The dictionary defines the word faith as “belief that is not based on proof,” and “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” Faith is unscientific. More often than not, it is identified with religion and a belief in God.

My whole life, I’ve been sort of ambivalent about religion. Both of my parents were Catholics, though my Dad was much more devout than my Mom. Mom bore the unfortunate scars of Catholic school-inflicted trauma. She’d frequently recount tales of nuns that were so terrifying – routinely smacking their students with rulers, preaching of fire and brimstone – that she’d pretend to be sick so she wouldn’t have to go to school. Mom lived in fear of those nuns, and though she eventually returned to the church, that fear created a tension between her and Catholicism that stayed with her throughout her life.

So, between a mother that was skittish about religion, and a father who, while a believer, preferred watching sports on Sundays to going to mass, church attendance throughout my youth was sporadic at best, and mostly reserved for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Though I always felt pretty comfortable in the church, as I got older, my liberal politics – particularly my support for gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose – created a disconnect between my beliefs and the Vatican that I couldn’t reconcile. So I mostly stayed away.

As a liberal, I have a lot of friends who are atheists: a belief that I respect. I think it’s actually quite brave to believe that this life is all there is, and when it’s over, that’s it. But to be completely honest, that idea terrifies me. I find comfort in the idea that our souls carry on beyond the lives of our bodies, and that our spirits are so much more than our physical being. If you’ve ever been with someone you loved when the life passed out of them and seen that they simply weren’t there anymore, you know what I’m talking about.

September 29, 2012 was the date of my Mom’s memorial service. It was an informal waterfront gathering in Allyn, WA, on a parcel of land that’s been in my Mom’s family since the late 1950s. It’s a sort of family compound (my Grandfather, Aunt and Uncle all still live there) that we simply call ‘the beach.’ Despite spending the first fifteen years of my life with a permanent residence in Anchorage, Alaska, I essentially grew up at the beach, as did my Mom, and my Uncle Glenn. It was my Mom’s favorite place in the whole world and the only fitting place to hold her service.

That evening, sitting on the deck of my Grandparents’ house starting out at Case Inlet, I was struck by how beautiful everything was. It was an uncharacteristically warm, clear day for late September in the Pacific Northwest. The sound was flat as glass and reflected the heavens like a mirror. An enormous full moon gleamed bright white, hovering over a big-as-life Mt. Rainier. All was so calm and quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. And as I sat and stared out at the sound, for the first time in the weeklong chaos following my Mom’s death, I felt a sense of peace. I knew that she was here, that she was with me.

The skeptic in me immediately chimes in that I wanted to feel her with me, and that, of course, is true. But I simply can’t explain the power of that moment. It was as though the sea and the sky wrapped me up and held me in a warm blanket, and through the tremendous beauty of my surroundings and the almost trance-like calm that came over me, I could feel my Mom whispering to me, “I’m here. I’m O.K., Sar. I’m home.”

But the most powerful exchange I’ve had with my Mother since she passed on happened last Christmas, and it’s something I’ve told almost no one, and certainly not in as great of detail as I’m about to recount here, because it’s so incredibly personal. I was at the beach, and – as usual – staying in a mobile home on a piece of property adjacent to my Grandparents’ beach cabin. The mobile home and the piece of land used to belong to my parents but was willed to me after their deaths. And while I’m grateful for the inheritance, truth be told, I hate that trailer. My Mom inhabited that thing during the darkest period of her life, and the energy it contains is heavy and oppressive and oh so sad. Some joyful day I will raze it to the ground and build a new home in its place. But, I digress.

The trailer is also – until the perfect summer day meets my Uncle and I finding courage enough to scatter them – the temporary home for my Mother’s ashes. Whenever I stay there, I talk to my Mom. Sometimes, I hold the box of ashes in my arms and hug them.

But on this particular day – last Christmas Eve – I had hit a serious wall. After more than a year of being in survival mode, of moving from one crisis to the next, of working so very hard and keeping myself so very busy as a distraction from the weight of all the emotional baggage I’d been carrying, I finally, finally hit zero. I simply couldn’t pretend to be OK anymore. I’d arrived at a place of overwhelming hopelessness and despair. I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t feel strong enough and I didn’t know where or how to begin.

