Can you make art during a crisis?

     Art by susanmcculley.com

 

Art by susanmcculley.com

One of my favorite moments of television happened on a 2006 episode of Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. It was supposed to be a travel show about the food and culture of Beirut, but Tony and his crew found themselves in the middle of a violent conflict. They watched the airport get blown up from their hotel room, and saw whole neighborhoods get blasted.

They were trapped there for a week before being transported out. And there is this scene, where in the middle of the tension and chaos and fear - Tony walks into the kitchen of the hotel, and he cooks. For a moment, he loses himself in the chopping and stirring, the creation of something to share with others.

That moment brought me to tears.

Tony cooked because cooking was his art.*

That's how he shared his love and passion.

That's the creative lens through which he translated the world.

We are in crisis right now. In a million different ways, this country is in crisis. I feel it in the pit of my stomach, and it's breaking my heart. I wonder, why make art? Why write? Why create anything when things feel this uncertain, when so many people are suffering? What is the point of creating in crisis? I stare at the walls and leave my projects untouched as I sit with my fear and pain and anger in my own little internal Beirut.

But as I think back to that episode, Tony Bourdain answered my question for me. We create  - we cook or write poetry or cross-stitch - because we are human. Because we've been doing this since the beginning of time. Because we made cave paintings before we bothered to figure out farming techniques because art was more important than eating regularly.  Because art connects the discordant, makes sense of the senseless, and gives voice to the unspeakable.

Creating something - anything - that makes you feel alive is imperative, especially in times that feel stressful or uncertain. Whether that stress is on a national level, or a personal one. So, if you paint, please, I beg of you, paint. If you sing or quilt or take photographs of the insects in your backyard, please go do it. Please make all the things, and then - here's the important part - share them with the world. Don't keep your creations to yourself because your ego is saying that's not really art, or that someone else already did it better. Get brave and get it out there, so we can experience beauty and stay in touch with our humanity.

We really need that.

In later interviews, Tony said that the experience in Beirut "changed everything." When he and his crew came home, they kept thinking, What's important? They made changes, both to the show, and to their lives. Tony's Instagram from less than two weeks before his death reads - "An eventful week. On the battlefield and off. Making art . Every motherfucking day."

So that's what I'll do. Life may feel like a battlefield. But I'll be here.

Making art.

Every motherfucking day.

——–

*I originally wrote about Tony in present tense, and it really sucks to change that. 

——–

You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter

Three upcoming workshops: Wanna hang out?

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I have three writing & yoga workshops coming up! During these workshops, we come together to practice, discuss, create, and connect. (And, no, I will never make you share your writing!)

No experience is necessary, all my workshops are open to beginners to both yoga and writing. And if you have a writing and/or yoga practice already, these workshops will help you take it to a new level.

June 23rd - Oak Island, NC

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I'll be at Rebel Soul Yoga doing a half-day retreat on meditation, yoga, and writing for anxiety. We will explore mindfulness,  yoga philosophy, and journaling prompts. There are only a couple of spots left, so reserve yours here.

September 6 – 9 - Boone, NC

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I will be leading a Writing and Wellness Yoga retreat with the incredible yoga teacher and health coach, Cecily Armstrong.  We'll be covering topics such as the various aspects of emotional and physical wellness, nutrition, journaling as a form of healing, and using yoga as a way to reconnect to your life.  Get more info and sign up at Art of Living Retreat Center.

September 28-30 - Buckingham County, VA

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I will be leading a Yoga and writing for anxiety retreat at Yogaville.  Both Yoga and writing offer ways to tap into the heart of the present moment and see what is true and real in everyday life. The key to more inner peace lies in learning to drop the story and access the serenity of the present moment so we can stop obsessing about the past and future. For those of us with anxiety, that may seem like an impossible task, but there are proven ways to retrain the brain and create healthier habits. Sign-ups are open now!

For more information about my Pose & Pose Workshops, click here.  And feel free to contact me with any questions. Hope to see you at a retreat!

Last chance to apply for Veteran's retreat in Texas!

For the last several years, I've been working with Expedition Balance - a Veteran's non-profit. (Those who have read my book Not Just Me will recognize them from chapter 8!) There is still some space available in this year's retreat. We'll leave from Houston on April 19th and drive a few hours to a ranch in central Texas.

What will we do there? We'll ride horses, hike, stay in a luxurious lodge for three nights, learn about nutrition & meditation, attend gentle yoga classes, and eat great food. I'll be teaching two classes - one on therapeutic writing and one on yoga. (No experience is necessary!) The transportation will be covered, you just need to get to Houston.

