Grateful.

Friends, I’d like you to meet Rick Lewis and his wife, Karrin.

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Rick dated my Mom in high school and on July 20, 1969, they watched Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon, through a black and white satellite feed broadcast from space, on a tiny TV set at my Grandparents’ beach cabin in Allyn, WA; the same waterfront paradise where I’ve been staying for the past week.

After my mother died, Rick found me (ahem, Facebook stalked me) and became my pen pal, but we only met in person for the first time yesterday. He hadn’t been out to the beach since that moon landing, nearly fifty years ago. But yesterday afternoon, on a perfect August day, he and his wife came by and piloted their boat toward shore and I jumped in, and we spent the afternoon telling stories and laughing and drinking wine and eating tapas and cruising around Case Inlet, the same body of water that my mother loved her whole life, the same body of water where two summers ago, my Aunt and Uncle and I climbed into a little tin boat and went out to sea to scatter her ashes.

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These last few weeks have been a wildly euphoric magic carpet ride, capped by such an incredibly special week at the beach with my family. I almost can’t believe how wonderful it all has been, so much so that I haven’t even really been able to sleep, probably because part of me is afraid this is all some sort of crazy dream.

As I write this, I’m crying, because being this happy has made me realize that I think I’d given up on the idea that I ever would be again. I thought the old Sarah, the sunshine-eyed girl that my Dad used to teasingly call Polyanna, was gone forever. Not because I’m a negative person – quite the opposite – but because for so long everything good seemed to be followed up by something horrifying and tragic and I had spent years crushed underneath the weight of so much sorrow and grief and pain that I simply couldn’t see my way out of it.

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I don’t know if it’s God or angels or magic or karma or what, but whatever force is at work in me now, I am just so grateful, grateful, grateful. I didn’t know my heart had the capacity to hold so much joy, but at 35 years old, it feels like I’m finally waking up to the beauty of what it means to be alive.

If you’re going through something, please hold on. Do it for me. Just over a year ago, I was crying so much I developed a paranoid fear of dying from dehydration (doesn’t that sound stupid and hilarious now?), and I was so achingly sad that out of desperation, I started writing myself “Get Well Soon” cards, putting them in the mail, and sending them to myself. I have been to the brink, and I have known real darkness, and somehow, some way, I came out the other side. And life is better and more beautiful than anything I could have ever dreamed. If I can get here from there, then trust me, so can you. Nothing is permanent in this life, my friends, not even our troubles. Believe that. I am living proof.

Until next time,

xx

Sarah

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Lucky.

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.”

― Pema Chödrön

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The other day, I realized I was happy. When the feeling visited me, I wasn’t doing anything particularly remarkable. I was sitting on my patio, reading a novel, drinking tea, the summer sun sinking low on the horizon, and I looked up and saw a monarch butterfly alight on the hedge near my outstretched foot. And as I watched her pause there, briefly, I realized something that was remarkable:  in that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. And I thought to myself:  I am lucky.

I have spent years chasing that elusive thing that people call “happiness.” Running off to Europe or running into therapy. Retreating to island hideaways in the South Pacific or in the Pacific Northwest. Trying every diet, every exercise regimen, every “feel good” prescription from self-help books to spiritual counseling to many, many failed attempts at mindfulness and meditation.

At times, I found that thing that I was seeking. I found it in the breach of a Humpback whale in the sapphire waters off Maui; or at the top of Malá Strana, gazing down with wonder on the red tiled rooftops of Prague; or in the cards of an eighty-six-year-old Tarot reader named Miss Irene in the back of a Voodoo shop in New Orleans.

But whenever those moments came, I always had the sense that – beautiful as they were – they weren’t meant to last. I had worked so hard to chase them down that it was almost as though I brought them into existence by the sheer force of my own will. And then, as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. Inevitably, the old familiar ache and its accompanying emptiness returned, followed by the persistent question, “Why, after all this time, don’t I feel any better?”

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I suppose that when I finally stopped running, I did so simply out of sheer exhaustion. I was tired of working so hard for so long with so little to show for it. And I was tired of trying to fake it to make it. As my therapist at the time told me, “Sarah, sometimes, there are situations in life that can’t be fixed or made better. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.”

