It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m standing elbow to elbow with fellow sports fans in a dark, crowded bar in Culver City. We’re an army attired in athletic gear, a sea of blue and green about a hundred strong . OK, I’m only guessing about the head count; it’s whatever the fire marshal has deemed to be the maximum number of people that are allowed to pack into this joint. The mood is decidedly despondent. The DJ, who’s been placed in charge of morale, finishes spinning the Sublime song, “I’ve Seen Better Days,” and asks the cheerless crowd, “Does anybody know any good jokes?”

This NFC Championship game has been a grim one for Seahawks fans. Russell Wilson, our typically unflappable, playmaking quarterback, the guy who always seems to get better when the moment gets bigger, has just, in the biggest game of the season, thrown an unprecedented fourth interception. There are just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and we’re down by twelve points. This game is all but lost, and with it, our once bright and glittering hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in as many years to try to once again capture the coveted Lombardi Trophy. Our spectacular late season winning streak is coming to a very unspectacular end. Anybody know any good jokes, indeed.


And then, the improbable happens. Our offense, which has been stagnant for nearly the entire game, springs to life. The Hawks launch a quick scoring drive, culminating in Russell Wilson taking the ball himself into the end zone for a touchdown. Our quarterback, our receivers and our beast of a running back are suddenly, inexplicably, playing like themselves again.

Still. There are only two minutes left and we’re down by five. All Green Bay has to do is recover the onside kick and they’ll put the game away, punching their ticket to the Super Bowl. The entire bar – full of mostly Pacific Northwest expats – holds its collective breath. Our kicker – Steven Hauschka – launches the ball into the air . . . and in the fracas that ensues, a navy blue jersey comes down with it. Oh my god – the Seahawks have done the unthinkable. They’ve recovered the onside kick! The crowd inside Backstage Bar emits a thunderous roar. Strangers – united by love of team – embrace each other. Eyes – including mine – fill with tears, sensing the enormity of what has just occurred.

If you follow sports at all, you know what happens next. Our running back Marshawn – Beast Mode – Lynch runs for a touchdown, Russell Wilson floats a Hail Mary of a two-point conversion that somehow, some way, finds Luke Willson in the end zone, the game goes into overtime and the Seahawks march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown. Improbable miracle after improbable miracle, culminating with what no one thought possible just a few minutes prior: the Seahawks are heading back to the Super Bowl.

Later that day, I send a text message to a friend and fellow Hawks fan, berating him for prematurely admitting defeat, for giving up when the chips were down and the game appeared lost. “Where would we be if our quarterback thought like you?” I joke. “Well, Russell Wilson is a Christian,” came the response from my friend, an atheist. “And Christians just believe.”


Huh. Christians just believe. Is that all there is to it? It is true that Russell Wilson is a devout Christian who speaks openly and often about his faith. It is also true that after the Seahawks’ victory, Wilson, overcome with emotion, wept openly and thanked God during an interview with sideline reporter Erin Andrews.  Religious faith certainly plays a role in his ability to persist in the face of overwhelming obstacles. But what about other forms of belief – like belief in self and in one’s own ability to persevere? Where does that come from? And where does belief spring from for those of us who don’t possess an abundance of (or any) religious devotion, but who remain equally resilient in the face of crisis? What about those of us who don’t attend church, but still think that life is made up of more than just a string of random coincidences?

For most of my life, I’ve been both an unflagging optimist and a religious skeptic. And I never thought there was anything weird about that. I don’t think you have to be a “believer” in order to believe, nor do I think you have to be religious to have faith in something that can’t be proven. But the game did leave me wondering about the concept of belief. For example, why was it so easy for me to have faith in my team, to not give up on them even when the situation appeared desperate, and yet at the same time, so difficult for me to cultivate those same beliefs in myself?

These last few years, circumstances have given me plenty of reasons to abandon my optimism. Life has knocked me down and kicked me in the shins. Often, I’ve felt that I’ve had no reason to hope, other than the fact that hope itself exists.


