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.

Magic.

Listen to the Mustn’ts, child.

Listen to the Don’ts.

Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.

Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.

Anything can happen, child.

Anything can be.

– Shel Silverstein

On the eighteenth day of December, I took a walk along Riverside Drive in Manhattan. The air was crisp, the trees barren, the late afternoon sun slipping low on the horizon, spreading its golden glow across the Hudson River and backlighting the New Jersey skyline. In just over twelve hours, I’d be getting in a cab bound for Newark Airport, then boarding a cross country flight back to the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have time for a walk. I had dinner plans. I hadn’t finished packing. My alarm was set for 3:30 the following morning.

I didn’t have time for a walk, but I needed it. Walking was always when I did my best thinking, and my thoughts were, at that moment, a tangled jumble. I tossed my laundry into a dryer in the basement of my apartment building and set the timer on my phone. I had an hour. Out into the cold December day I went.

From Riverside, I took a left on 116th street and crossed Broadway, onto the campus of Columbia University. It was twilight now, and I entered a tree-lined promenade, aglow in the sparkle of white Christmas lights. The quad was largely quiet, evidence of the impending holiday. Despite my haste, I felt a measure of calm settle over me. I loved school. I had always loved school. Lately, I’d been entertaining the idea of going back for a master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure if that was something I really wanted or just a stalling technique, a costly way of putting off the inevitable reality of making big life decisions.

I had much to do, but I was in no hurry to return to my apartment. Two days earlier, the daughter of the woman I’d been subletting from had filled the living room with boxes and bags of what can best be described as “stuff.” She’d had a crisis in her living situation in Brooklyn and had to move out suddenly, and the result was now sitting in my once clean and orderly living room. My landlord apologized profusely for the disruption and promised she would deal with the mess while I was away over Christmas, but I couldn’t help feeling unsettled by the chaos. It was also a reminder of a truth that was becoming more and more apparent: my landlord’s daughter wanted to return to her old apartment. Soon, I would have to move.

I’d had a good run in New York, and I knew it. For what I’d been paying in rent, I should have been living in a shoebox in the Bronx with at least one roommate. Instead, I had a seven hundred fifty square foot, eighth-floor apartment with a balcony perched over Broadway all to myself. The space was beautiful and tranquil and safe. My cheap rent had enabled me to take writing classes and write a new play and work on my memoir without the urgency of having to look for a real job. The co-op even had a theater company in the basement of my building, a theater company that would be producing a reading of my new play in January. I’d arrived in New York with no plan, and somehow, landed exactly where I needed to be.

But now what? The question nagged at me as I trudged north along Amsterdam Avenue. I had some ideas about temporary living situations but anything even semi-permanent would require paying real rent and a renewed urgency to find a real job. Did I want to look for work in New York and try to root myself there? Or did I want to call time on the Big Apple experiment and return to the west coast? I didn’t know. I missed California and my friends something fierce, but after fifteen months in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure I belonged in L.A. any more.

I have a bad habit of assuming the worst-case scenario. When something good happens, I can’t enjoy it, because I’m already preparing myself for when it goes away. The concept of “living in the moment” is something I struggle mightily with.

I wasn’t always like this. At least, I don’t think I was. I’ve been so altered by the events of the last six years, I don’t remember the person I was before all the bad stuff happened. I don’t remember who I was before my mom’s alcoholism, my dad’s cancer, my grandmother’s dementia, my grandfather’s hospice, my divorce, and all the deaths and devastation that ensued. I know I used to feel young and carefree and that the world was open and full of possibility, but that all seems vague and ephemeral now, like a dream I woke up from after sleeping too long.

Worst-Case Scenario Sarah is not only annoying, she has profoundly affected my ability to enjoy New York. She has left me fists clenched, steeling myself through winter, sweating through summer, unable to allow myself to indulge in the most basic, touristy activities like walking the Brooklyn Bridge or taking in the city from atop the Empire State Building or marveling at the Manhattan skyline from the deck of a ferry boat.

This is a revelation about myself I’ve only come to recently. It began a few months ago, when I first learned my landlord’s daughter was applying for jobs in New York. Bemoaning my fate over whiskey on a patio in Williamsburg, my friend Kirsten waxed poetic about the New York apartment shuffle and proposed a question I couldn’t wrap my head around: “OK, so you have to move. But how do you know you won’t find something even better?”

I didn’t say it out loud, but my brain immediately spat out the following: Impossible! How could it possibly get better than what I have now? I knew this good thing would go away. It was only a matter of time.

