It’s funny the little habits that you get used to.  The everyday comforts that make up your daily routine; things you don’t really notice until they’re gone.  The gym is one of those comforts for me.  I’m a person who never stops going – I’m always working, juggling projects, tackling a to-do list that continually rolls over – and exercise is a crucial tool I use to not only stay healthy and feel good about myself, but also to manage stress and to release the tensions that build up in the course of my busy life.

The other day I found myself working out in an unfamiliar gym.  It was weird.  All of the equipment was different and suddenly I didn’t know which settings to put the machines on or how much weight to lift.  I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what I was doing, all the while trying to look like I knew what I was doing so that some testosterone-fueled meathead didn’t offer to help me.  Ugh.

Wandering around this unfamiliar place, a song I always skip on my iPod (because it’s too damn sad) came on, and suddenly it was a year ago and I was back in Olympia.  After our Dad died, my sister Deirdre and I spent a week camped out in the house he shared with my Mom.  We sorted through old books and music and photos.  We did everything from ordering flowers to placing obituaries in newspapers to picking out gravestones to meeting the lawyer, to booking travel to Medford, Oregon for the memorial, to figuring out how we were going to transport Dad’s ashes to said memorial (that is a story in and of itself), and about a million other little things.  I spent a couple days essentially living in my Mom’s closet, going through piles of clothes and jewelry and beauty products, and her epic collection of Stephanie Johnson bags that I’d given her over the last eight years.

We worked hard and it was sad but it also felt good to work, to do stuff.  We’d collapse each night and wake up with the sun each morning, the to-do list never ending.  We’d talk over coffee first thing in the morning and review the day and write absolutely everything down because our brains were so frazzled with overwhelm from impossibly hard jobs and the utter emotional exhaustion of sorting through a house filled with a lifetime of memories.

After several days of this, I hit a breaking point.  The never-ending freezing February Olympia rain made the thought of running outside unappealing, but I knew I had to exercise or I was going to lose my mind.  So I told Deirdre I was taking a break from the vortex (our term for this weird, disorienting time in our lives and the Olympia house in particular; time disappeared inside the vortex) and getting a guest pass to the local 24 Hour Fitness.

And there I was.  In a gym full of unfamiliar equipment, unfamiliar faces.  My Dad had a membership there and saw a trainer 2-3 times a week until very close to the end of his life.  Dad’s trainer’s name was Dave, an exceptionally wonderful soul who, when he found out that none of Dad’s kids were able to get to Olympia for Thanksgiving, delivered a turkey to his home so that he wouldn’t miss out on his Thanksgiving meal.

I wandered around the gym, wondering what type of exercise Dad could possibly do when he was so sick, wondered at Dave’s patience, wondered if I should ask for him so that I could meet this man who’d been so kind to my father, but also knew if I met him I’d break down instantly and I couldn’t do that because I was barely, barely holding it together.

I wandered around the gym like a zombie, tried and failed at a few machines.  I finally settled on a treadmill because that I knew how to do.  And I ran and ran and ran.  And that song that I always skip came on my iPod, with lyrics about trying your best and not succeeding, about losing something you can’t replace, about learning from mistakes (fuck you, Coldplay) and this time I decided to let it play.  I can only imagine what I must have looked like.  Between the endorphin release of the run, and that stupid song and fighting so hard against the vortex that was sucking me in. Scanning the gym in this unfamiliar place, looking for my missing father (did I somehow think he’d still be there, that I’d find him?), in a town that used to be my home but was so far away from home now.

I don’t know how long I ran.  I was exhausted, I was weeping, I was drenched in sweat, but I couldn’t stop.  I knew that back in the vortex more sad jobs were waiting and I didn’t want any part of them.

There’s a lyric from a new Ingrid Michaelson song that as of late has been running through my head:  I’m a little bit home, but I’m not there yet.  That’s how I felt in the vortex.  That’s how I felt in that 24 Hour Fitness in Olympia.  And that’s how I felt in the unfamiliar gym the other day.  I’m a little bit home, but I’m not there yet.

So I guess I’ll keep running.

Until next time, friends.


Oh February, what a month you’re turning out to be.  I’ve experienced overwhelming joy and crushing loss, sometimes in the same day.  I’ve grieved for my family.  I’ve grieved for my childhood.  I’ve grieved for things I’ve lost which can’t be found again.  I’ve grieved for things I’ve lost that were never really mine.

