The memory of a place.

We received a brief respite from the heat this week in Los Angeles – even a desperately needed bit of rain – before the mercury began to spike again, signaling the arrival of another sweltering September weekend. In all the years I’ve lived here, I always remember September being hot, but never quite as insufferable as the recent Sunday evening when I returned to L.A. after a two-week absence. Upon crossing the threshold of the little stucco box that is my one-bedroom apartment, I was greeted by a wall of heat so humid, so stale, and so oppressive, that it nearly immobilized me. As I began to unpack, giant beads of sweat dripping down my nose, I imagined I was back in my seat on the Amtrak Cascades, gazing dreamily out the rain-kissed window at Puget Sound, the train pressing steadily onward toward British Columbia.


Is it possible to feel homesick for a place that was never really home? While it’s true that sandwiched between my youth in Anchorage, Alaska and my adult life in Los Angeles, I did spend four years of high school in the Pacific Northwest town of Olympia, Washington, that was merely a blip, and the late 90’s were so long ago. Over the course of my life, I’ve been less of a resident of the Pacific Northwest, and more of a frequent visitor.

Still. Nearly all of my family – at least the family members that I know – live somewhere between Anchorage and Medford, Oregon, with most of them tracing their roots to Washington State and Oregon. And while Mom and I joined Dad in Alaska shortly after my birth at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital, Mom never fully settled into life in Anchorage. The Pacific Northwest was in her blood, and we returned there often. Many of my childhood memories are hazy mental photographs of my grandparents’ home on Beach Drive in West Seattle: playing catch in the long driveway, Grandpa’s rose garden, the living room with its seascapes and sea gull décor, the blond shag carpeting and terrier (Benji) to match.

And then of course there’s the Beach – the property on Case Inlet in Southwest Washington that I wrote about at length in my last post. That place is not only where several of my close family members reside, it is forever entrenched in my history.

As beautiful as the Pacific Northwest is, it has been difficult for me not to feel a bit haunted whenever I return there. Amid the inlets and elbows of Puget Sound, the tall evergreen trees, the gorgeous views of Mount Rainier, are memories of people that are no longer living, and a life that’s no longer mine.


But this time – and I’m not quite sure why – the ghosts of the past seemed to peacefully coexist with the experiences of the present. The familiar was no longer haunting; it was a source of comfort. The Pacific Northwest was markedly different, yet ever the same.

The tree-lined drive along Highway 3 into Shelton – where I took my driver’s test –this time made in Grandpa’s ice blue Honda CR-V with the handicapped sticker hanging from the mirror. The same, yet different.

Olympia. The loop around Capitol Lake – where I would walk so many times, rain or shine – and the Capitol Building, with its dome that I used to photograph for the school paper. This time, a walk downtown for lunch with one new friend, then coffee with another on the Capitol campus, where she works. The same, yet different.

Seattle. Echoes of my mother’s laughter all around Westlake Center. The flagship Nordstrom where we’d spend an afternoon lunching and shopping for shoes. The Paramount Theatre, the site of one of my first concerts – Garbage – now hosting the band Hall and Oates. The waterfront – and the arcade where we spent our high school grad night – now mired in new construction. This time, I stop to ask a handsome police officer if he can point the way to Ivar’s restaurant. He laughs and directs us through scaffolding and over a rickety wooden walkway. Ivar’s – the place I’d feed seagulls and watch departing ferryboats as a child– now a spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch with my sister Marion, sipping wine and planning our trip to Bainbridge Island. The same, yet different.


The border crossing into Vancouver. That same Amtrak train – number 510 – departing daily from King Street Station, with its iconic clock tower and cavernous marble lobby. This time, sitting on a wooden bench, ticket in hand, waiting to board and remembering the summer I drove across the border by myself, just seventeen, in my maroon Toyota Rav-4, receiving endless harassment from the border agents. The same, yet different.

Vancouver’s West End. The condo on Nelson Street where my sister and brother-in-law lived when my niece Nora was just a toddler, before my nephew Quinn was born. Now, Quinn is in high school, and Nora is away at University in Montreal.

It’s all the same, but it’s all so different. Yet for the first time that I can remember, the differences don’t seem to bother me. They don’t feel tinged with sadness like they usually do.

Perhaps it’s me that’s different, and not these places. Perhaps the change is simply the result of the passage of time and the slow healing that comes along with it. Or perhaps love of place has finally been able to transcend the pain of all that’s missing.

But whatever the reason, this time, the ghosts stayed at bay. And I was able to make new memories. Good ones. Memories that I will hold on to, dreaming of the gentle breeze off Puget Sound, until I’m able to return again.

Until next time, friends.


Putting off tomorrow.

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

-Edward Young

Over and over and over again over these last two and a half years, I’ve reminded myself how precious time is; that it shouldn’t be wasted. After all, I’ve seen it in action: the way a mere phrase or phone call or the briefest of moments can permanently alter every cell in your body, so that afterwards you never think or dream or breathe the same way again. I don’t need anyone to tell me that all we have is this moment, this one, right now. I already know.

And yet. As I sit here, writing this to you, I am – at this very moment – procrastinating. I am putting off doing things that are important to me. Even after I resolved that I wouldn’t, I am still finding ways to stall. I am making excuses. Why?

I have a plan. It’s sort of epic. Can I tell you about it?

Ever since my mother died two and a half years ago, a story has been kicking around inside of my brain. Scenes of it play in my mind like a movie. It is a movie. Well, not yet. After mom died, I wrote the story in fits and starts – sketches of scenes, bits of dialogue. But I couldn’t really get a rhythm going because too much was happening. I was too messed up. I couldn’t see it or admit it at the time, but I was. My dad was sick, my grandmother was sick, the person I loved most in the world was abruptly gone with all kinds of questions surrounding her death, and oh, on a side note, my personal life was an utter disaster. My world had flipped upside down.

