New.

It’s just before eight o’clock in the morning, Anchorage time, on the last day of 2016.  It’s dark as night as I write this; the sun won’t rise for at least another two hours.  Winter in Alaska means limited daylight – today, there are only about six hours between sunrise and sunset – and I can’t lie:  the darkness lends a certain heaviness to everything.  It’s strangely disorienting to spend so many waking hours in the black, and the temptation to huddle indoors where it’s light (and warm) is real.  But it’s also incredibly beautiful here.  Anchorage sits at the base of the Chugach Mountains, with their majestic, snowcapped peaks towering above the city.  This time of year, Christmas lights twinkle against freshly fallen snow, and even the frozen, somewhat ominous ice floes on Cook Inlet appear to sparkle as though they’re made of magic.

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I’m not sure what 2017 will bring – none of us can know what the future holds – but in as much as I can control my own destiny, I’ve been making plans for some big life changes in the year ahead.  And so, it felt sort of fitting to end 2016 in the place where I grew up.  I like to think of it as going back in order to go forward.

For a lot of people, 2016 was a difficult year.  It was for me, too.  But if I’m honest, despite its challenges, it was still one of the best I’ve had in a while.  It was the first year since 2011 that I can honestly say ended more hopeful than it began.  It was the first year since losing so many people that I love, that I felt something like true healing beginning to take hold.  And it was the first year since everything spun so violently out of control that I slipped back into the driver’s seat, grabbed the steering wheel, and started living my life on purpose, again.

2016 was not a perfect year.  But as I reflect upon what’s past and where I’d like to go next, I’m proud of myself for one big reason:  this past year, I did a hell of a lot of things that scared me.  I wrote a play that was personal and came from my heart and I put it out into the world.  I traveled alone to one of the largest cities on earth, an unfamiliar maze where I didn’t know my way around and didn’t speak the language.  I boarded a bus to Nevada with a whole bunch of people I didn’t know, to spend two days knocking on strangers’ doors, asking them to vote for a political candidate that I believed in.  And – perhaps the biggest thing – I spoke up for myself, more than once, and asked for what I wanted.

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As it turns out, there’s magic to be found when you push fear aside and take a leap.  My play received excellent reviews at the biggest theatre festival on the west coast of the United States.  I met one of my heroes (Don’t judge me.  Or do, I don’t care.), Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, on an airplane.  I visited a psychic medium and found – for the first time in four years – some peace around my mother’s death.  And through travel, new experiences and some truly lovely people who came into my life, I rediscovered a sense of joy and wonder that I feared I had lost forever.

So, as I think about what I want 2017 to look like, I have only one New Year’s resolution:  to say yes.  Say yes to everything I want to ask for, but I’m afraid to.  Say yes to every good thing that I’m not sure that I deserve.  Say yes to every challenge I’m not sure I’m ready for, every risk I’m not sure I’m brave enough for.  Just say yes, and trust that whatever comes next will work itself out.

Happy New Year, friends.

Until next time,

Sarah

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La La Land.

“A bit of madness is key

To give us new colors to see

Who knows where it will lead us?

And that’s why they need us.

So bring on the rebels

The ripples from pebbles

The painters, and poets, and plays

Here’s to the fools who dream

Crazy as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that break

Here’s to the mess we make.”

– La La Land

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Four years ago, on Thanksgiving morning, I pulled my car into the public parking lot at the base of Fryman Canyon’s trailhead, paid three dollars to park, and began my ascent up the mountain. The hike at Fryman begins as a steep climb, but after about a mile it levels off, with views of Sherman Oaks to the west. It was a bright, blue-skied morning, no longer hot but still temperate, the autumn winds having blown out much of the smog, offering up a clear view of the sprawling city below.

Both my limbs and my heart were heavy. It was my first Thanksgiving since my mother died, two months earlier. The following week, I would mark another birthday – thirty-two – and then shortly thereafter, I’d travel back to Olympia, Washington to see my father for the holidays, whose rapidly-advancing pancreatic and liver cancer meant that Christmas would surely be his last. And on the drive to Fryman, I had phoned my maternal grandmother, struck by the fact that our conversation had, for the first time in two months, seemed almost normal. Of course, I couldn’t have known that conversation would be the last lucid moment I’d share with her, her Alzheimer’s Disease descending like a fog only days later, never again to lift.

