Loose ends.

“be easy.

take your time.

you are coming

home.

to yourself.”

– Nayyirah Waheed

I just started rehearsing a new play. Well, a play, and a monologue, two short pieces I’m directing this summer as part of a larger show. But the play, a one-act called Closing Time at Graceland, is the reason I’m still in L.A. Because when I started writing it (or rather, when it started writing me), something about the story stuck in my bones. Without realizing it, I wrote a longing-tinged love letter to my past. To opportunities missed. To the road not taken. To the dreamy hopefulness of youth, and the realization – that only comes with age – that hope is expensive.

I watched countless auditioning actors perform the play’s bittersweet climax and never once failed to feel a lump rise in my throat. I’m sure my emotional state had something to do with the timing: we held auditions in the weeks before and after I packed up my Cashio apartment; weeks I spent going through old photos and mementos, journal entries and play scripts, saying goodbye to my neighbors.

These last few weeks I have been engaged in a persistent tug of war between holding on and letting go. I’ve been reaching out to friends and making plans, checking items off my “things to do before I leave L.A.” bucket list, sorting through boxes of stuff in my summer sublet, and continuing to work on paring down my belongings to the bare minimum.

I have six weeks left. I feel the need to tie up all the loose ends, to see all the people I want to see, do all the things I want to do. I know that’s impossible. I’m still a person who craves closure, even though I’m not sure I believe it exists. As a writer, I prefer an open ending, probably because I’ve learned that few things in life ever truly resolve.

It’s the calm before the storm; these last sleepy, hot July days represent a lull in the calendar. Time in which to work behind the scenes and get my life in order before the chaos of August descends – the play, the parties, the fast push to the big departure date – signaling the end of an era.

I should be working harder than I am, but I feel heavy, unmotivated, and exhausted, prone to short bursts of energy followed by long afternoons where it’s tough to find a reason to leave the apartment. Friends ask how the New York plans are going, and instead, I steer the conversation toward the play I’m working on, my upcoming storytelling show, the new David Hockney exhibit at The Getty. Because this moment – this one that I’m currently living – is the one I’m preoccupied with.

Do I feel guilty about the fact that I don’t have more boxes checked with regard to the future? Yes. Does it make me uneasy when people ask me where I’m going to live in New York and how I’m going to pay my bills and I still don’t know? Yes, and yes. But here’s the truth: I wouldn’t be taking this leap if I didn’t have faith that somehow, some way, it will all work out. Perhaps for the first time ever, I trust myself. I trust the decision I’ve made. And I trust in my intuition that everything will come together when I need it to.

For a recovering (meticulous) planner, this type of faith in the unknown marks real progress. I’m scared as hell, but I’m proud of myself, too. So, for now, I’m going to enjoy where I am. I’m going to enjoy the last few weeks of this beautiful, sweltering Southern California summer. And I’m to going to continue to tie up those loose ends, wherever I can.

Until next time, friends.

Belief.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m standing elbow to elbow with fellow sports fans in a dark, crowded bar in Culver City. We’re an army attired in athletic gear, a sea of blue and green about a hundred strong . OK, I’m only guessing about the head count; it’s whatever the fire marshal has deemed to be the maximum number of people that are allowed to pack into this joint. The mood is decidedly despondent. The DJ, who’s been placed in charge of morale, finishes spinning the Sublime song, “I’ve Seen Better Days,” and asks the cheerless crowd, “Does anybody know any good jokes?”

This NFC Championship game has been a grim one for Seahawks fans. Russell Wilson, our typically unflappable, playmaking quarterback, the guy who always seems to get better when the moment gets bigger, has just, in the biggest game of the season, thrown an unprecedented fourth interception. There are just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and we’re down by twelve points. This game is all but lost, and with it, our once bright and glittering hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in as many years to try to once again capture the coveted Lombardi Trophy. Our spectacular late season winning streak is coming to a very unspectacular end. Anybody know any good jokes, indeed.

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And then, the improbable happens. Our offense, which has been stagnant for nearly the entire game, springs to life. The Hawks launch a quick scoring drive, culminating in Russell Wilson taking the ball himself into the end zone for a touchdown. Our quarterback, our receivers and our beast of a running back are suddenly, inexplicably, playing like themselves again.

Still. There are only two minutes left and we’re down by five. All Green Bay has to do is recover the onside kick and they’ll put the game away, punching their ticket to the Super Bowl. The entire bar – full of mostly Pacific Northwest expats – holds its collective breath. Our kicker – Steven Hauschka – launches the ball into the air . . . and in the fracas that ensues, a navy blue jersey comes down with it. Oh my god – the Seahawks have done the unthinkable. They’ve recovered the onside kick! The crowd inside Backstage Bar emits a thunderous roar. Strangers – united by love of team – embrace each other. Eyes – including mine – fill with tears, sensing the enormity of what has just occurred.

