Savannah.

I didn’t stay long on Tybee Island. It was hot and humid, and I was alone, and I didn’t want to risk leaving my belongings unattended on the beach while I went for a swim. But I had taken the half hour Lyft ride from downtown Savannah for the sole purpose of putting my feet into the Atlantic, and I wasn’t going to leave until I did it. So, I found a bench at the edge of the beach, took off my shoes and socks, placed them into my canvas tote bag, and walked down toward the water. My toes sunk into wet sand and warm ocean waves washed over my feet as I stared out at the sea. The Atlantic wasn’t my ocean, and yet, as I gazed across its vast expanse, I felt the same thing I always did when in the presence of its west coast cousin: peace.

Tybee Island

I had only been to Savannah once before, in my early twenties, when I took a road trip there from Nashville with my college roommate Rachel. We spent two days wandering through old town squares, drinking mint juleps from plastic to-go cups, and joining the crush of revelers on River Street. Savannah was hot and dreamy and intoxicating, a place unlike any I’d ever been, and it left its mark on me. I vowed to come back, and soon.

But life got in the way, and somehow fourteen years went by. It wasn’t until I started writing a new play that Savannah returned to the forefront of my consciousness. After the play’s two characters meet and quickly fall in love, Savannah is the place their reckless romance draws them to. It’s a place that looms large in my female heroine’s imagination, a place haunted by ghosts both real and imagined, a place, where, as she describes it, “time doesn’t exist.” Over the course of the story, Savannah is the place both of these characters long for, but one they ultimately never return to.

A month before my second trip to Savannah, I sat in an exam room near Columbus Circle and reviewed the results of two ultrasounds with my doctor. The bad news was I would have to have surgery. But the good news was much better. My cyst was benign. After weeks of fearing the worst, my doctor sat across from me and offered a reassuring smile. “Take a deep breath,” she said. “You’re going to be fine.”

Forsyth Park

So, I scheduled my surgery, and immediately thereafter, I booked a trip to Savannah. For the last several months, I had been anxious and unhappy. Wanting to change my life but paralyzed to take the first step. And then: a health scare. And suddenly nothing else mattered until I heard those five words: “You’re going to be fine.”

I arrived in Savannah last Tuesday evening, by way of a fifteen-hour train ride from Penn Station. It might seem crazy to opt for such a long journey when I could have flown there in a few hours, but the truth was, I’d always had a thing for trains. Something about siting near the window, watching the landscapes whizz by with a journal in my hand and thoughts swirling through my brain had always seemed inherently romantic to me. And as the southbound Palmetto Line pressed on through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, I alternated been sleep and waking dreams. It was perfect.

I spent my first full day in Savannah wandering cobblestone streets and re-orienting myself to the city. I got lost but cared little, because there was nowhere I had to be and nothing I had to do. I covered nearly ten miles on foot, my skin glistening from the warm, humid air, my limbs feeling surprisingly light from the effort. By the time I sat down to dinner and watched the sunset settle over the Savannah River, I knew I’d made the right decision.

Bridge over the Savannah River

Savannah continued to cast its spell all during the course of my stay. I walked along the river and ate lemon custard ice cream. I browsed trendy boutiques on Broughton Street while jazz music wafted in from outdoors. I went to Bonaventure Cemetery and gaped at the gothic gravesites draped in Spanish moss. And on my second to last night there, as I joined a group of tourists on a ghost tour through the heart of Savannah, a sort of fantasy began unspooling in my head. Could I live here? Compared to New York City, the cost of living was surprisingly affordable. I was enthralled by the architecture, the wide boulevards shaded by live oak trees, the town’s quirky, offbeat charm and the slower, southern pace of life. For years, I’d been flirting with the idea of getting an MFA, and one of the most famous art schools in the country was right there, in Savannah. Without even really thinking about it, I pulled up the website for the College of Art and Design, looked up graduate degree programs, and sent in a request for information. What’s the harm in applying? I thought. If I get in, I can always decide not to go.

I went to Tybee Island on my last day there. Once my feet were in the water, it was difficult to tear myself away. I stood in the ocean for several minutes, enjoying the sensation of waves pooling around my ankles. But the hot southern sun was also beating down on my skin – pale skin that had seen little sun during the long New York winter – and I wanted to get off the island before that evening’s parade snarled the traffic. And then there was the matter of the next morning’s early train to New York. I reluctantly called a Lyft.

Architecture in the historic district

“Where are you from?” my driver asked, as I settled in for the ride back to town. I hesitated. Where was I from, anyway? These days, I wasn’t so sure. “Right now, I live in New York,” I told him. “In Harlem.”

“Ah,” he said, his already pleasant demeanor turning even more amiable. “My wife and I moved here from New York two years ago. We lived there for many years.”

“What brought you to Savannah?” I asked. His eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and he smiled, then stretched out his arm and pointed toward the window. “This,” he said, indicating clear, sunny, blue skies, and miles of lush vegetation stretching along the highway as far as the eye could see. “Can you blame me?”

Mercer House

“No,” I admitted. “To tell you the truth, I’ve sort of been thinking the same thing myself these last few days.”