The day after my walk, I arrived in Seattle, and some dear friends picked me up at the airport and took me out to lunch. As we caught up over Pacific Northwest seafood and pints of dark beer, I told them about the latest: I had a play reading in January, I’d signed up for a new memoir class, and soon I’d have to move and didn’t know where to go or what to do.

I may be Worst-Case Scenario Sarah, but fortunately I have the good sense to surround myself with Glass is Half Full People. As I explained my situation and my uncertainty about the future, my friend Karrin offered: “It sounds like you’re letting your creative work dictate your decisions. And that’s pretty cool.”

The next morning, writing morning pages by the fire in Grandpa’s beach house, I found myself scribbling that phrase over and over again. Let your creative work dictate your decisions. And I decided something: even if I had to move before my memoir class was over at the end of March, I would find a way to stay in New York, and finish it. I loved that class, loved the people in it, loved the instructor, and I knew it was helping me do the hard work of writing my book.

My last assignment during the last session of Memoir II was to write the reflective ending of my book. It was incredibly difficult because it meant I had to force myself to answer some big questions. What is the point of my story? How do I want the reader to feel? And what have I learned over the course of this very personal journey?

I wrote about the week before I moved to New York, when I gathered at the beach with some of my closest friends. One day, while we were getting ready for a boat ride, my friend Vim spotted a sight that is quite uncommon in the protected cove of Case Inlet: three Orca whales – two calves and their mother – swimming close to shore. Everything about the future was uncertain, but in that moment, experiencing the magic of seeing an old place through the new eyes of my visiting friends, I suddenly believed it would all be OK.

This is the last paragraph of what I wrote:

I don’t know what my life will look like in New York. I don’t know what I’ll do, or who I’ll meet, or how things will change. I just know I’m no longer afraid to face an uncertain future. Grief taught me that life unfolds as it will, whether we like it or not. And it also taught me that if one day can change your life for the worse, then it certainly can for the better. And I’m ready for that. I’m ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. Because the mystery of all the things we can’t know is what makes life exciting. It’s what makes me glad I’m alive.

I so badly want to own this. I want to abandon Worst-Case Scenario Sarah in favor of someone who not only believes good things will happen, she expects them. That’s why I wrote that passage. Call it an attempt at manifestation, call it faking it ‘til I make it, it’s my sincere hope that by the time I finish my book, I will have arrived at that last paragraph.

On my second day at the beach – December 20th – I sat in the living room, bundled up in blankets, waiting out a storm. When suddenly, I saw something that made me rush outside. It was a vibrant, unbroken rainbow, forming a perfect half circle from one end of the bay to the other. And for some reason, I thought about the poem by Shel Silverstein I began this blog post with.

Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

I may not totally believe that yet. But man, am I working on it.

Until next time, friends.

 

June.

“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.”

– Khalil Gibran

I started writing the end of my story first. I began with the day I hugged Jen in the driveway of her apartment building after she’d helped me put three heavy suitcases in the back of my car, and then drove my silver Toyota Prius up an eerily deserted 405 freeway to the top of the Sepulveda Pass for the last time. I wrote about the Lyft ride to the airport, where I told the driver I was moving to New York and how strange those words sounded coming out of my mouth, and the celebratory glass(es) of prosecco I drank at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Terminal 6, where I thought about my mother the whole time, because it was almost eighteen years to the day that I’d taken the reverse flight, from Seattle to L.A., as a kid going off to college, and how scared I’d been, and how she’d held my hand and told me that everything was going to be all right. And now, here I was again, eighteen years later, no longer a kid, but feeling just as exhilarated and terrified by the change I was about to make, and this time without my mother to tell me everything would be all right. So I took a deep breath, got on the plane, and told myself.

It felt easier to start at the end than the beginning, not just because the ending was fresh in my mind. Because the ending was so full of hope. As I scrolled through old Instagrams and blog posts from last summer, that was the thing I was struck by again and again: hope. The fact that I didn’t know how this grand adventure was going to turn out, but I was barreling forward anyway, with a sense of faith and confidence that surprised even me. Because I wanted something different than what I’d already had, and that meant doing something different than what I’d already done. Because when nothing is certain anything is possible, and I believed most of all the words of a friend who told me that anything is possible in New York.

So I made the decision to go, and once I’d made that decision, all the other decisions sprang from it, gathering momentum, like a giant snowball rolling down a hill. And I didn’t stop to think that anything could go wrong, didn’t consider any outcome other than a good one, didn’t even really listen to friends who cautioned that change is difficult, and I might have a hard time transitioning to life on the east coast.