To make everything worse, I couldn’t write. I felt stupid, clumsy. My tongue was thick in my mouth. Words were stubborn, refusing to string together to form sentences. The thing that had always come easy for me, the thing I’d fallen back on when all else failed, had suddenly become impossible.

But little by little, it started to come back. I started writing again. And over the last two plus years, I have written a lot. I wrote while my life changed. I wrote through all kinds of moments – heartbreaking moments and sweet moments, laugh out loud moments and joyful moments. You see, once you get through the worst part of a trauma, once you realize it won’t actually kill you, once you realize that you still care enough to pick yourself up and keep on living, you become capable of experiencing profound joy. And it’s often joy where you wouldn’t expect it:  in small, seemingly insignificant moments that you never even realized were beautiful until you looked at them through the lens of loss. Even though you’re sadder and more broken, when you laugh you really mean it, and when you love you really mean it, and even though you wouldn’t wish what’s happened to you on anyone, your dirty little secret is that you don’t want to go back to the way you were before, because the old you was oblivious, fumbling around in the dark, while this you is awake to everything. And once you’ve woken up, you can’t go back to sleep.

But this is not meant to be a blog about loss, it’s meant to be a blog about procrastinating.  See? I’m doing it again.  OK, to get back to the point:  the story that has been kicking around in my head for the last two and a half years while I tried and failed at writing it is finally taking shape. It’s a screenplay of a movie that is based upon my life.

The story is set in Olympia, Washington, the town where I went to high school and where I plan to film the movie. That’s right, I’m going to make the movie myself. I know just enough about producing films to be terrified of how much work it will be, how much money it will cost, and how much I still need to learn. Basically, I know enough to know that I don’t know enough. Not yet.

But in allowing myself to feel overwhelmed about the filmmaking part before I’m even there yet, I’ve been putting off the step I’m on now, which is sort of crucial: finishing the script. I’m self-aware enough to recognize my own resistance, and resistance and I are currently locked in a daily tug of war.  I’ve got post it notes with motivational sayings all over my house, an accountability circle where I bring in pages of the script every week, and plans for a table read of the full script in May. But every day when it’s time for me to sit down and do my work, I’m like a petulant child who doesn’t want to go to school, looking for any excuse I can not to go.

What the hell is my problem? This story is important to me, and I want to tell it. Yes, writing it is hard. Yes, certain scenes aren’t coming out the way I want them to, at least not yet. But I’m making everything so much harder than it needs to be with my acrobatic stalling techniques. If writing this script is the thing that matters most to me, why will I do nearly anything to avoid working on it?

Maybe it’s the fear of failure thing. Maybe it’s the fear of success thing. Maybe it’s the fear that I’ll actually accomplish my goal and after all the blood, sweat and tears, I’ll get to the other side of it and realize that this process didn’t heal my life the way I’m hoping it will. Maybe I’m afraid that no matter what I do, nothing will ever change.

I think to some degree, my resistance is probably rooted in all of these things. But even though I’m scared, I’m also stubborn.  I’m going to battle through this, just like I’ve battled through everything else these last couple of years.  Because for all the challenges that lie ahead, I refuse to believe that I could have treaded through such deep water simply to give up. Our heroine battles through the worst experiences of her life, stands upon the precipice of utter despair, and then – throws in the towel. Now that would make a lousy movie.

If you’re anything like me – if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a big dream that you badly want to accomplish but don’t know where to start or what to do – this is what I suggest: start small. Break down your big dream into as many small tasks as you can, and just do one thing at a time. Do one small thing every day that keeps you moving forward. Don’t worry about what could go wrong in the future – it either will or it won’t and you’ll deal with it when you get there.  Just do what’s in front of you every day.

Now let’s see if I can take my own advice.

Until next time, friends.

Identity theft.

“Hopefully, this will be the last time I ever talk to you,” he said.  “Because that will mean that you’re not the victim of a crime again.  Good luck, and have a great life, Sarah.”

Broken Doll B & W

Have a great life.  The finality of those words sure stick, don’t they?

For the last couple of days, I’d been playing phone tag with a prosecutor in the San Diego District Attorney’s office.  Nearly two years after she’d stolen my identity, made a fake I.D. with my name, address and date of birth on it, and impersonated me all over San Diego County, the woman who’d opened up a slew of fraudulent credit cards in my name had been caught and was going to jail.  Justice was being done. I couldn’t believe it.

However, when it came time to make the final call to the Assistant D.A. to confirm the information that he needed – that I had successfully disputed all the fraudulent charges and that the banks, not me, had absorbed the financial burden of this woman’s theft – I was strangely reticent.  I wasn’t sure why I was dragging my feet, why I was delaying calling him back.  I was busy (of course, I’m always busy), but it was more than that.  There was something about closing this chapter in my life that I didn’t feel quite ready for.

I first learned that my identity was hijacked on February 4, 2013, when I received a call from a fraud investigator at Neiman Marcus.  A woman had visited their San Diego location to fill out an application for a store credit card, and Neiman’s flagged her right away as suspicious.  She was nervous, and appeared to be taking instructions from a man (surveillance cameras picked him up in another area of the store) via cell phone.  Neiman’s did a quick Google search to try to locate the real me (good luck  – there are about a million Sarah Kellys in this world), but were unable to find definitive evidence in a short span of time that this woman was an impostor.  Unable to act without proof, they accepted her application, flagged it as potential fraud, and sent her on her way.