By the time he dropped me off at my Airbnb, the Notes app on my phone was full of recommendations for my return visit, and my head was full of information about Savannah’s low cost of living, booming economy, and the community of former New Yorkers who’d relocated there. “Are you sure you don’t work for the Chamber of Commerce?” I joked. “I’m sure,” he laughed. “But if you’re serious about moving here, my wife is a real estate agent. You can friend her on Facebook.”

I have no idea if my infatuation with Savannah is just a passing flirtation, or if the seeds planted during my few days there will grow into something more serious. What I do know is that life is far too short to continue living the way I have been: held in the grips of fear and self-doubt. I don’t know if that means changing my location, but a change of some sort is definitely in order. And last week, on my trip to Savannah, I took what felt like an important first step in that direction.

Until next time, friends.

River Street

Westeros.

The day before the season seven finale of Game of Thrones, I left Los Angeles. All that remained of the eighteen years I’d spent there was contained in three suitcases, a duffle bag, and four cardboard boxes. The luggage was coming with me, on a one-way flight to Seattle; the boxes would be shipped to my new address in New York City, once I knew where that was.

Daenerys, Tyrion and the dragons (from IMDB.com)

I had no job and no place to live, a fact that should have concerned me more than it did. But as I bid farewell to my roommate Jen, bound for the vacant house in western Washington that once belonged to my grandfather – the house where I planned to “figure things out” – my priorities were elsewhere. “I can’t believe I’m not watching the finale with you!” I wailed. Jen and I were friends who, for years, had dissected every GOT plot point and character arc like it was our job. “What am I going to do?”

More than a year and a half later, I’m looking forward to the epic series’ final season with both eager anticipation and a palpable sense of loss. For eight years, Game of Thrones has been my companion throughout the most difficult experiences of my life. When it premiered in 2011, I’d never lost anyone close to me; before season three was over, my parents, my grandmother, my dog, and a close friend from college were all dead. As I grappled with disorienting grief, the brutal, you-win-or-you-die rules of the world GOT unfolded before me provided welcome catharsis. A show where the writers didn’t hesitate to kill off beloved characters was – oddly – comforting. No one was safe. Anyone could die. Just like in real life.

Watching Game of Thrones in L.A.

At my father’s funeral in the winter of 2013, I sat at a table with his younger brother, Jimmy. The last time we’d seen each other, I was four years old and the flower girl in my half-sister’s wedding. With no relationship as adults, we had little to talk about. Jimmy was also gravely ill, requiring an oxygen tank to help him breathe. But he’d been a professor of film at a university in Nevada, and somehow, Game of Thrones came up. Our stilted, awkward conversation quickly gave way to a spirited discussion about Jimmy’s favorite character, Daenerys Targaryen. Jimmy died a few months later, and, in the years that followed, whenever Daenerys conquered a city or triumphed over one of her enemies, I felt a nagging sadness that he didn’t live to see it. “Jimmy would have loved that,” was my common, wistful refrain.

There are no knights in my story, no dragons or sorcerers or white walkers. But so often over the last eight years, the struggles of GOT’s characters have felt like heightened, fantastical versions of my own. I have loved them, learned from them, cried and cheered for them. But nowhere in the Game of Thrones universe did the stories of two characters resonate more personally with me than those of Arya and Sansa Stark. While their brothers were off getting killed (and occasionally, coming back to life!) or turning into a three-eyed raven, those two sisters were learning to survive in a world that constantly underestimated them. My life circumstances were – obviously – far less dramatic, but like Arya and Sansa, I too knew what it was like to suddenly lose my parents, to have my family ripped apart, and to be thrust into a new reality where everything felt cold and cruel and unfair. Every time one of them was hurt, I was outraged. Every time one of them triumphed, I saw it as a personal victory. Which is why the season seven finale, when they worked together to finally bring justice to the man who had been the architect of so much of their family’s suffering, was so, damned, satisfying.

Arya Stark (from IMDB.com)

There are plenty of people who will say GOT is just a TV show, and plenty more who will brag about the fact that they’ve never watched an episode. But for me, it’s more than just a compelling drama. The community that formed around watching Game of Thrones made me feel less alone during the loneliest period of my life. As Vulture.com pointed out in a recent article, in the age of binge watching, GOT might be the last show we watch together, each episode an event that must be experienced in real-time, with all of its awe and horror unfolding before our eyes. Which is why, even now, with so many of my friends and loved ones three thousand miles away on the opposite coast, I’ll still feel like, tonight, when I tune in for the season premiere, I will be watching right alongside them.

The final episodes of Game of Thrones are done. All that’s left to do now is wait, and watch. I am equal parts excited to see how my favorite characters’ stories will end, and terrified to learn their fates. And while I know no one is safe in the land of Westeros (or in the lands beyond), I do have one final request. Hey David, D.B. and George R.R.? Please don’t kill Arya and Sansa. I have survived many things in my life, and I’m sure I can survive that, too. I’m just not sure I want to.

Until next time, friends.

Jon Snow and Sansa Stark reunite (from IMDB.com)

Lucky.

If you are falling. . . dive.

We’re in a freefall into future.

We don’t know where we’re going.

Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along.

And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise

Is to turn your fall into a voluntary act.

It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is.

Joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.

 – Joseph Campbell

You can feel the weather beginning to turn in New York. Even with the bitterly cold wind whipping off the Hudson River, even with a recent snowfall that caused – unnecessary – school closures, you can tell: it won’t be like this much longer. Warmer days are coming.

