Veterans Day.

“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”

– Joan Didion

One year ago, on Veterans Day, I sat on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, watching amber leaves follow their gentle spiral toward earth. I’d spent the morning in a nearby East Village coffee shop, pretending to write but instead just eavesdropping, allowing the hushed voices of the people nearby to run through my body, causing my mind to wander to places both foreign and familiar.

I was not what you’d call “happy.” It was three days after a bitterly contested U.S. presidential election, and my candidate – a candidate I campaigned hard for – had lost. I was in the grips of severe writer’s block, well past a self-imposed deadline to submit rewrites of my play to its director. We’d posted casting notices and were preparing to audition actors upon my return to L.A., but I still hadn’t completed the script, a fact that filled me with anxiety and made me feel like a failure.

Veterans Day also marked the one-year anniversary of the death of one of my favorite people: my grandpa Gerry. With so much around me feeling dark and heavy, the absence of the light and joy and laughter he had always brought to my life was like an open wound.

Yet as I sat on that park bench watching the leaves fall, something funny happened. I felt. . . hope. I don’t know where it came from – there was certainly no reason for it – all I know is that in the midst of sorrow, there was a sense of peace, and somehow, I knew that everything would be all right.

There are many reasons why I decided to move to New York, but if I can pinpoint the moment when “maybe” shifted to “yes,” it was there, on that day, on that park bench. It was that quiet, confident voice that said simply, “You’re OK here.” And I listened.

One year later, I am OK here. The cross-country move didn’t shield me from sorrow or from the anniversaries of loved ones lost. But one year later, on Veterans Day, as I walked south along the edge of Morningside Park, watching the late afternoon sun set over Harlem, I didn’t feel sad as I thought about my grandfather. I felt grateful. Grateful for the tremendous gifts he and the rest of my family gave me, not the least of which is my awareness of the ephemeral nature of life. Because of them, I made promises to myself about the things I wouldn’t wait to do. Because of them, I am getting better at keeping them.

As I’m writing this, it’s November 14th, the two-month anniversary of my move to New York. Truth be told, I thought I would have accomplished more in these first two months. I thought I would have had a reading of my play by now, and would be preparing for its production. I thought I would have seen more people, would have done more things, would have checked more items off my to-do list.

But I have found that everything is taking longer than I expected, because just being in this city is exhausting. It’s exhausting, and it’s exhilarating, too: all the people, all the stories, all the humanity and heartbreak and hope all around. It makes me want to write all the time. It makes me feel things I’ve never felt before. And it wears me out.

In many ways, I’m still the girl in that East Village coffee shop from a year ago, eavesdropping, allowing the stories of other people to run through me. I am learning to relinquish my need to constantly produce work, and instead to surrender to this moment, finding faith that the words I need to write will find their form in their own time.

Because this moment is not really about work: it’s about finding my footing in a new place. It’s about letting go of old wounds and bidding a gentle farewell to a past that used to own me. It’s about understanding that the greatest act of rebellion – the greatest act of liberation – can be as simple as sitting on a park bench and believing in the quiet, confident voice that says, “You’re OK here.”

I am OK here.

Until next time, friends.

A thousand steps.

Raise my hands/

Paint my spirit gold/

And bow my head/

Keep my heart slow

– Mumford & Sons

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Thousand Steps was not as warm as we had hoped. After descending the many flights of steep stairs from Pacific Coast Highway all the way down to the beach, we found a spot near the shore and spread our towels out on the sand. But after just a few minutes, an enormous white cloud drifted overhead, blocking out the sun. As a cool breeze began to rise off the ocean, we could no longer deny it: it wasn’t exactly beach weather on this mid October day in South Laguna.

Rachel suggested moving to the north end of the beach and settling at the base of a bluff, in hopes that it would block out the wind. We did, and to my surprise, it worked. Stretching out across my striped beach towel, I suddenly felt warm again. And before long, the clouds parted and the sun’s rays fell across my face and sleep began to overtake me. I turned on my side to look at Rachel and laughed because she was already out, her chest rising and falling in peaceful rhythm.

I thought about my phone – all the way back at Rachel’s apartment where I had left it, because this was just supposed to be a quick “beach break” – and I felt my anxiety rise thinking about the texts and calls and emails I could be missing. There was a lot going on back in L.A., and even though I’d come here on a working vacation, I felt slightly guilty for making my escape in the midst of such a chaotic week. But my phone was too far away to retrieve: up that steep, steep flight of stairs (certainly nowhere near a thousand steps, but still enough that when you were climbing them, the name felt warranted), and then another few blocks away, and then up another hill. And besides, I was so tired. What the hell, I thought. I’ll just close my eyes for a minute. And so I did.

