Magic.

Listen to the Mustn’ts, child.

Listen to the Don’ts.

Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.

Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.

Anything can happen, child.

Anything can be.

– Shel Silverstein

On the eighteenth day of December, I took a walk along Riverside Drive in Manhattan. The air was crisp, the trees barren, the late afternoon sun slipping low on the horizon, spreading its golden glow across the Hudson River and backlighting the New Jersey skyline. In just over twelve hours, I’d be getting in a cab bound for Newark Airport, then boarding a cross country flight back to the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have time for a walk. I had dinner plans. I hadn’t finished packing. My alarm was set for 3:30 the following morning.

I didn’t have time for a walk, but I needed it. Walking was always when I did my best thinking, and my thoughts were, at that moment, a tangled jumble. I tossed my laundry into a dryer in the basement of my apartment building and set the timer on my phone. I had an hour. Out into the cold December day I went.

From Riverside, I took a left on 116th street and crossed Broadway, onto the campus of Columbia University. It was twilight now, and I entered a tree-lined promenade, aglow in the sparkle of white Christmas lights. The quad was largely quiet, evidence of the impending holiday. Despite my haste, I felt a measure of calm settle over me. I loved school. I had always loved school. Lately, I’d been entertaining the idea of going back for a master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure if that was something I really wanted or just a stalling technique, a costly way of putting off the inevitable reality of making big life decisions.

I had much to do, but I was in no hurry to return to my apartment. Two days earlier, the daughter of the woman I’d been subletting from had filled the living room with boxes and bags of what can best be described as “stuff.” She’d had a crisis in her living situation in Brooklyn and had to move out suddenly, and the result was now sitting in my once clean and orderly living room. My landlord apologized profusely for the disruption and promised she would deal with the mess while I was away over Christmas, but I couldn’t help feeling unsettled by the chaos. It was also a reminder of a truth that was becoming more and more apparent: my landlord’s daughter wanted to return to her old apartment. Soon, I would have to move.

I’d had a good run in New York, and I knew it. For what I’d been paying in rent, I should have been living in a shoebox in the Bronx with at least one roommate. Instead, I had a seven hundred fifty square foot, eighth-floor apartment with a balcony perched over Broadway all to myself. The space was beautiful and tranquil and safe. My cheap rent had enabled me to take writing classes and write a new play and work on my memoir without the urgency of having to look for a real job. The co-op even had a theater company in the basement of my building, a theater company that would be producing a reading of my new play in January. I’d arrived in New York with no plan, and somehow, landed exactly where I needed to be.

But now what? The question nagged at me as I trudged north along Amsterdam Avenue. I had some ideas about temporary living situations but anything even semi-permanent would require paying real rent and a renewed urgency to find a real job. Did I want to look for work in New York and try to root myself there? Or did I want to call time on the Big Apple experiment and return to the west coast? I didn’t know. I missed California and my friends something fierce, but after fifteen months in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure I belonged in L.A. any more.

I have a bad habit of assuming the worst-case scenario. When something good happens, I can’t enjoy it, because I’m already preparing myself for when it goes away. The concept of “living in the moment” is something I struggle mightily with.

I wasn’t always like this. At least, I don’t think I was. I’ve been so altered by the events of the last six years, I don’t remember the person I was before all the bad stuff happened. I don’t remember who I was before my mom’s alcoholism, my dad’s cancer, my grandmother’s dementia, my grandfather’s hospice, my divorce, and all the deaths and devastation that ensued. I know I used to feel young and carefree and that the world was open and full of possibility, but that all seems vague and ephemeral now, like a dream I woke up from after sleeping too long.

Worst-Case Scenario Sarah is not only annoying, she has profoundly affected my ability to enjoy New York. She has left me fists clenched, steeling myself through winter, sweating through summer, unable to allow myself to indulge in the most basic, touristy activities like walking the Brooklyn Bridge or taking in the city from atop the Empire State Building or marveling at the Manhattan skyline from the deck of a ferry boat.

This is a revelation about myself I’ve only come to recently. It began a few months ago, when I first learned my landlord’s daughter was applying for jobs in New York. Bemoaning my fate over whiskey on a patio in Williamsburg, my friend Kirsten waxed poetic about the New York apartment shuffle and proposed a question I couldn’t wrap my head around: “OK, so you have to move. But how do you know you won’t find something even better?”

I didn’t say it out loud, but my brain immediately spat out the following: Impossible! How could it possibly get better than what I have now? I knew this good thing would go away. It was only a matter of time.

The day after my walk, I arrived in Seattle, and some dear friends picked me up at the airport and took me out to lunch. As we caught up over Pacific Northwest seafood and pints of dark beer, I told them about the latest: I had a play reading in January, I’d signed up for a new memoir class, and soon I’d have to move and didn’t know where to go or what to do.

I may be Worst-Case Scenario Sarah, but fortunately I have the good sense to surround myself with Glass is Half Full People. As I explained my situation and my uncertainty about the future, my friend Karrin offered: “It sounds like you’re letting your creative work dictate your decisions. And that’s pretty cool.”

The next morning, writing morning pages by the fire in Grandpa’s beach house, I found myself scribbling that phrase over and over again. Let your creative work dictate your decisions. And I decided something: even if I had to move before my memoir class was over at the end of March, I would find a way to stay in New York, and finish it. I loved that class, loved the people in it, loved the instructor, and I knew it was helping me do the hard work of writing my book.

