A Helpful Fact Sheet For Men.

I highly suspect that the Bat Signal went out to all of you lonely men the second I was single. Or maybe it was a dog whistle that only you can hear. Since then no matter where I am or what I am doing, there you are, sizing me up.  I feel bad for you because I think you’re confused and mistaking me for someone else. So I made this Masha fact sheet for you so you don’t waste any more of your time.

1. I once showed up to my job at InStyle magazine wearing one black and one brown boot. This happened because I tried to get dressed before my daily bucket of coffee.  Rather than being discreet about it, I pointed it out to the Managing Editor and my boss.

2. I have been on time exactly 5 times in my life. Once I was a half an hour early, but that doesn’t count because I got my times mixed up and thought my appointment was at 1PM and not 2PM. Technically, by my own clock I was still half an hour late. The other 5,486,596 times I have been 15 minutes to 2 hours late.

3. I will steal your socks. When you buy new socks, I will be irritated and ask you why you need so many socks. The irony will be lost on me.

4. I will fight you to the death for all of the blanket. Post battle, I will wake up rested and you will need medical assistance for the hypothermia.

5. I hate umbrellas and hair dryers in equal measure.  But I also hate being cold. If you suggest that I’d be less cold if I used an umbrella or at least dried my hair after being caught in the rain, I will give you the death stare. 

6. I love watching movies but don’t like going to movie theaters.

7. I have yet to meet a food or beverage that didn’t end up on my shirt. If you date me you will spend exactly ⅓ of your life picking crumbs off of me and pointing out stains on my clothes.

8. I repel all buttons. Because I like to think of this as a superpower, I will never sew the buttons back on and instead will tell all of your friends about my magic ability at dinner parties.

9. I cry at the drop of a hat. When you ask me why I’m crying, the answers will range from “because everyone I love is going to die”  to “because the world is just so beautiful” or “this dessert is so good.”

10. If you don’t put a fork and knife in front of me, I’ll probably just use my hands.

11. I love being alone in the mornings but will need you with me between the hours of 6-10 PM. There is something about that stretch of evening that I just don’t like unless someone I love is with me.

12. I am a cat lady. Always have been, always will be, have the tattoo on my back to prove it.

13. I talk more than the rest of the world combined. 80% of that talking is not something you can just nod your way through. I will ask questions, like “If the universe is all there is, but it’s constantly expanding, what is it expanding into?” I will force you to think about things you don’t have time to think about and don’t particularly want to.

14. The three most used words in my vocabulary are love, magic, and fuck.

15. If you don’t like foul language, than you and I are going to have a fucking problem.

16. I sometimes break out into early 90s rap. I’m not very good at it, but you telling me so won’t make it stop.

17. I like to write about myself a lot.

18. I believe that the harder I squeeze a person, the more they’ll understand how much I love them. This can lead to mild strangulation and fractured ribs.

19. I have one tooth that sticks out. I won’t get it fixed, partly because I’m lazy, partly because it makes me feel like me.

20. Walking down the streets,  I sometimes look down and see a bulge around my calf, under my jeans and ask myself, “Yesterday’s socks or underwear?”

Lessons in Alchemy.

About a month into the break up I locked myself in my tiny hotel room in Istanbul, turned off my phone and prepared to spend two days in undistracted suffering. I had decided to do this because I was convinced that this was the reason for my life falling apart- to teach me how to suffer. It was like floating in outer space, alone, trapped in a spacesuit, with no way home and no way to end it alI.  It was brutal.  I  woke up on day two and tried not to move an inch, not even fluttering my eyes open. I wanted no signs of life to remind me that I was, indeed still alive. And then my stomach betrayed me with a rumbling revolt after a month of starvation. It sent a wave of cosmic pain through me that I did not think or hope I would survive.

In those first few weeks I couldn’t tell my guidance from my fear, willful delusion from real hope, the angry internal parent from a well-intentioned higher power. And generally I aired on the side of caution, which in my case has always meant believing the worst. I was being punished. I didn’t deserve to be happy. I hadn’t paid my dues to the gods. I thought if I sit there in my suffering, without any relief, somehow I’d  be worthy of life again.

Halfway through the second day, after throwing up the contents of an almost empty stomach, I got back on the bed and prepared to suffer some more. Suddenly, a spark of warm, electric energy ran through me and I heard it say “This isn’t about learning to suffer, you know how to do that, you have done it your whole life. This is about something so much better.”  For the first time in weeks, I knew  with complete certainty that this was my guidance, my guardian angels, my grandfather,  god, all of the above talking to me. I started weeping and listing everything that I wanted-  to hug my mom, to be able to eat again, to spend my life with a person I love, to write a book, to see the Northern Lights, to dance, to draw, it went on and on. It was a turning point.

It has been more than three months since that moment. I feel such tenderness and compassion for that bright girl who thought suffering was her lot in life. Who thought that a victim of child abuse and rape not only needed to learn to suffer more but deserved to.

