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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Past Lives.

I just hit my fifteenth year in L.A. The milestone arrived quietly. So quietly, in fact, that I barely even noticed it. It wasn’t until this past Saturday, when I was parking my car on a familiar street in Silver Lake, experiencing an odd sense of déjà vu as I climbed out of my too-dirty Prius, gold linen clutch in hand, heading to an afternoon brunch, that I realized that it had already happened. I had missed it. I paused for a moment, the hot September sun beating down on my back, and thought about how very different my life was from the girl who arrived in this city fifteen years ago, how every different my life was from even one year ago. The thought crossed my mind and then I quickly dismissed it, exhaling a puff of air as I trudged uphill toward a house full of people that I’d never met.

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Déjà vu has been my constant companion these days. It’s almost as if my past has been chasing me, trying to meld my younger self with the current, Sarah 2.0 version. For starters, I find myself living alone for only the second time in my life, in a place that, while a bit bigger than the shoebox Culver City studio apartment I rented when I was 24, is oddly similar. Like my old place, it’s bright and airy, it has an enclosed patio, and it boasts friendly neighbors. My new place is a few miles east of my first solo digs, yet close enough that Culver City, very different yet very much the same, has once again become the closest hip neighborhood, once again my default stomping grounds.

On Friday evening, the night before that Silver Lake brunch, déjà vu paid me yet another visit. Driving home from my girlfriend Zoe’s new apartment, an L.A.-spacious one-bedroom in Mar Vista, where we gathered over dinner to talk about love and loss and family and hope and romance and well, the things you talk about when you’re in your early 30s and single and you’re missing your mom and you’re wondering what it all means. Tired and ready to head home to bed at 11 p.m. (definitely not the me of 15 years ago), I turned right onto Inglewood from Washington and flashed back to all the memories that had been made on that street when three buddies of mine rented a post-college apartment there, an apartment they nicknamed the ‘Inglewood Palace.’ I thought about parties and football games and hangouts and good times. And I thought about one of those friends who’d passed away far too soon, about another, now a father and a college professor in Fargo, North Dakota, and another, my best friend of the bunch, who’d recently left L.A. to begin a new life with his wife in the Bay Area. How familiar that street felt, as if no time had passed. And in light of the years that had passed, in light of all that had happened, how foreign it felt too.

Back to Saturday, to brunch, to Silver Lake. I was standing in the kitchen of an unfamiliar house, wearing a sleeveless black silk cocktail dress that used to be my mother’s, a dress that I had realized (too late) was far too warm for this September day, mimosa in hand, making small talk with women that I’d never met before. I was at a literary salon that I felt privileged to be invited to, where the attendees were almost exclusively writers, some aspiring (me), some very successful. I felt a little bit like a fraud, like a kid playing dress up, fumbling for things to talk about, this blog, my life, the book I want to write. I was trying to be as engaged as I could be in the present moment, but I couldn’t help feeling my mind wander down the hill, toward an apartment one street over on Golden Gate, where ten years earlier (God, could it really have been ten years ago?) my friend Mary and I passed many evenings drinking wine, engrossed in deep, meaningful conversations about politics, art, love, the meaning of life. Conversations that, in truth, weren’t that much different than the ten-years-later conversation I’d had the night before over champagne and pasta at Zoe’s place in Mar Vista. Then and now, we were preoccupied with what would happen to us; we were worried about becoming the people we were supposed to be.

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Have I become the person I’m supposed to be? No, not yet. As I stood in the kitchen of the house in Silver Lake, listening to two impressive female writers speak about their books, about their writing process, about their lives, I could relate and yet, I couldn’t. They talked about motherhood, mid-life crises, and menopause, all things beyond my experience, things that were looming in the somewhat distant future. But they also talked about going through transitions, about needing to change when life had become too small, too narrow, too claustrophobic, about the ever-present need to grow. And to that, I could relate.

I’m about a million miles away from the baby-faced eighteen-year-old college student who arrived in L.A. fifteen years ago. I am, and yet, I’m not. I’m certainly older, definitely wiser (though I’m the first to admit, not always wise), and I’ve been shaped and stretched by the roller coaster that is this life. But the one thing that hasn’t changed after all this time: I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. I’m still trying to figure out who I’m supposed to be. As my mind wandered back to that apartment on Golden Gate, the words of one of the authors broke through my reverie. ‘Life is cyclical,’ she said. ‘Things are wonderful, and then they’re not. Things are terrible and then they’re not. Everything passes.’ And something about that statement clicked in my brain. Maybe this pervasive sense of déjà vu, of revisiting these familiar places from my past and seeing them through older eyes, is exactly what’s supposed to happen. Maybe it’s my opportunity to review where I’ve been and make different, better choices about where I’m going. Maybe it’s a reminder that life is cyclical. And maybe it’s telling me that I’m on my way. That I’m one step closer to becoming the person I’m supposed to be. At least, I really hope so.

Until next time, friends.

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