Le Marais.

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then t
han I do now

 Neon heart, day-glo eyes
The city lit by fireflies
They’re advertising in the skies
For people like us

 – “City of Blinding Lights” by the band, U2

Today is my last full day in Paris. As much-anticipated voyages tend to do, this trip has gone quickly. I’m writing this dispatch from the sweet little apartment I rented in Le Marais: a small but well-appointed flat tucked away in an historic old building on Rue des Tournelles. As I sit near the window of my third-floor walkup, occasionally glancing out at the romantic cobblestone courtyard, I realize that though I’m still here, I’m already leaving. I find myself struggling to remain present and enjoy this moment, even as my mind drifts back to London, where tomorrow, my train departing Gare du Nord will take me, and then further afield, where my plane departing Heathrow will carry me back across the Atlantic, back to Los Angeles, where life is waiting.

I didn’t do nearly as much writing as I had planned on this trip, but I did do a lot of thinking. Thinking and daydreaming and exploring and meandering. All the things you’re supposed to do in Paris. I drank double espressos and delicious Bordeaux and ate decadent deserts and filled my (wine-stained) journal with pages full of what is probably mostly nonsense but might also contain a few kernels of good ideas, like the beginnings of a new one-act play, the outline of an essay, and some sketches of new scenes for War Stories.

I spent an entire day at my beloved Musée d’Orsay, taking as much time as I wanted, and realizing in the process that though I’d always considered Van Gogh to be my favorite Impressionist – owing to his textured, swirling brushstrokes – this time it was Renoir who drew me in and held me. How had I never appreciated the dreaminess of his palette, especially the blues? I sank into royals, teals, aquamarines and sapphires like some sort of soothing bath, and the warmth and light he seemed to infuse into all his work made me feel settled and safe.

It turned out that the Marais neighborhood was the perfect place for me to land. Call it a lucky guess via Airbnb. Centrally located and a mere stone’s throw from the Bastille Métro station, it is easy to get everywhere from here. And yet it still feels like a local’s spot, crammed with charming cafes and boutiques, a place where I don’t feel like I’m on constant high alert for pickpockets the same way that I do in the more heavily trafficked tourist areas.

It is still early here, on this Thursday morning, so once I finish writing I plan to walk down to the Seine, cross its banks, and spend some time at a bookstore that charmed me the day after I arrived: Shakespeare and Company. I know: an English language bookstore in Paris. How gauche, right? But the truth is, its appeal is less about the fact that it carries books in my native tongue and more about the fact that it embraces a deep love of all things literary, feeling like some sort of quaint, rustic, cozy old library that I could spend hours browsing in. After all, I did come to Paris for inspiration. So, who am I to judge where that inspiration comes from?

I find myself leaving Paris just as I’m getting the hang of things here. Just as I’ve figured out the right touch on my apartment’s finicky Nespresso machine, or that the building’s stairwell has a timed light switch, so that I don’t have to climb the three flights back up to my flat in the dark. I’ve only just figured out which cafes I want to try and the fastest shortcut through the neighborhood to Place des Vosges and how to order my meals in (semi-confident) French.

And though there were many things about this much-anticipated return to Paris that I expected, there were some that I did not. Like the wonderful afternoon I spent with a new friend (introduced to me by London host), who gave me the loveliest historical tour of Le Marais. Or the buskers on my train to Tuileries who played the liveliest set of New Orleans style jazz. Or the fact that I – surprising myself – felt compelled to light a candle at the Église Saint Germain de Prés and thought about my mother and felt just a little bit better.

But even in Paris, there are reminders of what awaits me at home. While I’ve been away, I received the exciting news that a website averaging thirty million (!) unique visitors per month wants to republish one of my posts from this blog and share it with their readers. Of course – after asking them a few questions – I agreed. And I must admit, receiving that email was a good feeling; some much-needed encouragement that even in this transitory period of life, I’m on the right track.

One more day in Paris. And then – now that I’ve (finally) adjusted to the time difference – one more weekend in London that will be, blissfully, jetlag-free. And then it’s back to L.A. Back to sort out all of those pressing, challenging, exhilarating, life questions. Ready or not, here I come. That is – I mean – after just a few more days away. . .