And while I’ve maintained my sense of hopefulness, what I realized during the Seahawks’ improbable NFC Championship win – and this is going to sound totally crazy to all the non-sports fans out there – is that, unlike my team, I haven’t honestly believed that things are going to get better for me. I’ve spent so much time in crisis mode that I’ve become used to just surviving, to just getting through it. And on some level, I think I believed that surviving was the best I could hope for. But – if you’re still with me – my wacky, football-induced epiphany is that when it comes to life, the mere act of surviving is not enough. Staying in the game is not enough. If you want to win, you have to take the big chances, because the big rewards only come when you take the big risks. The Seahawks’ come from behind victory was a direct result of taking those types of risks, like Russell Wilson throwing a deep ball down the field to Jermaine Kearse – a receiver he had targeted four times prior, with all four passes resulting in interceptions. The evidence would suggest throwing that pass was a mistake, but Wilson’s belief – in himself, in his teammate, in God, in the playbook, whatever – gave him the confidence that this time, in the 11th hour when the game was on the line, he would complete the pass and win the game.

I’m not saying that because of a great football victory, I’m going to go out and get religion. But what the game did do was awaken something in me that had been long been dormant: an idea about the miraculous, resilient, mysterious nature of the human spirit, about the unquantifiable x factor that exists within all of us, and in the ability to trust in something that can’t be seen or proven but that still, we somehow know to be true. I may have ambivalence around the big GOD question, but when given the choice between the idea that life is random chance or composed of a little bit of magic, I choose magic. Every. Time.

Sometimes a sporting event is simply just a game. And sometimes, it’s so much more. Sometimes it reminds you – in small moments and in big ones – how you want to live.

It’s going to be one exciting Super Bowl.

Until next time, friends.


Things my mother never did.

I think I know what’s wrong with me. No, that’s not true. I know I know what’s wrong with me. Or at least, I know one of the things that’s wrong with me. The Big Thing.

I have been putting off writing this, because the act of writing it, of putting it on paper, makes it a real thing. A real thing I can’t run away from, a real thing I’ve got to face. I’ve spent a lot of time over this last year 2014 alone; alone with myself and my thoughts, taking time and space – the likes of which I’d never allowed myself before – to process and to grieve a string of losses and difficult life events. And as 2014 drew to a close and I thought about the ways that I wanted 2015 to be different – and I want it to be different in just about every which way – I kept coming back to one thing: the truth must out.  We are only as sick as our secrets, and until I start telling the truth about the darkness – difficult as it may be – the darkness is going to continue to own me.

Summer 1988

So here goes. For as long as I can remember, I have been living with a tension between two powerful and conflicting emotions: anger and guilt. It wasn’t until the death of my mother two years ago and the subsequent unraveling of my nuclear family that I began to realize how profoundly this tension had been affecting me, how it had affected my entire life.

I am angry. I am angry with my mother. I have been angry with her for a very long time. You see, for most of my life, I was the parent, and she was the child. She was a fragile dove that needed to be protected, and she leaned on me to help her, to fix her, to save her. But I was never very good at it. I am angry with her because she knew that I was ill equipped to give her what she needed, but she insisted upon it anyway. I am angry with her because she set me up for failure.

And you would not believe the guilt that my anger produces, the way that it spins through my stomach like so much fire. The guilt is relentless. I am haunted because I think and feel such awful things about the person I loved more than anyone in this world. I am guilty for admitting these things, for saying them out loud. Guilty for being a horrible, selfish, ungrateful daughter. Guilty for not wanting to grow up to be like my mother, for – in point of fact – being terrified of growing up to be like her. And, most of all, guilty because I let her down when she needed me the most. Guilty because she died on my watch.

