We'll never be royals: Princess Diana tried to set me up on my first date

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In case you are still in the midst of Royal Fever from Harry and Meghan's wedding - here's the story of when Princess Diana tried to set me up with her son. (This is an excerpt from my memoir You Look Like That Girl: A child actor stops pretending and finally grows up)

Some people must enjoy attending fancy movie premieres, maybe the same kind of people who get excited about getting an invitation to parties at roller rinks or backyard barbeques or anniversary celebrations. Because premieres are much like those regular parties, except add another 700 people, paparazzi, forced ass-kissing motivated by a deep-seated fear that you will never work again, and small, low-carb food served on toothpicks, as required by scrawny Hollywood actresses to keep them that way.

However, my first premier (for the film Rambling Rose) set the standard pretty high. It was a royal premiere in London, which meant the guest list included Princess Diana. When you are being introduced to royalty there is serious protocol because Brits are not known for screwing around when it comes to tradition. There were many rules to adhere to; when I met the princess, I could not speak until spoken to and when I did dare to open my mouth, I needed to say, “Your Royal Highness.” This level of formality felt completely awkward; my instinct would have been to give the princess a hug, offer her a piece of gum, and show her a picture of my dog.

I traveled with my entourage, which for me, consisted of my mother, father, and grandmother. For my Canadian grandmother, attending a royal premiere was akin to having brunch with Jesus. There was no way she was going to miss that.

As soon as we arrived in London, I met with a woman whose actual job it was teaching me how to curtsey properly. My curtsey teacher came to our hotel room, and it scared me a little to let her in. She looked like a cartoon someone had drawn of what a British curtsey teacher should look like. Her entire being was lithe and severe and her hair was pulled back so tightly that it made you wince just to look at it. After a brief history lesson about the curtsey, we practiced the move itself. I was something of a disappointment to her, as my curtsey looked more like I was suddenly tripping over something. She smiled a tight British smile and patiently requested I try again. She seemed convinced that I was about to massacre the ritual in front of her princess, which would inevitably cause the crumbling of the British Empire and everything it stood for. When she had done her best, she patted my shoulder a little too hard and said she was sure it would be fine—but please would I mind terribly spending another hour or so practicing in front of the bathroom mirror?

The whole thing was incredibly intimidating. I worried about what to say to Princess Diana. British weather seemed to be a terrible topic of conversation. Would I have enough time for a real heart-to-heart exchange? Should I tell her she looked beautiful or was that like telling Mount Everest it looked big?

Right before the main event, the actors, director, and producers of the film gathered together to watch an instructional video on how to properly meet and greet the princess. We crammed around the television in the producer’s hotel room. I brought a notebook. The air was thick with nerves and everyone else seemed to be hoping that the video would answer some questions for them, as well. We all sat around looking tense, the ladies smoothing hems and straightening pantyhose, the men buttoning and unbuttoning tuxedo jackets.

I poised my pen and paper as the video started; Rowan Atkinson came on screen as Mr. Bean. It was a spoof in which he was spit-polishing his shoes and making a fool out of himself as he waited for his royal introduction. The video ended with him head-butting the Queen of England. I laughed, but it was the kind of laugh where I was simultaneously looking around, hopeful that the real video was about to start because the issue remained that I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. Seriously? This was the “educational video”? The little skit was supposed to help everyone relax, but all it did was encourage me to scribble in my notebook - "No head-butting."

There was no time for questions as my family and I were ushered into a limo that took us to the theater. When we arrived in front of the marquee, my heart froze. The street outside the theater was teeming with hundreds of people. It might have been thousands. When I panic, I hyperventilate, which often leads to blackouts. That had the potential to result in an unintentional royal headbutt, so clearly it needed to stop.

“That’s...that’s a lot of people.”

Mom waved her hands dismissively at the crowd outside the tinted limo window.

“They’re waiting for the bus. Look, there’s the stop right there.”

She was right. There was a stop right outside the theater.

“It’s London. Everyone takes advantage of public transportation here. It’s very smart. Environmentally responsible, too.”

I was about to inquire as to why people would be waiting for the bus by crouching on top of the bus shelter with a long-lens camera, but my dad and Grandma beamed at me from the other side of the limo. “They’re just waiting for the bus,” they agreed. There was a lot of nodding. It seemed best to believe them.

My family took their seats in the theater and left me to join the other people from the film in the reception line. I waited for the princess’s arrival, between Lucas Haas, who played my older brother in the film, and Jane Robinson, the costume director. I was wearing itchy tights and a horrendous black, flowery Laura Ashley dress with a wide, floppy lace collar that seemed quite sophisticated to my pre-teen sensibilities. The tights had been a last-minute purchase from a Marks & Spencer in London. I had forgotten to bring tights and my grandmother gasped at the thought of me meeting a princess with uncovered legs. My itchy British tights crushed my waist and made me even more uncomfortable. The princess took a long time to arrive but she was a princess, so no one said anything.

The dark, rainy London night suddenly turned to daylight with all the flashbulbs and the air filled with the excited yelling of paparazzi. Moments later, Princess Diana stepped into the lobby of the theater and looked just as spectacular as you would expect. As she made her way down the line, being introduced to the representatives of the film, I tried to practice the curtsey in my mind. I slipped my foot behind my ankle a few times to make sure I could still move it.

She chatted a bit with each person she met. It very much resembled a wedding reception line, except Princess Diana was both bride and groom and was more stunning than both put together. When she was presented to the person just before me, I started to freak out again. Do I look at her now? Or is that eavesdropping? Do I stare straight ahead? Do I look at my shoes and feign surprise when she gets to me? “Oh! Hello there!” As if there was some other reason I had flown to another continent and was wearing itchy tights?

Before I was able to work out an answer, suddenly, Princess Diana was standing in front of me, reaching out her hand. I took it and curtsied, losing my balance a little and wobbling to the side. She smiled kindly and supported me with her other hand.

Strike one. I was specifically told to not steady myself on the princess, as if she were some sort of bejeweled kickstand. But I was a clumsy twelve-year-old who tripped a lot in normal situations; this fumble was inevitable.

The official presentation was made by some sort of royal aid with a booming voice, “Lisa Jakub, an actress in the film.”

“Hello Lisa, it’s very nice to meet you.” Her words were effortless and felt like sunshine.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Your Royal Highness.”

Okay, I got through that part. That was the line I had planned. Now we were freestyling. It seems an easy thing, to have a conversation and respond like a human being to another human being, but when there are several cameras in your face and you’re holding the hand of a princess, it’s not so simple.

“You look so pretty!” she remarked. I blushed and looked at my feet, then remembered that you are supposed to keep eye contact. I looked back up and stared blankly. Saying, “Thank you,” seemed like I was accepting the premise that I was pretty, which is hard to do under regular circumstances, let alone while standing next to Princess Diana. Saying, “You look pretty, too,” seemed trite, as if I hadn’t thought she looked pretty until she thought I did. I fished around in my brain for something else to say.

Nope. Nothing.

“I hear you did a lovely job in the film.” She kindly made up for my lack of words.

“Thank you, Your Royal Highness.”

“I have a son that is just about your age; his name is William. I’m sure he would love to meet you.”

Was Princess Diana is trying to set me up with her son? Now, this would be a hell of a first date for me.

“Oh. Yes. Okay. That sounds fun.”

“Well, it’s settled then, we will have to do that sometime.” She beamed more sunshine at me.

Again, I was stymied. How was that going to work? I almost said, “Should I just stop by the palace one day, or...?” I went with, “Thank you, your Royal Highness,” because I had already said that successfully and was fairly confident that my mouth could make those same sounds again.

