Belief.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m standing elbow to elbow with fellow sports fans in a dark, crowded bar in Culver City. We’re an army attired in athletic gear, a sea of blue and green about a hundred strong . OK, I’m only guessing about the head count; it’s whatever the fire marshal has deemed to be the maximum number of people that are allowed to pack into this joint. The mood is decidedly despondent. The DJ, who’s been placed in charge of morale, finishes spinning the Sublime song, “I’ve Seen Better Days,” and asks the cheerless crowd, “Does anybody know any good jokes?”

This NFC Championship game has been a grim one for Seahawks fans. Russell Wilson, our typically unflappable, playmaking quarterback, the guy who always seems to get better when the moment gets bigger, has just, in the biggest game of the season, thrown an unprecedented fourth interception. There are just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and we’re down by twelve points. This game is all but lost, and with it, our once bright and glittering hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in as many years to try to once again capture the coveted Lombardi Trophy. Our spectacular late season winning streak is coming to a very unspectacular end. Anybody know any good jokes, indeed.

templm_LAR1212--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

And then, the improbable happens. Our offense, which has been stagnant for nearly the entire game, springs to life. The Hawks launch a quick scoring drive, culminating in Russell Wilson taking the ball himself into the end zone for a touchdown. Our quarterback, our receivers and our beast of a running back are suddenly, inexplicably, playing like themselves again.

Still. There are only two minutes left and we’re down by five. All Green Bay has to do is recover the onside kick and they’ll put the game away, punching their ticket to the Super Bowl. The entire bar – full of mostly Pacific Northwest expats – holds its collective breath. Our kicker – Steven Hauschka – launches the ball into the air . . . and in the fracas that ensues, a navy blue jersey comes down with it. Oh my god – the Seahawks have done the unthinkable. They’ve recovered the onside kick! The crowd inside Backstage Bar emits a thunderous roar. Strangers – united by love of team – embrace each other. Eyes – including mine – fill with tears, sensing the enormity of what has just occurred.

If you follow sports at all, you know what happens next. Our running back Marshawn – Beast Mode – Lynch runs for a touchdown, Russell Wilson floats a Hail Mary of a two-point conversion that somehow, some way, finds Luke Willson in the end zone, the game goes into overtime and the Seahawks march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown. Improbable miracle after improbable miracle, culminating with what no one thought possible just a few minutes prior: the Seahawks are heading back to the Super Bowl.

Later that day, I send a text message to a friend and fellow Hawks fan, berating him for prematurely admitting defeat, for giving up when the chips were down and the game appeared lost. “Where would we be if our quarterback thought like you?” I joke. “Well, Russell Wilson is a Christian,” came the response from my friend, an atheist. “And Christians just believe.”

temp20150118_SEAHAWKS_GREENBAY_PHOTOBLOG_16--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

Huh. Christians just believe. Is that all there is to it? It is true that Russell Wilson is a devout Christian who speaks openly and often about his faith. It is also true that after the Seahawks’ victory, Wilson, overcome with emotion, wept openly and thanked God during an interview with sideline reporter Erin Andrews.  Religious faith certainly plays a role in his ability to persist in the face of overwhelming obstacles. But what about other forms of belief – like belief in self and in one’s own ability to persevere? Where does that come from? And where does belief spring from for those of us who don’t possess an abundance of (or any) religious devotion, but who remain equally resilient in the face of crisis? What about those of us who don’t attend church, but still think that life is made up of more than just a string of random coincidences?

For most of my life, I’ve been both an unflagging optimist and a religious skeptic. And I never thought there was anything weird about that. I don’t think you have to be a “believer” in order to believe, nor do I think you have to be religious to have faith in something that can’t be proven. But the game did leave me wondering about the concept of belief. For example, why was it so easy for me to have faith in my team, to not give up on them even when the situation appeared desperate, and yet at the same time, so difficult for me to cultivate those same beliefs in myself?

These last few years, circumstances have given me plenty of reasons to abandon my optimism. Life has knocked me down and kicked me in the shins. Often, I’ve felt that I’ve had no reason to hope, other than the fact that hope itself exists.

tempCST1_MG_1995H--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

And while I’ve maintained my sense of hopefulness, what I realized during the Seahawks’ improbable NFC Championship win – and this is going to sound totally crazy to all the non-sports fans out there – is that, unlike my team, I haven’t honestly believed that things are going to get better for me. I’ve spent so much time in crisis mode that I’ve become used to just surviving, to just getting through it. And on some level, I think I believed that surviving was the best I could hope for. But – if you’re still with me – my wacky, football-induced epiphany is that when it comes to life, the mere act of surviving is not enough. Staying in the game is not enough. If you want to win, you have to take the big chances, because the big rewards only come when you take the big risks. The Seahawks’ come from behind victory was a direct result of taking those types of risks, like Russell Wilson throwing a deep ball down the field to Jermaine Kearse – a receiver he had targeted four times prior, with all four passes resulting in interceptions. The evidence would suggest throwing that pass was a mistake, but Wilson’s belief – in himself, in his teammate, in God, in the playbook, whatever – gave him the confidence that this time, in the 11th hour when the game was on the line, he would complete the pass and win the game.