My last assignment during the last session of Memoir II was to write the reflective ending of my book. It was incredibly difficult because it meant I had to force myself to answer some big questions. What is the point of my story? How do I want the reader to feel? And what have I learned over the course of this very personal journey?

I wrote about the week before I moved to New York, when I gathered at the beach with some of my closest friends. One day, while we were getting ready for a boat ride, my friend Vim spotted a sight that is quite uncommon in the protected cove of Case Inlet: three Orca whales – two calves and their mother – swimming close to shore. Everything about the future was uncertain, but in that moment, experiencing the magic of seeing an old place through the new eyes of my visiting friends, I suddenly believed it would all be OK.

This is the last paragraph of what I wrote:

I don’t know what my life will look like in New York. I don’t know what I’ll do, or who I’ll meet, or how things will change. I just know I’m no longer afraid to face an uncertain future. Grief taught me that life unfolds as it will, whether we like it or not. And it also taught me that if one day can change your life for the worse, then it certainly can for the better. And I’m ready for that. I’m ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. Because the mystery of all the things we can’t know is what makes life exciting. It’s what makes me glad I’m alive.

I so badly want to own this. I want to abandon Worst-Case Scenario Sarah in favor of someone who not only believes good things will happen, she expects them. That’s why I wrote that passage. Call it an attempt at manifestation, call it faking it ‘til I make it, it’s my sincere hope that by the time I finish my book, I will have arrived at that last paragraph.

On my second day at the beach – December 20th – I sat in the living room, bundled up in blankets, waiting out a storm. When suddenly, I saw something that made me rush outside. It was a vibrant, unbroken rainbow, forming a perfect half circle from one end of the bay to the other. And for some reason, I thought about the poem by Shel Silverstein I began this blog post with.

Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

I may not totally believe that yet. But man, am I working on it.

Until next time, friends.

 

Autumn.

“It is the nature of grace to fill the places that have been empty.”

– Goethe

I knew summer was over before I dipped my toes in the saltwater. The normally cloudy Case Inlet was unusually clear, a sign of a fresh current of (cold) water coursing through the bay. Goosebumps formed on my arms. “Don’t chicken out,” I chided myself. “This is your last chance until next summer.”

The thought of all the people for whom “next summer” never came flashed through my mind, and with an urgency suddenly more powerful than my fear, I flung myself into the sea. The shock of icy water traveled quickly up my body and stabbed at my insides, but it didn’t matter, I was in. “Hi Mom,” I murmured, looking up at the familiar snow-capped peak of Mt. Rainier. “I miss you.”

Later, cover up and shorts layered over my swimsuit, I sat on the deck of my aunt and uncle’s house, stared out at the inlet, and thought about everything and nothing. It was my last day at the beach and my uncle had plenty of questions, most of them involving the future.

“How long are you planning to stay in New York?” he asked me over dinner that night. My reply was noncommittal, as I still had plenty of questions about the future myself. “As long as it makes sense,” I told him. “There are a lot of things I want to do there.”

It’s hard for me to believe it has already been a year since last September, when I left that same stretch of rocky beach in the Pacific Northwest to move east and reinvent my life. These last twelve months have passed quickly, even though at times – mostly during the cold, dark winter – they seemed to move at a torturous pace. When I made the initial decision to relocate, everything fell into place so quickly that I foolishly believed everything that followed would be easy, too.

I was wrong. I came to New York with a long list of things I wanted to do, see and be, and one year later, I feel as though I’ve accomplished very few of them. I applied for numerous fellowships, residencies and jobs, and have been rejected – so far – by all of them. I’ve hit roadblocks, struggled with seasonal depression, and felt like a failure more times than I care to admit. I’ve been sick, sad, and have experienced a resurgence of grief I thought I’d healed from. Countless times, I fought the urge to give up, give in, and go home.

But there’s a sticking point: I’m not sure where “home” is any more. The place I lived longer than anywhere – Los Angeles – is filled with people I love and years of life-altering experiences. I left because I was bored, creatively stagnant, and desperate for a change. That rocky Pacific Northwest beach? It will always be a safe harbor and an anchor, but it’s also a repository for more painful family memories than I can count. In other words: not the best place to begin the next chapter of my life.

And then there’s something else. Something bigger. Something I promised myself somewhere over the course of the last six rollercoaster years that began with my mother’s sudden death: I would no longer do the safe and easy thing. I would make choices based in hope rather than in fear. I wouldn’t go back and try to recreate the past, I would move forward and forge a present that was entirely new.

I’ve tried my best to do that. It’s no accident I left my family’s beach cabin and moved to New York one week before the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. I didn’t want to spend that anniversary in the same place where my mom and uncle grew up, the same place where I’d spent every childhood summer, the same place where we boarded my grandfather’s tiny tin boat, went out to sea, and scattered my mother’s ashes. I didn’t want to mark the passage of another year feeling like a prisoner to the past. I wanted to spend it starting over – whatever that looked like – on the opposite coast.

A few weeks ago, in early September, I spent the day with one of my mother’s closest friends. As we caught up over lunch, we talked about my mom, our memories, and what had happened in the year since I’d moved. The conversation turned to the memoir I’m working on. “Is it about your Mom?” she asked. I nodded. The next part was – and is – hard for me to admit. “It’s about what you do when the person you love the most is the same person you’re terrified of becoming.”