She gave me a final, sweet smile and moved on down the line to greet the rest of the people from the film. I just stood there looking forward. We had all flown to Europe for those twenty seconds and now they were done. Had I done a good job? It was a surprisingly intimate public moment that no one could grade me on. I was surrounded by crowds of people and cameras but I suddenly felt very alone. People to my left and right were worried about their own performances, my mom hadn’t been there, nor my curtsey teacher or anyone else that I could count on for an honest critique of my behavior. If I had another take I could have done it better, been more charming and articulate. I could have done that curtsey better and would have said something funny so that I could have heard her laugh. But, for better or worse, life didn’t just write “Take 2” on the slate, offering another chance to be perfect in that moment. There was no choice but to be content with what had happened, even if I felt the pressure to have made it worthwhile. So, I exhaled and tried to wiggle my toes within my stiff, shiny black shoes and wondered how we were going to work out this whole William thing.

After surviving the receiving line, we all made our way into the theater and watched the film. I was a few seats down from Diana and kept stealing glances to see if she liked it. She laughed and cried in the appropriate places and seemed to enjoy herself. She was indescribably beautiful, lit by the flickering screen. It’s hard to understand the full impact of meeting someone like that at age twelve, but I at least understood that I was in the presence of someone who radiated goodness. It had nothing to do with her status. It had to do with the fact that she was kind and she gave me a loving smile when she had to support my curtsey. She had seen my nervousness and had tried to comfort me, mother me. Her title was meaningless. She was simply a kind person.

And I’ve decided to forgive William for going a different way with his choice of wife. Even though Kate might not have been his mother’s first choice.

Six years later, I was in a limo coming home from the airport when I heard about Princess Diana’s death. I had just finished a shoot and they always send limos for that sort of thing because it’s supposed to be impressive and they want to make you feel like you are more important that you really are. I’m always uncomfortable and usually carsick in limos but this was a different kind of awful. The horrible news came on the radio and the driver turned it up for us. My parents and I were all in the backseat and I started shaking. It took a while for the tears to come; my tear ducts were shocked shut.

I stared out the window of the limo and thought of her staring out the window of her limo. She was gentle and had held my hand longer than necessary. She loved her boys. Now, the paparazzi, who had been stoked and encouraged by what I did for a living, were gaining strength like a well-fed dragon. They had chased her. Hunted her. And now she was dead. This job of mine had put me in this unique position to meet this spectacular person, but, I wondered, at what price? My body had been turned inside out and my lungs were too small. I heard my mother whisper to my dad, “Put your arm around her.” He did.

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Revisiting: Money: how film residuals work

*I'm working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts that you might have missed... Hope you enjoy! screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-6-57-55-am

It's surprising to me that people actually ask me how much money I make.

I guess they have heard about "residuals" and are just curious to know how that works, but it seems like a ridiculous thing to ask. I feel like they should follow-up by asking for my weight and the date of my last period.

But people wonder about these things so I need to come up with some sort of answer.

I heard that somebody who had worked on Jurassic Park went to their mailbox one day to find a check for $100,000. I'm not sure if that is really true, or just one of those urban legends that was intended to increase morale amongst us working actors in a sometimes brutal industry.

Just to be clear, I have never stumbled across such a residual check.

Here's how it works - when my movies or TV shows are rented or shown on television, I get a fraction of a penny. Those pennies get bundled together and the checks arrive randomly, sometimes a couple of them show up one week, other times there is nothing for months.

The amount has diminished over time, these days, the average check is about $4.71. Occasionally they are more and my husband and I get to have a nice dinner out. But then there are times when the check wouldn't cover the price of the stamp and it can be a little embarrassing to take a 23 cent check to the bank.

Foreign residuals are always fun; it's neat to get a check for $17 because one of my disease-of-the-week TV movies was on cable in Denmark.

It's nothing life-altering and it's certainly nothing that you can depend on. At some point, the term "residual" started to be reminiscent something that gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe rather than a legitimate source of income.

But regardless of the amount, it's appreciated, because what kind of asshole doesn't appreciate random money showing up for something that they did 20 years ago?

Even if it is less than they would get from babysitting.

Check back next week when I will be posting about my weight and the date of my last period.

——–

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Revisited: Clubbing baby actors

