Wanderlust.

“Why don’t more people live on Maui?”

My brother-in-law poses this question to my sister and I as we sit, sipping Mai Tais, on the patio of an oceanfront bar in Kihei. Our faces pointed toward the Pacific, we admire the soft sandy beach, the sunlight glinting on topaz water, the crisscrossing cluster of palm trees extending into a clear blue sky that’s increasingly tinged with fuchsia and tangerine as the late afternoon presses on toward sunset. In the distance, someone spots a Humpback whale and restaurant patrons crane their necks to catch a glimpse of a tail fin or a water spout.

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“I mean, think about it,” he continues. “Look at all these tourists. Why don’t more of them say to themselves: This is beautiful. This is paradise. I should find a way to live here.”

We throw around some ideas. Hawaii is too expensive. Not enough jobs. Island fever. Paradise, while great for a vacation, is a little too perfect for everyday life.

Do we actually believe that, the “paradise is too perfect,” part? Do we think we should only be granted brief, idyllic respites from our otherwise stressful and crazy-making lives?  Do we secretly harbor the belief that it’s simply too self-indulgent to seek out a life of bliss? Or is the root of this belief a bit more complex? Could it be that we fear that if we actually do it – take the leap, uproot our lives, and relocate to a tropical paradise – we’ll realize that problems happen to people in “paradise” just as often as they happen to people everywhere else? After all, paradise is where we come to escape reality, not to live it, and if we make paradise home, where will we escape to then?

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Escapism has been my thing for a while now. I’ve always loved to travel, but never more so than these last few difficult years, when hopping on a plane to somewhere – anywhere – consistently holds more appeal than the here and now. While I think it’s too reductive to classify a searching wanderer like myself as someone who’s simply “running away,” there is some truth in it. I look toward each new voyage with hopeful eyes, wondering if this trip will be the trip: the magic cure-all that changes everything. Of course, it never quite works out that way.

My sojourn on Maui was no different. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for both the time I spent there, and for the suitcase full of memories I returned with. The island was stunning, the weather warm, the vegetation lush, the food scrumptious, the ocean soothing, the time spent with family happy. But in the spirit of the old “wherever you go, there you are,” cliché, real life intervened. I had work on my mind, with the deadline to finish the second draft of my play War Stories looming large. The family dynamic – never free from complication – was especially complicated on this trip. And whether it was jet lag or anxiety or some mixture of both, I couldn’t sleep, spending several nights awake for hours on end, leaving me tired and short-tempered the next day. Wherever you go, there you are.

I’m about to embark upon an interesting experiment, one I’m not sure if I’m ready for. My contract job is all but over, and then the future is mine, to make of it what I will. A prospect that is both exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve been craving this type of free, unstructured time for so long, craving it the way I crave my next vacation, but I can’t help but worry that, like my recent trip to Maui – like every trip, really – it can’t possibly live up to the hype.

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The immediate future will be busy. In June, I’m producing War Stories at Hollywood Fringe Festival, and the spring will be filled with rewrites, rehearsals, production meetings, marketing, mixers, and (hopefully) an abundance of creativity and fun.

But beyond that? I don’t really know. I have lots of ideas but nothing – and I mean nothing – is set in stone. For a meticulous planner, this is uncharted territory: a future where everything is uncertain, everything transitional, everything in the wind.

Which also leaves me at a loss as to how I should end this blog post. Normally, I’d try to wrap it up with something that provides a sense of closure, something that circles back to how I began the piece, something that ties it all together in a neat, tidy bow. But I can’t do that this time, because life isn’t like that. Not right now. It’s not conducive to neat, tidy endings. It’s fluid and changeable and open-ended.

But I suppose that’s the beauty of it. I suppose that – right now – is the point.

Until next time, friends.

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Jet Lag.

Just over a week ago, I penned a hopeful dispatch from London’s Heathrow Airport in the pages of my journal.

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It was afternoon, and I was squeezed into a tiny table at a crowded café in terminal five, scribbling notes about my trip as I waited for my flight to Los Angeles to begin boarding. After two weeks in Europe, I was homeward bound, and I was more than ready to return. I was ready to return to my life and to once again take up the big, important projects – both career and life – that I’d been putting off. I was ready to hit the ground running with a renewed sense of purpose.

