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.

Love and War.

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

– Erica Jong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

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

Until next time, friends.

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Where I Write: Cafe Surfas.

Are you lonesome tonight?

Do you miss me tonight?

Are you sorry we drifted apart?

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I’m sitting at a wooden table near the edge of the expansive outdoor patio at Café Surfas, sipping a soy latte underneath the warm, amber glow of string lights, the late afternoon sun slipping low on the horizon, when suddenly an Elvis Presley ballad crackles across the overhead speakers, cutting through the damp January day. It stops me, as certain Elvis songs often do, because they remind me of my mother. She loved Elvis, and loved his sad songs most of all, something I realized only after she died. For a moment, I cease writing, thinking, remembering. And then I pick up my pen and begin again.

I haven’t been here in a while, even though it’s one of my favorite places to write in L.A. The café is part of the restaurant supply store Surfas, a go-to institution for chefs and L.A. foodies located in the heart of the Culver City Arts District. I like it for reasons both practical and personal. The parking is free (and abundant, a rarity in Angel City) and so is the Wi-Fi, and the spacious patio is rarely crowded. In fact, this afternoon, it’s just me and one of the regulars: a middle-aged, flannel shirt-wearing man with a serious demeanor and a giant black dog in tow. Every time I come here, without fail, he is also here, typing away on his laptop. In a world where so much is uncertain, I find the consistency comforting.

But the real reason I like Café Surfas is that – like so many of my favorite places in Los Angeles – I don’t feel at all like I’m in Los Angeles when I’m here. The interior of the café – with its black and white hexagonal tile floors, tall bistro tables, cheery yellow walls, vintage food posters and sweet, delectable treats – feels more like a cross between a hip New York City bakery and a provincial French bistro. Then add in the 1950s standards piped over the sound system and a wide-ranging menu of delicious, gourmet food, and writing here feels a bit like writing in the best, homiest kitchen ever.

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And about the writing. At the moment, I’m in a bit of limbo. In December, I finished the most recent draft of my play, War Stories, and I’m currently pouring all my creative energy into getting ready for its February production. With opening night less than three weeks away, there is – as I’m sure you can imagine – a lot to do.

But still. I can’t not write. It may sound overly dramatic to say this, but these last few years, writing has been like oxygen for me. It has become the way that I think, the way that I work through my problems, the way that I articulate my feelings. And with so much going on, my busy brain spinning in a million different directions, I feel now more than ever the need to carve out time alone, just me and my journal.

So, during today’s writing session, I’m introspective. I resist the urge to spend my time making yet another to-do list and instead, I let my mind wander. I brainstorm ideas for essays I’d like to write, and places I’d like to publish them. I meditate on what’s next for Extra Dry Martini and the type of content I’d like to post here in the year ahead. I daydream a wish list for 2017, the year still young, the changes and challenges it will bring still unknown.

For an hour, I remain in this self-cocoon, head down, heart focused, shutting out all distractions. It feels like a luxury and a necessity, all at the same time. I stop at 5 o’clock, only because the café is closing and its employees are bustling around, getting ready to go home.

And it’s time for me to go home, too. As I drive east on Venice Boulevard, back toward my little bungalow on Cashio Street, I can’t help noticing that my busy brain isn’t quite as busy as it was an hour ago. Even with the espresso coursing through my veins, I feel calmer than I have in a while. And I vow to return, soon, and spend another hour with just me and my journal, an hour where the outside world is not allowed to intervene.

Until next time, friends.

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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.

sarah-dressing-room

Hallelujah.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

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It was raining when I left New York, and the lyrics to that song were running through my head on an endless loop. They announced Leonard Cohen’s death the day I arrived in the city, two days after the results of a bitterly contested presidential election ripped the country apart at the seams (or rather, exposed the chasm that already existed), and one day before the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, Veteran’s Day, which also happened to be the one-year anniversary of the day I finally turned a corner on crippling grief, and decided to fight for my life.

I have been living with unanswered questions for a while now, and there hardly seemed a better place to escape from them than in gritty, relentless New York. Here, I could move faster than my racing brain, wind through subway tunnels and unfamiliar streets, dissolve into throngs of people in cafes and in crowds. I could lose myself in order to find myself. But a few days later, in the back of a JFK-bound taxicab, I knew that what I’d really found was a truth I could no longer run from: the journey I began a year ago, when my grandfather’s hospice ended and “Sarah 2.0” began, is not over.