But on this bright November morning, staring down at the city I’d called home for the last thirteen years, I felt remarkably O.K. The troubles plaguing my worried mind were still there, of course, but they weren’t here, at least, not right now. Here, it was just me, and my city. Looking out across that sweeping metropolis, I couldn’t help but feel a familiar surge of pride that a girl from Alaska had made it all the way south, to this iconic place, to this land of movies and myth and magic, and had made it her own.

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Seventeen years in, even through the turbulence of these last few years, that feeling of pride has never gone away. At a recent screening of the new film La La Land, a friend remarked that he was happy to see a film about L.A. being made by filmmakers who actually love this city. I couldn’t agree more. Hating Los Angeles is a popular sport, and it’s easy to find fault with the traffic, the smog, the sprawl, the absence of seasons and the preoccupation with all things Hollywood, but I could also argue that any critique about L.A. can be flipped on its head, and used to make the case that it’s that very thing that gives this city its unique – and uniquely wonderful – personality. I suppose my relationship with Los Angeles is akin to an intimate love affair: I see all the bad stuff, all the flaws, and still, I want him anyway.

Considering my own origin story, I guess it’s not surprising that I ended up here. Growing up as an only child (my older half siblings were all nearly grown by the time I came along), with a career-obsessed father and a mother who battled depression, I spent much of the long, dark Alaska winters alone in my room, weaving stories out of my imagination. What a relief it was to finally land in theatre classes in L.A., finding a community of people who were just as odd and eccentric as I was, and who liked to play make believe just as much as I did.

I won’t pretend that my L.A. years have been easy. They haven’t been. I walked a long road and paid a lot of dues to get to a place that now feels only relatively comfortable. I’ve lived in cockroach-infested apartments, worked low-paying jobs that I hated, and had plenty of unfortunate encounters with some of the most awful people you could imagine. I’ve done bad plays in tiny theaters, signed contracts with unscrupulous agents, and suffered humiliation more times than I’d like to admit. More than once, I’ve watched a dream die and had to rebuild it anew, from nothing.

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But when times have been their toughest, that’s also when I’ve been at my best. Even when I’ve felt down, and hopeless, I’ve found a surprising ability to live off the collective energy of a place jam-packed with dreamers, hustlers, and doers, all fighting for their vision of how they want the world to be. The innovation and creativity that pulse through this city have, over and over again, given me the spark I needed to try again, one more time. And the urban sprawl? Simply an opportunity to reinvent myself, as each new neighborhood – Culver City, Miracle Mile, North Hollywood –  has offered new experiences, new friends, a new life.

For a long time, I was afraid to leave L.A. Afraid of what leaving would mean. That I was a quitter. That I wasn’t tough enough. That I didn’t have what it takes to make it here. But I no longer worry about that. It’s thanks to Los Angeles that my dreams have not only become bigger than I’ve ever dared, but that I actually have the moxie to make them come true. It’s thanks to L.A. that I can now justifiably use titles like “producer,” “creative director,” “playwright,” and “filmmaker” to describe myself. And as I write this blog, I’m sitting in a dressing room underneath a soundstage in Hollywood, waiting to step on to a set with actors that I grew up watching as a child. And that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, doesn’t even excite me, really. It’s just a job. What does excite me is the fact that after I’m done on this soundstage, I’ll head to a small rehearsal studio in North Hollywood for a table read of a play that I wrote, and for the first time, I’ll hear the new draft out loud, read by a new cast of actors. Because the truth is, all of my time in Los Angeles –  all of the heartbreak and the hope –  has taught me who I am and who I want to be. And that person is someone who is no longer content to live inside someone else’s scenes, or play a part in someone else’s story. She wants to – and has already begun to – write her own.

Until next time, friends.

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Thirty-Six.

