Sliding Doors. A metaphor for alternate realities.
For the last six years, I have created an alternate reality for myself while away for my birthday, escaping my real life circumstances to frolic and play in the coastal towns of Orange County each year since 2014.
Sliding Doors is also a feature film starring Gwyneth Paltrow in which this metaphor is rooted. The film is centered around this concept of alternate realities… the “what if’s” of a hypothetical life that we usually don’t get to explore in the linear narratives of our real time lives. The film jumps between two storylines, following two possible paths the main character's life could take depending on which side of a subway train’s sliding doors she ends up during one life altering day.
In my previous birthday getaway posts, I have mentioned this concept of sliding doors a few times, and the proposed alternate reality in which I began to indulge while away on these weekends. Spending my last six birthdays in towns adjacent to Irvine, CA, the city in which I graduated from college twenty five years ago, lent a whole host of what if’s to surface over the years; and each year, I explored various ones in my mind and heart.
This year’s getaway in May, my sixth consecutive, was the culmination of all that I have realized through my previous glimpses into the parallel life I imagined during these visits. It was the longest trip yet - five days, fours nights - and by the end of it, I emerged from the other side of the sliding door with a clearer sense than ever before of how to move forward in my own reality.
I attended The University of California Irvine from 1990 to 1994. During those highly impressionable years, I made pivotal decisions about my life and career, as most college students do, between the tender ages of 18 and 22. These decisions steered my life in a specific direction that brought me to where I am today. Yes, stating the obvious, I know; but the path on which I expected to be then, and the one I actually traveled down, ended up being very different.
I left Irvine after graduating in 1994 with the solid intention to work in the Hollywood film industry. Not as an actress, but as a creative… a filmmaker - a member of the visionary creative teams that make movies possible. And that is what I did, at least for the first ten years.
When I returned to my college stomping grounds for my first birthday weekend getaway in 2014, my life looked starkly different from what I envisioned twenty years prior. I was married, had two children, was no longer working in film, and had just begun my journey as a writer who shares her writing with others instead of keeping it hidden in a journal or in a file on her computer.
That first visit changed me; and I have since come to realize that in some ways, over the five years of birthday weekends between that first and this last one, I had been intermittently chasing the feelings I experienced that first transformative weekend away, trying (at times, in vain) to replicate them.
I have never been one to chase ghosts. I tend to look ahead with hope for better tomorrows rather than pine away for the past. But when I was down there - in Newport Beach, driving the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway between the Balboa Peninsula and Crystal Cove, running along PCH and Balboa Island, and walking around Fashion Island, Pelican Hill, and Newport Coast… or in Costa Mesa, shopping South Coast Plaza mall and spending time in the parks, hotels, and neighborhoods… or in Irvine, roaming the campus of my alma mater and visiting the dorms and greek housing where I lived - the smiles and excitement and hurts and faces in my most vivid memories of these places would materialize, often without effort or intention.
Every time I returned, memories of the past, both distant and recent, would come to the forefront, and I would either bask in them or dread them, depending on how I felt in my “real life” - my present reality back home. I was reminded of the actions I had taken and decisions I had made, both twenty five years ago and five years ago, that shaped who I was going to become… and who I was now. Some good, some not so.
I think what I was doing by going down there each year was exploring an alternate path that my life could have taken since college, when my “grown up” life had just begun. I wasn’t trying to go back in time. I was entertaining a fantasy - the “what could have been” of my life had the stars aligned in a different pattern. Had the years unfolded differently. Had I made different choices.
This may sound like I regret the decisions I did make that led to the life I currently lead. Honestly, over these last few years, I have sometimes felt like I did… like I wished I had known myself a little better to choose better, and wished I had developed a healthier mindset that didn’t allow fear, hurt and insecurity to guide those decisions that end up shaping one’s life.
But if I really am honest, in my heart, I don’t see any of the choices I made as bad or wrong. This is a hard one to reconcile, as we all have some things we have done that we wish had played out differently, or rendered vastly different results. It’s okay to have hoped for alternate outcomes that never came to be, while still believing everything that’s happened has happened as it was meant to happen.
My choices have made me who I am; and after a lot of inner work, healing and acceptance, I like who I am today. ALL of my choices (even the presumably regretful ones) put me here, in this beautiful now. They have brought me to where I am, how I think, what I have, and who I love, in my imperfectly charmed life.
But aside from the good in it, my life has never been, and will never be, free of hardship. No one is immune to bad times. There are experiences survived, mistakes made, and lessons learned that are gifts. When it’s hard and things feel bad or overwhelming, they certainly don’t seem like gifts, but they are. Even the biggest mistakes are gifts. Those actions taken and words said that make us feel initial regret, guilt or shame… those are the greatest gifts of all because they make us human, and teach us what we want and don’t want in the future. They teach us who we want to be, and who we don’t want to be.