I’ve made a good start. I’ve taken risks, both personally and professionally. I’ve traveled. I’ve volunteered. I’ve said no to things that weren’t right for me, and yes to things that were, and in doing so, I learned plenty about myself that I needed to know.

But I haven’t kept all of my promises. Not to myself, and not to those people for whom all I have left is a memory. I have been lazy. I have been afraid. I have wasted too much time on too many things that don’t matter.

One of the biggest, scariest things I did in the past year was to go see a psychic Medium and ask for her help in healing from the death of my mother. Whether you believe in Mediums or not, it was quite a thing for me – someone who never, ever, asks for help – to admit that this loss had carved such a hole in me that I couldn’t move forward with my life without a helping hand to guide me through it. And whether you believe that I communicated with my mother or not, what I do know is that whatever happened in that living room, on that sunny afternoon last July, helped me.

One of the things that came up during my session with Medium Fleur had nothing to do with spirits, or the afterlife. It had to do with me. Fleur told me that I’m meant to be a writer, and that I should be writing more. “You’re very talented,” she said, “but you’re lacking in self-confidence. It has to do with believing that you deserve it. Once you believe that you deserve it, everything is going to open up for you.”

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OK. This is the part where I get really honest, and really vulnerable. I have never, ever, believed that I deserve it. Not really. I am driven, and ambitious, and I have always, always, worked hard, but deep down, I don’t think I’ve ever truly believed that I deserve to be happy, or successful, or to get all of the things that I want.

Last summer, when my one-act play War Stories opened to rave reviews at Hollywood Fringe Festival, I not only worried that something bad would happen, I expected it. I mean it. The reviews were so good that I was sure that, to even the karmic scale, I was going to get into a horrific car accident, or choke on a chicken bone, or that a drone was going to descend out of the sky, and take me out.

And now that the first version of that play was well-received, that feeling is even worse. Because now there are people looking forward to the next incarnation, people who are coming from out of town to see it, people who are expecting it to be good. So of course, even though the show opens in two and a half months, I haven’t finished writing it yet.

Sometimes I wonder if choosing to be a writer, and choosing to write this play in particular, makes me a masochist. I’m serious. It is scary as hell to sit down with yourself, alone, and try to figure out how to say things that are true, things that matter, things that make people feel something. And to write a play about love? The most personal, vulnerable, universal emotion of all? It’s no wonder I’m procrastinating.

But. I am only two weeks out from my next birthday, and only six weeks out from the end of 2016. And I’ll tell you something else that’s true:  I am tired of not keeping my promises. I am tired of running. And I am more than a little tired of feeling like I don’t deserve it.

And so. I’m going all in. Because I have to. Because the only remedy is to do the work. Because the only thing that soothes the ache within me is to channel it into something creative, and to make that creation as compelling and as evocative and as heartfelt as I can.

I might fail. I might fall flat on my face. But there’s no more running from this. Because the only way out is on the jagged, treacherous path that runs directly through.

And who knows? Maybe somewhere along that path, I might even discover that I do deserve it, after all.

Until next time, friends.

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Where I Write: Palisades Park.

“Meanwhile, the sea ebbs and flows in these grander tides of earth, whose stages are measurable not in hours but in millennia – tides so vast they are invisible and uncomprehended by the senses . . . Their ultimate cause . . . may be found to be deep within the fiery center of earth, or it may lie somewhere in the dark spaces of the universe.”

– Rachel Carson

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I run my hands over the brushed silver metallic letters stamped onto the face of the stone monument, tracing their outline as I write them down, checking to make sure they’re correct. I’m hot, sweaty, even though there’s still a marine layer blanketing the coast. My legs feel strong, yet shaky, the result of running the steep wooden steps from Montana Avenue down to Pacific Coast Highway, up and down, again and again. Music pulsates through my ear buds as I dodge children and tourists and surfer dudes with unwieldy longboards on their way to and from the beach. I take the steps as quickly as I can, because the faster I reach the summit, the sooner the ache that began in my calves and quickly spread, sending fire throughout my legs, rising upward into my chest, causing my heart to pound and my lungs to burn, will cease. On one ascent I count 131 steps, but I’m so focused on moving, on pushing air through my lungs, that it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that number is actually correct.

Palisades Park, an ocean front promenade situated on bluffs above Santa Monica’s stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, is one of my favorite places in L.A. And while I come here often, it isn’t one of those places where I find myself comfortably settling into a space with a cup of coffee, allowing the day to stretch out before me like a luxury. Instead, I come here to move, to breathe in the salt air, to feel the blood coursing through my veins, and to think.