In the last three months I have been everywhere. A week at the beach in southern Turkey ended with a flight to Russia for a funeral. A month in Russia was followed by a week in Istanbul and a tearful flight to New York. Six weeks later I flew back to Istanbul and am here now, slowly rebuilding my life. Each of these trips has brought with it some new healing, perspective and understanding, but Russia was gold.

While there I met with my friend Sasha whom I’ve known for more than half of my life. He has experienced a lot of pain in his life. When he met Lena, fell in love, got married and had a son, I thought finally, my friend was being rewarded for all that he has had to endure. A year after their son was born their car hit black ice on the road and was thrown into oncoming traffic. Lena was killed instantly. Sasha somehow survived and now calls himself  “The Terminator”  because of all the metal holding his body together. Their son was completely unharmed.

I hadn’t spoken to Sasha since the accident. I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say to him. I had always been like a Russian Amelie, swooping into Sasha’s life once a year bringing stories of adventure and inspiration with me, sprinkling a bit of my  fairy dust and leaving both Sasha and Lena enchanted. This had always been my role but with nothing good to offer, I offered nothing at all and stayed away. It’s shameful and of course I now understand that all I could and needed to do was call and say I love you.

I finally did just that this September, a year and a half after the accident.  We went for a walk and then drank a whiskey and talked in his apartment. It wasn’t awful, we connected, we made jokes and Sasha even expressed that he’s reached a place of wanting but that he didn’t know what he wanted and he was afraid. Still, it didn’t quite feel right at the end of the evening. Even though I myself was a rag doll, I felt that there must be just a pinch of fairy dust left somewhere in me to give to my friend.

I started thinking about my own tragedy and had a long conversation with myself.  What is left in me now that seemingly everything I thought I was has been taken away? It’s love. What does that mean? It means that I can always reach for love when I think I have nothing left, because that is the only thing that is real and the only thing that I truly am. What does that actually mean, though? It means that if I reach for love I will always be protected. And? It is the strongest force in the world.  So? So I have nothing to fear if I act with love in anything I do. Good girl! Now, what are you going to tell Sasha? That if he wants something, he shouldn’t be afraid. He is protected by love. Even though people he loved died, he survived and that’s not nothing.  He has nothing to fear. If he wants something, now is the time to go get it.

I met Sasha and told him just that. And everything changed. We were more intimate, more joyful, more present with each other. Walking home, I looked down at the pavement and saw a line with the word “FINISH” written in chalk. It confirmed what I had been suspecting for weeks. I did it. I  finally completed the pilgrimage I had started on June 1st, 2014 at the steps of the Cathedral in Canterbury. I had wanted to know the truth, I wanted to find the thing that holds us together but though I had walked the physical journey, I had not been able to go through the emotional breakdown I needed to find THE THING. And now I had. I fist-bumped the universe and then my phone rang. “Masha, you forgot your coat.”  “I’ll be back,” I said to the finish line.

Since then it has been a roller coaster of contracting and opening. Terrified, I went back to Istanbul. I didn’t know why I did that, but it seemed important to my heart so I trusted it to show me what I needed to see. I spent a week with my person, living as if nothing had happened. I showed love and compassion. I shared, and changed dark energy into sparkling, joyful energy but the end result was the same, which is how I found myself crying on a plane to New York.

But I am not the same. My pain is not the same. I have become my own alchemist. I took the darkness and I turned it into gold. I am more loving, I am more patient, I am less scared, I am somehow even funnier and I was already hilarious, ask anyone.

Two days ago I was having a glass of wine with a friend.  Last time we had seen each other she had just broken up with her on and off again boyfriend of five years. At the time, she thought she needed to be alone, to figure herself out before she could be with him. Two weeks later, she had a change of heart. “It’s so stupid. I miss him, I love him, why am I depriving myself of the thing that I want? Why was I so afraid? I want this relationship. You know, you taught me that.” It was bittersweet. Here was a person who through our conversations about love and fear, had realized that the thing she fears is actually the thing she wants most and that it is only by staying in love that she will find what she was looking for.

The same day a different friend, with a different glass of wine said she was grateful to have been by my side throughout these last few months. Why the hell would she be grateful? I’ve had nothing to offer her but pain and confusion and alcohol poisoning. “You’ve changed how I see love,” she continued. “Something you said in the weeks right after the breakup stayed with me. You said you can’t hate him, because it’s not the truth. You said the only honest thing you can do is love him.”

A few days after the break up I pleaded with the universe to show me how to heal myself and and show me how I can help others heal themselves too. At the time, this feat seemed so far off in the future. And now I see I’ve been doing it all along. Not only have I spun gold for myself, but it seems I’ve been spinning it for others too. And I am just getting started.

Love. God. Sex.

The call to prayer comes in along with a warm breeze through the open balcony door into our bedroom. We are sweaty and hot and wrapped around each other in a perfectly comfortable embrace, the kind that comes after hundreds of other embraces and adjustments of knees, and arms and necks until finally you’ve memorized each other’s curves and bumps so that you don’t even have to think about it.

