Where I live.

January has not started out as I’d hoped. I began 2016 filled with enthusiasm for the year ahead and the changes that it promised, but that enthusiasm was quickly replaced with the less-than-bright-and-shiny realities of the day to day.

Immediately after the glow of the holidays wore off, I found myself surprisingly unmotivated: sluggish, fatigued, even a bit depressed. In December, life was moving fast and I struggled to keep up, but the manic energy that it brought also seemed to serve as a sort of inspiration. Words and ideas flowed out of me. I had so much to say, and writing felt easy.

Not so, lately. Every day, I sit down to work on a new piece: a stage play I’m planning to produce in early summer. And every day I find myself frustrated, tugging at a narrative that hasn’t quite shown me how it is meant to unfold. Little by little, I’m getting there, but the progress has been a maddeningly slow one of scribbling words into my notebook and scratching them out, throwing out more than I’m keeping, writing and re-writing.

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And then there was yesterday. Running out for groceries, I shifted my car into reverse, and heard something that sounded like a motorcycle revving its engine. Is that me? I thought. I turned off the engine and the sound stopped. Turned it on and there it was again. What in the hell? I had never in my life heard a sound like that come out of my almost stealthy quiet Prius. Exiting the car, I smelled gasoline in the air.

Calls to Toyota and Triple A revealed what had happened: someone had stolen my catalytic converter. Prior to yesterday, I’d never even heard of a catalytic converter, but it is amazing how quickly Google and a couple of mechanics with I’m so sorry faces can turn you into an expert.

According to Auto.com, “the job of the catalytic converter is to convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they leave the car’s exhaust system.” Without it, not only does your car become a major polluter, it makes a roaring sound akin to having a pack of Hell’s Angels riding shotgun. Not pleasant. As the apologetic mechanic at my local Toyota informed me, there has been a rash of catalytic converter thefts all over L.A., due to the fact that it contains valuable metals that are then melted down and sold. And as an external part, they’re relatively easy for an experienced thief to remove (by sawing them off!) within minutes. Now the kicker: because of the recent epidemic of these thefts, catalytic converters are on a national backorder and mine could take up to eight weeks (and cost thousands of dollars) to replace. Eight weeks? Without my car? In L.A.?

I suppose you could say that this was the punch in the gut that turned a disappointing January into an abysmal one.

Later, as I’m on hold with my insurance company, trying to figure out if any of this is covered, it hits me that it’s not just the money, or the hassle, or the fact that I feel stranded without a car that has left me so shaken. It’s the fact that for the first time in the nearly two years since I moved to this (mostly) quiet residential neighborhood, I feel unsafe. Yes, I live in a big, dangerous city, and yes my neighborhood is tucked away right off a busy intersection, but the street where I live is populated with nice people: young working professionals and families with kids and dogs. I know – and like – my neighbors. I walk everywhere, striking up conversations with friends and strangers alike. I don’t feel scared walking home at night. And yet, someone still came along and did this: hacked up a piece of my car in plain sight. It’s the car that has faithfully and reliably carried me around this city for eight years. The car that my mother gave me. I feel sick.

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Through my living room blinds, I see the late afternoon sunset beginning to streak the sky pink. I get off the phone, take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine and go outside to my patio. I’m lucky, I tell myself, as I breathe in the sunset and try to calm down. This sucks, but it will be OK. Maybe I’m not supposed to drive for a while. Maybe I’m supposed to slow down and simplify and focus on my writing. Maybe I’m supposed to move – the thought creeps in without my consent.

No, I think, as the rosy glow of the waning sun fills in the blue sky behind the majestic, lone palm tree that towers stoically above my roof. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to run away, just because things are difficult. I’m reminded of a saying from Lao Tzu that I posted on the Facebook page for my blog only yesterday morning, before I knew about any of this stuff with the car:

Stop leaving and you will arrive.

Stop searching and you will see.

Stop running away and you will be found.

I was attracted to the quote because it reminded me of my writing, and my tendency to abandon long form projects whenever I get stuck or when inspiration runs out. But maybe there’s a bigger life lesson there. One about endlessly searching for something to make me whole again, and always coming up short.

This is not the start to the New Year that I wanted, not at all. But maybe, buried underneath everything that’s icky and uncomfortable, maybe there’s something in it that I needed. Maybe instead of running away in search of something better, this is where I will be tested, and where I decide to stand and fight.  And maybe, in that fight, I will learn something about myself that I needed to know.

Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just a really crappy January.

Until next time, friends.

The Great Unknown.

A long December and there’s reason to believe/

Maybe this year will be better than the last/

I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin’/

Now the days go by so fast.

– Counting Crows

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I’m not very good at New Year’s resolutions. Oh sure, I make them. I make them every year, without fail. I’m just not very good at keeping them.

I approach every New Year with renewed enthusiasm, determined that this year will be the year that all of my dreams come true. But anyone who’s ever abandoned their resolve before the close of January will likely agree: it’s one thing to make grand promises in a happy, hopeful champagne haze as the clock strikes midnight, and quite another to do the hard work of goal setting, holding yourself accountable, and meeting the necessary self-imposed deadlines on the way to achieving personal growth.

But this January, I stand on the precipice of a very different year. It’s a year where change is inevitable. A year that has challenged me to live differently. A year that has proposed a dare.

Shortly after my grandfather died, I returned to Los Angeles to discover that the small company I’ve worked at for the last 11 years – essentially my entire adult life – had been sold. There was a new job waiting for me in another state. But not just any state:  it was the state where I was born, where members of my family lived, and where I’d been thinking about moving back to. Surely this was the universe giving me a sign, right?

Well, maybe not. The closer I looked at the job and the ways my life would change if I accepted it, the more the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach grew. While a piece of my heart would always reside in the Pacific Northwest, it was actually all of the time I had recently spent there seeing my grandfather through hospice that opened my eyes to how much I still love my life in L.A. True, Los Angeles can be a harsh and difficult place to live, but it’s also a place of tremendous energy and excitement. It has been my home for fifteen years, and in that time I have built a solid community of amazing friends and gifted creative collaborators. I had been seriously considering leaving L.A., but after my grandfather died, I realized that I wasn’t ready to. There was still too much left undone – opportunities unexplored, projects unfinished – for me to walk away now. If I left before I felt ready, I knew I’d be filled with regret.

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Still, staying in L.A. meant no job, and stability had always been important to me. In contrast to my old position with the small company – where I’d sacrificed pay increases for the ability to work from home, maintain a flexible schedule, and have a tremendous amount of autonomy – this new company was much bigger, and much more corporate. It was a grown-up job. I’d be an integral part of their marketing team, with the ability to climb the corporate ladder and build an impressive resume. This job was a sure thing.

But once I got really quiet and listened to my inner voice, I realized that there is no such thing as a “sure” thing. Here’s what I believe instead: we trick ourselves into investing in “safe” choices and manufacturing the illusion of security to distract ourselves from the terrifying truth that everything goes away. Even us. Anyone who has ever received that phone call, or that diagnosis or that pink slip knows that the foundation upon which we build our lives is fragile, and it only takes a sudden, unexpected gust of wind to send everything tumbling down.

I never thought that, at thirty-five, both of my parents would be dead, and my grandparents, too. I never thought that I’d get married, and that it wouldn’t work out. I never thought that the company I had worked at since I was twenty-three would leave the state, taking my job with it.

But all of those things happened. I wasn’t ready for any of them, but they happened all the same.

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My father was a serious risk taker. I wish I was more like him. In truth, I’m kind of a chicken. Not Dad. He preferred to put it all out on the line and roll the dice. Sometimes, he lost, and he lost big. But he also won, and his winnings made him tremendously successful. It is because of that success and the money that resulted from it that I realized something else: I don’t have to settle for a life I don’t want to live.

A few days before Christmas, I turned down the “safe” job to stay in L.A. For the first time in my life, I’m going to see what it means to not work in service of someone else, but instead to invest in building my dreams and the higher vision of my life. It is a choice that terrifies me, but it is the only choice that I could make. Here’s something else that I believe: my fear is less about running out of the money my parents left me and more about the fact that taking accountability for my life means that there’s no one else to blame if it all goes wrong.

So here I go. This New Year, I am plunging into the great unknown. I am filled with gratitude for the gift my parents have given me, and filled with fear that I’ll screw it up. But my gratitude is bigger than the fear. So is my determination. And so is the quiet, unwavering voice inside of me telling me that this is the right thing to do.

It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe/

Maybe this year will be better than the last/

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself/

To hold on to these moments as they pass/

And it’s one more day up in the canyon/

And it’s one more night in Hollywood/

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean . . . I guess I should.

Until next time, friends

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