SAMPLES

Metamorphosis

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The summer between the two collisions, I took to jumping into lakes. The idea of my body, shooting like a bullet through the scrim of its own reflection, into the cool, mysterious waters below, was irresistible. Once under, I’d open my eyes to witness the miraculous effects my weight had on the elements around me--the small schools of fish beating their way past me, the haunted sounds of current shifts and pressure changes, the millions of air bubbles rising toward the water’s sunlit surface. The first car crash had brought me face-to-face with my mortality, but these stolen underwater moments did the opposite: they reminded me that I was, in fact, divine.

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Things got messy that summer, as lines and labels started to disappear. For the first time in my adult life, I was unbound by marriage, and even my role as a mother was changing as time with the kids was split in two. Who was I with so little to define me? Where did the old version end and the new one begin? The answers came subtly and inexplicably, sneaking in like those underwater echoes of the lakes, and my life started to take new shape. Despite my disdain for the suburbs, I signed a lease on a crooked red house in Westchester because a voice in my head called it “home”; late one night, I applied to a yoga program in Bali, even though I couldn’t find it on a map; I bought a pickup truck, which seemed impractical, but something told me that it would keep me safe. Looking back now, I can see that within the seeming chaos of my circumstances, there was a much higher intelligence at play.

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It was a rainy October morning when a garbage truck pulled out in front of me on a 50 mph road. Shaken, but relatively unscathed, I felt my world shrink down into a few simple elements: family, hope, love. These things were all that seemed to matter as I sat across from my husband at P.F. Changs that afternoon, deciding to try again. Looking back, I see that life was telling me to pay attention, to sort through the debris and reclaim all that was still salvageable-- and then, to let the rest go. I began to write, trying to make sense of all that had happened, and seeing for the first time my own resilience and strength. I had been sinking under the weight of things that were no longer mine, but now my words were like pockets of air floating me back up to the surface, saving me from drowning. forcing my arms to open wide.

The Clearing (Part One)

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Last winter, I sat in a one-room cottage and watched almost everything I ever wrote burn up inside a small wood-pellet stove. The cottage stood within a clearing of dense, snow-covered forest, where all that could be heard were the wind and the hungry crackling of fire.

Earlier that year, I’d found myself lying in a hammock beside another nearby cottage. My family didn’t know it, but I’d gone to see a shaman who, over the course of twenty-four hours, offered me an impressive panoply of plant medicines to clear out the“debris” from my subconscious mind. These included eye drops of sanaga, two brews of yage tea, and several doses of rappe powder, which he blew from an animal horn into each of my nostrils. Lastly, the shaman singed five points of skin above my ankle, allowing the cleansing magic of kambo, a slime scraped from the backs of Amazonian frogs, to penetrate my bloodstream.

For all this, I barely experienced any of the violent purging, hallucinations, or revelations so common among these rituals. Even the shaman was baffled. (I do, however, remember a long trip to the outhouse and a moving conversation with my truck; and when I thanked the shaman the next morning for the carrots he’d cooked for dinner, he laughed and told me they were lentils.) Driving back home to my family, what I mostly felt was disappointed and confused.

And now, six months later, came the unexpected catharsis I’d been looking for the summer before, as I watched the stories of my life disappear before me. Most of my writing had been born out of a disappointment and restlessness I no longer felt. I was ready to release the memories of failed relationships, dashed hopes, and tragic losses that I’d stored for years inside of envelopes and drawers. I wanted, instead, to live inside the rawness of each new moment, to allow the heat of emotion to burn inside me as it came. No judgement, no attachment, no regret.

Enough

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When I was 21, I woke up one Sunday to find that my knees had grown so swollen overnight that I couldn’t get out of bed. Along with the initial panic at what was happening to my body, I experienced something quite unexpected in that moment of immobility: Oddly, I felt relieved.

During the time leading up to this point, my life had been moving at breakneck speed. I’d graduated from college a year early, gotten married a week later to someone I’d dated for only ten months, and already been hired and fired from my first two jobs. Throughout all of this, I was overseeing a large youth ministry in a church that was insatiably demanding of my time, energy, and what little money I had left over from my $19,000 salary at St. Martin’s Press.

In hindsight, my body had been breaking down for months. Every day, after walking from work back home on the Upper East Side, I’d have to ice and elevate my painful knees; at night, I was having trouble breathing; and, of course, there were the underlying headaches and fatigue that had started on my honeymoon. Still, in the name of productivity and religious devotion, I mastered a sweet smile and ignored these somatic cries for help.

Until that day, when I had no choice but to listen.

It took months of doctors’ visits and physical therapy to move from a wheelchair to walking with a cane, and years to have enough energy to pursue things like graduate school and motherhood. No one could diagnose definitively what had happened to that young woman just starting out in life; the one who was hungry for intimacy and purpose; who liked to write and take walks. She would have done anything for someone to tell her to slow down, to be still. Years later, she would learn this lesson and teach it to her daughter, promising her that even without hard work, good looks, and pretty words, she’d always be enough.

