November.

In the four years that I have been writing Extra Dry Martini (really, three years, with any regularity), I have never once posted about politics. I try to keep my subject matter non-partisan, because it’s important to me that this blog remains a safe and welcoming space for everyone who reads it. At times, keeping my impassioned opinions out of my writing has proven difficult, mostly because I am a politically minded person who comes from a politically minded family. My father, who, for better or for worse, taught me how to fight for what I believe in, was a ferociously liberal Irish Catholic Democrat who advocated for social justice, thought the Kennedys were Gods, and never (if I’m being totally honest), met a Republican that he liked very much (or at all).

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I had planned to write another blog post. A post that would commemorate this Friday’s one year anniversary of my beloved Grandfather’s passing with a joyful retrospective about embracing life, about celebrating all of the parts of him that live within me, and about looking toward a still uncertain future with optimism. But I can’t write that blog post. Not today. Because today, one day after a U.S. Presidential election that shocked the world, my heart has been cracked open and I simply can’t pretend to be anything other than consumed by an all-encompassing grief. And so, I am turning to the one thing – the only thing – that has seen me through in times of heartbreak: writing.

I don’t have the energy (or frankly, the desire) to engage in a political debate. The election is over. And though I did everything I could (OK, not everything, but a LOT) to help defeat the man who will become America’s next President, I sincerely hope that he succeeds. Because I want America to succeed. Because I love my country. And because I love my friends and my family and I want all of us – even those who disagree with me (sorry, Dad) – to be OK.

Although I have been politically minded my whole life (I vote in every election, no matter how small, or how local, and I am a serious geek when it comes to studying up on the issues), I never got involved in a political campaign in a meaningful way until this one. Partially because this has been my year of “if not now, when,” but primarily because I truly admire, respect and love my party’s nominee.

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For most of her political career (other than her tenure as Secretary of State), it has not been popular or cool to say that you admire, respect and love Hillary Clinton. And I think that might be the main reason why I admire, respect and love her so much. Because she is a woman who has succeeded in a man’s world. Because she is tough as nails and makes no apologies for her toughness. Because even as she has been consistently, relentlessly criticized by haters for things that have nothing to do with her experience or intellect – her lack of “likability,” her “shrill” voice, her pantsuits – she has spent her life trying to make the lives of those less fortunate than her better. And I admire, respect and love her because for all of those reasons (and for many others), my mother admired, respected and loved her, too.

So today, I am grieving. And I am missing my mother something fierce. But I am not a defeatist. While I am admittedly deeply concerned about the future of my country, I still hold on to hope. I hold on to the amazing human beings – volunteers, voters, and field organizers – that I met while knocking on doors to get out the vote in the battleground state of Nevada. I hold on to the fact that now that I have experienced what it’s like to be meaningfully involved in a political campaign, there’s no going back; I will continue to engage in public service for the rest of my life. And I hold on to the fact that – like my father – the fight within me is fierce, and I will keep that fight going for as long as I can, in all the ways that I can.

Don’t worry: Extra Dry Martini is not going to turn into a partisan blog. I am sure that, in the busy weeks and months that lie ahead, I will find plenty of other things to write about. But today, like so many of my fellow Americans, I am grieving. And if I have learned anything about grief it is this: you don’t heal from it by ignoring it. Sometimes, going all the way in is the only way to go.

Thanks for listening.

Until next time, friends.

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Chasing happy.

Miranda: When was the last time you were happy?

Samantha: Six months ago.

Miranda: I think that’s normal for L.A.

Yes, I really did just quote the Sex and the City movie. I couldn’t help myself. Ever since it was on HBO some night a few weeks ago when I was up way too late and unable to sleep, I haven’t been able to get that scene out of my head. It’s the scene where all the girls have gathered for Charlotte’s baby shower and they’re grilling an obviously unhappy Samantha about her new life in Los Angeles. The bit of dialogue quoted above made me laugh out loud. In a, it’s funny because it’s true, kind of way.

In just a couple of weeks, I will mark sixteen years of living in Los Angeles (minus a scant five-month study abroad semester in London in the early 2000s). That’s longer than I’ve lived anywhere. And in that time, I’ve met and known and befriended a great number of people in this sprawling metropolis – some of whom still call L.A. home and some of whom have long since moved on to other places. And of my friends who still live here – other than a handful of exceptionally grounded folks who seem to have it all figured out – there aren’t many that I would describe as happy.

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Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t some hit piece on L.A., nor is it an attempt to legitimize the swarms of stereotypes that exist about this fair city – the suntans and silicone, the hot cars and hot spots, the fame seekers and the fabulously wealthy, the beautiful and the damned. No, this isn’t that type of essay. Nor is this essay even about L.A., not really. L.A. is just the place where I happen to live and therefore it’s a lens through which I view the world.