Every breaking wave on the shore/

Tells the next one there’ll be one more/

And every gambler knows that to lose/

Is what you’re really there for/

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Yesterday, I needed to see the ocean.

I was staring down the looming deadline to finish my script like the barrel of a gun, I had a to-do list a mile long, and the thought of sitting in Friday L.A. traffic on the way to and from the coast was more than enough to dissuade me from making the trip.

But I’ve also learned that when the voice inside me grows loud enough, it’s time to stop what I’m doing and listen.

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned thirty-six.

It wasn’t the splashy present I gave myself a year ago, when I splurged on an ocean front room for three nights at Laguna Beach’s luxurious Surf & Sand Resort. But that year, thirty-five, was different. I crawled to that birthday on my knees, having just returned to L.A. after spending several rain-soaked weeks in the tiny Washington town of Allyn, seeing my grandfather through hospice. I hadn’t even had the opportunity to process the enormity of his death when I learned that the company I’d worked at for eleven years (since the age of twenty-three) had been sold, and I now had a decision to make: should I pack up my life and move back to Seattle, taking the corporate job and the sure thing? Or should I stay in L.A., where everything stable in my life had crumbled, and face an uncertain future?

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Last December, I stared out at the Pacific Ocean and I knew:  my heart wanted to stay. I wasn’t finished in L.A., wasn’t finished doing all the things I said I would do here. And I worried that if I left, I might never come back.

So I chose the scary, uncertain path. And thus began my year of going off script.

It hasn’t been easy for me to spend an entire year of my life with no real structure or plan. See, I’m kind of meticulous when it comes to planning. I’m a list-maker. I’m Type A. At any given time, I’ve got at least two calendars going, and I’m constantly filling them with goals I want to meet, and things I want to do. You should see the “Notes” app in my iPhone. Yeesh.

But life has also taught me how meaningless plans are. That plans fail. That people die. That in an instant, everything can change. And that there’s no such thing as a “sure” thing.

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So, for the last three hundred and sixty-five (Sixty-six? Wasn’t this a Leap Year? I forget. February was so very long ago) days, I embarked on an interesting experiment. I stepped out on faith and found myself supported time and time again in ways that I didn’t expect. When I needed money, it came in. When I humbled myself enough to ask for help (another thing that’s hard for me), I received it. And when I needed a different way of looking at the world, new people came into my life who taught me things about myself that I didn’t even realize I needed to know.

I regret nothing about this past year. I’m glad that I took the leap. In fact, despite some dark spots, it was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory. I learned much about life and love and faith, and, most importantly, how vital it is to trust that quiet, persistent voice inside of me.

And it is because I have learned to trust that voice, that yesterday, as I stared out at the same ocean from a year ago, on a different piece of California coastline, I had to recognize what’s true:  I am no longer OK with going off script. I am a writer, and I need an outline. I need a rough draft, a canvas to work from, a piece of text that I can – and likely, will – ruthlessly edit. I need something more than just waiting for the universe to “show me the way.” It’s time to start making decisions, and taking the risk that those decisions will be wrong. It’s time to stop talking about all the things I’m going to do “someday” and start actually doing them.

It’s time. In fact, it’s beyond time. So here I go.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, friends.

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A thousand steps.

Raise my hands/

Paint my spirit gold/

And bow my head/

Keep my heart slow

– Mumford & Sons

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Thousand Steps was not as warm as we had hoped. After descending the many flights of steep stairs from Pacific Coast Highway all the way down to the beach, we found a spot near the shore and spread our towels out on the sand. But after just a few minutes, an enormous white cloud drifted overhead, blocking out the sun. As a cool breeze began to rise off the ocean, we could no longer deny it: it wasn’t exactly beach weather on this mid October day in South Laguna.

Rachel suggested moving to the north end of the beach and settling at the base of a bluff, in hopes that it would block out the wind. We did, and to my surprise, it worked. Stretching out across my striped beach towel, I suddenly felt warm again. And before long, the clouds parted and the sun’s rays fell across my face and sleep began to overtake me. I turned on my side to look at Rachel and laughed because she was already out, her chest rising and falling in peaceful rhythm.

