Where I Write: Palisades Park.

“Meanwhile, the sea ebbs and flows in these grander tides of earth, whose stages are measurable not in hours but in millennia – tides so vast they are invisible and uncomprehended by the senses . . . Their ultimate cause . . . may be found to be deep within the fiery center of earth, or it may lie somewhere in the dark spaces of the universe.”

– Rachel Carson

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I run my hands over the brushed silver metallic letters stamped onto the face of the stone monument, tracing their outline as I write them down, checking to make sure they’re correct. I’m hot, sweaty, even though there’s still a marine layer blanketing the coast. My legs feel strong, yet shaky, the result of running the steep wooden steps from Montana Avenue down to Pacific Coast Highway, up and down, again and again. Music pulsates through my ear buds as I dodge children and tourists and surfer dudes with unwieldy longboards on their way to and from the beach. I take the steps as quickly as I can, because the faster I reach the summit, the sooner the ache that began in my calves and quickly spread, sending fire throughout my legs, rising upward into my chest, causing my heart to pound and my lungs to burn, will cease. On one ascent I count 131 steps, but I’m so focused on moving, on pushing air through my lungs, that it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that number is actually correct.

Palisades Park, an ocean front promenade situated on bluffs above Santa Monica’s stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, is one of my favorite places in L.A. And while I come here often, it isn’t one of those places where I find myself comfortably settling into a space with a cup of coffee, allowing the day to stretch out before me like a luxury. Instead, I come here to move, to breathe in the salt air, to feel the blood coursing through my veins, and to think.

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Like a lot of writers, I have a tendency to get hung up on word count and page numbers, feeling the constant need to produce. But in reality, I believe that creativity is a balancing act between action and reflection, and both are equally important. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I know I need to get out into the world for a while before I can return to the page.

There is amazing people watching to be had at Palisades Park – everything from local yogis to picnicking families to European tourists – but it’s the ocean that draws me here. My whole life, I’ve always felt most at home at the sea, and today is no different. After I finish climbing stairs, I head for the sanctuary of the nearby rose garden, relishing the rush of the wind in my hair, the breeze tickling my face. I select a park bench, unzip my backpack and find my journal. For today’s trip, I’ve chosen a whimsical notebook with flying cartoon pigs and the hopeful mantra “It’s Possible” emblazoned across the cover. I turn my face toward the ocean and before I begin to write, I pause, watching the waves roll and crest and break. My eyes follow the horizon, fixing on the point where the unending expanse of blue melts into the white haze of marine layer, far, far off shore. There are some people who feel small in the presence of the mighty Pacific, but not me. The knowledge that this great ocean is connected to other waterways all over the world and that somehow, some way, I’m connected to them too, makes me feel infinite, makes me feel safe, makes me feel as though anything were possible.

I open my notebook and write furiously, jotting down the thoughts swirling through my brain before they’re gone. I remain for only a handful of minutes – as long as I can stand it – until finally, exhausted, hungry, I’m ready to go home.

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But on my way out of the park, something stops me. It’s the stone structure I’ve passed by so many times, with the words of the famous marine biologist Rachel Carson inscribed among the granite and fragments of abalone shells. Occasionally, I pause to read them, but today, I decide, I will copy them down. I pull out the flying pig notebook once again. As I begin to write, I notice – out of the corner of my eye – a woman approaching me.

My ear buds are still in, so at first, I don’t hear what she says. But she seems intent upon communicating with me, and so – rather reluctantly – I remove my headphones. The woman is blonde and fit, dressed in yoga pants and a bright orange tank top, and speaks with an accent I can’t quite place but that suggests (perhaps?) a country in Eastern Europe. She excitedly holds up her phone for me to see, displaying an Instagram photo of the same stone structure we’re standing in front of, its same words typed into the caption. “I’ve been coming here since 2004,” she tells me, “And I only just saw this. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes,” I agree. “It is.”

“I noticed you writing it down and I had to say something. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it meaningful.”

“No, you’re not the only one,” I smile. She smiles back. And then, just like that, she’s off, waving goodbye as she jogs away. I watch her go; my legs heavy but my heart surprisingly full. And then, I too decide it’s time to go, time to return home, time to take this morning’s scribbles and turn them into something resembling a story.

Until next time, friends.

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Off the record.