This winter has been my worst season in recent memory, which is not something I say lightly. I’m in a new apartment, renting a room one subway stop uptown from my former (glorious) Morningside Heights sublet. I feel lucky to have landed here. My room is spacious, the rent is – by Manhattan standards – affordable, and I’m able to go month to month without a long-term commitment. Without a job or the desire to sign a lease, this was my best option and I am grateful to have found it.

Still. Transitions are always difficult, aren’t they? I miss the reliable package delivery and in-building laundry and Black and Decker coffee maker of my old apartment. I miss the corner bodega where the old man behind the counter called me “sweetheart,” and the proximity to Morningside Park, and the fact that it took me half as much time as it does now to walk to the gym.

I’ll adjust. I’ll get used to this new place and find things to love about it that surprise me, just as I did with the old place. But in the middle of this transitional period, in the middle of what is still winter, there are other things going on. Hard things. Like an ongoing health condition that has left me anxious and depressed. I am struggling to accomplish the most basic of tasks, and then I get angry at myself for my lack of productivity. It’s a vicious cycle, one that makes me feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. And New York City is not a place where you want to feel vulnerable.

I’ve been through winters before, ones far worse than this one. And what I’ve learned through weathering those storms is that I have to be patient. Beating myself up or spiraling into negative self-talk about how awful I am doesn’t help me. Instead, I’m focusing on the small steps I am taking forward each day. I’m reminding myself to be grateful.

“No one moves to New York for the weather,” someone told me recently. That’s true. But this particular storm is not New York’s fault. What I can see after a year and a half of living here is that the place is not the problem. This place just exposes my problems. Because New York is a place where it’s impossible to hide.

So, after a too-long hiatus from this blog, I’m not hiding any more. I’m struggling and I’m being honest about it, while also acknowledging the fact that I know I’m luckier than most. I have a roof over my head and access to good doctors and a network of kind, caring friends who have been texting, and calling, and checking in. I have love in my life. And I have the knowledge that I have experienced far worse than this and have come out the other side, which gives me confidence that I will again. Because even the worst winters don’t last forever. And when spring comes, I’ll be here. I’ll be ready.

Until next time, friends.

The Wilderness.

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

Like, telling someone you love them.

Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

– Mary Oliver

I made myself a promise in the taxi on the way to JFK: I wouldn’t have a drink in the airport bar – or two, or three – before my flight to L.A. I wouldn’t numb myself out to take the edge off my anxiety, or soothe my fear of turbulence, or quiet the jumble of thoughts swirling around in my brain. Instead, I would face it all unaided, un-anaesthetized. For once.

My resolve was tested as soon as I arrived at the airport. Upon check in, I learned I’d been upgraded to first class, one of those magical unicorn type of events that never, ever happens to me. No sooner had I happily boarded the plane and settled into seat 1C, than a bubbly flight attendant sidled over and asked in a southern twang if I’d like a mimosa before takeoff. “Yes!” I wanted to shout. But instead, I just smiled and said, “I’m fine with water,” silently lamenting the waste of free champagne.

I’ve been of legal drinking age for seventeen years, and of the many, many trips I’ve taken since then, I’ve only flown sober a handful of times. I’m not sure when my fear of flying began – I have a memory of five or six-year-old me pressing my face against the window and singing “Up, up and away!” as the plane taxied down the runway – but I know it became much worse after people I love started dying. In fact, one of my last sober flights – where my sister Deirdre and I transported our father’s ashes from Seattle to his funeral in Medford, Oregon on a tiny bombardier plane in a February rainstorm –was so terrifying – to me, not to my sister – that I’ve rarely flown without a numbing agent since.

But I don’t want to rely on any substance – booze, pills, what have you – to get through the things that scare me. Not only is it no way to live, it’s also not effective. At least, not for me. If anything, it makes my anxiety worse. Even with a buzz, my heart still races at the first sign of choppy air. My palms sweat. By the time we land, I’m exhausted. And the rest of the day is shot.

I booked this trip to L.A. months ago – to attend a friend’s baby shower – but January was such a stressful, all-consuming month that I gave up on trying to make plans and instead collapsed gratefully into the guest room of one of my dearest friends in her apartment by the beach. The day after I arrived, I took a long walk along the Pacific Ocean, unpacking the events of the last month. Just after the first of the year, my landlord confirmed what I already knew: I have to move. I spent January both on feverish rewrites to my play and feverishly searching for a new apartment, culminating in a reading three days before my trip, and the realization that I can’t afford New York.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with New York ever since I moved there almost a year and a half ago. But over the last couple of months, I finally feel like things have started to click. One of my plays just got into a new works festival in March, and another one is a semi-finalist for a theatre festival in the summer. I’m taking an advanced memoir writing class with a wonderful instructor, and I’m finally – after many months of trying – beginning to crack open my story. Creatively, I’ve never felt better. But I’m burning through my savings with no real long-term life plan. And as I sat on a bench in Palisades Park and watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, I felt in my bones that no matter how long I live in New York, I will eventually end up leaving. That gritty urban center, for all its myth and magic, will never be home.

For the moment, I’m in the wilderness. There’s no trail to follow. I’m simply taking each bend in the road as it comes, trying to trust the inner voice that tells me to take this turn or that one, and to keep forging ahead. For the last few days, my only plan has been to slow down, to breathe in the ocean, and to trust my heart. This time is a gift, one I don’t want to waste.