Almost immediately after my conversation with Neiman Marcus’s fraud department, they started arriving:  the avalanche of both credit cards and rejection letters.  I would spend countless hours over the coming days, weeks and months undoing the damage that had been wrought in the space of one weekend-long credit card application joyride in San Diego.  Time spent canceling cards, filing fraud alerts, getting documents notarized, faxing, sorting, calling – sometimes pleading – with the powers that be that it was me, that I was who I said I was.  Nobody has time for this garbage.  It is a full time job to reclaim your identity when it has been taken away from you.  And in my case, the timing could not have been worse.


When I received the call from Neiman Marcus, my father was in the hospital, gravely ill with stage four pancreatic and liver cancer, and awaiting a transfer – arranged by my half-sister Deirdre – to at-home hospice care.  Ten days later, on Valentine’s Day, dad passed away, quietly, at home.  His death was a mere four and a half months after the sudden death of my mother, a death which sent shockwaves through my life that I still haven’t recovered from.  I can see now, with perspective, that I didn’t even begin to process my mom’s death until well after my dad died.  He was too sick, there was too much to worry about, too many fires to put out.  Not the least of which was my maternal grandmother’s rapid decline into advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  One day she knew who I was, the next day, I became a person of no consequence.

My identity theft was a relentless pain in the ass that I didn’t need, that I didn’t have time for and that I certainly didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to deal with.  When it happened, I couldn’t believe it.  I made jokes about it, laughed at the unfairness of it all.  But really, it felt like a sucker punch, like the universe kicking me in the gut when I was already about as low as I could go.

But here’s the awkward truth; a truth that I’m literally coming to terms with in this moment as I write this blog.  It’s a truth that reveals my hesitancy to wrap up that unfortunate chapter once and for all.  In the midst of the biggest crisis of my life, there was something incredibly powerful about having to fight for who I was.  What I lamented as some sort of karmic curse was actually, in all likelihood, a gift.  Not only did it offer a distraction from all the impossible, emotionally loaded jobs that had to be done in the wake of my father’s death, but at a time when I felt like I was drowning, when I felt like I was disappearing into nothingness, my identity theft fight required me to state clearly, emphatically, over and over again:  I am who I say I am.  I am Sarah. I am still here. I exist, dammit.

So when it came time to call the Assistant D.A., I procrastinated.  I put it off.  And at first, it didn’t make sense to me.  After all, I’m happy to have this case resolved.  I’m happy the person who stole something so precious from me is being punished.  It’s a win, but strangely, it also feels like a loss.  Because though I won this battle, the war rages on.  Twenty-one months later, I’m still fighting to find my way back to me.  A wild, fearless, big-dreaming me from my youth that I lost long ago, or a me that I always wanted to be but that I never quite became.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that in the case of my identity theft, there was a path to follow.  A long, arduous, tedious, frustrating paper trail of a path, but a path nonetheless.  But with everything else, there is no path.  Just an ongoing struggle to heal, to rediscover, to fall in love with life again, and to try to figure out who I’m supposed to be.

And so, with one chapter now closed, the fight goes on.

Until next time, friends.

Photo on 5-15-13 at 6.31 PM

The things my mother gave me.

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Today makes two years. It was two years ago today, on September 23rd, that I received the worst phone call of my life. It was Sunday morning and I was still in bed, my phone in the other room. I heard it ringing, distant, the musical jingle breaking through the quiet September morning. I rolled over slowly, a sense of unease already stirring in the pit of my stomach. It was too early; who could be calling? Not that early, true, but early for a Sunday. The first football game hadn’t started yet. On Fox, Terry, Howie, Jimmy and the gang were still making their predictions about which teams would win, still letting fantasy owners know which probable and questionable players were active.

I lifted myself up out of bed, crossed the room, and picked up my phone. I retrieved the voicemail, a tearful message from my Aunt Sandy, my Mom’s brother’s wife, telling me it was an emergency, telling me to call her, or my Dad, at home. I called Dad. I should have called her.

I think about that moment – that decision about who to call – often. I wish I could go back and redo it. My Aunt would have been gentler, would have been kinder when delivering the news. But it was my Dad that I wanted to talk to. My Dad, hard of hearing, elderly, gravely ill with stage four pancreatic and liver cancer. My Dad, who was incapable of softening the blow. ‘Mom’s dead,’ he said, across the line, distant, emotionless. The bottom fell out.

And so they began. Two years that would shake and stretch and shape me. Two years that would threaten to shatter me. Two years during which – at times – I struggled and fought and kicked and screamed and rebelled against circumstance, insisting upon being OK by the sheer force of my will. And two years during which – at other times – I gave in. Two years during which I almost gave up. Two years that carved a hole in my family, that carved a whole in my sense of who I thought I was.

Today, as I stand on the other side of those twenty-four months, scanning the distance between then and now, thinking about what and who I’ve lost, and what – ironically – I’ve also gained, there’s one image that’s burned in my mind.


The image I can’t escape is of the last time I saw my mother. She is standing in the driveway of my parents’ house in Olympia. Rail thin, slightly disheveled, though she had pulled it together quite significantly from her collapse of a few days prior. Pulled it together for me, I suppose. We’ve just hugged goodbye, and after providing her with a list of caretaker referrals to help with Dad, after securing a promise from her that she’ll find a counselor, that she’ll talk to someone, I board the airport shuttle. As I turn to wave goodbye one last time, there’s a look on her face that I don’t think I’ve ever seen: it’s soft, yet sorrowful, with an intensity that’s completely unfamiliar, an intensity that’s very unlike my one-hundred-miles-from-intense mother.

I’ve thought about that moment many times over the last two years. I’ve wondered if she knew then that she was dying. I’ve wondered if she knew that this would be the last time she’d see me, her only child. I’ve wondered if the reason the look was so unfamiliar, if the reason she held me in her gaze so intently, was because she knew this was it, and she was trying to memorize my face. I’ve wondered if, in that moment, she was trying to memorize my face for all eternity.

