MEET A MUSLIM by Moina Shaiq

Moina Shaiq

I have been involved in interfaith work for over a decade. The same open minded and receptive people attend those events, so it often feels like we’re preaching to the choir. Research indicates that 80% Americans have never met a Muslim. I want to make a difference by crossing that divide.

After the Paris and the San Bernardino shootings, I decided to put an ad in the local paper titled “Meet a Muslim.” What I had in mind was that I would spend an hour at a local coffeeshop. Whoever came, I would talk to. If no one came, I would just work on my laptop. That way, no time would be wasted.

I expected that a few people might come, but over 100 people attended that event. It was standing room only and it was pretty overwhelming. I invited people to ask me any questions they might have. No question would be off limits. They had all sorts of questions, but the questions were mainly related to current events. They were not interested in knowing about Islam or about me and my way of life. They didn’t ask me anything personal.

Moina Shaiq faces audience

I wanted to let them know that I am an ordinary American, just like they are. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter and a community member for the past 34 years. I have four beautiful children. One was born in North Carolina, a second one in Texas and my last two were born right here in Fremont. All went through Fremont schools. At one time, I was a little league mom, football mom and soccer mom. I also have a darling granddaughter. Both my husband and I have purchased our burial plots here and intend to die here.

I have been a community activist for over 16 years. I served as a Human Relations Commissioner for the city of Fremont and joined the boards of several non profits, because I was passionate about their work. In the process, of course, they learned about me too.

9/11 changed my life. I stayed home for 10 days after that happened. My family was very scared of a backlash and since I wear the hijab (head scarf) they didn’t let me go out. I knew that many people were uninformed about Islam and Muslims and that their lack of knowledge or personal exposure was prompting much of that fear. I decided that I wanted my fellow Americans to know about me and my faith, so I started getting more involved in the community, attending as many city events as possible.

One day after the Fort Hood shooting, when a Marine opened fire and killed several of his colleagues, I went to drop my daughter off at her soccer practice. Usually, after I dropped her off I would walk around the park, but that day I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was feeling guilty, like I had done something wrong, but beyond that, I was truly scared. After sitting in my car for a while, I thought, I can’t just sit here. I drummed up the courage and got out of my car. I walked, but I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. When I  posted a mention of this on Facebook, a Christian friend was so moved that she wore a hijab the next day, not only to commute to work, but the whole day, in solidarity.

Moina Shaiq answers questionsWhen I publicized my first “Meet a Muslim” event in the local newspaper, a non-Muslim friend noticed the ad and called me to relay his concern about my safety. He said that by putting myself out there, I could become a very easy target. He encouraged me to contact the police and inform them of my plans. So I did. I informed the police chief and he immediately offered to send an officer to the event. I’ve hosted 10 of these events so far and thank God, most people have been very respectful.

One beautiful aspect of these events is the way my friends from different faiths have participated.  My technology guru is a very close Jewish friend who does social media for a living, but she is helping me behind the scenes because she is very supportive of my cause and wants to bring the community together. Another friend is a Deacon at a local church and has come to all my events. If he thinks that an answer to a particular question might be better understood if people also hear his perspective, he’ll offer that input. For example, when I’ve been asked about Sharia Law, he will give an analogy of the Canon law in Christianity and Halaqa law in Judiasm to help further explain.

I want to reach out to as many people as I can, not only in Fremont, but throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. So far, I have spoken at places of worship, service group meetings, schools, coffee shops, a senior living facility, a mobile home park and a pizza place. I also ask people who attend these events to initiate a conversation of their own with family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors. I’d love to see these conversations happening in every community in the United States.

My “Meet a Muslim” conversations received a lot of media coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a cover page story and KRON4  ran a nearly 10-minute segment on their evening television news. I also created a dedicated “Meet a Muslim” Facebook page for people to get more information.

I want to reach one heart at a time.

And yes, I do speak Urdu.

Moina ShaiqMoina Shaiq has been living in the United States for 38 years. She is a mother of four children and a grandmother of one. She is also a community activist who is devoted to building bridges of understanding.

