The season of waiting.

“Perhaps the reason you are drawn to flowers is not only for their outer beauty, but because they remind you beautiful things will bloom after the longest seasons of waiting.”

– Morgan Harper Nichols

That quote is from an art print I recently bought and hung over my desk. It’s part of a trio of prints by the artist and poet Morgan Harper Nichols that are now affixed to my wall, arranged in a diagonal cascade of color against what was once a blank white space. The top one features bright brushstrokes and reads, “Note to self: you can do this.” The print I quoted at the beginning of this blog, with white typeface against a backdrop of golden yellow, sits proudly in the middle. And at the bottom, one word stands out across a swirl of seashell pink and ocean blue: “Breathe.”

That’s what I am currently trying to do: breathe through a season of waiting. It hasn’t been easy. I have felt heavy much of the time. I have been creatively stagnant. I haven’t written or published anything new on this blog in over three months, a fact which has made me feel more guilty with each passing day.

What have I been doing with myself? In this season, time has been hard to track. As spring slid into summer, the hot, humid Savannah days have blurred together to the point that they’re almost indistinguishable.

The months of April and May found me clawing my way through my second quarter of graduate school. Like every university everywhere, Covid-19 thrust the Savannah College of Art and Design into a virtual learning environment virtually overnight, with lectures, discussions and interactions with my professors and classmates all mediated through a computer screen. With university facilities and local businesses shut down, there were no libraries or coffee shops to escape to, and I spent eight to twelve hours a day in my room with the door closed, trying not to go insane. Between crafting digital media copy (one class) and reading about public relations strategy (another class), I devoured New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings and daydreamed about a not-so-distant past, when I was just a subway ride away from the lobby of a cozy hotel in the West Village, or the vaulted ceilings of the Rose Room at the New York Public Library. During one of many socially distanced walks under a canopy of live oak trees, I watched teenagers throw frisbees in Forsyth Park and fantasized about making a jail break. But where would I go? There was nowhere safe to run to. There was nothing to do but stay.

If there’s a word to describe how I’ve felt these last few months, it would be “suspended.” As outbreaks of Covid-19 continue to spike in various cities and states across the United States, plans have been put on hold. Friends will not be visiting, and I will not be making my summer pilgrimage across the country to the rocky shores of Case Inlet. It’s the first time in many years that I won’t spend part of this season looking out across that silvery slip of water from the picture windows of my grandfather’s house. My grandfather’s house has, in fact, been rented. By people I don’t know, but whom my uncle assures me are very nice.

As I write this blog, I’m keenly aware of how self-pitying it sounds. To be honest, fear and loathing of my own self-pity is what has kept me silent for so long in the first place. So I feel compelled to tell you that in spite of my complaints, I know how lucky I am. That my life is good and my problems – while real to me – are tiny and insignificant compared to what so many others are currently suffering through.

I recently had a long talk with a close girlfriend who has been a rock though some of the most difficult moments of my last decade. She supported me though the deaths of my parents, supplied me with endless mugs of herbal tea and an oceanside sanctuary to rest my head when I left my marriage, and counseled me though heartbreaks I thought I’d never heal from. During our conversation, she remarked how hard it must be for me to have to stay in one place, when my M.O. for the last many years was to hop on a plane whenever things got uncomfortable. She was right: travel has been my balm through pain and grief. It has been both a needed distraction and a tool for avoidance. “Maybe being grounded for a while will be good for you,” she suggested.

It doesn’t feel good, but as much as I can, I’ve been trying to look at this season of waiting as an opportunity. An opportunity to heal from the things I haven’t and to prepare for the next, more grown-up phase of my life. To that end, for the first time in almost five years, I decided to go back into therapy.

It was surprisingly easy to find a counselor, given the resources provided to me through SCAD. During the slow summer months, I’ve been able to schedule weekly sessions – for free – with a licensed therapist. And though – like seemingly everything else these days – they’re conducted on Zoom, the sessions have been a lifeline to me, helping me navigate both the uncertainty of the current moment, and all that lies ahead.

There is beauty in the waiting. There is pain too. And amidst all that is unknown, there is the conviction that something has irrevocably shifted. That whoever we will be on the other side of this tenuous moment we are all living through, we won’t be the same.

And maybe that’s OK.

Until next time, friends.

Canceled.

It was Thursday, March 12th. The last day of winter quarter at Savannah College of Art and Design. I was bleary-eyed from lack of sleep but full of adrenaline, racing to finish one last assignment and get it uploaded to an online discussion board before my eleven AM class. A stack of essays marked with my scribbled comments sat beside my backpack, waiting to be shoveled inside.

And then the email came. I saw the white notification pop up on my iPhone screen, and before I read it, I knew. The heaviness that had been hanging in the air for the last several days settled onto my shoulders like a weight.

The message was short and to the point. It said simply:

Courses at all SCAD locations to be offered online only for spring quarter. More information to follow later today.