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*I'm working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts, that you might have missed... Hope you enjoy!

~~~

I just wanted to fit in.

Desperately.

All 15-year-olds just want to fit in. They skulk around like those fish on the ocean floor who can alter their skin color to match the rocks. That was me - trying to blend like my survival depended on it.

But Mrs. Doubtfire was still in theaters, breaking all kinds of box-office records and 20th Century Fox was putting two-page ads in The Hollywood Reporter thanking everyone for buying a movie ticket. Blending was getting harder to do. But L.A. was my life now and I needed to figure out how to be part of that Hollywood crowd. A club on the Sunset Strip seemed like a good place to learn.

We didn’t even want to drink. My friend Christine had a crush on the singer of the opening band. Her sister had been in a movie with him, and our entire intention for the evening was to jump up and down in front of the stage and scream.

The place was dark and throbbing with coolness. People oozed cool and rubbed it all over their already cool friends. People moved around the place with such great comfort that it seemed like it was their living room. I used all the acting skills at my disposal in an attempt to copy those people -- and knew I was failing miserably.

Just before the band was due to go on stage, Christine and I headed to the bathroom to preen. She dug through an extensive bag of tools, expertly applying and lining and touching up. I didn’t wear makeup and having no preening abilities of my own, I glanced around the dim, grungy bathroom. I noticed a condom machine hanging on the wall. It was apparently  “for our convenience.” I nudged Christine and snickered.

Both of us had sadly undeveloped chests and few social skills beyond giggling - the machine hardly intended us as its target audience in need of such a convenience.

Nevertheless, flavored condoms were intriguing. The machine’s label reported that they came in three thrilling flavors: piña colada, chocolate and strawberry shortcake. I didn’t drink and was allergic to chocolate, so the strawberry shortcake was the clear winner. Christine and I had a lengthy debate about whether the chocolate condoms were made with real chocolate and if they would induce an allergic reaction.

I thought it would be a horrible time to find out.

She thought I was an idiot.

She started rifling through her purse and pulled out some linty quarters.

"Here. Get two."

"Wait, why are we buying these?" I asked.

She snorted at me and handed me the change.

"Research."

As I loaded the machine with Christine's quarters, she leaned on the bathroom door. This was a scene best kept between the two of us. As our 50 cents went into the machine, slick pink and green packages slid out. They looked cheery. Fun. Yet, I was still scared to touch them. My heart beat quickly.

Christine appeared savvier, though I don’t think she really was. She was just one of those people who always appeared to know what she was doing. Whether on a film set or in a club bathroom holding a piña colada flavored condom, she always seemed as if she has been through it a million times. She was a stark contrast to me - it didn't matter what I was doing, I always looked like I was about to get yelled at.

She ripped open the packaging with her teeth, a move she must have seen in a movie. I approached the wrapper more tentatively, pulling on either side like it was a bag of Doritos. We removed the smooth creatures from their packaging. We unrolled them. We concluded that they probably looked kind of like penises...if penises were florescent, semi-translucent, covered in a strange powder and stinking of sweet chemicals.

“Ready?” Christine asked. I certainly was not but I was standing in a bathroom holding a condom, what could I say?

“Okay. Lick it!” Christine demanded and we each raised the limp rubber to our tongues.

At that moment, the door swung open, catapulting Christine from her guard post and a Goth girl, bedazzled with safety pins, blasted into the bathroom. Christine and I panicked, threw our condoms into the trash and ran the hell out of there.

Taking refuge in a dark corner with humiliated tears flooding my eyes, I cursed Christine for not guarding the door properly and letting us be the freaks who got caught licking flaccid condoms in a bathroom. She also had tears in her eyes, but hers were caused by stomach-cramping laughter. She smoothed out my hair and attempted to comfort me.

"Don't worry about it, Lis. Besides, you are not going to need one of those for a long, LONG time."

Before I could respond with something like "Shut up" -  she grabbed my hand, ran to the stage and screamed for the cute lead singer like nothing had happened.

There were many enviable people in that club, owners of designer handbags, prestigious addresses and powerful careers, but I only wanted what Christine had. Her lightness was admirable and something I could never quite locate within myself. My friend's skin fit her just fine and she never seemed to care too much about outside opinions. Her ease in this world was like a foreign language that seemed impossible to master. I borrowed some of her sparkly MAC lip gloss and hoped something deeper would rub off on me.

That night, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen was getting caught by a Goth. But four years later, Christine got sick. The lupus moved quickly, and she passed away when we were 19.

I'll spend the rest of my life trying to capture her lightness. Admittedly, whenever I think of that Sunset club, I can still taste strawberry condom dust and palpable shame in the back of my throat. But whenever I feel myself trying desperately to blend with the cool people, I always feel Christine smoothing out my hair as she laughs at me.

"Don't worry about it, Lis."

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Why you are never old enough to be too old

I am so old. I've been working at the same job for eighteen years. What else can I do?  I am definitely too old.

This was my constant inner monologue. 

When I was twenty-two.

I was an actor, living in the epicenter of our youth-obsessed culture: Los Angeles. Other people might have defined me as "successful" but success was a mirage that inevitably dissolved every time it seemed like I could grasp it. I signed autographs while out at restaurants or late for my root canal. But I got to a point where the joy was drained out of me. I was barely old enough to order a cocktail, but I felt ancient and hollow.

I assumed that my existence would always revolve around movies. Since I was four, my life had been wardrobe calls, accent coaching, and craft services - acting became my identity. It was the only thing I knew how to do. 

It was who I was.

At the age of twenty-two, I realized that who I was - was mostly miserable. I was struggling with the rejection, the focus on physical appearance, the constant competition, and loss of privacy. I felt trapped in a world that I was supposed to love.

But I was too old to do anything else. It was too late for me.

It finally occurred to me that every time I said, "I'm old," it meant: I'm scared.

I was terrified to make a change and overwhelmed by all the things I thought I should have figured out already. I was exhausted by Hollywood. Used up. Washed up. Deeply frightened of my future.

I didn't know that I was just getting started. 

I had to leave L.A. and retire from acting learn that we are all allowed - even at the age of twenty-two - to write the script for our own lives. We get to set our own priorities. It was painful to face the fear that my only worth came from my resume. There is nothing inherently wrong with the acting profession, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with being a cardiologist or a professional snowboarder. It's just that none of those things was the authentic path for me. We all have the right to change our mind about who we want to be.

I am now 37 years old. I really like being 37 years old. 

I can see the world in a larger context now. It's not all about me and my problems. I have more grounding in who I am and what I want to contribute to the world. I no longer feel the need to impress the right people and wear fancy shoes I can't walk in. I don't need to adhere to someone else's definition of success. That's the reward I got for surviving my twenties.

Of course, there will be times when we all get lost in moments of panic and insecurity. We might obsess about our past heartbreaks, our uncertain future and our hair that won't behave itself for even one damn minute. But we don't have to live in that place of painful mental anguish. We can just wander through every once in a while, visiting that dark, sketchy neighborhood, and then we can quickly remember the route home. We can choose to live in a place that is a little kinder and more compassionate.

I'm married to my best friend, a man who has known me for more than half my life. He knows to open the car window on curvy roads because I get motion sickness, and he can talk me down from a nightmare at 3 am without actually waking me up. He knows I love alliteration and hate raisins. We get all these beautiful moments for one reason - time. We've had time together that creates this bond and understanding. 

Time brings experience. Wisdom. Clarity. Whether we are twenty-two or thirty-seven or eighty-six, we get to wake up every morning and decided how we want to engage with life. We are never too old, or too young, to be who we were meant to be. We just tend to forget that we’re that powerful. 

Instead of picking on ourselves and avoiding every mirror, maybe we feel gratitude for the body that has hugged crying friends. The crow’s feet that resulted from late night giggle fits. The grey hair that was earned, while desperately waiting to hear the car pull into the driveway safely. The mature mind that realized that the high school boyfriend with the fondness for Goldschläger wasn't actually our soulmate. The years that have offered the chance to understand what the world needs and how we can use our inherent talents to shine a light. 

Regardless of our age, let's not be ungrateful for our lives. Let's not be paralyzed by all the things we haven't done, and let's look at what we can do today. Let's not feel old or desperately attempt to be young.

Let's wake up and simply embrace who we are – because that is truly courageous.

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There's real famous. Then there's me.

It is possible to leave Hollywood.

It's not easy.

People wrinkle their foreheads at you and ask "why?" in this tone that makes you feel like you have just announced your intention to dress yourself entirely in tinfoil. People say you're crazy for walking away from a good career just because it wasn't making you happy. But it can be done. You can leave the film industry and do new things and you can almost leave it all in the past. Almost.

Certain things tend to linger.