But I’ve also been touched by kindness and compassion, both by virtual strangers and lifelong friends.  I’ve started learning to ask for help – so hard for me to do – and I’ve felt my heart open up.  I’ve felt how much my close friends love me and how willing they are to step into the void left by my family.  I’ve realized that my friends are my family.  I’ve been caught by the striking beauty of a single moment, and have in turn been bowled over by the heartbreaking wonder that is this precious and too-ephemeral life.

When I was at my lowest, I received an unexpected gift:  my first ever network television audition, for Grey’s Anatomy.  The best part of going in to read those three lines today was being able to walk into the room and not need anything from anyone except to simply be who I am, to sit inside myself, free, and say the words on the page aloud.

Thank you, universe.  I am blessed.  I am grateful.  I am listening.

Until next time, friends.



For most of my life, I had a complicated and difficult relationship with my father.  He was a charming and brilliant man, a career-obsessed and highly successful trial lawyer, and a lifelong alcoholic.

My Mom often told me that when she met my Dad, he swept her off her feet.  She was a young, pretty court reporter living in Seattle and Dad, twenty-two years her senior with a legal practice in Anchorage, Alaska, was confident, handsome, and driven.  She’d never met anyone like him before, and he made her feel like she could do anything.  So, undaunted by their age difference and the fact that he had four children in their teens to early twenties from his previous marriage, she married him and moved to Alaska.  A year later, I was born, their only child.

Anchorage was a magical, wonderful place to grow up.  I remember Mom waking me up in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights streaking the sky a brilliant emerald green, feeding apples to an enormous moose out of our car window on more than one occasion, ice skating, sledding, and snowball fights in the winter, and long summer nights when it never seemed to get dark and I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime.

Mom and Dad Hawaii copy

But for my Mom, Anchorage was a dark and depressing place.  My Dad was often away on business, and when he was home, cocktail hour would stretch on for hours, often ending in screaming matches between the two of them.  I wasn’t old enough to understand everything that was going on, but I knew that my Dad was often drunk and that my Mom was sad, and I blamed him for it.

When Dad reluctantly closed his law practice due to his declining health, we moved to Olympia, Washington to be closer to my Mom’s parents.  But retirement wasn’t good for Dad.  The law was the only thing he ever really loved, that and sports  – something we share – and depressed and hobbled by increasingly severe hearing loss (the unfortunate side effect of medication he’d taken to save his life during a childhood illness), he retreated into himself and he drank more than ever.

I got through high school by keeping as busy as I could.  My grades were perfect, I sang in the choir, wrote for the school paper, and stayed out of the house as much as I could.  I almost never invited friends over because I never knew what shape Dad was going to be in.

Marion, Deirdre, Dad copy

When I was accepted to USC, I jumped at the chance to get away.  I’d had enough of the drinking, the depression, my Mom’s tears and the fucking Olympia rain.  The bright lights and the big city were calling.  I moved to Los Angeles, found jobs in the summers so I could stay, and I never looked back.

It’s funny how as you get older, life has a way of knocking you around, shifting your perspective, and making you less rigid and less sure of what you thought you knew.  I had my own hardships – I suffered greatly in my first few years as a young actress trying to make it in L.A.  I was broke, I was depressed, I couldn’t get a break, and with all of my college friends starting ‘real’ careers, I felt so, so alone.

My Mom worried about me and encouraged me to pursue a more stable career.  My Dad never did.  Ever the trial lawyer, he’d engage in a series of probing and uncomfortable questions about my life – something my siblings and I refer to as being ‘put on the witness stand.’  I’d explain to him how hard it was to break into the business, and his response would always be, ‘Well then you’ll just have to work harder.’

Dad and Flower Girl

That was the thing about Dad.  He was a gambler, a risk-taker, and he loved a challenge.  The guy who often said, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ (but really, he was both), who put himself through law school by playing poker, who offered up thousands of dollars of his own money taking cases to defend clients who’d been victimized by insurance companies and large corporations, David versus Goliath type cases that no one thought he could win (and win, he did, in sometimes spectacular fashion), this was a man who didn’t believe in quitting.  He was tenacious, he was a fighter, and when he told me that I’d ‘just have to work harder,’ I’ll be damned if he wasn’t always right.