There are so many gifts that my mother gave me; she was generous to a fault. There were cherished treasures that she bestowed upon me while she was still alive, and equally valuable gifts that I could never have anticipated receiving after she was gone. In addition to the ruby and emerald rings, the gold pieces from her jewelry box, the vintage wardrobe gems like two pairs of knee high Finnish leather boots, a Chloe scarf, a pink hand-beaded Leslie Fay cocktail dress, there are other, less tangible, things I take with me. Lessons about the person I want to be, based on who she was, and who she wasn’t. There are qualities I strive to emulate – her kindness, her compassion, her generosity, her sweetness. There are things I’ll never achieve. I’ll never be as good of a chef as she was, never master her green thumb in the garden. And I’m definitely not as nice as my mother was, not as giving, not as yielding. I’m more stubborn, more argumentative, more selfish.


But many of the qualities that I admired about my mother also let her down. I can see now that she never took time for herself, never set boundaries, couldn’t say no to the demands of others, even when they were outrageous. I can see how people took advantage of her, and how she let them. I can see how she absorbed every harsh word, internalized every worry, how insecure and how fragile she was. I can see how she burned out, how she couldn’t ask for help, even when she desperately needed it.

People who knew us both tell me that we’re alike, my mother and I. We have the same smile, the same laugh, the same mischievous sense of humor. We look alike and we even sort of talk alike. I’m grateful for all of it. But (I’m sorry, Mom), I’m also grateful for the ways that we’re not alike. I’m grateful that I’m able to set boundaries in order to protect myself, in ways that you couldn’t. I’m grateful that I’m strong enough to say no when something isn’t right for me. And I grateful that, though, like you, I’m strangely resistant to asking for help when I need it, I’m beginning to overcome that. I’m starting to ask. And I’m learning that when I ask, help tends to arrive, and it really does, well, help.

So on days like today – which are often – when I’m missing my Mom so badly that it threatens to overwhelm me, I try to hold on to what I know is true: my mother loved me, she wanted my happiness above all else, and she wouldn’t want me to use something like her not being here as an excuse to give up. She would want me to keep going. She would want me to be strong in ways that she couldn’t. She would want me to embrace my life.

Today marks two years since I lost the most important person in my life. Before I know it, it may be ten, twenty. But what time, what death, what grief can never wipe away are all the beautiful, generous gifts that my mother gave me. And on this day, two years hence, I pledge this gift to you, Mom: I promise to never stop pushing. I promise to take nothing for granted. I promise to be happy in every way that I can. And I promise to do all of these things, even when it’s hard. Even on days like today. Especially on days like today.

Thank you, Mom. I love you. I’m so grateful for everything you gave me.

Until next time, friends.

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We left Anchorage on a bleak, snowy day in late November. It was just after Thanksgiving, and just before my fifteenth birthday. I remember how bitterly cold it was. I remember snow-topped Atlas Van Lines moving trucks parked in the driveway in front of our house, a stately, three-story slate grey Alaskan chateau on Hidden Lane. I remember sulking, dragging my feet, not wanting to go. I remember little else.

The Spar

Come to think of it, I can’t even remember where we celebrated my birthday that year – 1995 – sandwiched as it was between Thanksgiving and settling into our new home in Olympia, WA. It’s funny how little I remember from that time. Mostly, I remember the weather: the Alaska deep freeze, the cold Olympia rain, the ice storm that hit with a force shortly after our arrival, the tree branches that froze and crackled and splintered throughout the night, littering the road and falling on power lines, knocking out our electricity. Our new house, situated as it was at the end of a long, narrow peninsula called Cooper Point Road, and then down a private, gravel, pothole-filled path with a sign at the top that warned ‘end of county road,’ was very literally in the middle of nowhere. Which meant that when the ice storm knocked out the power, it stayed out. For days.

And then there was Olympia itself. Upon crossing into the city limits, visitors are greeted by a sign bearing a red, white and blue shield in the form of stars and stripes, proudly proclaiming: ‘Welcome to Olympia, an All-America City.’ True? I suppose so. But mostly I remember Olympia as a small-ish Pacific Northwest town with a bit of an identity crisis. A place where state-workers, government bureaucracy, federal buildings and all of the other trappings of being the state capitol came together with the dreadlocked, hemp-wearing, Evergreen State College-attending hippies, the self-consciously artsy, delightfully quirky PNW hipsters, and the more affluent, old moneyed country club set – the ones who owned boats and waterfront homes and wintered in warmer climates.

Capitol Theater

When I arrived in Olympia in 1995, from what might as well have been a foreign country – Alaska – I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I was no newcomer to the Pacific Northwest – both of my parents grew up there and I’d spent nearly every summer in Seattle or at my Grandparents’ beach house in Allyn, WA – but Olympia was something else entirely. An odd, eccentric town where all these different and distinct segments of the population intersected, amidst a backdrop of gloom and rain, of tall trees and water-facing cafes and dirt roads to nowhere. I didn’t fit in at all, and yet, strangely, it was exactly where I belonged.

I remained in Olympia for less than four years, bailing as soon as I could to attend college in Los Angeles, and choosing to return only infrequently, on random summers and holidays. And though L.A. has now been my home for many years, there is something unshakeable about Olympia. It was so different than any place I’d ever been before, and so different from any place I’ve ever been since. For the Alaska girl used to the long dark winters where Christmas lights cast a soft glow against the snow, the endless summer nights near the solstice when the sun never seemed to go down, a place where you could go ice skating in your backyard and moose frequently roamed city streets, it represented total culture shock. And for the woman who sought bright lights and bigger things, who has traveled the world, and who made Los Angeles her home – with its vast expanse of freeways and smog and traffic and unnaturally beautiful people – Olympia remains a beacon, a reminder of a more innocent version of myself, a longing for a simpler, more offbeat, more authentic life.