Of course, hard turned out to be an understatement. And as winter descended like a fog, and none of my plans worked out and the grief I thought I’d healed from came roaring back, I lost sight of the hope I’d had in those early days. I stopped believing in myself. I stopped believing that good things were possible.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned during these last few difficult years, it’s that sometimes our darkest moments can be our greatest teachers. And during the winter that never seemed to end, I came to a realization: maybe the fact that nothing was working out was exactly what I needed. Maybe my move to New York wasn’t meant to be about what I would accomplish. Maybe it was meant to be about what I would learn.

It’s officially summer in the city. My first. It’s already uncomfortably humid for a girl used to the desert climate of Southern California, and it’s nowhere near as hot and a sticky as it’s going to get. I’m trying not to think about it. I’m trying to take each day as it comes, enjoying the fact that I can still sit in my living room with all the windows open and feel the faint breeze rustling through the trees and listen to the rattle of the 1 train as it shoots out of the tunnel at 125th and Broadway.

The beginning of summer means my memoir class is coming to an end. And while I’ve made a commitment to spend these next hot, humid months writing my book, I’ve also just begun another class: an intensive playwriting workshop geared toward finishing the first draft of my next script. I’m a bit worried I’ve taken on too much, that one big project might derail the other. But as I’ve started diving into this new play, a bittersweet love story about two people whose destinies are intertwined and yet, who ultimately can’t be together, I’ve realized that whether it’s fiction or non, there’s one theme that keeps running through all of my work, a theme that goes something like this: You can’t save people, you can only love them.

I can’t say how long I’ll stay in New York. I can only say that after nine months and three seasons, I’m finally starting to appreciate this city for what it is: an open door I needed to walk through to change my life. I’m grateful for every road block, every challenge, every time I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “What in the hell am I doing?” This experience has made me stronger, less afraid, and more willing to fail. And while I’ve never been a person who’s been comfortable living in uncertainty, I can recognize that uncertainty is exactly what I needed to make me realize I still have the power to shape my own narrative. I don’t know how this story is going to end, only that I’m writing it moment to moment, in a place where, once again, anything feels possible.

Until next time, friends.

Vertigo.

I pressed my back against the chair, feeling the thin tissue paper covering crinkle as I shifted my weight. A wave of nausea washed over me. I quickly leaned forward. Nope, too far. The room spun. I carefully, slowly reclined, trying to find what felt like center. I was perched on the edge of my seat when the doctor came in. He had kind eyes, a nice smile. “We’re going to take your vitals again,” he said. “Your heart rate was too high.”

“I’m just nervous,” I told him. “I don’t really like doctors. No offense.”

I found a spot on the floor to focus on and concentrated on my breathing. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. He told me to relax my arm as he prepared to take my blood pressure. I did as I was told. I felt the band tightening, felt my heart throbbing in my bicep. Inhale, exhale.

“Well, that’s much better.” He seemed pleased. “You were right; must have just been nerves.” That’s funny, I thought. I don’t feel more relaxed.

We did a neurological test. Normal. He looked inside my ears. Normal. There was nothing out of the ordinary, no obvious cause of dizziness. “Vertigo usually goes away on its own,” he said. “But if you’re not better in a week, you may need to see a specialist.”

He gave me some exercises to help restore my equilibrium. “At first, they might make you even more dizzy,” he admitted. “But they really do seem to help.” I signed a release form, paid my hundred and twenty-five dollars and just like that, I was on my way home.

The dizziness began the week before, after what I had hoped was the last New York snow storm of early spring. At first, I ignored it, partly because – for the first time in many years – I was without health insurance. I tried to hold on to my California plan, figuring I’d move back there eventually (one of many examples of how I’d kept one foot out the door since my arrival in New York), but I could no longer prove residency and my coverage was canceled. That left the New York insurance market, a confusing maze of companies I didn’t know and policies I didn’t understand. I had begun the application process but hit a wall when it came to choosing a plan.

The day before my trip to urgent care, I spent the afternoon in rehearsal for an evening of original monologues at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. I’d written one of the monologues and was directing seven others, which meant a long day of working with actors in the fifteenth-floor conference room of a building in midtown Manhattan. The rehearsals were a welcome distraction, but more than once I’d felt the room spin and wondered if I was going to faint. By the end of the day, health insurance or no, I knew I had to see a doctor.

And he was right. Ultimately the vertigo did get better on its own. I still get a little dizzy now and then, but the difference is striking. I’m no longer afraid I’ll fall in the shower, or have to grip the edge of the sink to remain upright when I’m washing dishes, or feel the room spin when I’m lying down.

I don’t think I was ever in actual medical jeopardy, but my recovery does feel as though I’ve been given a second chance. The truth is, I feel as though I’ve been given many second chances, and too many times, I’ve taken those chances for granted. I want to believe I’m brave and adventurous, that I’ve learned my lesson about how short and precious life is, but I still make far too many choices out of fear.