And it doesn't cost a dime for Veterans. It just requires effort and intention.

Time to apply is running out, so if you are interested, get your application in now! Applications available here

Let me know if you have any questions - if you are a Vet, and you're ready to connect with other Vets and have a whole lot of fun, I'd love to see you in Texas!

 

Happy New Year Sale: Not Just Me for just $2.99!

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Happy New Year, y'all! To celebrate and welcome 2018 - I'm putting Not Just Me on sale.

We're all anxious. We have a lot of good reasons for it. But I've spent 39 years dealing with anxiety/depression and then I interviewed a bunch of other people about it. Then I wrote it all in a book and you can buy it for just $2.99 for the next 2 days.

Click here to get your copy of Not Just Me!

Just a few of the Amazon reviews:

"It has opened my eyes to many new therapies and treatments available to those like myself who have been suffering with this for so long. Lisa put her soul on the line and left nothing out describing the hell she’s gone through with depression, anxiety and panic attacks."

"As someone who has always struggled with depression and anxiety, I find it invaluable. Lisa Jakub's "voice" is pitch-perfect; she is empathic, informed, and her use of humour is adept and deft. While the book is geared to a lay audience and extremely accessible, the methods she has tried and recommends have evidence-based research backing them."

"Lisa Jakub is that dear friend whom you wish you had at your side when the going gets tough. With humor, intelligence, insight, perspective and an "I totally understand" attitude, she brings you on a journey of discovery and acceptance."

"While reading, I found myself in equal measure seeing myself in the pages and learning something new about other people. This book, in it's conversational tone and immediately accessible language, invites the reader in to a world he may or may not recognize. Either way, it's engrossing."

Hope you enjoy the book, and please leave a review on Amazon!

Happy new year!

New retreat at Kripalu in Massachusetts: Writing & Yoga for Anxiety

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is an incredibly special place to me. It's where I did my 200-hour yoga certification, where I made some life-long friends, and where I found a new little piece of myself as a teacher.

And now I'm beyond honored to be teaching a workshop there! It's called Embrace Your Weird: Yoga, meditation, and writing to manage anxiety. Join me in Lennox, Massachusetts, March 30 - April 1st for a weekend of creativity, connection, and fun. We'll play with writing exercises and we'll practice some yoga. We'll talk about tangible ways to understand your inner critic, increase compassion for yourself and others, and access the joy within that often feels smothered by stress.

Never done any yoga? Never written anything other than email? No problem. This weekend is totally beginner-friendly.

Click on this link to get more information on the workshop and to sign up. Please contact me if you have any questions. And if you want to come, but you're feeling totally anxious about going to a workshop about anxiety, I'm happy to talk you through that. :)

I'd love to see you at Kripalu!

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Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat in Boone, NC!

Join me for a Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C. Nov. 2 - 5th, 2017!

You already know me, but you'll also get to know my retreat co-leader, the amazing Cecily Armstrong! Cecily’s trainings span decades and explore all facets of the mind, body, and spirit. She has a Health Coach Certification from the Integrative Institute of Nutrition and is a graduate of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. Cecily has been teaching yoga for twenty years and is a facilitator at the Hero’s Journey.

Join both of us for a fun, restorative and empowering retreat exploring various aspects of emotional and physical wellness.

The retreat will include:

writing exercises to understand anxiety & the inner critic

nutrition talks - examining both physical and emotional nourishment

discussions on purpose, connection, and authentic power

yoga, meditation, and pranayama

healthy Ayurvedic meals (all included in the registration price)

free time at the beautiful retreat center - massage, pottery, hiking

You'll return home with tools to help you live a more happy, healthy, vibrant life. And we'll have a whole bunch of fun, too! This retreat is open to everyone. No writing or yoga experience necessary.

Tuition includes accommodation and meals for 4 days/3 nights:  starting at $677   *$50 off for early birds registering before September 1st!

Get more information and register at: artoflivingretreatcenter.org

And please let me know if you have any questions! Hope to see you in North Carolina!

 

Revisited - Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations

*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-f7dC4Xd-L

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This is apparently the mathematical breakdown of what it means to be happy. I totally agree, don't you?

Actually, my idea of happiness doesn't ever include exponents, but what this equation means is totally fantastic.

There was recently an article in The Atlantic that offers this equation and says that happiness doesn't depend on how things are going. It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you thought they would.