If you follow sports at all, you know what happens next. Our running back Marshawn – Beast Mode – Lynch runs for a touchdown, Russell Wilson floats a Hail Mary of a two-point conversion that somehow, some way, finds Luke Willson in the end zone, the game goes into overtime and the Seahawks march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown. Improbable miracle after improbable miracle, culminating with what no one thought possible just a few minutes prior: the Seahawks are heading back to the Super Bowl.

Later that day, I send a text message to a friend and fellow Hawks fan, berating him for prematurely admitting defeat, for giving up when the chips were down and the game appeared lost. “Where would we be if our quarterback thought like you?” I joke. “Well, Russell Wilson is a Christian,” came the response from my friend, an atheist. “And Christians just believe.”

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Huh. Christians just believe. Is that all there is to it? It is true that Russell Wilson is a devout Christian who speaks openly and often about his faith. It is also true that after the Seahawks’ victory, Wilson, overcome with emotion, wept openly and thanked God during an interview with sideline reporter Erin Andrews.  Religious faith certainly plays a role in his ability to persist in the face of overwhelming obstacles. But what about other forms of belief – like belief in self and in one’s own ability to persevere? Where does that come from? And where does belief spring from for those of us who don’t possess an abundance of (or any) religious devotion, but who remain equally resilient in the face of crisis? What about those of us who don’t attend church, but still think that life is made up of more than just a string of random coincidences?

For most of my life, I’ve been both an unflagging optimist and a religious skeptic. And I never thought there was anything weird about that. I don’t think you have to be a “believer” in order to believe, nor do I think you have to be religious to have faith in something that can’t be proven. But the game did leave me wondering about the concept of belief. For example, why was it so easy for me to have faith in my team, to not give up on them even when the situation appeared desperate, and yet at the same time, so difficult for me to cultivate those same beliefs in myself?

These last few years, circumstances have given me plenty of reasons to abandon my optimism. Life has knocked me down and kicked me in the shins. Often, I’ve felt that I’ve had no reason to hope, other than the fact that hope itself exists.

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And while I’ve maintained my sense of hopefulness, what I realized during the Seahawks’ improbable NFC Championship win – and this is going to sound totally crazy to all the non-sports fans out there – is that, unlike my team, I haven’t honestly believed that things are going to get better for me. I’ve spent so much time in crisis mode that I’ve become used to just surviving, to just getting through it. And on some level, I think I believed that surviving was the best I could hope for. But – if you’re still with me – my wacky, football-induced epiphany is that when it comes to life, the mere act of surviving is not enough. Staying in the game is not enough. If you want to win, you have to take the big chances, because the big rewards only come when you take the big risks. The Seahawks’ come from behind victory was a direct result of taking those types of risks, like Russell Wilson throwing a deep ball down the field to Jermaine Kearse – a receiver he had targeted four times prior, with all four passes resulting in interceptions. The evidence would suggest throwing that pass was a mistake, but Wilson’s belief – in himself, in his teammate, in God, in the playbook, whatever – gave him the confidence that this time, in the 11th hour when the game was on the line, he would complete the pass and win the game.

I’m not saying that because of a great football victory, I’m going to go out and get religion. But what the game did do was awaken something in me that had been long been dormant: an idea about the miraculous, resilient, mysterious nature of the human spirit, about the unquantifiable x factor that exists within all of us, and in the ability to trust in something that can’t be seen or proven but that still, we somehow know to be true. I may have ambivalence around the big GOD question, but when given the choice between the idea that life is random chance or composed of a little bit of magic, I choose magic. Every. Time.

Sometimes a sporting event is simply just a game. And sometimes, it’s so much more. Sometimes it reminds you – in small moments and in big ones – how you want to live.

It’s going to be one exciting Super Bowl.

Until next time, friends.

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Faith.

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The dictionary defines the word faith as “belief that is not based on proof,” and “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” Faith is unscientific. More often than not, it is identified with religion and a belief in God.

My whole life, I’ve been sort of ambivalent about religion. Both of my parents were Catholics, though my Dad was much more devout than my Mom. Mom bore the unfortunate scars of Catholic school-inflicted trauma. She’d frequently recount tales of nuns that were so terrifying – routinely smacking their students with rulers, preaching of fire and brimstone – that she’d pretend to be sick so she wouldn’t have to go to school. Mom lived in fear of those nuns, and though she eventually returned to the church, that fear created a tension between her and Catholicism that stayed with her throughout her life.

So, between a mother that was skittish about religion, and a father who, while a believer, preferred watching sports on Sundays to going to mass, church attendance throughout my youth was sporadic at best, and mostly reserved for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Though I always felt pretty comfortable in the church, as I got older, my liberal politics – particularly my support for gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose – created a disconnect between my beliefs and the Vatican that I couldn’t reconcile. So I mostly stayed away.