I’d been in Laguna Beach for two days, seeking respite from the constant construction noise rattling the foundation of my tiny one bedroom bungalow. The quiet and the ocean view certainly helped my productivity, as did the company; I couldn’t imagine a better work buddy than my college friend Rachel, a talented, hard-working creative director who’d spent years hustling in Nashville and New York. And while it felt good to be productive (two days in, I’d already completed a handful of freelance projects, returned a ton of pesky emails, and spent several hours diving into the next draft of my play War Stories), I knew that what was really important was all the stuff in between the work. After all, years from now, would I really remember the items I’d checked off my to do list, the projects I’d completed, the business I’d handled? I doubt it. What I would remember were the ways Rachel and I procrastinated doing that work, like the impromptu fashion show where she tried on her most impractical dresses, or the careful attention we paid to re-arranging her tea drawer, or the spectacular tangerine sunset we watched slipping below the Pacific, while we talked about our big life questions, the kind of questions that come with the territory when you’ve bid farewell to your old life but aren’t yet sure where your new one is taking you.

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Waking up from my nap, I rolled over and glanced at my friend. Still asleep. She needs it, I thought. I got up, stripped down to my swimsuit, and walked toward the ocean. The waves were cold and the surf was big, so at first I just tiptoed along the shoreline. But gradually I waded in deeper, up to my waist, and the waves rushed in faster and with a force, until one of them knocked me down. I got up, laughing, because I knew that somehow, I needed that, that wakeup call, that reminder not to take everything so seriously.

It has been six months since I left a full time job to strike out on my own. Six months, and I’m still no closer to having a plan, or any sort of long-term strategy. Instead, I’ve just been moving from moment to moment, experience to experience, freelance job to freelance job, with as much travel as I can manage in between. In the absence of a traditional job, people usually assume that I must have tons of free time on my hands, but in fact, the opposite is true: I am busier than I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’ve been filling my time with activities that I actually enjoy. Or maybe it’s because I’m moving more slowly these days, finally allowing myself to acknowledge the impact that the intense emotional trauma of the last few years has had on my body. Or maybe it’s just that – with an altered consciousness – I am feeling my life differently, aware of how rich and meaningful it is, and there simply never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do.

These past six months, I have often wondered how it’s possible to feel so light and so heavy, all at the same time. But as I wade through the waves, the powerful surf crashing around me, I know the answer: its just life. Tomorrow, I’ll head back to Los Angeles, and in the space of twenty-four hours, I’ll attend a remembrance for a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly, work a volunteer event geared toward empowering teen girls, and celebrate the marriage of a dear friend. Light and heavy, all at the same time.

I don’t know this as I stand waist deep in the Pacific, staring out at the horizon, but tomorrow, as we gather in a small theater in Sherman Oaks to pay tribute to the friend gone far too soon, I’ll stand on the stage and speak words that will surprise me to hear myself say out loud, words about how this man inspired me and how I want to live my life differently because of him. And as I say them, I’ll know that they’re true. And later, another friend who I haven’t seen in awhile will tell me: “You’re a different person than you used to be, and that’s a good thing.” And I’ll realize that maybe it’s not so terrible to have these unanswered questions, and to live them, and to let life unfold as it will. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about where I’m going, or about what it all means. And maybe by simply taking those one thousand steps, one at a time, the future will take care of itself.

Until next time, friends.

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Lucky.

The other day, I realized I was happy. When the feeling visited me, I wasn’t doing anything particularly remarkable. I was sitting on my patio, reading a novel, drinking tea, the summer sun sinking low on the horizon, and I looked up and saw a monarch butterfly alight on the hedge near my outstretched foot. And as I watched her pause there, briefly, I realized something that was remarkable:  in that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. And I thought to myself:  I am lucky.

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I have spent years chasing that elusive thing that people call “happiness.” Running off to Europe or running into therapy. Retreating to island hideaways in the South Pacific or in the Pacific Northwest. Trying every diet, every exercise regimen, every “feel good” prescription from self-help books to spiritual counseling to many, many failed attempts at mindfulness and meditation.

At times, I found that thing that I was seeking. I found it in the breach of a Humpback whale in the sapphire waters off Maui; or at the top of Malá Strana, gazing down with wonder on the red tiled rooftops of Prague; or in the cards of an eighty-six-year-old Tarot reader named Miss Irene in the back of a Voodoo shop in New Orleans.

But whenever those moments came, I always had the sense that – beautiful as they were – they weren’t meant to last. I had worked so hard to chase them down that it was almost as though I brought them into existence by the sheer force of my own will. And then, as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. Inevitably, the old familiar ache and its accompanying emptiness returned, followed by the persistent question, “Why don’t I feel any better?”