I've been friends with people for a while and they have no idea that I used to be an actor. They know me as I am now, a writer and a yoga teacher and a wife and a dog-mom. My acting past is simply not relevant. Usually, it will come up because I have to explain why I never graduated from high school or why I have DVDs of the movies that are still in theaters on my coffee table.

It's not like I'm legitimately famous. It's not like I walk into a room and I'm Jennifer Lawrence and everyone starts squealing. Occasionally, people recognize me. Often they squint at me and ask if we knew each other in high school. Or, it's just odd.

My past creates certain challenges when making new friends - because I don't know if they know, either from recognizing me or hearing about it from someone else. So, I don't say anything, because saying something would be obnoxious. Why does my old job matter now? Who's like "Oh, just so you know, 15 years ago, I worked at The Olive Garden, I hope that doesn't make things strange now."

So when I dance around the issue of my past, when I get flushed and nervous and look at my feet while using vague language like, "I was in Honduras once, for this...um...you know...work thing...." I look like I might be a repentant drug lord.

So, I test the waters and mumble "Oh, dunno if you know or not, I used to be an actor, so um...yeah...there's that." And I nervously wait for their reaction and try to come up with an excuse to check my phone.

I've had people get weirded out and uncomfortable, thinking this somehow makes me exotic and un-relatable because actors are apparently made of different stuff than regular folk.

I've had people get too excited and too comfortable and then they only want to talk about whether or not Fran Drescher really talks like that.

And then there is my all-time favorite reaction. When one of my friends found out, after months of knowing each other, she looked at me and said "Oh my God, it's like, you're....fake famous. That's hilarious. Hey, hand me that yoga mat."

She's right. I am fake famous. I have this little bit of recognizability, but I don't get mobbed in public or walk the red carpet anymore. I never enjoyed those things, they just sent my anxiety into overdrive. I like my life so much better now.

As it turns out, the authentic me is much happier being fake famous.

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"You look so familiar" : what it's like to get recognized

I recently got an email asking me about the "recognizing thing." I get this question a lot, so I thought I would answer it here. People want to know if it still happens (yes, but not as much as it used to) and if I hate it (hate is a terribly strong word. I hate bigotry and raisins. I don't hate getting recognized).

But most people say something like "I don't get it - is it invasive if someone just comes up to say hello?"

The answer is no, it doesn't make me angry or upset or annoyed - it's nothing that simple or dramatic.

It makes me kind of embarrassed. It makes me shy. It makes me awkward. (Okay, more awkward.)

It's never something I got accustomed to, so every time someone approaches me, I'm surprised. I worry that:

  • I'm going to say something stupid to you
  • you are going to see the pimple on my nose
  • I'll try to be funny and I'll just be odd
  • I'll make a goofy face in the selfie we just took and that you'll have that forever
  • the friend that I am with - who is a nice, normal non-Hollywood mother of two - feels weird about me getting recognized and is now laughing uncomfortably and looking for an escape route

I never feel like I should be...human. People tend to call me by my character name and I feel the pressure to live up to whatever they thought Lydia/Alicia/Sandra/whoever should be. And should I be who they were at age fourteen? Or am I supposed be a projection of who those fictional characters would be in her mid-thirties? See? It's complicated.

And then I get the people who think we went to high school together. They are absolutely convinced and won't let it go. And then I never know what to do, because I can't say, "maybe you know me from movies" -  without looking like a self-obsessed-Troy-McClure-jerk.

So, no, I don't find it invasive when someone just comes up to say hi. I find it flustering, just in the same way that I get flustered when someone at Whole Foods asks if I need help finding anything - I'm just not skilled at talking to strangers. (See: introvert.)

To be honest, what happens most often is something much more tricky to manage. It's staring. It's whispering. It's pointing. It's attempted incognito photo-taking. And I've never known what to do about that, so I just try to sit there and not feel too much like a zoo animal.

beer

And then there is the really icky stuff - the stuff that started when I was a teenager and made me feel non-human to begin with. There is the feeling of being treated like a commodity and not a real person, like when someone yells "Hey, Doubtfire Girl!" across a room at me.

There is the lack of boundaries and demands of things I'm not willing to do, like the man who approached me at a hotel pool when I was sixteen and wanted me to take a photo with him in my bathing suit. When I asked him to please wait until I could put some clothes on, he said I needed to do it now because, “You’re an actor. You owe it to me.”

I could tell you lots of stories like that - several more appear in my book. I wouldn't say it's common, but it happens, and it hurts.  So, now I have the moment of feeling on guard, wondering if it's going to happen again.

When someone says they just don't understand how getting recognized could be anything other than fun - I get that. When it happens in movies it looks fun. I am grateful that people want to express their appreciation for something that I have done. That's lovely. But the attention and the feeling of being not-quite-human was never something that I was comfortable with. It was one of the many reasons for my retirement.

So, if you see me somewhere, you are absolutely welcome to come say hello. And if you want to help make me feel more human and comfortable about the whole thing - just ask about my dog or tell me about yours.

As long as you understand that I will totally make you look at photos of Grace on my phone.

——–

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Through the looking glass of fame

Photo courtesy of USC Photo/Gus Ruelas The University of Southern California recently bought a letter at a London auction, penned in 1891 by C.L. Dodgson. The only reason that anyone cares about a really old letter from C.L Dodgson is because he wrote books under a pen name -  Lewis Carroll. It's a three page letter, on sepia-toned paper with perfectly old-timey slanted script. The letter seems to have the sole purpose of explaining to his friend, Mrs. Symonds, why Carroll hates being famous. He says:

“All of that sort of publicity leads to strangers hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to, and stared at by, strangers, and being treated as a ‘lion.’ And I hate all of that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all."

It's fairly shocking to learn that Lewis Carroll was so appalled by fame that he had some regrets about writing Alice in Wonderland. (It's also surprising to learn that he was such a fan of underlining.) But clearly, he really didn't like that whole celebrity thing.

What did it even mean to be famous in 1891? What was it like to be a celebrity in the days before TMZ and paparazzi and Twitter fights? Were people hiding in the bushes at Thomas Edison's house? Did W.E.B. Du Bois get hounded for autographs while getting his mustache groomed at the barber shop? Could it really have been all that bad?

Yes, clearly for Carroll it could, because some people are just not cut out to be famous.

I am also one of those people. Now, let me state this clearly, before anonymous internet commenters beat me to it: I am not claiming any major type of fame here. I had a taste of that celebrity lifestyle when I acted in movies that did well at the box office. I had that mobbed-in-malls, autograph requesting, red-carpet walking lifestyle for a few years -- until I was 22 and realized, like Carroll: I hated it. I found the rejection, the lack of privacy and acting as a puppet for someone else's writing to be increasingly harsh and unsatisfying. It threatened to completely overwhelm me. Panic attacks struck and I found myself gasping for breath in dark corners, clutching my chest in an attempt to keep my heart from ricocheting off my ribs and busting through the skin.

So, I quit.

But sometimes when people find out that I used to be an actor, they often ask, with this wide-eyed expression, why I would ever leave Hollywood. I try to explain that it's just a job, with all its pros and cons, and sometimes you get tired of a job and want to try something new. Some people give me this look that apparently people have been giving for 124 years, because Carroll references it in his letter:

"Of course there are plenty of people who like being looked at as a notoriety and there are plenty who can't understand why I don't share that feeling. And they probably would not understand how it can be that human beings should have different tastes. But it is true, nevertheless."

Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, likewise, not everyone is cut out to be famous. Yet, unlike being a doctor, most people think they would be pretty good at being famous.

But we see people who are bad at being famous all the time. Some celebrities crash their cars, go on bigoted rants and get dragged out of theaters in handcuffs. The problem comes when we fail to remember that these are people simply doing a job. If someone is a bad bartender, they get fired, but unfortunately, it appears to be quite difficult to fire a celebrity. Poor job performance just seems to get them promoted up the celebrity hierarchy.

This disastrous behavior could be blamed on money or power or access to every indulgence imaginable, but I believe it's the result of being treated - as Carroll said - as a "lion." It sounds enviable, after all, who wouldn't want special treatment? But in reality, "special" inherently means "different." And it's hard to be different.

I've recently realized that in my desperate attempt to not be a lion, I became an ostrich. By pretending that 18 years of my life never happened, I was simply sticking my head in the sand. We all have a past that stomps its feet and demands to be dealt with. My past pops up during 90's movie marathons, regardless of whether I acknowledge it or not. While the past is not deserving of a staring role in the present moment, it can be worthy of a little thank you in the credits somewhere. Because where would any of us be without it?

I hope that Lewis Carroll got to a point where he could see that the work he did meant something to people and realized that he was not required to be a lion or an ostrich or even Lewis Carroll.

All he ever needed to be was C.L Dodgson.

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Emma Watson, feminism and thoughts from my college advisor