ISN’T THAT FABULOUS by Jenna Jolovitz

Isn't that Fabulous Jenna Jolovitz

Fabulous. It’s not a word that comes out of my mouth naturally. Saying it feels alien, like wearing a hairpiece or playing softball.

Fabulous women have long, tousled hair or extremely short bangs. They wear vintage Chanel with jeans and scarves for belts. They throw casually chic dinners and vacation with friends on islands.

I have, however, done what I consider to be some fairly fabulous things in my life. Okay, I’ve been told that some of things I thought were “fabulous” were actually “weird,” and eating a beef rib in the women’s bathroom of Harrods is apparently “gross.” But the following, I believe, qualifies as fabulous. For you see, I went topless. Not just topless, but topless in the south of France. Cannes, to be exact.

So far, so fabulous.

Yes, it was the beach in Cannes, and everybody was doing it. In fact, I would stand out more if I didn’t do it. And even better, I knew no one, and no one knew me. I was completely anonymous.

So I did it. Like a banana, I peeled down the top of my tank suit (Did you really imagine I owned a bikini?) and into the water I went. Quickly.

There I was, topless in the Mediterranean. The tops of my breasts gleaming white like the top halves of two hardboiled eggs. I felt empowered and alive and sensuous. I felt like a woman capable of enticing an attractive Italian man, spending the evening with him, and then making out at dawn before we caught separate trains – without ever learning his last name. For the first time in my life, I was in total possession of my sensuous femininity. Electric. Powerful. I was a Jackie Collins heroine. Then, from very nearby, I heard:

“You go to Duke, don’t you?”

As it happens, I did.

Lowering myself a little further in the water, I turned to see a young man, my age, right next to me.

“We’ve met. I’m Brad Lastname’s roommate.”

Brad Lastname was a friend at school. He briefly had an unrequited crush on me before graduating, winning a great deal of money in the lottery and posting extensively on Facebook. And there his roommate happened to be: that particular day, in Europe, in the South of France, in Cannes, in the water right next to me, as I went topless.

What are the odds?

“Oh yeah, hi.”

“So, you are studying abroad?”

“Yup.”

A typical, banal conversation except for the fact that under the water, my breasts were exposed and we both knew it. That knowledge could have given our conversation a sexual charge.

“You have a Eurail pass?”

“I do.”

“The two-month one?”

“No, the one month. You can’t use it in England. That’s the BritRail pass.”

Do I need to say we didn’t make out? When he left, I pulled up my top, and left the water. Nature, or a higher power was sending me a crystal clear message.

Stop doing that.

What else was I supposed to think? To me, the lesson was laid out before me, Nathaniel Hawthorne-style. I was Hester Prynne, only there was no place to sew my “A.”

I’d like to say that since that experience I’ve found the self-love and acceptance I need to express my own uniqueness and use the word fabulous about myself without extending the “a” way too long in a deep voice. But I can’t.

I am not, nor will I ever be fabulous.

But I learned that it’s not what women wear, or do, that makes them fabulous. It’s not joining or following or copying anyone else. It’s that they dare to express their true selves — from the inside out, for all to see. They carry themselves with a confidence and boldness that no roommate of Brad Lastname could ever shake. That’s what we all find so fascinating.

And they do it in their home countries.

Age has allowed me to appreciate the fact that I am not the norm. I make instant pudding with half the milk, because I like the mortar-like texture. My hand gestures don’t illuminate what I say. And I get way too way too much joy from the $1 Ikea breakfast to be truly mainstream.

I am authentic. Isn’t that fabulous?

Jenna JolovitzJenna is a freelance writer and an alum of Second City in Chicago where she wrote and performed shows alongside Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and others. She has been on the writing staff of such shows as MADtv, That ’80s Show, Steve Martin’s The Downer Channel and King of Queens, as well as a guest writer on Saturday Night Live. Jenna has also written an upcoming comedy feature, The Flaming Jerk.

