Roll the dice.

The other day, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was sitting at my desk, dutifully checking off items on my to-do list, staring vacantly at my computer screen, wishing I were somewhere else. I had awoken extra early to put the finishing touches on a new piece for this blog – something about the importance of focus – but as I read it and read it again, I realized I couldn’t publish it. It felt dishonest, like I was trying too hard to sound like someone else. Someone who – unlike me – had their sh*t together.

And that’s when the existential dread set in. Who am I, anyway? What could I possibly say that’s important, or that will make any difference? Who cares?

The what’s the point of it all feeling rose quickly in my chest and caught in the back of my throat, a dull nausea spinning in my stomach, and I knew I had to get out. Before I could let the to-do list stop me, I slammed my laptop shut, laced up my beat-up running shoes, grabbed my keys and left. I got in my car and drove westward, toward the coast.

I live only seven miles from the ocean, but it’s staggering how little I make time in my schedule to go and see it. Throughout my life, the sea has always had a powerful effect on me. The sense of calm and peace it instills is so profound that I know in my bones I could never live far away from a body of water. When times are toughest – when I’m sad or lost or feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin – that’s when I crave the sea the most.



I parked my car on San Vicente. Putting my ear buds in, I trudged down the Santa Monica Stairs and then back up the incline that leads to Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park. I jogged through the park, marveling at the dense marine layer still blanketing the coast, even though just a handful of miles inland, my little stucco bungalow was already baking in the 11 a.m. summer sun. The fog shrouding the sea was so thick and white, you couldn’t tell where the horizon ended and the sea began, casting a hazy sort of magic over Palisades Park. I breathed in that fog, the sea, and almost immediately I felt soothed, better.

I let my brain race freely as I jogged along. When I got to the construction zone at the California Incline, I turned around and headed for the entrance to the steep set of stairs at the Montana Beach Overlook. I descended the sandy wooden steps toward Pacific Coast Highway, dodging beachgoers carrying bikes and surfboards. And then back up I went, the burning in my calves intensifying as I climbed faster and faster. Descend and climb. Descend and climb. I pushed myself again and again, the fatigue in my body finally allowing my tired brain to relax and settle into something that felt less like chaotic noise and more like calm, focused thoughts.

As I climbed, I thought about my Dad. Father’s Day had just passed, and his birthday was coming up. If he could see me now, what would he think? I didn’t have to wonder about it, I already knew. He’d tell me that I needed to stop complaining about my “problems” and get to work. Throughout my life, whenever I was slacking off or not doing all I could, I’d dread the inevitable grilling from Dad. He’d always unearth the truth in his lawyerly fashion: straight to the heart of the matter. “Well if you know better Sar, then why don’t you do better?”


The truth is, my recent lack of motivation isn’t rooted in laziness, or lack of ambition. It’s rooted in fear. I’ve been experiencing what you might call a crisis of confidence: blocked in my writing, hating all of my creative ideas, feeling hopelessly stuck and worried that everything I’ve been working so hard on is no good and a waste of my time.

Time. Whenever this “what’s the point of it all?” paralysis sets in, it always comes back to that question of time. What am I doing with it? Am I making the most of it? Is activity A, B, or C really worth my time? I’m ever aware of how precious it is, ever fearful of it slipping through my fingers, even as it does that very thing.

Plenty of things we invest our time in don’t work out. People die. Relationships fail. Jobs end. Does that mean they weren’t worth our time? I don’t think so. It’s all a part of life, experiences we need to have so that we can learn and grow and (hopefully) improve. I suppose that nothing about how we choose to spend our time can really be a waste unless we willfully choose to waste it.

Is that what I’ve been doing? Willfully wasting my time indulging in my own neuroses? What would Dad say? He was an “all in” kind of guy. He wouldn’t let fear or doubt stop him. And as I thought about Dad, I remembered a poem written by Charles Bukowski. It’s called “Roll the Dice” and it’s something I’ve loved for years, returning to it again and again whenever I’ve needed a swift kick in the ass. Here it is:

if you’re going to try, go all the


otherwise, don’t even start.

 if you’re going to try, go all the


this could mean losing girlfriends,

wives, relatives, jobs and

maybe your mind.

go all the way.

it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.

it could mean freezing on a

park bench.

it could mean jail,

it could mean derision,



isolation is the gift,

all the others are a test of your

endurance, of

how much you really want to

do it.

and you’ll do it

despite rejection and the worst odds

and it will be better than

anything else

you can imagine.

 if you’re going to try,

go all the way.

there is no other feeling like


you will be alone with the gods

and the nights will flame with


do it, do it, do it.

do it.

all the way

all the way.

you will ride life straight to

perfect laughter, its

the only good fight

there is.