I saw Emma Watson's speech to the UN about feminism. I had shivers the whole time. She got me thinking about digging up this post I wrote a while ago, but was too timid to publish, because for some unfathomable reason, "feminism" has recently become a hot-button issue. And then I saw that she was getting rape threats and death threats, and shamefully, my first thought was "how terrifying - well, I can't write about feminism now."

And that is exactly why I'm posting this.

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Never enough: growing up airbrushed

bags I recently found this headshot from when I was 16 years old.

The blue pen marks indicate the parts of me that should be airbrushed.

That's the world I grew up in.

Even at 16, I had to be fixed, airbrushed and prettied up. I was never quite good enough as I was.

Now, when I look back at that time, I see a girl who had glowing skin and the ability to exist solely on Doritos while still having a thigh gap.

At 35, that thigh gap is long gone, but you know what I do have now?

  • gray hair (because I'm lucky to get older and wiser and experience life)
  • crow's feet (because I'm lucky to be able to laugh a lot)
  • a little puffy roll where my abs should be (because I was lucky to go to Italy last month and eat gelato every day)

I'm done listening to a world that tells me that I should dye my hair and wear concealer and lose three pounds because that's the weight that Jennifer Aniston prefers to be.

The Blue Pen People have made us all insecure about those things, but for some reason we've accepted that. And now, ridiculously, we've picked up that blue pen and are scribbling all over ourselves and others, highlighting whatever physical attributes we deem to be "wrong."

There is so much negativity already in the world, why are we contributing by hating ourselves?

So, women (and men) of the world -- what would happen if we came together and collectively decided that we just don't care about the thigh gap? Or laugh lines? Or inadequate lashes?

What if we stopped judging other women, and ourselves, by silly criteria that have nothing to do with health or happiness? What if we just ended it? What if we decided to focus that energy on important, productive things that actually mattered? Let's stop cursing the darkness under our eyes, and let's light a candle.

It's easy to think that we have all the time in the world and that sometime tomorrow or next year we will learn to be kind and love our hips.

But life is precious -- and we just don't have time for this blue pen bullshit.

Enough is enough.

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Viva L'Italia

"If we get married, we should have our wedding here because it's so romantic." I choked on the chocolate chip gelato I was shoving in my face.

"Dude - you can't just say shit like that."

(I've always known how to ruin a moment.)

But the thing was - I loved him exactly because he'd say shit like that. He was confident and authentic and didn't play games.

We'd been dating for all of 3 months - but we'd been friends for 5 years before that. And suddenly one day, I couldn't imagine life without him. He was my partner. He felt like home. And he was right, Italy was incredibly romantic.

But, I was 22 years old, I swore I'd never get married, and I wasn't totally sure that I could give up the habit of making out with my co-stars in my trailer during lunch breaks. But he was the first guy that really made me consider it. That's why I had brought him to Italy.

For the year or two prior, I had been contemplating a slow exit out of acting - I thought maybe I'd be happier working behind the camera. I produced a short film called Day After Day and it was selected to be in a showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. What a perfect way to show off to my new boyfriend.

So, three months into our relationship, I invited him to come to France on my work trip to take the film to the festival. We traveled around Italy as well - which is where he made me choke on chocolate chip gelato.

Four years later, I realized I really was done with kissing boys in my trailer (and actually, I realized I was done with the trailers and the films that provided them, as well) so we went back to Italy and said vows.

Jakub 007

And now, after 9 years of marriage, we are on our way back to Italy to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday. Because I married the kind of guy who says that what he wants most for his birthday is to go back to that very romantic place.

He always has the best ideas.

So, I'll be back in a couple of weeks. I'll eat some gelato for you.

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Clubbing baby actors

fullsizerender-2 I just wanted to fit in.

Desperately.

All 15-year-olds just want to fit in. They skulk around like those fish on the ocean floor who can alter their skin color to match the rocks. That was me - trying to blend like my survival depended on it.

But Mrs. Doubtfire was still in theaters, breaking all kinds of box-office records and 20th Century Fox was putting two-page ads in The Hollywood Reporter thanking everyone for buying a movie ticket. Blending was getting harder to do. But L.A. was my life now and I needed to figure out how to be part of that Hollywood crowd. A club on the Sunset Strip seemed like a good place to learn.

We didn’t even want to drink. My friend Christine had a crush on the singer of the opening band. Her sister had been in a movie with him, and our entire intention for the evening was to jump up and down in front of the stage and scream.

The place was dark and throbbing with coolness. People oozed cool and rubbed it all over their already cool friends. People moved around the place so comfortably that it seemed like it was their living room. I used all the acting skills at my disposal in an attempt to copy those people -- and knew I was failing miserably.

Just before the band was due to go on stage, Christine and I headed to the bathroom to preen. She dug through an extensive bag of tools, expertly applying and lining and touching up. I didn’t wear makeup and having no preening abilities of my own, I glanced around the dim, grungy bathroom. I noticed a condom machine hanging on the wall. It was apparently  “for our convenience.” I nudged Christine and snickered.

Both of us had sadly undeveloped chests and few social skills beyond giggling - the machine hardly intended us as its target audience in need of such a convenience.

Nevertheless, flavored condoms were intriguing. The machine’s label reported that they came in three thrilling flavors: piña colada, chocolate and strawberry shortcake. I didn’t drink and was allergic to chocolate, so the strawberry shortcake was the clear winner. Christine and I had a lengthy debate about whether the chocolate condoms were made with real chocolate and if they would induce an allergic reaction.

I thought it would be a horrible time to find out.

She thought I was an idiot.

She started rifling through her purse and pulled out some linty quarters.

"Here. Get two."

"Wait, why are we buying these?" I asked.

She snorted at me and handed me the change.

"Research."

As I loaded the machine with Christine's quarters, she leaned on the bathroom door. This was a scene best kept between the two of us. As our 50 cents went into the machine, slick pink and green packages slid out. They looked cheery. Fun. Yet, I was still scared to touch them. My heart beat quickly.

Christine appeared savvier, though I don’t think she really was. She was just one of those people who always appeared to know what she was doing. Whether on a film set or in a club bathroom holding a piña colada flavored condom, she always seemed as if she has been through it a million times. She was a stark contrast to me - it didn't matter what I was doing, I always looked like I was about to get yelled at.

She ripped open the packaging with her teeth, a move she must have seen in a movie. I approached the wrapper more tentatively, pulling on either side like it was a bag of Doritos. We removed the smooth creatures from their packaging. We unrolled them. We concluded that they probably looked kind of like penises...if penises were florescent, semi-translucent, covered in a strange powder and stinking of sweet chemicals.

“Ready?” Christine asked. I certainly was not but I was standing in a bathroom holding a condom, what could I say?

“Okay. Lick it!” Christine demanded and we each raised the limp rubber to our tongues.

At that moment, the door swung open, catapulting Christine from her guard post and a Goth girl, bedazzled with safety pins, blasted into the bathroom. Christine and I panicked, threw our condoms into the trash and ran the hell out of there.

Taking refuge in a dark corner with humiliated tears flooding my eyes, I cursed Christine for not guarding the door properly and letting us be the freaks who got caught licking flaccid condoms in a bathroom. She also had tears in her eyes, but hers were caused by stomach-cramping laughter. She smoothed out my hair and attempted to comfort me.

"Don't worry about it, Lis. Besides, you are not going to need one of those for a long, LONG time."

Before I could respond with something like "Shut up" -  she grabbed my hand, ran to the stage and screamed for the cute lead singer like nothing had happened.

There were many enviable people in that club, owners of designer handbags, prestigious addresses and powerful careers, but I only wanted what Christine had. Her lightness was admirable and something I could never quite locate within myself. My friend's skin fit her just fine and she never seemed to care too much about outside opinions. Her ease in this world was like a foreign language that seemed impossible to master. I borrowed some of her sparkly MAC lip gloss and hoped something deeper would rub off on me.

That night, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen was getting caught by a Goth. But four years later, Christine got sick. We didn't know what was wrong, but I sat with her in the hospital and massaged her aching hands. We played The Cranberries on an endless loop. We talked about going to get frozen yogurt as soon as she was released from the hospital.

But she never was.

The lupus moved quickly, and she passed away when we were 19.

I'll spend the rest of my life trying to capture her lightness. Admittedly, whenever I think of that Sunset club, I can still taste strawberry condom dust and palpable shame in the back of my throat. But whenever I feel myself trying desperately to blend with the cool people, I always feel Christine smoothing out my hair as she laughs at me.

"Don't worry about it, Lis."

 

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Childhood choices: is it okay to recruit a 9-year old?

Jaden Newman is 9 years old. She also just became the youngest person ever recruited by a college program. Jaden plays basketball. I'm no talent scout but I saw a 30-second video of her playing - and she's damn good. Clearly, the University of Miami thinks so, too.

While I understand why many people are celebrating this fantastic achievement, it still makes me squirm a little. I'm not sure that we should be celebrating colleges recruiting 4th graders.

