Lynn Braz’s work has been published in Philadelphia and Cosmopolitan magazines, The Dallas Morning News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and USA Today. Lynn is an adjunct writing instructor at Lackawanna College and an M.A. Creative Writing candidate at Wilkes University. She is a flying trapeze artist and instructor whose book, Flying Free: Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze, details how an acrophobic middle-aged woman turned her fears into thrills through embracing a natural high. Lynn is a featured writer in the in the upcoming Writers’ Showcase: Spring Edition.
Lynn contributed a teaser to her essay, titled, “Kashmir.”
Imagine being a goddess. Don’t think about the adoration and the power. Try not to let the glamour of being the source of constant attention and fascination seduce you. Imagine what being a goddess is like in reality. The enervating pressure. The enormous responsibility. The stress of maintaining grace and dignity in speech and behavior, every day, all day, even when you’re hungry. Imagine having no friends, no peers, no one who doesn’t want something from you. Imagine the loneliness of being a goddess.
I was a goddess in Kashmir for exactly nine days.
It was January 2007, pre-iPhone, when travelers still went places for the experiences rather than to snap and post selfies. I’d been backpacking around the Indian Himalayas, mesmerized by the majestic snowy peaks, when I was overtaken by a powerful urge to ski. Never mind that I’m a terrible skier. I’d heard the Kashmiri ski village, Gulmarg, had some of the best powder on the planet and was the perfect resort in which to learn how to ski. Lift tickets cost five bucks. Private ski instruction was seven dollars a day. And due to recent terrorist activity, the lone luxury hotel was holding a fire sale. As a canny budget traveler, a bargain trumps everything, especially common sense.
My enthusiasm for a bargain did not fade even after receiving the ominous email from my ski guide: “Despite what you’ve heard, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists live together in harmony here. You will probably not die.”
Come hear the odyssey of an American Goddess in the center of the conflict in Kashmir at the The Writers’ Showcase. The Writers’ Showcase is an event that features readings of poetry and prose from Pennsylvania based writers. The Writers’ Showcase: Spring Edition will take place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W Market St. Scranton, PA from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Admission is $4 at the door.
Today’s song is “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” by Courtney Barnett, from her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
It’s that time of year again, the Hallmark of b.s. holidays we fall for every time we see it, like a horrible ex, who was great in bed: Happy Valentine’s Day! We spend money on wilted flowers, sparkly mushy cards with professions of love that read like a word salad, lard churned drug-store Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, and overpriced-under portioned dinners at restaurants where we are sardined in a can, hoping to get something in return.
I may be a little jaded, but I would rather take it all back. I would rather drink with my friends on Galentine’s Day. Or any day, really.
Consequently, Valentine’s Day has a way of nagging away my painfully single human existence, just a little bit. It’s only painful if I cared. Then, I reminisced lately about the past as if it were something great, someone great. The thoughts would ebb and flow as I zoned out to whatever I have been binge watching all week.
I recollected my past relationships and romantic encounters as if I were trying to remember what to buy at the grocery store.
I got a text last night, which read, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to say hey.”
“I’m thinkin’ of you too…”
I didn’t actually text that in response. I said something like, “same here” as to be slightly vague and sarcastic. He knew what I meant. We both stay in touch randomly, which I suspect is to ease his singledom. It doesn’t matter to me.
His random text made me think about how a few years ago I had a different life. I would have dates booked back-to-back on weekends, and went to upscale restaurants, roof-top bars, and concerts. I was always surrounded by people, but somehow felt even more lonely? Did I not appreciate it?
As I shift back to the present, I think I would rather bury myself in my hoodie and watch Rick and Morty than deal with the constant search, the mind-numbing dry-wall conversations, the awkward good-byes. Rinse and repeat.
But what’s the point of the mundane every day? I make it sound as if I am as lonely as a microwavable dinner, but I am lucky for what I have. It’s not all bad. I enjoy loving myself and others in my life, even if it’s not the romantic love of partner. I love my spending time with my family. I love having close gatherings with friends. I can talk to anyone if I feel like it or choose to simply be. I love making people happy even if it’s just cracking a joke to make my students laugh, because they had a bad day or listening to a stranger’s problems, because I “seem like I am a good listener and won’t judge. ”
No matter how alone we feel at times, we must remind ourselves of how we fit into the universe and that there are people in that universe, too. Our actions can have a ripple effect on others, good or bad. True happiness comes with self-acceptance in numerous ways. I accept that although I will be single on Valentine’s Day, I am not alone. You are not alone either. And sometimes if you are physically alone, it can be a good thing. Take some time for yourself and enjoy your place. Remember: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” It may not be a life-changing quote, but it can get us from the present to the future. It may not be a great place where we are, but remember, there is a possibility it can change for the better, tomorrow.
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Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…Ali is back and stronger than ever! Or just different. It seems as time goes on, life does get better ever-so-slightly every day in new and interesting ways.