Next week, I’ll go back to New York, and I’ll prepare both to move into a temporary apartment and to put up the next reading of my play. I’ll put one foot in front of the other, and I’ll see how it feels. And like my flight, like these last few days, I’ll do it all unaided and un-anaesthetized. Just me, here, navigating the wilderness.

Until next time, friends.

Magic.

Listen to the Mustn’ts, child.

Listen to the Don’ts.

Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.

Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.

Anything can happen, child.

Anything can be.

– Shel Silverstein

On the eighteenth day of December, I took a walk along Riverside Drive in Manhattan. The air was crisp, the trees barren, the late afternoon sun slipping low on the horizon, spreading its golden glow across the Hudson River and backlighting the New Jersey skyline. In just over twelve hours, I’d be getting in a cab bound for Newark Airport, then boarding a cross country flight back to the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have time for a walk. I had dinner plans. I hadn’t finished packing. My alarm was set for 3:30 the following morning.

I didn’t have time for a walk, but I needed it. Walking was always when I did my best thinking, and my thoughts were, at that moment, a tangled jumble. I tossed my laundry into a dryer in the basement of my apartment building and set the timer on my phone. I had an hour. Out into the cold December day I went.

From Riverside, I took a left on 116th street and crossed Broadway, onto the campus of Columbia University. It was twilight now, and I entered a tree-lined promenade, aglow in the sparkle of white Christmas lights. The quad was largely quiet, evidence of the impending holiday. Despite my haste, I felt a measure of calm settle over me. I loved school. I had always loved school. Lately, I’d been entertaining the idea of going back for a master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure if that was something I really wanted or just a stalling technique, a costly way of putting off the inevitable reality of making big life decisions.

I had much to do, but I was in no hurry to return to my apartment. Two days earlier, the daughter of the woman I’d been subletting from had filled the living room with boxes and bags of what can best be described as “stuff.” She’d had a crisis in her living situation in Brooklyn and had to move out suddenly, and the result was now sitting in my once clean and orderly living room. My landlord apologized profusely for the disruption and promised she would deal with the mess while I was away over Christmas, but I couldn’t help feeling unsettled by the chaos. It was also a reminder of a truth that was becoming more and more apparent: my landlord’s daughter wanted to return to her old apartment. Soon, I would have to move.

I’d had a good run in New York, and I knew it. For what I’d been paying in rent, I should have been living in a shoebox in the Bronx with at least one roommate. Instead, I had a seven hundred fifty square foot, eighth-floor apartment with a balcony perched over Broadway all to myself. The space was beautiful and tranquil and safe. My cheap rent had enabled me to take writing classes and write a new play and work on my memoir without the urgency of having to look for a real job. The co-op even had a theater company in the basement of my building, a theater company that would be producing a reading of my new play in January. I’d arrived in New York with no plan, and somehow, landed exactly where I needed to be.

But now what? The question nagged at me as I trudged north along Amsterdam Avenue. I had some ideas about temporary living situations but anything even semi-permanent would require paying real rent and a renewed urgency to find a real job. Did I want to look for work in New York and try to root myself there? Or did I want to call time on the Big Apple experiment and return to the west coast? I didn’t know. I missed California and my friends something fierce, but after fifteen months in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure I belonged in L.A. any more.

I have a bad habit of assuming the worst-case scenario. When something good happens, I can’t enjoy it, because I’m already preparing myself for when it goes away. The concept of “living in the moment” is something I struggle mightily with.

I wasn’t always like this. At least, I don’t think I was. I’ve been so altered by the events of the last six years, I don’t remember the person I was before all the bad stuff happened. I don’t remember who I was before my mom’s alcoholism, my dad’s cancer, my grandmother’s dementia, my grandfather’s hospice, my divorce, and all the deaths and devastation that ensued. I know I used to feel young and carefree and that the world was open and full of possibility, but that all seems vague and ephemeral now, like a dream I woke up from after sleeping too long.

Worst-Case Scenario Sarah is not only annoying, she has profoundly affected my ability to enjoy New York. She has left me fists clenched, steeling myself through winter, sweating through summer, unable to allow myself to indulge in the most basic, touristy activities like walking the Brooklyn Bridge or taking in the city from atop the Empire State Building or marveling at the Manhattan skyline from the deck of a ferry boat.

This is a revelation about myself I’ve only come to recently. It began a few months ago, when I first learned my landlord’s daughter was applying for jobs in New York. Bemoaning my fate over whiskey on a patio in Williamsburg, my friend Kirsten waxed poetic about the New York apartment shuffle and proposed a question I couldn’t wrap my head around: “OK, so you have to move. But how do you know you won’t find something even better?”

I didn’t say it out loud, but my brain immediately spat out the following: Impossible! How could it possibly get better than what I have now? I knew this good thing would go away. It was only a matter of time.

The day after my walk, I arrived in Seattle, and some dear friends picked me up at the airport and took me out to lunch. As we caught up over Pacific Northwest seafood and pints of dark beer, I told them about the latest: I had a play reading in January, I’d signed up for a new memoir class, and soon I’d have to move and didn’t know where to go or what to do.