Shortly thereafter – after said beloved therapist took a new job and relocated to Oregon (sob) – life handed me just that:  the opportunity to do nothing. To take a break, to slow down, and to take some real time off. And I took it. And it is in this pause that I found something I wasn’t able to find in all of the running and searching and seeking:  I found comfortable footing upon the ground of uncertainty. I found that sometimes, it’s O.K. to be lost.

As I finish this blog post, I’m sitting on the patio of my one-bedroom bungalow on Cashio Street, the sunset casting its tangerine glow on the terra cotta tiles beneath my bare feet. I love this little cottage, love the way it fell into my lap when I needed it the most, love the way its four walls have sheltered me and kept me safe, allowing me to rebuild after everything around me had been smashed and shattered. But I also know – as I have always known – that this isn’t a forever place. It’s merely a rest stop – albeit a delightful one – on the way to something better.

But for now, for this moment, everything is perfect. Everything is exactly what I need. And the knowledge that I can be so at peace with not knowing what’s coming next, that I don’t need to know, is the biggest indicator of all that something powerful within me has begun to shift. And I wonder if maybe the thing that I was searching for so intently wasn’t happiness, after all. Maybe the thing that I was searching for was faith.  Not faith in the traditional, religious sense, but instead, faith in myself. Faith that no matter the challenge or change, I’ll be able to meet it head on. Faith that, after having been through the storm, and after having come out the other side, I’m stronger than I was before. Faith that no matter what happens, I’ll be O.K.

Until next time, friends.

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The Other Side.

“Have you ever had a reading before?”

“No.”

“Never before?”

“No.”

“That’s exciting.”

“Yeah.”

I try to keep my tone upbeat, but I can hear the nervous tension in my voice as I say those words out loud. Fleur must hear it too, because she offers me a warm, reassuring smile.

“It’s not scary,” she promises. “Let me tell you a little bit about how it works.”

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It’s Monday afternoon, and I’m seated across from her in a large, sun-filled living room. Even though the armchair she has offered me is plush and comfortable, I’m perched on its edge, the uncertainty about what’s to come rendering me unable to sit back or relax. Fleur is young (if I had to guess, I’d place her in her late twenties), and very pretty, with wide blue eyes and a delicate floral sundress to match. Her long twist of wavy golden brown hair is swept off her face and into a side ponytail. Her home is comfortable and decorated in minimalist California chic: no crystal ball, beaded curtains, or creepy talismans in sight. In other words, Fleur – and her home – are about as far away from the Hollywood stereotype of a psychic medium as you can get.

Yes, on the outside, everything looks pretty normal on this quiet Monday afternoon. What’s not normal is the reason I’ve come here: to make contact with the spirits of my dead relatives.

The day before my reading, butterflies swirling in my stomach, I texted a friend who’d seen Fleur a few months earlier. “Any advice?” I asked. What she proposed was simple, yet helpful: record the audio of the session on my iPhone so that I could refer to it later, come up with a list of questions that I wanted to ask, and – for me – the part that proved to be the most difficult: invite the people I wanted to see to show up.

It has been nearly four years since my mother’s death. My dad followed a few months after her, then my grandmother, and then, last fall, my grandfather. And in all that time – with rare, desperate exceptions – I have almost never tried to “talk” to them. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suppose it’s because doing so always made me feel awkward and silly. I never knew where to start, or what to say. But in truth, I think I have been holding back out of fear that it won’t work, that they’re not really out there, and that I’m just some foolish girl, sitting alone in a room, talking to myself.

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But the evening before my meeting with Fleur, I decided to try. I waited until it was very late at night, and then, extinguishing all the lights in my apartment, I switched on an ornate Indian lantern in the shape of a star, filling the space with a soft, turquoise glow. Using a wand of Nag Champa incense (my mom’s favorite), I lit a small, scented pillar candle, and, my eyes fixed on its persistent flame, I began to speak. At first, the words came slowly, haltingly. But as I sat in the kitchen, bathed in the lantern’s blue light, I suddenly remembered my parents’ house in Olympia at Christmastime, sitting in front of the tree with my mom, drinking wine in the dark and marveling at how twinkling lights and tinsel could make an ordinary evergreen seem like something made of magic. That feeling of calm and safety, of not needing to be anywhere else but right there, with her, was such a happy memory that I wondered how on earth I could have forgotten it. Tears formed in my eyes, emotion rose in my chest, and the words I hadn’t known how to say came tumbling out.

