result of the numbers. While England’s immigrants have been (mildly) benefiting the country’s kitchens ever since Queen Victoria introduced a Pakistani cook to the royal kitchen, they aren’t necessarily eating the same dishes. The average take-out curry is Anglicised down to its final speck of five spice mix powder. The chicken tikka masala mentioned above stands out in taste and appearance compared to white, starchy English roasts, but this is only because traditional English food so thoroughly lacks color that the addition of canned tomato soup and spices to chicken equates to a culinary revolution. This is, in fact, the recipe behind the famous chicken tikka masala that I found along Curry Mile.

Curry Mile is not the high street for Manchester’s South Asian population, although its few grocers and clothing shops do also fill that role. The phenomenon of Curry Mile’s eateries exists because of the British, largely for the British. It was the skeletal British Empire of the Second World War that encouraged colonial immigration to fill national labour shortages caused. When midcentury deindustrialization left many immigrants unemployed, new entrepreneurs found success in feeding the nation’s appetite for tasty, cheap food. Today’s students who walk down a few blocks from the University of Manchester to the Wilmslow Road’s curry houses are continuing this trend; without them, there would be no Curry Mile.
And for those looking for “real” South Asian food, it’s best to get as far from Curry Mile as you can. My Bangladeshi lunch friend could recommend only two restaurants here that could pass for true Indian, but they both are closed on Mondays. That’s also avoiding the question of what constitutes “true” Indian food – a question best explored by a book like Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors.

The inclination for subcontinental nostalgia, whatever that may be, is gaining popularity as British eaters gain enough confidence in pan-Asian food to seek adventure through authenticity. The best example of this in Manchester “dares to serve authentic regional dishes from the heart of India.” As if to prove its stylistic separation from Curry Mile, it is located at the far end of the metro tramline, in the outlying city of Altrincham. Here the immigrants that make modern England so alive with multiculturalism are present but hidden, in line with the imaginations of the generally upper-middle and older, more conservative, wealthier residents. The qualities of typical takeout – comforting, cheap, fast – are in low demand. Even the outdoor market’s Indian food stand here advertises its unsalted, fresh, vegetarian meals: just like we really eat in South India, the owner of The Dravidian suggests. He is the only Asian in sight as the bravest of shoppers sample his 3-course lunches, except during the occasional festival. During these weekends, Curry Mile’s patrons take a tram ride to experiment with Indian food – and they love it. I did too.

Kylie Pace is in extended transit back to the States after being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. Her blog, saywhatethiopia.wordpress.com, was frequently censored due to its political content, although this probably had no connection to her detention at Heathrow Airport’s Border Control. Next year she will begin a master’s program in water resource management.