Morningside.

“We all get stuck in place on occasion. We all move backward sometimes. Every day we must make the decision to move in the direction of our intentions. Forward is the direction of real life.”

– Cheryl Strayed

I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop on lap, surfing the internet for a new dresser when the call came through. The number was familiar, but not in a way that brought comfort. My body tensed. My breaths came shallow. I thought about answering the phone, then thought better of it. I didn’t want to be blindsided by bad news. Let them leave a message, I thought. At least then I’d have an idea of what I was in for.

The voicemail notification flashed across the screen, and I gingerly pressed play and held the phone up to my ear.

“Hi Sarah,” came a polite, though somewhat timid, voice on the other end.

“This is Katherine, from Joe’s office. We have some documents to send you, and I just wanted to confirm that we still have your correct address.”

Documents. That sounded innocuous enough, but as I’d just spent the better part of the summer sorting through five years’ worth of paperwork covering such weighty topics as death, divorce and identity theft, paring a painful paper trail down to its essentials and depositing the rest into a large plastic bin that I delivered to an industrial shredding facility in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport, the last thing I wanted was to acquire more documents. I had begun a new life. And I intended to travel light.

I sighed, pressed “call back,” and was surprised to hear Joe’s voice – my parents’ lawyer – on the other end. I had assumed he had retired, due to advancing age and a recent bypass surgery. But there he was, answering the phone. His tone was kind, grandfatherly, almost.

“Well, Sarah, it looks like we’re finally ready to close your parents’ estate, and I have some final documents for you to sign. We’re going to send them to your sister Marion first, then to you, and then we should be good to go.”

Really? Five years of bank statements and legal documents and insurance forms? Five years of producing death certificates with as much normalcy as I produced my driver’s license? Five years of always another form to sign, always another stack of papers to file bearing the red “For your Information” stamp? Could it really be true that after five years, this phase of life that I’d become so accustomed to was finally drawing to a close?

“That’s great news, Joe. I’m glad you called because I actually just moved. Let me give you my new address.”

If Joe was surprised by my New York zip code, he didn’t let on. Maybe he thought people packed up and moved their lives across the country every day. Or maybe after five years, he was ready to be done with me, too. Either way, we said our goodbyes, and I collapsed back onto my bed, a wave of exhaustion washing over me. I had only been in New York for three days, but I knew that it was more than just the force of jet lag hitting me. It was something like releasing a breath that I had long been holding. Something like the realization that after all these years, I might finally be turning a page.

Five days later, on a still warm September afternoon – the second day of fall – I swept the floors, rearranged the furniture, stocked the fridge and assembled a spread of snacks and drinks on my kitchen table. As a handful of guests arrived and day faded into indigo night, lit by the New York skyline and the three strings of twinkle lights I’d hung from the eighth-floor balcony of my Morningside Heights apartment, I realized that I had barely thought about the fact that this day, September 23rd, marked the fifth anniversary of the death of my mother. I had remembered it, of course, but I had – for once – been too busy to dwell on it. And when I did think of it, I didn’t feel sad. Instead, I felt lucky. I felt lucky that I had a mother who always told me that I could do and be anything that I wanted. I felt lucky that because of that, I had been brave enough to take a leap, and had been rewarded with a new apartment in a new city, one that was beautiful, priced well under market value, and in a prime Manhattan neighborhood. I was lucky to be surrounded by interesting, kind, creative people, who, like me, also wanted to tell stories and make art. And I was lucky to realize that as painful as it had been, it was the jagged, twisted, perilous path that had brought me here, to a time and a place where I finally felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was where I was supposed to be.

Until next time, friends.

The distance of the leap.

“I’m not the sort of person who leaps.” That line of dialogue from a new play I’m working on, from a speech in which the female character explains how extreme life circumstances led her to take risks she normally wouldn’t, has been running through my mind lately, on a loop. “I’m not the sort of person who leaps.”

I’m not, either. These last few years, as I’ve written about my struggles with grief after the death of my family, as I’ve publicly navigated life and career and relationship changes, as I’ve tried to find solid footing on ground that is ever shifting, a lot of people have called me “brave.” I may be a lot of things, but “brave,” is not one of them. The way I look at it, life gave me two choices: play the hand I was dealt, or quit the game. And quitting was never an option, at least not for me.