Zoe Bday 5

On my last few visits to Olympia, I tried my best to recapture the good old days – the rainy afternoons passed journaling in indie coffeehouses, the outdoor concerts in Sylvester Park with its gazebo strung with white lights, the treasure hunts in the epic Goodwill on the corner of Cooper Point and Harrison, 90’s music blaring over the loudspeakers, the long walks around Capitol Lake, the beautiful boys in too-baggy clothes killing time at the skate park. I’ve tried my best to recapture the Olympia of old, but the truth is, it’s no longer the same. The magic of nostalgia that held me in its grip for so many years while I slogged away in gritty L.A. has withered in the face of cancer and alcoholism and mental illness and hospice. The lighthearted teenage memories of watching old movies at the Capitol Theater and dance parties and bingeing on late night french fries at The Spar now compete with doctors’ visits and funeral arrangements and sorting through the contents of my parents’ house.

The thing about my arrival in Olympia as a fourteen-going-on-fifteen year-old at the tail end of 1995 is that it was perfectly timed. It was so easy to be a teenager there. You didn’t have to work hard to manufacture the tragic angst you so desperately clung to as part of your identity; it was already baked into the cake with the gloomy rain-soaked skies and the tall trees and the grunge music and the drive-thru espresso stands with ironic names. But the thing I didn’t realize about that time in my life – the thing that I could only realize later, with perspective – is that it was actually beautiful. That I wasn’t really as dark or as moody or as tragic as I pretended to be, that I was only playing at it. It wouldn’t be until much later, when I was touched by actual tragedy, when grown up responsibilities eclipsed the teenage worries that had once seemed so heavy and oppressive, that I would truly understand the difference. And then, more than ever, would I long for those bygone Olympia days.

Until next time, friends.

Percival Landing Statues


I spent a lot of time this past Labor Day weekend glued to television coverage of the US Open. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found something soothing about the game of tennis. The rhythm of a long rally, the squeaking noise the shoes make as players scuffle across the court, the sotto voce commentary. But the main reason I can’t let a major tournament pass by without at least tuning in is because of my mother.

My mom played tennis throughout high school and college, and in her day, she was superb. Though I never got to witness her play when she was at the height of her game, I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen the trophies and awards she won, listened with rapt attention to the tale of the legendary match where she and her female doubles partner outplayed – and beat – the boys.

We are not Helpless we are women

Throughout my life, I was keenly aware that mom’s biggest regret was the fact that she didn’t pursue a pro career. She certainly wanted to, and from everything I understand, she was good enough to at least give it a shot. But her parents – both successful court reporters – were adamant that she choose a more conventional life, and they pushed her to attend law school. Mom didn’t push back, at least, not hard enough. She went. And she failed out – or dropped out, I was never sure – after her first year at Gonzaga. Mom ended up following in her parents’ footsteps and becoming a court reporter too. Her career was short-lived (she worked just a few years before marrying my dad and moving to Alaska, where she managed his law firm), and I’m not sure that she ever enjoyed it. She suffered from severe anxiety throughout much of her life, and she once confessed to me that she’d get so nervous about the pressure of the job that she’d often throw up before showing up for work.

The reminder of her unfulfilled dream was a constant companion throughout my childhood. It was present when we rose early on weekend mornings to watch breakfast at Wimbledon, present in her obsession with Chris Evert (her favorite player), present in the infamous screaming match she got into with my grandmother during a holiday dinner we hosted at my parents’ house in Olympia, during which years of my mom’s suppressed rage boiled to the surface and the only thing that kept my grandmother from storming out of the house was the ice storm swirling outside, making the roads impassable.

And it was especially present in the fact that my mom was constantly signing me up for tennis lessons, whether I wanted them or not. I was a good kid. Quiet, shy, polite, I earned straight A’s in school and generally didn’t rock the boat. I was my mom’s only child, and a tremendous source of pride for her. I felt the weight of that pride from an early age, and, not wanting to screw it up, I towed the line, and for the most part, stayed out of trouble.

Mom Tennis

A rare exception was one summer in Anchorage, when my tennis instructor called our house, concerned, because I hadn’t been showing up for my lessons. I was 11 or 12, old enough to walk by myself from our house on Hidden Lane to the tennis courts at a downtown recreational area called the Park Strip, and bratty enough to decide that I’d rather blow off my lessons in favor of killing time at Fifth Avenue Mall with my friends.

Busted, I confessed to my mom what I’d been doing. I felt my face flush with hot shame as I admitted lying to her, telling her that my lessons were going well when I was really hanging out at the food court with my buddies. I prepared for the storm of her anger – after all, I deserved it – but it didn’t come. Mom didn’t yell. It was much worse than that. She looked sad – almost as though she might cry – and so, so disappointed in me. It was as though by rejecting the sport that she loved so much in such a cavalier, spoiled, pre-teen way, I had destroyed her dream all over again. I had let my mom down. And it felt awful.

She never signed me up for tennis lessons again. I went on to dabble in various other sports – volleyball, softball, track and field – but I never got really good at any of them. In my heart of hearts, I was a nerd, a bookworm who loved making up stories, who loved poetry and art, who sang in the choir, who read Shakespeare and imagined myself a regal, corseted, high-born lady in Elizabethan England.

I don’t think my mom ever fully understood my decision to pursue a career in the arts. She didn’t feel the goose bumps I felt when sitting in a darkened movie theater, didn’t know the rush I experienced from standing on a stage in front of a live audience. She certainly didn’t understand the draw of Los Angeles, with its urban sprawl, and smog and traffic and crowds.

My mom and I were very different people with very different dreams. But I think the fact that she lived with the regret of giving up on hers also made her so fiercely protective of mine. Time and time again, she defended my choices to family members and friends who didn’t understand what the hell I was doing. She offered financial support when I struggled, which was often. She sent me flowers on every opening night. And when she did travel to Los Angeles to see me stand up on a stage and tell stories, she was so very proud. And she made sure everyone knew it. Especially me.