But it is my lens, and through that lens I see constant seeking and striving, struggling and searching. I see good people who are making the best of things, people who believe that better days are ahead but just can’t quite seem to get there, people whose real, unfiltered lives rarely match the glossy surfaces of their Instagram feeds. And it has left me wondering: is this sort of slow, seeping sense of dissatisfaction an L.A. thing, or is it more pervasive? Is everyone, everywhere suffering from an epidemic of, I’m not as happy as I want to be?

My obsession with the subject of happiness began nearly three years ago, when a series of tragic events left me – someone who, as a girl, my Dad teasingly called “Pollyanna” – wondering if I would ever feel joy again. Prior to this major life shift, I’d never really thought about whether or not I was happy. I moved through my days with relative ease, eyes ever on the horizon, mind focused on the next thing. If I’m honest, I didn’t do a whole lot of self-examination or press myself to answer the difficult questions. I kept going. I was fine.

Except I wasn’t. It took pain and tumult to unearth the truth. I had been living with the same sort of silent malaise that I now recognize all around me, but I had been too passive, too complacent, to do anything about it. All the while the question nagged, Is this all there is?

But recognizing that there was a problem wasn’t enough to present a solution. In fact, it got much worse before it began to get better. My lowest point came last summer, when more than once I collapsed on my bathroom floor, sobbing, unable to get up for what felt like hours. In fits of desperation, I scribbled inspirational quotes on the pages of “get well soon” cards and mailed them to myself. And I documented it all (well, not all) in blog posts that prompted worried (read: frantic) phone calls from friends.

A year later, I still wouldn’t describe myself as “happy,” but when I look back on those dark days, I do have to give myself credit for how far I’ve come. It was impossible for me to have any sense of perspective when I was “in it,” but with time and distance I can see that I really was growing and changing all along.

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For nearly three years I have been chasing this elusive thing called “happy.” Along the way, I’ve tried many different tactics in order to feel better. I’ve consulted palm and tarot readers, astrologers and spiritual counselors. I’ve traveled extensively:  to Europe, to my childhood home of Alaska, and all up and down the Western United States. I’ve talked to friends. I’ve gone into therapy. I’ve worked out obsessively, and then not at all. I threw myself into my writing. I became a mentor to a teenage girl. And I kept going, even when I didn’t feel like it. I kept going, because I didn’t feel like it.

This may seem counterintuitive, but some of the darkest moments of my life have also been bookended by some of the most joyful ones. A pair of Orca whales breaking the surface of the water in graceful arcs while I pressed my nose to the window of a ferryboat. Sitting in the warm, inviting kitchen of a friend’s home in London, drinking wine and discussing politics. Seeking refuge from a rare New Orleans ice storm in a small jazz club with my sisters while the rest of the city remained shuttered indoors. Watching the sunset settle over the ocean from the window of an open air trolley car coasting along Pacific Coast Highway, with nothing to do or nowhere to be except right there.

I think that what all these singular “happy” moments have in common is their sense of hope, their sense of possibility. A feeling they evoked, that, in the words of Shel Silverstein, “Anything can happen. Anything can be.”

Conversely, the worst, most miserable moments of my life didn’t impact me so intensely simply because I felt sad or broken, but because I felt powerless to change those feelings. I was helpless, stuck, and I couldn’t see the way out. The darkness is most unbearable when it appears unceasing, when we can’t fathom the possibility of light ever breaking through.

After nearly three years of “chasing happy,” I certainly don’t have it all figured out. But I have learned some things. I’ve learned that I feel better extending a helping hand to others than I do ruminating about my problems. I feel better using my own life as a yard stick to measure my progress, rather than comparing my achievements to someone else’s.  To that end, I feel better when I limit my time on social media.  I feel better being honest instead of making everything OK; better telling uncomfortable truths than biting my tongue. I feel better writing than not writing, better creating than not creating.  I feel better going for a run than I do sitting on my couch. I feel better moving forward than I do standing still. And I feel better trusting in the hard-won knowledge that whatever dark clouds may gather in the skies above, that they too, will pass.

Until next time, friends.

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Going dark.

I haven’t published a new post on this blog in almost three weeks, which feels like a really long time. In truth, May was a difficult month for me. It had some lovely bright spots – like a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit friends – but overall it was challenging, leaving me exhausted and drained.

I spent a lot of the month of May writing about my mother, both autobiographically (a theater piece I’m working on that will premiere in July) and fictionally (exploring the mother/daughter relationship that’s at the heart of my screenplay). All of this recent personal archaeology, combined with the fact that Mother’s Day and my Mom’s birthday are both contained within the month of May, left me feeling emotional and raw – like an exposed nerve – these last few weeks.

I tried to write my way through these feelings – I often do – but found myself hitting a wall. I started writing several potential blog posts, but abandoned them all halfway through. Sometimes what I end up writing turns out to be so dark that I don’t want to share it. Sometimes I catch myself falling victim to a “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” form of self-censorship. And sometimes I just want my life to look better to the outside world than it actually feels, to me. I guess all of these things are my own personal stumbling blocks.

