Love and War.

“You take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing, no one to blame.”

– Erica Jong

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I can’t remember exactly when I began to silence my phone. I only know that there was a period of time during the not so distant past when every time it rang or chimed or buzzed, the news was bad. And even though switching my phone to mute didn’t solve the problem, the magical thinking I adopted during those dark days meant that if I didn’t receive the message, then the bad thing didn’t happen. The crisis had been averted. For one more day, I was OK.

And so, barring rare exceptions, I’ve kept my phone on silent. But these days, the mute button is no longer about protecting myself from bad news. These days, it’s the only thing shielding me from the unbearable silence of the calls that aren’t coming.

Tomorrow, February 3rd, is the opening night of my play, War Stories. Another opening, another show. But this one is different. Not only because of the length of time I’ve been working on it, or because of how uniquely personal the subject matter is, but because its opening marks the end of something; it means I’m standing on the edge of something.

War Stories originated as a one-act that I wrote for last summer’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, and this new iteration is a longer, two-act piece, centering around the same four characters, a band of thirty-something Angelenos with time running out on their dreams, who are looking for love in all the wrong places.

Writing this play – particularly this latest, longer draft – was utter hell. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much or felt so inadequate as a writer as I did during the process of reworking this script. And if I didn’t have so many other people counting on me, people who I like and with whom I’ve been talking about this new production for months, I’m quite certain that somewhere along the line, I would have given up.

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In truth, I’ve been wearing a heaviness in my heart since last September, and this script demands a level of emotional honesty that I wasn’t sure that I was up for. All through the fall, I carried the story within me, writing bits and pieces of it in my head when I couldn’t bear to face the page. The stories of Chelsea, Sam, Jake and Jen and their messy, intersecting love lives followed me into the jostle of crowded streets in Mexico City, and onto a sweaty campaign bus pushing through the Nevada desert, and high into the Santa Monica mountains, as I gazed down on the sweep of Los Angeles below. Everywhere I went, these characters and their broken hearts followed, demanding that I give them voice.

And the power of a deadline is something to behold, because as difficult as it was, finish the script I did. And we cast some incredible actors who breathed life into the characters in ways that I couldn’t have imagined and gave meaning to words I wrote that I didn’t know existed. And now, here we are: a day before opening and we are ready. We have a show.

A few days ago, I found a rare blank spot on my calendar; the only day in the entire month of January with nothing written on it. And so, in that last gasp of stillness before the play begins, I returned to the place I always go when I need to think, that stunning art museum perched high on a hill above Los Angeles called the Getty Center.

I wandered through the Getty’s now barren winter garden, drank espresso while taking in the city below, and stayed until the sunset spread its tangerine warmth across the Pacific Ocean. And as I did, I asked myself who I want to be. Not who I think I should be, or who other people want me to be, but who I actually am and who I, perhaps, have not been giving myself permission to become.

For months, this production of War Stories has been my excuse to put off making decisions about my future. “I can’t do anything until after the show,” I’ve said, time and time again. And it has been true, at least, mostly. But come March, my calendar is wide open and I can do anything I want, a prospect that is both exhilarating and terrifying.

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Which leads me back to the calls that aren’t coming, and the need to continue to keep my phone on silent to avoid thinking about them. In the summer months, everything seemed to flow. Work was coming in, money was good, and life was sweet.

But as the calendar switched to fall, things got harder. I started hitting walls. Work slowed down. People started disappointing me, stopped showing up. Promises were broken. And the future that I thought would unfold on its own simply hasn’t.

And now it is February. Money is running low and the hour is running late. And I’m no closer to receiving any sort of sign of what to do next, or which way to turn. Which means that I’ll have to trust myself, and that trust, due to some unfortunate events, has recently been shaken.

Last week, staring down on the city that I love, I felt less invincible than I usually do from that favorite perch high above L.A. I felt uncertain, a little afraid, even. I know that it’s time to take a leap. I know that it’s time to begin the next chapter of my life. I just thought I’d know what that was by now. I thought that by now, the answers to those questions would be obvious.

But maybe it’s OK that I’m so uncertain. Maybe it’s OK that there’s no crystal ball, no prophetic vision, no knight in shining armor swooping in to save the day. Maybe it’s a good thing to stand on the edge and ask myself to be braver than I feel, to take a chance, to be the hero of my own goddamned life.

Maybe I’ll learn something from this, something that I needed to know.