Mom frosting cake

I’ve spent the last two years overwhelmed by grief. First, in denial of it, pushing myself to ignore it, throwing myself into work, pretending it didn’t exist. Later, paralyzed by it, unable to make important decisions, unable to move forward with my life. Finally, lately, I’ve been succumbing to it, allowing it to wash over me, to consume me.

But it has only been very recently that I’ve begun to get angry. Angry for letting circumstances that are out of my control dictate my fate. Angry for acting like a victim, for feeling sorry for myself, for sleeping too much, for whining too much, for indulging in my vices too much. And mostly, angry for abandoning my fighting spirit.

Watching the US Open this past weekend made me miss my mom something fierce. But it also made me feel closer to her than I have in a long time. It made me pay attention to her ever-present voice in my ear, telling me to be as brave as she knows I can be, to stop moping, to get off the couch and to fight for my life. Watching the US Open made me remember that the greatest gift my mom ever gave me was her unwavering belief in me. It reminded me that the worst thing I can do – like that summer when I ditched my tennis lessons – is to let her down.

Sometimes it takes something as innocuous as a tennis tournament to remind us that our dreams are fragile, precious, ephemeral things, and if we don’t grab onto them, they can disappear. Many people don’t get to live their dreams, either because they’re afraid to, or because life throws obstacles in their way that they don’t think they can surmount.

I am one of the lucky ones. Despite circumstance, despite pain and trauma, despite grief, I have everything I need to live the life I want, and the only person standing in the way of that is me. And though my dreams might look different than they did when I was 18, that’s OK. Because I’m different, too. The thing that hasn’t changed – that has never changed – is my desire to stand on a stage, or on a set, or behind a camera, or in front of a computer, and tell stories. Stories that entertain, that inspire, stories that have the power to heal.

Thank you, mom, for reminding me how precious my dreams are. I promise that every day, I will continue to fight for them. I promise that I will never give up. I promise to do it for you, and most importantly, I promise to do it for me.

Until next time, friends.


The house on Cooper Point Road.


The last time I saw the house on Cooper Point Road, I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. I didn’t know that the night before would be the last time I’d sleep in that windowless basement bedroom with the lavender walls upon which the Titanic movie poster hung; the room with the cherry wood armoire topped by the commemorative Space Needle–shaped bottle from the 1964 World’s Fair and the two tall bookcases crammed with photo albums and novels that were required reading from my high school English classes.

I didn’t know it would be the last time that I’d stand on that expansive wooden deck, staring out at Budd Inlet, watching the boats and the barges pass by on their way to the Port of Olympia. I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d set eyes on that eyesore of a red oriental rug in the downstairs office, or the photograph of the sunset over Mt. Rainier that I took in the 11th grade that my mom framed and hung proudly near her bed, or the musty, cavernous garage containing the oil painting with a warped canvas, depicting me, my parents and our Cairn Terrier Duncan on a snowy Alaska day – painted by mom’s German friend Ernst, who shipped his canvasses wrapped in butcher paper and addressed in flowery letters to ‘Lady Annieleine,’ causing our Anchorage neighbors to wonder if my pretty, blue-eyed, blonde-haired mother with the delicate cheekbones and the gentle way descended from royal bloodlines.

I didn’t know that it would be the last time, though the thought had crossed my mind. In truth, thought wasn’t something I had much time for, not since arriving in Olympia a week earlier, after receiving the call from my sister Deirdre on Valentine’s Day morning that our Dad had passed away. I booked a flight to Sea-Tac and spent nearly four hours on an airport shuttle trying to get to the house on Cooper Point Road. With a bus full of passengers, multiple stops, and Friday afternoon gridlock, the journey out to that long, tree-lined peninsula, past the sign that warned ‘end of county road,’ and down the hill toward the house where my parents used to live might as well have been a journey to the end of the world.

When I finally arrived, there was a bottle of tequila and conversations about when the memorial in Medford, Oregon would be taking place. A decision that, apparently, hinged upon me, probably because my half siblings were exhausted and didn’t have any decision-making abilities left. I settled on a week from Saturday, thinking it made the most practical sense.

The next day, Matt and Marion went back to Anchorage, and Deirdre and I were alone – dad’s oldest and youngest – to sort out life in the house on Cooper Point Road. Time passed in a blur and shifted into some nebulous thing we labeled ‘the vortex.’ We arose each morning with the sun and assembled ourselves around the dining room table, making endless to-do lists and checking things off as we went. There were the mundane tasks – cancelling newspaper subscriptions, sorting through old CDs, selecting floral arrangements for the funeral – and the more oppressive ones: editing obituaries, inventorying personal items, picking up dad’s ashes from the funeral home.

I spent one entire day in my mother’s room, amassing piles of clothing and shoes and handbags and jewelry, trying some things on, but opting to donate almost everything. I filled eight 40-gallon black plastic garbage bags -all impossibly heavy to carry, but that I managed to anyway, almost due to sheer force of will – and delivered them to the Goodwill.

Before we knew it, a week had passed. We said goodbye to the house on Cooper Point Road on a dreary Friday morning. The airport shuttle was late picking us up, though I’d confirmed with them twice and given specific directions as to how to find the house, hidden away as it was in the Olympia woods. My brain swirled with worry – partially that we’d miss our flight – but mostly about the logistics of transporting the heavy square box containing dad’s ashes through airport security without incident.

There was so much to be preoccupied about that morning, that we didn’t realize until the Capitol Aeroporter dropped us off curbside at Sea-Tac that my sister had left one of her suitcases – the smaller one, containing goodies and gifts for her husband and kids – outside in the driveway of the house on Cooper Point Road, left to soak in the pouring rain.