As it can sometimes happen in this crazy life, it took something of a breakdown in order for me to experience a break through, or at least, a moment of clarity. At my lowest point, I was sitting on my therapist’s couch, crying because I was feeling sad and hadn’t been able to shake the feeling for several days. I had thought I was finally done with the waves of grief, but here they were again, rearing their ugly heads with a vengeance. “I am so tired of this,” I wailed. “When am I going to feel better?”

“What does better mean?” she asked, in that annoying way that therapists can ask questions you don’t have the answers to. And we sat in silence while I pondered what in the hell exactly I did mean. “I just wish it were easier to be happy,” I said, finally. “Like it used to be.”

“I feel like I’m doing everything I can think of,” I continued. “I exercise and I volunteer and I keep a gratitude journal and I practice self care. And,” I said, indicating, my therapist, “I’m here with you. Which is a big deal for me.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “You’re good at doing the right things. But what if, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do? What if, sometimes, you can’t fix it? What if you just have to let it be what it is?”

Nothing I can do? I was speechless. I am not used to doing nothing. It makes me feel weak and ineffective and powerless. But as I sat there, silently, feeling sorry for myself, I wondered if she wasn’t right. Have I been trying too hard, pushing too stubbornly to be someone and something I’m not?

Going dark scares me. It’s a slippery slope, and after watching my mother slide into blackness and never come out, I am terrified that the same thing could happen to me. Perhaps that’s why I fight so hard against the dark days when they come. But I have to admit, not only is denying my sadness not working, but it’s wearing me out. What if I could learn to simply sit with those bad days, to embrace them, even? What if I could do it without judging myself, without worrying that others will judge me, or distance themselves from me because I’m too difficult to be around? What if I could allow myself to be sad when I’m feeling sad without fearing that those feelings will swallow me?

Maybe going dark – on occasion – isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s just like the weather. Some days it rains. Some days the sky is clear and blue. And no matter how bad the storm, it will always, eventually, lift. And as anyone who has ever enjoyed hiking in the city I live in – Los Angeles – will tell you, the best time to ascend a mountain is the day after a downpour, when all the smog has blown out, the air is clear and beautiful, and you can see for miles, all the way down to the ocean.

Until next time, friends.

Putting off tomorrow.

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

-Edward Young

Over and over and over again over these last two and a half years, I’ve reminded myself how precious time is; that it shouldn’t be wasted. After all, I’ve seen it in action: the way a mere phrase or phone call or the briefest of moments can permanently alter every cell in your body, so that afterwards you never think or dream or breathe the same way again. I don’t need anyone to tell me that all we have is this moment, this one, right now. I already know.

And yet. As I sit here, writing this to you, I am – at this very moment – procrastinating. I am putting off doing things that are important to me. Even after I resolved that I wouldn’t, I am still finding ways to stall. I am making excuses. Why?

I have a plan. It’s sort of epic. Can I tell you about it?

Ever since my mother died two and a half years ago, a story has been kicking around inside of my brain. Scenes of it play in my mind like a movie. It is a movie. Well, not yet. After mom died, I wrote the story in fits and starts – sketches of scenes, bits of dialogue. But I couldn’t really get a rhythm going because too much was happening. I was too messed up. I couldn’t see it or admit it at the time, but I was. My dad was sick, my grandmother was sick, the person I loved most in the world was abruptly gone with all kinds of questions surrounding her death, and oh, on a side note, my personal life was an utter disaster. My world had flipped upside down.

To make everything worse, I couldn’t write. I felt stupid, clumsy. My tongue was thick in my mouth. Words were stubborn, refusing to string together to form sentences. The thing that had always come easy for me, the thing I’d fallen back on when all else failed, had suddenly become impossible.

But little by little, it started to come back. I started writing again. And over the last two plus years, I have written a lot. I wrote while my life changed. I wrote through all kinds of moments – heartbreaking moments and sweet moments, laugh out loud moments and joyful moments. You see, once you get through the worst part of a trauma, once you realize it won’t actually kill you, once you realize that you still care enough to pick yourself up and keep on living, you become capable of experiencing profound joy. And it’s often joy where you wouldn’t expect it:  in small, seemingly insignificant moments that you never even realized were beautiful until you looked at them through the lens of loss. Even though you’re sadder and more broken, when you laugh you really mean it, and when you love you really mean it, and even though you wouldn’t wish what’s happened to you on anyone, your dirty little secret is that you don’t want to go back to the way you were before, because the old you was oblivious, fumbling around in the dark, while this you is awake to everything. And once you’ve woken up, you can’t go back to sleep.

But this is not meant to be a blog about loss, it’s meant to be a blog about procrastinating.  See? I’m doing it again.  OK, to get back to the point:  the story that has been kicking around in my head for the last two and a half years while I tried and failed at writing it is finally taking shape. It’s a screenplay of a movie that is based upon my life.

The story is set in Olympia, Washington, the town where I went to high school and where I plan to film the movie. That’s right, I’m going to make the movie myself. I know just enough about producing films to be terrified of how much work it will be, how much money it will cost, and how much I still need to learn. Basically, I know enough to know that I don’t know enough. Not yet.