Just over a week ago, with a carefully worded letter addressed to my landlord neatly folded inside a stamped envelope, I walked three blocks to my local post office. As I approached the building, walking up Alfred Street into the South Carthay neighborhood that I love, a neighborhood populated with statuesque palms and historic Spanish style houses, a neighborhood I jog through at least once a week, my hands started to sweat. Am I crazy? I thought. Am I really going to give up my apartment? My beautiful little sun-filled bungalow with its laundry room and expansive patio overlooking a perfectly landscaped garden? A place with unparalleled charm, at a price that’s unheard of in L.A.’s skyrocketing rental market? And with awesome, incredible neighbors to boot? I can’t believe I’m doing this, I told myself.

But the truth is, it was time. It was beyond time. As much as I love my apartment, I never expected to stay there for three years. It was always meant to be a stop gap, a place to gather and rebuild and then move on. I will always be grateful for the way that charming little cottage fell into my lap when I needed it the most, for the way that it sheltered me and kept me safe throughout the most difficult phase of my life. But the healing that I needed to do there is done, and now, it’s time to go.

A few days after I mailed the letter to my landlord, I broke the news to some friends at a Sunday afternoon barbecue: I was giving up my apartment at the end of June, moving in with a friend for the summer, and leaving L.A. at the end of August. I would go back to the Pacific Northwest to spend time with family, and from there, I’d head for New York.

“Do you have a place to live out there?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Do you have a job?”

“No. Not yet.”

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I feel a little bit terrified at the prospect of making this change, especially with so much that’s still uncertain. I’m not the sort of person who leaps, remember? But I’m also not the sort of person who buries her head in the sand and ignores what’s obvious, either. The truth is, these last couple years I’ve felt stagnant, both creatively, in terms of the work I want to produce, and personally, in terms of big picture life stuff. I feel the sands shifting through the hourglass at an alarmingly accelerating rate, and I know that unless I change, nothing in my life will change. And I’m not talking about the sort of change that was forced upon me by circumstance these last years – the change that caused people to call me “brave” – but instead, proactive, taking the steering wheel of my own life and pressing my foot to the gas pedal, change.

Sorting through items in my apartment, deciding what to keep, toss, and give away in preparation for a move, I flipped open a favorite book of quotes, Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough, and found this:

“We are all at risk of something. Of ending up exactly where we began, of failing to imagine and find and know and actualize who we could be. We all need to jump from here to there. The only difference among us is the distance of the leap.”

We all need to jump from here to there. Even those of us who aren’t accustomed to leaping.

Until next time, friends.

Zero.

Last Christmas, I thought that I had hit zero. A dark and depressing Christmas where – not knowing where else to turn – I said a desperate prayer to my mother while cradling a box of her ashes (an experience I documented in my blog post, Faith).

In truth, I hadn’t hit it yet. Actual ground zero was one week ago, last Monday morning, when I woke up with the heavy, oppressive realization that I had been lying to myself. That I could no longer live with one foot in my old life, one foot in my new one, trying to have it both ways. I couldn’t forge ahead into the future while still holding on to the security blanket of the past. I needed to finally give it up, all of it.

I miss my old life. I miss my old life, even though I know it’s not for me. I miss the rhythms and the routine. I miss the comfort in the familiar, even though the familiar was often discomfort itself. I miss always knowing what was coming next, even though what was coming next was often stressful, anxiety producing. And I miss the person that I used to live with, even though he made me crazy. Even though we fought. A lot. Even though I cried.

I walked away from my old life because I had to. Because in the midst of all the loss – my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my dear friend – I had also lost myself. I was drowning, and losing so many people that I loved in such tragic, jarring, devastating ways taught me that if I didn’t change, I was going to die too. In fact, I already was dying, but so slowly that I barely even noticed.

In walking away, I left my home, my marriage, my friends (some of whom, I would learn, were only ‘friends’), and a passion project that I am immensely proud of, an ongoing theater festival that I helped to create, that I worked tirelessly on, gave my whole heart to, and that involved collaboration with many people that I dearly love. Walking away from all of those things hurt like hell.

When I hit ground zero one week ago, I realized that in saying goodbye to so much that I anchored my identity to, I’m no longer sure who I am. I’m no longer sure who I am outside of a relationship that defined my twenties and that brought me both enduring joy and profound heartbreak. I’m no longer sure who I am outside of a company that I co-founded, a company that has been my creative home and my sanctuary from the soul-sucking world of Hollywood for the last five years. And I’m no longer sure who I am outside of my role as an exceptionally competent (what’s the point in false humility, it’s true) producer and caretaker-in-chief, the girl with the plan, the one who manages the to-do list, the problem solver, the go-to, the one with an answer for everything.

The girl in this new life no longer has a plan, save to keep going, to keep forging ahead, one foot in front of the other, into the great unknown. She’s a girl alone in a city where it’s easy to be lonely, a city where she’s not sure she belongs anymore. She’s an actress and a producer without a passion project, and a writer with so many projects that she doesn’t know where to focus, only that they’re all driving her crazy with their dizzying, disorienting, the truth is everywhere and it’s fucking painful, thoughts.