Mom frosting cake

Guilt and anger are a potent enough cocktail, but when you mix in grief and regret it’s enough to knock you sideways. And it, that, is what has been keeping me stuck. I never wanted to be like my mother when she was alive, but now that she’s gone, I can’t seem to stop embodying her worst traits. The chronic anxiety, the depression, the self-isolation, the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism, the stubborn refusal to ask for help. My 2014 was a dark year awash with all of these things, and all of them – I can only assume – have been some sort of twisted, semi-conscious attempt on my part to keep her alive.

Please don’t misunderstand me: my mother was wonderful. She was kind and sweet and loving and generous. She was a much better person than I am. But she was always so unhappy. She wanted more from her life than what she got. She gave up on her first dream of becoming a professional tennis player because her parents didn’t support it and she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to them. She was never very happy as the office manager of my father’s law practice, but she was good at it and it gave her the flexibility to raise a young child (me). But I grew up, and dad closed the law firm, and there were still so many things that she wanted to do. She wanted to go back to school and pursue a master’s degree in psychology, she wanted to refine her (already impressive) culinary skills with additional classes, she wanted to volunteer for political campaigns and charitable organizations, she wanted to travel the world. More than anything, I think my mom wanted to feel that she had value. That she could make a contribution that was important, a contribution that other people would notice and appreciate. But she was paralyzed to take that first step. There was always tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. And as the years went by, I watched her put together a life built on deferred dreams, a life where she preferred to look back on the past with fond nostalgia, and a resignation that her best years were already behind her.

But here’s the thing about dreams. They don’t die quietly. Hers certainly didn’t. They tortured her with visions of a life un-lived and she stuffed them down and pushed them aside and put everyone else’s needs before her own and she drank to dull the sharp edges of pain and longing.

Mom Dad Wedding

As she got sicker, the signs that had always been there – that I’d been too deep in denial to acknowledge because, in spite of the very personal resentments I’d harbored toward her, she was still my mother, and therefore, perfect – grew stark and outlined in thick edges. She had always lived with a bit of a disconnect between fantasy and reality (don’t we all?), but that disconnect turned borderline delusional. Her already small frame whittled away to nothing, her eyes turned hollow and vacant, she stopped making sense. I implored her to get help and her only response was to invent a therapist she was ‘seeing’ to get me off her back. (I know this because, well, Google. That, and she was a terrible liar.)

In the end, dying was the most purposeful thing that she’d done in years. She’d made up her mind that life wasn’t worth living anymore. She shunned all help. She shunned me. And she drank until she didn’t hurt anymore. She drank until she disappeared. And when she died, I started disappearing, too.

So here I am, two years after her death, still sitting at the cross streets of anger and guilt, streets intersected by avenues of grief and regret. It’s a four way stop full of monsters, and until now, my foot has been placed firmly on the brake pedal. And so, for this New Year 2015, I made a pact with myself. I’m going to start doing all of the things my mother never did. I’m going to do them actively, defiantly, and on purpose. Things like asking for help. Things like telling my truth, even if it’s uncomfortable or ‘inappropriate.’ Things like pushing myself out of my comfort zone and signing up for big, scary adventures. Things like not putting off my life. I’m going to take her mistakes and self-sabotage and heartache and unfulfilled dreams and use them as a road map to do the opposite, at Every. Single. Turn. And I’ve already started: I’m in the process of shopping for the most amazing therapist ever, I’m nearly two weeks into an thirty-day alcohol and sugar-free detox during which I’m digging in and focusing on my creative work, and soon, I’ll be leaving on a solo trip to Europe. And there are other things too. Things I’m not quite ready to talk about, but that are quietly, actively at work beneath the surface of my life.

Rejecting my mother’s life and her choices in such a cold and calculated fashion makes me feel like a malicious, rebellious child. And maybe that’s what I am. But at this point, after all of the darkness, after all of the self-sabotage and regret, making this choice sort of feels like life or death.  Along the way, I hope that I can finally learn to let go of the anger, and forgive her. I hope that I can finally learn to let go of the guilt, and forgive myself.

It’s worth a shot.

Until next time, friends.



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