I don’t know where I stand on the idea of an “afterlife.” I don’t know what happens to people when they die. Fleur believes, as she told me before we began our reading, that the soul doesn’t depart when the physical body does, and that her job as a medium is to simply allow the spirits of those who have “crossed over” to “step forward and make a connection.”

Did that happen during our reading? I can’t say with absolute certainty. The skeptic in me will tell you that there’s plenty of personal information about me and my family readily available on the internet thanks to this blog, and that much of what Fleur conveyed to me during my time with her was rooted in common sense, the type of things that anyone who was grieving would want to hear. But the part of me that’s open to possibility and feels humbled by the mystery of all that we can’t explain can admit to you that there were details that came up during our session that arrested me. Private, painful details about my childhood and the months leading up to my mother’s death that I’ve never written down and that very few people – if any – know about. And I can also tell you that there were many, many moments during our fifty minute session that I sat watching Fleur, her closed eyelids fluttering as she described what she was feeling and seeing, that felt incredibly real to me. Moments like when she described my grandfather and the infectious sense of delight he brought to the world, causing us both to laugh out loud. “He’s really funny!” she beamed. “He is,” I agreed.

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In the end, the thing that I had most been seeking from the session – a sense of peace and healing around my mother’s passing – was exactly what I received. As I sat in Fleur’s living room, she described a “feedback loop” of guilt and shame that I’d been stuck in, blaming myself for her death and reliving the events leading up to it over and over again in my mind, wondering what I could have done differently. “Your Mom wants you to stop doing that,” Fleur told me. “It is very important to her that you know that you could not have altered or changed what happened in any way. It was the path that she chose, and it’s not on you. You were the light of her life.”

When the session was over, not ready to go home and yet not ready to talk to anyone either, I drove to one of my favorite neighborhoods in L.A., Larchmont Village, and wandered the boulevard, losing myself among the hum of humanity in its sidewalk cafes and storefronts. Had my mother really communicated with Fleur, urging me to let my pain and regret go? And in the end, did it really matter? Whether Fleur could really speak with the dead or whether she was simply a kind, highly intuitive person who knew the words I most needed to hear, my heart told me what was true. In spite of her flaws and failings, my mother loved me more than anything and I know she wouldn’t want me to blame myself for her death. She’d want me to remember the parts of her that were about love, and let the rest go. She’d want me to allow myself to move on, and be happy.

It all sounds so simple as I type those words on the page: forgive myself and move on. I know the reality is much more difficult, much more complicated, just like my relationship with my mother was, just like love itself is. And yet – after Monday – I felt lighter somehow. The mere possibility that I might be able to let go of the weight I’ve been carrying these last few years filled me with a kind of hope I haven’t felt in a very long time. It’s the kind of hope that Dorothy must have felt when Glinda informed her, “You’ve always had the power my dear: you just had to learn it for yourself.” And armed with that hard-won knowledge, Dorothy bid farewell to the dear friends who had helped her on her dark and treacherous journey to the Emerald City, she tapped her ruby slippers together three times, and she went home.

Until next time, friends.

Me and Mom

P.S. * – If you’d like more information about Fleur, or are interested in booking a reading with her, visit: www.mediumfleur.com

I also recommend picking up Claire Bidwell Smith’s beautiful book After This, which contains a chapter about Fleur and is the reason that I discovered her.

*Please note: I received no monetary compensation for this post or for the information contained herein. I simply wanted to share my experience in case, like me, you are seeking peace and healing around the death of a loved one, and are open to exploring the mysteries of all the things we cannot know.

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.

Party House

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.

Dream Teepee

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.

She flies

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

War Stories 11 x 17

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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