I may be Worst-Case Scenario Sarah, but fortunately I have the good sense to surround myself with Glass is Half Full People. As I explained my situation and my uncertainty about the future, my friend Karrin offered: “It sounds like you’re letting your creative work dictate your decisions. And that’s pretty cool.”

The next morning, writing morning pages by the fire in Grandpa’s beach house, I found myself scribbling that phrase over and over again. Let your creative work dictate your decisions. And I decided something: even if I had to move before my memoir class was over at the end of March, I would find a way to stay in New York, and finish it. I loved that class, loved the people in it, loved the instructor, and I knew it was helping me do the hard work of writing my book.

My last assignment during the last session of Memoir II was to write the reflective ending of my book. It was incredibly difficult because it meant I had to force myself to answer some big questions. What is the point of my story? How do I want the reader to feel? And what have I learned over the course of this very personal journey?

I wrote about the week before I moved to New York, when I gathered at the beach with some of my closest friends. One day, while we were getting ready for a boat ride, my friend Vim spotted a sight that is quite uncommon in the protected cove of Case Inlet: three Orca whales – two calves and their mother – swimming close to shore. Everything about the future was uncertain, but in that moment, experiencing the magic of seeing an old place through the new eyes of my visiting friends, I suddenly believed it would all be OK.

This is the last paragraph of what I wrote:

I don’t know what my life will look like in New York. I don’t know what I’ll do, or who I’ll meet, or how things will change. I just know I’m no longer afraid to face an uncertain future. Grief taught me that life unfolds as it will, whether we like it or not. And it also taught me that if one day can change your life for the worse, then it certainly can for the better. And I’m ready for that. I’m ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. Because the mystery of all the things we can’t know is what makes life exciting. It’s what makes me glad I’m alive.

I so badly want to own this. I want to abandon Worst-Case Scenario Sarah in favor of someone who not only believes good things will happen, she expects them. That’s why I wrote that passage. Call it an attempt at manifestation, call it faking it ‘til I make it, it’s my sincere hope that by the time I finish my book, I will have arrived at that last paragraph.

On my second day at the beach – December 20th – I sat in the living room, bundled up in blankets, waiting out a storm. When suddenly, I saw something that made me rush outside. It was a vibrant, unbroken rainbow, forming a perfect half circle from one end of the bay to the other. And for some reason, I thought about the poem by Shel Silverstein I began this blog post with.

Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

I may not totally believe that yet. But man, am I working on it.

Until next time, friends.

 

Onward.

“Do you faint?”

It was not a question I was expecting. But then, the size of the needle the doctor was wielding was not something I was expecting, either. She was going to put that thing in my eye. OK, my eyelid. But still.

“Umm, I don’t think so? I mean, I never have. But I’ve also never done this before.”

“OK. I’m going to recline you, just in case.”

I’d been at the ophthalmologist’s office for forty-five minutes. My pupils were fully dilated, the room was a too-bright blur. And after two weeks of antibiotics, the cyst on my eyelid was not getting any better.

“Well,” the doctor said, leaning back in her chair, “I could inject you with a steroid, which may bring down the swelling. But since you’ve already been on steroid eye drops for two weeks, I’m not sure if that will do any good. And if I do the excision, I’m going to give you the steroid anyway. So, I really think the excision is your best bet. But it’s up to you. Do you want to do it?”

It’s up to me? I thought. Why? She’s the doctor; shouldn’t she just tell me to do it, rather than giving me an out? I mean, obviously, if given the choice, I’d rather she didn’t cut into my eyelid, but I’ve had this infection for over a month. I can’t wear contact lenses or makeup, and I’m putting burning, stinging eye drops in my eyes every four hours. And nothing is helping. If I want to get rid of the infection, what choice do I have?

“Well,” I said slowly, palms sweating, secretly hoping there was another way. “I think I should do the excision, but I’m a little scared. Can you talk me through it?”

“Sure!” she said, pulling up a chair next to me with such enthusiasm she may as well have been detailing the itinerary of a girls’ weekend in Vegas. “First, I’ll inject you with lidocaine, so you won’t feel anything. Then, I’ll take your eyelid and flip it, and excise the growth from inside the lid. Then I’ll patch you up, to stop the bleeding. We don’t want you walking around, scaring children.”

I tried to laugh, but it came out like strangled air. I was, at the moment, a tough crowd.

“Uh, OK. How long will it take?”

“Shouldn’t be more than five minutes.” She leaned in, confidentially. “I don’t know what is going on, but you’re my fourth one of these today.”

Don’t be a baby, Sar, I told myself. It’s going to be just fine. “OK,” I said, before I could chicken out. “Let’s do it.”

I didn’t faint. I did emit a sort of low squeal as the needle pierced my eyelid, filling it with fluid. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the doctor said, as she rubbed her gloved hand over my eye to distribute the steroid. I felt a tremendous pressure, almost as though my eye would burst, then a burning sensation, and then, I was numb.

It has been a month since the excision. It wasn’t fun, and the healing process took longer than I’d hoped, but I’m doing much better now. And in the end, the procedure was far less traumatic than the worst-case scenario version of events I cooked up in my overactive brain.

And while I’ve been healing, life has continued on, as it tends to do. The weather has turned cold in New York; the first snowfall has come and gone. And in a few days, I’ll mark another birthday.