Late in the evening on July 4th, I sat alone on an expansive wooden deck overlooking the water, a cinnamon-scented candle glowing beside me, breathing in the stars and gunpowder as fireworks exploded and unfurled their brilliant colors across the night sky.

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Our own little family celebration on the rocky shores of Case Inlet had just ended. My aunt and uncle had gone to bed; my cousins had gone home. It was a subdued holiday – nothing like the ruckus of previous years – but we built a bonfire on the beach and watched the colored lights boom and sparkle above the bay, and that was enough for me.

I have spent countless Fourth of July holidays on that beach and each one of them has been different. My grandfather – who bought the land all the way back in 1959 – had a saying that he wrote to me, years ago, in a letter, which I’ve cited on this blog more than once: “The beach never changes, ‘tis only we who change.”

He’s right, and he isn’t. The beach is very different than the magical place I remember from childhood; both the passage of time and the passing of loved ones have seen to that. But more than fifty years after my grandparents cemented this spot as a permanent part of our family’s legacy, placing a sign reading, Popelkas: Off the Record, at the entrance to the property – a nod to their careers as court reporters – its fundamentals remain the same: it’s still a small slice of heaven tucked away on one of Puget Sound’s inland waters, the saltwater bay framed by banks of evergreen trees, the stately Mount Rainier towering above, keeping watch over us all.

This Fourth of July placed me in uncharted territory. It was my first visit to the beach since Grandpa’s hospice last fall, my first time ever being there without him. My decision to go was last minute – ticket booked a few days before travel – and this visit would be in addition to another, longer trip I’d already planned just five weeks later, in August. But the last few months in Los Angeles had left me exhausted and in need of a spiritual reboot, and the beach had always had the power to ground me in a way that the gritty, noisy, crowded, city never could. And so I went.

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It was not a perfect trip, not by any means. Unexpected family drama bubbled to the surface, reopening wounds that I thought had closed. I spent much of the emotionally charged four-day visit feeling nostalgic for a past that no longer existed.

But I slept. And I wrote. And I wandered the beach, searching for seashells and agate stones. I ran three miles on the shoulder of the heavily forested Grapeview Loop Road, and was impressed – as I always am – by the friendliness of the locals. (One motorist even stopped, rolled down her window, and offered me a bottle of water. City girl that I am, I declined.) One morning, I arose early, drank coffee, and watched through my window as the sun stubbornly pushed through layers of clouds, slowly turning the morning from grey to blue as slivers of light danced across the sound, causing the water to glimmer and dance like liquid silver.

And gradually, I grew calmer and more centered and I felt my equilibrium returning. Because in spite of the way that life shakes and shifts around me, in spite of how greatly the beach’s present reality differs from my past memories of the place, there’s something that continues to hold true: my history is firmly anchored there. And whenever I return, when I remind myself of who I am and where I’ve come from, I know myself just a little bit better. And it’s in that space, no matter how confused or lost or frustrated I may have been, that I’m able to figure out what it is I want to do next.

“The beach never changes, ‘tis only we who change.”

Until next time, friends.

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Endings.

“There are no happy endings.

Endings are the saddest part,

So just give me a happy middle

And a very happy start.”

-Shel Silverstein

On Monday, I grieved. I didn’t know what else to do. I told myself I should get to work on my very long, very ambitious to-do list with the heading “Post Fringe,” but in truth, my heart wasn’t in it. Instead, I hid from the sweltering Southern California heat inside the walls of my one bedroom apartment, and I moped.

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June was a fun month. To be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Months of hard work and preparation culminated in the production of my play, War Stories, at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Over the course of three and a half weeks, we put up six performances, and my friends – many of whom I hadn’t seen in months – came to see them. And in between the performances (which garnered better-than-I-could-have-hoped-for reviews from both critics and audiences alike), there were parties and mixers and seemingly infinite amounts of theater to see. I saw thirteen shows in June, everything from cabaret to burlesque to improv to musicals to solo performance. Fringe was three and a half weeks jammed full of inspiration and artistic creation and community in the heart of Hollywood, and it was wonderful.

But now it’s over. And if June was all about celebration, then July is all about work. Because not only do I have to get back into the laboratory and continue to shape the next, two-act draft of War Stories for an upcoming production this winter, I also have a whole list of other important things to tackle that I put off while I was out fringe-ing. Boring, tedious, life things. Such as figuring out how I’m going to pay my bills now that I’ve decided to enter the brave new world of freelancing.