But in allowing myself to feel overwhelmed about the filmmaking part before I’m even there yet, I’ve been putting off the step I’m on now, which is sort of crucial: finishing the script. I’m self-aware enough to recognize my own resistance, and resistance and I are currently locked in a daily tug of war.  I’ve got post it notes with motivational sayings all over my house, an accountability circle where I bring in pages of the script every week, and plans for a table read of the full script in May. But every day when it’s time for me to sit down and do my work, I’m like a petulant child who doesn’t want to go to school, looking for any excuse I can not to go.

What the hell is my problem? This story is important to me, and I want to tell it. Yes, writing it is hard. Yes, certain scenes aren’t coming out the way I want them to, at least not yet. But I’m making everything so much harder than it needs to be with my acrobatic stalling techniques. If writing this script is the thing that matters most to me, why will I do nearly anything to avoid working on it?

Maybe it’s the fear of failure thing. Maybe it’s the fear of success thing. Maybe it’s the fear that I’ll actually accomplish my goal and after all the blood, sweat and tears, I’ll get to the other side of it and realize that this process didn’t heal my life the way I’m hoping it will. Maybe I’m afraid that no matter what I do, nothing will ever change.

I think to some degree, my resistance is probably rooted in all of these things. But even though I’m scared, I’m also stubborn.  I’m going to battle through this, just like I’ve battled through everything else these last couple of years.  Because for all the challenges that lie ahead, I refuse to believe that I could have treaded through such deep water simply to give up. Our heroine battles through the worst experiences of her life, stands upon the precipice of utter despair, and then – throws in the towel. Now that would make a lousy movie.

If you’re anything like me – if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a big dream that you badly want to accomplish but don’t know where to start or what to do – this is what I suggest: start small. Break down your big dream into as many small tasks as you can, and just do one thing at a time. Do one small thing every day that keeps you moving forward. Don’t worry about what could go wrong in the future – it either will or it won’t and you’ll deal with it when you get there.  Just do what’s in front of you every day.

Now let’s see if I can take my own advice.

Until next time, friends.

Magic.

I’m starting to hear it from people. I’m starting to hear it from my friends. ‘Sarah, I love your blog, but . . . it’s depressing.’ ‘Every time I read it, I cry.’ ‘You’re a great writer, but you’re bumming me out.’ ‘Can’t you write about something happy?’

I get it. Trust me. I am the one living with the thoughts that I am putting on the page. The thoughts that I am actively trying to purge, to expunge, to get rid of, through the emotional catharsis of writing.

This blog is autobiographical. It’s a reflection of me. And I’ve never been good at pretending to be something I’m not, at faking it till I make it. For better or for worse, I wear my heart directly on my sleeve. And that heart has been battered and bruised pretty badly.

Though I’ve been writing about a lot of terribly sad, depressing things, this blog is not an attempt to wallow in grief or sorrow. Rather, it is my attempt to write through the things that have been holding me back, to unpack the boxes in my heart that were filled for so long with dark secrets, and to hope that by telling the painful truth – all of it – I’ll finally set myself free.

It has not been an easy road. Let’s be honest: ignorance is bliss. And the topics I’ve been writing about are incredibly tough to digest. Most people don’t want to be reminded of the fragility or the unpredictability of their lives. They don’t want to think about the fact that their loved ones could die, that their relationship could end, that the foundation upon which they built their life could crumble, that one day, in one instant, everything could be different.

I used to be firmly in that camp. I didn’t want to think about those things, didn’t want to talk about those things, didn’t want to go there. Really bad things were just things that happened to other people. Until they happened to me. I never could have guessed in a million years that the onslaught of trauma that was coming for me would arrive at my doorstep. Until it did.

It hasn’t been all bad. Though I’ve been fighting – kicking and screaming, really – to get through this dark phase, occasionally, I give it a rest, take a breath and look back. And when I survey the events of the last two years – with different eyes, with a sharply different perspective – thinking about where I’ve been, where I am now, I feel proud. Proud of myself for making hard choices. Proud of myself for doing what was best for me, even though it hurt. Proud of myself for learning when I needed to be strong, and when it was OK not to be. Proud of myself for being honest about where I’m at, for never folding or giving up, for continuing to put one foot in front of the other. And I’m proud of myself because in my own small, flawed way, sharing my story has been my attempt to not only help myself, but to try to help other people as well.

Sharing my story has opened up doors for me in surprising ways. I’ve made new friends; met new people who share striking commonalities. I’ve been invited into an inner circle of impressive and gifted writers. I’ve gained a readership of new subscribers from all over the globe thanks to WordPress republishing one of my darkest and most painful blogs. And most importantly, writing honestly about the sad stuff has taught me how much I’ve been hiding, how many painful memories I’ve swept under the rug, how much I have been editing myself to make other people comfortable. Being starkly honest has taught me how dishonest I’ve been.