It's wonderful that Jaden is such a talented, hard working kid who has found something that she loves to do. But can't it just be left at that? Isn't that enough? Why does basketball need to be something that defines her future right now? There's a lot of baggage that comes along with being labeled a "phenom" before you hit double-digits.

I'm not sure why a university needs to take ownership of Jaden's future at this point. She should have the freedom to wake up next Wednesday morning and decide that she doesn't want to play basketball anymore and that she is much more interested in the debate team. Childhood is all about being free to explore who you want to be for the rest of your life. And if there is pressure of a college scholarship and this precedent-setting recruitment, I worry it will stifle her vision for herself.

Maybe Jaden really did find the thing she wants to do for the rest of her life at the age of three. Maybe this is just giving her a great option down the road. I hope that is what happens.

When I was three, I started my career and I identified myself as an actor for the next 18 years. Then, when I was 22, I slowly realized that I didn't want to do that job anymore. I had never even bothered to ask myself what else there was, because it hadn't occurred to me that there were other options available. I assumed I was incapable of anything else. Suddenly, I had no clue who I was. I identified myself as an actor before I identified myself as anything else. If you had asked me who I was, I would have said:

1. An actor

2. A girl

3. A Canadian

So, if I wasn't an actor anymore, was I anything at all?

For me, it worked out - I don't have any regrets. I was able to find a new path and eventually found my self-worth somewhere else (thank you, therapy). But not all kid actors end up in a good place. I hope Jaden knows that she has the ability to be something different if she wants - even if it doesn't come with the media attention and the prestige of college sports. Just because she is good at something doesn't mean she is required to do it.

When little kids say they want to be firefighters, we don't suit them up, put an axe in their hands and send them out there. But with sports, music and acting, it seems like the rules are different.

I believe that it's always important to know, wherever you are in life, that you are allowed to change your mind. None of us have to be just One Thing. If we all had to commit to what we wanted to be when we were little - there would be a whole lot of firefighters and ballerinas. And my husband would be a bird.

So, go do what you love, Jaden. Kick ass and have fun - whether you want to be a basketball player, a firefighter, a ballerina or a bird. I'm pretty sure you'd be awesome at all of them.

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The things we leave behind

The smell of humidity and rot was strong in the air. But it was a pleasant smelling rot - the gentle softening and giving way of enormous trees to a million tiny insects and bacteria. Butterflies sliced zigzags through the air and landed on sun-warmed rocks to splay out their saffron wings. Branches strewn out on the path suddenly lifted their serpentine heads and lazily slithered into the brush. What my Dad wanted for his 60th birthday was to go hiking with me. I'm not sure, as a daughter, what feels better than that. So, Dad and I went hiking. We crossed an icy river, our feet tingling from the cold and slipping on moss-covered rocks. We waved away the little flies that buzzed persistently behind our sunglasses.

The old stone chimney was hiding just off the path, amongst over-grown vines and fallen trees. It was all that remained of a cabin. When the Shenandoah National Park was formed in the 1930s, most of the residents left the area - but the man who lived here decided to spend his final days in his cabin. After he died, the cabin was destroyed. Only the chimney remains.

CameraAwesomePhoto

It got me thinking about the things we leave behind. I've always been pretty aware of my own mortality and physical limits. Maybe because one of my early acting jobs involved being shot and killed in a restaurant when I was 6. Maybe because I broke my back when I was 11. Maybe because my dearest friend died of lupus when we were 19.

I've never felt invincible.

The wonderful and terrible thing about movies is that they last a really, really long time. I find that disconcerting for many reasons. One reason is that there is footage out there of me singing - which is a total atrocity. But also, in many ways, it feels like what remains of me is a lie. It's frame after frame of me wearing things I didn't pick and saying words I didn't choose. It's me pretending to be someone I'm not.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I write - so that I leave something lasting. Something that is truly me, not simply the shell of me, acting like someone else. I think it's natural to want to create something meaningful that endures beyond yourself. Andrew Carnegie called it the desire to "do real and permanent good."

Personally, I've never felt the desire to have children and pass on my DNA, so I need to find another way to leave my mark on the world. It doesn't need to be perfect or spectacular. I don't think I'm going to cure Alzheimer's or rid the world of bigotry. It doesn't have to be bigger or better or more impressive than what other people have done.

It just has to be a true reflection of me. It has to be my best effort. My passion. The thing that my heart feels is right, the thing that refuses to be defeated by my relentless worries and insecurities. It's what happens when I finally get out of my own way and do the work I was meant to do.

That's what our mountain man in the Shenandoah National Park did. He found a way to live and die in his little place in the woods. That was his legacy. His passion. And what remains is that chimney he built. Strong, solid, proud.

The forest will come and claim the chimney at some point, just as eventually everything changes into something else. Nothing remains static forever. Even the movies and words will fade and become obsolete. That's just the nature of impermanence.

But for at least a little while longer, it will all mean something. It will mean passion and persistence and it will reflect the inherent beauty of creating the life you truly want to live.

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Le acne: when movies and real life collide

When I was working as an actor, I had a precise system to decide whether to accept or decline a role. I asked myself the following questions:

• Is it a good script? • Will it provide an interesting acting challenge? • Will I get to go to a cool location?

The answer to only one of those questions needed to be affirmative, and I would commit the next three months of my life to a project.

Thusly, when I was 16, I worked on a TV movie in the south of France. I played a girl who was kidnapped and stolen away to be violated as a sex slave or alternatively, harvested for internal organs, whichever option proved to be more profitable for my bad guy captors.

I don’t need to tell you which one of my three prerequisites this project fulfilled.

And yes, it fulfilled only one.

The shoot was extra challenging because we filmed an English version as well as a French version. We would do one take in English, one French, back to English. It was brutal. I had studied French but it was high school French, words pertaining to libraries and chalkboards. I never learned the phrases required for this project, things like, “Please monsieur, don’t take my kidneys.”

At age 16, I could have passed for 12. I'd stare at my very un-Hollywood chest with loathing and confusion. Didn’t my breasts realize that we were in films?  The movie industry had pigeon-holed me where it shoves all of their flat-chested brunettes -- roles like best friend, tomboy or Joan of Arc. My agents kindly labeled me as an “athletic” type.

Well, on this particular movie, my 16-year-old hormones finally kicked in. And there were zits. Horrible zits that danced across my nose and gathered conspiratorially on my chin.

This was a deep betrayal. Generally, my physical development had cooperated with my career. For example, my teeth seem to have been scared straight into freakishly perfect alignment from the moment they poked through my gums. They understood that they were required to stand at attention like good little Hollywood soldiers, since braces would undermine my budding career.

When the copasetic relationship that my body and I once enjoyed came to an abrupt end in the French Riviera, my mother did the proper mother thing and proclaimed my festering acne “Not That Bad.”

Not everyone agreed with this charitable assessment.

One day, the producers awkwardly took me aside.

Producer: "So, Lisa, we're going to give you a little time off, so you can....clear up a bit. We'll just shuffle the shooting schedule around and work on some of the scenes that you're not in."

Translation: you are being suspended from your job on account of your face.

A normal kid with acne would just hang her head low on the school bus and miserably carry on, but I was an actor kid and this “zituation” as we came to call it, was completely unacceptable. It required medical attention.

The producers sent me to the local hospital, in hopes that modern medicine could return me to the glowing, fresh-faced kidnaped girl they needed me to be. The doctor gave me some green stuff that I applied as directed and in a few days my skin was deemed smooth enough to appear in front of a camera as a believable slave for sexual purposes. I was allowed to go back to work.

That was when I realized what kind of job I had. I was in an industry where the entire shooting schedule would be moved around because I wasn't looking as pretty as I was expected to. We were deep in the world of make-believe. I had dirt smeared on my face and twigs in my hair from wallowing in a sex slave dungeon, but they were perfectly placed dirt and twigs. The realities of life had no place here.

But in the end,  you learn how to take the bad along with the good. After all, I got to hang out in the south of France for a while, and I learned how to say “oozing” in French.

It's "suintement."

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Things change and nothing changes: Mrs. Doubtfire 2 debrief

I have a pretty normal routine when I get up in the morning. The dog goes outside to sniff around the yard. I do my meditation and yoga. We both have some breakfast and I make tea. Then, just before I sit down to write, I quickly check email - which usually consist of friends sending me links to farm animals on Buzzfeed and an exciting opportunity to turn my computer into a money-making machine by working from home. But last Thursday, I woke up to an interview request from Brazil.

I figured it might be a weird day.

And it was. The Hollywood Reporter announced that Mrs. Doubtfire 2 was in development. This was the first I had heard of it. Suddenly, I was being swamped with questions about whether or not I would be involved.

