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

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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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Embrace your weird

Me. At my wedding. I've always felt like I was weird.

I'm goofy and dorky and awkward. I make faces like that when I'm supposed to be a composed bride.

Sometimes people stare at me. There is pointing. And whispering.

I didn't go to school the way most other people did. I had different experiences and I didn't know things that other people knew about. I didn't know how to play hopscotch or jacks, I knew how to play poker and craps - those were the kinds of games we played on set.

I was super insecure about that. I liked my job as an actor, I enjoyed working, but I also felt ashamed because it made me different.

I felt like I'd never fit in anywhere.

But I've realized that the vast majority of people feel like they are different for one reason or another. They think that they don't fit in. That they have to hide something about themselves so that other people will accept them.

But the problem with that fear is that it isolates us and keeps us in situations that stifle our talent and true purpose.

That thing that makes us feel weird is actually really important. That thing can make us powerful. Because if we can learn to embrace that, we can do anything. If we embrace our weirdness, we can be our true selves and bring our own unique perspective and experience to the world.

Hiding and feeling ashamed just doesn’t work. The desperate desire to fit in only makes us invisible.

I was always terrified to share my writing because I was worried that people would tell me that I sucked...and I didn’t know if I could recover from that. But I realized that I'd never be happy if I didn’t at least attempt thing I was most passionate about. It got to the point where it was more painful to stifle what I loved than it was to be criticized for it.

After I started this blog -- that really scary thing actually happened. There were some people who told me I sucked. Anonymous Huffington Post commenters said all the terrible things I worried people would say, that I was washed up and irrelevant and a bad writer and it made me cry and feel miserable.

It felt like a punch in the face.

But it didn’t kill me.

Because, actually, it didn’t matter what they thought of me. There are plenty of other things those people can read on the internet. There are lots of things about cats wearing sunglasses and endless Buzzfeed lists -- and I hope they enjoy those more than my work. Eventually, I stopped crying and went back to my desk and I wrote more. Because my job is to write. Because it's none of my business what those other people think about me - it matters most what I think about me.

That's what happens when you embrace your weird.

When you get comfortable with your weird, then you no longer feel the need to pick on someone else for theirs.

In embracing my weird, I wrote my first book. And then my second book. I started giving talks at colleges, high schools, and conferences. I brought to light everything that I was once ashamed of. I talked about how I never graduated from high school, that characters in books were my best friends, that I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

I've gotten to the point where I would rather fail than quit - and that's when cool things become possible.

——–

(By the way, this is pretty much what I talk about when I do workshops and talks. If you think your school/conference/company might want to hear more about embracing your weird - contact me - LisaJakub108@gmail.com) You can leave a comment here, or join us on Facebook or Twitter!

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Through the looking glass of fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I quit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stepping back: lessons of 2014

feet As I said last year, I'm not really a fan of New Year's resolutions. They tend to be vague proclamations, glorifying some unrealistic ideal, and often resulting in a deep feeling of inadequacy and another lapsed gym membership.

I prefer to look back at what I learned over the past year. Once again, 2014 was a year of throwing myself into a free-fall of new and slightly terrifying situations. Some I managed okay, many I could have done better. But I can say this with total certainty: I showed up for my life.

Sometimes you need to believe in yourself even when some other people don't

I heard "no" a lot this year. I received a stack of rejections for my book. Each one made me want to hide in shame. But there was a tiny part of me that clung to a fundamental truth -- I came into this world to be a writer. That voice was almost drowned out by the much louder voice that said I should just quit this whole writing thing and take up cake decorating. But persistence tends to pay off. I could not be more proud that I found a supportive and enthusiastic publisher this year, and that my book will be published in June.

Sometimes people are more wonderful than you could have imagined

I remain in humbled awe of how kind you all are to me. You send me emails and tweets and Facebook messages and funny memes of dogs. You tell me about your families and your jobs and your dreams. You tell me how we are alike and how you feel connected. There are more of you now, and I can't always respond to everyone. But please know that I read every message and each one is more meaningful than I could ever express. You are why I show up at this keyboard every day.

Sometimes you need to do things that you swore you'd never do

I have continued to do talks at conferences and colleges. Two years ago, I would have said this was as likely as me becoming the heavy-weight champion of the northeast. The biggest shocker of all is that I actually enjoy it. This completely introverted girl with social anxiety and a general loathing for anything that requires more than sweatpants, actually has a good time talking in front of people. Go figure.

Sometimes the world fucking sucks

Robin Williams died. And it still breaks my heart.