Here is my back story:
I grew up in Scranton,Pennsylvania, which is a small city in NEPA (Northeast Pennsylvania). I was lucky enough to have a stay-home-mom and a dad, who worked his ass off with his high school education to pay for our beautiful middle-class home set back from a lot of trees, a lake to fish in, and kids to play with in the neighborhood: Typical white suburban neighborhood. I also attended a private Catholic school with some of the elite Scrantonians (children of politicians, lawyers, doctors, that sort of thing). I had everything I could have asked for, except I was tortured by my peers, daily. Every day it was: “big nose” (my nose was large for my face), “retard” or “freak” (a neighborhood favorite—I didn’t talk until I was about four), or some reference to my ugly curly hair. Turns out I was actually gifted, my nose grew into my face as I got older, and my curly hair straightened on its own: A Christmas miracle! Now, I don’t shut up, either. Too bad.
I had a lot of coping skills to deal with being bullied. I would blast Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on our turntable in the living room and dance on the marble end tables—okay, it happened once before I got caught. I grew up in the late 80’s and 90’s and watched MTV constantly. I listened to mostly hip-hop artists and pop stars when I was little, particularly Paula Abdul. I was so obsessed with being her, learning her dance moves, that I watched her music videos thousands of times and practiced her moves over and over again. When that wasn’t enough, I sought out dance instruction videos: props to anyone who remembers “Doin’ the Barbie” and no it’s not an innuendo. Subsequently, I would take my walkman and go to my parents’ bedroom by myself (with permission of course), close the door and practice for hours in front of the full length mirrors until I would almost pass out. Consequently, I took dance lessons for several years.
Music became an integral part of my life: I discovered my own musical tastes, which my parents had absolutely none, but Kenny G. I stumbled upon Jazz on Temple radio when I was ten (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, David Brubeck, not Weather Channel crap if you remember that). I also taught myself how to sing, which was my saving grace from being bullied in middle school, somewhat. When I started writing at eight-years-old, I listened to music. I know I said this in the last article, that life has a “soundtrack.” I believe music intertwines us with others and life experiences—if you think about it, there is probably a song you can think of for every major life experience you had.
About two years ago I moved back from Goose Creek, South Carolina after a three year stint in what felt like I was escaping from a cult. I was engaged to man, who brainwashed me into isolating everyone I love and hating myself, which was easy to do. After I had the courage to leave, I got a sweet pad—to my standards— reasonable. I worked my ass off like my dad would, only I had to take out additional student loans to pay for it, too. I didn’t have any friends to live with and if I paid less for my place, that meant I was living at least an hour away from school and work and most likely living in a sketchy (the shooting/stabbing kind) neighborhood. If you know anything about the Charleston metro area, you would understand what I am talking about. Gentrification is alive and well. I failed to mention there was a meth lab explosion across the street a week before my ex and I moved to our place and when I moved out, I actually moved across the parking lot: It wasn’t that bad.
I did some crazy things and discovered a lot about myself. Being down South was a fun, yet scary experience. After my ex and I broke up, I slowly taught myself not to tolerate abuse. Thanks to many strange encounters with OK Cupid and stumbling upon a neighborhood called “Park Circle,” I made friends. It was an alternate universe of my hometown with a bar called “The Sparrow.” I would go to the Sparrow to play pool, hear the clang of an old pinball machine, and listen to my friend’s band or DJ set. My friends teased me mercilessly for living in “Gooooooose Creek” (insert voice of an obnoxious Southern used car salesman booming on the radio). If y’all don’t know, Goose Creek is a town 20 some miles outside of the Charleston area, with a fancy water tower, Naval base, and one of those big Wal Marts. Oh yeah, and the sleepy alligator I met one night. I promised myself I would never use the word “y’all,” but I finally did it on purpose. Bless your hearts for reading this. If you want to know what the saying “Bless your heart,” really means, send me a message. At least the way I was told, it wasn’t so nice.
It took me a long time to get over the culture shock of being in the South, probably longer than it should have. I can’t say my nasaly accent, sharp facial features, black hair, and darker skin made me made me afloat in a sea of pale skinned, light haired soft-spoken people. I was asked repeatedly why do I “tan so easily” and “What are you?” (referring to my race) by children and adults alike. Some people had the nerve to tell me I wasn’t the “right kind of white person.” I got weird stares in stores and stopped in airport security a bit.
However, I noticed some positive things, too. I was lucky enough to teach in Title I schools. If you don’t know, in Title I schools, about 90% of students are at or below poverty level and come from predominantly African American and Latino backgrounds. I had the most life-changing experience being the only white person (the teacher) in my classroom. I quickly bonded with some of my students in time, particularly over music. When I came back home, I eventually landed a temporary teaching job as an English teacher in another Title I school. I played music for my students while we wrote (appropriate instrumental music of their choosing) and I saw a world of difference. My kids would come to my classroom to talk me about their day and didn’t want to leave. Maybe it was me showing interest in writing and in them, but I felt music, in part, brought us together. Consequently, I found it interesting my students still asked me similar questions about my background like they did back in South Carolina.
So, this summer I decided to take an Ancestry DNA test: I found that I have a chunk of Middle Eastern background that I did not know about. I am guessing this came from my mother’s father’s side from the research I conducted. There are some Ancestry DNA haters out there, but this put some puzzle pieces of my life together.
