Roll the dice.

The other day, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was sitting at my desk, dutifully checking off items on my to-do list, staring vacantly at my computer screen, wishing I were somewhere else. I had awoken extra early to put the finishing touches on a new piece for this blog – something about the importance of focus – but as I read it and read it again, I realized I couldn’t publish it. It felt dishonest, like I was trying too hard to sound like someone else. Someone who – unlike me – had their sh*t together.

And that’s when the existential dread set in. Who am I, anyway? What could I possibly say that’s important, or that will make any difference? Who cares?

The what’s the point of it all feeling rose quickly in my chest and caught in the back of my throat, a dull nausea spinning in my stomach, and I knew I had to get out. Before I could let the to-do list stop me, I slammed my laptop shut, laced up my beat-up running shoes, grabbed my keys and left. I got in my car and drove westward, toward the coast.

I live only seven miles from the ocean, but it’s staggering how little I make time in my schedule to go and see it. Throughout my life, the sea has always had a powerful effect on me. The sense of calm and peace it instills is so profound that I know in my bones I could never live far away from a body of water. When times are toughest – when I’m sad or lost or feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin – that’s when I crave the sea the most.



I parked my car on San Vicente. Putting my ear buds in, I trudged down the Santa Monica Stairs and then back up the incline that leads to Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park. I jogged through the park, marveling at the dense marine layer still blanketing the coast, even though just a handful of miles inland, my little stucco bungalow was already baking in the 11 a.m. summer sun. The fog shrouding the sea was so thick and white, you couldn’t tell where the horizon ended and the sea began, casting a hazy sort of magic over Palisades Park. I breathed in that fog, the sea, and almost immediately I felt soothed, better.

I let my brain race freely as I jogged along. When I got to the construction zone at the California Incline, I turned around and headed for the entrance to the steep set of stairs at the Montana Beach Overlook. I descended the sandy wooden steps toward Pacific Coast Highway, dodging beachgoers carrying bikes and surfboards. And then back up I went, the burning in my calves intensifying as I climbed faster and faster. Descend and climb. Descend and climb. I pushed myself again and again, the fatigue in my body finally allowing my tired brain to relax and settle into something that felt less like chaotic noise and more like calm, focused thoughts.

As I climbed, I thought about my Dad. Father’s Day had just passed, and his birthday was coming up. If he could see me now, what would he think? I didn’t have to wonder about it, I already knew. He’d tell me that I needed to stop complaining about my “problems” and get to work. Throughout my life, whenever I was slacking off or not doing all I could, I’d dread the inevitable grilling from Dad. He’d always unearth the truth in his lawyerly fashion: straight to the heart of the matter. “Well if you know better Sar, then why don’t you do better?”


The truth is, my recent lack of motivation isn’t rooted in laziness, or lack of ambition. It’s rooted in fear. I’ve been experiencing what you might call a crisis of confidence: blocked in my writing, hating all of my creative ideas, feeling hopelessly stuck and worried that everything I’ve been working so hard on is no good and a waste of my time.

Time. Whenever this “what’s the point of it all?” paralysis sets in, it always comes back to that question of time. What am I doing with it? Am I making the most of it? Is activity A, B, or C really worth my time? I’m ever aware of how precious it is, ever fearful of it slipping through my fingers, even as it does that very thing.

Plenty of things we invest our time in don’t work out. People die. Relationships fail. Jobs end. Does that mean they weren’t worth our time? I don’t think so. It’s all a part of life, experiences we need to have so that we can learn and grow and (hopefully) improve. I suppose that nothing about how we choose to spend our time can really be a waste unless we willfully choose to waste it.

Is that what I’ve been doing? Willfully wasting my time indulging in my own neuroses? What would Dad say? He was an “all in” kind of guy. He wouldn’t let fear or doubt stop him. And as I thought about Dad, I remembered a poem written by Charles Bukowski. It’s called “Roll the Dice” and it’s something I’ve loved for years, returning to it again and again whenever I’ve needed a swift kick in the ass. Here it is:

if you’re going to try, go all the


otherwise, don’t even start.

 if you’re going to try, go all the


this could mean losing girlfriends,

wives, relatives, jobs and

maybe your mind.

go all the way.

it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.

it could mean freezing on a

park bench.

it could mean jail,

it could mean derision,



isolation is the gift,

all the others are a test of your

endurance, of

how much you really want to

do it.

and you’ll do it

despite rejection and the worst odds

and it will be better than

anything else

you can imagine.

 if you’re going to try,

go all the way.

there is no other feeling like


you will be alone with the gods

and the nights will flame with


do it, do it, do it.

do it.

all the way

all the way.

you will ride life straight to

perfect laughter, its

the only good fight

there is.

I left the beach and went home, utterly exhausted. Later, when I re-read those words by Bukowski, I thought about how my Dad spent much of his life as the living embodiment of them. I thought about how I wanted to be more like that. And I thought about how the best way I could honor my father as I approached his birthday was to stop hesitating, stop moving through my life with so much doubt and uncertainty, and simply “roll the dice.”