I always get introspective around my birthday. It has a lot to do with where it falls on the calendar: on the heels of Thanksgiving and close to the end of the year. I think about what I’m grateful for, and what I’d like to see or do in the year ahead.

The future is as uncertain as ever. It’s possible I’ll have to move in the coming months, and that this time next year I’ll call a different city home. But I’m trying not to worry about that now. This time last year, I never imagined I’d have eye surgery, or that I’d travel to Washington D.C. to see a friend perform at the Kennedy Center, or that I’d produce the first reading of a new play in the wine cellar of an Italian restaurant in Harlem. Yet in the last several weeks, all of those things have happened. The mystery of the unknown is what keeps life exciting.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me an email to wish me well on the eve of my play reading. This person is a new friend, someone I’ve shared intimate details of my life with in a writing class but who I’m only just beginning to know.

She wrote:

My wish for you – onward. So much to give and a thirsty public with so much need. Please take the experiences of your young life with an uneven balance of sadness and move forward. In the tiny space of each of our lives we can do so much. 

That’s the word I’m holding on to as I approach my next birthday: onward. Reminding myself to stay open, and grateful, and hopeful. Rejecting my worries and worst-case scenarios. And remembering that life is not a thing to be controlled, but rather a great, continuous unfolding, meant to be walked through one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

Until next time, friends.

Autumn.

“It is the nature of grace to fill the places that have been empty.”

– Goethe

I knew summer was over before I dipped my toes in the saltwater. The normally cloudy Case Inlet was unusually clear, a sign of a fresh current of (cold) water coursing through the bay. Goosebumps formed on my arms. “Don’t chicken out,” I chided myself. “This is your last chance until next summer.”

The thought of all the people for whom “next summer” never came flashed through my mind, and with an urgency suddenly more powerful than my fear, I flung myself into the sea. The shock of icy water traveled quickly up my body and stabbed at my insides, but it didn’t matter, I was in. “Hi Mom,” I murmured, looking up at the familiar snow-capped peak of Mt. Rainier. “I miss you.”

Later, cover up and shorts layered over my swimsuit, I sat on the deck of my aunt and uncle’s house, stared out at the inlet, and thought about everything and nothing. It was my last day at the beach and my uncle had plenty of questions, most of them involving the future.

“How long are you planning to stay in New York?” he asked me over dinner that night. My reply was noncommittal, as I still had plenty of questions about the future myself. “As long as it makes sense,” I told him. “There are a lot of things I want to do there.”

It’s hard for me to believe it has already been a year since last September, when I left that same stretch of rocky beach in the Pacific Northwest to move east and reinvent my life. These last twelve months have passed quickly, even though at times – mostly during the cold, dark winter – they seemed to move at a torturous pace. When I made the initial decision to relocate, everything fell into place so quickly that I foolishly believed everything that followed would be easy, too.

I was wrong. I came to New York with a long list of things I wanted to do, see and be, and one year later, I feel as though I’ve accomplished very few of them. I applied for numerous fellowships, residencies and jobs, and have been rejected – so far – by all of them. I’ve hit roadblocks, struggled with seasonal depression, and felt like a failure more times than I care to admit. I’ve been sick, sad, and have experienced a resurgence of grief I thought I’d healed from. Countless times, I fought the urge to give up, give in, and go home.

But there’s a sticking point: I’m not sure where “home” is any more. The place I lived longer than anywhere – Los Angeles – is filled with people I love and years of life-altering experiences. I left because I was bored, creatively stagnant, and desperate for a change. That rocky Pacific Northwest beach? It will always be a safe harbor and an anchor, but it’s also a repository for more painful family memories than I can count. In other words: not the best place to begin the next chapter of my life.

And then there’s something else. Something bigger. Something I promised myself somewhere over the course of the last six rollercoaster years that began with my mother’s sudden death: I would no longer do the safe and easy thing. I would make choices based in hope rather than in fear. I wouldn’t go back and try to recreate the past, I would move forward and forge a present that was entirely new.

I’ve tried my best to do that. It’s no accident I left my family’s beach cabin and moved to New York one week before the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. I didn’t want to spend that anniversary in the same place where my mom and uncle grew up, the same place where I’d spent every childhood summer, the same place where we boarded my grandfather’s tiny tin boat, went out to sea, and scattered my mother’s ashes. I didn’t want to mark the passage of another year feeling like a prisoner to the past. I wanted to spend it starting over – whatever that looked like – on the opposite coast.

A few weeks ago, in early September, I spent the day with one of my mother’s closest friends. As we caught up over lunch, we talked about my mom, our memories, and what had happened in the year since I’d moved. The conversation turned to the memoir I’m working on. “Is it about your Mom?” she asked. I nodded. The next part was – and is – hard for me to admit. “It’s about what you do when the person you love the most is the same person you’re terrified of becoming.”

To my surprise, she didn’t seem horrified. She seemed to understand.

I’ve been in New York for a year. It still feels less like home than it does some exotic, foreign land I’m learning to navigate. But you know what? I like it. I like the fact that it’s full of strivers who get knocked down and continue to get up again. I like the fact that I’ve been challenged here in ways I never was in L.A., and that my failures have forced me to think outside of the box, get creative, and try things I otherwise wouldn’t. I like the fact that it’s a tough town, but one where it still feels like possibility waits on every street corner.