I’m not saying that because of a great football victory, I’m going to go out and get religion. But what the game did do was awaken something in me that had been long been dormant: an idea about the miraculous, resilient, mysterious nature of the human spirit, about the unquantifiable x factor that exists within all of us, and in the ability to trust in something that can’t be seen or proven but that still, we somehow know to be true. I may have ambivalence around the big GOD question, but when given the choice between the idea that life is random chance or composed of a little bit of magic, I choose magic. Every. Time.

Sometimes a sporting event is simply just a game. And sometimes, it’s so much more. Sometimes it reminds you – in small moments and in big ones – how you want to live.

It’s going to be one exciting Super Bowl.

Until next time, friends.

535954_10204335753887188_6135694579594893236_n

Extra Dry Martini.

Main blog photo chrome filter

My name is Sarah, and this is my blog. I’ve been quite a few things in my life – an actress, a producer, a director, a publicist, a sports fanatic (go Hawks), a photo stylist, an amateur vocalist, a lover of fine wine and strong coffee, a world traveler with a serious case of wanderlust – but through it all, I’ve always, always been a writer.

Coming of age in the 1990s, I grew up watching the Today Show, and my greatest ambition was to be the next Katie Couric. After writing articles for my school paper and a brief stint anchoring my high school news show (if that footage is lurking out there somewhere, someone for the love of god, burn it), I entered USC as a Broadcast Journalism major. But getting cast in student plays and a semester in London immersing myself in the world of West End theatre ignited the spark of my performance bug, and I set off on a different path.

Yet through it all, writing has remained a vital part of my life. Whether for artistic purposes – penning plays, solo performance monologues, sketches, short screenplays – or to make money – copywriting, branded social media content, press releases – the pen, the notepad and the keyboard and I have never spent very much time apart.

When I began this blog in early 2012, I didn’t have a clear direction of where I wanted to go with it. I only knew that I’d lived through some incredible moments and I wanted to share my stories in a way that was funny, entertaining, and (hopefully), moving. I started with the name, Extra Dry Martini, and its tagline, Straight Up With a Twist: a cheeky take on my favorite cocktail, a tip of the hat to my blunt Sagittarian nature and my edgy, sarcastic sense of humor, and a thinly-veiled attempt to position myself as a female 007.

But life, as it’s wont to do, had other plans. Shortly after launching this blog, life took me on an unexpected and – frequently – painful journey. I now have more material than I know what to do with, but in a case of be careful what you wish for, I’ve discovered that my best writing has been born from my greatest challenges and the most crushing heartbreak I’ve ever known.

This blog has been my platform as I’ve struggled through grief and loss. It has been my attempt to make sense of the senseless, to shine a light in the darkness, and to refine and reclaim my voice. Through it all, I’ve realized that my only safety net is found on the page, my only sanctuary the warm blanket of the written word. If a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor, then consider this blog my attempt to navigate my own perfect storm, compass in hand, ever aiming for my true north.

I don’t know where this road will lead, but I thank you for joining me on it. Thank you for venturing with me into the great unknown. Welcome into my world, my life, my heart. This is, has been, and will be, incredibly personal. This is the thing itself.

Until next time, friends.

Love,

Sarah

Dad.

056

For most of my life, I had a complicated and difficult relationship with my father.  He was a charming and brilliant man, a career-obsessed and highly successful trial lawyer, and a lifelong alcoholic.

My Mom often told me that when she met my Dad, he swept her off her feet.  She was a young, pretty court reporter living in Seattle and Dad, twenty-two years her senior with a legal practice in Anchorage, Alaska, was confident, handsome, and driven.  She’d never met anyone like him before, and he made her feel like she could do anything.  So, undaunted by their age difference and the fact that he had four children in their teens to early twenties from his previous marriage, she married him and moved to Alaska.  A year later, I was born, their only child.

Anchorage was a magical, wonderful place to grow up.  I remember Mom waking me up in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights streaking the sky a brilliant emerald green, feeding apples to an enormous moose out of our car window on more than one occasion, ice skating, sledding, and snowball fights in the winter, and long summer nights when it never seemed to get dark and I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime.