I suppose it’s not surprising then that on Monday, I felt like I was in a ravine, looking up at the next, larger mountain needing to be scaled, thinking, “Oh, hell no. Not today.”

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But then Tuesday arrived, which also happened to be my late father’s birthday. I never know quite how to approach these emotionally-loaded anniversaries, but I usually try to do something nice for myself, so I went up to one of my favorite places in Los Angeles: The Getty Center. I typically rush through museums, but on Tuesday, I turned off my cell phone and I took it all in: the replica caves of Dunhuang with their intricately painted walls and ceilings and Buddhist icons, Rousseau’s landscapes, the Greek and Roman sculpture, the Medieval tapestries. And somewhere among the decorative arts in the North Pavilion, a perfectly paneled Parisian drawing room transported me to 17th Century France, and I felt better.

Leave it to my Dad, the biggest kicker of ass and taker of names I ever knew, to inspire me to shake off my self-pity and resolve to get back to work. And maybe I also needed to spend an afternoon immersed in the work of other artists to remind me that there are still many, many stories inside of me waiting to be told. Yes, writing is hard work. It requires time and dedication and solitude and sometimes even a little blood. (That may sound dramatic, but if anything I’ve ever written has made you cry, I promise it’s because I cried while writing it.)

Writing is hard. Doing the work is hard. But I also love it. Most of the time, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And since I’ve decided that – one way or another – it’s how I’m going to make my living, it’s time to get back to it.

Well, almost. With the Fourth of July holiday upon us, I’m not quite ready to go back to reality just yet. Moping done, I cashed in some airline miles and booked a plane ticket out of L.A. Because in order to fully recover my equilibrium, I need to spend a few days in a beautiful place with people I love. I’ll make sure to bring my journal.

Until next time, friends.

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Where I Write: the dressing room.

Where do you get your ideas? It’s a question that writers are asked frequently. It’s a question that I used to ask frequently, before I learned through experience and self-discipline that the more I forced myself to sit my butt in a chair in front of a computer and not move, the more the muse tended to show up.

However, I recognize that there are times in my writing life when I feel more inspired than others, times when ideas flow more easily. And in my experience, I have found that inspiration is often directly linked to place, to where I write. I still do a fair amount of writing within the walls of my one bedroom apartment, but I am fortunate that the city where I live and the rather unconventional life that I lead here affords me an abundance of both ordinary and extraordinary places in which to put pen to paper.

The piece below is my inaugural entry in a new series about the places where I feel the most creative. I hope it inspires you. And if you’re so inclined, please share your favorite places to write in the comments below or on social media (Find me on Instagram @extradrymartini or on Twitter @drymartinigirl), by using the hash tags #extradrymartini and #whereiwrite.

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The Dressing Room

It’s a Wednesday morning in June and I’m out the door at 6:30 in order to make a 7:30 AM call time. It shouldn’t take an hour to get across town this early in the morning, but you never know in this city so I give it an hour just in case. It’s a week before the summer solstice, and the sun is already up when I shift my car into drive.

The city is still waking, not yet pulsing with the frenetic activity that’s on its way. As I wind my way through the streets, the traffic flows so easily that it feels like I’m getting away with something. Even the red lights seem to magically shift to green as my car approaches them. I take Pico to Crescent Heights to Olympic to Fairfax to 6th to Hauser to 3rd to Beverly to Western to Hollywood to Prospect. With each left and right, I feel bits of sentences stir within me. I read somewhere that Steven Spielberg gets his ideas while merging onto the freeway, and I get that. There’s something about navigating traffic that sharpens your focus. Or maybe it’s just the irony that ideas seem to come when you’re unable to write them down.

I show my ID at the gate and drive onto the lot. I check in with the stage manager, collect my scrubs from wardrobe and enter the familiar dressing room. Two brown sofas sit elbow to elbow, each adorned with a pair of mismatching pillows, one red with an orange geometric pattern, one apologetically 80’s with an oversized floral motif stretched out across its blue satin canvas. I stash my things in a locker and sit down in a squeaky brown office chair across from the mirror. As I sip my coffee, I put on makeup, brush my hair, and get into wardrobe. The stage manager’s voice over the intercom cuts through the quiet: “Half hour til item one,” she says.