And sometimes there is poignant beauty that comes from the world and its fucking suckiness

As a country, and as a little community here on this site, we started talking about depression, anxiety and loneliness. We connected and comforted each other and we told the people we love that we love them. We said the most important thing, over and over again. You are not alone. And you all inspired me to start working on my next book, which will be grounded in this topic. It will be honest and it will offer hope and it will be funny - because we have to be able to laugh.

Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. ~Joseph Campbell

I wish all of you joy and peace in 2015.

xo,

~L

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On letting go: growing pains and book publishing

I'm getting to the point with my book where I need to submit the final draft of my manuscript to the publishers. Because then, copyeditors and proofreaders can do their work and try to make some logical sense of the random places where I chose to put commas. Then, it will go off to the designers and on to the presses and off the presses and into cardboard boxes to go off to bookstores. It's entirely exciting.

And incredibly painful.

Because for the last several years, I've been watching this book grow from a crazy idea, into the 275 page manuscript that sits before me. I've been getting up in the middle of the night with this book. I've been startled awake by the persistent, restless whimpering of a thought or a memory or a funnier word choice - I get out of bed and rush to this computer. I sit in the glow and nurse my book to better health.

And that time is almost over. That part of my job is done.

Now, I have to send this book out into the world.

To be adored or criticized or ignored.

Not to be too dramatic or anthropomorphize too much (who am I kidding, I'm a writer/former actor and my car is named Gwen) but I feel like I'm sending my book off to college to live her own life and I'm not sure if I've done enough to prepare her. I'm not sure if she's strong enough to make it in the real world. I'm worried about where she's going to sit in the cafeteria.

Why is it that humans have such a hard time letting go? We live in a transient world, full of constant change. Births and deaths and seasons and uncontrollable events. And yet, we always assume that some things, if we hang on tight enough, will last forever.

But let's face it, that desperate clinging never feels good.

There is such beauty in change. In growth. We see that all around us right now. It's fall and the trees are turning magenta in preparation to let go of their leaves. It's the essential nature of life.

One of my favorite Buddhist stories is about a monk and a glass of water. He says, "I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.” *

I love this idea. This understanding that everything is impermanent, so why not embrace the present moment, with all its joy and discomfort and transformation -- right now? Why not surrender to the realities of this world and just choose to be happy in the face of it? It's all temporary. Even you. So have a blast and love wholeheartedly, before it's gone.

And then let it go with grace.

I want this book to go out in the world. Because I want you to read it. And because I want to sit up at 4 AM in the glow of my computer screen, and nurture another book into existence.

So, now you know where I'm going be the next few nights, until I have to turn my manuscript into an email attachment and push Send. I'll be sitting right here, enjoying my little baby...while she's still just mine.

And then I'll let it all go, and get ready for whatever comes next.

——–

* This version of the quote is from a wonderful PBS documentary called The Buddha. It's a great introduction to the concepts of Buddhism and it has "Keep Until I Delete" status on my TiVo. Even though "Keep Until I Delete" reflects an amount of permanence and control that is clearly not very Buddhist...

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The freedom to fail

I've been thinking about vulnerability lately. I suspect that's because this blog just passed one million views, I'm working with my editor on my book and recently did a reading of a chapter for an audience of about 100 people. All this is wonderful and I'm so grateful but it also kind of feels like standing naked in front of a football stadium.

Therefore, I've been thinking about what it means to put yourself out there, letting yourself be seen for the truth of who you are, and standing courageously to take whatever comes - praise, criticism or a sarcastic slow-clap of indifference.

I don't know about you, but that sounds scary as hell to me.

I doubt I'm alone with this. I see people struggling with perfectionism and fear of failing all the time.

Not wanting to ask for the raise or promotion at work.

Not wanting to try a new yoga class because other people might be more flexible.

Not wanting to bring up the difficult conversation that needs to be discussed.

So, what do we do about it? It's easy to look at someone else and tell them to go for it and no one at yoga cares what you look like and communication is important. But how do we do that for ourselves when we are terrified to fail at our jobs, fail with our friends, fail at being perfect?

I don't know the answer, but I wonder if there isn't peace and beauty to be found in the ordinary. In America, we are obsessed with the extraordinary. We think we need to be famous, or be in the top 1% of whatever, or do something that no one else has ever accomplished.

It doesn't have to be that way. We don't tend to expect that from anyone other than ourselves. It is possible to let go and enjoy our imperfection. Because in our imperfection, we find our individuality, our spirit, our joy. The people I love and respect most are the ones who embrace their beautifully flawed human-ness.