Happiness is all about expectations. 

This is entirely true in my experience. My life used to go like this:

  • I get crazy excited about something (starting a Facebook page to share my blog)
  • it starts off the way I hoped it would (I post stuff, I have 9,000 people following the page)
  • then, that's not enough, I change my expectations and emotionally crash because I don't have the upgraded version of that exciting thing (why do I not have 90,000 people following the page?)

And when things don't go at all as I expected? If someone doesn't respond the way I want them to respond, or I work really hard on something and it flops - suddenly I'm curled up on the couch claiming I'm eternally destined to be a dismal failure. It's a screwed-up roller coaster of emotional angst.

And it's the nature of the human condition.

It seems we've always been that way, and that's why 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that life is suffering. (He used the Pali word dukkha, which could be less dramatically translated as "unsatisfactory" or "stressful.") We suffer because we are constantly clinging to something that is slipping away. Everything is slipping away because everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever.

Which seems kind of dark and horrifically depressing, until you realize this is just the reality of the world and there is an answer for dealing with it:

    • The Buddha called it equanimity
    • The coach from the UVA men's basketball team told his guys to not get "too high on themselves or too low"
    • The Gin Blossoms said, "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down."

It's all about managing expectations. Of course there are things we want. That's good. But when we tie our self-worth and inner peace to whether or not we get them, that's when the trouble starts.

I want to do well in life.

I want everyone to like me.

I want to have a nice glass of scotch without it giving me a massive headache.

I can't always have all the things I want. But I want them anyway. And sometimes, I expect them. Which, if I look at that another way, can seem like I'm saying that I am entitled to have those things. And an attitude of entitlement is gross.

So, is the answer to never want anything? Or to wander around like Eeyore expecting life to generally suck? No. It's finding that beautiful middle ground. It's about living in a place of contentment, where what you have is enough, and your expectations are humble - so you are pleased when things are going well and only slightly ruffled when they are not. It's riding that wave of life with gratitude, rather than fighting with the tides because you'd prefer if the ocean was a puddle.

Let's stop thinking the world owes us something, let's work hard but let go of the emotional attachment to the outcome, let's be kind without looking to get something in return. Suddenly, 99% of what happens is a joyful surprise.

And that is a really happy thing.

——– You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook or Twitter!

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Writing workshop at Writer House in Virginia!

I am super excited about this writing workshop coming up on March 4th in Charlottesville, VA! It is open to experienced writers and newbies alike.

We'll be talking about creativity and how to deal with that inner critic who can sometimes stand between you and the work. We will discuss how to use your past as a catalyst for your current work. In-class exercises will access the passion within you and help you get your authentic voice on the page. We’ll also discuss writing best practices, from ways to approach your first draft to setting boundaries and deadlines to get your work to your editor.

Sign up for the workshop here and please let me know if you have any questions.

Hope to see you there!

xo,

~Lisa

New online writing class - starting soon!

Writing pad ad *If you're interested in this class, might want to sign up for my newsletter ASAP. I've got something to help make the deal a little sweeter...and a little easier on the wallet... 

It's 2017.

It's January.

It's that time when everyone is feeling all motivated to do that thing that they've been wanting to do forever - that thing that never happened because life got in the way. Because of laundry and doctor's appointments and soccer games. Because it's scary to jump in and actually do it.

I'm here to tell you that you don't need to be scared. Jump in. I'll jump in with you.

Everyone has a story to tell. This year, let's tell yours.

My online writing class is a small group - just eight students - and we'll meet on Wednesday evenings online. You'll log in from anywhere and use your webcam (yeah, it's strange at first but everyone gets used to it) and we'll all show up on the screen like the Brady Bunch opening credits. We're one big happy family and we're going to write together. I'll teach you everything you need to know to write your memoir and we'll read some great writers to find inspiration.

(Click here to see a demo of what a class looks like.)

If you've never written a thing: great. If you've published three books: great. You'll find what you need to actually get the words down on paper. There's no mean person with a red pen shredding your work. It's a very supportive and encouraging environment where you can dive into the experience of writing.

Class dates: Jan. 18, 25, Feb. 15, 22, Mar. 1, 8, 15 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. PST

Here's some of what we'll cover:

  • Class #1 – Where to begin: on beginnings, middles and endings
  • Class #2 – The Hero’s Journey: structure and story arc
  • Class #3 – “Truth” and dealing with the real life people you write about
  • Class #4 – Go deeper: show don’t tell and finding your voice
  • Class #5 – Covering a few Ws: Character, dialogue and settings
  • Class #6 – What’s next? Pitching, queries, agents, publishing and editing
  • Class #7 – Living like a writer: deadlines, scheduling and writer’s block

If you have any questions, please contact me. For more info and to sign up, check out WritingPad.