I have some time. I could go to the green room for more coffee, to watch the news, to chat with other actors. But it’s quiet here and because I’m in the basement I can’t get a Wi-Fi signal. Perfect, just me and my thoughts. I pull out a black composition book, its front cover emblazoned with the words Now is the Right Time. I look up, briefly contemplate my reflection in the enormous mirror across from me, and then, begin to write.

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Possibility.

“Before we begin, is there anything specific you’d like to know? Anything on your mind?”

I shift my weight on the colorful batik blanket spread out across the lawn, careful to keep my knees pressed together as I sit sideways in my too short, too warm for this sunny Southern California Sunday, black cocktail dress. Sweat runs down my back, and as I fumble with the crown of fragrant flowers balanced precariously on my head, I am keenly aware of the fact that my focus is everywhere except where it should be: right here, on the present moment, with her.

I’m spending Sunday afternoon at the launch party for my friend Tammin’s blog, Bottle and Heels. Bottle and Heels is female-centric and ambitious in scope, covering a range of topics from motherhood to career to relationships to beauty and fashion to current events, all with a focus on creating what Tammin calls “open conversation.” I’m one of the blog’s contributing writers, and when she first invited me to the launch party, Tammin described it as an event resembling a small wedding. She wasn’t kidding. I arrive at the Bel Air address to find beautiful people mingling over cocktails in a lush poolside garden setting, and – because Tammin is a successful actress – there’s also a red carpet, photographers and a plethora of sponsors doling out everything from makeup applications to massages to – I’m not kidding – Manservants, an entourage of attractive men attired in tuxedo jackets and (this is L.A.) shorts, floating around the party misting attendees with Evian water and shading them with parasols.

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But it’s the Tarot card readings that I’m most interested in. Though my experience with Tarot is limited, an eerily prophetic reading two years ago in the back of a voodoo shop in New Orleans was enough to make a believer out of me. And now here I am, in the “Secret Garden,” a grassy terrace perched high above the poolside festivities, sitting (well, crouching really, in my stupid dress) across from Angie, the card reader.

And Angie wants to know what’s on my mind. “Well,” I begin, fumbling for words. “I guess I want to know about work. My job recently ended and I’m in a bit of a career transition, so . . .” I trail off, unsure of how to continue, but Angie has heard enough. She begins to shuffle and deal, glancing at her phone in between, because her brand of Tarot also involves iTunes consultations, apparently.

“You’re on the right track,” she begins, regarding me a focus so intense it’s a bit unnerving. “But it’s very important that you keep going, keep exploring. If you take a new job now, it won’t be the right thing.”

She continues to deal, growing increasingly excited with every card she turns over. “This new opportunity that’s coming, it’s a dream come true,” she says. “But you don’t know what it is yet. If you think you know – trust me – you don’t. Don’t get me wrong: it won’t be something crazy and out of left field like touring with a rock band. It will still be related to your industry, but whatever this job is, it will come as a surprise.”

Brushing aside the slight ego bruise at Angie’s firm conviction that I am in fact, not a rock star (OK, my current awkward, sweaty, floral crown slipping down onto my forehead state noted), I ask a follow up: “Do you have any idea when this dream job will arrive? I mean, I can handle uncertainty for a while, but how will I know when the right thing is the right thing?”

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“You’ll know,” she assures me, flipping another card. “OK. Here we go.” Angie’s concentrating intently now, so I shut up. “Late October, early November. That’s when you’ll know.” She looks up at me, eyes shining with what appears to be genuine enthusiasm. “It’s the dream,” she reiterates. “You’re going to be really happy.”

“BUT,” she cautions, “For the time being, you’ve got to stay open. And SLOW DOWN.” She consults her phone again. “Look!” she exclaims triumphantly, holding it up for me to see the song that’s playing: Slow it Down by the Lumineers. “Slow it down,” she repeats. “You haven’t learned everything you need to know.”

I thank her and get up, feeling dazed. So much of what she said, admittedly, was what I wanted to hear. That’s what this whole “hiatus” I’ve been on is supposed to be about, after all; taking time out and listening to my heart. Finding the courage to make different, bolder choices, rather than falling into my old pattern of doing what’s comfortable and what’s easy.

But I also needed to hear that I’m on the right track, even if that news was delivered from the iPhone of a kooky Tarot card reader at a Hollywood party. I needed confirmation that what I feel in my gut is true: that even though I don’t know how or when, somewhere down the line, all the dots will connect.