This is week four of my ten-week memoir class. When I started it, I was full of resistance. I didn’t feel ready to write a book. I still don’t feel ready. But in just a few short weeks, I’ve awoken memories that won’t go back to where they came from. And the more I write, the more I remember. At this point, it feels too late to do anything but keep going.

I’m scared, just like I was at that doctor’s visit. My memories are painful and not easy to relive. The recurring dreams about my mother are not easy, either. But as fearful as I am about diving further into the past, I’m even more fearful of running out of time. That’s the gift my vertigo gave me: a reminder the future isn’t guaranteed.

After last week’s class – a class where I talked through the subject matter of my yet-to-be-written book and landed on a theme – a fellow student pulled me aside. A lovely woman, a mother and a grandmother, somewhere between two and three decades older than me, she smiled and said, “You know something? You’re lucky. Most people don’t arrive at that level of self-awareness until they’re much older. To have such insight about your life when you still have so much of it left to live, that’s a real gift.”

She’s right. It is a gift. One I’m grateful for. One I have to remind myself every day not to take for granted.

Until next time, friends.

What could be.

“For what it’s worth. . . it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spring came early to New York. Even if it was only a brief respite from the snow that hadn’t quite finished with us yet, the February day where the sun appeared and the temperature warmed to nearly seventy degrees was glorious. In the late afternoon, I took a thirty-block detour on my way to the gym to walk through Morningside Heights. An elderly couple sitting on a park bench smiled at me and said hello. Children chased each other and laughed, unencumbered by their scarves and jackets. As I turned down 110th Street, sleeveless joggers charged past, heading for Central Park. Even the way the waning sun fell across the brownstones lining Harlem’s Manhattan Avenue felt, somehow, hopeful.

When I meet people in New York and they learn I’ve only recently moved here, it doesn’t take long for them to ask the inevitable question: why? Why would I leave a seemingly comfortable life in Los Angeles – a place with enviable weather, where I have great friends and an established network of contacts – to move across the country to a city where life is arguably more difficult? Why now? Why, with no obvious anchor in the form of a job or school or a relationship, at an age where – let’s be honest – starting over is not easy?

Whenever I’m asked this question, I invariably answer with some version of the following: I’d been feeling creatively stagnant in L.A. for some time and I needed a change. I wrote a play that I want to produce here. And I’d always wanted to try New York and figured, if not now, when? And all of these things are true. They’re just not the whole truth. The whole truth is something more difficult to pin down, something I feel embarrassed to admit.

Ever since I was very young, I had an idea about the person I was supposed to be. She’s braver than I am, more confident. She’s successful and her life is glamorous. And – perhaps the most important part – she’s happy.  Like really, really, stupidly, ridiculously happy.

When I moved to L.A. as a baby faced eighteen-year-old, all the big dreams that drove me there were wrapped up in this idea, this need to find the best version of myself. Over the years, I caught glimpses of her. I caught glimpse of what could be. But the life I longed for never fully materialized. And just after my thirty-first birthday, everything went off the rails. And I began to wonder if time had run out on my dreams.

In a way, New York felt like my last shot. If I was too afraid to respond to the siren call of the city, what would that say about me? Would it mean I wasn’t as brave or as adventurous as I wanted to be? Would it mean that my best days were already behind me?

I’ve always been an optimist. But here’s the thing about hope: it’s a currency that grows more expensive with time and with exposure to loss. After every death, after every disappointment, after every heartbreak that has rocked this rollercoaster decade of my thirties, it’s become harder to pick myself up and begin again. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t try. It’s just that I have learned to protect myself by not only preparing for the worst, but by expecting it.

So, when the sparkle of starting again in a new city wore off and the inevitable reality of adjusting to life in New York set in, I got down on myself. I succumbed to melancholy and depression. I stopped believing that good things were going to happen for me.

But here’s the other thing about hope: it’s persistent. Our dreams don’t die easily. And sometimes, all it takes is one small shift in perspective to set the world right again.

I suppose it’s ironic that my shift in perspective was brought about by the flu. Forced to slow down, stay home, and stay in bed, I had a lot of time to think. And I thought about all the friends from back home who had been sending me love via emails and texts and calls, telling me they were proud of me and they believed in me. I thought about the new friends I’d made in New York, who had been so generous, so warm and welcoming, so willing to help me. And I felt both grateful for everything I had been given and ashamed of myself for taking it for granted. And I resolved to try harder. And I reminded myself that the only time you ever really fail is when you quit trying.