And so I cradled the box containing my Mom’s ashes and I wept. This emotional actress has cried a lot of tears in her life, but I have never, ever, cried like that. Uncontrollably, unceasingly, just this river of emotion. I didn’t ask, I implored. I begged. “Mom,” I sobbed, “I don’t know what to do. I am so scared. Please help me. Please tell me what to do. Please, Mom.” I have never been more humble. I have never been more afraid. And I have never wanted my Mother more.

I don’t know how the universe works. I don’t know if my Mom heard me that night, or if I was just crying to myself. But I do know that in my darkest moment, I asked for help and then help started to arrive. It wasn’t in the form I wanted. It arrived in a way that wasn’t pleasant; help arrived in the form of an unseen hand that grabbed me by the collar and shook me hard and slapped me across the face and screamed, “wake up!” It was a hand that pushed me through pain in order to make it clear that the only way out was through, that in order to live, a part of me had to die. It was gut-wrenching, but I can see now that it was what I needed.

Four months after that dark, dark Christmas Eve, my healing has been dramatic. I still have a steep mountain to climb, but I am more optimistic, more creative, and less afraid. I am making my choices out of hope now, rather than out of fear. I’m learning to trust myself again.

I don’t know exactly where I come down on the God question. But if faith is a belief in something that can’t be seen, then I have it. And time and time again, over the last two years, when I’ve stepped into something having nothing but faith, that faith has been rewarded. I’ve seen and felt too much not to believe that there’s a force out there that’s bigger than me. A force that’s compassionate, a force that wants me, you, us, to be our highest and best selves. I don’t know if that’s God or the universe or magic or what. All I know is what I’ve felt in the deepest reaches of my soul, and in the darkest moments of my heart. That’s my truth. I don’t need it to be anyone else’s, but it’s mine.  And now I’ve shared it with you.

Until next time, friends.



Noir Lemon Melon

I like to fight. I can’t help it. My Irish father used to delight in telling his kids that our surname Kelly meant ‘troublesome’ in Gaelic. He’d laugh as he said it, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Dad was a trial lawyer, and by nature, he liked to argue. At family gatherings, my older siblings would often refuse to take the bait, preferring to pursue the path of diplomacy. Not me. I gave as good as I got. Frequent sparring became a central part of Dad’s and my relationship, and he’d pick fights with me on purpose, knowing that more often than not, I’d rise to the occasion.

When Dad was sick and living alone in his home in Olympia, he became even more stubborn and set in his ways. He was maddening, impossible. Everything was a negotiation. We wanted him to be in hospice care, he wanted to die alone at home. We tried to get him a live-in caretaker; he absolutely refused to have a stranger – no matter how qualified or permissive or kind – in his house.

And so it went, the battles. As Dad’s health declined, he labeled me the ‘aggressive’ one. My sisters were much sweeter, nicer, more patient, while I still fought Dad at nearly every turn. And I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it.

One of my last visits to Olympia coincided with an epic football match up between our alma maters: Dad’s beloved Oregon Ducks against my USC Trojans. Dad not only refused to watch the game with me because I wasn’t rooting for his team, he went so far as to banish me to another room, where I watched the game, sequestered away from him where he couldn’t hear me cheer if USC scored a touchdown. While my sister Deirdre shuttled back and forth between the two rooms, Dad and I watched and rooted against each other in our separate corners. At halftime, he abruptly shuffled into the kitchen to make himself a drink, barked ‘exciting game,’ and then retreated back to his den.

It’s no wonder I take sports so seriously. It’s no wonder I’m so competitive. I learned it from my Dad. I learned how to hold my own in fiery, contentious arguments. I learned that fighting with style and eloquence and passion is more effective than fighting fair. And I learned that the person who gets the last word usually wins, and so I always, always try to get the last word. A quality that not everyone finds endearing.

