The farewell tour (part one).

“What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.”

– T.S. Eliot

There’s something downright magical about autumn in New York City. The stagnant summer air lifts like a veil and disperses, offering a gentle respite from the suffocating heat on subway platforms, the stench of garbage bags piled high on sidewalks. The scarves come out, the sleeves get longer, legs that were once bare are covered over in tights. The leaves change quickly – to gold, to crimson, to fiery orange – a reminder of the impermanence of time, inviting you to pause and breathe in their colors before they’re gone.

Fall has always been my favorite season. I suppose it’s odd that I should find this time of year so hopeful just as nature begins to do its dance with death, but I do. The lazy haze of summer has ended, and before the sparkly glow of the holidays descend, there’s a window of time that feels both industrious and optimistic. Back to work, back to school, back to routine. The energy is palpable on the streets of the city: the weather still mild enough to travel by foot, but with crisper air, an accelerated pace, and a sense of urgency that permeates every movement.

I’m in love with New York right now. It might be because I love autumn, or it might be because, soon, I’ll be leaving. Either way, every moment is suffused with wonder, each day brings a new revelation.

It’s joyful, and at the same time, it’s sad. I’m grieving my departure as I would the impending death of a loved one: I’m grateful for the time we have together, yet I can’t help but anticipate the end.

So then, why leave at all? There are many reasons, but the biggest one is this: after spending the last few years floating through life, floating from one temporary situation to another, I am ready for structure, and stability. I’m ready to ground myself in something more permanent, some place that feels like a home. And locating those things in this city – permanence, structure, home – simply hasn’t happened. For reasons both financial and personal, they feel out of reach.

At the end of August, I learned that I was accepted into the MFA writing program at the College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia and offered a significant scholarship. After a visit in late September, during which I toured the school and met with faculty, I decided to enroll. I start classes in January, and while I’m excited about embarking on this next life chapter, the prospect of moving to the southeastern United States has me feeling. . . nervous. Suddenly, I’m contemplating living in the path of hurricanes and red state politics. After selling my Prius and spending two years riding subways, I’ll need to get a car again. After a scary operation earlier this year, I’ll have to surrender my New York health insurance and kick-ass Manhattan doctor in favor of finding a health plan on the Obamacare market in Georgia. And after spending all of my adult life living in two of the world’s major cities – Los Angeles and New York – I’ll be moving to a town with a population of roughly 300,000 people, many of whom travel at a much slower pace than I’m currently accustomed to.

And yet. I can recognize that my life has been stuck. In order to achieve my goals, I need to do things differently. Shake things up. Take some risks. Act a little braver than I feel. And here’s something I’ve learned from the other times I’ve jumped off the proverbial cliff: change is scary, but it’s also necessary. And it’s usually necessary before we are ready for it.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the hell out of my remaining time in New York. About six weeks ago, just before my trip to Savannah, I reached my two-year anniversary of moving here. As I reflected upon the lessons of the last two years, I wrote them down in a post on social media that I’d like to share with you below:

Two years ago today, I woke before the dawn, finished packing all of my belongings into three suitcases, and drove with my uncle through the still-dark early morning to Sea-Tac airport, where I boarded a plane bound for the opposite coast. Early that same evening, I greeted a landlord I’d never met and moved into an apartment I’d never seen, marking the official start of my new New York life.

Two years. Two years that have contained two surgeries, six play readings, countless applications and rejections and near misses and almost-might-have-beens. Two years that have tested me in ways I never could have imagined. Two years that have reminded me of just how much I still have to learn.

New York, I’m sorry for every time I cursed your name. You were only trying to teach me that who I had been was no longer enough. That if I wanted to do all the things I had always talked about doing, I’d have to work harder, become stronger, push myself farther than I ever thought I could go. You were a tough teacher and I hated you for that. But boy, did I learn.

Sometimes your heart has to break before it can open. You did that for me, New York, and then rewarded me by unfolding an epic love story at my feet.

It’s no secret that I may not be calling you home for much longer. But for as long as I’m here, I promise you this: I will take in your towering skyscrapers and your sunsets over the Hudson River and your autumn leaves falling amber with aching wonder. I will move through this great city with gratitude for every moment that I have left. And as I do, I will remind myself again and again that I did this. That two years ago, I came here alone, with no plan, and I made friends and told stories and fell in love.