“WE CAN READ!” by Anna Elkins

Photo by Carl Attard from Pexels

“I can read. I can tie my shoes. I have food in the fridge.” These are the kinds of things my down-the-street neighbor tells herself when she’s feeling off or blue—basic, often overlooked things worth giving thanks for.

The other day, I met my up-the-street neighbor. We talked about life, relationship and the pain and joy in both. We were trying to focus on the good stuff and not worry about the bad stuff. As I was leaving, I remembered my other neighbor and her gratitude. I said, “I think gratitude is the anecdote to anxiety. Wait…I mean antidote. Wait…I mean both!”

And there on her doorstep, I had a revelation. When we tell our stories of gratitude—the anecdotes—we create the antidote to the bad stuff: fear, anxiety, annoyance, all the nasty etceteras.

I can testify: it works.

Try it yourself: Think of something ungood that you felt recently. Feel that feeling. Here’s (one of) mine: annoyance. I was walking in the Woodlands where people ignore the signs requiring dogs to be on leashes. A dog bounded toward me, leashless. His owner yelled out, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly.” Yeah, well, friendly means he’s jumping up on my bare calves after having run off-trail through the poison oak. I wanted to yell out, “Can’t you read the signs? Can’t you take responsibility for your actions?” And in my head the scenario spinned into global proportions where all people were hopeless and I was a fuming misanthropist.

Stop.

Now, start listing things you’re grateful for—anything on the spectrum.

I give thanks for my nose.

I give thanks for the fact that I can walk.

I give thanks for the Woodlands someone bequeathed to this town.

I give thanks for trees that give shade, provide homes for birds, and clean the air that I am able to breathe through my nose as I walk in these woods….

I created an anecdote of gratitude that became an antidote to the nasty. Notice that it started with the thing literally in front of me: my nose. The more annoyed I am, the more basic the beginning, but those details inevitably build into a story of gratitude. I also moved from the little problem by reminding myself of the bigger narrative of life. I used a silly example to keep it light, but believe me: I’ve tried it on the Big Bad’s too. It still works.

Sometimes I begin with “I am grateful for…” or “Thank you for….”, but I have come to like “I give thanks for…” the best. It makes me an active “thanker.” It tells my inner pouty self: “You are choosing this good thing over this bad one. No matter what the bad thing is, you can still choose your attitude about it.”

When I practice this gratitude exercise, the annoyance dissolves. I discovered something I’m sure someone else has already discovered: that you can’t be grateful and annoyed (or angry, or anxious) at the same time. You have to let one of them go.

Now, dog paws in the woods are one thing. You might ask: what about divorce? Death? War? I’m not saying that if you drop and give 20 “thank-yous” in the midst of a military campaign that we’ll immediately have world peace. But then again…what if everybody did? What if everyone tried trading in their hurt, pain, and anger for gratitude? What might happen?

I’m grateful for grace, too—even (especially) toward myself. Just this morning, I indulged in frustration as a momentarily spotty Internet connection delayed some research for another essay. So, I gave thanks for my neighbors—those two friends whose anecdotes have become part of my antidote. And then I was in it again: the story of gratitude.

I choose to give thanks, thank you very much.

Anna ElkinsAnna Elkins is a traveling poet and painter who earned a B.A. in art and English and an M.F.A. and Fulbright Fellowship in poetry. She has written, painted, and taught on five continents—exhibiting paintings and writing books along the way. Anna has set up her easel and writing desk in the mythical State of Jefferson. 

OF MEN AND A MACHINE by Anne Singer

Caution Men Working sign

You live in a city like New York long enough and you learn to ignore things. The urban cacophony – sirens, horns, music, and that relentless commentary on you and the body you walk around in. You know, those verbal flares men send up that illuminate you in the crowd and alert everyone to the woman over here with the audacity to unbind her feet and venture out into the public spaces men think they own.