So, had my life been the alternate reality I had often envisioned on my birthday weekends in Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, I know I would still have had hardships. I don’t know what they would’ve looked like, or what difficulties I would’ve faced, but it’s possible they would have been less desirable than what I grapple with now. Who knows… maybe I would’ve wanted to escape to Malibu for my birthday weekends and dream of a life like mine.
It is the unknown - the possibility of what “could be” or “could have been” - that beguiles us. It is safer to dream or hope for something that, in our minds, still has the potential to be better than what we already have than to accept and enjoy what we do have, even in the most unfulfilling moments. Keeping your head and heart in a fantasy temporarily protects you from facing the disappointment that what is real is not perfect. Reality will always pale in comparison to the fantasy unless we change our perspective on our lives, and alter how we interpret the challenges and perceived barriers to happiness with which we are presented.
2014 was the year it all started; and every birthday since, I anticipated with excitement, and a sort of desperate desire, to relive or recapture the feeling of renewal I felt that first year. Now in 2019, it doesn’t serve the whole of my life to look forward to one weekend a year to be a person who wants to lead a different life. Now I am looking to integrate that weekend into my life in a way that doesn’t dishonor my current existence, but rather enhances it. To have an experience that strengthens me, rather than one that elicits me to look back with longing.
The me that I am is the only one I can be. I may not ever be that college student who has the chance to pick a different discipline and start my life with a different career. I may not ever be that sorority girl who has the chance to date a boy in college who changes how I see the world, and thus alters the trajectory of my life. I may not ever be that twenty-something young adult who has my whole life in front of me, with infinite options from which to choose, and the chance to find my passion and true calling twenty years sooner.
But I can be the woman and the writer I am now… with all the knowledge and love and wounds and growth and wisdom to stay on and enhance the path I did choose, not because it is my only choice (it’s not), but because it is what I want for my life right now.
Life doesn’t present choices only when we are young and starting out. It continually offers us opportunities to compose and edit our own story. We often don’t get to decide every detail of the outline, but we always get creative control over the content of our minds and hearts. We choose who and what we let in, and of whom and what we let go.
There comes a time to say goodbye to phases and feelings and circumstances that no longer fit. To end a chapter. To close a door. To move on... This is mine. The only thing left to do is to say thank you. Thank you Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Irvine, and all that I enjoyed there. For the roles you played in my life. For the joy you brought me. For the love, excitement and possibility I got to feel. For the escapism, the relaxation, and the reconnecting of myself as a woman. And for all you taught me.
Sliding doors closed.
POSTSCRIPT: A little backstory for those new here, or those who have not yet read any of my previous birthday getaway posts…
I have written about and reflected on my annual birthday weekend getaways every year since 2014 (except for 2015). Staying in either Costa Mesa or Newport Beach each year, I have walked down memory lane in many ways on these trips, re-visiting places I lived and loved as a college student and alumni, both in Newport Beach and on the campus of my alma mater, The University of California, Irvine.
2014, the first year I escaped to Orange County for my birthday, was the catalyst to many important changes in my life. With a 7-year-old daughter and 3.5-year-old son at the time, I experienced a taste of freedom from being a wife and mother that I had never felt before. Having sacrificed so much of myself for my children those first seven years, I had unwittingly abandoned who I was and ignored my needs as a woman and individual to the point of desperation, with an overwhelming desire to reclaim my autonomy and a sense of myself that I had lost along the way. I wrote Saturday Night Live(s) while I was away that weekend, and Beautiful Mommy in reflection upon my return.
In 2015, I had just completed an intensive yoga teacher training and certification in March, away from home alone without my husband and kids for nine days while in Davis, CA. I also enjoyed a 10th wedding anniversary trip with my husband to the Pacific Northwest that April; so a big birthday weekend getaway in May was not in the cards for me that year. I did go down to the OC for one night that weekend anyway, visited with some people, and got a massage. I guess I didn’t feel the need to write about it, because I didn’t. Life was good.
In 2016, I wrote Birthday Weekend Away. In Short. Gratitude. in a stream of consciousness, with excessive punctuation. That year I was feeling especially nostalgic, in conjunction with the many challenges I was dealing with back on the home front.
In 2017, I used no punctuation at all when writing mind body soul truth self love attraction birthday wishes and hotel beds, after being challenged by a friend to write in the opposite form from the year before. Feeling especially strong and confident that year, I enjoyed my stay in Newport Beach at the Island Hotel immensely… that weekend was the most like my first year away in 2014.
And so this was my entry for 2019, four months after my sixth annual birthday weekend getaway during the memorial day weekend in May. As mentioned in the piece, I’ve decided that this year’s getaway was to be my final one spent in Orange County. I have already made plans elsewhere for my birthday getaway in 2020!