And return I did, after a sleepless ten hour flight, a terse exchange with an LAX cab driver – who kicked me out of his car after he learned I’d be paying my fare with a credit card – and a foggy few days spent trying to catch up and reintegrate myself, amidst strange sleep patterns and cloudy, confused dreams in which I existed both in the place I was and the place I’d been, simultaneously. Palm trees in Prague . . . what the??

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But my jet lag wore off. And reality set in. And as it did, I found my sense of hopefulness waning. It became difficult, once again, to keep my spirits up.

My post-vacation hangover made me realize something simple, yet true: it’s easy for me to feel optimistic when I’m away, because it’s easier to look at my life for what it could be, as seen from a distance, than for what it actually is, when it’s right up close. Strolling the banks of the Thames or the Vltava, bundled up against the February chill, my L.A. life looked like some sort of sun-soaked dream. A dream that I couldn’t wait to return to.

But my actual L.A. life isn’t exactly a sun-soaked dream. It is much more difficult than the palm trees would have you believe. It’s full of traffic jams and smog and grown up decisions and a high cost of living and endless bills to pay. It’s creative burnout and failed relationships and an ongoing struggle to make peace with my past. More than anything, life in LA. these days is a struggle to figure out who the heck I am after I’ve been so many versions of myself and none of them have worked out.

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Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. And yes, it’s disgusting. Let’s get real for a second. I’ve just returned home to Los Angeles, which, weather-wise, is pretty damn pleasant compared to what most of the rest of the world is experiencing in late February. I just spent two weeks in Europe on an incredible adventure – the type of self-indulgent trip that most people only dream of. And all around me in this sprawling, massive, city, there are reminders that my life, for all of my complaints, is not really that bad.

As I scribble these words into my journal, I’m sitting in another café, half a world away from the one at Heathrow. But you can’t really call it a café: it’s a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Right in front of me, in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight, is a most unfortunate business transaction: an exchange between a prostitute and her pimp. She: edgy, nervous, eager to please, fingernails caked in dirt (that’s how close she is to me) with a tiny, scruffy dog in her lap. He: cold, disinterested, rude, and treats her so callously, it’s obvious that he sees her as nothing more than property. My stomach turns and I try to pretend I don’t see them, but it’s impossible. I feel guilty for obsessing about my own stupid problems, ashamed when the girl’s eye briefly meets mine, and then sad, as I look away and cast my eyes downward, toward the floor.

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The best thing about my trip to Europe was that it reminded me of the carefree, hopeful girl that I used to be when I lived in London as a twenty-one-year-old college student, when the world stretched out wide in front of me, when possibility seemed limitless and I still believed that nothing bad could happen to me. The worst thing about my trip to Europe was that I returned, knowing for sure that I am no longer that girl.

Real life is very unlike my European vacation, and much more like the scene I witnessed at the Coffee Bean. It confronts you with its realness, with its complexity. Sometimes it’s gritty and sad. Sometimes it forces you to look away.

Every time I leave town, I’m happy. For a time. But then I come back, and the old problems are still here, and I’m still here. And time is passing and life is happening all around me. And I’m not really any closer to figuring it all out.

So I have decided that it’s time. Time to say yes to the here and now – even if the here and now is gritty and difficult and real. Even if it makes me sad. It’s time to commit and connect to my real life in a way that I’ve been avoiding. Time to buckle down and do the hard work. Because you can’t correct what you don’t confront. And the hour is growing late.

This might be the craziest adventure yet. Wish me luck?

Until next time, friends.

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Stare Mesto.

It’s Saturday in Prague. It’s also Valentine’s Day, a day which marks the two year anniversary of the death of my father. But I don’t think that’s particularly sad. Not the fact that Dad died, which, of course, is sad, but the fact that he died on Valentine’s Day. I think the date of his death is symbolic of the love he had for his children, and of the fact that he passed peacefully and quickly, in his sleep, after a battle with cancer. I think the fact that his death was as quiet and as gentle as it was when it could have gone so differently was a gift – from him, from God, from the universe, from fate, from whatever force it is that was working its cosmic magic. I consider his love a gift, his life a gift, and the peace we made before he died the ultimate gift.

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But I didn’t set out to write a post about my father (I did that more eloquently last year, here), only to acknowledge that today, as I pass another day in this mysteriously beautiful city, so far away from home in the middle of a stark, cold European winter, I have been thinking about him. And I have been thinking about love.