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I suppose that when I finally stopped running, I did so out of sheer exhaustion. I was tired of working so hard with so little to show for it. And I was tired of trying to fake it to make it. As my therapist told me, “Sarah, sometimes, there are situations in life that can’t be fixed. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.”

Shortly thereafter – after said beloved therapist took a new job and relocated to Oregon (sob) – life handed me just that:  the opportunity to do nothing. To take a break, to slow down, and to take some real time off. And I took it. And it is in this pause that I found something I wasn’t able to find in all of the running and searching and seeking:  I found comfortable footing upon the ground of uncertainty. I found that sometimes, it’s O.K. to be lost.

As I finish this blog post, I’m sitting on the patio of my one-bedroom bungalow on Cashio Street, the sunset casting its tangerine glow on the terra cotta tiles beneath my bare feet. I love this little cottage, love the way it fell into my lap when I needed it the most, love the way its four walls have sheltered me and kept me safe, allowing me to rebuild after everything around me had been smashed and shattered. But I also know – as I have always known – that this isn’t a forever place. It’s merely a rest stop on the way to something better.

But for now, for this moment, everything is perfect. Everything is exactly what I need. And the knowledge that I can be so at peace with not knowing what’s coming next, that I don’t need to know, is the biggest indicator of all that something powerful within me has begun to shift. And I wonder if maybe the thing that I was searching for so intently wasn’t happiness, after all. Maybe the thing that I was searching for was faith.  Not faith in the traditional, religious sense, but instead, faith in myself. Faith that no matter the challenge or change, I’ll be able to meet it head on. Faith that, after having been through the storm, and after having come out the other side, I’m stronger than I was before. Faith that no matter what happens, I’ll be O.K.

Until next time, friends.

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Moments.

It’s an early evening in late April in Los Angeles. I’ve been running in La Cienega Park, around and around that dusty dirt track, spurred on by pop music pulsating through my ear buds and the excitement of a little league baseball game nearby. The sounds that echo through the spring evening – the crack of the bat smacking the baseball and launching it into the outfield, children’s voices cheering, parents clapping – give me an extra spark of energy to keep going, to keep running, to keep pushing my body forward.

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I finish my last lap and leave the track. Tired and sweaty, I run across Olympic Boulevard and turn down Alfred Street, slowing to a jog and then to a fast walk as I enter one of my favorite enclaves in this historic South Carthay neighborhood. iTunes skips to the next song – The Lady is a Tramp – and suddenly everything slows down. As Sinatra croons into my ear buds, I take in the soft blue watercolor sky melting into pale yellow, the amber rays of the waning sun casting their golden glow across the tiled rooftops of stately Spanish style homes, the statuesque palms, the immaculate gardens carefully landscaped with delicately blooming roses and cactus flowers. I feel my steps getting easier, almost as though I’m gliding down the sidewalk, and the air rises in my chest and catches somewhere near the back of my throat in a sharp tingle. Water springs to my eyes and though I don’t cry, I am overwhelmed with emotion as I realize that everything in this moment is perfect. It’s as though I’ve been transported back to a Los Angeles of 60 or 70 years ago, frozen in time, nestled away on this perfect street, at the perfect time of day, with the perfect song creating my soundtrack.

I want to hold on to this moment – and how I feel in it – forever, but even as I’m aware of it, I know it’s almost gone. I think about my Dad. There’s a word he would have used to describe this type of evening: halcyon. It means peaceful, tranquil, carefree. In this one moment, I am all of those things. And I’m also grateful: grateful for the memory of a word that comes to me like magic at a moment when time seems to stand still.

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And just like that, traffic starts buzzing down the street, the sky grows darker as early evening inches toward night, and the moment is gone. And I head home.

For most of my life, I’ve been moving too fast to notice moments like these. Always in a hurry to get to the next big thing. Ever looking forward to the next exciting date on my calendar, the next time I’d get on a plane to travel somewhere new, the next creative project on the horizon, the next vacation or holiday. Ever looking forward as I skipped over all the “boring” day-to-day moments in the process.

And then when my life started to unravel and people I loved started getting sick and dying, all I wanted was to be on the other side of it. I wanted so badly for things to be the way they used to be, to feel “normal” again, that I threw myself at life as hard as I could. I pushed myself to “get through it” by working hard and setting ambitious goals. My intentions were good – realizing how short and precious life was, I was driven by an internal fire to make the most of it – but my efforts were futile. I learned the hard way that life unfolds as it will, despite my stubborn refusal to accept what it had in store for me, and despite all of my best laid plans.

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I’m a control freak by nature, and learning to let go has been difficult for me. But little by little, I’m getting there. I’ve started paying closer attention to the here and now, and I’ve become more comfortable living there. And I’ve started realizing the truth in these words from Julia Cameron’s beautiful book “The Artist’s Way:”

It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.