Hope to see you in class!

xo, Lisa

What do you say?

"You have great hair." I was putting down my yoga mat at the studio. I turned to the woman who had spoken to me, she was sitting on the floor, stretching. I had never met her before.

"Pardon me?" I asked.

"You have great hair."

My hair had been up in a ponytail all morning because I had been writing - fighting, really - a troublesome section of my new book and so now that my hair was out long, it had that weird kink in the middle where I had secured the elastic too tight. As I was writing, I had thought maybe the words would come more easily if I could feel some air on the back of my neck. It hadn't really worked.

My last haircut was seven months ago. I've recently started using this special shampoo in an attempt to combat my eternally oily scalp and it leaves the ends of my hair feeling dry. But I hadn't even washed my hair in two days.

I considered telling her all that. I wanted to explain why she was wrong and list all the ways in which my hair was not at all "great." I thought I'd tell her how I always wanted to have straight, blonde, angel-hair thin strands that hung passively to my shoulders, not the wild curls that make their own decisions about where they are going. I was about to tell her that my dark hair is increasingly streaked with grey and, while I don't take issue with the color, I do not understand why those hairs are a different texture and they stand straight up in the air - as if they are waving in the landing of middle age, directly upon my head.

But then I looked at her, staring up at me, offering me a smile and this kindness.

What do you say?  We ask little kids when they are given a gift.

Thank you. They recite.

When did we forget what to say? When did we get so full of self-doubt and self-hatred and whatever else this is that masquerades as humility? It's not humility when we reject someone else's gift of kindness. It's not modesty when we shut down someone's attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities. It's just rude.

Maybe it was something about being in a yoga studio that reminded me to be grateful. Yoga has a funny way of doing that. So instead of taking her compliment and bashing it into the ground with all these bullshit issues about beauty and femininity, I said:

"Thank you. You made my day."

As I was walking out of class, I said to the woman in front of me:

"I love your leggings."

She shook her head, "Oh, no, they're cheap. I just got them from that consignment place downtown."

"I really don't care - you look super cute."

She grinned at me and laughed.

"Well, thank you."

Maybe someday, we'll all remember what to say.

——– You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook,  Instagram, or Twitter!

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Authentic creativity at Hippocamp: a whole fancy PowerPoint talk

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 8.21.25 AM I'm super excited about the Hippocamp nonfiction writers conference in Lancaster, PA this weekend! I'll be giving a talk about how to find your own unique creativity: how to refine it,  own it, and how to make sure you never get blocked from it. I've got PowerPoint slides full of embarrassing old photos, helpful tips and cartoons. It's gonna be fun.

There are still some tickets to the conference available, so come hang out and talk about words with me and a whole bunch of extraordinary writers.

And no promises, but last year at this conference - they had a mashed potato bar.

Just saying.

with love,

~Lisa

(If your school, conference or company is interested in having me come speak - you can see my speaking kit and contact me for more information.)

Embrace Your Weird event tonight in Virginia

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.31 AM Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be giving a talk tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event is called Embrace Your Weird: from Anxiety to Authenticity and it's based on the new book that I am writing. There is even a whole fancy Power Point thingy.

Many of us are afraid to talk about anxiety, depression and panic attacks – it’s about time we change that. This talk is a deeply personal exploration of mental health, told with compassion and humor. It’s a hopeful, entertaining and enlightening look at the root causes of anxiety, the results of the latest research and ideas for how to manage stress in your own life.

The event is free and open to the public, as part of Retreat Week at Ix Art Park. For more information and to RSVP, please click here. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm feeling very anxious about giving an anxiety talk. But I'm gonna to do it anyway.

with love,

~Lisa

 

Thank you and a sale!

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.40.01 AM Thank you so much to all of you who have bought my book. It is currently in Amazon's Top Ten Actor Memoirs! (And, oddly enough, it's #1 in Dancer Memoirs, which is random but I'll take it.)

You Look Like That Girl is available for just $2.99 as a Kindle Monthly Deal - but only for the next week! And you also have the option of adding on the audiobook for just $3.99

And in case you missed it - here is the proof of how I suffered while recording the audiobook

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So it's totally worth $3.99.

