Good news/bad news: reporting for jury duty

IMG_3784 I was so ready. I had reading material (one print book, one Kindle) my laptop (so I could do some writing) and a knitting project (one unimpressive-looking scarf because I am not a good knitter since I can't follow a pattern and can only knit flat things).

I was so ready for jury duty.

When I told people I had been called for jury duty they made sad faces and sympathetic sounds. But I was excited about it. I wanted to serve justice. To participate in my community. To listen to the evidence and contribute to a compassionate but fair outcome.

Yes, it is entirely possible that I have watched too many courtroom dramas.

Regardless, I went down to the courthouse and sat around a large conference table with twenty of my fellow jurors. The room was quiet at first, people were nervous and awkward, but slowly we started chatting. I talked to a woman who was the assistant principal of a school. Someone else was a nurse. Someone else had been called to a jury four times in the past ten years.

After about an hour, we were summoned to the courtroom. It was beautiful, in a cold and stuffy way. There were columns, large paintings of old white men, and the thermostat was set to about 60 degrees. The bailiff announced that there were twenty-two jurors present because apparently counting us was part of his job. The judge introduced herself, thanked us for coming and said that we are an important part of the system. And then she said:

"I have good news and bad news, and it's all the same news."

She said that this was a criminal trial but the defendant didn't show up. And depending on how we felt about serving today, we might take the news either way. But regardless, we were free to go. We all looked at each other, surprised by the anti-climactic turn the day had taken. We gathered our books and knitting and laptops. And we left.

Yoga philosophy talks about Tat and Sat. What is true and what is real.

What was Tat and Sat was that the defendant didn't show up and there would be no trial today. But everyone translated that truth differently:

  • One juror: thrilled that she got her day all to herself
  • Another juror: sad that now he had to go to work
  • The defendant: probably happy he was not in court, but likely not a great choice in the long-run
  • Me: disappointed that I could not be part of the jury and also kind of sad that I wouldn't have all that "boring" time in which to finish the amazing book I'm reading

It just reminded me that we tend to think of things being inherently good or bad. We weave a complicated story about the implications of every little thing. We cling so tightly to our own perspective,  it seems like it's factual and unalterable. But while we might not be able to change the circumstances of much of life, we can decide to take a different perspective.

I've seen people change their perspectives about things that seem so clear - a cancer diagnosis shifts from a nightmare to an awakening. Losing a job becomes an opportunity for a reinvention. A failure teaches far more than any success ever could.

I left the courthouse and walked through my beautiful downtown of Charlottesville on a stunning fall day. We've been through some tough times in my town. But we're coming through it, determined to be better because of it. I drank my tea and felt newly-fallen leaves crunch under my feet and I felt immense gratitude for all of it. The complicated mess of life with its unexpected turns. It's all about the ability to exercise equanimity in the face of endless uncertainty.

And together we can help each other through the good news, the bad news, all the news.

——–

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Moms for Mental Health event in Ottawa!

I am so thrilled to be part of this event in my Canadian homeland!

Join me and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa for a lunchtime discussion on mental health on October 18th. I'll be there talking about my new book, Not Just Me, and a member of the YSB Youth Mental Health Counselling team will discuss what counseling looks like for youth and how to encourage a young person to reach out for support.

All proceeds from Moms for Mental Health will support YSB's life-changing mental health programs for youth.

Click here to register!

 

10 Days Later: thoughts on Charlottesville, from Charlottesville

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Many of you know that I live in Charlottesville, VA, and I was there at the recent counter-protest. It's the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. So I wanted to make this video and tell you a bit about my personal experience there, and what it all means to me.

For those of us who live in Charlottesville and who were part of the resistance, this doesn’t go away when the news cycle moves on.

A girlfriend of mine was punched in the face by a white supremacist. Another friend was right next to the car that drove into the crowd and is now struggling with PTSD. I am fundamentally changed by this, but that’s a good thing. I hope you’ll be fundamentally changed with me.

And PS, I’m pretty proud that I got through this video and only cried once.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovoCvBtEOMk?rel=0]

Links:

Vice News Documentary - Charlottesville: Race and Terror

Donate to the NAACP Charlottesville

Donate to Southern Poverty Law Center

Help the victims of violence by donating to Unity C-ville's GoFundMe page

Common Ground, a pay-what-you-can non-profit organization is raising money via C'ville Wellness GoFundMe page to help cover healing services (yoga, massage, acupuncture) for those who were traumatized.