Ever since they died, I have been trying to strike a balance between the parts of my mother and father that are contained within me, of which there are a great deal. Sometimes I feel their echoes in my worst behaviors. But often, I recall the good in them and I aim my aspirations in that same direction.

Dad was adventurous, bold. I think he’d be proud of me for taking this trip to a far off, foreign place all by myself. For unapologetically shrugging off the curious glances when I sit down to a meal or sip espresso while journaling in a café or drink cognac in the hotel bar, alone. Leave it to other people to cling to the security of another body. I don’t mind being on my own, and during my travels, I have found that I am, in fact, quite good company.

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I think Dad would be proud of my hotel choice, as well. Dad always liked to go big, and my hotel does not disappoint. It’s a sleek, modern, five star European beauty located in Stare Mesto – Old Town – within striking distance of the main square, the Vltava River and the Charles Bridge and just down the hill from Mala Strana (“Little Quarter”), a steep hill leading up toward Prague Castle and breathtaking views of the city seen from on high.

My hotel is central and yet, it’s removed from the madness at the end of a quiet street – Parizska (“Paris”), aptly named for the posh luxury boutiques that populate it; brands like Cartier and Porsche Design and Dolce and Gabbana and Escada and Tod’s of London and the like.

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I couldn’t believe in my wildest dreams that I could afford such a hotel, with its spectacular gym and spa – no joke, it rivals some of the gyms I’ve seen in L.A. with its aerobics garden, weight room, cardio room, stretching room, enormous glass roofed swimming pool, sauna, luxurious showers and spa treatment rooms – its rooftop restaurant, cozy lounge bar, buffet breakfast overlooking the Vltava River, its opulent guest rooms with spacious marble-tiled bathrooms, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, customized pillow menu (you can choose from six different styles, adjusted to your comfort), and satellite television with channels in six different languages. Oh yeah, and there’s the breathtaking view of the gothic buildings in Old Town Square as seen from out the window of my 7th floor room, courtesy of an upgrade from the handsome hotel desk manager. Simply because I told him this was my first visit to Praha.

This is definitely the fanciest hotel I have ever stayed in, but because the dollar is strong right now, especially against the Czech Crown (Korun), and it’s the middle of winter and bitterly cold, and I got a cheaper rate for staying six nights, I am actually paying less per night for a five star hotel in a European capital than I have spent to rent a room in a Best Western. Ridiculous. And wonderful. And anyway, who cares that it’s freezing outside? I never want to leave the confines of this glamorous hotel, with its well-heeled, fur-swathed, international clientele.

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But leave the hotel I have, to explore this gothic city, to climb the hills, to wander the cobblestone streets, to gape at elegant centuries-old buildings with cheerful watercolor facades. I came here with no plan as to how I would spend my time, which is pure my mother and so very unlike me. When mom traveled, she hated to be rushed or kept to an agenda, preferring instead to laze about her hotel room for hours. This behavior drove me – the compulsive planner – insane, but mom could care less about cramming in touristy, sightsee-y things. She just wanted to pick out a few specific activities that she knew she would enjoy and spend the remainder of the time resting, enjoying lengthy meals, and beating to the tune of her own drummer.

Which is exactly what I’m doing in Praha. Who cares that I traveled thousands of miles to be here? This is my trip and I am spending it exactly how I want. Which includes a fair amount of wandering, a fair amount of writing in cafes, a fair amount of lengthy meals, a fair amount of enjoying my lavish hotel, and just a little – but not so much – of the really touristy stuff.

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I’ve been here for three days, and for me, the jury’s still out on Praha. It is unquestionably beautiful, quite unlike any other city I’ve seen in my life. But it’s a dark beauty, with an unshakeable heaviness to it. There’s something formidable and slightly ominous that pervades through the steep hills and the narrow cobblestone streets and the hearty, heavy food, and the quietly dignified people and the gothic spires that extend into the wintry grey sky.

When I first decided to come here – inspired by my Grandpa Popelka’s Czech heritage – I had certain ideas about what this trip, what this place, would be like. It turns out that Prague, like all things in life, is very different than the picture I had in my mind of what it would be. But also as in life, it’s quite curious what we find when we don’t go looking for it. Like the fact that within this cold, dark, place, I have found a surprising amount of light. Both within my heart, and within my writing. Curious, indeed.