It has been a challenge for a Type A, meticulous planner like myself to continue to remain in a state of uncertainty, but little by little, I’m learning to embrace it. Because here’s the thing: as long as nothing is certain, it also means that anything is possible. And so, for the time being, I’m taking Angie’s advice. I am staying open, I am exploring, and I am – in the words of Emily Dickinson – choosing to dwell in possibility.

Until next time, friends.

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War Stories.

“It’s not love that’s complicated, it’s us. People.”

-War Stories

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

I have been trying to understand myself better through writing. I have been trying to understand the world better through writing. I think I have been doing this for quite some time without fully realizing that I have been doing it.

There are so many complex emotions that have been swirling through me these last few years. A jumble of feelings about love and loss, joy and fear, hope and regret. At times I have felt numb and detached, at other times so alive and present that everything around me seemed to buzz.

All the while, I have been chasing meaning with my pen. I suppose I figured that if I could somehow disentangle my thoughts and shape them into words, if I could articulate them in such a way that made sense not only to me but also to other people, that maybe then I’d be able to answer that big, nagging question: What now?

Writing is a lonely business. I don’t know any way around that. The only way to do it is to sit in a chair, in front of a computer (or with a notebook and pen), alone, and do the work. I hate that part of it – the lonely part – even as I crave the solitude that’s required to tame my racing thoughts into written form.

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In an effort to quell the loneliness, I took a break from writing non-fiction essays and returned to my roots: theatre. I wrote a play. I created characters to keep me company and guess what? I fell in love with all of them. And then I went out to try to find them in the real world. What an adventure that turned out to be.

In just a few days the play that I wrote, War Stories, will no longer be something that exists only in my imagination or inside of a rehearsal studio. It will be a real, tangible thing, on a stage, with actors (including me) breathing life into the story in front of an audience. My friends will come see it, and so will reviewers. It’s one of roughly 300 shows at Hollywood Fringe Festival, the largest theatre festival on the west coast of the United States. Talk about turning the lonely writer thing on its head. Talk about getting vulnerable. Because you see, while this play is a work of fiction, it’s a work of fiction I never could have created without looking inward and asking myself what I thought about one incredibly personal topic: love.

I wrote a letter to the play’s audience that will be published in the program, and I’ve shared it with you below. If you happen to be in Los Angeles during the month of June, I’ve also included a link at the bottom of this post with info about where you can see it and how to get tickets. And now, about War Stories:

There is no script about love that hasn’t already been written. No wisdom about the inner workings of our hearts that hasn’t already been put into a song, or a poem or the brushstrokes of a painting. For as long as humans have been telling stories, they have been telling stories about love. And for that same amount of time, they have been asking themselves one question: Why? Why do we love who we love?

War Stories was my attempt to answer that question. To be honest, I’m still writing my way toward the answer (a not so subtle plug to like the show on Facebook so that I can update you on the next, two-act iteration of this piece). They say that all art is autobiography, and though this play is a work of fiction, it would be impossible not to put something of myself into a topic so vulnerable, so personal. In some ways, all of these characters are me.

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I set this story in Los Angeles because it’s the city where I live and it’s the city that I know, but aside from some inside baseball jokes about dating actors, it really could take place anywhere and be written in any language. Our search for love and the crazy things we do in pursuit of it are universal.

But there is something about this city that makes it fertile ground for this type of story. There’s something so optimistic about a place jammed full of creative people, living one break away from making their dreams come true. The sense of possibility is real and it’s intoxicating. Yet it can also be an incredibly lonely place. Countless hours of one’s life lost stuck in traffic jams, or working dead end jobs to pay the bills. How many people spend years existing on hope alone, always one step away from getting that thing that they think will make them happy?

To paraphrase a line from George Orwell’s famous essay Shooting an Elephant, if you wear a mask for too long, it becomes your face. This play is a cautionary tale about just that: the perils of pretending. All of these characters do it, and all realize at some point that they no longer can, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. In the end, they’re all looking for someone who, as Chelsea says, will “See them, really see them, and not run.”

But then again, aren’t we all?

Until next time, friends.

P.S. – For War Stories tickets & info, visit: hff16.org/3476

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Strong in our broken places.

“Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to. It’s not for them.”

-Unknown

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I spent Mother’s Day on a boat. The morning dawned with overcast skies and I was afraid that the marine layer would wrap itself around the coastline and not let go. To my surprise, the sun broke free from the fog’s grasp and by late morning, it was casting gentle rays of light out across the water, creating a perfect spring Southern California Sunday.