Resistbot-contact your representatives and send them letters via text (for those of us who despise making phone calls!)

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!

 

Interim Time: now what?

Transition. It's supposed to be a word that is exciting, full of newness and opportunity. But more often, it's just scary.

For the past eighteen months, I've had my head down, writing Not Just Me, my new book about anxiety and depression. It's been a wonderful experience and is incredibly meaningful to me.

But the book that has been the center of my universe is pretty much done.

I feel like I just got fired.

Now that I've lifted my head from the page and I'm looking around, I'm asking myself that question that is full of possibility and uncertainty.

Now what?

Of course, there will still be blog writing and yoga teaching and speaking events.  There will be tea dates with friends and Friday Night Lights marathons with my husband. But The Book that has been the center of my days is no longer. I have to let it out into the world to be liked or hated or ignored. That part is none of my business. I need to let go and move on to....something else.

It's unsettling.

At a time when I find the world to be particularly chaotic and confusing, I feel even more need to be intentional with my own life. I'm coming back to the questions I asked myself when I left Los Angeles and quit being an actor. What do I want my life to be about? What do I want it all to mean?  I asked those questions when I was 22 years old, and I find myself annoyed that I need to ask again at age 38. But I'm realizing that this an essential part of being awake - circling back to the essential questions. Revisiting them and being open to new answers.

My dear friend Susan sent me this poem and it soothed my soul.

(It's a longer poem, but these are the sections that got me.)

Interim Time ~ John O’Donohue,

The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, Your eyes are blurred; And there is no mirror.

The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart will become For your arrival in the new dawn.

So I'm doing my best to love the questions and accept the uncertainty. I'm filled with gratitude that I have options at all and I understand that having an existential crisis is a great privilege. I get it.

And I also think that getting intentional about our lives--not operating on auto-pilot--is how we act as a benefit to the world. We all want our lives to mean something, we all want to contribute in a meaningful way. That looks different for everyone and it's worth spending some time on.

If your way forward is concealed right now, you are not alone. I have faith that there is a new dawn for all of us -- and our strong, beautifully refined hearts.

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

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No is a complete sentence

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.06.48 PM.png I did a keynote speech at The Lady Project Summit recently and Avery and Erica made a meme of it. Which flatters me beyond belief. I LOVE being a meme.

It captures something that I said during the Q&A section of my talk when a woman in the audience asked me about finding balance. Dozens of heads around her nodded as if they were equally baffled by this idea of how to have a balanced life while still having clean clothes, a side-hustle, fulfilling relationships and a strong core.

Like many people, I have a hard time saying no. There are a million prettier ways to say this, but the reason I struggle to say no comes down to one thing:

I want people to like me.

Actually, I want people to love me.

That desire has been prevalent my whole life.  I have always tried to make people happy: I do what they want me to do, I am who they want me to be. I want people to think that I am reliable and kind and just...good. In the brief moments where I feel like maybe I've succeeded, there is this emotional high. But then, like all things, that feeling of approval fades. And I have to find some other hoop to jump through to prove something to someone.

It's not one of my most charming attributes.

It's not a bad thing to want to help people--a life of service is a beautiful thing. But when it happens in place of your own needs, it's unsustainable. You burn out. And then you're no good to anyone.

I had to say no to someone recently. Two years ago I would have said yes because it would have satisfied my people-pleasing nature. I would have hated every second but I would have done it, waiting for that moment when someone patted me on the head and called me a Good Girl. Which might happen. Or it might not.

But I took a deep breath and tried not to cringe visibly as I said no. I didn't go into a diatribe about why I had to say no. I just said that wasn't going to be possible. (And then I blurted out "sorry" because that's my reflex - it was like trying to hold back a sneeze.)

And it all felt terrible.

But then pretty soon, it didn't feel terrible anymore.

Because I wasn't being selfish. I was being reasonable. It was not something I could have done without being totally overloaded and resentful. It was not going to be good for anyone.

No is a complete sentence.

I can't make everyone happy all the time.  I'm going to do things that piss people off and make them mad at me. Not everyone is required to like me.

But I like myself a hell of a lot better when I say no sometimes. I remember what my priorities are and I include myself on the list of people who deserve to be happy.

And then I can give my own self a pat on the head.

Good girl.

——–

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Speaking event in Northern Virginia!

Hey Northern Virginia/DC people! I'll be doing a public event tomorrow night and I'd love to see you there!