Until next time, friends.

Montauk.

The sea wants to kiss the golden shore//
The sunlight warms your skin
//
All the beauty that’s been lost before
//
Wants to find us again.*

I woke before my alarm, song lyrics in my head. I heated up a mug of hot water, squeezed a slice of lemon into it, and put my headphones in. From the weathered armchair in the corner of my living room, I watched the sun rise over New York. I watched the clouds turn pink, their color deepening before dispersing, bathing the buildings in gentle light before bidding them goodbye. I watched from my eighth-floor window as a crammed subway train made its way downtown, filled with people going to jobs I didn’t have, leading lives I didn’t live. I watched the day begin, and then, I wrote.

I’m not sure when the shift began. I think it was twelve days earlier, on the way to Montauk, when from outside the window of my eastbound train, from over a bank of snow, I first glimpsed the Atlantic Ocean. And later, on a Long Island beach, when I climbed over more snow to get to sand and stood, watching the waves crash, watching the water recede and return, breathing in cold salt air, that for the first time in a long time, I felt like myself again. There was no grand epiphany, just a quiet voice whispering, “Remember?” And I did. And then I went back inside, to work.

I came to New York to write. And though I’ve been writing every day, I haven’t enjoyed it. The process has been torturous, and slow, and has often felt – to me – without purpose. But as a friend of mine once said, “Sometimes we make the story so big, we can’t tell it.”

When I tell you that writing saved my life, I’m not exaggerating. A few years ago, when I was in the worst part of my depression, when the world felt like it was collapsing around me, writing was the only thing that gave me any relief. I’ve always harbored a secret worry (not so secret any more, I guess) that I feel more than most people. That I feel more than what is normal. So, when real tragedy struck, the emotions were so big they threatened to drown me. That was when I first started experiencing panic attacks. When I couldn’t swallow food without feeling like I was choking. When I struggled to get out of bed.

I should have asked for help. But I didn’t. I wrote. And as I wrote, I learned something. I learned that if I could find a way to articulate my emotions so that other people could feel them too, if I could turn them into real, tangible things in the form of essays or blog posts, if I could get them out of my body and into the world, then they wouldn’t swallow me. Call it sharing my pain in order to survive. I don’t know if it worked, but it sure felt like it did. And it made me feel a hell of a lot less alone.

I don’t write to survive any more, but sometimes I forget that. Sometimes, I’ll be working on an essay or a section of dialogue or a scene in a play, and something will come out that’s intense or unexpected and knock me sideways and I’ll have to stop for a while. And I’m reminded that the thing that brings me the greatest joy can still, occasionally, be dangerous.

When I went out to Montauk, the weather had already begun to turn. By the time I got back to the city, the snow had melted, the streets had cleared, and it was – dare I say – pleasant. I took the subway downtown to look at a theater space, and using Google maps as my navigator, I experienced a feeling that can only be described as relief. There was no headache, no bitter cold. Being outside, walking around, was fun. Were people on the streets actually smiling? In New York?

I guess that’s the thing about winter. The storms can be brutal. But on the other side of them? Beauty. And every so often: moments of pure, unfiltered joy.

Until next time, friends.

*Lyrics from the song “Ordinary Love,” by U2

Instructions.

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

― Mary Oliver

The sea was rough on the crossing to Bremerton. I sat in a booth near the window and watched as whitecaps broke across dark blue water. The ferry rocked and swayed but chugged resolutely onward, the Seattle skyline slowly disappearing behind us. Despite the chop, the day was glorious on all accounts, with nary a cloud in the clear blue December sky.

The next morning, the winter solstice, I dug myself out from underneath a pile of blankets and padded into the kitchen to make coffee. The view that greeted me from outside the wall of inlet-facing windows was pure white; the fog that blanketed the landscape so thick I couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the sea began. There was no snow on the ground, but the grass and evergreen trees had been dusted with a layer of frost, looking as though someone had painted them with a great big silvery brush. It was four days before Christmas, and I was home.

A couple of weeks earlier – more than two, but less than three – on the evening of my birthday, I sat in a friend’s kitchen in North London, drinking wine. My friend told me that she was worried that my writing was so sad, that she sometimes found it difficult to read my blog. This friend had known me a long time; we’d first met when I was a twenty-one-year-old college student on a semester abroad. How different my life looked then, when I attended class three days a week, lived in a beautiful flat in central London, and my biggest concern was which European country I’d travel to over the next four-day weekend.