We never left the harbor. The boat was borrowed and expensive: a sleek, beautiful vessel complete with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a spacious deck. Far too valuable for any of us to pilot, even if we did know how, which of course, we didn’t. Besides, there was good food to eat and tequila to drink and – most importantly – girl talk to be had underneath that shaded canopy on the sea.

How do you celebrate a holiday when the person that holiday is built around celebrating is no longer with you? How do you continue to embrace gratitude for all that you’ve been given on an occasion that can’t help but remind you of all that you’ve lost? How do you keep moving forward, heart open, even on days when moving forward feels impossible?

I don’t know what works for other people, but here is what has been working for me, as a strategy for dealing with the difficult days: 1.) Surround yourself with your tribe. 2.) Do what feels good. 3.) Don’t apologize.

So this past Mother’s Day, that is exactly what I did. The three friends I shared that boat with are all brilliant, creative, generous, tough as nails, women. They also – like me – carry the scars of having lived on this planet long enough to have had their hearts broken. All of us have been humbled by the difficult days. And yet, it is in those difficult days that we have found our strength, our grace, and our empathy. We are, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Strong in our broken places.” These friends – and others like them – are my tribe. And these days, they’re the only people I feel like spending time with.

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One member of that tribe is my friend Sam. Sam is someone that I’m not sure that the old Sarah – the Sarah from before all the bad stuff happened – would have been friends with. Sam is a fiercely talented actress, and she moves through the world with an authority about who she is that the old me would have found intimidating. In truth, I still occasionally do find her intimidating, but mostly, I recognize her as a kindred spirit, someone that, through her own example, has given me permission to be the bolder, braver person that I know I am, deep down inside.

Not long after I met Sam – before we’d become the friends we are now – she invited me to a screening of a short film she co-produced and starred in, called Life Grows On*. It’s a twelve minute movie that follows the cycle of one woman’s life, illustrating how she responds to her own difficult days (and her joyful ones, too) in a way most women can relate to: by changing her hair. It’s a beautiful film, and I cried when I watched it. And I also knew that I wanted to be friends with the person who made it.

For me, these last few years have been a journey toward self-acceptance, of learning to give myself permission to be who I am. I’m not there yet, but I’m a lot further down that road than I used to be. And that is thanks in large part to friends like Sam:  friends who are teaching me that it is in our broken places where often, we are the strongest.

Surround yourself with your tribe. Do what feels good. Don’t apologize.

Until next time, friends.

*P.S. – You can watch Sam’s film Life Grows On by clicking here. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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The month of May.

“Time is the school in which we learn.”

-Joan Didion

Mom Wales

I don’t want to write about my mother. I don’t even really want to think about her, which, of course, I feel immediately guilty for saying out loud. It’s also not true. I do want to think about her, and write about her, I just don’t want those thoughts and words to be sad or painful anymore. I don’t want to be possessed by grief, or by the unanswered questions surrounding her death. I don’t want to pen another depressing Mother’s Day missive, tinged with longing and regret.

But as I think about all the motherless daughters (and sons) out there, facing the onslaught of greeting cards and flowers and an entire industry built around trumpeting “Mom’s special day,” I also feel that it’s important to be honest. I feel that it’s important to say that for some of us, Mother’s Day is just a day we have to endure, a day we need to get through. And there’s nothing shameful or wrong in admitting that.

My mother is everywhere lately. She’s been showing up in my dreams on the regular, uninvited, in places where she normally wouldn’t be, in places that don’t make sense.

They’re not bad dreams, not scary or unpleasant. Most of the time I don’t even remember them; they fade from view as soon as I wake up. I only know that in my subconscious mind, my mom and I have been spending a lot of time together lately.

Maybe it’s because the calendar has flipped to May, which was always her month. The month of Mother’s Day and her birthday, but also the month when spring flowers bloom, after those proverbial April rains that never seem to fall in Los Angeles. My mother was an avid gardener. She loved planting things and watching them grow.

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So maybe it is the season. Or maybe it’s just the place I’m at in my life – one of uncertainty and change – that has me craving maternal guidance. There are so many questions I want to ask her, so many things I want to say. There’s something about losing your parents that propels you into adulthood in a way that simply getting older never can. There’s something strangely disorienting about no longer needing to seek permission or approval, of having to own your life choices – both good and bad – because they are yours, alone.