Even before he was diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that eventually killed him, I knew something was wrong with my Dad.  He lost weight, his skin was sallow.  He was still as mischievous as ever, but he’d lost a little bit of his edge.  The twinkle in his eye faded.

Dad and Max copy

He was nearing 80 years old and becoming frail, and I suddenly realized my Dad wouldn’t be around forever.  I softened my stance.  I came to grips with the fact that it was unfair to blame him for choosing alcohol over his family.  It wasn’t a choice, it was a disease and holding on to my anger about it was only hurting me.  The truth was, he’d never been mean.  Though at times he was maddening, he was kind, generous, and I never doubted that he loved me.  I chose to forgive him, and it made me free.

In her beautiful book The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith writes about the death of both of her parents, her mother during her teenage years, and her father several years later when she was in her mid-20’s.  Like me, she had a much older father and grew up closer to her Mom.  But in her book, she makes a striking admission and it’s this:  that if she had to lose both of her parents, she was glad that her Mom went first, because otherwise she would never really have gotten to know her father.

It’s difficult for me to admit this, but I feel the same way.  Though my parents’ deaths were only four and a half months apart, and though my Dad was very sick – and often stubborn, maddening, impossible – I cherish those last months I had with him.  We talked on the phone nearly every day.  He told me was lonely, but that he was grateful for his children, that he loved us so very much and that we were getting him through.  We talked about football.  We talked about how much we missed my Mom.

When I visited him in Olympia, he was kind and sweet to me, and so appreciative of little things like when I’d hold his arm to steady him when he was having trouble walking.  During the last Christmas we spent together, cheering the Seahawks on to victory against the hated San Francisco 49ers, Dad turned to me and said, ‘I think we’re good friends now, Sar.’  ‘We are, Dad,’ I agreed.  He grinned.

Dad last christmas

At a reception in his honor following his funeral, one of his lifelong friends read Dad’s favorite poem, If, by Rudyard Kipling.  It’s about living life boldly without fear of what others think of you, and without fear of loss.  It’s how my Dad lived his life.

As much as I adored my mother, I can’t help but feel grateful for all of the gifts I inherited from my father.  A lot of the things I really like about myself are pure Dad.  I’m tenacious, I’m tough, I believe in fighting for the underdog, and –most importantly, and something I’ve leaned on in the last year and a half of my life – I possess the ability to remain cool headed in a crisis, and to laugh in the face of things that make others weep.  It all stems from my Dad’s view of the world:  that life is an adventure not to be taken too seriously, that obstacles are just exciting challenges to be met head on, and that no matter what life throws at you, everything always has a way of working out.

One of the last times I talked to him – before he was too sick to talk – was last year after our beloved Seattle Seahawks suffered a crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.  While I was down and depressed, Dad barely seemed discouraged.  ‘Sar, listen,’ he said, his voice full of excitement.  ‘I’ve been watching these guys.  They’re really good.  They’re going to be good for a very long time.  We’ll get ours.’  A couple of weeks ago, when we finally did get ours, I couldn’t help thinking that my irrepressible father had something to do with it.

Dad Marions Wedding

In the same way that I can laugh in the face of things that make other people weep, I don’t think it’s a bummer that my Dad died on Valentine’s Day.  I think he did it on purpose.  Now my siblings and I have a forever reminder of him on a day that’s all about love.  And I think that’s kind of sweet.

So Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad, you charming, insufferable, wonderful, impossible, lovable Irish rascal.  I miss you.  I love you.  And I’m so grateful that I’m your daughter.

P.S. – I’ve pasted Dad’s favorite poem below, if you’d like to read it.  It’s pretty great.

Until next time, friends.

Dad with Baby



(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


I needed to have my heart broken in order to feel alive.  I needed to have my heart broken in order to understand my capacity for love.  I needed to be devastated, destroyed, pushed beyond the brink of what I thought I was capable of, beyond all reason, beyond all hope, to know with certainty that hope was the only thing worth holding on to.

I needed to lose everything – my pride, my love, my mind, every inch of earth upon which I stood to understand that I would do anything – claw and fight and scrape – to rebuild what I had lost into something different, something stronger, something better.

I didn’t want any of this.  Any of it.  I tried desperately to hold on even while the center was caving in all around me.  Even while I could feel the universe laughing in my face at how futile it was to try to hold on, like clinging to bits of string while the great downy quilt was breaking apart into piles of feathers, blowing in the wind into nothing.