I remember that girl well, how she sang through the streets of Berlin, and cheered a royal wedding in Amsterdam, and crashed a party at a film festival in the south of France. She’d been liberated from an unhappy adolescence by her acceptance into a prestigious university in Los Angeles, and once there, everything seemed possible. She threw herself into life with abandon, without fear of loss. And why not? Nothing bad had happened to her yet.

When I began this blog, I didn’t set out to write about sad things. I didn’t set out to do anything, really, other than try to survive an all-encompassing darkness that descended unexpectedly at the age of thirty-one. Writing helped. It helped make sense of tragedy. It helped connect me with other people and realize that I didn’t have to suffer alone. It helped me find a voice and a purpose.

I’m on the other side of that darkness now. I still write about sad things. But mostly, I try to write what’s true. And the truth is, my life looks very different than it did before the darkness visited me.

How I loved that twenty-one-year-old college student, off having the time of her life in London. Every time I return to that city – as I did just a few weeks ago – I’m reminded of her. I miss her enthusiasm and her innocence. I miss her, but I know she isn’t coming back. And I don’t want her to.

That girl never would have been brought to tears by the sight of baby Orca whales and their mother hunting for food off the shores of Case Inlet. She never would have been leveled by a tangerine sun setting over cobblestone streets in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, or seen the poetry in the changing autumn foliage in the Hudson River Valley. She would have tried to appreciate those things, but their beauty would have been lost on her.

I am not naïve anymore, not fearless. I know what it’s like to lose. I no longer throw myself into the world with abandon, but I do live in it. I take that fear, and that awareness of how fragile everything is, and I carry it with me out into the world. I see what’s beautiful, and what’s sad, and what’s true, and I write it all down.

And in doing this, little by little, I am re-making my life.

Until next time, friends.

The rose garden.

How can it be Thursday afternoon already? I wonder. Looking at this week from the blissful remove of last Sunday, that lazy Mother’s Day afternoon at the Getty Villa drinking Pinot Grigio with girlfriends, then the drive along Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, back to my little bungalow, where I watched the sun sink below the horizon and made all kinds of promises to myself, writing three essays and finishing rewrites on my new one-act play by Friday didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Ambitious, yes, but I had more than enough open space on my calendar.

These days, I constantly underestimate the amount of time it will take me to complete any given task. Time has become more elusive than ever, and the more of it I think I have, the more quickly it slips through my fingers.

Lately, everything I write seems to crack something open within me. It might be the season. May means that Los Angeles skies are bursting with lavender blooms and I’m thinking of my mother even more than usual. May is her month. Her favorite Jacaranda trees are flowering in her favorite color, and next week, May 25, is her birthday.

Even when I try not to write about her, there she is. And that’s OK. I like having her with me. It just means that sometimes, a word or a thought or a phrase sends me down an unexpected rabbit hole. The more impossible it feels to articulate the contradictory emotions inhabiting my body – the gratitude, the regret, the joy, the longing – the more determined I am to find the right words to express them.

But writing is hard work, and so, I procrastinate. I procrastinate by absorbing hours of cable news, the drama unfolding in D.C. feeling far more compelling than any plot point I could write into my one-act play. I allow myself to get sucked into the sinkholes of social media. And I worry. I spend hours worrying about the things I’m not doing, the emails I’m not responding to, the problems I’m not dealing with, the items I’m not checking off my list.

It’s a pernicious beast, this worrying. Most of it has to do with the future and with things I can’t control. I’ve put wheels in motion to move at the end of summer, and the closer I get to taking actions that I can’t take back, the more I worry. The reasons why not pile up. And there I am again, thinking instead of doing. Worrying instead of writing.

And then the news breaks that a car has plowed into pedestrians in the middle of Times Square, killing an eighteen-year-old girl, critically injuring others. In broad daylight. Just like that, lives are destroyed, or changed forever. The type of thing that happens all too often, the tragedy you don’t see coming.

Screw it, I think. I close my laptop, leave my apartment, drive to the coast. I breathe in the Pacific Ocean and work to slow my breathing. And then, I speed it up again. With music pulsating through my headphones, I run up and down the wooden stairs on Montana Avenue, lungs burning, heart racing. I’m alive, I tell myself. It’s enough.

After my run, I stop at my favorite part of Palisades Park: the rose garden. My grandfather had a beautiful rose garden at my grandparents’ home in West Seattle. I barely remember anything about that house, I was so little when they lived there. But I remember that garden. It was magic, just like my Grandpa. Was that when I first began to love roses?

A line from a poem by T.S. Eliot:

“Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”

It made me cry when I read it, because I recognized its truth. This is the way we make a life: by choosing. And choosing some things means not choosing others. The choices I must make about the future, the actions I can’t take back, I will make them. And they will be right. Even if I make mistakes along the way, they will be right. And the words I’m having trouble finding, I will find them. And though they may not be perfect, they will be right, too.