The Jacarandas are blooming in Los Angeles. All over the city, trees burst with purple flowers, blossoms spilling onto the street, leaving a trail of vibrant lavender. I’ve always loved the color of Jacaranda purple, even before I knew Jacarandas were a thing. It was the color of my high school bedroom, and I remember feeling cheerful and happy inside of those walls. Even now, there’s something soothing and dreamy about those bluish violet flowers filling up the sky. Some days, a walk through my neighborhood feels like stepping onto the canvas of an Impressionist painting.

But as pretty as they are, Jacarandas are also a real nuisance. Their flowers float down from the sky in droves, blanketing the streets with purple carcasses. And as they turn brown and die, they leave a sticky, slippery, gelatinous residue on everything they touch. Park your car underneath a shedding Jacaranda tree for more than a few minutes, you begin to hate the things.

I suppose, like everything in life, it’s about perspective. If you look up, the Jacaranda trees are beautiful. Look down, not so much.

I’m trying to keep that in mind as I approach this Mother’s Day. On difficult days, looking up toward the sky doesn’t always come naturally. But when you do – if you can – it’s bound to be more beautiful.

Until next time, friends.

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Here.

As I so often do while driving in Los Angeles, I use my Waze app to navigate through city traffic, winding my way from ABC Prospect Studios in Franklin Hills back to my home near Culver City. I head west on Beverly Blvd., following the instructions from the posh British voice Waze identifies as “Natalie.” I’m sleepy, having risen before the sunrise for an early call time, and to be honest, a bit preoccupied. But as I turn left onto Van Ness, I’m suddenly struck by the expansive palm tree-lined boulevard – substantially wider than your average L.A. street – the stately homes, and most especially, the immaculate gardens, bursting with vibrant roses in full, fragrant bloom. I don’t think. I pull over and park.

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I wander around for a few minutes, taking it in, feeling slightly guilty about my aimless meandering. I need to get home; I have things to do. I need to check on actor submissions for the casting notice I posted for my play, War Stories. Tomorrow is also my last official day of work, and I still have plenty of emails to send and loose ends to tie up. This interlude to – literally – stop and smell the roses is poorly timed.

But I have a thing for roses. They remind me of my childhood, of my grandfather’s meticulously tended garden in West Seattle.  But it’s more than that.  There’s something about the flower that has always felt optimistic to me.  Maybe it’s the fact that there are so many different varietals, each uniquely designed to thrive in a particular environment.  I like the idea that regardless of weather – heat, cold, whatever – there is a type of rose best suited to that climate.  Roses are versatile, adaptable.  Roses continue to bloom.

There are only six weeks left until the opening night of War Stories at Hollywood Fringe Festival. As I write that sentence, I feel my chest tighten. There is so much to do. We’ve only just found our cast, and now the race is on to rehearse, stage, market, tech, and handle all of the logistics. We have six weeks to go from here to brilliant.

And yet, this will also be the first time I’ve tackled the tremendous job of producing theater without, at the same time, holding down a full time job. So while there is a lot to do, I will have more time than I’ve ever had in which to do it. But I think the part that’s really bothering me is this: between all the rehearsals and production meetings and networking events, I don’t have any windows of time to hop on a plane and get out of town. I can’t leave. And while there will be lots of work to do in the coming weeks, there will also be lots of downtime. Empty spaces in my days to think and sit with myself and sort out the enormous “what do I want to do with my life?” question. Which is exactly the point, exactly why I wanted this free time in the first place. Isn’t it?

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I am keenly aware of that fact that the space I occupy is rarified. I live in a sprawling city full of possibility that I suddenly, sans day job, have plenty of time to explore. I know interesting, creative, soulful people. I have a backlog of rain-checked coffee and lunch and happy hour dates that I can finally make good on. There are conversations to be had, brains to be picked, dreams to be shared. It’s exciting, I know this. But I also know that in order to embrace this current moment in my life, I have to stop tying myself up in knots over all of my stupid fears and insecurities. I have to get out of my own way.