There’s no way to know where I’ll be this time next year. Any attempt to lasso the future is a pointless exercise. For now, it’s enough to be here, living moment to moment, doing all I can for as long as I can, making choices based in hope rather than in fear.

Until next time, friends.

Labor Day.

“Something good will come of all things yet.”
– Jack Kerouac

It was a hot, humid morning when I left New York, every bit as hot as it had been eight weeks prior, the last time I fled the city to seek the sanctuary of a rocky beach in the Pacific Northwest.

And yet, even as I settled my tired body – already sweaty at seven thirty in the morning – into the back seat of a taxi cab and we drove east through Harlem, I could feel the summer waning, feel the drumbeat of autumn, feel the looming threat of barren trees and crisp days and  – before long – fresh snowfall. I had felt it the day before too, trudging along Amsterdam Avenue on my way to the Morningside Heights post office, as the influx of new Columbia students poured out onto the city streets. Something about their wide eyes and dewy faces screamed “Fall is coming!” And I realized as much as I’d grown weary of my swampy apartment, the mosquito bites dotting my legs and my impossible-to-tame hair, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to summer yet. It had gone too fast.

I have a keen awareness of time passing that I didn’t have before I moved to New York. Years ago, I remember being told by east coast friends that the lack of seasons in Los Angeles skews your sense of time, something akin to spending too long in a Vegas casino. Think glittering lights, pumped-in oxygen, absent clocks. I pretended to understand what they meant, but the truth is, I didn’t. I was eighteen years old when I moved to L.A., and before that, I’d lived in Washington State and Alaska. Places with weather for sure, but not the sharp swing of extremes I had already experienced during my first year on the east coast. The lightning storms, the Nor’easters, the way the sky would suddenly open up and pour out buckets of rain, all of this was new to me. All of it seeming to signify the impermanence of the present moment, that this, too – be it good or bad – shall pass.

As I write this blog, it’s Labor Day weekend, and I’m exactly where I was this time last year, staring out at the silver mirror of Case Inlet from the living room of the beach house where my grandparents lived for most of my life. This house – once a buzz of activity – sits largely empty now. Each time I return, I do my best to fill up the lonely spaces. I brew strong coffee and drink too much of it. I unfurl my red sticky mat and practice amateur yoga in the living room. I watch as much Mariners baseball as I can, occasionally (often) yelling at the TV. I wrap myself in my grandmother’s old yellow afghan and watch the sunset from the same weathered porch swing I used to climb on as a child. And sometimes, in the morning, I’ll put on my grandfather’s enormous emerald green bathrobe – still hanging from the hook on the back of the door of his old room – and find comfort in the weight of its heavy cotton against my skin.

This place, this beach, is my anchor. It’s my back up plan if everything else goes wrong. Three of the four times I’ve traveled west since I moved to New York, I’ve returned here. To see my family. To remind myself where I come from. During an often confusing and challenging year, it has been my safe harbor. My true north. For a while, as I struggled through seasonal depression and various physical ailments, I was convinced I had made a mistake by leaving L.A. It’s only now, returning to the very spot where I planned my move a year ago, that I can see that everything I did was right. That the adventure I began back then is not ending but beginning.

The day before I flew to Seattle, I finally had a conversation I’d been dreading. The year lease on my Morningside Heights sublet was almost up, and I wasn’t sure if my landlord would allow me to stay beyond the twelve-month period we’d agreed to. Technically, I had been living in someone else’s apartment – my landlord’s daughter – who could choose to return at any time.

“I’m not sure what your plans are,” I wrote, “But I’d love to stay until Christmas, and then we could reassess from there?”

“No problem,” she replied, adding that her daughter had no immediate plans to return to New York, and that, when she did, she wanted to live in Brooklyn “for a while.”

“Let’s see what develops,” she added.

I suppose “seeing what develops” is exactly what I’ve been doing this past year. And now that it finally feels like it’s working out, I see no reason to stop. After all, if everything goes wrong, the beach will still be here.

Until next time, friends.

Eclipse Season.

“I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

– Gilda Radner

On Saturday, July 27th, there was a full moon lunar eclipse, and I missed it. I knew the eclipse itself wouldn’t be visible from North America, but the moon would still be large and full and red-tinged (a so-called “Blood Moon”), and I wanted to see it. But I couldn’t find the moon that night, because the skies above New York were socked in with thick grey clouds, the result of intermittent rain and thunderstorms that had been rolling through the region over the last several days.

I should have suspected what I was in for when, ten days earlier, my afternoon flight to New York was grounded in San Francisco due to east coast thunderstorms. When I finally slipped into a cab at JFK, picked up two weeks’ worth of mail, watered the plants, unpacked, and ran the AC long enough to cool my swamp of a bedroom, it was the next day, and the sun was coming up over Manhattan.

That was how the dog days of summer began, and that’s how they’ve stayed. There have been a handful of days I’d call “sunny,” but for the most part, the ceiling has been low, the skies gloomy, the city shrouded in a blanket of humidity, and the threat of rain ever present.

It’s my first New York summer. The last of the four seasons I am experiencing here for the first time. As far as New York summers go, I’ve been told this one has been pretty mild. But still. For a Pacific Northwest girl used to the desert climate of Southern California, the cool breeze off the Pacific Ocean, and the safety of my air-conditioned car, it’s an adjustment.