To my surprise, she didn’t seem horrified. She seemed to understand.

I’ve been in New York for a year. It still feels less like home than it does some exotic, foreign land I’m learning to navigate. But you know what? I like it. I like the fact that it’s full of strivers who get knocked down and continue to get up again. I like the fact that I’ve been challenged here in ways I never was in L.A., and that my failures have forced me to think outside of the box, get creative, and try things I otherwise wouldn’t. I like the fact that it’s a tough town, but one where it still feels like possibility waits on every street corner.

There’s no way to know where I’ll be this time next year. Any attempt to lasso the future is a pointless exercise. For now, it’s enough to be here, living moment to moment, doing all I can for as long as I can, making choices based in hope rather than in fear.

Until next time, friends.

Labor Day.

“Something good will come of all things yet.”
– Jack Kerouac

It was a hot, humid morning when I left New York, every bit as hot as it had been eight weeks prior, the last time I fled the city to seek the sanctuary of a rocky beach in the Pacific Northwest.

And yet, even as I settled my tired body – already sweaty at seven thirty in the morning – into the back seat of a taxi cab and we drove east through Harlem, I could feel the summer waning, feel the drumbeat of autumn, feel the looming threat of barren trees and crisp days and  – before long – fresh snowfall. I had felt it the day before too, trudging along Amsterdam Avenue on my way to the Morningside Heights post office, as the influx of new Columbia students poured out onto the city streets. Something about their wide eyes and dewy faces screamed “Fall is coming!” And I realized as much as I’d grown weary of my swampy apartment, the mosquito bites dotting my legs and my impossible-to-tame hair, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to summer yet. It had gone too fast.

I have a keen awareness of time passing that I didn’t have before I moved to New York. Years ago, I remember being told by east coast friends that the lack of seasons in Los Angeles skews your sense of time, something akin to spending too long in a Vegas casino. Think glittering lights, pumped-in oxygen, absent clocks. I pretended to understand what they meant, but the truth is, I didn’t. I was eighteen years old when I moved to L.A., and before that, I’d lived in Washington State and Alaska. Places with weather for sure, but not the sharp swing of extremes I had already experienced during my first year on the east coast. The lightning storms, the Nor’easters, the way the sky would suddenly open up and pour out buckets of rain, all of this was new to me. All of it seeming to signify the impermanence of the present moment, that this, too – be it good or bad – shall pass.

As I write this blog, it’s Labor Day weekend, and I’m exactly where I was this time last year, staring out at the silver mirror of Case Inlet from the living room of the beach house where my grandparents lived for most of my life. This house – once a buzz of activity – sits largely empty now. Each time I return, I do my best to fill up the lonely spaces. I brew strong coffee and drink too much of it. I unfurl my red sticky mat and practice amateur yoga in the living room. I watch as much Mariners baseball as I can, occasionally (often) yelling at the TV. I wrap myself in my grandmother’s old yellow afghan and watch the sunset from the same weathered porch swing I used to climb on as a child. And sometimes, in the morning, I’ll put on my grandfather’s enormous emerald green bathrobe – still hanging from the hook on the back of the door of his old room – and find comfort in the weight of its heavy cotton against my skin.

This place, this beach, is my anchor. It’s my back up plan if everything else goes wrong. Three of the four times I’ve traveled west since I moved to New York, I’ve returned here. To see my family. To remind myself where I come from. During an often confusing and challenging year, it has been my safe harbor. My true north. For a while, as I struggled through seasonal depression and various physical ailments, I was convinced I had made a mistake by leaving L.A. It’s only now, returning to the very spot where I planned my move a year ago, that I can see that everything I did was right. That the adventure I began back then is not ending but beginning.

The day before I flew to Seattle, I finally had a conversation I’d been dreading. The year lease on my Morningside Heights sublet was almost up, and I wasn’t sure if my landlord would allow me to stay beyond the twelve-month period we’d agreed to. Technically, I had been living in someone else’s apartment – my landlord’s daughter – who could choose to return at any time.

“I’m not sure what your plans are,” I wrote, “But I’d love to stay until Christmas, and then we could reassess from there?”

“No problem,” she replied, adding that her daughter had no immediate plans to return to New York, and that, when she did, she wanted to live in Brooklyn “for a while.”

“Let’s see what develops,” she added.

I suppose “seeing what develops” is exactly what I’ve been doing this past year. And now that it finally feels like it’s working out, I see no reason to stop. After all, if everything goes wrong, the beach will still be here.

Until next time, friends.

Eclipse Season.

“I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

– Gilda Radner

On Saturday, July 27th, there was a full moon lunar eclipse, and I missed it. I knew the eclipse itself wouldn’t be visible from North America, but the moon would still be large and full and red-tinged (a so-called “Blood Moon”), and I wanted to see it. But I couldn’t find the moon that night, because the skies above New York were socked in with thick grey clouds, the result of intermittent rain and thunderstorms that had been rolling through the region over the last several days.

I should have suspected what I was in for when, ten days earlier, my afternoon flight to New York was grounded in San Francisco due to east coast thunderstorms. When I finally slipped into a cab at JFK, picked up two weeks’ worth of mail, watered the plants, unpacked, and ran the AC long enough to cool my swamp of a bedroom, it was the next day, and the sun was coming up over Manhattan.