Mom and Dad Hawaii copy

But for my Mom, Anchorage was a dark and depressing place.  My Dad was often away on business, and when he was home, cocktail hour would stretch on for hours, often ending in screaming matches between the two of them.  I wasn’t old enough to understand everything that was going on, but I knew that my Dad was often drunk and that my Mom was sad, and I blamed him for it.

When Dad reluctantly closed his law practice due to his declining health, we moved to Olympia, Washington to be closer to my Mom’s parents.  But retirement wasn’t good for Dad.  The law was the only thing he ever really loved, that and sports  – something we share – and depressed and hobbled by increasingly severe hearing loss (the unfortunate side effect of medication he’d taken to save his life during a childhood illness), he retreated into himself and he drank more than ever.

I got through high school by keeping as busy as I could.  My grades were perfect, I sang in the choir, wrote for the school paper, and stayed out of the house as much as I could.  I almost never invited friends over because I never knew what shape Dad was going to be in.

Marion, Deirdre, Dad copy

When I was accepted to USC, I jumped at the chance to get away.  I’d had enough of the drinking, the depression, my Mom’s tears and the fucking Olympia rain.  The bright lights and the big city were calling.  I moved to Los Angeles, found jobs in the summers so I could stay, and I never looked back.

It’s funny how as you get older, life has a way of knocking you around, shifting your perspective, and making you less rigid and less sure of what you thought you knew.  I had my own hardships – I suffered greatly in my first few years as a young actress trying to make it in L.A.  I was broke, I was depressed, I couldn’t get a break, and with all of my college friends starting ‘real’ careers, I felt so, so alone.

My Mom worried about me and encouraged me to pursue a more stable career.  My Dad never did.  Ever the trial lawyer, he’d engage in a series of probing and uncomfortable questions about my life – something my siblings and I refer to as being ‘put on the witness stand.’  I’d explain to him how hard it was to break into the business, and his response would always be, ‘Well then you’ll just have to work harder.’

Dad and Flower Girl

That was the thing about Dad.  He was a gambler, a risk-taker, and he loved a challenge.  The guy who often said, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ (but really, he was both), who put himself through law school by playing poker, who offered up thousands of dollars of his own money taking cases to defend clients who’d been victimized by insurance companies and large corporations, David versus Goliath type cases that no one thought he could win (and win, he did, in sometimes spectacular fashion), this was a man who didn’t believe in quitting.  He was tenacious, he was a fighter, and when he told me that I’d ‘just have to work harder,’ I’ll be damned if he wasn’t always right.

Even before he was diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that eventually killed him, I knew something was wrong with my Dad.  He lost weight, his skin was sallow.  He was still as mischievous as ever, but he’d lost a little bit of his edge.  The twinkle in his eye faded.

Dad and Max copy

He was nearing 80 years old and becoming frail, and I suddenly realized my Dad wouldn’t be around forever.  I softened my stance.  I came to grips with the fact that it was unfair to blame him for choosing alcohol over his family.  It wasn’t a choice, it was a disease and holding on to my anger about it was only hurting me.  The truth was, he’d never been mean.  Though at times he was maddening, he was kind, generous, and I never doubted that he loved me.  I chose to forgive him, and it made me free.

In her beautiful book The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith writes about the death of both of her parents, her mother during her teenage years, and her father several years later when she was in her mid-20’s.  Like me, she had a much older father and grew up closer to her Mom.  But in her book, she makes a striking admission and it’s this:  that if she had to lose both of her parents, she was glad that her Mom went first, because otherwise she would never really have gotten to know her father.

It’s difficult for me to admit this, but I feel the same way.  Though my parents’ deaths were only four and a half months apart, and though my Dad was very sick – and often stubborn, maddening, impossible – I cherish those last months I had with him.  We talked on the phone nearly every day.  He told me was lonely, but that he was grateful for his children, that he loved us so very much and that we were getting him through.  We talked about football.  We talked about how much we missed my Mom.

When I visited him in Olympia, he was kind and sweet to me, and so appreciative of little things like when I’d hold his arm to steady him when he was having trouble walking.  During the last Christmas we spent together, cheering the Seahawks on to victory against the hated San Francisco 49ers, Dad turned to me and said, ‘I think we’re good friends now, Sar.’  ‘We are, Dad,’ I agreed.  He grinned.

Dad last christmas

At a reception in his honor following his funeral, one of his lifelong friends read Dad’s favorite poem, If, by Rudyard Kipling.  It’s about living life boldly without fear of what others think of you, and without fear of loss.  It’s how my Dad lived his life.

As much as I adored my mother, I can’t help but feel grateful for all of the gifts I inherited from my father.  A lot of the things I really like about myself are pure Dad.  I’m tenacious, I’m tough, I believe in fighting for the underdog, and –most importantly, and something I’ve leaned on in the last year and a half of my life – I possess the ability to remain cool headed in a crisis, and to laugh in the face of things that make others weep.  It all stems from my Dad’s view of the world:  that life is an adventure not to be taken too seriously, that obstacles are just exciting challenges to be met head on, and that no matter what life throws at you, everything always has a way of working out.

