Like anybody who has lived here for more than 9 months-straight would tell you, living in America isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. No sir! It isn’t like in the movies at all. The only exception is when they decide to make a movie of your neighbourhood! Then, i.e. when bringing Hollywood to Mohammed becomes necessary for Mohammed can’t afford to live and work in SoCal, you’d be found right smack in the middle – with familiar places and memories that scratch at your heart like a dying pet [ideally a bird with an actual “tiFir”]. And that feeling, that recognition, the pang in the stomach [like a hungry fetus kicking in the womb] is the one “novelty” that never fades.
It’s like a prolonged seduction.. an extended foreplay. It starts on day one, or the 16 hrs before it, when your plane makes a stop in Rome to refuel. You look out the window, and you see [like in a dream – nay a movie] Engineers running about, under the pouring rain, in a yellow & orange reflective safety vest. White men with shaggy hair and some kind of hard-hat – stuff you didn’t know existed outside the silver screen.
Then you feel it when you land at Dulles International airport, cold and distant like a dream. A strange thrill courses in your veins while you walk down the ladder, into the bus, past a lot of terminals, past stairs and side-ways into a hallway before officially, and finally, landing on American soil. A look out the window, the first glimpse into the new world, reveals [airport] workers – black, wide and curly-haired – mulling about. But these aren’t the kinds of black people you are used to. Not the skinny brown men and women with small legs you would recognize anywhere, standing in line with you. These are creamy-color skinned black people of the movies. Black people who remind you of Shaft [in Africa], dark shades of glasses and the word “beQa.. neegro newu yemimeslewu, betam yamral”. Black people with broad shoulders and an attitude! [Avoid making eye-contact lest the animal perceived you as a threat!]
Then you walk out into the cold again. The [airport] shuttle driver is old and, despite your almost ‘tirs melkem’ing on the way up, doesn’t seem to find you inferior. He is friendly and seems happy to take you where you want – for free. You and your host are his only passengers. And he is well advanced in age. Also it’s a cold morning. You feel like apologizing. [You feel like apologizing for everything those first weeks, grateful to have been let in]. But you haven’t found your voice, or courage, yet. He asks where you came from – your host answers. He goes on and on, about the weather, the streets, the somminkorother in a cheerful voice. Then parks the shuttle outside Best Western and wishes you well-stay.
Then [comes] the flight of stairs you climb up, dragging your luggage with you – no Valet in attendance [No thanks to you “Downton Abbey”]. Then the room. Then the pizza delivery, with the Asian guy you coy from and tip generously. Then the life.
You get used to the accents, the suspiciously cheap food – and how it’s ok to throw what you can’t eat [and that plastic bags are like pain, or East Indians, there is simply an endless supply of them without half the demand]. You get to tell apart tans from skin colors. And genuine smiles, which – in America – is no smile at all, from the overly-friendly ones of those fearful to anger you [and bring down a wrath of 400 years on their head]. You even get used to the sinking feeling at recognizing that you and da chunky-monkey brother at the airport aren’t really that different to the white-eye. You get used to the disillusionment. Then the anger. Then the feeling of uselessness [which, coupled with self-doubt and anxiety, robs you of the ability to speak your mind without the fear of not making much sense or being mocked by your audience. To watching your readership drop down to precious hand-ful while you struggle to come up with bright ideas and write them the way you used to]. To knowing that you probably will never belong [or become a writer. Or amount to anything more than what your mother amounted to. To knowing how you were just a big fish in a small pond back home, a used-to-be big fish stuck in a much bigger pond with much bigger – meaner – fishes]. And, finally, to being ok with that. You will get used to it all.
What you don’t get used to is the getting excited when you catch a glimpse of your neighbourhood, places you know and recognize, on tv, movies or magazine. That’s when you get transffered into the silver screen; whence you “cross over” into the other side of the tv; whence your life in America becomes exactly like in the movies. So you will want to jump up, shout, wave your hands in the air – so the camera won’t miss you, so it won’t pass by you, just sweep over you, and say “heyyyyy… that’s me!”. [My store.. my cafe.. my hood]. My home.
It feels that you have, finally, managed to belong.
Or something like that.