That was how the dog days of summer began, and that’s how they’ve stayed. There have been a handful of days I’d call “sunny,” but for the most part, the ceiling has been low, the skies gloomy, the city shrouded in a blanket of humidity, and the threat of rain ever present.

It’s my first New York summer. The last of the four seasons I am experiencing here for the first time. As far as New York summers go, I’ve been told this one has been pretty mild. But still. For a Pacific Northwest girl used to the desert climate of Southern California, the cool breeze off the Pacific Ocean, and the safety of my air-conditioned car, it’s an adjustment.

The crush of sticky bodies on the subway, the wall of stifling, stagnant air in my un-airconditioned eighth floor living room, kitchen and bathroom, the stench of midtown Manhattan. . . I’ve been feeling the heat of the city in the heaviness of my limbs and the haze of my brain. It has made me cranky and tired, even though I have no real reason to be. It’s just that everything seems like it’s moving in slow-motion these days, especially my writing: a laborious process layered with plenty of self-doubt.

I haven’t published anything on this blog in over a month, the longest I’ve been away from Extra Dry Martini in forever. While it’s true I’ve been consumed with other writing projects, it’s also true I’ve been avoiding this space because I haven’t known what to say. Like the heat outside, I sort of feel like I’ve been waiting for something to break within me, something that will crack me open and make me feel like myself again.

The full moon lunar eclipse on July 27 was the second in a trio of eclipses that began with a partial solar eclipse on July 12th and ends tomorrow, August 11th, with a new moon lunar eclipse. In the world of astrology – which I admit, I put some stock in – eclipses are significant events, known to be catalysts for change, sometimes delivering that change in unexpected and dramatic ways. Their energy can be emotionally-charged and volatile, leaving us on edge and out of sorts, inviting us to confront uncomfortable truths that push us to end one chapter of our lives and begin another.

In these long, languid late summer days, as we approach the end of eclipse season and I approach the end of my first year in Manhattan, the question of the future sits heavily on my mind. I don’t feel ready to leave New York, but I’m not quite sure what I’ll do here if I stay. And if I return to California, what will I do there? More of the same? That doesn’t feel right, either.

I’m stuck.  And, well – hot.

Maybe I’m hoping the last of this trio of eclipses will flick on a light switch inside of me, illuminating some long-buried insight that I haven’t seen. Maybe I’m just waiting for the end of August, when I’m done with my writing classes and I can grab one more blissful week in the Pacific Northwest to swim in Case Inlet and pose questions to the moon and the stars and get really quiet and just listen.

It has been eleven months since I arrived in New York City with nothing but three suitcases and big dreams. My life today looks nothing like I thought it would eleven months ago, and I think that’s OK. I’m proud of myself in some ways, disappointed in myself in others. And I think that’s OK, too.

I have no idea what the future holds. But then again, neither do any of us. So, rather than tying up this blog post up in a neat little bow, I’ll simply end it with one of my favorite quotes, from Anaïs Nin:

“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too.”

Until next time, friends.

June.

“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.”

– Khalil Gibran

I started writing the end of my story first. I began with the day I hugged Jen in the driveway of her apartment building after she’d helped me put three heavy suitcases in the back of my car, and then drove my silver Toyota Prius up an eerily deserted 405 freeway to the top of the Sepulveda Pass for the last time. I wrote about the Lyft ride to the airport, where I told the driver I was moving to New York and how strange those words sounded coming out of my mouth, and the celebratory glass(es) of prosecco I drank at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Terminal 6, where I thought about my mother the whole time, because it was almost eighteen years to the day that I’d taken the reverse flight, from Seattle to L.A., as a kid going off to college, and how scared I’d been, and how she’d held my hand and told me that everything was going to be all right. And now, here I was again, eighteen years later, no longer a kid, but feeling just as exhilarated and terrified by the change I was about to make, and this time without my mother to tell me everything would be all right. So I took a deep breath, got on the plane, and told myself.

It felt easier to start at the end than the beginning, not just because the ending was fresh in my mind. Because the ending was so full of hope. As I scrolled through old Instagrams and blog posts from last summer, that was the thing I was struck by again and again: hope. The fact that I didn’t know how this grand adventure was going to turn out, but I was barreling forward anyway, with a sense of faith and confidence that surprised even me. Because I wanted something different than what I’d already had, and that meant doing something different than what I’d already done. Because when nothing is certain anything is possible, and I believed most of all the words of a friend who told me that anything is possible in New York.

So I made the decision to go, and once I’d made that decision, all the other decisions sprang from it, gathering momentum, like a giant snowball rolling down a hill. And I didn’t stop to think that anything could go wrong, didn’t consider any outcome other than a good one, didn’t even really listen to friends who cautioned that change is difficult, and I might have a hard time transitioning to life on the east coast.

Of course, hard turned out to be an understatement. And as winter descended like a fog, and none of my plans worked out and the grief I thought I’d healed from came roaring back, I lost sight of the hope I’d had in those early days. I stopped believing in myself. I stopped believing that good things were possible.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned during these last few difficult years, it’s that sometimes our darkest moments can be our greatest teachers. And during the winter that never seemed to end, I came to a realization: maybe the fact that nothing was working out was exactly what I needed. Maybe my move to New York wasn’t meant to be about what I would accomplish. Maybe it was meant to be about what I would learn.