One of the last times I talked to him – before he was too sick to talk – was last year after our beloved Seattle Seahawks suffered a crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.  While I was down and depressed, Dad barely seemed discouraged.  ‘Sar, listen,’ he said, his voice full of excitement.  ‘I’ve been watching these guys.  They’re really good.  They’re going to be good for a very long time.  We’ll get ours.’  A couple of weeks ago, when we finally did get ours, I couldn’t help thinking that my irrepressible father had something to do with it.

Dad Marions Wedding

In the same way that I can laugh in the face of things that make other people weep, I don’t think it’s a bummer that my Dad died on Valentine’s Day.  I think he did it on purpose.  Now my siblings and I have a forever reminder of him on a day that’s all about love.  And I think that’s kind of sweet.

So Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad, you charming, insufferable, wonderful, impossible, lovable Irish rascal.  I miss you.  I love you.  And I’m so grateful that I’m your daughter.

P.S. – I’ve pasted Dad’s favorite poem below, if you’d like to read it.  It’s pretty great.

Until next time, friends.

Dad with Baby

If—

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Why not us?

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m madly in love with the Seattle Seahawks, and in particular, their superstar quarterback Russell Wilson.  Russell is a gifted athlete, an intelligent student of the game, and no one works harder or spends more time preparing than him.  He’s also a really nice guy.  But what impresses me the most about him is the ice water in his veins.  The guy is cool as a cucumber.  No matter what’s going wrong, no matter how many points his team is behind, he doesn’t get rattled.  He takes it one play at a time, he never gets down or discouraged, and he always believes he can win.

Russell practices visualization.  He imagines every possible play, every possible outcome in a game, and then he envisions how he will react to it.  In his mind, he imagines himself succeeding no matter what the scenario, no matter what the defense gives him.  Over the course of the season, as the Hawks marched toward clinching the NFC West and a playoff berth, there were plenty of doubters, haters and disbelievers out there who said that they could never win a championship.  After all, they never had.  But as someone who was told that he was ‘too short’ to play quarterback, Russell was used to having the odds stacked against him.  And in the face of all the doubters and the disbelievers, he rallied his team with a simple mantra:  “Why Not Us?”

Why not indeed?  I happen to believe that perception is reality.  I believe that the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re capable of have a way of coming true.  Like Mr. Wilson, I believe in the power of our minds to affect the outcome of our lives.

I used to believe that tragedy was something that couldn’t touch me, that it was something unfortunate and horrible that happened to other people.  Then life taught me differently.  In less than nine months I witnessed my dear sweet mother lose her mind, spiral into self-destruction and die.  I witnessed my Dad’s rapid descent into the final throws of terminal cancer.  I witnessed my Grandmother’s diagnosis of advanced Alzheimer’s, where one minute she was there, the next she was gone.  And the sudden and far too young death of a close college friend.  In the span of about 9 months, someone I loved dearly was either sick, dead or dying.

I’ve had several months to process and heal from this incredible series of really bad things.  And while I’m better, I’m definitely not OK yet.  I’m still grieving, still processing, and still struggling.  But I’m struggling on the other side of it now.  The big bad wolf blew down my house, and I discovered that it was made of straw.  Now I’m forced to rebuild, except this time, I’m building with bricks.

In the same way that I used to believe that nothing truly bad could happen to me, I also believed that nothing amazing could happen to me either.  Deep down in the bottom of my heart, I never truly believed that I deserved to be full of joy, to design the life I wanted, to live boldly and without fear.  Instead I played by the rules, I did the ‘right’ thing, and I didn’t challenge myself to dream bigger.  I was content and complacent but not really happy.  Not fully alive.

It’s funny how having your heart shredded can shake you up and change your perspective.  Some of the worst things I ever could have imagined in my life have happened to me and I’m still here.  I’m not perfect, I’m struggling through it, but I’m here.  And being compressed by grief has, ironically, made me more open.  More open to try, more open to fail, more willing to risk it all.  Because when you’ve already lost so much, what’s the point of being afraid of losing?

So this is me, taking a page out of my favorite quarterback’s book.  If ‘Why Not Us,’ can bring the first Lombardi Trophy to Seattle in the history of the franchise, it’s a philosophy worth adopting.  I’m flipping the script on what I used to believe, and now I choose to believe that great things are not only in store for me, but that I deserve them.  Why not me?  Why not you?  Why not us?

Why not.

Until next time, friends.

Blog at WordPress.com.