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.

April.

On the first day of April, I woke early, well before the sun came up, well before my alarm. There was something about this new month – the first full month of spring – that had me on edge. But not in a bad way. More in the way that it’s hard to sleep before a long voyage. Or a big job interview. Or the opening night of your play. The anticipation is palpable. The anticipation is the thing.

I traveled back to Los Angeles from London on the first day of spring. It was the longest spring day I can remember. Nineteen hours of travel all together, beginning by navigating morning rush hour traffic to Heathrow, then stuck at the airport with a delayed flight, then eleven hours on a plane, then arriving at LAX just in time for Los Angeles’s evening rush hour, then finally, blissfully, home. And as the sun sank behind the lone palm tree that towers over my little stucco bungalow, I thought about the fact that I’d spent nineteen hours chasing that very sun, pushing ever westward. And now that the sun had finally gone to bed, so too, would I.

I feel the shift to this new season in the core of my body, coming as sweet relief after winter months I carried around with me like a weight. People say that we don’t have seasons in Los Angeles, but January and February were unusually stormy and cold, pummeling the Southland with the most rain I’ve seen in my eighteen years here. But it wasn’t just the unusual weather patterns that had me feeling melancholy. It was a sadness I’ve been carrying within me for months, a sadness that’s rooted in fear and uncertainty over my future, and worries over whether I’m on the right path.

But as March wound down and the days grew longer and warmer, a newfound optimism grew within me too. Suddenly, I feel determined, rather than defeated. It’s a change that – frankly – has come as a surprise, given how quickly and abruptly it occurred.

To tell you the truth, I feel like I’ve been living (and writing about) a life in transition for practically forever. And I have been. But I think that part of the reason I still feel stuck is because many of the changes I’ve made over the last few years were changes that were forced upon me, rather than ones that I actively chose. Life got crazy – and crazy difficult – and I adapted, in order to survive.

It is quite a different thing to feel like I’m in the driver’s seat of my own life again. To be honest, it’s scary. For all my awareness about the ephemeral nature of life, I still find myself in a sort of holding pattern, paralyzed over making the big decisions I know I need to make in order to truly change. I can’t tell you how many times over the last year I’ve asked myself, “Isn’t there someone else who can do this?” But there isn’t. There’s only me.

A friend recently told me she has adopted the motto of beginning each day by tackling the most unpleasant task on her to-do list first. I like that. No time to work yourself into a frenzy worrying about it. Just do it, and be done.

So, I’ve decided that’s what April is going to be, for me. Walking right into all the things I’m worried about, as fast as I can, before I have too much time to think. Just do it, and be done. And I’m sure that’s why, as this new month dawned, I couldn’t sleep. But if I’m honest, I know this decision is the only way forward. I know I have to clear away the bad, the scary, and the difficult in order to make way for the good. I know that the only way for me to cross the bridge between where I am and where I want to be is by walking directly through all the fears and doubts that stand in my way.

So, ready or not, April, here I come. I have a feeling you’re going to be a big month.

Until next time, friends.

Almost.

“I’m here to make a donation.”

I had been feeling confident on the way over. Good, even. I’d secured rock star parking (with money still on the meter!) a block away on Las Palmas. Walking to the museum, I practically glided down Hollywood Boulevard, effortlessly dodging gawking tourists, street performers and hustlers shoving leaflets in my face. No, I don’t want a map to the stars’ homes, thank you very much. I live here.

But as I approached the front desk, approached the woman with curly hair framing an inquisitive face, my heart rate sped up. I swallowed hard. There was something unnerving in those gentle, wide set blue eyes looking back at me. It was recognition. Right away, I knew: she’d seen this story countless times before.

“Sure,” she answered, smoothly. “Did you complete the form on our website?”

“Yes.”

“And you signed it?”

“Yes. It’s right here.”

I handed her a white envelope, which she opened, scanned the contents, and then carefully replaced. “Great,” she said, satisfied that everything was in order. “And you have the object?”

“Yes.” I handed her a paper bag, watching, waiting expectantly, as she peered inside.

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The first time I’d visited the Museum of Broken Relationships, the monument to love and loss located on Los Angeles’ famed Hollywood Boulevard, I did so out of curiosity. I was doing research for a new draft of my play War Stories, about the intersecting love lives of four dreamers in Los Angeles, and writing an article about the museum for my friend Tammin’s blog, Bottle + Heels. On that visit, in the waning days of summer, life and love were full of promise, and I was – dare I say it –  happy. As I wandered the open, light-filled gallery, taking in the sad tales of woe, I felt invincible. “No way,” I thought, reading each story, shaking my head. “This is not how my story is going to end.”