How did this girl, how did I, know that I had finally hit zero; that it hadn’t already happened yet? Because I couldn’t stop crying. Not for three whole days. Because anything – going for a run, ordering lunch, brushing my teeth – produced instantaneous, uncontrollable, sobbing. Because I couldn’t get off the floor, not for an entire afternoon. Because in the midst of all of this, I wrote myself a ‘get well soon’ greeting card, filled it with inspirational thoughts that I didn’t really believe, trudged over to the post office, and mailed it to myself. And when the mailman delivered it the next day, I didn’t feel better, as I hoped I would. I couldn’t even bring myself to open the damn thing, I just looked at it, bawling, feeling like an insane person, for fifteen minutes straight.

If this is what letting go feels like, then I fucking hate it. It’s the worst thing you can imagine. Throughout all the loss and the sickness and the death and the crises that I’d been managing over the last two years, I have never felt anything like this. And it’s probably because I’d never stopped, or settled down long enough to allow myself to feel it. I was producing a play when my mom had her nervous breakdown, another one after my dad’s death and during my grandmother’s. And then I went on to tackle producing an ambitious, thirty-minute film noir movie. Through it all, I worked, worked, worked, not because I was (at least, not consciously) trying to avoid feeling things, but because it’s how I deal. It’s what I know how to do. I’m the competent, problem-solving caretaker, remember? The one managing the to-do list.

I’m not a negative person. I’m not a defeatist. The rational part of me knows that the only way out is through, and that I have no choice but to wade through this until I get to the other side. But it sure doesn’t make it any easier. And when you’re desperate and searching, sometimes help can be found in the oddest places. Like Pinterest. While doing some work for my social media job, I happened upon a quote by the poet Mary Oliver. I had been introduced to Mary’s writing years ago, thought occasionally about her line ‘what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?,’ but couldn’t call myself a follower by any stretch of the imagination. But when I came upon her poem The Journey, my heart nearly stopped. It is so beautifully written, so profound, that as a writer I’m incredibly jealous that I didn’t write it. And I’m also overwhelmingly grateful that she did, because it encapsulates everything I’m experiencing right now so perfectly. Here it is:

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,


though the voices around you


kept shouting


their bad advice – – -


though the whole house 


began to tremble


and you felt the old tug


at your ankles.


‘Mend my life!’


each voice cried.


But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,


though the wind pried


with its stiff fingers


at the very foundations – – -


though their melancholy


was terrible. It was already late


enough, and a wild night,


and the road full of fallen


branches and stones.

But little by little,


as you left their voices behind,


the stars began to burn


through the sheets of clouds,


and there was a new voice,


which you slowly 


recognized as your own,


that kept you company


as you strode deeper and deeper


into the world,


determined to do


the only thing you could do – – – determined to save


the only life you could save.

I’m not going to lie: I wept for a long time after reading those words. I read them again and again. I’m still reading them. And here’s the thing: I know in my heart that when nothing is sure, everything is possible. I know that there are many doors open to me, and I just need to stop waffling, choose one and walk through it. After all, if I’m not sure who I am anymore, that means I can be anything, right? I could haunt sidewalk cafes in Paris, and finally write my memoir. I could steal away to a village by the sea and forge a simple life. I could pull a Cheryl Strayed and give away all of my personal belongings and go on a months-long, soul-searching, danger-filled adventure. I could become notorious, and invite other writers to write things about me.

The exhilarating and terrifying part of true reinvention is the prospect that someday – in the not too distant future – I may very well look into the mirror and barely recognize the person I’ve become. What if, in starting anew, I lose parts of myself that I really like, never to be found again? But I guess that’s where faith comes in. Faith in myself. Faith in my intuition, faith in my inner voice, a voice that I ignored for far too long while it was screaming at me and stomping its feet, a voice that had been trying to tell me something for a reason.

After crying for three days straight, after barely being able to get off the floor, I woke up last Thursday morning, suddenly, inexplicably, lighter. I felt like getting out of bed, and doing something productive with my day. And so I did. And it felt good. And since last Thursday, I’ve been feeling mostly OK. I think this pattern may continue for a while. Some days I’ll wake up, feeling fine, and some days, not so much. But the important thing is, I’ll wake up. And I’ll continue to go.

So this is it. This is true ground zero. This is where recovery – where reinvention – begins.

It sucks. I fucking hate it.

But it doesn’t appear that I have a choice in the matter. So – onward I go. Into the great unknown.

Until next time, friends.

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