Until next time, friends.

Where I Write: The Getty Center.

At 12:27 p.m. on Friday, September 9th, I find a parking spot on the third level of the subterranean garage and open my car door to be greeted by an oppressive wall of heat, the humidity wrapping itself around me as I quickly head for the exit, for higher ground, for cooler air. I take the elevator three flights up, disembark, and approach the bag check line. I open the canvas tote that’s slung over my shoulder, allowing a man in a polo shirt to briefly scan its contents, and then join a small – blissfully so, now that it’s after Labor Day – group of people waiting on the open air platform. The tram arrives and I claim a spot in the back, trying to settle into a comfortable position against the seat’s hard plastic. My limbs are sore from yesterday’s punishing kickboxing class, and my brain whirs from a sleepless night and an early wake up call to complete a project deadline. In truth, there’s so much work waiting for me at home – half-finished projects, a never-ending to-do list, my own personal writing deadlines – that I feel a bit like a delinquent child playing hooky from school, both giddy and guilty about this afternoon escape. But as the train climbs the hill, making its slow ascent toward the summit, a palpable sense of relief rushes through me. No matter how busy I am, I know that I need this.

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Last month, in August, I hit my seventeenth anniversary of living in Los Angeles. Seventeen years. That’s essentially half my life, and longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I suppose there’s no denying it: for better or for worse, I am an Angeleno. And today, needing a brief respite from the hectic pace of this city and the life I live within it, I’ve come here, to my favorite sanctuary high up on a hill: the Getty Center.

If you’re a regular reader of Extra Dry Martini, you’ve probably noticed that mentions of the Getty – with its stunning grounds and gardens and sweeping views of Los Angeles – show up fairly often in my blog posts. I’ve been visiting the museum ever since I moved to L.A. all the way back in 1999, when I was a baby-faced college freshman, newly arrived from a small town in Washington State. And though things have changed dramatically for me over these last seventeen years, the Getty is one part of my L.A. life that has remained a constant.

I’ve come here on New Year’s Day, watching the first sunset of the year set the sky on fire. I’ve come here during the high heat of summer, seeking shade underneath flowering trees in the Japanese garden. I’ve come here when I’ve felt happy, come here when I’ve felt sad, come here when I’ve had something to celebrate, and come here when I’ve been at my lowest, needing to have my sense of possibility restored.

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I often come to the Getty when I want to feel close to my mother – including one trip two years ago on the anniversary of her death that I documented on this blog – because she loved the place every bit as much as I do. She loved the lush, tranquil gardens, the natural light and open spaces that float between the solid and sure travertine stone columns, the small but expertly-curated collection of Impressionist paintings, including its crown jewel: Van Gogh’s Irises, with such vibrantly textured lavender petals and emerald green leaves that I never grow tired of gazing at it.

When it comes to writing, I believe that reflection is just as important as action, and that in order to keep creativity flowing, we must take time to consume words and images other than our own. It’s a concept that Julia Cameron, author of the book The Artist’s Way, calls “filling the well.”

Fortunately, the Getty provides ample space for both, so before I settle in to put pen to paper, I take some time to wander the museum’s galleries and grounds. I get lost in an evocative collection of paintings on loan from the Tate – appropriately titled London Calling – and then am transported to 19th Century France via a black and white photography exhibit called Real/Ideal.

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Exiting the West Pavilion, I pause for a moment at one of the Getty’s many vantage points overlooking the city. As I stare down at this vast, sprawling metropolis, at the traffic inching along the 405 freeway, I can’t help feeling a surge of pride that a small town girl from the Pacific Northwest could come here, to Los Angeles, to the place of movies and dreams, and make it her own. And though L.A. can be brutal (and has at times, been brutal to me), I can’t help but love it, perhaps because of its brutality, perhaps in the same way that a gladiator, bloody and bruised though he may be, loves the arena.