Instructions for Handling a Sensitive Soul

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Instructions for Handling a Sensitive Soul:

1. Text her you love her, but only hit "send" when you can picture her smiling as she rereads your words for days to come. Because she will.

2. When you wake up to poems she’s sent you while you were sleeping, tell her that her language is lethal, that her words slay you with their beauty; don’t worry if you’re overdoing it-- that’s not even a thing for her.

3. Believe her when she throws you bold compliments from her hammock at night. She means every one of them.

4. Enjoy the awkward lulls in your phone conversations--the intimate exchanges of breath and crickets along the bandwidth that keep her feeling connected to you, even more so than words.

5. Give her fair warning when you send a photo of yourself in a baseball cap-- or else she may end up lost on her bike on a bridge in the pouring rain, trying to keep her wits about her and her phone dry.

6. When she digs her heels into the ground about something, guide her gently by the shoulders to the nearest mirror and tell her just how adorable she looks when she’s acting like an ass.

7. Remember that she’s a Leo, and that petting her is the best way to tame her feline ferocity. If you can stand it, let her nibble at your ego from time to time, so she can feel her own power between her teeth. Let her roar and purr, and enjoy the breeze from both. And when she starts to feel caged in, watch the circles form beneath her paws-- she’ll soon tire out and you'll both realize that because of love, she will always be uncontainable.

Un-Hinged: The Not-So-Fairy-Tale World of Online Dating

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When you open an online dating app, there should be a check box for the following Terms and Conditions: “I acknowledge that I am now entering an alternate universe in which no normal rules of etiquette and conduct apply. I agree to disregard all previous notions of sane behavior and priorities for the sake of finding a soulmate, hookup or friend.”

I get up early and sit by the window with my coffee, ready to watch the sunrise, when I decide to take a quick peek at the dating app I downloaded two days ago. 30 likes! My morning meditation can’t compete with the compulsive urge to “swipe” through this crowd of online admirers. But before I start, a new photo pops up on screen: Ron, 37. As if his bloodshot eyes, foot-long beard and shirtless torso don’t say it all, he writes: “Hey Gorgeous, what’re you doin’ up at the ass-crack of dawn with me on my birthday?” According to Ron, 37, I’ve somehow gotten wind of his special day and set my alarm extra early, just to be wooed by his half-naked photo and vulgar metaphors.

Even though Ron, 37 didn’t exactly charm the socks off me, I have to give him credit for putting it all out there. The other day I was chatting with “Ess,” 41 for about ten minutes when he asked me to breakfast the next morning. I took a quick second look at his profile and realized I was in a bit of a conundrum. Although good looks have never been high on my priority list (My preteen obsessions were Lenny Dykstra and Gerard Depardieu), “Ess,” 41 still wasn’t giving me much to go by. Besides his real name, he’d also left out his height and posted only one picture of himself wearing a skull cap and looking off to the side. Understandably, I had some questions-- namely, Are you taller than my ten-year-old? What kind of hair growth, if any, is lurking underneath that hat? Is there a left side to your face? And, oh, yeah, what’s your name?” The problem was, besides the last one, I couldn’t very well ask “Ess,” 41 any of these questions without sounding totally shallow. But isn’t a dating app supposed to filter this stuff for you? So you don’t have to drive all the way to the Blue Bonnet Diner, expecting Prince Charming, only to meet Rumpelstiltskin instead?

But there’s a fine line between too little information and way...too...much. Tim, 44, clearly wants to be pen pals, documenting all of his favorite singers, how much he loves racing cars, what he ate for lunch that day, and how he hopes I have a great Tuesday! Even worse is Ken, 47, who at first seems to have a lot going for him: A father of two. Check. Plays in a band. Check. Has a good job as a carpenter. Check. Lives far enough away that I won’t recognize him on line at the grocery store. Check. We’re getting ready to set up our first meeting, when he asks me one question: “What are your deal breakers?” Clearly, Ken, 47 has a reason for asking, so I give him the floor first. Which turns out to be a soapbox, on which he proceeds to stand and rant about all his past girlfriends who turned out to be mentally ill, and how he promised himself he’d never get involved with that “type” again.

If there’s any shortcut to killing the romance, Ken, 47 has found it. But here’s the worst part: I actually get suckered into crafting the perfect response that will convince him that I’m psychologically healthier than all the women he’s slept with. And this, before we’ve even met! I’m about to hit send when my sanity returns. Instead I write this: “Sorry, but I just realized that now isn’t a very good time for me to be engaging in this way.” I want to add, “And best of luck to you, Ken, 47, in figuring out if a woman is emotionally healthy. If she’s still chatting with you, then you probably have your answer.”

 

All of this leads me back to Ron, 37, and that eye-opening question of his. I look at my reflection in the window and ask myself: “Salwa, what the hell ARE you doing at the ass-crack of dawn?” I press my thumb firmly on the home button of my phone and watch as the app icons start to jiggle and shake, until one in particular disappears into cyberspace oblivion. I get up to make a second cup of coffee, with the crazy notion that finding love should have a lot less to do with clicks and swipes, and more to do with alchemy and that lost art of spinning straw into gold.

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