Savannah.

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

Tybee Island

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

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

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

Forsyth Park

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

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

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

Bridge over the Savannah River

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

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

Architecture in the historic district

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

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

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

Mercer House

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

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

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

Until next time, friends.

River Street

Graceland.

I’ve been taking a road trip in my dreams. It starts at Elvis Presley’s Memphis home, Graceland, and then continues on to Nashville, Atlanta, and Savannah, Georgia. All of these places – with the exception of Graceland – are places I’ve been. But I’m not the one taking this mythical journey. Instead, the travelers are a young couple who live inside of a new play I’m working on; a duo who meets and falls in love in the space of a few hours, and who – drunk on whiskey – decide to drive until they reach the ocean, because the girl has never seen the Atlantic, and because, two weeks prior, her mother committed suicide.

The play, tentatively titled Closing Time at Graceland, was originally slated to be just a ten-minute, one-scene piece; part of an evening of Elvis-inspired short plays that a friend is producing this summer. But the more time I’ve been spending with the characters – examining their histories, their hopes and dreams, the way their lives become irrevocably enmeshed – the more I realize that their story can’t be contained within ten pages. Theirs is a story of heartbreak and hope, a story about the choices we make and the lives we almost live, a story that – though it’s uncomfortable to admit – intersects with my own.

I’m currently engaged in the process of reinventing my life, or at least, I’m trying to. I’m looking at everything from where I live, to the way I earn money, to how I evaluate my worth in the world. It is a process that is slow, arduous, and humbling, and some of the questions I’m asking myself are painful ones. But I am determined to travel the distance between the person I’ve always been and the person who I know that I can be. And that road is a difficult one. I am impatient, but I also know that meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t come easy or cheap.

Perhaps that is the reason why this new story has taken such a hold of me, and is insisting that I write it. It’s certainly not the most convenient time to begin something new. I’m still very much invested in my play War Stories, and in doing the work necessary to transfer that show – and likely, myself – to New York. And then there’s the pressing need to make money, and the process of trying to sell my skills to potential employers. There are essays to write, bios to craft, portfolios to build, resumes to refine.

I suppose it’s little wonder, then, that detaching from the tedium of research and resume formatting and disappearing into the fictional drama of a passionate love story is enthralling. And perhaps, at this time of profound soul searching and uncomfortable change, I want to look back before I can move forward. Perhaps I want to remember the girl who, at twenty-four, took her own road trip through the Southeastern United States, who wandered through ivy-covered old town squares and dipped her toes in the Atlantic for the first time, and felt like everything she dreamed of was within reach.

Or maybe I’m doing what I often do when writing fiction with parallels to my own life: maybe I’m trying to write my way to a better ending. One that, if not happy, at least offers some resolve.

Whatever the reason this story has taken such a hold of me, one thing is clear: I won’t be leaving Graceland any time soon.

Until next time, friends.

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