I am grateful for Amazon reviews of the book - those are really helpful to me. So giant {e-hug} to anyone who takes the time to write one.

If you prefer to get a personalized/signed hardcover copy, you can do that here.

Thanks again for all the support and encouragement that you all have offered over the years. It means the world to me.

with love,

~Lisa

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.

————– You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook or Twitter

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Looking back: lessons of 2015

I tend to be a pensive person anyway, but the fact that Christmas, my birthday and New Years all cram into one week - I go into major reflective mode. It was a complicated year in many ways. But isn't that how it always goes? Ups and downs, success and challenges, joy and suffering. But I learned some important things this year:

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable can have some serious rewards

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This one shocks me. Public speaking seems like a terrible idea for an introvert with social anxiety. But I get to talk at conferences, schools, libraries and organizations about the topics I love - authenticity, passion, living your true path even if it's different from what people expected. It's never easy, but every time I do it, I realize that it doesn't kill me. It's actually good fun and I've met some incredible people. I'm looking forward to the events I have scheduled for 2016.

 

Need something? Start something.

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Here's the thing about being a writer - you spend a whole lot of time alone, starring at a screen. I love talking to other writers at conferences, but realized I was missing that at home. I wanted that kinship but I didn't really know where to find it. So, I created it. I invited a few writers to have tea with me on the first Wednesday of the month and talk about our work. And books and words and pens.

This little group now brings me such joy. We get together to talk about things that spark or challenge us and we commit to accomplish certain things by our next meeting. It's all very responsible and keeps us accountable. But more than that, we have a deep sense of community and connection. We send  little messages of encouragement and vent to each other when Salon.com doesn't return our email. (Ahem.)

It's so important to have a support system - but these things aren't automatic. I had to reach out and create the community that I was missing. I didn't know the people in my writing group very well when I invited them to tea, but now they are my sisters in words. It takes some courage and effort, but it feels amazing to mindfully create the things you need.

 

Being a teacher doesn't mean you have all the answers

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I started teaching an online memoir writing class this year through Writing Pad. I was scared out of my mind to do it. Like, two hours before the first class started I was pacing my house and crying. What if my students grilled me about non-defining relative clauses? What right do I have to tell anyone anything? I don't have any fancy degrees. Hell, I was tossed out of high school.

And at the end, my class and I were all swapping information and saying how much we loved each other.

I found that my job was to encourage others to be their most brave selves so they could share their stories. My job was also to be myself and put my own spin on things, like talking about the Hero's Journey as it pertains to Dr. Seuss. I'm thrilled to be able to teach another class in January.

I'll be a student forever

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Yoga isn't just exercise for me - it's a way of life. I wanted to learn more about the practice, so I took a yoga intensive teacher training this year.

Yoga for me has been such a powerful tool for getting my anxiety under control. It's a full body/mind/spirit cleansing. Whenever I get overwhelmed and need to get my head right - I hit my mat. I love being able to share that with other people. And it's fun to do yoga-pretzel poses at parties.

 

Marking death is celebrating life

g and me

My Gramma passed away this year and that loss is still sharp for me. But I get my love for words from her, so I feel like I get to continue in her footsteps. She was my first yoga student and one of my first blog readers. I will continue to work on my terrible spelling in her honor.

 

Everyone defines success for themselves

I got to open a big box and it was full of my words. And while it's fantastic that my memoir You Look Like That Girl was published, I've been staying away from the reviews, sales stats and the Amazon rankings. I don't want to get caught up in those traditional markers of status. That stuff doesn't matter to me nearly as much as getting a note from someone who said they enjoyed it and felt that it resonated with them somehow. Besides, I figure if I made it to some best seller list or won a Pulitzer - someone would let me know.

I write because I think words are an incredible way to connect. That's why I love personalizing books for people. There is something really cool about the idea that the book goes directly from my hands to yours. And recording the audiobook was crazy good fun - I like that I get to keep people company on their commute.

 

Book tours and interviews are cool...but...

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I did a book tour for You Look Like That Girl and read in bookstores all over the place. Sometimes lots of people showed up, sometimes not so much. I did live interviews on morning television and I called in to twelve radio shows in two hours. Sometimes I was eloquent and witty, sometimes I got tongue-tied and spilled something on my shirt. Some interviewers were great and others made me respond "I'm not going to answer that" - repeatedly. It was fun and I'm grateful to have had the experience because it allowed me to connect with even more people. But it was also nerve-wracking and I had to wear nice shoes and they put lots of makeup on me. Life is this continual balance, and I'm just learning how to surf those waves without falling on my face.