May 10th, 7 pm to 9 pm in Clifton, VA. And I heard there might even be wine...

The talk will be about the things that most of us are afraid to talk about - anxiety and depression. I'll share my experiences with those issues and the ways that they have impacted my life. I'll talk about my time working as an actor, and the decisions that led to leaving my career to find something that felt more authentic. We'll look at the causes of anxiety, the latest research on what helps those of us who struggle and we'll laugh a lot --because if we can't laugh at our anxiety, we really are screwed.

We'll have plenty of time for Q&A and I'll have my memoir You Look Like That Girl for purchase and signing.

Please purchase tickets through this link - I'll see you there!

Revisiting: Unpopular authenticity: so…you don’t have kids?

*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 was shamed by a nine-year-old the other day.

She stood there, hands on hips, glaring up at me. She'd just asked me if I had kids. I told her that I did not.

"Why?"

"I never felt that was the right choice for me."

She told me that my life was boring and sad.

It was actually pretty cute.

What took the sting out of her statement was the fact that grownups have been shaming me over this for quite some time. Sometimes they attempt to lessen the blow by saying something along the lines of - "you do what is right for you, but you should know that becoming a mother makes your soul expand and you become capable of love bigger than you've never imagined and it's the most valuable thing you could ever do with your life."

I always wonder how they know how big my love is.

People who decide not to be parents hear this a lot. (And actually, there are increasing numbers of us Childfree folks.) I've been questioned and cajoled and told that I'll change my mind. There seems to be this assumption that I've not quite thought this through, but the questions posed are always ones that I've asked myself a hundred times. I've never met a Childfree person who has come to the decision haphazardly.

Sometimes when people decide to say what they really think, they call me selfish and say I'm not really a woman. I'm still confused about why anyone cares if my husband and I have kids or not, but it sure seems like a bunch of them do.

I like kids. Even the ones who stand with hands on hips and call me boring and sad.

But in my 37 years of life, and 10 years of marriage, I've never once felt the ticking-clock twinge of wanting my own children. (And believe me, I've held babies and smelled their powdery heads, trying desperately to kickstart it, because I felt like I was defective.) But there isn't anything wrong with me. It's just not my thing. I'm also not interested in having a boat. I like boats. I'm sure it's super fun to have a boat. I'm happy for other people who enjoy their boats. I just don't feel the need to have my own.

And yes, I am aware that children are not boats - they are even better than boats and having a child brings much to one's life. I know it changes everything and brings buckets of joy and does all sorts of other things that I will never understand. I believe all of that. I've seen it in action.

But raising children is an incredibly important job and it just doesn’t make sense to hand it to someone like me who doesn’t want it. If I were half as interested in having a child as I am in volunteering at an animal shelter, I would do it. It’s like choosing a President who is fonder of ceramics than politics. Who is that good for?

If you choose to grow and learn and leave your legacy by having a kid – I think that's awesome. And while you do that, I'll work on improving the world that kid will eventually inherit. That just seems like good tag team long-term planning. It's easy to imagine that childfree folks spend their entire lives thinking only of themselves, sleeping in late and getting drunk at brunch. But I promise that I'm doing my part to contribute to the world, just in a different way than parents. (I'll skip the part where I list all the important, non-selfish things I do - it'll make me sound boastful and more than a little defensive.)

But the real reason I'm writing about this is because it's indicative of an issue I keep seeing everywhere, something that causes a lot of suffering. I know moms who work outside the home and moms who don't. Both have been bashed and abused for that decision. I know homeschoolers and Montessori lovers and public school parents - all of whom feel they have to defend their decisions. And the judgment doesn't stop with parenting issues. I know painters and sales people and jazz singers and almost all of them feel like they need to justify what they do with their lives because someone is always waiting in the wings to tell them they are doing the wrong thing.

There are so many critics out there and we tend to internalize the disapproval and feel like we are constantly failing. Why does it matter that my husband and I don't have kids? It doesn't. It's not really that interesting, but people keep asking about it so I'm happy to discuss it.

Why does it matter what personal decisions any of us make for ourselves? I wonder what the world would be like if we assumed that everyone was doing their best. What if people made different decisions and we didn't see that as a threat to the validity of our own choices? What if we kept our eyes on our own papers - our own lives and families - and stopped bashing our neighbor for not buying organic? Things would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. What if we celebrated the fact that life is not homogenous and realized that everyone is doing what they needed to do to wade through this challenging world?