But I hear the feedback. I’ve been living it. And the truth is, I am ready to stop being such a bummer. I’m ready to shift the tone and the conversation a bit, even if it’s a struggle, even though I still feel sad a lot of the time. Lately, I’ve been meditating on Buddhist teachings, reminding myself that our thoughts make our world. That perception is reality. That if I want to be happy, I have to choose it. Easier said than done, of course. But true nevertheless.

I have been seeking inspiration – maybe even divine intervention – to heal my life. But I can see now that simply won’t cut it. If I want to be inspired, I’ve got to make it my job to inspire other people. If I want to be wonderfully, blissfully, ecstatically happy, then I’ve got to embrace happiness in every way that I can, starting with the small stuff: the beauty of a flower, the random kindness of a stranger, the rock star parking spot, the Sunday morning spent lingering over coffee with nowhere else to be. If I want to experience magic, I’ve got to create it myself.

So. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to use this blog as a way to hold myself accountable for my re-entry process into a happier, better life. I don’t how it’s going to go. I know it won’t be easy. I know there will be bad days, growing pains, self-doubt. But I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to try. I’m ready to fall flat on my face, pick myself up, and try again. To my faithful readers: thank you. I can’t promise that this blog won’t make you cry – occasionally, or often – but I can promise that it will be more hopeful. And I can promise that I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, and in doing so, I will – hopefully – encourage you to do the same.

Here’s to better days ahead. Here’s to believing that you, I, we, deserve them. Here’s to believing that when they do arrive, we’ll be able to recognize them, embrace them, appreciate them. Here’s to hope. Here’s to faith. Here’s to love. And here’s to magic.

Until next time, friends.

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Sad things.

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I write about sad things.  But I am not a sad person.  A lot of sad things have happened to me in a short span of my life, and for a long while – a twelve month or so period that I’ve labeled The Lost Year – I couldn’t write at all.  I tried and failed many, many times, but I couldn’t crystalize my emotions into sentences that made any sense, or had any meaning.

When I emerged from the darkest of the dark, there was no denying that I was a different person.  At once stronger, and yet more fragile.  I didn’t want anything that happened to me.  I didn’t want to lose three of the most important people in my life, nor did I want to be forced to confront painful truths about my family – and ultimately, myself – through their loss.  I would give anything for things to be the way they were, to live in blissful ignorance once again.  But life doesn’t work that way.

So here I am.  And somewhere in the eye of the storm, in the midst of the vortex, I found my voice again.  And I started to write.  Grateful to be able to once again put my thoughts into words, to be able to finally express myself, I have been writing a lot.  And I’ve been writing a lot of sad things.  But I write about sad things not because I’m a depressive, but because I’m an optimist.  Because through it all, I’m still hopeful.  I still believe that people are essentially good.  I still believe in love.  Even though I’ve been gut-kicked by life, even though my edges are sharper, I’m not bitter or cynical or jaded.  I write painful truths about my family not because I’m angry with them, but because you’re only as sick as your secrets and we kept far too many of them and I don’t want to be complicit in the secret-keeping any more.

So I’m going to continue to write sad things, because I want to get better.  I’m going to continue to explore the dark because it’s the only way to reclaim the light.  I’m going to continue to be honest because I’ve seen too much and lived through too much to be anything else.  And I’m going to continue to tell my story, even though I know it will be painful, even though I know it will cost me something, because there is someone out there who wishes they could do the same and can’t.  And if there’s even a chance that in my quest to heal my heart, in my journey to become a whole person again, that I can help someone else do the same, then it’s all worth it.

Stay tuned.

Until next time, friends.

Resistance.

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I’ve met the enemy, and its name is Resistance.

I recently revisited Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that, in a very direct, plainspoken voice, cuts through the crap and correctly calls out all the ways we self-sabotage and rationalize our way out of designing the lives we want. The book is brutally honest, and it’s brilliant.

Pressfield identifies the pernicious beast that stands between us and our heart’s desire as Resistance. (Resistance with a capital ‘R,’ as it must be taken seriously.) What is Resistance? It doesn’t come from other people, or your life circumstances, or where you live, or your lame job that you hate. Resistance comes from you. It’s the judgmental voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough, the voice that leads you to make false comparisons between yourself and other people, the voice that causes you to make a million excuses for not living the life you want. Resistance leads to (among other things): procrastination, poor life choices, boredom, depression, guilt, addiction, and unhappiness. Pressfield calls Resistance ‘the enemy within.’

In The War of Art, Pressfield details his own daily battles with Resistance in his work as a writer. As I, in turn, struggle to get my story out of my head and onto the page, I identify with that battle. About writing, Pressfield says this:

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He’s right. Sitting down is the hardest part. Because just the thought of it, the thought of staring at a blank screen, of struggling to string a sentence together, is pure agony. And I really like to write.