It’s officially summer in the city. My first. It’s already uncomfortably humid for a girl used to the desert climate of Southern California, and it’s nowhere near as hot and a sticky as it’s going to get. I’m trying not to think about it. I’m trying to take each day as it comes, enjoying the fact that I can still sit in my living room with all the windows open and feel the faint breeze rustling through the trees and listen to the rattle of the 1 train as it shoots out of the tunnel at 125th and Broadway.

The beginning of summer means my memoir class is coming to an end. And while I’ve made a commitment to spend these next hot, humid months writing my book, I’ve also just begun another class: an intensive playwriting workshop geared toward finishing the first draft of my next script. I’m a bit worried I’ve taken on too much, that one big project might derail the other. But as I’ve started diving into this new play, a bittersweet love story about two people whose destinies are intertwined and yet, who ultimately can’t be together, I’ve realized that whether it’s fiction or non, there’s one theme that keeps running through all of my work, a theme that goes something like this: You can’t save people, you can only love them.

I can’t say how long I’ll stay in New York. I can only say that after nine months and three seasons, I’m finally starting to appreciate this city for what it is: an open door I needed to walk through to change my life. I’m grateful for every road block, every challenge, every time I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “What in the hell am I doing?” This experience has made me stronger, less afraid, and more willing to fail. And while I’ve never been a person who’s been comfortable living in uncertainty, I can recognize that uncertainty is exactly what I needed to make me realize I still have the power to shape my own narrative. I don’t know how this story is going to end, only that I’m writing it moment to moment, in a place where, once again, anything feels possible.

Until next time, friends.

Ocean Avenue.

The email finally came through on a Tuesday morning, six days after I started looking for it. I wasn’t sure why I continued to obsessively check my phone. I already knew what it was going to say.

Yet even though I had felt in my bones that I’d be getting a rejection letter, when that rejection finally came it still landed like a gut punch. It still felt like an indictment, still made me feel like a failure, still caused me to send text messages to friends asking, “What am I even doing here?”

Of course, I knew the answer. I knew it the week before, on Mother’s Day, when I sat at the bar of a breezy, open-air restaurant overlooking Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue with two of my best girlfriends and cried into my craft cocktail. “I’ve tried everything I can think of,” I moaned. “But New York just doesn’t fit.”

But as much as I missed my friends, as much as – after nearly nine months away – L.A. still felt like home, I knew if I moved back now it would just mean that, once again, I was running. I hadn’t given New York enough time. I hadn’t given it the opportunity to change me in the ways I hoped it would.

I moved east with the goal of producing a play I wrote. I’d produced plenty of theatre in L.A., but I knew it would be harder in New York, and more expensive. I also knew I didn’t have the same network of people to call upon and ask for help. But still, I’d battle tested the script over the course of two L.A. productions and three New York readings, continuing to rewrite and refine and fix along the way. It was in great shape. I’d put together what I knew was an impressive submission package complete with glowing reviews from Hollywood. So, when I turned in my application for the New York Fringe Festival, I was sure I was going to get in.

But then something funny happened. A week after the application deadline, I stared a memoir class. I signed up for it partly to help me develop a regular writing practice and provide discipline in the form of homework and deadlines. But if I’m honest, the real reason I signed up was because I couldn’t get fiction writing – not playwriting, not anything – to hold my interest. And after a few weeks of class, a few weeks of writing exercises that pushed me to dig deep into stories from my life, memoir felt like the only thing I wanted to write. Even though it was painful. Even though it opened up a Pandora’s Box full of memories I preferred to forget. And somewhere in those first few weeks, I made the decision that it was finally time to write the book I’d been dancing around the edges of for years.

But secretly, I worried. If my play got into the fringe festival I’d have to shift gears and take on the tremendous task of producing a show. It was a prospect that thrilled me, but I also knew from experience how much work it would be. It meant the book would have to take a backseat. And because the money I’d been living on was starting to run low, it also meant that I would have to go back to work as soon as the festival was over.

I traveled back to L.A. with these conflicting feelings swirling inside of me. And as I sat down to dinner with my friend Jen on my first night in town and confided that I was afraid to step away from the fun and collaborative worlds of theatre and film to plunge into the lonely and painful process of writing a book, she just looked at me and said, matter-of-factly: “I think everything in your life for the last five years has been leading up to this moment. It’s time.”

She reiterated that sentiment two days later, on Mother’s Day, at the open-air restaurant on Ocean Avenue, saying that this thing –  the book I had been avoiding writing – was the thing keeping me stuck. It was the thing keeping me from moving on to the next phase of my life. And I cried, because I knew it was true.

It was nearly two years ago, in the summer of 2016, that I visited a psychic medium and asked for her help in communicating with my mother. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew I had to do something, because her death had carved a hole in me and I had spent the last few years swallowed up by guilt and grief. The medium, a young woman named Fleur, was able to give me enough of the how-on-earth-does-she-know-that type of details about my mother’s life and death, that when she told me my Mom wanted me to forgive myself, and that she sent me white butterflies as a sign to let me know she was thinking about me, I chose to believe her.