Because when it comes down to it, if you're spending your time criticizing someone else's personal choices, it just makes you seem insecure about your own life.

As for me, I like being able to act as the designated driver for the Girl’s Nights when my mommy friends can let loose. It seems that my “alternative lifestyle” has its perks for all, but most importantly, I get to live my life authentically -- even if it's hard to explain that to a deeply offended nine-year-old.

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

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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

Revisited: why I will do yoga until the day I die

On Friday, I graduated from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Heath - I am now a certified yoga teacher.  I'd like to pay my respects to how it all started...

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I will do yoga until the day I die. Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter's wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how to manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It's made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I've always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It's not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I'd really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you - I don't want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don't mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn't get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn't do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms - ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn't instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

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But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don't understand. It's about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It's about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that's good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it's still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being "good"  - it doesn't matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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*****

If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types - new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you - check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

*****

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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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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

Yes, it's weird, but I actually love it: public speaking

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Even though it makes very little sense for someone who is 93% introverted with an unreasonably strong attachment to sweatpants - I actually love doing public events.

I adore meeting you all and discussing really important things:

How we decide to define success for ourselves. How we deal with anxiety/depression/panic attacks and ditch the stigma. How we rewrite the script for our lives and find some joy even in the midst of chaos. Why I feel the need to wear Chuck Taylors to even the fanciest of events.

I still get nervous every time, but what helps is the realization that I'm not up there just blabbering on about myself. I'm talking about ALL OF US. The things we all go through and the ways we can realize that we are not alone.

I've done talks for high schools, colleges, companies, and conferences and I'm currently booking speaking engagements for 2017. For more information about having me come visit, please check the speaking events section. You can see clips from my previous talks, read testimonials, download my speaking kit and submit a request.

Looking forward to meeting you!

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The sergeant and the wren: it's about the little things

My badge reads: Lisa: experienced cat socializer

It has paw print stickers all over it.

I expected to walk dogs when I started volunteering once a week at the no-kill shelter. I saw myself as firmly Team Dog. But they needed help with the cats so I went to help with the cats.

I soon found that I had a knack with the...um..."difficult" cats. The ones who take a chunk out of your arm if you make eye contact. The abused, traumatized, aggressive felines. For some reason, I can touch the cats no one else can get near. I can take the wild-eyed maniacs and turn them into the cuddly lap sitters that everyone wants to take home.

I don't have very many valuable skills - but I am the Asshole Cat Whisperer.

Last week, I finished my shift whispering at the asshole cats and I was leaving through the lobby. There was an older gentleman standing at the front desk of the shelter, holding a tattered cardboard box, shaking his head vehemently.

"No, I can't, I have to go back to work."

I walked over to eavesdrop, leaning on a nearby wall and pretending to read a text.

"Well, sir, because he is wild, we can't legally take him. He needs to go to the wildlife rescue center. It's an hour away, so it's really hard for us to find people who want to drive all the way out there."

The man looked frustrated as he stared down at the box in his hands.

"What's in the box?" I piped up.

"It's a bird. I found him stuck to a glue trap. He's okay, I think, but he's got glue all over his feet so he can't stand."

He opened the cardboard box for me. A tiny little brown wren lay on his side, breathing hard, but breathing. His feet were a tight, sticky ball of toes. When the bird saw us leering at him, he began to flap and flop around. We quickly closed the lid.

The man looked at me. "I found him in that glue trap and I couldn't just leave him there. I couldn't stand to see him suffer. I was a sergeant in Vietnam...I've seen enough suffering. I couldn't leave him there."

I teared up and thanked him for his service and agreed that I was also anti-suffering. Of course I'd drive the bird to the wildlife center. The man introduced himself and held my hand with both of his.

"You can call me Sarge."

We needed to put the wren in a sturdier box for transport but the front desk woman said she couldn't legally touch the bird.

"Can I legally touch the bird?" I asked.

"No."

"Okay. Umm. Can you just close your eyes for a second?"

Somehow, the wren ended up in a sturdier box and that box went in my passenger seat.

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When we arrived at the rescue center, they were waiting for us.

"Is that our wren?" They asked me.

"Yes, he's a little feisty," I said. I explained that he had been flopping around in the box but he seemed to calm down when I played Death Cab for Cutie. I thought that might be helpful information for them.