The day after my drive down Van Ness, I sit on my patio, sipping a glass of wine and scribbling notes for this blog. It’s Friday evening, and I’m toasting the end of one (eleven year long) chapter and the beginning of the next one. As I write in my journal, laying my anxieties out onto the page, the sun slips low behind my favorite palm tree. It’s remarkably quiet for a Friday evening on a busy street in the heart of Los Angeles. And then it happens: a red mustang convertible turns onto my street, top down, speakers blaring. Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” echoes out into the night, and I start to laugh in spite of myself. The song is an unlikely, anachronistic choice for 2016 and yet, it’s perfectly timed. Because you see, in addition to roses, I also have a thing for Sinatra. And so, I decide to take it as a sign. A sign not to worry so much about what the future holds. A sign that the future will take care of itself. A sign that tempted as I am to keep running, that right here, right now, is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Until next time, friends.

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Wanderlust.

“Why don’t more people live on Maui?”

My brother-in-law poses this question to my sister and I as we sit, sipping Mai Tais, on the patio of an oceanfront bar in Kihei. Our faces pointed toward the Pacific, we admire the soft sandy beach, the sunlight glinting on topaz water, the crisscrossing cluster of palm trees extending into a clear blue sky that’s increasingly tinged with fuchsia and tangerine as the late afternoon presses on toward sunset. In the distance, someone spots a Humpback whale and restaurant patrons crane their necks to catch a glimpse of a tail fin or a water spout.

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“I mean, think about it,” he continues. “Look at all these tourists. Why don’t more of them say to themselves: This is beautiful. This is paradise. I should find a way to live here.”

We throw around some ideas. Hawaii is too expensive. Not enough jobs. Island fever. Paradise, while great for a vacation, is a little too perfect for everyday life.

Do we actually believe that, the “paradise is too perfect,” part? Do we think we should only be granted brief, idyllic respites from our otherwise stressful and crazy-making lives?  Do we secretly harbor the belief that it’s simply too self-indulgent to seek out a life of bliss? Or is the root of this belief a bit more complex? Could it be that we fear that if we actually do it – take the leap, uproot our lives, and relocate to a tropical paradise – we’ll realize that problems happen to people in “paradise” just as often as they happen to people everywhere else? After all, paradise is where we come to escape reality, not to live it, and if we make paradise home, where will we escape to then?

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Escapism has been my thing for a while now. I’ve always loved to travel, but never more so than these last few difficult years, when hopping on a plane to somewhere – anywhere – consistently holds more appeal than the here and now. While I think it’s too reductive to classify a searching wanderer like myself as someone who’s simply “running away,” there is some truth in it. I look toward each new voyage with hopeful eyes, wondering if this trip will be the trip: the magic cure-all that changes everything. Of course, it never quite works out that way.

My sojourn on Maui was no different. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for both the time I spent there, and for the suitcase full of memories I returned with. The island was stunning, the weather warm, the vegetation lush, the food scrumptious, the ocean soothing, the time spent with family happy. But in the spirit of the old “wherever you go, there you are,” cliché, real life intervened. I had work on my mind, with the deadline to finish the second draft of my play War Stories looming large. The family dynamic – never free from complication – was especially complicated on this trip. And whether it was jet lag or anxiety or some mixture of both, I couldn’t sleep, spending several nights awake for hours on end, leaving me tired and short-tempered the next day. Wherever you go, there you are.

I’m about to embark upon an interesting experiment, one I’m not sure if I’m ready for. My contract job is all but over, and then the future is mine, to make of it what I will. A prospect that is both exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve been craving this type of free, unstructured time for so long, craving it the way I crave my next vacation, but I can’t help but worry that, like my recent trip to Maui – like every trip, really – it can’t possibly live up to the hype.

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The immediate future will be busy. In June, I’m producing War Stories at Hollywood Fringe Festival, and the spring will be filled with rewrites, rehearsals, production meetings, marketing, mixers, and (hopefully) an abundance of creativity and fun.

But beyond that? I don’t really know. I have lots of ideas but nothing – and I mean nothing – is set in stone. For a meticulous planner, this is uncharted territory: a future where everything is uncertain, everything transitional, everything in the wind.

Which also leaves me at a loss as to how I should end this blog post. Normally, I’d try to wrap it up with something that provides a sense of closure, something that circles back to how I began the piece, something that ties it all together in a neat, tidy bow. But I can’t do that this time, because life isn’t like that. Not right now. It’s not conducive to neat, tidy endings. It’s fluid and changeable and open-ended.

But I suppose that’s the beauty of it. I suppose that – right now – is the point.

Until next time, friends.

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