I had this thought recently:

When I'd rather fail than quit, everything becomes possible.

I've been held back by being afraid to fail for too long.

What if people think I'm a terrible writer?

What if I really am as washed up and irrelevant as anonymous HuffPo commenters say?

What if I make spelling mistakes in my blog posts?

I'm tired of living in fear that I might fail or look stupid or fall on my face.

I might.

But on the other hand -- I might not.

(Okay, when it comes to spelling in blog posts, I definitely will make mistakes, but luckily you readers are kind enough to gently point those out without too much ridicule.)

The point is that I might be able to reach people and connect and make some sort of a difference somehow - and that possibility is too valuable to give up just because I'm feeling like a scaredy cat. It seems that lots of people have an opinion about my life. I just need to remember that my opinion counts, too. In fact, it counts most.

So when I saw this sign while I was out for a walk, it totally stopped me in my tracks.

free

What would I do if I were free from worry and fear and self-doubt? What would I do if I stopped being so concerned about seeming perfect? What would I do if I had faith that I was fully capable of picking myself up even if I did fall on my face?

Who knows?

But it just might be fun.

(For more on perfectionism and vulnerability - check out the staggeringly insightful Brené Brown.)

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The things we leave behind

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

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

CameraAwesomePhoto

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

I've never felt invincible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dueling definitions: the trouble with labels

I've been going to these writing conferences. They can be quite intimidating, especially for an introvert like myself. They are in huge open rooms with florescent lighting and too much air-conditioning blasting from dusty vents. There are armies of tiny water bottles and people who really want you to wear badges. I go to these conferences to learn how to do the non-writing part of being a writer. These things are about the chatting. The promotion of yourself. The handing out of cards. The perfecting of the encouraging nod at the lady who writes for The New Yorker and who, ironically, is telling a very boring story.

Even though I wish I could just stay home and put letters and spaces together forever without any human interaction - I need to learn, so I go to conferences.

I was at one recently and I was talking to a man. If you were going to cast a movie and needed someone to play the role of "Writer" you would hire this dude. He was old and white and wore a sports coat with elbow patches on it. He carried a leather briefcase that was worn and reminiscent of a saddle. You just knew he wrote with a fountain pen. It was all disappointingly cliché.

We chatted for a little while and then exchanged cards. His card had things like PhD written on it. When I handed him mine, he looked at it for a moment.

 

CameraAwesomePhoto

Eventually, he raised his caterpillar eyebrows. He made a sound that was somewhere between a snort and that thing you do when you are trying to clear phlegm.

"Writer, huh?"

It was clear that whatever my credentials may or may not be, he wasn't buying it.

I wanted to crawl under a table and die. Conveniently, I was standing right next to a folding table that held all the published books of the published writers who were not me. The "real" writers who had books you could hold and run your thumb over the SKU number. Perhaps the weighty, profound thoughts contained in those published books would collapse the table, crush me and put me out of my hack misery.

I swore I'd never go to one of those conferences again.

But then I realized -- why did this guy get to define me?

I am a writer. You know how I know that?

  • Because I sit down every day at 7:30 am and write. And I don't stop for the next 5 hours.
  • Because I get up in the middle of the night and run to my desk to write down ideas I have for a story.
  • Because I've been writing to comfort myself and process the world since I was four years old.
  • Because if I don't write for a few days, I get a little crazy.

And yes, my words appear in magazines/blogs/online publications with a byline and a photo -- but above all, I am a writer because I say I am. I am the one who gets to define myself. Not Mr. Elbow Patches. Not anonymous internet commenters. Not even my family or friends. Me. Just me.

It gets dangerous if we let other people do our sorting and categorizing for us, regardless of whether we are talking about profession, politics, race or life choices. When others slap their own labels on us, we are vulnerable to their whims and biases. Most dangerous of all: when we let people tell us who we're supposed to be, after a while, we become inclined to believe to them.

Let us return to the enduring wisdom of Friends for a moment.

Rachel: It's like all my life everybody keeps telling that I'm a shoe. You're a shoe, you're a shoe, you're a shoe! But what if I don't want to be a shoe anymore? Maybe I'm a purse, or a hat... I don't want you to buy me a hat, I'm saying I am a hat! It's a metaphor, daddy!

That's why we love Rachel. She decided to be a hat. But it's challenging to be a hat. Sometimes it's easier to be the shoe everyone says you are.