I have been asked by complete strangers, men passing on the street, Why are you wearing that baggy jacket that covers you up? Where are you hurrying that’s so important? Do you have a boyfriend? At newsstands and markets, men behind the counter have seized my hand, locked my eyes and smiled lasciviously while asking for my number. And I can’t even count the number of times male passersby, store clerks or strangers in restaurants have asked me why I won’t smile for them. Why are you so serious, baby? Smile!

Of course, the most celebrated hecklers, the men most likely to remind you most loudly that it’s their world and not yours, are construction workers. I think it’s the mob-like nature of their commentary that makes them notorious. Or maybe it’s their primitive vocalizations of grunts and hollers and that thing they do with their tongues. But when a crew of them sets their sites on you and send up their call, you begin to feel like the sickly caribou at the back of the herd and you put down your head and pick up your pace. At least, that’s what I always do.

Until the day I didn’t.

I was back in my Midwestern hometown, a college town where intellect is prized, and gender, though endemic, is well controlled by healthy doses of liberalism. It’s the kind of small city where a girl can grow up believing she is equal to men. I suppose there was a sensation of safety for me, being back in such a tolerant little place after fifteen years in New York where gender, ethnicity and wealth form a brittle template that defines all human interaction.

It was a balmy July evening, and I was strolling downtown with my old best friend from high school. Dating back to the ninth grade, I had walked like this with Wendy through shopping malls and high school halls and also these same downtown streets. And although I can remember both the drama and the joy of being teenaged best friends, what I remember most vividly is the reflections of our two selves in every window glass we passed: Wendy, the tiny, adorable and utterly feminine one with perfectly feathered hair; and me, the tallish, heavyish, lumbering one with her hair pulled back tight in a hair band or barrette. I saw myself as Big Bird and Wendy as the gorgeous guest host who makes Kermit swoon.

But now, in our 30’s, that mirror image was reversed, and I was learning to enjoy the way I looked in a pair of black jeans. And, apparently, on that July evening, so did a crew of workers resurfacing a downtown parking lot.

As we passed their worksite, their call went up and the flares went off and sounds began to issue from the men as they turned away from their work and towards we two women in our summer garb. But amidst the unintelligible chorus came a string of words in the form of a question: You wanna’ take a ride? One of the men was pointing at one of their machines. It was massive, easily 10 feet off the ground, with a shiny hot steel cylinder nearly as high that slowly rolled across the sticky black asphalt in a wake of tarry steam. He asked again, You wanna’ take a ride? and gestured at a driver’s seat high atop this mechanical monster.

And apparently, on that particular summer evening, I did want to take a ride.

I turned off the sidewalk and moved towards these hard-hatted men – to their utter delight, it seemed. They turned off their equipment, ceremoniously pulled back the sawhorse barricades, and cheered me on as I entered their hot, hard-working world. When I stepped onto the plywood planks that crossed the lot, I looked back and saw Wendy standing there, hands clasped just below her beaming, slack-jawed smile.

I don’t remember how I actually mounted the rolling machine, but somehow I found myself sitting up high, next to its driver as it rumbled and jolted and began to move. We took a few runs across the lot, back and forth in the kind of pattern you see combines travel at harvest time.

I have to tell you, it was exhilarating. The sheer scale and power of the machine beneath me gave me a glimpse into what makes men and boys stop and marvel at cranes, bulldozers and concrete mixers at building sites. I also have to tell you, it was a little bit scary, so I remained firmly seated rather than stand up, as a different woman might have done, and wave my arms in some gesture of liberated abandon.

As I’ve shared this story with friends, however, I’ve come to think that a different woman might not have accepted this invitation in the first place – let alone spread her arms like Kate Winslet in “Titanic.” And this surprises me.

It surprises me that I, of all people, the one with the baggy jacket and the Big Bird stride would seize this moment, defy expectations, and turn a sexual taunt into an invitation by saying ‘Yes.’ Did this fellow in the caution-yellow vest and work boots really want me to ride his roller?