So thank you, Praha. Here’s to 2 ½ more days of embracing your mysterious beauty. Here’s to one more day after that in London, here’s to the long journey home to Los Angeles, and here’s to the even longer journey of finding a more permanent home, when I’m done with all the wandering.

Until next time, friends.

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Things my mother never did, part two.

I dreamt about my mother last night.  It was the first time I’d dreamt about her in awhile, at least that I remember.  I used to dream of her often after she died.  They were horrible, wrenching dreams.  Dreams in which she cried out to me to help her, but in which, one way or another, I was never able to.  Inevitably, I woke from these dreams sweating, sobbing, sometimes crying out.  And like my mother, unable to be helped.

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Last night’s dream was different.  My mother and I were alone in a vacant old house.  She was as rail thin as I remember her the last time I saw her, six weeks before she died.  Her eyes had the same vacant, staring look, like black holes peering into the distance.  I pleaded with her to eat something, but she just shook her head no.  And then I noticed something strange:  my mother had in her possession a large black satchel full of food.  She had refused to eat anything, no matter how much I pleaded with her, yet she was hoarding food, stockpiling it.  To what end?

I woke to a still dark apartment in the early morning hours and I sat, frozen in my bed, utterly stunned by the sharp clarity with which I remembered every detail of my dream.  A phrase popped into my head:  “There was nothing you could do.”  And then another:  “It wasn’t your fault.”  Both phrases circled through my brain over and over until I became dizzy and I wept, hoping they were true.

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I don’t know why my mother appeared to my subconscious mind in such a strange fashion after so long of an absence.  It may have something to do with the fact that as I write this, I’m sitting in the international terminal at LAX, waiting to board a flight that will take me the furthest away from home I’ve been for the longest among of time I’ve been away since my mother died, the prospect of which has me both exhilarated and terrified.  Or it may have something to do with the fact that since WordPress republished my blog post Things My Mother Never Did two weeks ago, I’ve heard from hundreds of people all over the world in countless heartfelt messages.  Messages of encouragement, of heartbreak, of hope, of loss, of dysfunction and love, all revolving around the most fundamental, yet often, the most anguishing relationship out there:  that of parent and child.  And over and over again, throughout all of the messages and the reblogs, the overwhelming theme has been this:  “Thank you for writing this.  I thought I was the only one.”

How can it be that there are so many of us, yet we still feel so desperately alone?  Well, let me be the first to tell you, friends, you are not alone.  As scary as it is for me to tell my dark family secrets, I will continue to do so.  Because the only way out is through, and for me, through is a road paved with honesty.

My mother was the love of my life.  I’m still angry with her.  I’m still racked with guilt that I couldn’t save her.  And I’m not running from either one of these truths.  But, as I embark on this journey, the first big scary adventure of my new life – the life dedicated to all the Things My Mother Never Did – I hope that for all of you out there who have so lovingly and kindly reached out to me, I hope that I can offer you some inspiration about forging a path back to acceptance and love, a path forged straight through forgiveness.  A path in which you are the architect of your own life.

Thank you to everyone who wrote me.  You have no idea how grateful I am.

Here I go!

Until next time, friends.

x

Sarah

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Resolutions.

As December winds down, it’s common for me to turn inward and grow reflective.  I’m an optimistic person by nature and as such, I often begin each New Year thinking this will be my year – you know, the one where all the really good stuff happens.  Unfortunately, over the last few years, life has gotten me down and life has beaten me up.  But I’m keeping my eyes fixed on the horizon, because the end of 2014 promises that there will yet again be a brand new calendar, and a journal full of blank pages with stories waiting to be written on them.  While there are many specific goals I’ve set for 2015 – too many, probably – here are my most important resolutions, pared down to their essence:

Write more stories.  Read more books.  Indulge my wandering spirit.  Practice gratitude.  Plan more coffee dates.  Put my phone away more often and listen.  Make art that I’m proud of.  Spend more time in museums and libraries.  See more live music and theatre.  Take long walks by the beach and gaze out at the ocean.  Regain a sense of wonder.  Laugh more.  Cry less.  Say yes and figure it out afterwards.  Cherish my friends and family.  Take better care of my body, and of my spirit.  Risk more.  Fear less.  Make peace with my past, even if it’s hard.  Especially if it’s hard.  Go somewhere I’ve never gone.  Do something – perhaps many things – I’ve never done.  Learn to play the ukulele – because I’ve decided that would be fun.  Breathe deeply.  Breathe a lot.  Forgive.