The day before I left L.A., I rose early, leaving my friend Zoe’s apartment to walk to a corner café for coffee. As I strolled along sunny Washington Place, a white butterfly alighted on a nearby hedge. It skipped over blades of grass and skimmed the edges of flowers. It sailed away, then floated back. I watched it for a minute, then asked, “Mom?” like a crazy person, as though I expected the butterfly to respond. I was greeted only with silence. I took in the bright blue sky, the lavender jacarandas in full bloom, the towering palm trees overhead, and the dancing butterfly. “Mom,” I tried again, knowing it was hopeless but unable to stop myself. “I don’t know what to do. What should I do?” But the butterfly remained silent, continuing to drift on the breeze, until finally it glided gently away, into the beautiful Southern California morning, and was gone.

And it wasn’t the butterfly, and it wasn’t my mother, it was just me, just a shaky but sure voice inside that said, simply, “You know.” Which is why, a few days later, when I got the rejection letter, even though I didn’t think it was fair, even though I didn’t think I deserved it, I knew it was, somehow, right.

As I publish this post, it’s May twenty-fifth. It’s my mother’s birthday. She would have been sixty-six. Would have been because she died nearly six years ago, in a haze of vodka and pills. In a post I authored on this blog back in 2015, I wrote, “She drank until she disappeared. And when she died, I started disappearing, too.” It was true then, and it’s true now.

I am tired of disappearing. I’m tired of feeling stuck. And I’m tired of the ache inside me that only continues to grow. I don’t feel ready to dive into my mother’s story. I’m scared of what I’ll find when I turn the microscope on her life, and on my own. But I also think that we’re never really ready to do the things in life that call upon us to be braver than we believe. We just have to do them and see what happens.

So, I’m going to spend this summer in hotel lobbies, and cafes and libraries, writing everything I know is true about my mother, and my family, and me, until I have something that feels like a book. And hopefully by the time autumn rolls around, I’ll be ready to take another shot at starting my life over. Whatever that looks like. Whatever that means.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Spring.

The last day of April was my first time in the booth. “The Booth” is what my memoir class calls it when it’s your turn to have pages workshopped. You go around the room and one at a time, each one of your classmates gives you feedback on your writing. You’re not allowed to say anything, not allowed to explain or defend your work. You just listen, as though you’re in a soundproof booth. The instructor goes last.

For my first booth, I had written just six pages, the tiniest slice of my life detailing two incidents: one, my father’s near drowning when I was a child, and two, a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle where a stranger asked me some very pointed and very none-of-your-business type questions about my family in general and my mother’s death in particular and I lied, blatantly, to her face.

That experience on the plane was not the first time I’ve told a lie. In fact, I’ve told many, many lies over the last several years. The biggest and most frequent lie I’ve told is that I’m OK. I’ve told it to strangers to make them comfortable. I’ve told it to friends and family to keep them from worrying about me. And I’ve told it to myself because I wanted to believe it. Because I’m so, so tired of not being OK.

As we wrapped up the booth session, my instructor closed her comments by saying, “I just want to tell you how sorry I am. To absorb so much loss at such a young age is painful, and wrong, and I wish it wasn’t so.” And because I wasn’t allowed to say anything, this time I didn’t lie and tell her I was OK. I just listened, and took it in. And then I got on the subway and went home, crawled into bed, and slept until dinner.

It’s not easy to admit that I’m a liar, not easy to admit that the way I want to see myself is different than the way I am. I don’t want to complain, and I don’t want to be sad. I want to be a survivor, rather than a victim.

And in truth, I am a survivor. I have survived a great many things. I have survived my mother looking at me with vacant eyes and telling me she wanted to die. I have survived the knowledge that I was unable to keep her from dying. I have survived the months of constant fear over what would happen to my terminally ill father, living alone in a house he refused to leave. I have survived the guilt over the relief I felt when he died, because it meant I would no longer have to worry about him.

And speaking of guilt, I have survived the wrenching guilt over the fact that I left the person I promised to love forever, because I cared less about his pain than I did about being free. I have survived the guilt that I didn’t grieve for my grandmother as she succumbed to advanced Alzheimer’s disease, because I blamed her years of cruelty and emotional abuse for breaking down my mother’s fragile psyche and leading her to turn to alcohol in the first place.

I have survived the death of the sweetest man I’ve ever known, my Grandpa Gerry, survived the hospice nurses telling me he could bleed out in front of me, or that there might not be enough morphine to keep him from pain. I have survived dark nights of the soul, survived not being able to get up off my apartment floor for days at a time, survived my own broken heart.

But what does all this survival mean? There’s nothing particularly noble or admirable about it. It simply means I stayed alive, because as terrible as staying alive was, it was better than the alternative.

My, “I’m gonna sell all my stuff, move to New York and start over,” move was an act of rebellion against all these years of surviving. I wanted to do more than just survive. I wanted to thrive. I wanted to change my life. No matter how many people told me how hard New York was going to be, I didn’t care. After all I’ve been through, I told myself, this will be easy.

It wasn’t. For the first time I realized the comfort in living in a place where people know you, where they share your history. No one knows me here. And in a city of so many people, so many of whom are suffering, my problems seem small and insignificant. I seem small and insignificant.

The truth is, I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve been given the gift of survival, and what have I done with it? I’ve squandered opportunities and time. I’ve spent money I’ve inherited from my parents foolishly, hoping that “treating myself,” would make me feel better. I’ve been spoiled and selfish, spent far too much time feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been called brave and I haven’t deserved it.