There are millions of people in the world, doing small, everyday things to stop the suffering. Someone took glue off tiny wren toes. Someone else held open a door for somebody who was carrying a groceries. Or texted just to check in after that doctor's appointment. Or donated $10 to a cause they believe in. Or decided to not be the first one to let go of a hug. Each individual thing might seem like nothing.

But it's not nothing.

A moment of compassion is everything.

I put a seatbelt around a box and drove for a couple of hours. It wasn't a big deal, what I did, but it felt amazing. I did something tangible to make the world better - for one bird, anyway. And when the world feels overwhelming and the challenges feel insurmountable, the small wins become major victories.

Sarge and I worked together and in a teeny-tiny wren-sized way, we helped stopped the suffering.

——–

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Perspective shift: a weekend with history

blog-mlk-0029-2 A couple of months ago I went to Washington, D.C. with my husband. It was his birthday and we spent the weekend eating too much, drinking over-priced cocktails and walking around the city.

I'm Canadian but I have lived in the US for the last twenty years and I now have my American citizenship as well. I love this country, and I see the problems. And the problems have been overwhelming me lately. The divisiveness, the name-calling, the hatred and bigotry. I get deflated and anxious. I get sad and frustrated. I talk about moving back to Canada.

But while in D.C. we went to monuments and memorials: Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Roosevelt, WW II, Vietnam - and something occurred to me:

As a country, we have been through some serious shit.

Are things bad now?

Yes.

Have they been worse before?

Yes.

That doesn't negate what is happening right now, but what it does mean is that we can do this. We were made to deal with hard things. We are strong and resilient. We were made to overcome and heal and work together to become better. This is true whether we're talking about the political climate or global terrorism or our own personal struggles with anxiety or depression.

It's easy to throw up our hands and assume that it's all just going to hell. But apathy is the easy way out. We might go through hell -- but we're sure as hell going to keep walking until we get somewhere better.

We're all in this together, so let's be radically kind and endlessly courageous.

with love,

~L

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Upcoming event in NY!

Hey, New Yorkers! I'll be doing a public event at Mohawk College in Utica on October 27th and I'd love to see you there. I'll be talking about my experience with mood disorders and the tools that help make life a little easier as an introvert who struggles with anxiety, depression, and a panic disorder.

But it's gonna be FUN, I promise!

You can get tickets here.

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My top 10 (anti-fairy tale) relationship tips

14233102_10209362119866558_7897483690873445041_n We recently passed the twenty-year anniversary of the day my husband and I met. Our eyes met across a room and I knew immediately that I would spend the rest of my life with him.

Except that's not at all what happened.

Actually, if you ask him about the evening we met, he'll tell you that his first impression of me was that I looked very young and very scared. (He's right. I was 17, and we were out with a bunch of people at a crowded movie opening. See: introvert.)

And if you ask me about the night we met? I'll feel like a big jerk as I'll be compelled to admit that I don't remember meeting him.

But we must have met because suddenly we were friends.  And for years we hung out, we went to Rock 'n Bowl and Disneyland. He let my boyfriend borrow a nice shirt for a premiere. I passed his girlfriend toilet paper under the bathroom stall at The Cheesecake Factory. There were break-ups and get-back-togethers and more break-ups. I complained to him about all the alcoholic pretty boys with private planes, mommy issues and little concern with ditching me at a bar.

And then one day, after being friends for four years, something changed with me and J - and it was more.

I kind of wish it had been love at first sight, but the vast majority of the time, the fairy tale doesn't look the way you thought it would. Mostly, the fairy tale is bullshit.

The most fairy tale thing about us is that we are happy. Someone just told me it made her happy to be around us because it's clear that J and I really like each other. She assumed we were newlyweds.

We are kind of like that. I automatically grin when his car pulls into the driveway. He still opens doors for me and watches my ass walk up the stairs. But it's also a real relationship. He re-washes the dishes because I am lazy about it and leave crusty stuff in the corners of the pan and we disagree about appropriate thermostat temperature and how much MSNBC is reasonable. Marriage is a partnership. If both people have personalities and opinions and an affinity for honesty, that partnership is going to have challenges.

We work at it. We don't fall for these rom-com ideas of what marriage should be. And even in the moments when we disagree about something fundamental or when it seems like it might be fun to go get all fluttery-heart, weak-kneed with someone else - we have this foundation of respect for our relationship and the life we have created together.