Here’s to 2015.  Here’s to embracing it in every way we can.

Until next time, friends.

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Away.

There was no parking on the good side. I was pretty certain there wouldn’t be. By the time Zoe picked me up and whisked me away from the cesspool that is LAX, by the time we drove back to my tiny bungalow, by the time we sat parked in the driveway chatting and catching up – me recounting stories from the long weekend spent getting reacquainted with my childhood home of Anchorage, Alaska – and by the time I’d deposited my bags inside the dark, quiet one bedroom, it was past eight-thirty. Well after most of my neighbors would have returned from work and claimed all of the good street spots.

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I drove around for a few minutes anyway, vainly hoping I’d get lucky, but there was nothing to be found. Not for many blocks, and not on any of the streets that I deemed ‘safe.’ Ah, the beauty of L.A., with its sketchy neighborhoods rubbing elbows with the swanky ones. Just a block or so south of my Beverly Hills-adjacent Orthodox Jewish hood and a girl could run into trouble in the form of pawn shops and liquor stores and the questionable characters who hovered outside of them. No thanks.

So I gave up and returned home, setting an alarm on my phone as a reminder to move my car early the next morning for street cleaning. I scanned my apartment with weary eyes, suddenly feeling colder than I had during the nearly two-hour walk I’d taken with my sister Marion around Anchorage’s Westchester Lagoon, blanketed as it was in snow and ice. I surveyed the fridge – empty – and leafed through a stack of mail containing mostly bills and credit card applications, and mercifully, one honest to goodness greeting card filled with holiday cheer in the form of metallic gold Christmas tree confetti, a card that peeked out from the pile of useless papers like a tiny beacon of hope.

I eyed my suitcase with dread, not wanting to settle in, not ready to unpack. Should I open my computer and catch up on work email? Oh please, not yet. With no good options, I picked up the phone and ordered takeout from the Indian restaurant down the street. As I buttoned my coat and slung a scarf around my neck on the way out to grab dinner, I consoled myself with the thought that in just one week, I’d be getting on a plane again, away from here. Away from this place that had once held so much promise – a new life, a fresh start, a home all my own – but a place that, though it was filled up with all my stuff, had somehow managed to grow foreign, distant, and sterile.

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These days, I like myself better when I’m away. There’s an energy that comes from toting my carry-on through the terminal, from rushing to meet my gate, from airport coffeehouses and bars and bookstores, from arrivals and departures. From checking in. And yes, from checking out. I like the pulse of travel, the pace of it. The sights and smells of different places fill me, inspire me. As long as I keep moving, I’m OK. It’s when I stop, when I settle, when I find myself in this place where I no longer know what to do with myself, that I start thinking about the big, ‘what am I doing with my life?’ question, and things suddenly become much more difficult.

I’m adrift. I don’t like where I am, but I don’t know where to go. I know that my current residence, the overpriced one bedroom bungalow at the corner of sketch and swank, is no longer right for me. Strange that when it came into my life just ten months ago, it was exactly what I needed: a quiet place with a sun-warmed patio that wrapped me up like a cozy blanket and sheltered me through a terrible life transition. But now, no amount of cleaning or decorating or incense-burning will change the fact that I’ve outgrown it. And so, with two months left on my lease, I find myself asking, ‘What now?’

I crave home like you wouldn’t believe. A safe place with a soft pillow to rest my head. A cushy, overstuffed sofa to collapse into at the end of a long, satisfying day. A secure, off-street parking spot (never more attractive than now). And yes, someone to share it with, to laugh with, to tell me in a voice that I’ll actually believe, that everything is going to be OK.

I guess I’ve landed on it. It’s not so much the place I’m looking for, as it is the way I’ll feel – the life I’ll live – inside of that place. Home is where the heart is, right? For me, that’s an eye roll-inducing cliché that’s also, irritatingly, true. Home is where the heart is. The problem is, ever since my heart was broken, I no longer know how to find it.

So for now, I’m living a life of not settling in. I’m making plans for the short-term. I’m thinking big but skimping on specifics. And every time it all becomes too much, I get the hell out of town. I’m sure I can’t keep doing this forever. But for right now, it makes sense. For right now, ‘away’ is simply the best place I can think of to be.

Until next time, friends.

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