Morningside.

“We all get stuck in place on occasion. We all move backward sometimes. Every day we must make the decision to move in the direction of our intentions. Forward is the direction of real life.”

– Cheryl Strayed

I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop on lap, surfing the internet for a new dresser when the call came through. The number was familiar, but not in a way that brought comfort. My body tensed. My breaths came shallow. I thought about answering the phone, then thought better of it. I didn’t want to be blindsided by bad news. Let them leave a message, I thought. At least then I’d have an idea of what I was in for.

The voicemail notification flashed across the screen, and I gingerly pressed play and held the phone up to my ear.

“Hi Sarah,” came a polite, though somewhat timid, voice on the other end.

“This is Katherine, from Joe’s office. We have some documents to send you, and I just wanted to confirm that we still have your correct address.”

Documents. That sounded innocuous enough, but as I’d just spent the better part of the summer sorting through five years’ worth of paperwork covering such weighty topics as death, divorce and identity theft, paring a painful paper trail down to its essentials and depositing the rest into a large plastic bin that I delivered to an industrial shredding facility in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport, the last thing I wanted was to acquire more documents. I had begun a new life. And I intended to travel light.

I sighed, pressed “call back,” and was surprised to hear Joe’s voice – my parents’ lawyer – on the other end. I had assumed he had retired, due to advancing age and a recent bypass surgery. But there he was, answering the phone. His tone was kind, grandfatherly, almost.

“Well, Sarah, it looks like we’re finally ready to close your parents’ estate, and I have some final documents for you to sign. We’re going to send them to your sister Marion first, then to you, and then we should be good to go.”

Really? Five years of bank statements and legal documents and insurance forms? Five years of producing death certificates with as much normalcy as I produced my driver’s license? Five years of always another form to sign, always another stack of papers to file bearing the red “For your Information” stamp? Could it really be true that after five years, this phase of life that I’d become so accustomed to was finally drawing to a close?

“That’s great news, Joe. I’m glad you called because I actually just moved. Let me give you my new address.”

If Joe was surprised by my New York zip code, he didn’t let on. Maybe he thought people packed up and moved their lives across the country every day. Or maybe after five years, he was ready to be done with me, too. Either way, we said our goodbyes, and I collapsed back onto my bed, a wave of exhaustion washing over me. I had only been in New York for three days, but I knew that it was more than just the force of jet lag hitting me. It was something like releasing a breath that I had long been holding. Something like the realization that after all these years, I might finally be turning a page.

Five days later, on a still warm September afternoon – the second day of fall – I swept the floors, rearranged the furniture, stocked the fridge and assembled a spread of snacks and drinks on my kitchen table. As a handful of guests arrived and day faded into indigo night, lit by the New York skyline and the three strings of twinkle lights I’d hung from the eighth-floor balcony of my Morningside Heights apartment, I realized that I had barely thought about the fact that this day, September 23rd, marked the fifth anniversary of the death of my mother. I had remembered it, of course, but I had – for once – been too busy to dwell on it. And when I did think of it, I didn’t feel sad. Instead, I felt lucky. I felt lucky that I had a mother who always told me that I could do and be anything that I wanted. I felt lucky that because of that, I had been brave enough to take a leap, and had been rewarded with a new apartment in a new city, one that was beautiful, priced well under market value, and in a prime Manhattan neighborhood. I was lucky to be surrounded by interesting, kind, creative people, who, like me, also wanted to tell stories and make art. And I was lucky to realize that as painful as it had been, it was the jagged, twisted, perilous path that had brought me here, to a time and a place where I finally felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was where I was supposed to be.

Until next time, friends.

Decisions.

You have a right to experiment with your life.

You will make mistakes.

And they are right too.

– Anaïs Nin

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in Burbank, California, and I’m lying flat on my back on a massage table. But I’m not getting a massage. Instead, I’m doing something I’ve never done before, a theme for me lately. I’m seeing an intuitive healer. I’m not sure what to expect, only that I’ve been feeling stuck and directionless, and that the healer – a woman named Alicia – was recommended by a close friend. And so, I go.

Alicia begins by using a pendulum device to scan my chakras. As she suspends it over my body, it spins clockwise, emitting a soft hum. When she gets to the area above my heart, the pendulum’s spin slows down. Above my head, it stops altogether, and then begins to spin backwards.

“You’re feeling indecisive,” she says.

“Yes,” I admit.

“Doubting yourself?”

“Yes.”

When I get up from the table and check my phone, I’m stunned to discover that nearly two hours have passed. Despite our pre-session consultation, during which Alicia advised me that I could feel any number of things during the healing (sadness, pain, anger – to name a few), I remained calm and relaxed throughout. As she placed her hands on my ankles, my shoulders, the crease in my elbow, the crown of my head – anywhere that needed healing – she asked me questions, described images she saw, and we talked. That was it. I didn’t cry, not once. When I left her house, I felt tired, but also, at peace.