I left the beach and went home, utterly exhausted. Later, when I re-read those words by Bukowski, I thought about how my Dad spent much of his life as the living embodiment of them. I thought about how I wanted to be more like that. And I thought about how the best way I could honor my father as I approached his birthday was to stop hesitating, stop moving through my life with so much doubt and uncertainty, and simply “roll the dice.”


Easier said than done, but maybe my first step is to spend a lot more time climbing those stairs, breathing in the ocean, clearing out the noise.

Until next time, friends.

The gift.

A recurring theme in my life these days seems to be the idea that good can come from bad, that great beauty can be born from great adversity, that even the most oppressive rain clouds possess their silver lining, if you’d only look for it.  Several days ago when I was having a particularly tough day, I returned to a poem called Roll the Dice by Charles Bukowski.  It was introduced to me several years ago by my friend Barbara and I’ve leaned on it many times over the years when I’ve needed a lift (If you’d like to read it, it’s pasted below, at the bottom of this blog).  The poem is about dedicating yourself to your passion and being so committed to it that you’re willing to suffer through any hardship in order to make it happen.  A couple lines in particular stand out:  Isolation is the gift.  All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.

Isolation is the gift.  It’s tough to be alone.  It’s more fun to be with other people, to be social.  But it’s also a distraction.  My acting teacher said something in class a few weeks ago and I wrote it down because it really hit home.  Anyone who’s trying to do something wonderful will suffer in loneliness.  He was talking about artists – actors in particular – and the art of creation.  But I think it’s true for most people. As much as we are social beings, we need time on our own.  To do our work.  To figure out who we really are without the opinions of others reflecting back upon us like mirrors.

I have a complicated relationship with my aloneness. I hate it because it makes me feel just that:  lonely.  But I also need it.  There was so much to do after my mother’s death, that I didn’t have time to grieve.  My dad was ill and he was alone.  My grandmother was ill.  Bad things kept happening and crisis management stretched on for months.  And after both my dad and grandmother passed, I threw myself into work, co-producing a play festival and a film, and just keeping so, so busy.

At the time, I think being busy and distracted was what I needed to do.  I had to keep moving in order to get through.  But now – finally – I’ve arrived at the place where in order to get better and to heal, I have to sit with myself and let the feelings land where they land.  No one else can do that for me.  No one can grow for me, or process my emotions for me, or get healthy for me, or make the changes I need to make for me.  That’s my job.  And like it or not, it’s a path I’ve got to walk alone.

It feels paradoxical to say that because throughout all the tough stuff, I’ve been surrounded by wonderful, loving people who’ve buoyed me up, who’ve supported me, and without whom I never would have survived the darkest of the dark.  I don’t want to slight them or diminish their crucial importance in my life.  I’m eternally grateful for every helping hand and kind word.  But now I’ve got to scour the depths of my soul for what’s next and the only one who can do that is yours truly.

We don’t walk into the great unknown willingly because change is uncomfortable and, at times, terrifying.  But life, through circumstance, will drive us to change.  It pushes us to be better when we won’t do it on our own.  It shakes us up when we need to be shaken; it creates obstacles that we must overcome, so that we can surprise ourselves with our resourcefulness and stand in our own strength.  ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ has become such a cliché I almost hate to type it on the page, but clichés are anchored in our vernacular for a reason:  they’re true.

I’ve survived a lot of traumatic life events over the last two years, but I’m starting to see the gift in what has happened to me.  It’s tough to admit that because it almost sounds like I’m grateful for the bad stuff, or that I somehow wanted it to happen.  I’m not, and I didn’t.  But I’m grateful for what it has taught me, for what it is teaching me.  I’m grateful for the ability to look at my life through different, wiser (and yes, sadder) eyes and appreciate how truly beautiful it is, and what a gift I have indeed been given.

Isolation is the gift.  For me, right now, it is.  I’m surrounded by amazing people who love me and whom I love back.  I’m lucky.  But – at least for the time being – I’m on a path that, on a fundamental level, I must walk alone.  To grow.  To explore.  To write and to do my work.  And to just come home.  To me.

Until next time, friends.

Roll the Dice by Charles Bukowski:

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

Otherwise, don’t even start.

This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind.

It could mean not eating for three or four days.

It could mean freezing on a park bench.

It could mean jail.  It could mean derision.  It could mean mockery — isolation.

Isolation is the gift.

All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.

And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.

And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

There is no other feeling like that.

You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.

It’s the only good fight there is.

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