Maybe.

But right now, I’ve got a show to open.

Until next time, friends.

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21 thoughts on “Love and War.

  1. Hi Melissa! I replied to your email: did you get it? A few minutes after the show ends, I’ll come to the lobby to greet people. We’ll have some press there that I’ll have to say hello to which will probably take a few minutes, but please stick around and say hello. I can’t wait to meet you! Also I saved your number in my phone so if you want to edit your comment to remove it feel free! ❤

  2. Wish I could be there to see it! This blog immediately reminds me of the English poet John Keat’s notion of ‘negative capability’ – are you familiar with this? – When one is “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”, so essentially being “content with half-truths”. Furthermore, Wilfred Bion elaborated on Keats’s term to illustrate an attitude of openness of the mind. Bion believed ‘negative capability’ was the ability to tolerate the pain and confusion of not-knowing, rather than imposing ready-made or omnipotent certainties upon an ambiguous situation or emotional challenge.

    I’m particularly fond of this clip, hope you do too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELIjvmlaCP4

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Keats

    Sending best wishes to you for today! x

    • Thank you, Katie! This is lovely. And I haven’t read about negative capability but I’m intrigued by the idea and I think embracing it would be good for me! 😉 Thank you for your kind wishes! x

  3. What do you do after an evening like last night, but for turn off the phone, and curl upon in the windowsill with a good book come morning, oh and some and Chocolate…

    Avalon Bay Santa Catalina – Awesome huge round ‘art deco’ theater built back in 1929.

    My old stomping grounds to watch Rock Bands and spend the weekends in my early to mid high school summer weekends with friends, it’s there in the first picture, 26 miles across the sea’, but the ‘the brown L.A. Haze is obscuring the view of it.

    upon Leaping off / starting a new chapter in life, been there many times over the decades, richer than ‘”’ and poorer than dirt’ many times and again; life is full of curve balls, spit balls, first base ordeals and home runs’. The Train’ the Oriental express of life doesn’t stop until you’ve taken your last breath…

    ‘until then enjoy the ride, and that sometimes means we’ve gotta grab wooden oars and pull water, sometimes in fog, sometimes met by doe eyed otters back floating and clacking rocks to shells, or huge eyed lone seals admiring your beauty, exploring your soul’, pondering back at you.

    Sometimes we are put to the test and have to battle gale force blows, but even it that Sarah I ask, do we not delight in tasting sea breeze brought sweet sea salt upon soft lips, a pleasant dear gift of the blue ocean – the sea?

    ‘Choose your friends and lovers well’, trust your intuition and always if you have to own a vise in life, make it be dark bittersweet chocolate… No one drags you to rehab if you’re addicted to Dark Chocolate…

    ‘Live your life well’ Sarah’ your young…

    Cheers Sarah.’

  4. All the best with the show! I wish I could be there – it sounds great.

    “Maybe it’s a good thing to stand on the edge and ask myself to be braver than I feel, to take a chance, to be the hero of my own goddamned life.” — I need to start living by these words. Most of the time, I don’t feel very brave at all. You have a wonderful way with words — thank you for writing this.

    • I don’t know, Grace, the longer I’m on this planet, the more I realize that it’s normal to be scared, especially of the unknown. But I think being scared and doing the thing that scares you anyway is what makes you brave. That’s easier said than done, of course. But when I look back on any of the big risks I’ve taken in life, I haven’t regretted a single one of them, even if they didn’t work out the way I’d hoped they would. You’re stronger than you think you are. Thank you for reading!

  5. I’m so feeling you on this one. Things have been really tight lately and it feels as if the world is trying to swallow me up with one bad thing after another. I’ve had such a dry spell when it comes to my writing, to the point that I’m questioning myself. Then the other day while venting to my mom, she said that I need to have faith over my fears. That statement made something inside myself awaken and come alive. Just have faith over fear and everything will fall into place. I hope your play was everything you hoped it would be and more.

    • I like that – have faith over your fears. After all, what is faith if not belief in something that can’t be seen or proven? It’s not always easy to practice gratitude for what you DO have, but I’m finding that’s really helping me as of late. Each day I ask myself, What’s the best thing that happened to me today? And then I write that thing on a slip of paper and put it inside an empty mason jar. By the time I get to the end of the year I’ll be able to read 365 things! That’s pretty sweet. Keep going, even if it’s just baby steps. And remember to be kind to yourself. You can do it.

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