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Like a lot of writers, I have a tendency to get hung up on word count and page numbers, feeling the constant need to produce. But in reality, I believe that creativity is a balancing act between action and reflection, and both are equally important. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I know I need to get out into the world for a while before I can return to the page.

There is amazing people watching to be had at Palisades Park – everything from local yogis to picnicking families to European tourists – but it’s the ocean that draws me here. My whole life, I’ve always felt most at home at the sea, and today is no different. After I finish climbing stairs, I head for the sanctuary of the nearby rose garden, relishing the rush of the wind in my hair, the breeze tickling my face. I select a park bench, unzip my backpack and find my journal. For today’s trip, I’ve chosen a whimsical notebook with flying cartoon pigs and the hopeful mantra “It’s Possible” emblazoned across the cover. I turn my face toward the ocean and before I begin to write, I pause, watching the waves roll and crest and break. My eyes follow the horizon, fixing on the point where the unending expanse of blue melts into the white haze of marine layer, far, far off shore. There are some people who feel small in the presence of the mighty Pacific, but not me. The knowledge that this great ocean is connected to other waterways all over the world and that somehow, some way, I’m connected to them too, makes me feel infinite, makes me feel safe, makes me feel as though anything were possible.

I open my notebook and write furiously, jotting down the thoughts swirling through my brain before they’re gone. I remain for only a handful of minutes – as long as I can stand it – until finally, exhausted, hungry, I’m ready to go home.

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But on my way out of the park, something stops me. It’s the stone structure I’ve passed by so many times, with the words of the famous marine biologist Rachel Carson inscribed among the granite and fragments of abalone shells. Occasionally, I pause to read them, but today, I decide, I will copy them down. I pull out the flying pig notebook once again. As I begin to write, I notice – out of the corner of my eye – a woman approaching me.

My ear buds are still in, so at first, I don’t hear what she says. But she seems intent upon communicating with me, and so – rather reluctantly – I remove my headphones. The woman is blonde and fit, dressed in yoga pants and a bright orange tank top, and speaks with an accent I can’t quite place but that suggests (perhaps?) a country in Eastern Europe. She excitedly holds up her phone for me to see, displaying an Instagram photo of the same stone structure we’re standing in front of, its same words typed into the caption. “I’ve been coming here since 2004,” she tells me, “And I only just saw this. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes,” I agree. “It is.”

“I noticed you writing it down and I had to say something. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it meaningful.”

“No, you’re not the only one,” I smile. She smiles back. And then, just like that, she’s off, waving goodbye as she jogs away. I watch her go; my legs heavy but my heart surprisingly full. And then, I too decide it’s time to go, time to return home, time to take this morning’s scribbles and turn them into something resembling a story.

Until next time, friends.

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Endings.

“There are no happy endings.

Endings are the saddest part,

So just give me a happy middle

And a very happy start.”

-Shel Silverstein

On Monday, I grieved. I didn’t know what else to do. I told myself I should get to work on my very long, very ambitious to-do list with the heading “Post Fringe,” but in truth, my heart wasn’t in it. Instead, I hid from the sweltering Southern California heat inside the walls of my one bedroom apartment, and I moped.

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June was a fun month. To be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Months of hard work and preparation culminated in the production of my play, War Stories, at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Over the course of three and a half weeks, we put up six performances, and my friends – many of whom I hadn’t seen in months – came to see them. And in between the performances (which garnered better-than-I-could-have-hoped-for reviews from both critics and audiences alike), there were parties and mixers and seemingly infinite amounts of theater to see. I saw thirteen shows in June, everything from cabaret to burlesque to improv to musicals to solo performance. Fringe was three and a half weeks jammed full of inspiration and artistic creation and community in the heart of Hollywood, and it was wonderful.

But now it’s over. And if June was all about celebration, then July is all about work. Because not only do I have to get back into the laboratory and continue to shape the next, two-act draft of War Stories for an upcoming production this winter, I also have a whole list of other important things to tackle that I put off while I was out fringe-ing. Boring, tedious, life things. Such as figuring out how I’m going to pay my bills now that I’ve decided to enter the brave new world of freelancing.

I suppose it’s not surprising then that on Monday, I felt like I was in a ravine, looking up at the next, larger mountain needing to be scaled, thinking, “Oh, hell no. Not today.”