This always happened to us, the call to prayer coming in right after or during. I can’t remember it ever making me feel ashamed, this overlap of the physical and the divine. It felt like a reinforcement from the heavens of what I felt- that what happened here was miraculous and holy. We were not debasing our bodies, I thought, we were propping up each other’s souls. God likes that kind of stuff, I think.

What did make me uncomfortable, was what started happening when we started happening. After making love, I would become overwhelmed by a feeling of pure knowing and warmth that wasn’t mine. I couldn’t name it, I can’t even describe it. It would often leave me in tears and I think scared him the first time. A crying, naked girl in your bed is not a good way to end the night.  It was a presence that was neither him nor me. Were we having a threesome with God? My great-grandmother? Worse, my grandfather? Who would wants to reach out from eternity to nestle in with us as the biggest spoon?

There is an email in my Drafts folder that I didn’t have time to finish writing before my life shattered. It was to Anita Moorjani, a spiritual writer who had gone to the other side and come back with all the answers. I didn’t finish it because I couldn’t find the right way to ask a total stranger why a spirit or even The Spirit wanted in on my bedroom action. See? I still can’t find a way to ask that question. I’m glad I never sent it. What would be the response? And worse, what would be my follow-up email? “GOD IS DEAD AND SO IS LOVE. In peace and love, Masha.”

You can imagine that this weird phenomenon has been filed away in the evidence drawer marked “Denial” along with a million scraps of poetry, his laugh, Sufi skirts billowing, our cat’s purr when he is sandwiched between us, Nina Simone, and everything that has ever been beautiful or good.

It’s been so hard to start unpacking the drawer and dusting him off of the things that existed before him, without him, which like me, will continue to exist even if he is gone.

My relationship with the idea of God has been as complex and full of fear and mistrust as have my feelings about love and sex, especially the place where the last two intersect. Still, I can’t deny the buzzing of sparkly, knowing energy I feel in my life anymore than I can deny the butterfly flutterings of love. And since I met him, I can’t deny that I reached both through the intimate dance in our bed.

It’s been hard to reconcile these two truths – my union with this person was sacred and this person left me.

The definition of God that I am most comfortable with, is a surrender to love. The only way I can make sense out of what happened between us, is that it’s not so much about him. Though he inspired me to find the courage to do so, the miracle here is that finally, for the first time in my life  I was able to surrender to love completely.

Anxiety. Or rather, ANXIETY!!!!!!!!

Anxiety. I never claimed this word as my own. On the subway, when I’d look at the advertisements for churches, medication and hotlines, I’d  answer their question “ ARE YOU FEELING DEPRESSED?” with an honest “yes.” When the same question was asked about feeling anxious, well, I didn’t even bother reading the full question.

I’ve had a couple of panic attacks before, sure.  But that’s normal, right? There was that time my parents took me to the hospital because I thought I couldn’t breathe and my oxygen levels turned out to be better than average, but that happens to everyone, no doubt. That same week my parents took me to a hospital because I was having an allergic reaction to watermelon.  Once the doctor  administered steroids,  I screamed  “it’s making it worse!”  and almost jumped off the bed. That too, I’m sure is an embarrassing story everyone carries with them. More recently I began to suspect that I had spinal cancer and lung cancer and months before that, had my first mammogram because of an ill-fitting bra. Also, I can never sleep with my left breast directly against the mattress because I can hear my heart and I start thinking that it might explode. All normal things.

What I also thought was that there was something inherently wrong with me, obviously not because I had an anxiety disorder, but because everyone was feeling just like me but somehow still writing books, having healthy relationships, going back to work after a death and generally conducting their life as if they weren’t wading through honey all the time. If everyone felt threatened every second of every day but still managed to do stuff, why couldn’t I?

After a diagnosis of a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I now know that not everyone thinks they are dying all of the time. Or that their boyfriend secretly wants to leave them. Oh wait. That was actually my intuition kicking in. Can I tell you something? That’s the worst thing about anxiety –  sometimes your fear voice speaks just as loudly as your inner guidance. It’s like they’re twins, except one of them starts screaming “FIRE!!!” whenever she sees a spark in a boy’s eye. And you never know which one is screaming, the one who’s always lying or the one who has never lied to you before. They both claim to be truthful, pointing a finger of blame at the other. They’re hard to tell apart and that’s so dangerous for someone like me, a person who lives by the rules and the pathways her heart whispers about. How can you even hear a whisper with all that crazy screeching?

A friend was telling me about a misunderstanding with her partner yesterday. “It’s like I put 1 and 1 together and got 43.” Add “???!!!!!” to the end of that 43 and you have the anxiety formula, at least my anxiety’s formula.

It’s just the worst. And it’s the worst when it’s piled up on top of grief. And it’s the worst when that grief feels like you’re a child whose parent just left, rather than an adult whose adult friend left because you have so much unresolved trauma.

But, (there is always a hopeful but in my world, no matter how dark it feels) I get giddy when I think about who I am underneath all of the trauma and grief and anxiety. Who is this girl when she’s not stuck in a pool of honey? As the healing begins, not just from the break up, but all of the other things, what will she do? What is she capable of? Time and lots of therapy will tell.

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