I am no longer in a place where the future is too terrifying to contemplate, and the past, while painful, is getting easier for me to remember. Yet it is still the present moment, most of the time, where I feel most OK. There’s a freedom that comes from not trying so hard, from not pushing so desperately to make my life conform to some idea of what I thought it was supposed to be, and instead, to let it be what it is. I still crave adventure and travel to far-flung locales. I still aim my arrow toward the challenge of tackling the loftiest goals. I still want the big moments in life, with all of their excitement and (sometimes) heartbreak. But in between all of those things, there are many, many smaller things: the small moments that make up a day, and that make up a life. Moments like catching the perfect sunset at the perfect time of day in the perfect place to witness it.

Those little moments are worth holding on to. Those little moments – for the moment – are where my happiness resides.

Until next time, friends.

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Nothing.

Tell me if this has happened to you before: you’re confronted with a problem that you don’t know how to solve, and so, rather than react, you wait.  And while you’re waiting, this problem magically takes care of itself.  It could be an email that you don’t know how to respond to, a request for help from a needy friend that you just don’t have time for, or a work problem that you’re not sure how to tackle.  And sometimes, as with a computer glitch, all you really need to do is turn it off for a while and leave it alone.  It’s the equivalent of shutting down and rebooting your system.

I’m the last person to advocate ignoring a problem in hopes that it will just go away.  I’m a doer.  Anybody who has worked with me on one of the plays or films I’ve produced knows that I’m about 100 miles from lazy.  It is simply not in my DNA to do nothing.

But sometimes in life, it’s important to take a beat.  Sometimes waiting and letting the dust settle is the only thing that can be done.  Sometimes, inaction is the best course of action.

Since I’ve become the girl who writes about very sad things – don’t blame me, blame the cosmic forces at work in shaping my life’s trajectory over the last twenty-four months – allow me relate the power of doing nothing back to another very sad thing.

When my Dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic and liver cancer in the spring of 2012, he decided that the best course of action was to do nothing.  The tumors in his liver numbered at least ten – too many to operate successfully – and the pancreatic tumor he had was so rare that the only chemo drug available was brand new to the market, experimental at best, and wouldn’t eradicate the tumor.  In short, there was no cure.  His only treatment option might buy him some time, but it could also make him very sick.  Why add more years to your life, if the life in your years was full of vomiting, pain and misery?

Dad, ever the pragmatist, opted to let his life run its inevitable course.  He figured that at 81, he’d lived a good life and he was going out on his terms.  Plus, any chemo meant that he would have to stop drinking, and there was no way the Irish rascal was giving up his booze, especially not with a looming expiration date.  As Dad’s internist said when his diagnosis came down, ‘If I had your prognosis, Bernie, I’d buy a one-way ticket to a Caribbean island, park myself on the beach with a tropical drink in hand, and lie in the sun until my time was up.’

I thought my Dad’s decision was brave, and it was the one I would have made had I been faced with the same set of circumstances.  My Mom, on the other hand, couldn’t accept it.  I had numerous conversations with her in which I laid out all of the facts on the ground and explained how all reason and logic necessitated that this was the only way to proceed.  And after all, it was Dad’s decision, and we had to respect his wishes.  But no amount of reasoning or logic ever got through to my Mother.  She became obsessed with the idea that this experimental, unproven, non-cure of a drug might work, or that there had to be something else, some unseen solution, something no doctor had ever heard of that just might be a miracle cure.

Accepting that there is nothing that you can do when someone you love is going to die is probably the toughest form of acceptance there is.  There’s a reason why there are five stages of grief and acceptance is the last one.  It is not an easy road to get there.  But as I reflect on the way that my Mom obsessed on Dad’s decision – to the point of making herself literally insane – and how that obsession exacerbated her own addictions and the numerous issues she was already battling, I can’t help but see her behavior as a cautionary tale.

I am my Mother’s daughter.  I am anxious like her and I worry like her and I make endless to-do lists and I lose sleep over the contents of those to-do lists.  I would always, always, rather do something than do nothing.  But, I am trying to learn to be OK with the fact that sometimes there’s nothing to be done.

I can be impulsive and a bit rash (blame the stars, I’m a Sagittarius).  Often, I try too hard and do too much and in doing so, I can turn a situation that’s just fine on its own into a mess.  I am impatient, and frequently just want to get on with it.  But there’s an art to knowing when to act and knowing when to let it be.  When to do something and when to do nothing.  When to take a breath, and relax and let life take care of itself.  And to realize that sometimes, time is the only thing that heals.

Until next time, friends.

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