But here's the thing:

No one has asked me to be involved.

It's kind of like going ring shopping at Tiffany's after your first date. Everyone just needed to take a deep breath for a minute.

I'm not sure even sure how I would feel about a sequel, let alone what my feelings are about being involved. I am retired from acting - it's not the life that I want for myself. But if my friends/former co-workers ask me to consider something, I'm going to listen to what they have to say.

And really, who knows if the film will actually make it to production, or if my character, Lydia, will actually be in it, or a zillion other things that could come up in the meantime. There is no need for decisions yet.

The most interesting thing I had planned for the week was staining our back deck, but suddenly I found myself the topic of internet chatter. On Wednesday, I was just saying stuff. On Thursday, I was "making statements."

It got a little overwhelming with emails and unanswerable questions and interview requests, especially because my answer to everything was a legitimate, yet wide-eyed, "I don't know." It felt like suddenly everything in my life was changing - it was totally out of my control. Chaos was swirling around and from where I stood, this Doubtfire thing seemed to be all everyone was talking about.

So, I did what I do when I feel stressed and ungrounded. I turned off my computer and went to my volunteer job at the animal shelter. I'm always more comfortable with animals and when I can stop thinking about my life and help someone else.

When I walked into the area where I usually work, there was a woman who I had never met before. When I opened the door she turned to me with a sudden look of joyful recognition.

"Are you the one that I've been hearing so much about?" She asked.

My face turned red. I really wanted to stop thinking about Doubtfire 2 for just a couple of hours. I wanted to just do my regular life stuff without hearing another opinion about what it means if I do it or don't do it. I stumbled around and said something eloquent like:

"Uhhh. Oh, I donno."

"Yes, you are! You are the one who has been working with Pumpernickel! What's your name?"

Pumpernickel is a cat that came into the shelter about a month ago. She weighs barely 5 pounds and had been run over by a car. The clinic saved her and she is now up for adoption. She is absolutely adorable, but she has been deeply traumatized and tends to lash out unexpectedly. Pumpernickel has been my project and I've been socializing her -- she recently transformed from attacking anyone that got near her, to being a snuggly lap-dweller and giver of tiny kitty kisses.

The vet heard she was doing well, and came to see Pumpernickel's caregiver and say thank you. She doesn't know anything about my life outside the shelter, and she doesn't give a damn about what HuffPost Live was saying.

It was one of the prouder moments of my life.

I suddenly realized - that's the shit I want to be famous for.

My priorities snapped back into line like a well-cracked knuckle. You know where else this "news" of Doubtfire 2 didn't matter? At my yoga studio. At the farmer's market. With my dearest friend who, after checking to see how I was doing with it all, mostly wanted to talk about the fact that she just learned she'd been buying the wrong bra size for years.

Sometimes, it's easy to get whipped into a frenzy over entertainment news - especially when it involves being misrepresented in an Us Weekly headline. But the truth is, it doesn't really change anything.

We all have those distractions that threaten to take over our lives. Those moments of drama where it appears that something is important just because everyone else is throwing their opinions around. That moment doesn't have to define you. It's can be interesting, sure. But it doesn't need to displace the real things. It doesn't need to become something bigger and better than the priorities you intentionally set for your life.

Whatever the outcome of this whole Doubtfire 2 thing - I'm still the same person who giggles at Buzzfeed lists, knows a lot about her friend's new bra and tries to convince Pumpernickel to not scratch someone's eyes out.

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Psych 101: memories and lies

I was 28 years old and starting college. I had never really been a student before. I started working as an actor just before I turned four, so school always came second. Sure, I went to school sometimes, but it felt like something I did just to fill the time until my next job, like cross-stitch or tennis lessons. But as I neared my thirties, I figured it was time to try that thing that other people did - get educated. I bought a backpack and a lot of pens.

The school thing went okay. Socially, it was challenging. I tried to just fade into the background but people would yell "Hey, Doubtfire girl!" from down the hall, and then they'd get nervous and run away when I turned around. I didn't really have friends, but that was okay -- I had all those pens.

I took an Introduction to Psychology class. The professor came into the room on the first day, shuffling a stack of impressive looking papers while extolling the importance of early childhood experiences on the adult psyche.

She asked us all to recall our earliest memory and share it with the random stranger next to us. I couldn't have been more offended by the intimacy of this assignment if I had been asked to whip out a nipple for my seat-mate.

The truth is, there is footage of my earliest memory.

cottonelle

I am on the set of a Cottonelle toilet paper commercial. A man is standing on a ladder, pouring a cardboard box full of cotton balls on my head. The commercial will be in slow motion: me with my unusually large eyes, joyously attempting to catch the fluffy cotton balls that rain down on me. I'm thinking it's strange that this grown man’s job is to dump cotton balls on my head. My job also feels ridiculous - catching aforementioned cotton balls - but I am barely four years old. I reason that it's okay to have a silly job since I'm just a preschooler.

But that was just not a memory to share with a complete stranger on the first day. It would have led to more questions and the kind of attention that I was trying to avoid. I was already desperately attempting to blend in with kids who were 10 years younger than me, kids who didn't have a husband and a mortgage and a 10pm bedtime.

So, I lied about my first memory.

"My first memory is of my grandfather," I said to the teenager next to me, who was twirling her hair and trying to look interested.

"He was pacing the upstairs hallway of his house. He had a heart condition and was pretty much restricted to his bedroom and that one hallway. I was walking behind him, my hands clasped together behind my back, mimicking his gate and posture. He always sang these Scottish bar songs and he would close his eyes when he got to the high notes."

This indeed is an early memory of mine - it's just not the first. This particular memory appears to indicate that I am a born follower and some sort of copycat. And a liar.

What does it mean that my real first memory was on set?

I'm not sure.

Maybe it means that my identity as an actor is so deeply rooted that I can never completely rid myself of it.

Maybe it means that I always questioned the viability of acting as a long-term career for myself.

Or maybe it just means that trying to catch cotton balls is pretty fun.

-------

Here's the whole commercial - if you are feeling nostalgic for Canadian toilet paper commercials from the 80s.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td1IVbBpNh0?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

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Now and then: lessons from a shelter dog

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 8.41.49 AMThree years ago today, my own personal guru moved into our house. My husband and I went to the animal shelter just to "look."

We went to look for a puppy. What we found was an eight-year-old malnourished little mutt with eyes that were two different colors. She was not at all what we wanted. We couldn’t imagine adopting a senior dog and having to endure the loss of her so soon. We hadn't even completely recovered from the loss of Cleo a year earlier.

But when we sat with Grace in the courtyard of the shelter, I burst into tears. Jeremy immediately knew that this dog was our dog, because whenever something important happens --  I burst into tears. We decided that we didn't care how old she was. Whatever time we could have with this sweet soul was completely worth it.

We paid our $50 and we took home our Catahoula leopard dog/blue heeler/who knows what else.

We joyfully surrendered to the unknown.

But Grace was kind of a mess.

We knew very little about her past, other than the fact that she had been living on the streets for a while. Her claws were so long they wrapped around and dug into the pads of her feet. Half of her teeth had to be pulled because they were rotted. She didn’t know how to play. The sound of clapping made her cower. She had terrible nightmares that left her snarling and whimpering and snapping at anything she could reach. Life had not been easy for this dog.

Even with that history, watching her come into her own over the past three years has taught me incredible lessons about stillness, joy, acceptance, love, and indeed -- grace.

She reminds me that everyone has a past, sometimes wonderful and sometimes challenging. We need to acknowledge it, learned from it, and then let go. I don't know exactly what Grace has gone through. She has a deep affection for the sound of an ice cream container being opened, so she's clearly got some fond memories from her old life, too. But really, the details are irrelevant.

That's the amazing thing about her. Grace doesn't care if you're divorced or you got fired or your parents sucked at showing affection. She just cares about this moment right here. How it feels to be present together. Nothing else matters to her.

As I transition from total denial of my former acting career -- to embracing it and defining its place in my current life -- this is an incredibly valuable lesson.

We all carry connections to our past. As we should. Those experiences made us who we are and homage should be paid. Grace still gets excited when she sees a dumpster since that was presumably the only way she ate for a while. Similarly, I still retain some of my old acting skills like hitting a mark and memorizing dialogue effortlessly. But those things don't need to be in the foreground anymore. They don't need to take precedence over what is going on - just here, just now.

So, Grace and I learn how to put our pasts in the proper place. I still love and accept her when she feels the need to defend her food, and she does the same for me when I roll my eyes at the red carpet coverage of the Oscars. Then we both take a deep breath and feel gratitude that everything that ever happened brought us to this moment right here.

And there is a lot to be grateful for. Grace reminds me that just going for a walk can be an absolutely thrilling experience.