I just sat there, staring at my phone. Even though I’d been following the news reports about the coronavirus, up until that point it had still felt like something far away. Something I wasn’t quite sure how seriously I should be taking. After all, life in Savannah hadn’t changed that much. Tourists still flocked to the bars on River Street and filled in the old town squares. Celebrations for the week-long booze fest of St. Patrick’s Day had already begun, promising more drunken mayhem the closer we moved toward the holiday. The previous night, my boyfriend and I had met his aunt and uncle for dinner at The Olde Pink House, an upscale, multi-level restaurant in an elegant southern mansion. The mood was festive. Every table was full.

I was sitting in my morning class when the next email came. All in-person classes and public events during SCAD’s spring quarter, including graduation, were going to be canceled. Academic buildings, libraries, gyms, dining facilities, and most residence halls would be closed. Campus was effectively shutting down, effective immediately.

The rest of March 12th passed in a haze. I should have been happy: it was the end of the quarter, and I had made it through. I had made it through the first, grueling, ten weeks of graduate school. Instead, confusion ruled the day. Confusion and mild hysteria. The corridors of Arnold Hall were crammed with students huddled in corners and pushed up against windows, talking on their cell phones in hushed voices. Some students were visibly upset, some were crying. All of them wondering, “What now?”

My first class let out early, so I walked to a nearby cafe, sat at the bar, and ordered two tacos for lunch. Outside, the sky was bright blue, the weather warm. It didn’t feel like a global pandemic was on the horizon. I scrolled through the news on my phone and saw that the U.S. president had issued a travel ban to and from Europe, sending airports into chaos. More travel restrictions were imminent. I texted my friend Vim, in California. I had been planning to fly to Oakland the next day to visit him and his wife Sharon for my spring break. “Everything just got crazy here,” I wrote. “I’m not sure I should travel. I’ll call you later?”

By the time I got home, canceling spring break felt like the only logical thing to do. As I watched via cable news, events in the outside world began to change, and quickly. The San Francisco Bay Area issued a shelter in place order. Los Angeles and New York closed down their bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, in Savannah, my yoga studio stayed open, and tourists continued to take advantage of the city’s open container law, ordering cocktails to go and strolling down Broughton Street with plastic cups in hand. But time pressed on. The news turned darker. And little by little, Savannah started to catch up.

First, on March 19th, the mayor issued a state of emergency, closing public beaches, fitness centers, movie theaters, and all bars that didn’t serve food. Next came the official shelter in place order on March 24th, forcing all restaurants that hadn’t already closed to switch to takeout only, and effectively shutting down all non-essential businesses. Both of those orders were well behind those of the cities hardest hit by the pandemic, but still felt progressive compared to much of the rest of the south.

Savannah House

It has been three weeks since I received that initial email from SCAD. My extended, largely quarantined spring break is over, and my new, virtual, spring quarter has begun. Life looks a lot different than it did three weeks ago, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. My emotions swing wildly from day to day, and from moment to moment. There are worries about my west coast family and the friends I left behind in New York. There is gratitude for my spacious condo, and relief that I’m no longer living in a cramped Manhattan apartment at a time when everyone is shuttered inside. There is the alienation of living somewhere new, far away from most of the people I love, in a part of the country where the prevailing worldview is sharply different from my own. There is the aching for home and for the familiar. There is the claustrophobia of not knowing how long this quarantine will last.

And then there is anger. So much anger that frankly, it catches me by surprise. Some of my anger has been fueled by cable news, by watching elected officials play politics when they should be helping people and saving lives. But the large volume of corona-related content swirling around the internet is what has triggered me the most. Every day, my news feed is a barrage of essays and social media posts telling me about all the things I should be grateful for, all the ways I should be using my time productively, all the “virtual” experiences I should be having. Everywhere you look, there are too many people, with too much time on their hands, trying to spin this pandemic into a positive experience. It’s exhausting. It’s irritating as hell.

That might sound extreme. Negative. Mean-spirited, even. At first, I didn’t want to admit how genuinely ticked off I was by all the people insisting I take a glass is half full approach to this quarantine. But then I realized something: the anger I’m feeling is really grief.

It’s not the kind of grief I’m used to. Not the kind I’ve experienced before. I’m lucky enough to be able to say I don’t know anyone who has died from the coronavirus (and I hope that I never do). But all of this insistence on positive thinking reminds me of the worst, most unhelpful things people said to me after my parents died. Things like “there will be a silver lining to all of this,” and “everything happens for a reason.” For the record, the next time someone tells you “everything happens for a reason,” when something really shitty happens to you, you have my permission to punch them in the face.

There is no “right” way to feel right now. It’s weird and unfamiliar and scary as hell. And the scariest thing about it is the sheer number of questions we don’t have answers to. No one knows how long we’ll have to stay at home, or how many of us will get sick, or how many businesses and individuals will be financially decimated in the process. What will life look like when all of this is finally over? We simply don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: if you’re like most people, you’re probably grieving something right now. It might be something small, like a vacation you had to cancel. It might be something larger, like the loss of your job or your income. Or, you might be one of the millions of people struggling with depression, adrift and alone in this sea of self-isolation.