As we boarded the Horizon Air turboprop bound for Medford, I stared out at the runway, rain streaming against the windows, and I thought about the fact that this would very likely be the last time I saw the house on Cooper Point Road. And in a flash, I felt at once devastated and relieved. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it again. After all, both of my parents had died in that house, and it contained so many sad memories crammed into such a small space of time. And yet, I knew what never going back meant: no more holiday parties watching boats decked out in Christmas lights lazily cruising Budd Inlet, no more of my mom’s famous ginger snap cookies, no more watching baseball or football games with dad and yelling insults at the opposing team, no more summers soaking up the sun on the deck with majestic views of Mt. Rainier, no more launching bottle rockets into the bay on the 4th of July, no more visitors dropping by via boat and anchoring next door at the Beverly Beach dock. As my uncle Glenn said in a numb, flat tone when I called to tell him that my dad was gone: ‘It’s all over, isn’t it?’ Yes, it was. It was over. Olympia was no longer my home.

As quickly as those thoughts entered, they left, to make room for other thoughts. I was tired, overwrought, consumed by the present moment. As we taxied down the rain-soaked runway, I only briefly entertained the idea that this was indeed the end of something, before other thoughts – flying into bad weather on a small plane that seemed older than me, dad’s funeral mass the next morning, the heavy, square plastic box full of ashes secured above our heads in the overhead bin – intruded. I couldn’t possibly have anticipated what was to come next. I didn’t know anything with certainty, not any more. I didn’t know this would be the last time. But as the engines roared and we ascended into the cloudy Seattle sky, I thought that it might be.

Until next time, friends.



Alaska Collage

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” -Maya Angelou

I want to go home. The problem is, I’m not sure where that is. It’s not Olympia any more, not since my parents died and we sold their house and I packed up my high school bedroom with its lavender walls and blue plastic glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. It’s not Anchorage, where I spent my first fourteen years making happy childhood memories amid snowball fights and sledding and ice skating on Chester Creek. And despite taking up residence for nearly fifteen years in Los Angeles, it’s not really L.A. either.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home lately, what it is, what it means, how I define it. Is it where we’re from, where we grew up? Is it where our family is? Is it where we feel the warmest and safest? Or is it simply where we live now?

I haven’t felt at home in a while. The last two years of my life have been an intense period during which everything familiar has been ripped away, some of it by circumstance, some of it by my own design.

I have a new home now. It’s still a handful of miles from the ocean but that doesn’t keep it from feeling like the sea. It’s bright and airy with lots of natural light, beautifully landscaped grounds and a patio large enough to do yoga on, a patio that’s begging to be populated by plants. I’ve decorated it in a way that’s very Sarah – furniture made from light-colored wood and textiles in every shade of blue imaginable: teal, turquoise, navy, cerulean, aquamarine. It’s serene and lovely here, and a sense of calm pervades. I feel grounded in this place, and yet I can’t settle in. I can’t shake the feeling that my charming little cottage is a stopgap on the way to somewhere else, some destination yet unknown or undecided.

My whole life, I’ve always gravitated toward the water. Whether it was Cook Inlet in Anchorage or Puget Sound in Olympia or the Pacific Ocean, being near a body of water – something expansive – has always made me feel secure, like I’m not stuck. As though, through a waterway, I’m connected to the rest of the world and if I need to, I can stage a quick getaway. I’m not sure where this feeling comes from, only that I’ve always had it.

PNW Collage

Given that, I suppose it’s not surprising that upon moving to L.A., I fell in love with Santa Monica. I’d go to the ocean as often as I could, taking long walks through Palisades Park, daydreaming with my headphones on. One building in particular captured my imagination immediately, a gorgeous Spanish style manse on Ocean Avenue called El Tovar by the Sea. I’d imagine that when I’d finally made it big, I would buy the penthouse suite and sweeping views of the Pacific would be the backdrop to the glamorous and exciting life that I’d lead there.

It’s funny how your dreams evolve as you get older. While I still love visiting Santa Monica – breathing in the sea air, taking long walks in the park – I don’t want to live there anymore. Not even if someone handed me that penthouse suite on a silver platter. It’s not that I no longer daydream, but the hard won wisdom that’s come with age and the certainty that nothing is guaranteed has caused my dreams to shift and become less pie in the sky, more grounded in the real and the familiar. There’s something about El Tovar by the Sea, about Santa Monica, about Los Angeles in general that has become too sterile, too perfect, too high atop a pedestal, too held at a distance.

These days when I meditate on the idea of home, I think about where I fit in, where I’m allowed to be myself, where people ‘get’ me. I think about what’s most important: the best place to pursue career success, or the place with the greatest opportunities to grab happiness? And is it possible that those two things can intersect, that they can coexist in one space?

I used to think that there was only one path, only one place, for me. I used to be pretty dogmatic about it. But now I wonder if that’s true. Maybe in the words of Joseph Campbell, it’s time to let go of the life I’ve planned in order to have the one that’s waiting for me. Maybe I can have everything I want, but maybe the road to get there is different than I thought. Maybe it’s simpler, easier, more connected to my past. Maybe, like Dorothy, happiness has always been in my own backyard.

If home is where the heart is, then tomorrow I’m heading home. I’m spending ten days in the Pacific Northwest, dividing time between a waterfront parcel of land on Grapeview Loop Road in Allyn, WA – known affectionately as ‘the beach’ – and Vancouver, B.C. The former is as idyllic as its name implies. It’s the place I came of age, spending every summer swimming in Case Inlet, beachcombing and building bonfires under the stars. The latter is where my big sister lives with her family, and it’s the place that has consistently been my favorite destination for fun and laughter, a picturesque urban center with an international flavor that never ceases to inspire me. The bridge between these two places is Seattle, the city where I was born, the city where my Mom spent many happy days and that she loved so much, the city that I spent many happy days in with her, the city that always makes me feel so connected to her. On my way from point A to point B, I’ll swing through the Emerald City for a quick stay over, just to say hello. It would be impossible not to.

