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.

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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Where I Write: Palisades Park.

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

– Rachel Carson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I agree. “It is.”

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

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

Until next time, friends.

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Where I Write: the dressing room.

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

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

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

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The Dressing Room

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

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

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

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

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I’m a failure.

I have a problem.  My problem is that I’m a perfectionist.  I have tons of things I’d like to do – stories (and blog posts!) I’d like to write, creative projects I’d like to launch, people I’d like to collaborate with – but more often than not, I find myself in a holding pattern, unable to start anything for fear that I won’t get it right.

I’ve heard this called ‘paralysis analysis,’ which basically means being so wrapped up in thinking about doing something – what to do, how to do it, when to do it – that you become paralyzed to act and never take the first step to actually do something.

In my case, I think (O.K., I know), that the root of this paralysis is fear.  Fear that whatever I do, it won’t be good enough.  Fear that because whatever I do or create will somehow be seen as an extension of me, that if I can’t get it absolutely perfect, I’ll be judged a failure.  Stupid, illogical and irrational, but there it is.

Take this blog, for example.  I’ve been a writer my whole life, and for many years I’ve wanted to launch a blog.  But the irony is, the more I learned about blogging, the less inclined I became to write my own.  All of a sudden, I became trapped by all the things I needed to do before I could start writing.  I needed a custom header, I needed to become a Photoshop whiz so I could create fabulous photos, I needed a corresponding Twitter account, etc., etc.

Well, I don’t have any of those things, but one day I finally just said screw it.  I’m going to pick a WordPress theme (thank you, Matthew Buchanan, Esquire is lovely) and start writing, and I’ll just have to fix things as I go. And this blog is quickly becoming my experiment in learning how to be O.K. with being a work in progress.

It’s not easy to let go of perfectionism.  It’s a disease.  And with creative projects in particular –which are most of the things I’ve been putting off – it’s particularly tough because they’re so uniquely personal that it feels even more vulnerable to put something out in the world that doesn’t feel ready or finished.

But (deep breath time) what’s the worst that can happen?  So, I open myself up to criticism.  It’s tough to hear, but it can only make me better, right?  So, I tried to do something and it totally sucked.  Oh well.  I failed.  Suck it up and try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

So let me be the first to shout it from the rooftops:  I’m a failure!  I’m going to try many things and they’re not going to work out.  I’m going to fail, and I’m going to fail a lot.  But I would rather be a failure most of the time, and do something great once in a while, then be mediocre always and never venture outside of my comfort zone by taking a creative risk.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  In the oft-quoted words of Goethe, ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.’ So let’s begin.

Until next time, friends.

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