There’s a hole inside me now.  It used to be filled up with all the things I thought I knew.  Now it’s just a great cavernous hole.  Nothing will fill it.  I write and I play scenes and I work and I dream while I’m awake and it all helps, but nothing, nothing fills it.  It’s an ever-present ache.  It drives me, it fuels me with fire, it burns my insides.  It hurts, but in a strange way I need it.  It reminds me that I can’t stop, that I can’t go back.  It reminds me of who I am.

If you could see me now, what would you think of me?  Would I scare you?  Would you be proud of me?  Sometimes in my dreams we’re laughing.  We’re warm and safe.  And sometimes you’re in pain and you’re afraid.  I reach out for you but you dissolve and disappear into nothing.  Sometimes I wake up screaming.

I didn’t want any of this.  I often wish that it hadn’t happened.  That I didn’t know what I know.  That life hadn’t slapped me across the face with these incredible, unthinkable truths.

I didn’t want this.  But the sweet irony is that I needed it.  I needed it to forge me and to shape me and to understand just what the hell it is I’m made of.  I am dark and sharp-edged and tough, yet at the same time as fragile as a porcelain doll, one fall away from splintering into shards of glass.  I don’t welcome the break.  But I know now it’s inevitable.  And when it happens I will build myself back up.  Each time a little stronger, but each time a little less.

God, I miss you.  I miss you so much that I can’t think about it too much or breathing becomes impossible. I would give anything to wrap my arms around you and tell you that.  But I can’t.  So I wrap my arms around myself instead and I tell myself that I’m enough.  That I will make it through this.  That the hard fought truths that now reside in the base of my being are truths that you already knew.  That you always knew.  Truths that you wanted to teach me but that I had to learn for myself through fire, through pain, through this incredible longing and ache that will never, ever go away.

I needed to be broken in order to understand the depths of my heart.  I needed to lose everything in order to know how much more I still stand to gain.  I needed to have my faith shaken to the core in order to understand how powerful it is to say, “I believe.”  I needed to have my heart shattered in order to feel alive.  I needed it.  But that doesn’t mean that I like it.

Why not us?

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m madly in love with the Seattle Seahawks, and in particular, their superstar quarterback Russell Wilson.  Russell is a gifted athlete, an intelligent student of the game, and no one works harder or spends more time preparing than him.  He’s also a really nice guy.  But what impresses me the most about him is the ice water in his veins.  The guy is cool as a cucumber.  No matter what’s going wrong, no matter how many points his team is behind, he doesn’t get rattled.  He takes it one play at a time, he never gets down or discouraged, and he always believes he can win.

Russell practices visualization.  He imagines every possible play, every possible outcome in a game, and then he envisions how he will react to it.  In his mind, he imagines himself succeeding no matter what the scenario, no matter what the defense gives him.  Over the course of the season, as the Hawks marched toward clinching the NFC West and a playoff berth, there were plenty of doubters, haters and disbelievers out there who said that they could never win a championship.  After all, they never had.  But as someone who was told that he was ‘too short’ to play quarterback, Russell was used to having the odds stacked against him.  And in the face of all the doubters and the disbelievers, he rallied his team with a simple mantra:  “Why Not Us?”

Why not indeed?  I happen to believe that perception is reality.  I believe that the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re capable of have a way of coming true.  Like Mr. Wilson, I believe in the power of our minds to affect the outcome of our lives.

I used to believe that tragedy was something that couldn’t touch me, that it was something unfortunate and horrible that happened to other people.  Then life taught me differently.  In less than nine months I witnessed my dear sweet mother lose her mind, spiral into self-destruction and die.  I witnessed my Dad’s rapid descent into the final throws of terminal cancer.  I witnessed my Grandmother’s diagnosis of advanced Alzheimer’s, where one minute she was there, the next she was gone.  And the sudden and far too young death of a close college friend.  In the span of about 9 months, someone I loved dearly was either sick, dead or dying.

I’ve had several months to process and heal from this incredible series of really bad things.  And while I’m better, I’m definitely not OK yet.  I’m still grieving, still processing, and still struggling.  But I’m struggling on the other side of it now.  The big bad wolf blew down my house, and I discovered that it was made of straw.  Now I’m forced to rebuild, except this time, I’m building with bricks.