Even when crowded, you can almost always find a quiet space at the Getty in which to write, whether it’s a shaded table tucked away in a corner of the outdoor plaza or a bench in an overlooked section of one of the art galleries. But my favorite place to write is always the breezy open-air terrace, perched above the garden and adjacent to the café. So when I’m finally ready to put pen to paper, that is where I go, choosing the most private table that I can find.

I have several writing projects in the works, but this afternoon isn’t about projects or deadlines. It’s more internal, more introspective. I pull out a brightly colored hard cover notebook recently gifted to me by a friend, called the “Letting Go Journal,” (something I’m actively trying to do these days), the pages of which are peppered with inspirational quotes on that very topic. I flip to the first page and the saying from Andy Warhol printed there makes me chuckle. Yeah, I think. So what? And as the soft September breeze meanders across the terrace, its cooler winds an early indicator that summer is pressing onward toward fall, I begin to write. That afternoon, I will fill the pages of my journal with things that I won’t tell you, with things that I won’t tell anyone, because – for a few hours at least – on this perfect late summer day, this time is just for me.

Until next time, friends.

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War Stories.

“It’s not love that’s complicated, it’s us. People.”

-War Stories

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

I have been trying to understand myself better through writing. I have been trying to understand the world better through writing. I think I have been doing this for quite some time without fully realizing that I have been doing it.

There are so many complex emotions that have been swirling through me these last few years. A jumble of feelings about love and loss, joy and fear, hope and regret. At times I have felt numb and detached, at other times so alive and present that everything around me seemed to buzz.

All the while, I have been chasing meaning with my pen. I suppose I figured that if I could somehow disentangle my thoughts and shape them into words, if I could articulate them in such a way that made sense not only to me but also to other people, that maybe then I’d be able to answer that big, nagging question: What now?

Writing is a lonely business. I don’t know any way around that. The only way to do it is to sit in a chair, in front of a computer (or with a notebook and pen), alone, and do the work. I hate that part of it – the lonely part – even as I crave the solitude that’s required to tame my racing thoughts into written form.

She flies

In an effort to quell the loneliness, I took a break from writing non-fiction essays and returned to my roots: theatre. I wrote a play. I created characters to keep me company and guess what? I fell in love with all of them. And then I went out to try to find them in the real world. What an adventure that turned out to be.

In just a few days the play that I wrote, War Stories, will no longer be something that exists only in my imagination or inside of a rehearsal studio. It will be a real, tangible thing, on a stage, with actors (including me) breathing life into the story in front of an audience. My friends will come see it, and so will reviewers. It’s one of roughly 300 shows at Hollywood Fringe Festival, the largest theatre festival on the west coast of the United States. Talk about turning the lonely writer thing on its head. Talk about getting vulnerable. Because you see, while this play is a work of fiction, it’s a work of fiction I never could have created without looking inward and asking myself what I thought about one incredibly personal topic: love.

I wrote a letter to the play’s audience that will be published in the program, and I’ve shared it with you below. If you happen to be in Los Angeles during the month of June, I’ve also included a link at the bottom of this post with info about where you can see it and how to get tickets. And now, about War Stories:

There is no script about love that hasn’t already been written. No wisdom about the inner workings of our hearts that hasn’t already been put into a song, or a poem or the brushstrokes of a painting. For as long as humans have been telling stories, they have been telling stories about love. And for that same amount of time, they have been asking themselves one question: Why? Why do we love who we love?

War Stories was my attempt to answer that question. To be honest, I’m still writing my way toward the answer (a not so subtle plug to like the show on Facebook so that I can update you on the next, two-act iteration of this piece). They say that all art is autobiography, and though this play is a work of fiction, it would be impossible not to put something of myself into a topic so vulnerable, so personal. In some ways, all of these characters are me.

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I set this story in Los Angeles because it’s the city where I live and it’s the city that I know, but aside from some inside baseball jokes about dating actors, it really could take place anywhere and be written in any language. Our search for love and the crazy things we do in pursuit of it are universal.