As a liberal, I have a lot of friends who are atheists: a belief that I respect. I think it’s actually quite brave to believe that this life is all there is, and when it’s over, that’s it. But to be completely honest, that idea terrifies me. I find comfort in the idea that our souls carry on beyond the lives of our bodies, and that our spirits are so much more than our physical being. If you’ve ever been with someone you loved when the life passed out of them and seen that they simply weren’t there anymore, you know what I’m talking about.

September 29, 2012 was the date of my Mom’s memorial service. It was an informal waterfront gathering in Allyn, WA, on a parcel of land that’s been in my Mom’s family since the late 1950s. It’s a sort of family compound (my Grandfather, Aunt and Uncle all still live there) that we simply call ‘the beach.’ Despite spending the first fifteen years of my life with a permanent residence in Anchorage, Alaska, I essentially grew up at the beach, as did my Mom, and my Uncle Glenn. It was my Mom’s favorite place in the whole world and the only fitting place to hold her service.

That evening, sitting on the deck of my Grandparents’ house starting out at Case Inlet, I was struck by how beautiful everything was. It was an uncharacteristically warm, clear day for late September in the Pacific Northwest. The sound was flat as glass and reflected the heavens like a mirror. An enormous full moon gleamed bright white, hovering over a big-as-life Mt. Rainier. All was so calm and quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. And as I sat and stared out at the sound, for the first time in the weeklong chaos following my Mom’s death, I felt a sense of peace. I knew that she was here, that she was with me.

The skeptic in me immediately chimes in that I wanted to feel her with me, and that, of course, is true. But I simply can’t explain the power of that moment. It was as though the sea and the sky wrapped me up and held me in a warm blanket, and through the tremendous beauty of my surroundings and the almost trance-like calm that came over me, I could feel my Mom whispering to me, “I’m here. I’m O.K., Sar. I’m home.”

But the most powerful exchange I’ve had with my Mother since she passed on happened last Christmas, and it’s something I’ve told almost no one, and certainly not in as great of detail as I’m about to recount here, because it’s so incredibly personal. I was at the beach, and – as usual – staying in a mobile home on a piece of property adjacent to my Grandparents’ beach cabin. The mobile home and the piece of land used to belong to my parents but was willed to me after their deaths. And while I’m grateful for the inheritance, truth be told, I hate that trailer. My Mom inhabited that thing during the darkest period of her life, and the energy it contains is heavy and oppressive and oh so sad. Some joyful day I will raze it to the ground and build a new home in its place. But, I digress.

The trailer is also – until the perfect summer day meets my Uncle and I finding courage enough to scatter them – the temporary home for my Mother’s ashes. Whenever I stay there, I talk to my Mom. Sometimes, I hold the box of ashes in my arms and hug them.

But on this particular day – last Christmas Eve – I had hit a serious wall. After more than a year of being in survival mode, of moving from one crisis to the next, of working so very hard and keeping myself so very busy as a distraction from the weight of all the emotional baggage I’d been carrying, I finally, finally hit zero. I simply couldn’t pretend to be OK anymore. I’d arrived at a place of overwhelming hopelessness and despair. I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t feel strong enough and I didn’t know where or how to begin.

And so I cradled the box containing my Mom’s ashes and I wept. This emotional actress has cried a lot of tears in her life, but I have never, ever, cried like that. Uncontrollably, unceasingly, just this river of emotion. I didn’t ask, I implored. I begged. “Mom,” I sobbed, “I don’t know what to do. I am so scared. Please help me. Please tell me what to do. Please, Mom.” I have never been more humble. I have never been more afraid. And I have never wanted my Mother more.

I don’t know how the universe works. I don’t know if my Mom heard me that night, or if I was just crying to myself. But I do know that in my darkest moment, I asked for help and then help started to arrive. It wasn’t in the form I wanted. It arrived in a way that wasn’t pleasant; help arrived in the form of an unseen hand that grabbed me by the collar and shook me hard and slapped me across the face and screamed, “wake up!” It was a hand that pushed me through pain in order to make it clear that the only way out was through, that in order to live, a part of me had to die. It was gut-wrenching, but I can see now that it was what I needed.

Four months after that dark, dark Christmas Eve, my healing has been dramatic. I still have a steep mountain to climb, but I am more optimistic, more creative, and less afraid. I am making my choices out of hope now, rather than out of fear. I’m learning to trust myself again.

I don’t know exactly where I come down on the God question. But if faith is a belief in something that can’t be seen, then I have it. And time and time again, over the last two years, when I’ve stepped into something having nothing but faith, that faith has been rewarded. I’ve seen and felt too much not to believe that there’s a force out there that’s bigger than me. A force that’s compassionate, a force that wants me, you, us, to be our highest and best selves. I don’t know if that’s God or the universe or magic or what. All I know is what I’ve felt in the deepest reaches of my soul, and in the darkest moments of my heart. That’s my truth. I don’t need it to be anyone else’s, but it’s mine.  And now I’ve shared it with you.

Until next time, friends.

stub039

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