***

What is 2016 going to be about for me? More writing. More connecting. I'm working on my next book - it is about anxiety, panic attacks and depression. It's my story, as well as the stories of others, told with love, humor and a whole bunch of legit sciencey research. This topic is incredibly important to me, and a big thank you to those of you who have contacted me to say that you are looking forward to reading it. That keeps my fingers on the keyboard, even when there is a Downton Abbey marathon calling to me.

As always, I am entirely grateful for all the support I've received from readers. I could not be doing any of this without you and so thank you thank you thank you. The community that we have created around this blog and social media has given me faith in the humanity that can be found in the world. There is a lot of crummy stuff out there - and there is also so much kindness. Y'all rock.

Okay, now you go. What were the coolest things you got to do in 2015?

Happy new year, everyone!

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Follow your bliss...backlash

I think you can find criticism for pretty much anything. I recently had someone say he was never going to read anything else from me because I wished for peace for everyone in the world. Eating healthy? That's the wrong kind of healthy.

Helping people? Don't help them too much.

Cute cats? Hey, why are you discriminating against dogs?

So, it shouldn't be surprising that there is some push-back about this idea of living a life based in passion.

And I get it. People like to argue about things. But I truly believe in this whole follow your bliss thing - even if it is a phrase that seems like it should be cross-stitched. The problem is that the intention behind the idea of pursuing your dream is sometimes misinterpreted.

I don't mean quit your job and move across the country

Yes, I get it - that is actually exactly what I did. But leaving my career wasn't the first step for me. First, I realized I was miserable and started exploring what I might find exciting in my life - then I read books about art history and going to law school and working for non-profits. I kept doing the job I had, the job that was paying my mortgage, but I took community college courses, too. Living authentically and with passion is about waking up to your life, not just sleepwalking and missing the whole thing. If it means signing up for a photography class on the weekend or volunteering at a shelter, that's amazing. If it means spending one evening a week checking in on your lonely neighbor or working on that freelance idea you've had for years - spectacular. Your job is merely one aspect of your life.

I don't mean that if you don't know what your passion is, you're doomed

I hear this one a lot. People say that it annoys them to hear "follow your passion" since they don't know what that is. When I left L.A. I had no earthly clue what was next for me. None. I had no skills beyond a film set. I didn't have a back up plan or helpful things like a high school diploma. And yes, that was terrifying but I kind of loved it, too, because there was no pigeonhole waiting for me. If you are similarly clueless, I am so excited for you. Because you get to play. You get to try stuff. Here are some of the random things I tried and failed at:

  • I volunteered at a museum and helped little kids glue goggly eyes on a neckties and turn them into snakes. That didn't last long because of my lack of glue gun skills and my affection for profanity
  • I was a teaching assistant for a college course, but when I realized that was mostly about collating paper and buying tampons for students who needed them, I decided to stop doing that
  • I worked at a radio station but again my use of bad language made me not a great fit
  • I was a tutor for an adult literacy program which I loved but found heartbreakingly devastating
  • I designed websites for non-profits which I also loved mostly because I got to make pretty things while wearing sweatpants
  • I took a certification class to become a mediator and realized that when people yell about getting divorced, I mostly cry

If you don't know what your talents are, or what you love - there is nothing wrong with you. You just get to go on an adventure with your own soul. Are you mildly interested in heirloom seeds? Greek mythology? Helping people with addiction problems? Great. Step one in Project Passion: go to the library and take out a bunch of books on the topic.

Look at that - you're already living a passionate and engaged life.

Go, you.

I don't mean that you should plummet your family into poverty while you pursue your dream of being an Ultimate Fighting Champion

I expect you to be a reasonable human being here, and really look at how your passion might affect you or those you love. Some dreams should just be dreams. Might you be hurting someone? Then maybe it's time to look at ways to embrace your passion in a way that is less all-encompassing, or maybe it's a chance to keep yourself open for something else you might love.

I don't mean that it's easy

Of course it's not easy. Why the hell would I bother talking about it so much if it was easy? Living authentically might be one of the harder things we ever do in our lives. It's scary and vulnerable and people criticize you. It's painful getting out of your comfort zone and sacrifices are inevitable. Sometimes it downright sucks. But the inner peace that comes from feeling like you are living a life that reflects who you are - that is entirely worth it.