And sometimes sitting quietly on the porch and watching the birds is the best way to spend an afternoon.

And when you love someone unconditionally, you wait for them right outside the bathroom door, because it's just nice to be close by.

She teaches me that we are all in this together - this struggle to live the best way that we can while deciding how we want to respond to the world around us. We might not have control over everything, but we control our perspective and how we want to live in the uncertainty. Despite everything, Grace has chosen wholehearted joy.

And since we are all in this together, love is always the answer. Whatever wounds we have can be soothed by the love that comes from waiting outside the bathroom door for someone  - when you know they would totally wait for you, too.

Happy birthday, Gracie.

ETA: Grace passed away in 2016, but she holds a permanent place in my heart. 

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The Tiger Mother: race, success and lessons on the wrong thing

The Tiger Mother is at it again. She's getting folks all riled up by saying that the parenting style of some groups (such as Chinese, Indians and Mormons) primes their kids for success more than others.  Personally, I can't offer any opinion on parenting, since we've not chosen to go the kid route. My only parenting advice is that liver treats work well for convincing Grace to not attack the neighbor dog. People are getting all flustered about the racial implications of what she's saying - but I keep coming back to one thing:

What the hell does "success" mean?

Tiger mom says it's clear - income, occupational status and test scores. That kind of makes sense. It's a nice, clean, empirical way of measuring something.

  • Higher income = more success
  • Higher status = more success
  • Higher test scores = more success

That seems to be a widely accepted definition in our society. But I'm not sure I like it. By those measurable accounts, I was much more successful when I was 15 than I am at 35. Twenty years ago, I had:

  • Higher income - I got paid more.
  • Higher status - I was more "famous" (whatever that creepy word means).
  • Higher test scores - I rarely went to school, but the movie marketing people told me that I "tested well" with screening audiences, which resulted in more work.

But what about...oh, I don't know...happiness? Where does that rank? What about passion? Purpose? Authenticity? How do you measure that stuff and roll it up into success? In our culture it's pretty simple: you don't. You toss them to the side because you can't buy yourself a boat with purpose.

I have so much more joy and passion now than I did when I was an actor, but those intangibles don't seem to carry as much weight in some circles.

I recently made a list of the things that equal a successful life for myself. It mostly had to do with my family and friends, contributing to the greater good and taking care of my mind, body and spirit. None of them had to do with being on the cover of People Magazine.

But it took me a while to develop this way of thinking. When I left my acting career, I was scared of what people would think. Would I get thrown in a pile of useless "has beens"? Was I, at 22, washed up and destined to never do anything as good ever again?

I went through a phase where I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I even visited a law school to sit in on classes and went to their campus store and looked longingly at the sweatshirts. At least if I was a lawyer, I'd have a fancy degree I could wave around. Something that proved to other people that I was still worth something.

It finally dawned on me that I didn't want to be a lawyer (no offense to the lawyers out there...especially my dad). I was just trying to feel like I had a justified place in the world and people would think that I was still successful. But what I really wanted was to be a writer. That less prestigious, less financially rewarding occupation was what made my heart flutter.

Ambition is wonderful. But I was being ambitious about the wrong things.  What I really wanted was a life that really fed my soul - not just my bank account and other people's opinions of me.

Being successful now means that my life has meaning. Being "known" never made me feel successful. Doing interviews didn't do that. Getting invited to fancy parties didn't do that.

What does make me feel successful is volunteering to clean litter boxes and write thank you notes at the animal shelter. Or getting an email from someone who was touched by something I wrote on this blog - which I offer for free and get paid absolutely nothing. Or making my husband laugh.

So, what if we thought about success differently? What if we thought about:

  • passion instead of income?
  • authenticity instead of status?
  • happiness instead of test scores?

I'm not sure that the Tiger mom would understand, but you couldn't pay me a million dollars to go back to being "successful." I'll take my poorly-paying, lower-status profession that makes me deliriously happy. And besides, I don't think lawyers are allowed to wear sweatpants to work.

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"So, what is Robin Williams like?"

Sometimes I try to estimate how many times I've been asked this question over the years. And if you replace Robin's name with Will Smith/Pierce Brosnan/Sally Field/Timothy Dalton....

Innumerable times.

I understand why. These people are beloved. Folks want to know if he was funny or she was nice or he was high. I get it.

But I'm curious, how do people expect me to answer? All of those actors were lovely and that's how I respond. But even if they weren't - I'm NEVER going to say that. Why would I slam anyone to you, a person who I just met at the grocery store? Would you say something other than "they're great" about your co-workers to a random person in the cereal aisle?

I guess people want a funny little tidbit about what that famous person was like, but here's the truth -- I am too preoccupied trying to look composed while chatting with a stranger and simultaneously attempting to hide the dandruff shampoo in my cart to come up with a pithy story at that moment. Plus the fact that it was like, 20 years ago, and many of those stories are not crystal clear anymore.

It also brings up another uncomfortable aspect of this whole thing. If that's the first/only thing you ask me - maybe you don't really care anything about me as a person. Maybe you are just using me to get a story about someone else. It's like having a super popular older brother and everyone just wants to know about him.

I'm interesting, too. Not because I might be able to tell you something funny about Robin Williams, but because I've danced in the baraat at an Indian wedding, once fed carrots to a wallaby and have undergone hypnosis. And I'll bet you're interesting, too, but I'll never know because I'm trying to come up with a cute story you can retweet.

But since I still get asked, I'll go on autopilot and say the thing I've said a bajillion times:

"Yeah, he/she was really great..."

And it will be true.

But I'll always wonder if there wasn't a more interesting conversation we could have had.

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Open doors: thoughts on being proud

Most people probably assume actors would be good at being proud. Why wouldn't they? What, with all those parties and photographers and fans fawning all over them. Maybe there are some actors that are good at it. I certainly wasn't. And none of my actor friends seemed very adept at that emotion, either. The industry culture is just not set up for that.

A lot of us were too worried about getting to the next thing - the next audition, next job, next premiere - to take a moment and feel good about what we just accomplished. We were always terrified that we had said the wrong thing to the wrong person or wore the wrong thing to the wrong place. It felt like shuffling along a narrow pathway on the edge of a sheer cliff. We were always just one tiny misstep away from losing Hollywood's fickle affections and falling to our deaths in obscurity.

Growing up in that environment, combined with my inherited Canadian tendency for overly-aggressive humbleness, continues to make pride something of an enigma in my life. I baffled my husband when he was telling me over dinner that he was proud of something he accomplished at work.

Him: So, it went well and I was really proud of that.

Me: You were?

Him: Yeah.

Me: What does that mean?

Him: Am I using hard words?

Me: No, I mean, can you literally explain what it feels like to be proud of something?

Him: Well, ummmm...are you serious?

I was serious. And that seemed like a serious problem that I could not even identify what that emotion felt like. Because if you are not able to be proud of your accomplishments, that means you are relying on other people to tell you if you are doing something good. You are just sitting there like a poor, neglected animal, waiting for a pat on the head. You are completely beholden to other people's opinions of your actions, instead of relying on your own sense of purpose.

That sounds like a terrible way to spend my life.

Which brings me to the other day.

We have this bathroom door that closes by itself. It's annoying. The dog accidentally gets trapped in there and we have to keep it propped up with a giant bottle of hydrogen peroxide, which I end up tripping over on my way into the bathroom in the middle of the night.

It had been like that for, like, 6 months but last Saturday, I decided that I had enough of the stupid door. I googled something like "how to stop my door from closing by itself" and found a video. I got a hammer and screwdriver and removed the hinge pins and hammered them a little so that they were slightly crooked. Then I put them back, and that created enough friction that the door doesn't close by itself. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes, but I had to go up and down stairs a lot and I also had to find the screwdriver.

When it was done, I stood there in my pjs, hands covered in greasy door-hinge stuff and watched my bathroom door not moving of its own volition. Something inside my chest felt light. My face got a little warm. I smiled. Oh my God, I'm proud. This is it! I'm doing proud!

It's not like I had saved the world and I'm not claiming that I'm the world's best door fixer and if I'm still talking about fixing this door a month from now, clearly I've taken pride too far. But this is different from boasting or bragging or being full of yourself. It's just the pleasant, glowing stillness that comes from being satisfied with something you accomplished. It's about being happy with the present moment and your place in the world. It's about not feeling like you need to get to the next thing in order to be content.

Even if it was just fixing a silly bathroom door, I succeeded at making something just a little bit better.

For one glorious, flickering moment - I felt like a fucking wizard.

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