Whatever it is that you’re feeling, the important thing is not to judge yourself for feeling it. Yes, you can always find someone else who is struggling more, someone who has it worse than you during this time of crisis. But playing the comparison game is not helpful. We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. We’re all grieving something. And admitting the difficulty in that doesn’t make you a bad or a selfish person. It just makes you human.

So, do the things that bring you comfort. If you want to use this time to write the next great American novel, or learn another language, or get into the best shape of your life, go right ahead. But you don’t have to. You could also call a friend. Or go for a walk. Or simply get through the day.

I’ll be right here, getting through the day alongside you.

Until next time, friends.

Savannah Sunset

Starland.

It was early evening by the time I arrived at the building on Drayton Street. I gave my Lyft driver the gate code, he punched it in, and heavy iron doors swung open to let us inside. I’d only been there once before – on a Monday morning in December – and the place looked totally different in darkness. Long, ominous shadows stretched across the parking lot as we wound our way toward the back of the complex.

It wasn’t the type of place you could easily find if you didn’t know where to look. My apartment and its five neighboring units were classified as live-work spaces: airy, high-ceilinged, industrial lofts with unassuming eggshell façades and a stripe of steel blue across their midsections. Two of the units had storefronts facing Drayton Street (one belonged to an acupuncture therapist, the other a waxing studio), but their signage was understated, and didn’t reveal that just beyond the heavy iron gates there were actual people, living actual lives.

My landlord’s son – who lived next door and who was supposed to let me in – had stopped answering my texts. “I’m here!” I typed cheerfully as we drove through the gate, but he didn’t reply. I arrived to find his apartment eerily quiet, with all its lights off.

“You don’t have to wait,” I told the driver, as he unloaded my luggage into the parking lot. “I’m sure he’ll be back any minute.” “It’s no problem,” he said. “I want to make sure you get in OK.”

I knew he was just being polite, but his answer annoyed me. I was tired from the move, the long travel day, and the jumble of thoughts swimming around in my brain, and the last thing I wanted was to stand around awkwardly in a dark parking lot with some stranger. “Just go,” I thought, looking down at my phone again and silently pleading for the text that would rescue me. No text came, but suddenly, something else broke through the quiet evening: the sharp blare of a horn. The noise repeated again, and then again, growing louder and sharper with each subsequent blast. The driver looked at me, a question in his eyes. “Freight train!” I yelled, pointing to the tracks running just beyond the parking lot where we stood.

“That’s loud!” He yelled back, as the train chugged past us. “Does it come through here often?!?”

I shrugged. “Two or three times a day, I think. But the noise doesn’t last for very long.”

He raised a skeptical eyebrow but said nothing, probably because he didn’t feel like yelling. I looked down at my phone again: still no message. I sighed. “I appreciate you waiting with me,” I told him, “But really, you can go. I’ll be fine.”

“Well alright, if you’re sure,” he said, already walking toward his car. “Welcome to Savannah.”

I’ve been here for three weeks now. Three weeks in which time has simultaneously been speeding by and standing still. After I gained access to my apartment (my neighbor, as it turned out, had fallen asleep, which seems a miracle, given the train), I’d barely put sheets on the bed before I went to grad school orientation, picked up my ID badge, and bought a stack of textbooks at the campus bookstore. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I arrived in Savannah, and my life changed overnight. And ever since that first day, I’ve been on a treadmill, trying to keep up.

I’m sure there will come a time in the not-too-distant-future when I come up for air. When I get a Georgia driver’s license, and a car, and start exploring the southeastern coast and the world outside of graduate school. My sanity demands it. But for the moment, most of my time in Savannah is confined to Starland, the quirky midtown neighborhood where I live. Starland’s vibe is young and artsy, populated by enough hip eateries, cool watering holes, and fair-trade coffee houses that it feels like someone took Portland, Oregon, and plunked it down in the middle of the south.

If I have to be stuck without a car, there are worse places. I’m six blocks from Arnold Hall, SCAD’s writing building, where I have all of my classes. In Starland, I can walk to dinner, to coffee, to yoga class, to the local art store, and to a gas station/convenience mart that’s the closest thing I’ve found to a New York City bodega. I can go days without leaving this neighborhood, which, since most of my time is devoted to writing essays and reading large volumes of text, is pretty darn convenient. And though I haven’t seen all of Savannah, I feel pretty confident in saying that fate has already landed me in the most “Sarah” neighborhood in this city.

On the one hand, I wish I could have done the move differently. I wish it hadn’t been such a mad, crazy scramble to get out of New York and that I’d had more time to say goodbye to the people and places of that city. I wish I’d arrived in Savannah with a cushion of time to simply adjust, to do all the life stuff required to make a place feel like home, before entering into a rigorous graduate program that leaves little time for anything other than classes and homework.

But on the other hand, I think it’s probably best I didn’t have time to get “ready” for this, or to think about all the things I’d be giving up to become a full-time student. If I had, I would have found a million reasons not to do it.

There’s so much about life that’s hard right now. But there’s also something else: an unshakeable feeling that all I have is this moment. And in this moment, I’m where I’m supposed to be, and doing what I’m supposed to do.

And that, despite the train tracks running through my backyard, is a pretty good feeling.

Until next time, friends.

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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