There you have it. I am looking forward to teaching again in the Fall and I hope someday to land a permanent teaching job.
By the way, I want to you to listen to the song I heard as I literally turned the bend to my new home in South Carolina for the first time:
This is: “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt” from DJ Shadow’s album Endtroducing.
Just in case you wanted to watch, “Doin’ the Barbie,” here you go:
“Sometimes the new you is the self that you were always meant to be.”
This won’t be that amazing boho blog, where the heroine blogger can travel anywhere she wants, because she somehow makes mad bank off her blog. For shehas reached “The Pinnacle,” both figurative and literal—she stands on top of an obscure lavender canyon in the Southwest with her gorgeous kimono top (only $200!) draped perfectly over outstretched arms. She does not need the generous coverage of a kimono top, because she is so slim and ultra photogenic. The sun loves her, and so do her 1,000 plus followers. Did I mention that she has such “pinnacle” moments all the time, and they are all meticulously catalogued?
I am not that girl, and I have chosen not to be a second rate version of her. I wanted to be her and those alike, for years. Now, all of that has changed. I realized that when you focus upon achieving some ultimate version of yourself, your true potential will wither in the face of an illusion: That is a tragic and all too common tale. I believe that the journey of life for most consists of two great questions: “Who am I? and “Why am I here?” By nature, the answers shouldn’t be so clear cut. I now agree with Rilke that we should “Live the questions now.” But in an era of great diversions, you can find yourself searching for answers in some unworthy places, especially if you are a seeker type.
My late night scroll through Instagram is a good example. Social media made me do it- feel sad and envious. Not entirely, but it’s an easy path to find yourself winding down.
First, on my Instagram journey, I saw a picture of my favorite cat in the whole world, whom I may never see again in person. Her pet parent had recently decided to end our friendship of many years. A mutual acquaintance just captured the most lovely picture of the languid feline, and has likely taken my place as a cat sitter. I miss this kitty even more now. My former friend, not nearly as much. It’s hard to miss someone who admitted they “judge the [expletive] out of you.” If cats judge you, you can bet it’s for good reason.
Next, I stumbled upon a picture of an estranged friend. She fills my feed with endless pictures of herself in vintage stores, scoring the most impressive goods. I both wish I had the time and money for that level of vintage hunting, yet find her obsession a bit disconcerting. We reconnected briefly in this past winter after seeing each other out for the first time in years. We messaged online for a bit, and eventually I asked her if she would like to meet at the Salvation Army on a Wednesday (50% off for Family Day!). She never responded. A few days later, she posted a picture of herself there with another friend. Obviously, I didn’t make the cut, for whatever reason.
Finally, there appeared a smiling couple of the Scrantosphere (the “scene”) glitterati ilk on the beach. Their skin is pale and perfect (I hope they wore lots of sunscreen!). I do not have any complaints in the romance department. I married my soulmate (yes, they exist!) in May and couldn’t be happier. But, everyone envies beach frolickers, especially of the hip variety. So hip, they always manage to get at least 50 likes on their posts.
One person’s apparent virtual glee can become another’s private pathos. I am happy to report that I circumvented the madness, and stopped fifteen minutes into my Instagram scroll (I used to waste hours on social media ruminations, sadly). There were online Scrabble games to be played and pages of Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? to be read (excellent memoir, by the way). Also, I had at least five things to be thankful for, and needed to jot them down in my gratitude journal. This is a fun and easy practice that has been shown to increase positive thinking in a practical way. I can attest to its benefits.
I know that FOMO (acronym for fear of missing out) is totally normal and affects even the most introverted and enlightened of souls. We are social and curious creatures by nature. There was a period only a few years ago when FOMO ruled my life as if it were a clinical condition. It didn’t help that I fed it amply with pictures on Facebook of parties I wasn’t invited to, cool clothes I didn’t have, destinations I didn’t travel to. Digital acquaintances were viewed with a vague hostility, because I thought for sure that they not only had some advantage over me, but also had rejected somehow since I wasn’t included in their excitement. The truth was, I had no idea how their lives really were. When I saw people in person, I was hardly open or friendly because of all of the assumptions I had built up, and the petty grievances I carried.
There comes a time when you realize that the grievances that you carry are about as flattering and useful as the kind of clothes you need to donate to the aforementioned Sal Val. They are past season and no longer fit , so why are you still wearing them? Who is really under there? I have been asking myself that quite earnestly in my thirties, and become less afraid of the answers with each passing year.
The truth is, there was nothing to miss out on in the first place. My friend of so many years outright rejected me. People reject us all the time, but we can remain resilient, and become even more of who we are meant to be after honest reflection. My invite was never accepted, and many were not extended to me. But there is no need to wait for one when you can take yourself wherever you would like, or join those who truly care about you. Another couple’s beach vacation has nothing to do with my life. So, it’s best to focus most of my attention on mine and make it as awesome as possible. I hope you will do the same.
P.S. I did take myself to the Sal Val and stumbled upon a super sweet floral kimono top. With the Wednesday discount, it was only $2.00. I wore it on my honeymoon in Hawaii. I don’t have an Instagram pic, because I want you to use use your imagination and I choose not to foster more FOMO. 😉