There’s a reason I’m drawn to the film noir genre and co-produce a noir play festival: I love to play bitches. The acting roles I get the most excited about are damaged, edgy, tough, dark and twisted dames who like to break the rules and who will claw and scrape for what they want. I may look like the girl next door, but I’d much rather be Lady Macbeth. After all, it’s a lot more fun to step into someone else’s skin if you’re able to take bolder risks and bigger chances than you’re allowed to in real life, and you’re not bound by the societal expectation to play nice.

There’s a part of me that understands that I have to follow the rules, and there’s a part of me that wants to break stuff, just to watch it shatter. I want to light things on fire and watch them burn. I want to crash the car, to jump off the cliff, to push the limits of what I can get away with.

I like to fight. I like to win. It’s why I’m still here. It’s why I won’t give up. And it’s why, sometimes, I live up to my last name.

Until next time, friends.

The price.

For the last several months I’ve been meditating on a big idea. A vast, multi-faceted idea. An idea that can be approached from different sides and attacked from numerous angles. An idea that for me, as an artist and as a creative being, is on par with questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘What’s my higher purpose?’ and ‘Why are we all here?’

I don’t think I can tackle the question weighing on my mind in one post. It’s too big. It will probably become a recurring theme in my work (echoes of it appear in my blog, Broken), or in a series of posts. I’m not sure yet.

But, to begin. What I’ve been puzzling over is this: in order to create great art, is suffering a necessary, and in fact, inevitable, part of the process?

Our history is rife with visionary creators who harbored broken souls. Tennessee Williams, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath. More recently, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The talented and tortured musicians who are members of that infamous 27 club: Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt, Amy.

There’s no doubt that among the gifted and the sensitive, there’s a proclivity toward addiction and self-destruction. But why? Don’t mistake me; I’m not suggesting that in order to be a great artist (or even a mediocre one), alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, even suicidal tendencies, are a prerequisite. If anything, this toxic and destructive behavior produces inertia that stands in the way of the creative process. But the idea that I keep coming back to is this: as artists, we suffer more than the rest of people. We feel things more exquisitely. In order to be visionary, we must be honest to the point that it’s painful. We must be willing to expose our most private, secret parts, our deepest vulnerabilities, and the darkest parts of our hearts. We must walk into the full range of human emotions open and unguarded.   And for that, we pay a hefty price.

I have a uniquely personal experience with the idea that the act of creation produces suffering, and it’s the reason I’ve been meditating on it at such great length. Over the last year and a half, I’ve lost three of the most important people in my life in dramatic fashion. And I lost not only their physical presence, but also something much deeper and more profound. Through their deaths, I’ve been faced with hard truths about my family that I didn’t want to know. Truths that have shaken and shattered my foundation and left me questioning everything I thought I knew: my childhood, my relationships, my history, and my very identity.

But here’s the gift. When I finally, recently, landed at zero, I became more creative. My writing got better. Ideas started clicking, and synapses started firing in a way they never had before. I found myself suddenly harnessing an authority that I’d never owned before; an authority that I’m not only compelled to share with others, but an authority that I have to share in order to survive. I know this like I know the color of my eyes or the place that I was born.

All human beings suffer. It’s inevitable. We make terrible, tragic mistakes. We experience great pain. We love deeply and we lose profoundly. Most people don’t walk into these emotions willingly. They avoid them because they’re painful, and only experience them as the inevitable by-product of being alive. But as artists, we wade into the most intense human experiences willfully, and with abandon. We welcome the pain, the joy, the agony and the ecstasy. We say bring it on. We want to feel everything. But sometimes we feel too much. Enter booze, drugs, sex, crazy, destructive behavior, in order to numb the pain. And that’s when we get into trouble.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s incredibly difficult to put my heart on the line and my grief on display in such a vulnerable way without becoming a little fucked up and unhealthy about it in the process. The intense feelings I’ve been wading into and moving through have made me feel closer to Tennessee and to Sylvia and to Vincent and to Kurt. I understand them better. My gift and my curse is that the hole in my heart is only filled through sharing my very personal story with the world. And yet to sit in those feelings without letting them swallow me whole is the great challenge that I’m still trying to sort out. The powerful conundrum that we face as artists is that our very lives depend on telling our stories – honestly, openly, nakedly, no holds barred – and yet the act of doing so is so dangerous to our psyches that it threatens our survival. It is the ultimate Catch 22, the tightrope we must all walk.