Sometimes people ask me for advice and while I have a history of spectacular failures in my past, the last sixteen years of partnership with J have taught me a thing or two. The first step is ditching these romanticized ideas about relationships, then we can get to the real stuff.

Go to bed mad Life is not a sitcom; not everything can be neatly wrapped up in twenty-two minutes. Everyone needs space to think things out and gain some perspective. Rarely is one o'clock in the morning the best time to find a resolution for real-life problems.

Start seeing other people It's never good to have your partner be your only outlet for social interaction. Don't isolate. Don't get lost. Going out with my friends is not frivolous; it's essential to my mental wellness.

Don’t talk about it  I have to write things out. My mouth moves faster than my brain and writing helps me be clear, complete and less whipped into an emotional frenzy. Sometimes I give him the letter, sometimes that's not necessary because writing it down is actually all I needed.

Make sure neither one of you gets what you want Compromise is key. I try to not get stuck with this idea about being right and winning. The real win is a peaceful and fulfilling relationship, even if it means bending a bit and watching yet another Jason Statham movie.

Talk behind his back Venting can be really helpful and an honest reaction to the situation is invaluable. I have specific, time-tested friends for this; people who will shoot straight and won’t go blabbing my business. I also make sure I am not talking to my friend instead of talking to my guy.

Be evasive Sometimes, I need to change the subject. For in-depth issues, sometimes a break from the discussion is in order. Doing something fun together that we both enjoy is entirely invigorating and offers important bigger-picture perspective. For us, that often means yoga. When we go to class together, we feel more connected.

Talk about yourself a lot Sadly, he's not a mind reader. If I need something that I am not getting from the relationship, I have to actually verbalize that. Assuming that he “should” know never works well. Then I need to reciprocate by asking him what he needs. And I need to actually listen.

Treat your partner like they are a cop Being polite goes a long way. I say please when I ask for something. I say thank you when he is helpful. I suck it up and apologize when I’ve done something wrong. These daily decencies tend to go out the window when you’ve been together awhile. Loving kindness and gratitude are wonderful spiritual practices.

Pretend it didn’t happen At a certain point, some issues just need to be released. I mean seriously released, not to be dug up again two years later. In all relationships, if I can forgive, I do my best to forgive completely. It's more healing for me than for the person I'm forgiving - it's really for my own benefit. Acceptance is incredibly powerful. It's not the same as condoning someone's actions, it's simply the act of not allowing it to have power over your life anymore.

Lie down. The oxytocin and endorphins that are activated during sexual activity are great for the mental state. It lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Sex clearly isn’t just physical, it’s about maintaining and strengthening the emotional connections with a partner. Oh yeah, and it's fun.

We lucked out, J and me.  Two decades into this relationship, I've noticed that he turned into an even better guy than the one I married. We have both changed a lot, but we changed for the better - we changed together.

I used to think that the most romantic thing in the world was falling in love. But I've learned that there is something even more romantic than that fluttery heart, weak-kneed stuff: choosing to stay in love.

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

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Meditation for People Who Can't Meditate: an audio guide

"Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem."

-Dan Harris, 10% Happierscreen-shot-2016-09-21-at-8-51-33-am.png

People tell me all the time that they can't meditate -- they tried it and their minds are spinning wildly and they can't stop their thoughts.

I’m sorry to break this to you because I'm sure you are an absolutely delightful person: but your brain is not special. It’s not.

That is what everyone’s brain does. It's your brain’s job to always look for problems. That’s how it has kept you alive.

Saying you can't meditate because you can't stop your thoughts is like saying you can't play basketball because you aren't a unicorn. Of course you are not a unicorn and of course you can't stop your thoughts.

Luckily, we're not trying to stop our thoughts when we meditate. We're just trying to shift our relationship with them and realize those manic thoughts don't have to run our whole damn lives.

Meditation was an absolute game-changer for me - it helped me get a handle on my anxiety and depression, and I believe it can help everyone.  It's not woo-woo hippie stuff. It's science.

For me, meditation is like brushing my teeth. It might not be a thrilling activity, but it's vital to my health. And it makes me much more pleasant to be around. Trust me. 

I made a little guided meditation audio for you, dear person who thinks they can't meditate. The mediation part is just five minutes - you can totally handle that. Five minutes. Once a day. Not a BFD.

Happy breathing, everyone.

(And if you're interested in learning more, I write extensively on meditation in my new book Not Just Me: anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBfkjgYg71Q&w=560&h=315]

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