In the same way that I used to believe that nothing truly bad could happen to me, I also believed that nothing amazing could happen to me either.  Deep down in the bottom of my heart, I never truly believed that I deserved to be full of joy, to design the life I wanted, to live boldly and without fear.  Instead I played by the rules, I did the ‘right’ thing, and I didn’t challenge myself to dream bigger.  I was content and complacent but not really happy.  Not fully alive.

It’s funny how having your heart shredded can shake you up and change your perspective.  Some of the worst things I ever could have imagined in my life have happened to me and I’m still here.  I’m not perfect, I’m struggling through it, but I’m here.  And being compressed by grief has, ironically, made me more open.  More open to try, more open to fail, more willing to risk it all.  Because when you’ve already lost so much, what’s the point of being afraid of losing?

So this is me, taking a page out of my favorite quarterback’s book.  If ‘Why Not Us,’ can bring the first Lombardi Trophy to Seattle in the history of the franchise, it’s a philosophy worth adopting.  I’m flipping the script on what I used to believe, and now I choose to believe that great things are not only in store for me, but that I deserve them.  Why not me?  Why not you?  Why not us?

Why not.

Until next time, friends.


Today marked my fourth time in an airport in eight days. That sounds like a lot, though one of those was an ill-fated trip to LAX resulting in my flight to New Orleans being cancelled because of an ice storm.

I’ve always loved spending time in airports.  They’re like portals to other worlds.  People coming and going.  Rushing through them to make a connection, stalled in them due to weather delays.  When I myself am not rushing to make a flight, I like to find a spot to sit and people watch, to daydream about complete strangers and make up stories about them.  There’s the distinguished, well-dressed man on a business trip, the college student headed off for adventures abroad, the lovers saying their last goodbyes.  Strangers I’ll never see again, save for a brief glance, a few pleasantries exchanged in an airport bar or a coffee shop, a laugh over something awkward in the security line.  And then gone forever.  Just a moment in time.

And then there’s me.  In the last 16 months I’ve logged more than my fair share of frequent flier miles.  Given my propensity to daydream whole lives about people I’ve never met, I’ve wondered if there’s someone out there who’s done the same thing about me.  The sad, pretty girl dressed in black, polite but not conversational, hiding out in a quiet corner of the bar nursing a glass of red wine.  The girl who looks like she’s trying not to cry.  You see, I’ve embarked on many sad voyages over the last year plus, and the artist in me hopes to God that something beautiful has come out of my grief.  That some daydreaming stranger – like this daydreaming stranger – saw me and wrote it down, in a poem, in a song, in a story.

I have been actively trying not to be sad.  Really, I have.  I just haven’t been able to help it.  The twisted irony is that someone who loves travel and airports as much as I do has had more opportunities to travel than ever before, but in a case of be careful what you wish for, these trips have often been necessitated by tragedy.  I’ve traveled to spend time with dying relatives.  I’ve bid farewell to both of my parents, and to my last remaining grandmother.  I’ve attended three memorials, and made many more trips to do impossibly hard jobs, to lend moral support to loved ones, and to in turn seek out my own support.

Most of these trips have been back to the Pacific Northwest:  my home, my heart, a region of the country that I love more than anywhere in the world.  But even happy trips – summer in Vancouver to celebrate my sweet Niece’s high school graduation, Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle and my beloved Grandfather in a small waterfront nook in Western Washington, have been tinged by heartache.  I do not want to be the sad girl who cries in airports, but more often than not, I have been.

Which brings me to today:  February 1, 2014.  I made a New Year’s resolution (really, more like a vow to myself) that I would travel to three places I’d never been, and an additional resolution that none of these trips would involve tears.  So far, so good.  An amazing trip to New Orleans – despite two cancelled flights due to insane weather – to celebrate my sister Marion’s birthday is already in the books.  And more fun ideas (like taking my first trip to Montreal to visit my niece, who’s in school there) are in the works.

I have no idea what lies ahead.  But I do know that in spite of my many sad voyages, the wanderlust in my heart has never died, and the desire to spend time daydreaming in airports  and making up stories about the travelers in those transitory portals hasn’t gone away.  I would like more stamps in my passport.  I would like more adventure in my life.  And I would like a hell of a lot less crying in airports.  That is, of course, unless they’re tears of joy.

Until next time, friends.

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