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But then Tuesday arrived, which also happened to be my late father’s birthday. I never know quite how to approach these emotionally-loaded anniversaries, but I usually try to do something nice for myself, so I went up to one of my favorite places in Los Angeles: The Getty Center. I typically rush through museums, but on Tuesday, I turned off my cell phone and I took it all in: the replica caves of Dunhuang with their intricately painted walls and ceilings and Buddhist icons, Rousseau’s landscapes, the Greek and Roman sculpture, the Medieval tapestries. And somewhere among the decorative arts in the South Pavilion, a perfectly paneled Parisian drawing room transported me to 17th Century France, and I felt better.

Leave it to my Dad, the biggest kicker of ass and taker of names I ever knew, to inspire me to shake off my self-pity and resolve to get back to work. And maybe I also needed to spend an afternoon immersed in the work of other artists to remind me that there are still many, many stories inside of me waiting to be told. Yes, writing is hard work. It requires time and dedication and solitude and sometimes even a little blood. (That may sound dramatic, but if anything I’ve ever written has made you cry, I promise it’s because I cried while writing it.)

Writing is hard. Doing the work is hard. But I also love it. Most of the time, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And since I’ve decided that – one way or another – it’s how I’m going to make my living, it’s time to get back to it.

Well, almost. With the Fourth of July holiday upon us, I’m not quite ready to go back to reality just yet. Moping done, I cashed in some airline miles and booked a plane ticket out of L.A. Because in order to fully recover my equilibrium, I need to spend a few days in a beautiful place with people I love. I’ll make sure to bring my journal.

Until next time, friends.

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Where I Write: the dressing room.

Where do you get your ideas? It’s a question that writers are asked frequently. It’s a question that I used to ask frequently, before I learned through experience and self-discipline that the more I forced myself to sit my butt in a chair in front of a computer and not move, the more the muse tended to show up.

However, I recognize that there are times in my writing life when I feel more inspired than others, times when ideas flow more easily. And in my experience, I have found that inspiration is often directly linked to place, to where I write. I still do a fair amount of writing within the walls of my one bedroom apartment, but I am fortunate that the city where I live and the rather unconventional life that I lead here affords me an abundance of both ordinary and extraordinary places in which to put pen to paper.

The piece below is my inaugural entry in a new series about the places where I feel the most creative. I hope it inspires you. And if you’re so inclined, please share your favorite places to write in the comments below or on social media (Find me on Instagram @extradrymartini or on Twitter @drymartinigirl), by using the hash tags #extradrymartini and #whereiwrite.

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The Dressing Room

It’s a Wednesday morning in June and I’m out the door at 6:30 in order to make a 7:30 AM call time. It shouldn’t take an hour to get across town this early in the morning, but you never know in this city so I give it an hour just in case. It’s a week before the summer solstice, and the sun is already up when I shift my car into drive.

The city is still waking, not yet pulsing with the frenetic activity that’s on its way. As I wind my way through the streets, the traffic flows so easily that it feels like I’m getting away with something. Even the red lights seem to magically shift to green as my car approaches them. I take Pico to Crescent Heights to Olympic to Fairfax to 6th to Hauser to 3rd to Beverly to Western to Hollywood to Prospect. With each left and right, I feel bits of sentences stir within me. I read somewhere that Steven Spielberg gets his ideas while merging onto the freeway, and I get that. There’s something about navigating traffic that sharpens your focus. Or maybe it’s just the irony that ideas seem to come when you’re unable to write them down.

I show my ID at the gate and drive onto the lot. I check in with the stage manager, collect my scrubs from wardrobe and enter the familiar dressing room. Two brown sofas sit elbow to elbow, each adorned with a pair of mismatching pillows, one red with an orange geometric pattern, one apologetically 80’s with an oversized floral motif stretched out across its blue satin canvas. I stash my things in a locker and sit down in a squeaky brown office chair across from the mirror. As I sip my coffee, I put on makeup, brush my hair, and get into wardrobe. The stage manager’s voice over the intercom cuts through the quiet: “Half hour til item one,” she says.

I have some time. I could go to the green room for more coffee, to watch the news, to chat with other actors. But it’s quiet here and because I’m in the basement I can’t get a Wi-Fi signal. Perfect, just me and my thoughts. I pull out a black composition book, its front cover emblazoned with the words Now is the Right Time. I look up, briefly contemplate my reflection in the enormous mirror across from me, and then, begin to write.

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