Last Sunday, I woke to the most glorious day. It was cloudy, but not rainy, with a gentle breeze and the slightest chill in the air. I sat in the arm chair of my living room, windows open, curtains parted. And for the first time, I noticed that the formerly barren trees climbing upwards toward my eighth-floor balcony were suddenly full of lush green leaves, and birds were singing. “This is spring,” I told myself. “This is perfect. Hold on to this.”

And in that moment, I made a decision. I will no longer apologize for the fact that I am not OK. I will no longer apologize for the fact that I don’t fit into normal life, or that my journey doesn’t look like everyone else’s. I will accept myself as I am: searching, messy, not as together as I’d like to be, but moving forward anyway. I will try harder to open my palms in gratitude for all I’ve been given. And I will keep writing my story, flawed and sharp-edged as it is, always with an eye toward a quote my teacher ended our last memoir class with, from Abigail Thomas:

“Be honest, dig deep, or don’t bother.”

Until next time, friends.

Vertigo.

I pressed my back against the chair, feeling the thin tissue paper covering crinkle as I shifted my weight. A wave of nausea washed over me. I quickly leaned forward. Nope, too far. The room spun. I carefully, slowly reclined, trying to find what felt like center. I was perched on the edge of my seat when the doctor came in. He had kind eyes, a nice smile. “We’re going to take your vitals again,” he said. “Your heart rate was too high.”

“I’m just nervous,” I told him. “I don’t really like doctors. No offense.”

I found a spot on the floor to focus on and concentrated on my breathing. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. He told me to relax my arm as he prepared to take my blood pressure. I did as I was told. I felt the band tightening, felt my heart throbbing in my bicep. Inhale, exhale.

“Well, that’s much better.” He seemed pleased. “You were right; must have just been nerves.” That’s funny, I thought. I don’t feel more relaxed.

We did a neurological test. Normal. He looked inside my ears. Normal. There was nothing out of the ordinary, no obvious cause of dizziness. “Vertigo usually goes away on its own,” he said. “But if you’re not better in a week, you may need to see a specialist.”

He gave me some exercises to help restore my equilibrium. “At first, they might make you even more dizzy,” he admitted. “But they really do seem to help.” I signed a release form, paid my hundred and twenty-five dollars and just like that, I was on my way home.

The dizziness began the week before, after what I had hoped was the last New York snow storm of early spring. At first, I ignored it, partly because – for the first time in many years – I was without health insurance. I tried to hold on to my California plan, figuring I’d move back there eventually (one of many examples of how I’d kept one foot out the door since my arrival in New York), but I could no longer prove residency and my coverage was canceled. That left the New York insurance market, a confusing maze of companies I didn’t know and policies I didn’t understand. I had begun the application process but hit a wall when it came to choosing a plan.

The day before my trip to urgent care, I spent the afternoon in rehearsal for an evening of original monologues at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. I’d written one of the monologues and was directing seven others, which meant a long day of working with actors in the fifteenth-floor conference room of a building in midtown Manhattan. The rehearsals were a welcome distraction, but more than once I’d felt the room spin and wondered if I was going to faint. By the end of the day, health insurance or no, I knew I had to see a doctor.

And he was right. Ultimately the vertigo did get better on its own. I still get a little dizzy now and then, but the difference is striking. I’m no longer afraid I’ll fall in the shower, or have to grip the edge of the sink to remain upright when I’m washing dishes, or feel the room spin when I’m lying down.

I don’t think I was ever in actual medical jeopardy, but my recovery does feel as though I’ve been given a second chance. The truth is, I feel as though I’ve been given many second chances, and too many times, I’ve taken those chances for granted. I want to believe I’m brave and adventurous, that I’ve learned my lesson about how short and precious life is, but I still make far too many choices out of fear.

This is week four of my ten-week memoir class. When I started it, I was full of resistance. I didn’t feel ready to write a book. I still don’t feel ready. But in just a few short weeks, I’ve awoken memories that won’t go back to where they came from. And the more I write, the more I remember. At this point, it feels too late to do anything but keep going.

I’m scared, just like I was at that doctor’s visit. My memories are painful and not easy to relive. The recurring dreams about my mother are not easy, either. But as fearful as I am about diving further into the past, I’m even more fearful of running out of time. That’s the gift my vertigo gave me: a reminder the future isn’t guaranteed.

After last week’s class – a class where I talked through the subject matter of my yet-to-be-written book and landed on a theme – a fellow student pulled me aside. A lovely woman, a mother and a grandmother, somewhere between two and three decades older than me, she smiled and said, “You know something? You’re lucky. Most people don’t arrive at that level of self-awareness until they’re much older. To have such insight about your life when you still have so much of it left to live, that’s a real gift.”

She’s right. It is a gift. One I’m grateful for. One I have to remind myself every day not to take for granted.

Until next time, friends.

Forward.

On the January day when thousands of people marched in the streets of New York – the day when thousands of people marched in streets all over America – I awoke to find that a strange heaviness had settled over me. My muscles burned, sending small fires shooting throughout my body. My head throbbed. My stomach heaved. My breaths came shallow, and the world spun. “No,” I thought. “I never get sick.”

