Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

There’s a simplicity that rises to the surface of such a land of extremes and contradictions— a land of ice-capped summits and fissures that ooze with fire. Iceland has cracked me wide open, laying bare my insecurities and vulnerabilities, commanding to survive only what is raw, authentic, and indestructible.

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf)

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive


When you’re 15 and you find a cassette tape lying in perfect condition in the middle of First Avenue; when you don’t know it, but you’ve been looking for a sign— any sign—that, despite your circumstances, someone is still watching over you; when things until this moment have been moving at breakneck speed, and you can’t find the pause button anywhere— when all this is going on, here’s what you do: You pick up that cassette, rescuing it from oncoming traffic, step onto the sidewalk and read the strange name of the band that’s printed on both sides; you decide to take it home and play it on your bedroom stereo, and as soon as you hear the music coming from the speakers, you realize two things: 1) that you aren’t alone, and 2) that you are the one, not the cassette, who has just been rescued.

A few weeks later, you arrive at your dorm room at Yale, where you’re enrolled in a high-school drama program for the next month, where everyone is a stranger, including your two roommates from California, who have no idea who you are-- you from New York City, with your big, unruly hair, your thrift-store fashion, and your unpronounceable name; you, who have just been baptised into a church that will keep you from behaving like most teenagers would who are away from home for the first time. They don’t know that you’ve already had your wild time, which happened, like everything else, way too soon—that you’re now a “reformed” version of the free spirit you once were.

That summer, you meet Nathan, a tall, expressive boy who wears headbands and Birkenstocks, whose tee-shirts reek of incense, and who always, always, has a cigarette in hand. When you’re not in class, Nathan sits for hours in your window seat, wistful and intense, flicking ashes onto the courtyard below. That summer, he teaches you all kinds of things: that rules are meant to be broken; that poetry is meant to be read aloud; and that the music from “South Pacific” should be sung at the top of your lungs in the middle of a crowded New Haven street. Nathan is a gift sent to you during these weeks before senior year— a mirror, reflecting the girl you’d thought had drowned at baptism, the person you are now spending twelve hours a day in acting class pretending not to be.

One night in your dorm room, you’re feeling restless and bored. You pull out that cassette tape, press play and turn the volume way up. You and your roommates start to dance, and before you know it, all the students on your floor are dancing with you, laughing, jumping on furniture, having the time of their lives, and for a little while—until the campus police come to break up the noise— you forget everything: that you have to be up early for church the next day, that your best friends at school won’t even look at you since your conversion, that you’ll be only 16 when you graduate and will have to make even more decisions about your life. Right now, for just a few stolen moments, time does not exist. Only the music, the dancing, and you.

My Name

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive


Salwa [ 2 syll. sal-wa ] pronounced SEHL-Waa. 1) consolation, solace 2) a quail 3) a luxurious treat

There once was a shy little girl with dark, curly hair and almond-shaped eyes, who was often teased by her classmates for her foreign name. They’d call her ugly things like “Sewer” or “Sour,” teaching her the power that words have to make a heart bleed.

One day on the playground, a beautiful woman appeared and knelt before the girl. Smiling, she whispered:

“My dear, don’t you know that when other children make fun of your name, it’s because they are frightened of its mystery? It is a secret password that people must learn in order to enter the door to your soul. When you are asked by a stranger to repeat your name, it is only the Universe telling you to declare it more boldly. For just as words can cut, they can also heal, and one day this will be your gift to others, my child, through song and pen.

“When someone asks you where you come from, tell them your father hails from an enchanted land of prophets and kings, of snake charmers and magic carpets that sweep people across deserts toward their destinies. One day you will meet your father and hear your name pronounced more delicately and exquisitely than ever before--and you will know that the next man who loves you must say it this way too.

“At times you will grow weary of explaining yourself to everyone you meet. You’ll mistake boon for burden and, forgetting your name’s true meaning, try to call yourself something simpler. But the Universe is patient and will wait for you to realize that there is no better name for who you are. It will let you experience sorrow and loss, only to point you back toward yourself and the solace that you seek.”

That evening, the little girl dreamt of an exotic brown bird, cooing along on the ground before taking off into flight. She never saw the woman from the playground again, until, years later, when she looked in the mirror and smiled at her own almond-shaped eyes.

Wonder Truck

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

A few years ago, when my car needed a new engine, the only loaner available in the one-horse town I was living in was a Nissan Frontier. Stepping up into the driver’s seat of a pickup truck for the first time was mystifying. I felt like an imposter. What business did a 120-lb city girl have revving up this shiny blue beast in the middle of the New England countryside?
At the same time, it felt oddly fitting that something so powerful should come to my rescue at a time when I most needed a hero. My father had just died, and so many other aspects of my life seemed to be facing their demise.
The truck’s strong, voluptuous curves were the perfect armor for my vulnerable state; a grown-up version of the Wonder Woman underoos I’d worn as a little girl. Day after day, I’d coast along backroads with the windows down, singing or talking to myself, the sweet boom of my voice in harmony with the engine’s masculine roar.
Once again, I was the Amazonian goddess spinning around on her living room rug. I was unstoppable, undefeatable. Beautiful and brave.


Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

When I was a kid, I'd get asked to sing almost anywhere I went-- at restaurants, at parties-- and I'd gladly get up and perform some showstopper, enjoying the ecstatic applause of the grownups around me.

When I started singing professionally, the expectations of others made me anxious, and I'd often come down with a sore throat or stuffy nose before a show or audition. Despite this, I'd still win first prize at competitions, and get cast as the lead in any play I auditioned for. In high school, I was voted "Most Likely to End up on Broadway," even though that was never a personal goal.

Then I started to write my own songs, fashioned after singer/songwriters like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King. Sitting at home at the piano with just my pen and paper, I could experiment and play, belting high notes, fiddling with melodies and lyrics, with no audience to hear me if my voice cracked or if I hit a wrong note. Compared to the "prison" of others' ears, this felt like freedom.

At this point, it never occurred to me to keep my singing to myself. I'd been taught by my mother and my church that this was a waste of talent at best, and a sin at worst.

In college, I was accepted into a jazz vocal program at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, and I sang in a competitive a cappella group that would often choose me to sing the lead, despite my growing anxiety. Later, I'd perform at friends' weddings, and at age 20, I even walked down my own aisle to a recording of me singing "When I Fall in Love."

By then, I'd stopped writing music, and was singing only occasionally at church, hiding among the harmonies of other voices. I didn't recognize myself as a singer anymore. Just someone who could step in as filler for what other people needed or wanted.

The other day, I sang alone for the first time in years. No kids were around to try to convince me that I should audition for Broadway; no friends to overhear me and compliment me on my sound.

Just me at my keyboard in an empty room, giving myself a sweet little gift. Maybe one day I’ll sing for others again. Maybe I won’t. I realize now that the choice is part of the gift.


©2020 Salwa Emerson. All Rights Reserved.