And so, my fellow poets, beautiful dreamers, dear friends, brave and broken souls, I invite you to join me in meditation on this question: how do we do what we must do, what we were born and put on this earth to do, without allowing it to destroy us?

It’s an open dialogue, if you’d like to have it.

Until next time, friends.


Tell me if this has happened to you before: you’re confronted with a problem that you don’t know how to solve, and so, rather than react, you wait.  And while you’re waiting, this problem magically takes care of itself.  It could be an email that you don’t know how to respond to, a request for help from a needy friend that you just don’t have time for, or a work problem that you’re not sure how to tackle.  And sometimes, as with a computer glitch, all you really need to do is turn it off for a while and leave it alone.  It’s the equivalent of shutting down and rebooting your system.

I’m the last person to advocate ignoring a problem in hopes that it will just go away.  I’m a doer.  Anybody who has worked with me on one of the plays or films I’ve produced knows that I’m about 100 miles from lazy.  It is simply not in my DNA to do nothing.

But sometimes in life, it’s important to take a beat.  Sometimes waiting and letting the dust settle is the only thing that can be done.  Sometimes, inaction is the best course of action.

Since I’ve become the girl who writes about very sad things – don’t blame me, blame the cosmic forces at work in shaping my life’s trajectory over the last twenty-four months – allow me relate the power of doing nothing back to another very sad thing.

When my Dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic and liver cancer in the spring of 2012, he decided that the best course of action was to do nothing.  The tumors in his liver numbered at least ten – too many to operate successfully – and the pancreatic tumor he had was so rare that the only chemo drug available was brand new to the market, experimental at best, and wouldn’t eradicate the tumor.  In short, there was no cure.  His only treatment option might buy him some time, but it could also make him very sick.  Why add more years to your life, if the life in your years was full of vomiting, pain and misery?

Dad, ever the pragmatist, opted to let his life run its inevitable course.  He figured that at 81, he’d lived a good life and he was going out on his terms.  Plus, any chemo meant that he would have to stop drinking, and there was no way the Irish rascal was giving up his booze, especially not with a looming expiration date.  As Dad’s internist said when his diagnosis came down, ‘If I had your prognosis, Bernie, I’d buy a one-way ticket to a Caribbean island, park myself on the beach with a tropical drink in hand, and lie in the sun until my time was up.’

I thought my Dad’s decision was brave, and it was the one I would have made had I been faced with the same set of circumstances.  My Mom, on the other hand, couldn’t accept it.  I had numerous conversations with her in which I laid out all of the facts on the ground and explained how all reason and logic necessitated that this was the only way to proceed.  And after all, it was Dad’s decision, and we had to respect his wishes.  But no amount of reasoning or logic ever got through to my Mother.  She became obsessed with the idea that this experimental, unproven, non-cure of a drug might work, or that there had to be something else, some unseen solution, something no doctor had ever heard of that just might be a miracle cure.

Accepting that there is nothing that you can do when someone you love is going to die is probably the toughest form of acceptance there is.  There’s a reason why there are five stages of grief and acceptance is the last one.  It is not an easy road to get there.  But as I reflect on the way that my Mom obsessed on Dad’s decision – to the point of making herself literally insane – and how that obsession exacerbated her own addictions and the numerous issues she was already battling, I can’t help but see her behavior as a cautionary tale.

I am my Mother’s daughter.  I am anxious like her and I worry like her and I make endless to-do lists and I lose sleep over the contents of those to-do lists.  I would always, always, rather do something than do nothing.  But, I am trying to learn to be OK with the fact that sometimes there’s nothing to be done.

I can be impulsive and a bit rash (blame the stars, I’m a Sagittarius).  Often, I try too hard and do too much and in doing so, I can turn a situation that’s just fine on its own into a mess.  I am impatient, and frequently just want to get on with it.  But there’s an art to knowing when to act and knowing when to let it be.  When to do something and when to do nothing.  When to take a breath, and relax and let life take care of itself.  And to realize that sometimes, time is the only thing that heals.

Until next time, friends.

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