I'm actually not telling you that you should do anything

I'm simply saying that my life got a whole lot better when I stopped pretending to be someone else and started focusing on what I thought success looked like. If you're happy with your life, I'm thrilled for you. Don't let anyone tell you how you are supposed to live. But I like talking about passion because I never thought I deserved it. I thought it was more important to keep other people happy. I thought I was too old (at twenty-two!) to take on something new. I felt the need to live out of momentum and not rock the boat. I assumed I was incapable of doing anything other than acting, so I was destined to be dark and tortured. But really, I was just scared and didn't think I deserved something that felt better to me.

If you feel like you need permission to live passionately: here it is. Permission granted.

You deserve to feel that puppy-love spark about your life. And if you don't know what would offer that, you deserve to give yourself a little time - ten minutes a day - if that's all you have, to listen to your heart and explore the world and see what warms your soul. Because when you are happier and more fulfilled - you are able to give more to the world. And I don't don't know if you've looked around lately, but the world really needs it.

For me - it all started with the tinniest little whisper from deep within my core:

I like books.

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"So, what do you do?"

6a014e5f41692f970c0147e4114088970b I met someone recently and attempted to do that small talk thing, which, as an introvert, I generally find as pleasant as a paper cut to the eyeball. But just when I was expecting that boring old “So, what do you do?” question  – she shocked me by asking me how I “spent my time.”

I loved that. That had such a sense of depth to it. Because none of us need to be defined by our jobs.

Since bailing on my acting career and starting over, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been an animal shelter volunteer, voracious reader, homemaker, student, yogi, wife, blogger, dog mom, bills manager and a quilter of quilts for all my friend's babies.

But none of those really fits what people are looking for when they meet you at a party and ask what you “do” – they want to know what you get paid for, it's become a short hand for easy categorization. It's all about money and striving and external perceptions of success.

I've always found it an uncomfortable question. When I was an actor, that answer tended to take the entire conversation hostage, and instead of being able to quietly listen to someone else, I'd have to say for the 764th time that "yes, Mrs. Doubtfire was fun to film."

Then, when I became a writer, the answer didn't get any easier, because I didn't feel like I was allowed to say that I was a writer. Often, creative jobs don't come with official credentials. Claiming to be an artist is sometimes greeted by a head tilt and an eyebrow raise that might be an appropriate response to a toddler claiming to be a seahorse.

Even for those who have more traditional jobs, titles hardly tell the whole story. My husband’s job in marketing doesn’t communicate his soft spot for iambic pentameter or his devoted yoga practice. So why do we often tend to start, and stop, with that one limiting question?

All my life I’ve wanted to contort myself, Cirque du Soleil-style, into a neat box that is easily labeled and categorized. I’m now beginning to wonder why such a restrictive confinement and sharp corners look so attractive to me. Because in truth, all the various ways that I "spend my time" now, make me feel like I am making a more significant contribution to the world than my old acting gig that came with the paycheck and the prestige.

When did contribution to the world become only measured in dollars? Why do we think we understand someone if they say that they are an interpretive dancer or a construction worker or a banker? Their job might tell us something superficial about them, but isn't it more meaningful to know that they raised foster kids or speak Italian or won a Frisbee golf championship?

Maybe your job is your passion. Maybe it's not. Maybe it fulfills you, maybe it doesn't. A job is merely one aspect of a person. You can live a meaningful life, one full of passion and purpose, even if your job is less than ideal. There is so much more to life than work and it doesn't have to define who you are.

Even though I absolutely love what I do, being a writer is not the whole story of who I am and what my life is about. When I was an actor, I let that job define my entire identity - and that didn't go that well for me. I'm trying to do it differently this time.

So, this is just a sincere thank you to those who do not define another’s worth by what they fill out on their tax form. And a gentle reminder to myself that asking someone what they "do" might not be reflective of their entire being.

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An open letter to artists (I'm sorry, but it's for your own good)

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Dear writers,

I love you. You are my people. But please, please - stop whining about writing.

I recently read the introduction to a book that started with the author going on for eight pages about how hard it is to write a book. At the end of it, I felt like telling her - good God, don't write a book then! Go knit a sweater or paint something or join a soccer team! Do something that makes you happy! Why do I want to participate in something that you call a misery?

But this seems to be a trend with writers.

"Writing is hard work and bad for the health."

 - E.B. White

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than other people."

- Thomas Mann

"There is nothing to writing. All you do it sit at a typewriter and bleed."