Back in my New York days, I was once walking along with a girlfriend, beautiful Lydia. An old, disheveled man passing by muttered that she should stop and give him some time. So she stopped. And then she yelled, You want me stop, old man? You want to drop your pants so I can give you a blow job right here on the sidewalk? Is that what you want? Well c’mon then! The man, however, just kept walking.

Men don’t really mean it when they ask you, a total stranger, to stop and engage in whatever it is they’re asking for – your phone number, a smile, a ride on an asphalt roller. Men with the gumption to make such requests of women they don’t know are usually just singling you out for scrutiny and judgment, flagging you as a trespasser in the world they dominate. But it’s also true that you can stand your ground and claim your place in this world by proceeding with confidence, acting with joy, and, sometimes, by simply saying ‘Yes.’

Anne Singer

Anne Singer lives in Washington, D.C. where she works as a freelance writer and communications  consultant for political and public interest causes.

 

GOLD MEDAL MERMAID by Kelly Crowley

Gold Medal Mermaid

When you’re the odd kid out at a small Catholic grammar school, you’re destined to get picked last for every kickball game. In my tiny class of 17, the odd kid out was me. I suppose it was not only inevitable, but also a precursor for every success I’ve had. But at the time, it was traumatic, since, as middle-school popularity goes, I had several things going against me.

First, I kind of enjoyed learning, which was completely uncool. I did my homework, I tried to get the right answers, and I refused to let anyone copy off me. Except for the boy I had a crush on. I helped him out once … and then felt incredibly guilty for the rest of the week. I was, undeniably, a goody-two-shoes.

Second strike against me was totally out of my control: my family was not rich. We lived in “that” side of town, or as I like to joke, eight houses and one drug dealer from the freeway. The freeway separated my sleepy, boring town from the crime-ridden city, which would later be called the “homicide capital of the country.” However, there was this handy little footbridge that went up and over the freeway … right at the end of my street. Anyone running from police cars on the other side of the freeway could handily find escape in our neighborhood.

Okay, really, it wasn’t that exciting or dangerous. We neighborhood kids played tag on our front lawns, and careened up and down the block on our bikes. Still, I did not have everyone over for swimming birthday parties in my backyard. The only pool we had was plastic and about 18 inches deep.

Strike three was my arm. My early medical records call my condition “congenital microdactyly.” Yeah, exactly what the Latin says: I was born with a small hand. To be more specific, my right elbow is fused, the bones in my lower arm barely grew at all from when I was a baby, and I have this tiny hand with three little fingers. No one else in my tiny grammar school class had that, and although it made little difference in the early years, by the time we were in junior high, my friends had all abandoned me for the “cool” crowd, which was the rest of the class. And, at the time, I was utterly convinced the reason they all stopped wanting to hang out with me was because of my stupid, ugly, rotten arm. It was, in my young view, the cause of all bad things that happened to me. I would eventually discover that I was totally wrong, but that was my reality at the time.

High school couldn’t come fast enough, as junior high dragged to an end. The last big hurdle before high school was The Eighth Grade Play. This was an honor-laden tradition, at my elementary school. The most popular kids always ended up with the lead roles. It was, I thought, my last chance at redemption, my last chance to prove to all those jerks who picked me last for kickball that I was, too, cool, and perfectly capable of doing anything I wanted.

While most of the previous classes got do actual known theatrical works, we got the less-well-known “Magical Musicals,” which consisted of a seemingly random collection of songs chosen by the music teacher, who was drawing heavily on The Little Mermaid. There was a sprinkling of stuff from Little Shop of Horrors and Les Miserables, but most of it was by Disney.

As the solos got assigned, I sat patiently waiting for mine. I was in the church choir and was feeling confident. After all, I could hear when people around me were singing the wrong notes, when they were off pitch. I could pick out harmonies, and taught myself to read music more or less. Singing was something I could do. But at the end of class, when, as expected, the Queen of the Popular Crowd got the best songs, and the rest of the solos were handed out, I was without one. I was disappointed, but there was a ray of hope.