Of course, I should have known better. I should have paid attention to the creeping doubt that was already snaking its way through the corners of my mind. And now here I was, months later, doing something I never thought I’d do: contributing my own sad story to the archives.

“Can I ask you,” I inquired, leaning in confidentially, lowering my voice, “Will the museum notify me when my object goes on display?”

The woman shook her head. “No. For the purpose of anonymity, we can’t do that.” “But,” she added, leaning toward me as though we were sharing a secret, “Any time you want to come here, you can just go to the front desk, describe the object, and someone will be able to tell you yes, or no.”

Business done, I wandered the gallery, aimlessly, absorbing the stories contained within. And as they often do in February, as I approach the anniversary of his death, my thoughts drifted toward my father. “Pollyanna,” he used to say, the nickname referring to the naïve optimism he teased me relentlessly for as a child, “The world is a cruel place, darling. The world will break your heart.”

Back then, I’d laughed it off. “Oh, Dad,” I’d say, rolling my eyes, chalking it up to my Irish father’s penchant for melodrama (to this day, I remain convinced that the Irish invented heartbreak). Little did I know how right he’d turn out to be. The world is a cruel place, and I have found it to be exceedingly cruel these last few years, rife with death and disappointment.

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But the thing my father didn’t say, the thing he didn’t warn me about, was that for us Pollyannas of the world, there’s a certain type of heartbreak that hurts more than all the others. It’s the kind where you almost have something, and then you watch it slip away, crumbling to dust in your hands. As an unflagging optimist, hope is the drug that I live on. And when things fall apart, hope is the drug that, time and time again, threatens to kill me.

It was time to go. But on my way toward the exit, I paused in front of a floor length antique mirror, taking a photo of my reflection in the glass. And as I did so, I felt curious eyes upon me, watching me. I looked up to see two women, one of them behind a camera. I had noticed them earlier, moving through the museum, photographing its objects. I smiled, returned to what I was doing, thinking little of it. Because in Los Angeles, everywhere you go, someone is always filming something.

But one of the women approached me. “Excuse me,” she said, with a thick French accent.  “You speak Anglais? Ou Français?”

“Anglais,” I replied, feeling immediately apologetic. “Sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a French class.”

She smiled. “Ça va.” “We are making a documentary for French television, and I was wondering if I could film you?”

“Really?” I stammered.

“Yes.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Just what you were doing, photographing yourself in the mirror. It was beautiful. You noticed us watching you, yes?”

“Yes,” I admitted, feeling the color rising in my face.

“So, it’s OK?” If we film you?”

Oh, what in the hell, I thought.

“Sure,” I replied.

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Later, still not ready to go home, I ducked into the Pig ‘N Whistle – a historic old Hollywood bar next to the Egyptian Theatre – found a darkened corner booth, and ordered a martini. Scrolling through the photos on my phone, another memory came flooding back. It was last summer, during that same happier time, when I’d visited the psychic medium Fleur in an attempt to communicate with the spirts of my dead parents. Fleur and I spent most of our session focused on my mother, but toward the end, my father showed up, cheerful, singing his favorite Irish songs.

“You went to Europe, after your father died?” Fleur asked me, her closed eyes fluttering.

“Yes,” I replied. “But not right after. Two years after, on the second anniversary of his death, on Valentine’s Day. I went to Prague.”

“Yes.” She smiled. “He went with you. You felt him there, didn’t you?”

“I did.” It was true, my father had been everywhere on that trip.

“He wants me to tell you, next time, he wants you to go to Paris.”

Paris. Those French filmmakers in the museum, days before Valentine’s Day, days before marking another anniversary of my father’s death. And me: uncertain and adrift, wondering where to turn, what to do next.

Could it be a sign? Do I even believe in signs? In truth, now is the worst possible time for me to go running off to Europe. I’m running low on money. I need to go back to work. And I need to make some big decisions about my life. Grown up decisions, which, at thirty-six, it’s high time I started making.