I recently gave up one of my favorite forms of Resistance, alcohol (and its sidekick, cigarettes), for thirty days. I did this to detox and cleanse my system, but also – mainly – because I have work to get done and I need to be super-focused in order to do it. I have a full-time job and countless other responsibilities in addition to my writing, so if I’m ever going to finish the screenplay that has been tugging at my heartstrings, there’s no room for zoning out over wine at the end of a long day until it’s done.

So here I am, sober as a judge on day five* of thirty days and barely any closer to completing the damn thing. I have found a million excuses not to start. I’m lonely and I’m sad. Being alone with the voices in my head is too much. I want to go out, call someone, distract myself. I remind myself that this time is a gift, that I’ve worked hard and sacrificed much in order to create space for it. I can’t waste it.

But the voice in my head is a real bitch. She tells me that what I have to say isn’t important to anyone but me. She tells me that even if I do finish my screenplay and even if I do have the courage to put it out into the world, that it will ultimately just be a waste of time. That people will hate it. That I’ll hate it. Or even if I don’t hate it, and other people don’t hate it, even if it’s actually good, then what? I’ll spend all of my money producing the movie, which is way too hard for me to do on my own, and I’ll screw it up and then I’ll be broke and have nothing to show for it. So really, what’s the point?

This is the sort of Resistance-style crap that leaves me finding all sorts of other things to do during my detox, like washing dishes and folding laundry and making grocery lists and painting my nails and surfing Facebook and posting too much shit on Instagram. And it’s dumb. And I hate it.

So I picked up The War of Art. I’ll keep picking it up and I’ll keep countering the negative voice in my head with Pressfield’s fighting words, to remind myself that Resistance never goes away. I wrote this blog post to remind myself that making art is an act of war and that we have to do battle against the Resistance that threatens to derail our dreams every single day. It’s not glamorous or sexy or all that fun to do our work, but, goddammit, the only way to get it done is to sit down and do it.

I don’t know about you, but when I do force myself to sit down and write one of these blog posts, or bang out a couple pages of dialogue from my script, the bitch inside my head gets a little quieter, and I start to feel ever so slightly relieved. Doing the work is hard, but it’s also – truly – the only thing that keeps the demons at bay.

So here’s to doing what’s hard. Here’s to the struggle. Here’s to waging war. Every. Single. Day.

I’ve pasted the last page of The War of Art – a section entitled The Artist’s Life – below. I hope it helps you along in your own personal war.

Until next time, friends

*It was day five when I wrote this post. It is now (at the time of publishing), day seven, and since spewing out this blog, I’ve revised the first twenty pages of my script, written twelve new pages, and have completely re-worked the outline. Go to hell, Resistance.

The Artist’s Life

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Fiction.

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I’m writing a screenplay that’s loosely (OK, maybe not so loosely) based upon my life. The lead character is, essentially, me. Except she’s cooler than I am, she’s more screwed up, she’s funnier than I am and she’s more of a bad ass. She’s me, but she’s more. She’s the me I wish that I could be.

As I’ve been writing, I’ve realized something: penning a story about a character that’s a hyper-realized version of myself is my attempt to re-write my life. I’m writing my girl into scenes that are thisclose to some of my actual life experiences, but I’m making them more exciting, more dangerous, sexier, and flat out more interesting than real life. This screenplay is becoming my own revisionist history, where my life is made more compelling (at least, that’s the goal) through added conflict and drama.

The opportunity to step into different shoes and experience lives that are more adventurous, bolder, and more on the edge than my own is why I like acting and it’s why I like writing. But sometimes I wonder if I’m spending so much time living in other people’s heads that I’ve lost sight of what’s really in front of me. I put my earphones in and daydream movies in my mind as I listen to music. I make up stories about people – both complete strangers and people that I know – because making up stories is fun. But am I so attracted to the fantasy version of life that it has eclipsed actual reality? And if that were the case, would I even know it?

The roots of this behavior began when I was very young. As a child, I spent a lot of time alone. Dad traveled a lot, drank a lot, and Mom was often sad and difficult to reach out to. My parents were loving, but – if I’m honest – they were emotionally distant and wrapped up in their own worlds and problems. I didn’t have siblings my own age so I grew up essentially as an only child, daydreaming up fantasy worlds and entertaining myself through songs, games and stories. If I felt like psychoanalyzing myself, I’d say that my early isolation is probably the very reason I became attracted to showbiz and the arts in the first place. My stories and my imagination were a coping mechanism, they were a form of self-protection, and they became my world.

I wonder about the fantasy/reality distinction in my non-fiction blogging as well. While the events I write about are all true and have all really happened, I wonder if I don’t make them sharper, more interesting, and somehow different than they actually are simply in the act of retelling them? It’s quite impossible for a storyteller to divorce an experience from their unique perspective on it. But if every single event, every single human interaction is filtered through experience, then is everything subjective and somehow, shaded?

Pablo Picasso famously said, ‘Art is not the truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.’ By telling stories about my real life and turning them into art, am I somehow getting closer to my truth? Or have I simply become entranced by my own fiction?