The crush of sticky bodies on the subway, the wall of stifling, stagnant air in my un-airconditioned eighth floor living room, kitchen and bathroom, the stench of midtown Manhattan. . . I’ve been feeling the heat of the city in the heaviness of my limbs and the haze of my brain. It has made me cranky and tired, even though I have no real reason to be. It’s just that everything seems like it’s moving in slow-motion these days, especially my writing: a laborious process layered with plenty of self-doubt.

I haven’t published anything on this blog in over a month, the longest I’ve been away from Extra Dry Martini in forever. While it’s true I’ve been consumed with other writing projects, it’s also true I’ve been avoiding this space because I haven’t known what to say. Like the heat outside, I sort of feel like I’ve been waiting for something to break within me, something that will crack me open and make me feel like myself again.

The full moon lunar eclipse on July 27 was the second in a trio of eclipses that began with a partial solar eclipse on July 12th and ends tomorrow, August 11th, with a new moon lunar eclipse. In the world of astrology – which I admit, I put some stock in – eclipses are significant events, known to be catalysts for change, sometimes delivering that change in unexpected and dramatic ways. Their energy can be emotionally-charged and volatile, leaving us on edge and out of sorts, inviting us to confront uncomfortable truths that push us to end one chapter of our lives and begin another.

In these long, languid late summer days, as we approach the end of eclipse season and I approach the end of my first year in Manhattan, the question of the future sits heavily on my mind. I don’t feel ready to leave New York, but I’m not quite sure what I’ll do here if I stay. And if I return to California, what will I do there? More of the same? That doesn’t feel right, either.

I’m stuck.  And, well – hot.

Maybe I’m hoping the last of this trio of eclipses will flick on a light switch inside of me, illuminating some long-buried insight that I haven’t seen. Maybe I’m just waiting for the end of August, when I’m done with my writing classes and I can grab one more blissful week in the Pacific Northwest to swim in Case Inlet and pose questions to the moon and the stars and get really quiet and just listen.

It has been eleven months since I arrived in New York City with nothing but three suitcases and big dreams. My life today looks nothing like I thought it would eleven months ago, and I think that’s OK. I’m proud of myself in some ways, disappointed in myself in others. And I think that’s OK, too.

I have no idea what the future holds. But then again, neither do any of us. So, rather than tying up this blog post up in a neat little bow, I’ll simply end it with one of my favorite quotes, from Anaïs Nin:

“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too.”

Until next time, friends.

Ever.

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

They’re making changes to the beach house. Glenn told me about them on the drive in from Sea-Tac airport, as we coasted in and out of the carpool lane, trying and failing to beat the crush of holiday traffic and all the people fleeing the city, bound for barbecues and bonfires somewhere pretty with a water view, somewhere – I’m certain – not as pretty as our place with a water view.

We made the left turn off Grapeview Loop Road sometime after two-thirty and there she was: Mt. Rainier, standing tall above a sparkling blue Case Inlet and that familiar bank of evergreen trees. We have a saying in Western Washington when the weather is good: “The mountain is out.” The mountain was out, and I felt better about my somewhat optimistic decision not to pack an umbrella.

The beach house was the same but not. The built-in wooden cabinet that used to house Grandpa’s liquor bottles, assorted pens, knick knacks and puzzle books had been pulled from the wall, leaving behind a blank white space that only made the already bright and airy living room feel even more open and inviting.

Gone was the railing around the deck, with its slack and dirty rope threaded through splintered wooden posts, replaced by something solid, secure and decidedly modern: squares of sinewy metal framed by handsome polished maple.

Above the bar, a cheerful sign proclaimed: “The beach fixes everything.” As I settled my tired, up-before-dawn body into a seat on the weathered old porch swing, the breeze off Case Inlet gently tickling my skin, I had to agree.

Every time I return here, I think about a letter my grandfather wrote to me just before my college graduation in 2003. He predicted great things for my future, told me I could do and be whatever I wanted, and asked that I not let too much time pass between visits. “Don’t forget where you came from,” he wrote. “The beach never changes. ‘Tis only we who change.”

I used to take issue with the second part of that statement. Of course, the beach changes, I had wanted to scream during the dark periods of loss and upheaval that left their dirty thumb prints all over the last decade. Change was everywhere here. The strange new neighbors. The gaudy, imposing mansions springing up on what used to be vacant land. The laughter of loved ones echoing off the rocks and out into warm summer nights now confined only to my memories.

And yet. Every day without fail, the tide goes in and out. The mountain still appears, with the sun, above the tops of unchanging evergreens. Every year when the weather turns to autumn, a flock of Canada geese arrive and take up residence on the neighbor’s lawn. And the granite formation better known as Grandpa’s “magic rock” still stands on the beach like a strong, silent beacon, though Grandpa himself can no longer swim circles around it at high tide.

I think my grandfather was right: the beach hasn’t changed so much as it has reflected the change in all of us. This beach is certainly different than the place I remember from my happiest childhood memories. But that’s because I am different. And as the persistent drumbeat of time marches on, perhaps the biggest change I have experienced is the recognition that nothing is meant to remain as it is. That in this enormous, beautiful, rapidly unfolding thing we call life, the best lesson we can learn is to appreciate everything and cling to nothing.

The beach never changes. ‘Tis only we who change.

Until next time, friends.

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