And yet. In addition to the story that I left behind at the museum, there’s another “almost” failure that’s been haunting me of late. It’s about a review I received for my play War Stories, and its current Los Angeles production. The reviewer, while largely complimentary, said something about the play that stung me: “I hope this is not a final version,” he wrote, referring to the fact that the script, while good, still needs some reworking. And the reason his critique stung me so much is because I agree with it. As proud as I am of the play, I know that it can be better. I know it’s not finished. I’m just not sure how to fix it.

And so, with that in mind, I made a decision. I decided that I would take one last trip. I would go to Paris, after all, as soon as I could, as soon as this production of War Stories has closed. And on the banks of the Seine, in the hallways of Musée D’Orsay, at a table in a café in St. Germain, I will work on my script. I will figure out the parts that aren’t working, and I will fix them.

Because this is one “almost” that doesn’t have to be a failure. Unlike the story I left behind at the museum, this story is something I get to change. In this story – my story – I’m the one who decides how it ends.

Until next time, friends.

paris

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.

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Thirty-Six.

Every breaking wave on the shore/

Tells the next one there’ll be one more/

And every gambler knows that to lose/

Is what you’re really there for/

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Yesterday, I needed to see the ocean.

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

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

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned thirty-six.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, friends.

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A thousand steps.

Raise my hands/

Paint my spirit gold/

And bow my head/

Keep my heart slow

– Mumford & Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, friends.

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Where I Write: The Getty Center.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, friends.

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Lucky.

The other day, I realized I was happy. When the feeling visited me, I wasn’t doing anything particularly remarkable. I was sitting on my patio, reading a novel, drinking tea, the summer sun sinking low on the horizon, and I looked up and saw a monarch butterfly alight on the hedge near my outstretched foot. And as I watched her pause there, briefly, I realized something that was remarkable:  in that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. And I thought to myself:  I am lucky.

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I have spent years chasing that elusive thing that people call “happiness.” Running off to Europe or running into therapy. Retreating to island hideaways in the South Pacific or in the Pacific Northwest. Trying every diet, every exercise regimen, every “feel good” prescription from self-help books to spiritual counseling to many, many failed attempts at mindfulness and meditation.

At times, I found that thing that I was seeking. I found it in the breach of a Humpback whale in the sapphire waters off Maui; or at the top of Malá Strana, gazing down with wonder on the red tiled rooftops of Prague; or in the cards of an eighty-six-year-old Tarot reader named Miss Irene in the back of a Voodoo shop in New Orleans.

But whenever those moments came, I always had the sense that – beautiful as they were – they weren’t meant to last. I had worked so hard to chase them down that it was almost as though I brought them into existence by the sheer force of my own will. And then, as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. Inevitably, the old familiar ache and its accompanying emptiness returned, followed by the persistent question, “Why don’t I feel any better?”

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I suppose that when I finally stopped running, I did so out of sheer exhaustion. I was tired of working so hard with so little to show for it. And I was tired of trying to fake it to make it. As my therapist told me, “Sarah, sometimes, there are situations in life that can’t be fixed. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.”

Shortly thereafter – after said beloved therapist took a new job and relocated to Oregon (sob) – life handed me just that:  the opportunity to do nothing. To take a break, to slow down, and to take some real time off. And I took it. And it is in this pause that I found something I wasn’t able to find in all of the running and searching and seeking:  I found comfortable footing upon the ground of uncertainty. I found that sometimes, it’s O.K. to be lost.

As I finish this blog post, I’m sitting on the patio of my one-bedroom bungalow on Cashio Street, the sunset casting its tangerine glow on the terra cotta tiles beneath my bare feet. I love this little cottage, love the way it fell into my lap when I needed it the most, love the way its four walls have sheltered me and kept me safe, allowing me to rebuild after everything around me had been smashed and shattered. But I also know – as I have always known – that this isn’t a forever place. It’s merely a rest stop on the way to something better.

But for now, for this moment, everything is perfect. Everything is exactly what I need. And the knowledge that I can be so at peace with not knowing what’s coming next, that I don’t need to know, is the biggest indicator of all that something powerful within me has begun to shift. And I wonder if maybe the thing that I was searching for so intently wasn’t happiness, after all. Maybe the thing that I was searching for was faith.  Not faith in the traditional, religious sense, but instead, faith in myself. Faith that no matter the challenge or change, I’ll be able to meet it head on. Faith that, after having been through the storm, and after having come out the other side, I’m stronger than I was before. Faith that no matter what happens, I’ll be O.K.

Until next time, friends.

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