Until next time, friends.

Faith.

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The dictionary defines the word faith as “belief that is not based on proof,” and “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” Faith is unscientific. More often than not, it is identified with religion and a belief in God.

My whole life, I’ve been sort of ambivalent about religion. Both of my parents were Catholics, though my Dad was much more devout than my Mom. Mom bore the unfortunate scars of Catholic school-inflicted trauma. She’d frequently recount tales of nuns that were so terrifying – routinely smacking their students with rulers, preaching of fire and brimstone – that she’d pretend to be sick so she wouldn’t have to go to school. Mom lived in fear of those nuns, and though she eventually returned to the church, that fear created a tension between her and Catholicism that stayed with her throughout her life.

So, between a mother that was skittish about religion, and a father who, while a believer, preferred watching sports on Sundays to going to mass, church attendance throughout my youth was sporadic at best, and mostly reserved for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Though I always felt pretty comfortable in the church, as I got older, my liberal politics – particularly my support for gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose – created a disconnect between my beliefs and the Vatican that I couldn’t reconcile. So I mostly stayed away.

As a liberal, I have a lot of friends who are atheists: a belief that I respect. I think it’s actually quite brave to believe that this life is all there is, and when it’s over, that’s it. But to be completely honest, that idea terrifies me. I find comfort in the idea that our souls carry on beyond the lives of our bodies, and that our spirits are so much more than our physical being. If you’ve ever been with someone you loved when the life passed out of them and seen that they simply weren’t there anymore, you know what I’m talking about.

September 29, 2012 was the date of my Mom’s memorial service. It was an informal waterfront gathering in Allyn, WA, on a parcel of land that’s been in my Mom’s family since the late 1950s. It’s a sort of family compound (my Grandfather, Aunt and Uncle all still live there) that we simply call ‘the beach.’ Despite spending the first fifteen years of my life with a permanent residence in Anchorage, Alaska, I essentially grew up at the beach, as did my Mom, and my Uncle Glenn. It was my Mom’s favorite place in the whole world and the only fitting place to hold her service.

That evening, sitting on the deck of my Grandparents’ house starting out at Case Inlet, I was struck by how beautiful everything was. It was an uncharacteristically warm, clear day for late September in the Pacific Northwest. The sound was flat as glass and reflected the heavens like a mirror. An enormous full moon gleamed bright white, hovering over a big-as-life Mt. Rainier. All was so calm and quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. And as I sat and stared out at the sound, for the first time in the weeklong chaos following my Mom’s death, I felt a sense of peace. I knew that she was here, that she was with me.

The skeptic in me immediately chimes in that I wanted to feel her with me, and that, of course, is true. But I simply can’t explain the power of that moment. It was as though the sea and the sky wrapped me up and held me in a warm blanket, and through the tremendous beauty of my surroundings and the almost trance-like calm that came over me, I could feel my Mom whispering to me, “I’m here. I’m O.K., Sar. I’m home.”

But the most powerful exchange I’ve had with my Mother since she passed on happened last Christmas, and it’s something I’ve told almost no one, and certainly not in as great of detail as I’m about to recount here, because it’s so incredibly personal. I was at the beach, and – as usual – staying in a mobile home on a piece of property adjacent to my Grandparents’ beach cabin. The mobile home and the piece of land used to belong to my parents but was willed to me after their deaths. And while I’m grateful for the inheritance, truth be told, I hate that trailer. My Mom inhabited that thing during the darkest period of her life, and the energy it contains is heavy and oppressive and oh so sad. Some joyful day I will raze it to the ground and build a new home in its place. But, I digress.

The trailer is also – until the perfect summer day meets my Uncle and I finding courage enough to scatter them – the temporary home for my Mother’s ashes. Whenever I stay there, I talk to my Mom. Sometimes, I hold the box of ashes in my arms and hug them.

But on this particular day – last Christmas Eve – I had hit a serious wall. After more than a year of being in survival mode, of moving from one crisis to the next, of working so very hard and keeping myself so very busy as a distraction from the weight of all the emotional baggage I’d been carrying, I finally, finally hit zero. I simply couldn’t pretend to be OK anymore. I’d arrived at a place of overwhelming hopelessness and despair. I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t feel strong enough and I didn’t know where or how to begin.

And so I cradled the box containing my Mom’s ashes and I wept. This emotional actress has cried a lot of tears in her life, but I have never, ever, cried like that. Uncontrollably, unceasingly, just this river of emotion. I didn’t ask, I implored. I begged. “Mom,” I sobbed, “I don’t know what to do. I am so scared. Please help me. Please tell me what to do. Please, Mom.” I have never been more humble. I have never been more afraid. And I have never wanted my Mother more.

I don’t know how the universe works. I don’t know if my Mom heard me that night, or if I was just crying to myself. But I do know that in my darkest moment, I asked for help and then help started to arrive. It wasn’t in the form I wanted. It arrived in a way that wasn’t pleasant; help arrived in the form of an unseen hand that grabbed me by the collar and shook me hard and slapped me across the face and screamed, “wake up!” It was a hand that pushed me through pain in order to make it clear that the only way out was through, that in order to live, a part of me had to die. It was gut-wrenching, but I can see now that it was what I needed.