Easier said than done, but maybe my first step is to spend a lot more time climbing those stairs, breathing in the ocean, clearing out the noise.

Until next time, friends.

Father’s Day.

King Salmon copy

Father’s Day has never been a holiday that I’ve gotten super mushy about. Throughout most of my life, my relationship with my Dad has been layered, challenging, complicated. (Everything you’d want to know about our relationship can be read on my blog titled, Dad.) While my Mom was always the emotional center of my life, my Dad was more like a loving antagonist, egging me on from the sidelines. Year after year, the task of choosing a Father’s Day card was a formidable challenge. So much of the cheesy, cookie cutter sentiment simply didn’t fit.

As I got older, and Dad got frail (and ultimately, sick), I started to see him differently, and I began to appreciate qualities that I couldn’t as a young girl. I started to realize that the reason Dad antagonized me so much and was so brilliant at pushing my buttons was actually because we were way more alike than I cared to admit.

Now that my Dad is no longer here, I remain grateful for every quality – both positive and negative – that I inherited from him. I learned so much from him, mostly from the way that he lived his life. In honor of Father’s Day, here are the most important life lessons I take away from my Dad:

Dad, D, Nora and I

Life is a gamble. As much as we’d like to believe that we can control the outcome of events, the reality is we have no control. Life throws what it will at us, and more often than not, we have to make the best decision we can with the information that we have at the time, and forge ahead. Risk is part of being a human being, so you might as well embrace it. And if the worst thing that could happen happens – you risk it all and lose everything – you must rebuild. If you can do that, and come out on the other side of it, you’ll not only learn what you’re made of, but you’ll also realize that worrying about things you can’t control is a terrible waste of time.

Risk taking is good, but some risks are just stupid. As a personal injury lawyer, one of Dad’s favorite phrases was, ‘That’s an accident waiting to happen.’ There’s a reason I’ve never been in a helicopter or a racecar: because they’re both death traps. For all those thrill seekers out there, more power to you. Skydive or bungee jump or race fast cars to your heart’s content. But any activity where my odds of dying increase exponentially is not one you’ll catch me doing. I’d rather take my risks in other ways, like creative ones.

Keep your sense of humor, even when it gets dark. Especially when it gets dark. No matter how grim things got, Dad always found a way to laugh. When I was little, I used to be a bit horrified at Dad’s macabre sense of humor and his ability to find the funny in stuff that really shouldn’t be funny. Years later, my ability to laugh through cancer, through death, through just about anything, has kept me sane through some trying times. If you can keep your sense of humor throughout the darkest of the dark, odds are, you’ll always be OK.

Dad and Nora Cat in the Hat

Stick to your guns. If you believe in something with all of your heart, then stand up for it, and don’t flinch. You may end up making enemies, but at least you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror. This doesn’t mean being dogmatic, unyielding, or unwilling to listen to the other side. It does mean to thine own self be true. Nobody respects a flip flopper.

Sports are life, and who you root for says a lot about you. I watched Dad suffer for years as a devoted Portland Trailblazers fan, a Seattle Seahawks fan, and a Boston Red Sox fan. I saw Dad’s loyalty rewarded when the Sox finally broke Babe Ruth’s curse. I saw my own rewarded last February when the Seahawks finally won the Super Bowl. Sure, it feels good to root for a team that wins, but it feels even better after hanging with that team through years and years of losing and knowing you were there through it all. It can be demoralizing to support a team that loses year after year (the Seattle Mariners, anyone?), but for the loyal fan, hope really does spring eternal. Dad taught me to have no patience or respect for fair weather fans, or fair weather people. And on that note: when in doubt, always, always root for the underdog.

Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right. Dad moved through life with an air of confidence, and an unwavering belief that no matter what, things would work out in his favor. And you know what? He was almost always right. Now, whenever someone tells me something can’t be done, I can’t wait to set out proving them wrong. Even if it’s something as simple as getting a table at a popular restaurant that won’t take reservations. If you believe you can do it and act accordingly, more often than not, you’ll win. Attitude plus perseverance is a powerful combination.

Mom and Dad at M's law school grad copy

Eloquence is important. If you want to sway someone to your cause, make them feel something. Dad loved to quote Shakespeare and recite poetry, often to the point of sappiness. No matter. He knew how to affect people, and how to move them. He also understood this: if you don’t believe it, then nobody else will either.

Life is a great adventure, or nothing at all. So many people spend their lives being afraid, playing it safe, living a life that’s smaller than what’s in their hearts. Why? We’re all going to end up in the ground or scattered to the wind anyway. There is so much in this world that’s thrilling, that’s beautiful, that’s worth savoring. Grab it while you can. Dad lived with a sort of big picture perspective and a zest for life that is more rare than it should be. And I’m pretty sure he went to his eternal rest with no regrets. He many not have been the perfect man, or the perfect father, and he probably made a few enemies throughout his life. But he also understood that ‘you can’t win ‘em all.’ Stop working so hard to get other people to like you. They will or they won’t, and what other people think of you is really none of your business anyway. To thine own self be true.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for all that you taught me.

Until next time, friends

Young Dad

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