A few days later, at a creative writing workshop with WriteGirl, a mentoring organization I volunteer for, I spent several hours working with two teenage girls whom I’d never met before. They were both beginning the college application process and were both feeling overwhelmed by it all. As we talked about schools, AP classes, personal essays and the pressure to choose a major, I heard myself giving them advice I wish I’d received when I was seventeen:

“If you choose a college and you don’t like it, you can always transfer.

If you pick a major that’s not right for you, you can always change it.

I know it feels like the decisions you make now will determine the rest of your life,

but I promise you, they won’t.

You can always change your mind. About everything.”

In my life, I’ve spent a whole lot of time talking about all the big things I’m going to do, and only a little bit of time doing them. The “talk” is safe, because a plan that hasn’t been put into action yet hasn’t had the chance to fail. The decision is a different thing altogether. The decision is scary. The decision means that you stop thinking, stop weighing your options. It means you go for it, and you don’t look back.

I talked about going to New York for a long time before I decided to do it. And now that I’ve decided, I feel a bit like a snowball rolling down a hill, rapidly gathering speed. I gave up my apartment and all my furniture. I’m paring down my belongings, getting rid of clothes and books and personal effects I used to cherish. I’m preparing to sell my car, and several pieces of my mother’s jewelry. And even though I don’t leave for three more weeks, this weekend I’m hosting a going away party at which I’ll see many of my L.A. friends for the last time. At least, for a while.

Thinking about those teenage girls, their futures uncertain, their whole lives stretched out before them like a promise, I found myself wondering: how many evolutions do we get in a life? And I think the answer is: as many as we chose. We can always change. We can always grow. But we must be willing to say no to the old way of doing things, and yes to the uncertain and the unknown. We must be willing to be vulnerable. To screw up. To learn. And to begin again.

Until next time, friends.

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.

 

The rose garden.

How can it be Thursday afternoon already? I wonder. Looking at this week from the blissful remove of last Sunday, that lazy Mother’s Day afternoon at the Getty Villa drinking Pinot Grigio with girlfriends, then the drive along Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, back to my little bungalow, where I watched the sun sink below the horizon and made all kinds of promises to myself, writing three essays and finishing rewrites on my new one-act play by Friday didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Ambitious, yes, but I had more than enough open space on my calendar.

These days, I constantly underestimate the amount of time it will take me to complete any given task. Time has become more elusive than ever, and the more of it I think I have, the more quickly it slips through my fingers.

Lately, everything I write seems to crack something open within me. It might be the season. May means that Los Angeles skies are bursting with lavender blooms and I’m thinking of my mother even more than usual. May is her month. Her favorite Jacaranda trees are flowering in her favorite color, and next week, May 25, is her birthday.

Even when I try not to write about her, there she is. And that’s OK. I like having her with me. It just means that sometimes, a word or a thought or a phrase sends me down an unexpected rabbit hole. The more impossible it feels to articulate the contradictory emotions inhabiting my body – the gratitude, the regret, the joy, the longing – the more determined I am to find the right words to express them.

But writing is hard work, and so, I procrastinate. I procrastinate by absorbing hours of cable news, the drama unfolding in D.C. feeling far more compelling than any plot point I could write into my one-act play. I allow myself to get sucked into the sinkholes of social media. And I worry. I spend hours worrying about the things I’m not doing, the emails I’m not responding to, the problems I’m not dealing with, the items I’m not checking off my list.

It’s a pernicious beast, this worrying. Most of it has to do with the future and with things I can’t control. I’ve put wheels in motion to move at the end of summer, and the closer I get to taking actions that I can’t take back, the more I worry. The reasons why not pile up. And there I am again, thinking instead of doing. Worrying instead of writing.

And then the news breaks that a car has plowed into pedestrians in the middle of Times Square, killing an eighteen-year-old girl, critically injuring others. In broad daylight. Just like that, lives are destroyed, or changed forever. The type of thing that happens all too often, the tragedy you don’t see coming.

Screw it, I think. I close my laptop, leave my apartment, drive to the coast. I breathe in the Pacific Ocean and work to slow my breathing. And then, I speed it up again. With music pulsating through my headphones, I run up and down the wooden stairs on Montana Avenue, lungs burning, heart racing. I’m alive, I tell myself. It’s enough.

After my run, I stop at my favorite part of Palisades Park: the rose garden. My grandfather had a beautiful rose garden at my grandparents’ home in West Seattle. I barely remember anything about that house, I was so little when they lived there. But I remember that garden. It was magic, just like my Grandpa. Was that when I first began to love roses?

A line from a poem by T.S. Eliot:

“Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”

It made me cry when I read it, because I recognized its truth. This is the way we make a life: by choosing. And choosing some things means not choosing others. The choices I must make about the future, the actions I can’t take back, I will make them. And they will be right. Even if I make mistakes along the way, they will be right. And the words I’m having trouble finding, I will find them. And though they may not be perfect, they will be right, too.

Until next time, friends.

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