“That’s it for today,” our teacher said, “but we might add another solo or two. Probably Ariel’s solo from The Little Mermaid. We’ll talk about it next week.”

On our way back to homeroom, I planned. I would have a solo part in The Eighth Grade Play, and then they would have to respect me. I made a mental note to look for my Little Mermaid soundtrack. Of course, I didn’t have to look hard. The soundtrack was in my tape player, of course, since it was, secretly, my favorite movie. A little voice in the back of my head wondered if this really was my ticket to respect, since it was no longer cool to like The Little Mermaid. But I decided to ignore that little voice. If anyone asked how I knew all the words to the song, I could just say, “Oh, it USED to be my favorite movie.”

I dug out pen and notebook, and set the tape deck next to me on the bed. Painstakingly, I hit play, stop, rewind, play, stop, rewind, for what seemed like hours until I had transcribed every single lyric into my notebook. I then spent the next week listening to the song incessantly, memorizing every beat. The next week in music class, I knew I’d get the solo. No one else cares enough, I thought, no one else would work this hard to sing a stupid Little Mermaid song. At that point, it wasn’t about what song I would sing. Clearly, any song was good enough for me, so long as it was a solo.

The next week in music class we practiced and practiced the choral numbers. And we watched some of the soloists prefect their performances. We did that over and over for the next several weeks. I went in there every week, hoping that the teacher would ask for tryouts for the part, but she never asked. “She forgot,” I said to myself one week near the end. “Oh well. High school is almost here. It doesn’t matter.”

In fact, that day, I had other, grown-up things on my mind, like the fact that I had, for the first time, gotten my period. Really, I just wanted to go home. Music class, let alone standing up in front of everyone to sing a song, one I would probably get teased for knowing, was the last, last thing I wanted to do. But it was apparently my fate. I ended up sitting in the exact middle of my classmates when the music teacher asked if anyone knew the words to the Little Mermaid solo. I looked around at my silent classmates. Everyone was looking to see who would put their hand up. No one did, and I finally, sort-of, kind-of half-raised my hand.

“Kelly?” was the surprised response from the teacher. “Um, okay, stand up.”

Before I could think about it, she hit play and I was standing in the middle of my class singing along with Ariel. I finished, and the teacher hit stop. Our gymnasium was awfully silent. Either it was really good or really bad, because no one was even moving. And then it happened.

“That was really good, Kelly,” I heard her voice say. No, not the teacher. The Queen of the Popular Crowd. Relief washed over me, and I totally forgot about wanting to go home.

“Yeah, good job,” several of her minions chimed in.

I did it. See, they did think I was good at something—something other than school. I knew I was good at something, and now they did too, because I finally had the courage to just do what I wanted. I had been true to myself, and I had worked hard. The success of that moment was exhilarating.

That moment was over twenty years ago now, but it is still vividly real in my imagination, and its lesson enduring. In fact, I could have picked a hundred other moments in life when I dared to let Fabulous Me out of the box I tend to keep her in. Like many others, I sometimes hide, or disguise, or misplace the lady I discovered that day in eighth grade. It is a conscious decision to be fabulous, a decision I try to make on a daily basis.

Some days I’m more successful than others. On the really good days, the moments of daring, where I listened to my heart and followed my dreams and my desires, divorced from my inner critic and others’ expectations, my life has shot off like a rocket in exciting and new directions. The results of such forays have been stunning: Valedictorian of my college class and two gold medals in swimming at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. Fabulous Kelly hasn’t failed me yet, and honestly, I don’t think she ever will.

Kelly CrowleyKelly Crowley, a sports fanatic who happened to be born with a “funny right arm,” is a two-time, two-sport Paralympian. In 2012, she raced as a professional cyclist with Primal/Map My Ride Women’s Team, and won two bronze medals in cycling at the London Paralympic Games. Previously, she won two gold medals in swimming at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. Kelly was the valedictorian of her class at Santa Clara University, and has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. Today, she is a USA Swimming coach and a sought-after speaker.

