The Wilderness.

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

Like, telling someone you love them.

Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

– Mary Oliver

I made myself a promise in the taxi on the way to JFK: I wouldn’t have a drink in the airport bar – or two, or three – before my flight to L.A. I wouldn’t numb myself out to take the edge off my anxiety, or soothe my fear of turbulence, or quiet the jumble of thoughts swirling around in my brain. Instead, I would face it all unaided, un-anaesthetized. For once.

My resolve was tested as soon as I arrived at the airport. Upon check in, I learned I’d been upgraded to first class, one of those magical unicorn type of events that never, ever happens to me. No sooner had I happily boarded the plane and settled into seat 1C, than a bubbly flight attendant sidled over and asked in a southern twang if I’d like a mimosa before takeoff. “Yes!” I wanted to shout. But instead, I just smiled and said, “I’m fine with water,” silently lamenting the waste of free champagne.

I’ve been of legal drinking age for seventeen years, and of the many, many trips I’ve taken since then, I’ve only flown sober a handful of times. I’m not sure when my fear of flying began – I have a memory of five or six-year-old me pressing my face against the window and singing “Up, up and away!” as the plane taxied down the runway – but I know it became much worse after people I love started dying. In fact, one of my last sober flights – where my sister Deirdre and I transported our father’s ashes from Seattle to his funeral in Medford, Oregon on a tiny bombardier plane in a February rainstorm –was so terrifying – to me, not to my sister – that I’ve rarely flown without a numbing agent since.

But I don’t want to rely on any substance – booze, pills, what have you – to get through the things that scare me. Not only is it no way to live, it’s also not effective. At least, not for me. If anything, it makes my anxiety worse. Even with a buzz, my heart still races at the first sign of choppy air. My palms sweat. By the time we land, I’m exhausted. And the rest of the day is shot.

I booked this trip to L.A. months ago – to attend a friend’s baby shower – but January was such a stressful, all-consuming month that I gave up on trying to make plans and instead collapsed gratefully into the guest room of one of my dearest friends in her apartment by the beach. The day after I arrived, I took a long walk along the Pacific Ocean, unpacking the events of the last month. Just after the first of the year, my landlord confirmed what I already knew: I have to move. I spent January both on feverish rewrites to my play and feverishly searching for a new apartment, culminating in a reading three days before my trip, and the realization that I can’t afford New York.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with New York ever since I moved there almost a year and a half ago. But over the last couple of months, I finally feel like things have started to click. One of my plays just got into a new works festival in March, and another one is a semi-finalist for a theatre festival in the summer. I’m taking an advanced memoir writing class with a wonderful instructor, and I’m finally – after many months of trying – beginning to crack open my story. Creatively, I’ve never felt better. But I’m burning through my savings with no real long-term life plan. And as I sat on a bench in Palisades Park and watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, I felt in my bones that no matter how long I live in New York, I will eventually end up leaving. That gritty urban center, for all its myth and magic, will never be home.

For the moment, I’m in the wilderness. There’s no trail to follow. I’m simply taking each bend in the road as it comes, trying to trust the inner voice that tells me to take this turn or that one, and to keep forging ahead. For the last few days, my only plan has been to slow down, to breathe in the ocean, and to trust my heart. This time is a gift, one I don’t want to waste.

Next week, I’ll go back to New York, and I’ll prepare both to move into a temporary apartment and to put up the next reading of my play. I’ll put one foot in front of the other, and I’ll see how it feels. And like my flight, like these last few days, I’ll do it all unaided and un-anaesthetized. Just me, here, navigating the wilderness.

Until next time, friends.

13 thoughts on “The Wilderness.

  1. She who writes cannot see what is already written. This west coast girl. This urban girl. This girl who has city roots and sand between her toes. Seattle calls.

    “Go home to Seattle,” said the Pacific Ocean breeze. “Be near the water while your feet travel concrete and asphalt and your shoulders rub against others who have their heads in the clouds.

    “Go home to Seattle,” said the New York skyscrapers. “We love you, but we do not belong to you. We enjoyed you but you do not belong to us.”

    Seattle. Not so LA as LA. Not so New York as New York. Yet like LA. Like NYC. Urban. Creative. Innovative. Yet different from LA. Different from New York. Fast when you want it to be. Slow when you need it to be. Still young while growing wise with a grace not found in Los Angeles or New York.

    Seattle. Where one can smell the salt air while the city streets make a place for those who would call it home. West coast vibe with blue skies and long sunsets. East coast hustle in a mellow sort of way. How does she not know? How does she not read what is written?

    • I read this a few days ago while walking along the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica and it has stayed with me. Seattle always feels like home, I’m just trying to trust the timing of life. I’ll keep in touch, friend.

  2. You’ve made me wonder just now how different my new york experience might have been if I hadn’t known my time there was limited. (Shortly after moving there I got accepted to a program somewhere else, so I knew I’d only be there for the next year, and I loved it) Maybe for a place like that, for some of us, it’s never meant to be “home.”

    • I think the knowledge that our time is finite always makes us appreciate something more. . .I’m glad you loved it! I’ve found many things to love about it too. More than anything, I think New York has been a great big mirror, making me see myself more clearly than I would have if I hadn’t come here. Wishing you well.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to a wonderful poetess Mary Oliver. I’d love to know more of your choices in poetry as you seem to have a wonderful mind.

  4. Pingback: Mary Oliver Jane (1935-2019) | Notes

  5. I do not belief in unicorns although I should, as surely unicorns believe in me…and in snow angels…

    ‘Breathe forth…Sarah, breathe forth my friend’…

  6. So good to read you again! missed you! well done on the play nominations! I think you know in your heart where you want to live, good for you adventuring to NY, I did the same years ago with Florida, I loved it, but UK always called me home, so home I came!

    • Thank you friend! I know, it’s been a long time! I’ve been struggling to keep up the blog with so much happening here, but I always feel so much better when I get a new post up. You’re right – this recent trip to the west coast made me realize how much I miss it. On the one hand, it took me a year and a half to finally feel like I’ve got the hang of life in NY, but on the other hand, I know this place isn’t where I want to be forever. One way or the other, life events are pushing me to get things sorted. I’ll keep you updated! Thank you as always for reading and for your kind words! x

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