The death of a pet isn’t an elephant in the room you refuse to address. It is the absence of an elephant in the room. An elephant that wiggled its tail when it sees you, make its hips dance when you pet it and falls asleep outside your door everytime you ordered it to leave your bedroom because your new girlfriend can’t stand the smell of dogs on your blanket. An elephant that holds no grudge if you forgot to feed it. An elephant that would hold its pee until you are back from hiking with family and friends and still follow your every movement with its eyes, like it is concerned about your well-being. An elephant that would cry when you get hurt, whimper when you look angry and bark your assailant away when it senses you threatened. An elephant that would never look down on you, nor demand to be seen as equal. But would take your kindness with all the gratefulness and humility of a creature to its creator. An elephant that would lie in your arms quietly when you cry your goodbyes into its hair. Would still limp behind you when you take it to the clinic. And would not recognize the special doggy-treats as its last meal. It’s an elephant-sized absence you pretend not to notice, a wall taken off by a tornado. Like walking around your room as if there isn’t a sniper shooting at you every time you passed by the door. It’s an absence full of grief. Full of fear – the fear of not being able to make it go away by not acknowledging it [it’s only a dog, after all. People lose their kids!!]. And — guilt: born of a sense betrayal of a friend incapable of doing the same to you. To Riley, who has been a good dog for the 18 years he lived on this earth. He was put to sleep on 15th September 2014.
BY COLIN NISSAN
WRITE EVERY DAY
Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”
FIGHT THROUGH WRITER’S BLOCK
The blank white page. El Diablo Blanco. El Pollo Loco. Whatever you choose to call it, staring into the abyss in search of an idea can be terrifying. But ask yourself this; was Picasso intimidated by the blank canvas? Was Mozart intimidated by the blank sheet music? Was Edison intimidated by the blank lightbulb? If you’re still blocked up, ask yourself more questions, like; Why did I quit my job at TJ Maxx to write full-time? Can/should I eat this entire box of Apple Jacks? Is The Price is Right on at 10 or 11?
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like “Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.
FIND YOUR MUSE
Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes. When honing in on a promising new muse, also be on the lookout for other writers attempting to swoop in and muse-block you. Just be patient in your search, because the right muse/human relationship can last a lifetime.
HONE YOUR CRAFT
There are two things more difficult than writing. The first is editing, the second is expert level Sudoku where there’s literally two goddamned squares filled in. While editing is a grueling process, if you really work hard at it, in the end you may find that your piece has fewer words than it did before, which is great. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best when upon sending a letter to a close friend, he wrote, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” No quote better illustrates the point that writers are very busy.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK
It’s so easy to hide in your little bubble, typing your little words with your little fingers on your little laptop from the comfort of your tiny chair in your miniature little house. I’m taking this tone to illustrate the importance of developing a thick skin. Remember, the only kind of criticism that doesn’t make you a better writer is dishonest criticism. That, and someone telling you that you have weird shoulders.
READ, READ, READ
It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”
STUDY THE RULES, THEN BREAK THEM
Part of finding your own voice as a writer is finding your own grammar. Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.
KEEP IT TOGETHER
A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants.
Finally managed to locate the original work for “የዉበት ወጥመድ”, which went by both “Married for her Beauty” and “A Bitter Atonement” online. This is a book that shares similar themes (young and naive beautiful maidens, older husbands they signed-up with out of poverty or the need to escape their present situation, tough elder sister-in-laws, marital un-bliss, betrayal and the abandonment of children) with another – albeit superior – British work of fiction – also written by a woman. Both had had us, children and adults alike, glued to our radios (in anticipation of the weekly “KeMetsahift Alem”) for months. And still makes us pause when we come across the names “Diane”, “Bruno” and “Hester” (Sabela, Archibald or Carlyle and Cornelia). Bertha M. Clay was the writer. It was published by Millner and Company, Limited on 1892.
Sorry about the quality of the copy.
DIANE AND HER GUARDIAN.
MISS BALFOUR! Miss Diane! your cousin is here! Miss Diane! There came no answer to the quick call, and a tall, elderly woman, with a kindly face, parted the tall lilac trees and looked into the garden. The sun shone on the June roses; but the young face for which she was searching did not turn smiling to her from among the flowers.
‘Miss Diane !’ cried Mrs. Hopeton’s voice.
There was no answer.
‘Now Heaven bless that dear child!’ said the woman. ‘It would try the temper of an angel, if angels have any temper. Where shall find I her? She may have gone wandering all through the woods. There is nothing for it but patience.’
The sun was warm; its rays beat fiercely on her head. Taking off her apron she started for the woods. Through the garden and orchard, through the clover meadows; then came a green lane, with an old-fashioned stile, over which she climbed; then she stood in the fragrant shade of Rositer Wood.
‘Miss Diane!’ she called again.
This time another voice replied–a sweet voice, like the chime of a silver bell:
‘I am here, Mrs. Hopeton.’
‘Where is here?’ asked the woman.
‘Down in a nest of bluebells,’ laughed the voice. ‘Two steps farther and you will be on a level with the top of my head.’
Mrs. Hopeton went the required two steps.
There was a pretty dell where the bluebells and hyacinths grew in rich profusion.