But apparently, I do, because for the next four days the only time I left my apartment was to drag myself to the corner drug store for cold medicine, returning from that short trip gasping for air, my clothes soaked to the skin. Back inside, I stayed bundled in blankets, pillows propped behind my aching back, a double-spaced printed draft of my play War Stories resting beside me.

Illness is never convenient, but the timing of this virus struck me as particularly cruel. I had booked a space to hold two play readings in February, the dates of which were rapidly approaching. What I thought would be minor script rewrites turned into something much larger once I sat down to edit, and instead, I had opened up a Pandora’s box of new character development that I couldn’t turn back from. A dear friend who had – angel that she is – offered to help me cast actors and find a director for the readings needed the new draft in order to get started, but I was nowhere near done with it.

For the next twenty-four hours, I couldn’t get out of bed. Every time I tried to write, fever or nausea would overtake me and I’d have to stop. But on the second day, I began to feel better. The fire subsided. The room stopped spinning. I picked up my script and began to leaf through it, forcing myself to form the fog in my brain into something resembling focus.

And then, something funny happened. As I stared at the printed pages, overwhelmed at the seemingly insurmountable task before me, exhaustion collided with frustration and I began to cry. I bawled for several minutes – big, crocodile tears – and I felt so utterly hopeless and so entirely sorry for myself that eventually, I started to get angry. And in that anger, I opened up my script and I began to write. Before I knew it, I had scribbled entire passages of new text into the margins of the double-spaced pages.

This went on for two days. Crying and writing. Writing and crying. I would work for as long as my body would allow it, and then, I would sleep. It was not what I would call pleasant. I had no idea if anything I wrote was any good, only that it felt as though some unseen hand had lifted me up and was propelling me forward, and I had no choice but to keep going.

I finished the new draft on a Wednesday, four days after I woke up with the flu. I’m still not sure how I did it. In retrospect, it feels like some sort of miracle. But perhaps it’s just a testament to my own stubbornness, or to the fact that my only option was to finish and so, somehow, I did.

Or it could be that I’m finally internalizing the best piece of advice I’ve received about how to survive in New York, given to me by my friend Katherine (an L.A. transplant herself): Keep moving. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you don’t think you can. Even if all you can do is crawl.

Keep moving.

Until next time, friends.

Montauk.

The sea wants to kiss the golden shore//
The sunlight warms your skin
//
All the beauty that’s been lost before
//
Wants to find us again.*

I woke before my alarm, song lyrics in my head. I heated up a mug of hot water, squeezed a slice of lemon into it, and put my headphones in. From the weathered armchair in the corner of my living room, I watched the sun rise over New York. I watched the clouds turn pink, their color deepening before dispersing, bathing the buildings in gentle light before bidding them goodbye. I watched from my eighth-floor window as a crammed subway train made its way downtown, filled with people going to jobs I didn’t have, leading lives I didn’t live. I watched the day begin, and then, I wrote.

I’m not sure when the shift began. I think it was twelve days earlier, on the way to Montauk, when from outside the window of my eastbound train, from over a bank of snow, I first glimpsed the Atlantic Ocean. And later, on a Long Island beach, when I climbed over more snow to get to sand and stood, watching the waves crash, watching the water recede and return, breathing in cold salt air, that for the first time in a long time, I felt like myself again. There was no grand epiphany, just a quiet voice whispering, “Remember?” And I did. And then I went back inside, to work.

I came to New York to write. And though I’ve been writing every day, I haven’t enjoyed it. The process has been torturous, and slow, and has often felt – to me – without purpose. But as a friend of mine once said, “Sometimes we make the story so big, we can’t tell it.”

When I tell you that writing saved my life, I’m not exaggerating. A few years ago, when I was in the worst part of my depression, when the world felt like it was collapsing around me, writing was the only thing that gave me any relief. I’ve always harbored a secret worry (not so secret any more, I guess) that I feel more than most people. That I feel more than what is normal. So, when real tragedy struck, the emotions were so big they threatened to drown me. That was when I first started experiencing panic attacks. When I couldn’t swallow food without feeling like I was choking. When I struggled to get out of bed.

I should have asked for help. But I didn’t. I wrote. And as I wrote, I learned something. I learned that if I could find a way to articulate my emotions so that other people could feel them too, if I could turn them into real, tangible things in the form of essays or blog posts, if I could get them out of my body and into the world, then they wouldn’t swallow me. Call it sharing my pain in order to survive. I don’t know if it worked, but it sure felt like it did. And it made me feel a hell of a lot less alone.

I don’t write to survive any more, but sometimes I forget that. Sometimes, I’ll be working on an essay or a section of dialogue or a scene in a play, and something will come out that’s intense or unexpected and knock me sideways and I’ll have to stop for a while. And I’m reminded that the thing that brings me the greatest joy can still, occasionally, be dangerous.

When I went out to Montauk, the weather had already begun to turn. By the time I got back to the city, the snow had melted, the streets had cleared, and it was – dare I say – pleasant. I took the subway downtown to look at a theater space, and using Google maps as my navigator, I experienced a feeling that can only be described as relief. There was no headache, no bitter cold. Being outside, walking around, was fun. Were people on the streets actually smiling? In New York?

I guess that’s the thing about winter. The storms can be brutal. But on the other side of them? Beauty. And every so often: moments of pure, unfiltered joy.

Until next time, friends.

*Lyrics from the song “Ordinary Love,” by U2

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