I thought about my phone – all the way back at Rachel’s apartment where I had left it, because this was just supposed to be a quick “beach break” – and I felt my anxiety rise thinking about the texts and calls and emails I could be missing. There was a lot going on back in L.A., and even though I’d come here on a working vacation, I felt slightly guilty for making my escape in the midst of such a chaotic week. But my phone was too far away to retrieve: up that steep, steep flight of stairs (certainly nowhere near a thousand steps, but still enough that when you were climbing them, the name felt warranted), and then another few blocks away, and then up another hill. And besides, I was so tired. What the hell, I thought. I’ll just close my eyes for a minute. And so I did.

I’d been in Laguna Beach for two days, seeking respite from the constant construction noise rattling the foundation of my tiny one bedroom bungalow. The quiet and the ocean view certainly helped my productivity, as did the company; I couldn’t imagine a better work buddy than my college friend Rachel, a talented, hard-working creative director who’d spent years hustling in Nashville and New York. And while it felt good to be productive (two days in, I’d already completed a handful of freelance projects, returned a ton of pesky emails, and spent several hours diving into the next draft of my play War Stories), I knew that what was really important was all the stuff in between the work. After all, years from now, would I really remember the items I’d checked off my to do list, the projects I’d completed, the business I’d handled? I doubt it. What I would remember were the ways Rachel and I procrastinated doing that work, like the impromptu fashion show where she tried on her most impractical dresses, or the careful attention we paid to re-arranging her tea drawer, or the spectacular tangerine sunset we watched slipping below the Pacific, while we talked about our big life questions, the kind of questions that come with the territory when you’ve bid farewell to your old life but aren’t yet sure where your new one is taking you.

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Waking up from my nap, I rolled over and glanced at my friend. Still asleep. She needs it, I thought. I got up, stripped down to my swimsuit, and walked toward the ocean. The waves were cold and the surf was big, so at first I just tiptoed along the shoreline. But gradually I waded in deeper, up to my waist, and the waves rushed in faster and with a force, until one of them knocked me down. I got up, laughing, because I knew that somehow, I needed that, that wakeup call, that reminder not to take everything so seriously.

It has been six months since I left a full time job to strike out on my own. Six months, and I’m still no closer to having a plan, or any sort of long-term strategy. Instead, I’ve just been moving from moment to moment, experience to experience, freelance job to freelance job, with as much travel as I can manage in between. In the absence of a traditional job, people usually assume that I must have tons of free time on my hands, but in fact, the opposite is true: I am busier than I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’ve been filling my time with activities that I actually enjoy. Or maybe it’s because I’m moving more slowly these days, finally allowing myself to acknowledge the impact that the intense emotional trauma of the last few years has had on my body. Or maybe it’s just that – with an altered consciousness – I am feeling my life differently, aware of how rich and meaningful it is, and there simply never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do.

These past six months, I have often wondered how it’s possible to feel so light and so heavy, all at the same time. But as I wade through the waves, the powerful surf crashing around me, I know the answer: its just life. Tomorrow, I’ll head back to Los Angeles, and in the space of twenty-four hours, I’ll attend a remembrance for a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly, work a volunteer event geared toward empowering teen girls, and celebrate the marriage of a dear friend. Light and heavy, all at the same time.

I don’t know this as I stand waist deep in the Pacific, staring out at the horizon, but tomorrow, as we gather in a small theater in Sherman Oaks to pay tribute to the friend gone far too soon, I’ll stand on the stage and speak words that will surprise me to hear myself say out loud, words about how this man inspired me and how I want to live my life differently because of him. And as I say them, I’ll know that they’re true. And later, another friend who I haven’t seen in awhile will tell me: “You’re a different person than you used to be, and that’s a good thing.” And I’ll realize that maybe it’s not so terrible to have these unanswered questions, and to live them, and to let life unfold as it will. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about where I’m going, or about what it all means. And maybe by simply taking those one thousand steps, one at a time, the future will take care of itself.

Until next time, friends.

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