But there is something about this city that makes it fertile ground for this type of story. There’s something so optimistic about a place jammed full of creative people, living one break away from making their dreams come true. The sense of possibility is real and it’s intoxicating. Yet it can also be an incredibly lonely place. Countless hours of one’s life lost stuck in traffic jams, or working dead end jobs to pay the bills. How many people spend years existing on hope alone, always one step away from getting that thing that they think will make them happy?

To paraphrase a line from George Orwell’s famous essay Shooting an Elephant, if you wear a mask for too long, it becomes your face. This play is a cautionary tale about just that: the perils of pretending. All of these characters do it, and all realize at some point that they no longer can, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. In the end, they’re all looking for someone who, as Chelsea says, will “See them, really see them, and not run.”

But then again, aren’t we all?

Until next time, friends.

P.S. – For War Stories tickets & info, visit: hff16.org/3476

War Stories 11 x 17

Imaginary Lives.

I’ve got a job for you.

I’m sorry?

I just heard you say that the company you work for was sold. I’m looking for people and I can’t hire ‘em fast enough. Starting pay is 90K a year.

Wow. What’s the job?

Easiest money you’ll ever make. Just sitting behind a desk.

Yeah, but doing what?

Setting appointments. Making calls. Basic admin stuff. You’d be working for me and my team.

And what do you do?

I sell machine parts. Essentially, I’m a mechanic.

Oh. I don’t think that’s the right fit for me. I’m a creative: a writer, a marketer, and a brand strategist. I’m really looking for a job in a creative field. But thank you anyway.

I don’t think you heard me. The starting pay is 90K a year.

It’s not about the money.

Bullshit. It’s always about the money.

Not for me. But thank you.

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I’m sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Kent, WA, sipping a glass of Cabernet. The awkward conversation (err, confrontation) that is currently unfolding is a perfect example of why I wanted to avoid this hotel-sponsored “Wine and Cheese” night. But after a long workday, the complimentary glass of red mere steps from my hotel room proves too difficult to resist. So here I am, trying to politely brush aside the attention of a strange man who’s sloshed on free booze and – worse – impervious to social cues.

The “conversation” quickly devolves, largely due to my refusal to acquiesce to his worldview that money makes the world go round. He takes personal affront to the fact that I have no interest in the job he’s trying to sell me, and within minutes, he has resorted to cursing and name-calling. Thankfully, it’s not long before he stomps out of the lobby in a huff, but not before delivering his final assessment: “If you’re just a snob that wants to write about eyeliner, there’s nothing I can do for you!” I laugh, in spite of myself. You’re right, dude. There’s nothing you can do for me.

My week in Kent has been a strange one. I’ve been working as an independent contractor, helping train employees of the medium-size company that bought the small Los Angeles-based accessories brand where I have worked for many years. Not only is the town of Kent itself odd – an industrial district populated by block after block of sprawling warehouses in the shadow of Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport – but the situation is odd, too. For a week, I’m immersed in a corporate culture completely alien to me – taking meetings, interfacing with all types of people and personalities (many of whom are suspicious of me and are not particularly friendly to the foreigner in their midst), and navigating office politics – all the while knowing that my immersion is temporary; that my normal life has simply been put on hold for a few days while I try on this very different life and see how it fits.

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During the week, I find myself daydreaming both about what my life would have been like had I accepted a job in Kent, and what my life will be like once this temporary independent contractor position is over. It brings to mind one of my favorite exercises from Julia Cameron’s seminal book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, called “Imaginary Lives.” Here’ s a synopsis of the exercise, excerpted from the book:

If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk . . . Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.

The point of these lives is to have fun in them – more fun than you might be having in this one. Look over your list and select one. Then do it this week. For instance, if you put down country singer, can you pick a guitar? If you dream of being a cowhand, what about some horseback riding?

The question I am asked over and over again when people find out that my job is ending is, “What are you going to do next?” And what they actually mean is this: “Have you found another job yet?” When I reply that I’m not actually looking for a job, that instead, I’ve decided to take some time off, they are baffled. They usually manage: “That’s great – good for you!” But their faces tell a different story: one of confusion, skepticism and – often – envy.