Four months after that dark, dark Christmas Eve, my healing has been dramatic. I still have a steep mountain to climb, but I am more optimistic, more creative, and less afraid. I am making my choices out of hope now, rather than out of fear. I’m learning to trust myself again.

I don’t know exactly where I come down on the God question. But if faith is a belief in something that can’t be seen, then I have it. And time and time again, over the last two years, when I’ve stepped into something having nothing but faith, that faith has been rewarded. I’ve seen and felt too much not to believe that there’s a force out there that’s bigger than me. A force that’s compassionate, a force that wants me, you, us, to be our highest and best selves. I don’t know if that’s God or the universe or magic or what. All I know is what I’ve felt in the deepest reaches of my soul, and in the darkest moments of my heart. That’s my truth. I don’t need it to be anyone else’s, but it’s mine.  And now I’ve shared it with you.

Until next time, friends.

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The price.

For the last several months I’ve been meditating on a big idea. A vast, multi-faceted idea. An idea that can be approached from different sides and attacked from numerous angles. An idea that for me, as an artist and as a creative being, is on par with questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘What’s my higher purpose?’ and ‘Why are we all here?’

I don’t think I can tackle the question weighing on my mind in one post. It’s too big. It will probably become a recurring theme in my work (echoes of it appear in my blog, Broken), or in a series of posts. I’m not sure yet.

But, to begin. What I’ve been puzzling over is this: in order to create great art, is suffering a necessary, and in fact, inevitable, part of the process?

Our history is rife with visionary creators who harbored broken souls. Tennessee Williams, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath. More recently, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The talented and tortured musicians who are members of that infamous 27 club: Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt, Amy.

There’s no doubt that among the gifted and the sensitive, there’s a proclivity toward addiction and self-destruction. But why? Don’t mistake me; I’m not suggesting that in order to be a great artist (or even a mediocre one), alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, even suicidal tendencies, are a prerequisite. If anything, this toxic and destructive behavior produces inertia that stands in the way of the creative process. But the idea that I keep coming back to is this: as artists, we suffer more than the rest of people. We feel things more exquisitely. In order to be visionary, we must be honest to the point that it’s painful. We must be willing to expose our most private, secret parts, our deepest vulnerabilities, and the darkest parts of our hearts. We must walk into the full range of human emotions open and unguarded.   And for that, we pay a hefty price.

I have a uniquely personal experience with the idea that the act of creation produces suffering, and it’s the reason I’ve been meditating on it at such great length. Over the last year and a half, I’ve lost three of the most important people in my life in dramatic fashion. And I lost not only their physical presence, but also something much deeper and more profound. Through their deaths, I’ve been faced with hard truths about my family that I didn’t want to know. Truths that have shaken and shattered my foundation and left me questioning everything I thought I knew: my childhood, my relationships, my history, and my very identity.

But here’s the gift. When I finally, recently, landed at zero, I became more creative. My writing got better. Ideas started clicking, and synapses started firing in a way they never had before. I found myself suddenly harnessing an authority that I’d never owned before; an authority that I’m not only compelled to share with others, but an authority that I have to share in order to survive. I know this like I know the color of my eyes or the place that I was born.

All human beings suffer. It’s inevitable. We make terrible, tragic mistakes. We experience great pain. We love deeply and we lose profoundly. Most people don’t walk into these emotions willingly. They avoid them because they’re painful, and only experience them as the inevitable by-product of being alive. But as artists, we wade into the most intense human experiences willfully, and with abandon. We welcome the pain, the joy, the agony and the ecstasy. We say bring it on. We want to feel everything. But sometimes we feel too much. Enter booze, drugs, sex, crazy, destructive behavior, in order to numb the pain. And that’s when we get into trouble.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s incredibly difficult to put my heart on the line and my grief on display in such a vulnerable way without becoming a little fucked up and unhealthy about it in the process. The intense feelings I’ve been wading into and moving through have made me feel closer to Tennessee and to Sylvia and to Vincent and to Kurt. I understand them better. My gift and my curse is that the hole in my heart is only filled through sharing my very personal story with the world. And yet to sit in those feelings without letting them swallow me whole is the great challenge that I’m still trying to sort out. The powerful conundrum that we face as artists is that our very lives depend on telling our stories – honestly, openly, nakedly, no holds barred – and yet the act of doing so is so dangerous to our psyches that it threatens our survival. It is the ultimate Catch 22, the tightrope we must all walk.

And so, my fellow poets, beautiful dreamers, dear friends, brave and broken souls, I invite you to join me in meditation on this question: how do we do what we must do, what we were born and put on this earth to do, without allowing it to destroy us?

It’s an open dialogue, if you’d like to have it.

Until next time, friends.

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