And that is something, New York.

That is everything.

In the words of T.S. Eliot, “What we call the beginning is often the end.” And now here I am, at the beginning of my New York farewell tour. But maybe this beginning won’t be the end, after all. Maybe instead – two years later – it’s just the place where I’m starting from.

Until next time, friends.

The rose garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, friends.

Clerkenwell.

“This is one moment, /

But know that another/

Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy.”

– T.S. Eliot

I’m not sure why I took the long way down to Farringdon Road, rather than the shortcut off of Clerkenwell and over Herbal Hill – a narrow street barely bigger than an alley – to get to my old flat on Crawford Passage. I told myself it was because I wanted to see everything, see the whole of the neighborhood, see how much it had changed in the fifteen years since I’d lived there. But really, I have no idea why I did it, other than the mere fact that I felt like it. It was just one of a million tiny little decisions, the kind we make all day long.

I had already been walking for quite a while. I’d turned around an embarrassing number of times trying to find my way to the British Museum from the Holborn tube station. I’d even gone the wrong way down Great Russell Street – a street I used to know so well – before finally finding that familiar buttercream façade, with its elegantly ornamented sign displaying the number 99. All the late nights I’d spent there, in that study center where I took my classes, holed up in the basement computer lab checking emails (before the invention of the iPhone), writing papers, and booking tickets for my next weekend getaway. Because back then, as a twenty-one-year old college student living in London, there always seemed to be – every weekend – somewhere to go.

But by the time I found my way to Theobald’s Road and walked down it until it became Clerkenwell – the same walk I used to take, years ago, at least four times per week – I had recovered my bearings. There was new construction along the route, and many of the shops and businesses had changed, but it was still the same road, still familiar, still felt like home.

And suddenly there it was: the old shortcut over Herbal Hill down to my flat at Crawford House. But this time, I didn’t want to take it. I wanted to keep walking.

I came to the intersection of Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon, and turned left to round the corner. And that’s when I saw them. Bouquets of flowers – faded roses and Stargazer lilies – duct taped to a light post. As I drew closer, I saw that there were also cards; handwritten notes filled with words of love and loss and grief, all made out to one person: “Claire.” A memorial.

Held in place by my own morbid curiosity, I read what was written there. Words that you’d expect, about a loved one who would always be missed and who was gone too soon. But then, taped to a bouquet of wilted pink tulips, there it was. A carefully written note, that, as I read, I am quite certain, I forgot to breathe:

To family and friends,

Take comfort that she did not suffer in pain. Nothing will make this accident less senseless, but I want you to know that she did not die alone or abandoned. Many people did everything they could to save her. It was tragic and happened so quickly but she was surrounded by people who tried and who stayed.

From,

One of those people.

As I continued my walk down Farringdon Road, past St. Paul’s Cathedral, down toward the Thames, the same path I used to take when I went for my morning runs along the river, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. But I wasn’t crying for Claire. I didn’t even know her, didn’t know what had happened to her. I was crying because life can seem so senseless. Because it can shift so suddenly. Because in an instant, everything can change.

I often think of the months that I spent in London as some of the happiest of my life. I was young and carefree. I could do and be anything that I wanted. Life was exhilarating then, full of hope and possibility. I had never known real tragedy, never known real fear.

So maybe that’s why, last week, I decided to take the long way down Farringdon Road. Maybe there is no such thing as chance, no tiny decisions we make that mean nothing. Because afraid as I am of all the things I can’t yet know, it was the tragic death of a stranger, and the strangers who didn’t know her but who cared for her all the same, that reminded me that life’s uncertainty is not a thing to be feared. That it is the knowledge of how fleeting and fragile life is, that is what makes it so beautiful.

If you live long enough, life will break your heart. Mine has been broken again and again since those carefree days in London. I am no longer the girl who lived there, in fact, I barely even recognize her. But even if I could, I wouldn’t go back and rewrite my history. I wouldn’t change what’s past. I wouldn’t remove any of the scars. Because the scars are what make me. And as it turns out, I like who I’ve become. Broken heart and all.

As I carried on, over Blackfriars Bridge, over the Thames, I thought about how lucky I am. I thought about what a thing it is, just to be alive. And I thought about the fact that for as long as I could keep going – through all the fear and uncertainty – there was only one direction left to travel.

Onward.

Until next time, friends.

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