Instant Ramen


Instant Ramen is like the heat that drips up from a fresh cup of coffee or tea. Instant Ramen is chicken flavored sodium packets that smell like home. Instant Ramen is my most unhealthy healing potion.

When I was really young I got stomach bugs pretty frequently. They may not have come around much more than for a normal kid, but I feel them heavy on my memory like parental hands on my back; I feel them thick like retches over cold toilet seats. When my stomach was a mad sea we’d send it Ramen because the square noodle packet was like a full empty: nothing but sodium and noodles all laced up in tame flavors. Things would calm enough and fill enough to not have hunger pains churn under nausea like earthquakes inside storms. Older, nursing hangovers, it was the same deal – just much less dramatic.

As I got older I thought Ramen might drop out of my home and head but it kept up with me. Just about two or three years ago I started getting sleep problems and when I’d stay up until I was too hungry to pass out I’d rip the orange packet half open and eat the noodles like a candy bar. Sitting up at 5 AM grinding dry noodles into paste feels a bit weird and desperate at first but after it works a few times it is all pleasant; it is all pleasant to break up the cool night with the tactile feeling of teeth churning.

The Ramen got older too; it grew up with me. When the plainness of it wasn’t enough anymore I’d throw in new spices and learn what I liked on top of the bland noodle base. When noodles and broth stopped filling me up I’d dice up meat and veggies too. It was still a half-assed attempt at a meal – never the best I could make for myself – but it’d keep me running. Sometimes it even felt rejuvenating, breathing the scent in like distant incense, feeling the powder on the tips of fingers like sidewalk chalk, absorbing the odd magic of my ugly instant food. That magic could walk me back through time to when I was feeding friends while parents were out working, to Dad dropping an egg or a cut up hot dog into the soup so that “it would at least have protein,” to Mom putting ice cubes in the soup so my sisters or I wouldn’t burn our tongues.

Instant Ramen was healing in the way returning to home and wholeness is healing. This food has been there nearly as long as I can remember. When adulthood and identity shifts rattle my mind until I feel scattered I drain the noodles and the broth from the bowl and feel like all the fractals and bits of me fit tight together into one whole.

~Austin R Ryan

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Mulberries


The walk to the nearest grocery store is about 20 minutes in whatever weather Changzhou has for me – usually rain and wind. I call this local Tesco the fish market and if you went in I think it would be clear why. All along the way up to Tesco there’re a lot of things happening but in Tesco there’s even more going on. There are two floors to it, the first having clothes and shampoos and anything else you shouldn’t eat if you can’t help it. My little fish market isn’t so packed on the first floor but ‘packed’ is relative even past the normal standards for most adjectives and it’d be too crowded for a lot of folks I know back home. Up top where the food is it gets truly hot and hectic.

A kind of low-sloped escalator walkway leads slowly up to the top floor where all the heat has risen and sticks around in glops. Right out front are the bread, fruit, and fish sections where most people crowd around to inspect the fresh food for the freshest food. Kids are clamoring and people are talking up more hot air to feed into the already hot and healthy glops. The glops crowd around with the smell of fish and bread and fruit until eventually things yield into pre-packaged things such as Oreos and other big cookie and snack brands. All of the checkout stations wrap around in an L at the front – the smaller side of the L being quick shop stations that are rarely open. After a normal ten to fifteen minute wait with my red bag bloated up with daily things I step out of the whole place back into the relative cold.

Along the way a friend says she’s nearby so I go looking a little bit and after not catching her come into a chain bakery called Bread Talk. In China most folk don’t have ovens or like to bake so there are bakeries everywhere. In the back of the warm and orange tinted Bread Talk there’s a row of drinks packaged with deep primary colors that stir me. I go to the one with blue so dark it nearly seems like velvet. It’s shaped like a little jug and the top is wrapped off with a cloth on top like homemade jam. It’s mulberry juice.

It feels cold on the edges of my hot fingers just recently roughly wrought by the hard and heavy pull of my red bag full up with food for the week. It’s not competing on price but I am buying on feeling so that doesn’t matter. As soon as it’s sold I peel the cloth wrapping off and twist it open. It is cold and deep and rich.

My best childhood friends live down the block and a little ways away from a mulberry tree whose sweet fruit hangs its branches low. We were lower stooped back then but reached up enough to pull the mulberries down and I remember my friends introducing that kind of taste to me. It was sort of like a blueberry in taste, without the sweet bite of sugary juice. Blueberries are tense capillary fruits with thin skins full to burst with juice and flavor, but mulberries have a more mellow grind – like a less intense raspberry.