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Of course, “time off,” doesn’t mean lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix or spending every day at the beach. For me, it means taking all the time and energy and creativity that I have invested in working for someone else and instead, channeling that effort into exploring my passions and building a life that I had previously only dreamed of. It means investing more time in this blog and on my writing in general. It means producing a brand new play (that I’m still writing) this summer at Hollywood Fringe Festival. And it means allowing myself the time and space to breathe deeply, to reflect on the hard lessons of the last few years, and perhaps, to try on some of the imaginary lives on my list and see how they fit.

At the end of my week in Kent, I tagged on an extra day in Seattle with no agenda other than to relax and explore. I took a long walk through the city and ended up at the Space Needle, buying a ticket to a museum I’ve wanted to visit since it opened: Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum and accompanying gardens are not very big, but I lingered there for hours, immersing myself in the color and detail of every piece. Later, while flipping through a catalogue in the museum’s café, I was struck by this quote from the artist:

I discovered my first collection of beach glass on the shores of Puget Sound when I was four or five years old.

I’ve never stopped collecting since.

As a Pacific Northwest kid, I’ve collected my fair share of colorful beach glass. But as I read that quote, I realized that over the course of my life, the things that I’ve been collecting more than anything else are stories. Stories both real and imagined, both my own and other people’s. And now, as I prepare to move forward on to this next, more exploratory phase of my life, stories are the things I’ll continue to collect. They’re what I’ll continue to figure out how to bring forth into the world. And they’re what will inform my next steps, including any of those so-called “imaginary” lives I might decide to try on.

Until next time, friends.

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The end of a thing.

This past weekend, I closed another show. It had been a while since I’d been on stage – two years – and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it: the energy in the dressing room as the clock ticked toward curtain, the palpable excitement in those few, electric moments after “places” are called, waiting in the dark until it’s time to go on. The rush of adrenaline flooding my body when a cue line was dropped, and the sweet relief of recovery when the scene righted itself and moved forward. The utter you-can-hear-a-pin-drop silence when I realized the audience was right there with me, waiting, hanging on every word.

This play, Bare Naked Angels, was markedly different than any other play I’d done before. Autobiographical in nature, more solo performance than ensemble (though, really, a hybrid of both), it featured raw, personal stories from my and the six other cast members’ lives. It was the first time I’d produced a show without reading a script before signing on (our final script wasn’t ready until three weeks before opening night), and I had only a rough idea of the show’s concept and the journey it would take me on when I began.

During the months of workshopping that led up to Bare Naked Angels’ performance dates, my life was hit with a series of jolting events – both good and bad. The closer we got to opening night, the more change swirled in the air around me. It was almost as if by saying yes to this experience, with its leap-without-a-net nature, the universe began to demand more from me. I imagined Madam Universe needling me, saying something like, “Hey kid, don’t think I haven’t noticed what you’ve been doing. Complacency is no longer an option. And if you don’t take action on your own, I’m going to push you into it.”

Push me, she has.  These last few months, my insides have been shifting, a shift that has been echoed in the world around me. I’m not quite sure how to reconcile all I’ve seen and felt and experienced, or how to process what it all means. And to be honest, I haven’t had the time, at least not yet. In the days since the show closed, I have been preparing for an impending office move that will happen while I’m out of town. That’s right – more change – the company I’ve worked at for the last decade is being evicted from our office park, and I’ve been packing up my desk, cleaning, purging, organizing, and attempting to catalogue and archive fifteen years worth of a brand’s history; a history that is inevitably intertwined with my own.

This week, I am thinking about endings. And tomorrow morning, when I settle into my seat on the Boeing 737 bound for the only place I’ve truly ever considered home, I will exhale. I will take some much-needed time. Time to reflect on all that has happened. Time to grieve all that has ended. Time to swim in the sea, time to breathe in the salt air. Time to hug people that I love. And time to listen to what life has been teaching me over these last crazy, chaotic, jolting few months, so that in stillness, I can ask myself that big, looming question, “what’s next?”

Until next time, friends.

(Photo credit:  Instagram.com/AlaskaAir)

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