HOW DOES A FLOWER DARE TO BLOOM by Ilse Noir

How does a flower dare to bloom

How does a flower dare to bloom a million times over in a million strange places to a million different faces? And how is it that I see you and me, abloom in every new face on the street? How is it possible I’m here at this moment, a whirling manifestation of choices I’ve made long ago and far away, and choices I’ve made this very day? This is the face of who I am. The heart burgeoning red with desire and fire. The heart bloody with rhythm and beats. The heart, my heart, shared with affection to closed ears, to countless fears. My heart and my rhythm. And yes, I’ve been to crossroads where I was pitted fiercely against the me of who I was and the me of who I knew I was supposed to be, two opposites beseeching the way to the road I walked upon.

Allow me to share a simple story of one of those moments of crossroads divine. A day I surrendered upon a lake.

It was a hot summer day, a vacation day spent with one of my best friends. We were to commune with nature in the woods of Montana for four glorious days. The trip, as most, was not what we expected and we were forced to live in a new understanding of what “godliness” meant to us. There were challenges every day, and it was most certainly not a laid back, easy nature, soaking in the all glorious divine weekend we expected.

On one of the days we hiked to the lake near where we were camping. My spirit was a little down and I, hoping to gather some much needed inspiration and guidance from the saturation of nature, was feeling low that life hadn’t already jumped out at me and sung to me all the answers I was so desperately seeking. Along the walk, we were trying to be in good spirits, my friend, our guide, and my pitiful, dreary self.

I was feeling insecure because a week later I was going to be seeing a guy who I hadn’t seen in months and who I dug intensely. My mind was already fully occupied with scenes of impending disaster, all egged on by premenstrual insecurities and quickly turning into monstrous negative thoughts. The part of me inside who was still hopeful of some drastic change of mood was looking forward to the lake, but when we finally got there, we soon discovered mosquitoes and less than idyllic surrounding. I mean, it was beautiful, just not pleasant.

My friend wasn’t gonna let it get her down. She stripped down and jumped into the lake before I could lather on repellent. She seemed so free, yet I could not get past the muckiness and the bugs. I was getting deeper and deeper into a funk. I stood there, wanting so badly to just jump in the lake. What was wrong with me? Why was I frozen with inaction?

I was turning into a black hole of doubt and fear. Nothing felt right. I felt so out of place. My friend finally surfaced. We talked for a bit but decided to head back when the mosquitoes started getting worse. I had missed my chance.

As we began to put our layers back on, I felt like crying. What was I scared of? Maybe I’d be sucked under by some dark demon of my own making and drown? What if some weird flesh-eating fish was in there, just waiting to gnaw on something? It was useless. We started to walk away and then it hit me: a knowing that I had to jump in the lake, no turning back. Without hesitation, I quickly threw off my clothes and dove into the water, far beyond the murky edges. I came up engulfed in sunshine and the cool peace of the lake and I floated there for a while, feeling no more agitation, no more worry, just a oneness with myself, with my own inner knowing, my own breath of life.

When I felt my head return to daily thoughts I swam back to the edge, renewed. My friend, with a knowing look in her eye, just smiled. A week later, when I saw that guy, it was difficult, but I know that if I hadn’t faced fears back at the lake, I never would have been able to face him with the full force of who I was that day.

Everyday that we make a choice to be who we wanna be and not let fear freeze us, is a day we get closer to god, the universe, all living creatures, and pretty importantly, our own selves. I also learned that there is no wrong answer, or wrong path. If there’s a lesson you need to learn, you can be sure the universe will continue putting forth the quizzes. And if you fail, no worries, just remember, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.

Ilse grew up in a small town in New Mexico with only one traffic light: “Listening to rock-and-roll saved my soul.” She dared herself to move to Los Angeles and formed her own band, Zeitgeist Auto Parts, playing her original songs, with Ilse on lead vocals and bass guitar. Only one year after playing their first gig, Music Connection Magazine listed ZAP among the top hot 100 unsigned artists in southern California. Ilse now resides in London.