Until next time, friends.

New York.

“So I went to New York City to be born again.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. It may have been catching up over drinks with a friend – who I met two years ago at a film festival in Alaska – in the crowded White Horse Tavern, yelling to be heard over the blaring jukebox, as she told me I was sitting in the chair rumored to be occupied by the ghost of Dylan Thomas. It may have been the historic old theatre I toured – one of many – during which the endearingly eccentric theatre manager regaled me with stories of past productions as we climbed rickety, dust-covered stairs into the rafters to look at her enormous inventory of lighting equipment. It may have been the afternoon I wandered through Washington Square Park daydreaming among tulip gardens, or the night I woke to the crackling of thunder and was treated to a magnificent lightning storm outside my seventh-floor window, or the number of coffees and lunches I shared with former Angelenos, all of whom told me what I already felt to be true: that their creativity and productivity had expanded tenfold since they’d moved to the opposite coast.

It may have even been that very first day, on my way into the city from JFK, the taxi cab snaking through traffic in the rain, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge and plunging into that glorious skyline of concrete and glass, all shiny and gritty and hopeful. But whenever it happened, all I know is that somewhere in the space of the week I spent in New York to visit theatres and research moving my play War Stories there, something within me shifted from “I think I could live here,” to “This is home.

Truth be told, I’d been feeling anxious about the trip right up until the moment I arrived. I don’t know a ton of people in New York. One of my oldest and dearest friends keeps a place there, but lately she’s been working mostly in California and wasn’t planning to be back in the city until the last two days of my visit. Other than her, most of my New York connections are soft:  actors and writers I know from L.A.; high school friends I haven’t seen much of – or at all – in years; people I’d never met but who were introduced to me through mutual friends. The week before I left, I reached out to everyone I could think of, most of whom responded with: “Call me when you get here and we’ll make a plan.” And so, on the bright, early morning I left L.A., I had very few appointments on my calendar, and no idea how this whole New York experiment was going to work out.

But as soon as I arrived, a funny thing happened:  everything fell into place. The emails and texts started rolling in. Could I come participate in a screenplay reading in Williamsburg? Yes. Meet for dinner? Yes. Coffee? Yes. Brunch? Yes. On my second morning in New York, an email came through from the owner of the theatre where I produce most of my work in L.A., telling me to call a friend of his who owns an Off-Broadway theatre in Midtown. He was expecting to hear from me, he said.

And on it went, all week, like a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering momentum, growing bigger, faster, stronger. I took three, four, five, meetings a day, and everywhere I went, I met lovely, hard-working, creative people. People who were engaged and interested and who seemed to genuinely want to help me. I couldn’t believe it. What was this myth I’d heard about New Yorkers being rude? That was certainly not my experience.

I should have been exhausted from all the scheduling, the emails and information exchanged, the city blocks covered on foot. But I wasn’t. I was energized. I was inspired. And it made me realize that this feeling was exactly what I’d been craving, exactly what I’d been missing these last few years in L.A. This is where I’m supposed to be, I thought. And before I left New York, I had made my decision. I was moving there.

I know that relocating won’t be easy. I know that New York can be a hard place to live, that the winters are cold and the summers are hot, that the apartments are tiny and expensive as hell and that the pace of the city can be exhausting. And I know that I still have a whole lot to figure out, like finding a job and a place to live. But I also know that the energy and excitement that I felt pulsing through my veins when I was there is something I can’t ignore. I know that last week, New York went from feeling like a near impossible dream to something that is very, very possible. And I know that if I’m serious about producing theatre there, then I need to be there. I need to spend the time to do it right, to develop a plan and a marketing strategy and do all the work that’s necessary to be taken seriously in a town where theatre is a serious business.

I moved to L.A. as a girl of eighteen, and I’ve now lived here – other than a brief stint in London and some extended stays back home in the Pacific Northwest – half of my life. I love L.A. and I know it won’t be easy to say goodbye. But the die has been cast. The decision has been made. And I’ve already begun to set the wheels in motion. And if all goes well, then by sometime this fall, I will be calling New York City home.

Until next time, friends.

The beginning.

“some people,
when they hear
your story,
contract.
others,
upon hearing
your story,
expand.
and
this is how
you
know.”

— Nayyirah Waheed

There were a lot of friendly faces in the crowd that night. On audience left, a group of close college friends, some of whom had driven down from Northern California the night before to see the show. In another part of the theatre, buddies from the sports bar where we gather to watch our favorite football team. That Saturday evening, good friends – old and new – were in abundance.