It is cold and deep and rich. I am ambling back to my home in Changzhou on muscle memory-based navigation because my head’s back underneath that mulberry tree; I am clinging onto branch like those rich little berries. That day the skies were gray in China but I was looking up and feeling the light blue of humid Indianapolis summers. There were white clouds above me, white clouds as fluffy as my thick sighs after each greedy glug of the deep blue – almost purple – juice. I am home in Indy now and walked the family dog underneath that mulberry tree. I had forgotten how all the berries fall and stain the concrete sidewalks with smatters of purplish blue and bluish purple. I had forgotten how small it really is now. Despite all that the sky is really just as wide and just as blue; the clouds are still fluffed up as Midwestern sighs.

~Austin R Ryan

We Used to Be Afraid of the Dark


 

The creeping shadows

Once loomed over a great and mysterious landscape

 

Massive mountains of stairways creaked out their woes

And the world itself exhaled a cold draft on the nape of your neck

 

An infinite abyss of the unknown

Clawed out of the closet

Preserved by a great defender, stuffed and sown

 

Now all that is near

Is the Yeast that rises

The sobering taste of fear

And the bitter, never-ending compromises

 

The only mystery left

Is buried deep into the human solar system

Un-decoded, lost in the cerebral fields.

Deep in the mines of the untold, unseen subconscious

Lying somewhere between the jurisdiction of man and deity

 

No one ever reads the introduction

Constantly waiting for the main production

Who knows who remembers life’s initial construction?

The young line up fervent and fine for society’s induction

The dreams are bottled up by reality! Such suction!

Shooting for the moon to learn you’re stuck with earthly dysfunction

 

Things big and small can be explained by most and all

The building arrogance only leads to speculation about the coming fall

It is weird to know

how underwhelming it is

to finally stand tall

It is odd to see fantasy fail

How bizarre, seeing dragons die off!

It all seemed to go without a whimper

Without even a cough

 

~Austin R Ryan

Improvised Swimming Lessons


Here’s a short little piece that I wrote up based off of a prompt for my creative writing class. I think it serves a fun bit of biography and a nice starting post.

Improvised Swimming Lessons

Austin R Ryan

            Like most, the majority of my childhood memories elude me, but one still sticks loyally by to this day. After four years of life, when my own urban environment still seemed wonderfully exotic, my family took me and adventured off to Hawaii for a short vacation. I remember some visuals of Hawaii’s great vistas, volcanoes and beaches that extended so far, along with water that ran miles beyond the grasp of my eye. I recall hang-gliding with one of my sisters and flying above the surface of the ocean. The splendor still sticks with me, revisited through the lens of a child, a lens that made everything seem giant and fascinating. More than anything I recall vividly the time I learned how to tread water through trial by fire. I floated about one of those small but deep pools in the back of Hawaii condos that seemed to have impossibly clear waters that reflected even the dark nights so perfectly. . I pitter pattered off to have an unsupervised swim, feeling very secured by the yellow floaty I held to my waist. One moment I was splashing around above water, the next moment the clear liquid engulfed me, powering its way into my nostrils. My eyes flushed open to feel the chlorine grate against my pupils. I felt suspended and overwhelmed by the absolute awe inspired this weightless new world. Yet even at that age I could feel how odd it was to be breathless, how having the absence of something I could not live without inspired such a fear within me. I opened my mouth slightly to try and see if I could get air back like I did when I tried to hold my breath, but the nasty taste of chlorine cleaned water flushed in instead. I remember looking up and seeing the dark underside of my yellow floaty and some bits of the world I once came from that looked distorted an unreal when they shook about in my watery lens. I flailed up toward the dark object with every ounce of coordination my tiny arms and legs could muster. My vision shook with my spastic movements. I propelled myself roughly through the water until I could seize the floaty with both of my arms and pull myself up. My mouth grabbed greedily at the air between every cough and I only took the time to blink long after I gazed up at my hands clasping the plastic floaty. The water now sat firmly beneath me, still surrounding my legs as though it could snatch me up. Now I knew that if the water came back for me, I could kick and punch at it until I fought back to the safety of the yellow floaty and after a few rough breaths I breathed a bit easier from that point on.