- Ernest Hemingway

I don't mean to be calling bullshit on Hemingway, but let's face it - no one complains like writers. No one can translate suffering into such beautiful prose.

But I have a problem with it. It perpetuates the myth of artists as fundamentally tortured and mentally unhealthy. Personally, I want the world's artists to be okay, to stay alive and vibrant and pour their joy into their work. I don't want to think that the book I hold in my hands nearly sent you over the edge. And I certainly don't want my own life's work to be the death of me.

Why don't we see contractors or veterinarians flinging themselves to the proverbial fainting couch over their vocations? Why are there no quotes about scuba diving instructors torturing themselves for their work?

I have a theory. I think it's because as writers we worry that we need to earn our place in the world. If we tell everyone how hard writing is, we can justify the importance of our work. We think that suffering means we are serious.

It's time we let go of that.

There is nothing glorious in pain. Let's stop inflicting artistic misery on the world and thinking that makes our work seem vital.

Our work is vital.

Art is vital.

You know how I know this? Because the first evidence of humans making art is forty thousand years old. The first evidence of any sort of agriculture is only ten thousand years old. This means, as a species, we thought about making beautiful, essentially purposeless things thirty thousand years before we thought about coming up with a reliable way to feed ourselves.*

Yes, writing can be hard. It is emotionally engaging in ways that can be uncomfortable. It makes you dig deep into your own stuff, finding harsh truths and accessing universal struggles. You are inventing entire worlds. But it is also among the most cushy jobs on the planet. You're not tending to leprosy victims in a rural clinic or calling the parents of a car crash victim. You are not picking strawberries for twelve hours in the blazing sun.

The world will not have a greater appreciation for our work if they think we are dragging our souls through the mud for it. We don't have to be martyrs to do impactful work. Scars are not badges of honor.

Everyone has a voice. How amazing is that? So, let's use it. Proudly. Let's enjoy the work that we chose to do. Let's sit down to our work and pour our love and enthusiasm and passion on to the pages. Let's ooze delight all over the keyboard. Let's ditch the insecurity and believe that we earned the right to tell our story, just because we are alive. Let's not contribute to the negativity of the world - the tortured writer is such a cliché. It's boring.

And if writing is really that painful for you, if the vulnerability of creative expression really does send you to bed, paralyzed with endless writer's block and shivering with agonizing self-doubt...maybe it's time to close the Word document do something else.

There are plenty of other jobs available that are filled with rejection and pay next-to-nothing.

*for more on this, check out Elizabeth Gilbert's new book Big Magic

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Speaking events in Elizabethtown, PA

LisaJakubMini28-L Pennsylvania, I'm coming to visit! I'll be at Bowers Writers House at Elizabethtown College this weekend!

There will be three public events:

Dinner and Conversation with visiting author Lisa Jakub. Friday Oct. 16th, 6-8pm (wherein I try not to talk with my mouth full.)

You Look Like That Girl book signing. Saturday Oct. 17th, 2-3pm (wherein I try to spell your name correctly.)

Reading and Reflection: a special evening with visiting author Lisa Jakub. Saturday, Oct. 17th 7:30-9pm (wherein I read and reflect and try to make it special for you.)

For more information and to reserve your spot - click here.

 

Last call for my online writing class!

CameraAwesomePhoto My online memoir class starts this weekend - want to join us?

This class is open to all levels - from experienced writers to those who have only written emails. All we require is passion and enthusiasm. You'll learn a lot about memoir craft, we'll do fun exercises to open the creative floodgates and I'll offer feedback on your work. We'll read great writing samples and totally nerd out about words. It'll be awesome fun.

Here are some of the topics we'll be covering.

  • Class #1 - Where to begin: on beginnings, middles and ends
  • Class #2 - The Hero's Journey: structure and story arc
  • Class #3 - "Truth" and dealing with the real life people you write about
  • Class #4 - Living like a writer: deadlines, scheduling and writer's block
  • Class #5 - Go deeper: show don't tell and finding your voice
  • Class #6 - Covering a few Ws: Character, dialogue and settings
  • Class #7 - What's next? Pitching, queries, agents, publishing and editing

The class will be held ONLINE - on seven Sunday afternoons:

Sept. 27

Oct. 4, 25

Nov. 8, 15

Dec. 6, 13

 From 12 - 2 pm PST  (3 - 5 pm Eastern)

I hope you'll join me! No grades, no stress, just great information and motivation for your book. Sign up here.

(And if you want a little writing tip to get you started - here you go!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Tx2j1I2bE