But it was the couple sitting in the front row, audience right, that captured my attention. Two people, a man and a woman, him slumped low in his seat, his hand partially covering his face. And though I tried to focus, tried to stay present in the moment as my co-star and I began the play’s final, climactic scene, in an intimate, forty seat theatre like the Actor’s Workout Studio, it was impossible not to notice.

After the show, the couple – my aunt and uncle – found me, said some quick goodbyes, and scurried out the door. They were exhausted. Due to a powerful rain and wind storm that had blown through Southern California the day before, flooding roadways, downing trees, knocking out electricity and delaying or canceling flights into and out of Los Angeles, they had spent the entire previous day trying to get here from Seattle, finally arriving to their hotel at Universal Studios just before two a.m.

But it was more than that, and I knew it. As my uncle gave me a quick hug, his face was pained. “You’re right,” he said. “It was dark.”

My aunt – his wife – gave me a reassuring smile and squeezed his arm. “He’s having a rough time,” she told me.

We made plans to see each other the next day, and just like that, they were gone. And I went out to have drinks with my college friends, anxiety and guilt tugging at the corners of my mind.

My aunt and uncle’s trip to Los Angeles to see my play War Stories was the first time they’d seen anything I’d done on a stage, ever. In fact, I didn’t think they knew much at all about my creative life, or had read many of the things I’d written, including the – often intensely personal – essays I publish on this blog.

War Stories, while fictional, borrows heavily from my own experiences. And it’s the relationship between one of the main characters and her self-destructive, alcoholic mother, that is the most autobiographical part of the whole play.

My uncle is my mother’s brother, and her only sibling. Since my mother died four years ago, he and I have become closer, but there’s still so much about each other’s lives that we don’t know. While I’m a verbal, emotional, artist who is highly communicative about my feelings, my uncle is the opposite. More often than not, my attempts to discuss the “heavy” stuff with him are simply pushed aside. He’s not rude or dismissive about it, he’s simply not built that way. “I’m fine,” he always says.

People often say that they can’t believe I write about such personal things on this blog. The truth is, given my family history, shining a light on the darkness is less about bravery than it is about survival. Over the years, I’ve watched more than one loved one retreat into a bottle or escape into pills to numb out the painful things that they can’t or don’t know how to say. And I knew that if I didn’t find a healthier outlet for the emotions that threaten to overwhelm me, I’d end up following down that same path.

So, I talk about the painful things. I write about them. I allow myself to feel them coursing through my body. And yes, sometimes it is overwhelming to feel so much. But sharing those feelings? It helps. Because if I can find a way to articulate difficult emotions, to wrap words around them in a way that makes other people not only understand them, but feel something too, those emotions no longer own me. They no longer overwhelm me. And I know that I’m not alone.

But not everyone is like me. Not everyone is so comfortable talking about the dark places in their lives. And that Saturday night after I said goodbye to my aunt and uncle, and for the entire next day, I felt intensely guilty for not being more sensitive to that.

We met for an early dinner the next evening. And as I stood near the host station, waiting for my aunt and uncle to arrive, I felt nervous and sick, my stomach twisted in knots. But a moment later, they walked in, and my uncle pulled me into a hug. And I exhaled.

And over the next hour, something remarkable happened. My uncle, a man who I’ve always suspected feels much more than he’s able to say, wanted to talk.

“It was dark,” he said again, about the play. “And it hit close to home. But I know if you can make me feel that, you’re a talented writer. It was a really good play, Sarah.”

I was stunned. It was far from the reaction I had expected. Still, I felt the need to explain myself, to apologize. “I’ve just become so used to telling my sad stories to people who don’t really know me,” I said, “That sometimes I forget that those stories belong to other people, too.”

As we talked about what was next, for the play, for me, my uncle said something else that stuck with me. “I feel like you’re right at the beginning of something,” he said.

The beginning? Oy. At thirty-six, out of college for more than a dozen years and making art for nearly twenty, it was hard to accept that I could be at the beginning of anything. After all, shouldn’t I be further along by now?

But maybe he’s right. Maybe this is the beginning. Not the beginning, beginning, but the beginning of something new. The beginning of a new chapter, one with a more defined path. The beginning of finally knowing what it is I’m supposed to do, and of moving forward in the world with a new sense of self-assurance and a new authority about who I am.

And P.S. – remember that Paris trip I mentioned in my last post? Well, I’m going. In fact, I’ll be there next week, after spending a few days in London to visit friends. And who knows? Maybe my next post on Extra Dry Martini will be a dispatch from the City of Lights. . .

Until next time, friends.

Blog at WordPress.com.