There’s this song I recently discovered – ‘Coming Home,’ by Storyman, an indie band from Ireland. One of the lyrics is stuck in my brain, perpetually on repeat: ‘home is where your heart meets mine.’ It’s simple, and it rings true. But which home? And whose heart?

I haven’t quite figured that out yet. And so, I’ll keep looking.

Until next time, friends.

LA Collage

Thirty days.


Today begins day one of my thirty-day booze-free detox. I haven’t done one of these in over two years – not since before all the very sad things started happening. To be honest, I’ve been afraid to. Throughout it all – the sickness, the never-ending stream of bad news, the deaths, the impossibly hard jobs, the rain-soaked and depressing Olympia visits – the wine or the whiskey or the martini was my reward at the end of another long day, to take the edge off, to help numb the pain. I gave myself permission to drink more than I knew I should, because my emotions were so very intense and I just needed something, anything, to feel better.

But now it’s time to take a break. I’ve come to a safer place in my life, a healthier place, and so it’s time to take away my most reliable crutch and stand on my own two feet. I need to do this for many reasons: to get healthier, to sleep better, to be more productive, to save money. And most importantly, to prove that I can.

I’m very nervous about how this is going to go. For the first time since my Mother’s death and all the deaths that followed, I’m actually sitting in my grief and processing it, rather than running from it. I’ve accepted – or more accurately, I am working toward acceptance of – my new reality, and I am actively taking steps to take charge of and improve my life. But I’m still fragile, and I’m scared that with nothing to help dull the pain, my emotions will overwhelm me. I’m feeling so much these days that the thought of sitting in these feelings alone, raw, unaided, is really frightening. What if I can’t cope? What if I fall apart? What if I cry for thirty days straight?

These fears are exactly the reason why I need to do this. This will be my opportunity to turn away from what’s easy and develop other, healthier coping mechanisms like exercise and meditation and writing. And as much as I’m fearful, I’m excited about it too.  My past alcohol-free detoxes have given way to periods of intense creativity and intense clarity, and the timing couldn’t be better because I have at least three projects in the works that demand my focus, including a very autobiographical partially-written screenplay.

To help keep me honest, I’ll be chronicling my progress over on Extra Dry Martini’s Facebook page. Just a short check in each day to let you know how the month is going.

So here’s to thirty days. Here’s to a healthier me. Here’s to taking away the crutch. And here’s to the fact that the next time I raise a glass, it will be to toast my dear friends at their wedding reception in late June, wearing a new dress paid for with money that didn’t go toward whiskey or Pinot Noir or the occasional pack of Marlboro Lights (yes, I’m giving those up too).

Here we go.

Until next time, friends.


Noir Lemon Melon

I like to fight. I can’t help it. My Irish father used to delight in telling his kids that our surname Kelly meant ‘troublesome’ in Gaelic. He’d laugh as he said it, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Dad was a trial lawyer, and by nature, he liked to argue. At family gatherings, my older siblings would often refuse to take the bait, preferring to pursue the path of diplomacy. Not me. I gave as good as I got. Frequent sparring became a central part of Dad’s and my relationship, and he’d pick fights with me on purpose, knowing that more often than not, I’d rise to the occasion.

When Dad was sick and living alone in his home in Olympia, he became even more stubborn and set in his ways. He was maddening, impossible. Everything was a negotiation. We wanted him to be in hospice care, he wanted to die alone at home. We tried to get him a live-in caretaker; he absolutely refused to have a stranger – no matter how qualified or permissive or kind – in his house.

And so it went, the battles. As Dad’s health declined, he labeled me the ‘aggressive’ one. My sisters were much sweeter, nicer, more patient, while I still fought Dad at nearly every turn. And I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it.

One of my last visits to Olympia coincided with an epic football match up between our alma maters: Dad’s beloved Oregon Ducks against my USC Trojans. Dad not only refused to watch the game with me because I wasn’t rooting for his team, he went so far as to banish me to another room, where I watched the game, sequestered away from him where he couldn’t hear me cheer if USC scored a touchdown. While my sister Deirdre shuttled back and forth between the two rooms, Dad and I watched and rooted against each other in our separate corners. At halftime, he abruptly shuffled into the kitchen to make himself a drink, barked ‘exciting game,’ and then retreated back to his den.

It’s no wonder I take sports so seriously. It’s no wonder I’m so competitive. I learned it from my Dad. I learned how to hold my own in fiery, contentious arguments. I learned that fighting with style and eloquence and passion is more effective than fighting fair. And I learned that the person who gets the last word usually wins, and so I always, always try to get the last word. A quality that not everyone finds endearing.

There’s a reason I’m drawn to the film noir genre and co-produce a noir play festival: I love to play bitches. The acting roles I get the most excited about are damaged, edgy, tough, dark and twisted dames who like to break the rules and who will claw and scrape for what they want. I may look like the girl next door, but I’d much rather be Lady Macbeth. After all, it’s a lot more fun to step into someone else’s skin if you’re able to take bolder risks and bigger chances than you’re allowed to in real life, and you’re not bound by the societal expectation to play nice.

There’s a part of me that understands that I have to follow the rules, and there’s a part of me that wants to break stuff, just to watch it shatter. I want to light things on fire and watch them burn. I want to crash the car, to jump off the cliff, to push the limits of what I can get away with.

I like to fight. I like to win. It’s why I’m still here. It’s why I won’t give up. And it’s why, sometimes, I live up to my last name.

Until next time, friends.

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