I don't know if the man at the conference would have been happier if I was a shoe. I'm not sure what he wanted from me. Maybe if my card had said actor or housewife or frozen banana salesperson, it would have made him more comfortable. But for whatever reason, writer didn't seem to work for him.

So, I say this with the utmost respect: fuck him. Fuck the judgment and the assumption that he gets to define who I am and how I lead my life.

I'm a hat, dammit. A writing hat.

I don't know what you are. You might be a hat or a shoe or a frozen banana salesperson. You might not really know what you are. That's totally cool. That's the adventure and joy of life - you get to figure that out. And that's a constant process, because you will evolve and then you get to start the self-discovery all over again.

But however it all plays out, the crazy, twisting, hairpin turns of your life, please don't give the power of definition over to anyone else. It's your birthright. You get to keep that, regardless of how many tweed jackets, advanced degrees or SKU numbers anyone else has.

You define you.

 

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Why I write: losing and finding my voice

CameraAwesomePhoto Someone asked me recently why I write.

My immediate answer was: because I have to.

It's like asking someone why they blink. I've been writing ever since I can remember and at this point it's an automatic response. The part that is pretty new is the part where I actually let other people read the things I write. There was a very specific moment when I decided to do that.

Many people have stories of being reborn after an illness. They speak of the resulting spiritual enlightenment and a reordering of priorities. They wake up to their lives and are compelled to live in the moment. Usually, it’s brought on by cancer or something equally horrible.

I was lucky - my wake-up call was a little quieter.

I lost my voice.

I got a cold and just when I thought it was getting better, I went silent. Suddenly and completely silent.

This had never happened to me before. I always assumed that if you lost your voice, you could still whisper. Not true. Turns out whispering is just as hard on your vocal cords, so even that felt like I was being choked.

I could not voice a single word. No dinnertime conversation with my husband. No phone calls catching up with friends. No laughing. No errands that required conversing with anyone. No idle chatter with my dog.

Someone suggested to me it was like a silent retreat, which I’ve been wanting to do forever. I wish I had the inner strength to treat it as such — but it felt nothing like that. It was stifling and claustrophobic. I felt so miserable and bottled up that I couldn't even write.

I filled my days with noise. The TV or the stereo was always on, filling the air with sounds I couldn't express. I had always loved silence. My daily mediation was always so important to me, but now I found the quiet to be excruciating. The solace of silence that had been my savior through the hardest times of my life, was now mocking me.

I got depressed. I looked up voice loss on Web MD. I got more depressed. I was convinced I would be voiceless forever.

After ten days of silence, my throat started to heal and I got my voice back. I wanted to shout from the rooftop. I wanted to express every thought that came into my head. I just wanted to be me again.

For a person who always wants to just slide by and fade quietly into the background, the fact that I was desperate to embrace my me-ness was something of a revelation.

I’ve always been a people-pleaser. Never wanted to rock the boat. Always wanted to be a good girl. To fit in. But when I literally could not speak up and be heard, that was all I wanted.

In losing my voice, I found it again.

I realized that I had been choking my voice in the rest of my life, too. I never wanted people to read my work because I was scared of being vulnerable. The day I got my voice back, I decided to write the book I had been thinking about for years. I decided to stop playing small and hiding from my life. That was January 16th, 2012.

Having a voice is a precious gift, however you chose use it, by writing, painting, teaching, working out complex mathematical equations or starting a revolution. Sure, you might offend someone by speaking your truth. You might be laughed at or criticized or worst of all - ignored completely.

But all that is preferable to engulfing yourself in silence and never using your voice to better yourself or the world. Because one thing I've learned about life - you need to truly show up if you want it to be good.

Like the wise prophets Barenaked Ladies said:

"If I hide myself where ever I go, am I ever really there?"

- For You

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If you're a violet, be a violet: thoughts on authenticity

orchid My husband is reading this book for work called The Speed of Trust. He was telling me a story from it, that goes something like this:

The president of a university was preparing for a fancy dinner in his home. There were going to be government officials and major donors and other fancy people in attendance. As they were setting up, a delivery of beautiful, elaborate flower centerpieces arrived, which had been ordered by the development office of the university. But the president's wife came to him and said there was a problem. The housekeeper had already prepared centerpieces: single violets that she had picked from the garden and placed in butter dishes. The president looked at the fancy flowers and said "No problem. Just send the flower arrangements back to the florist. We already have the centerpieces that Lola made."

This story takes my breath away.

It's supposed to be a story about respect, but it also signifies something else to me. It's a reminder how beautiful it is when someone lives authentically and doesn't cave to the grandiose expectations of others. For many of us, the simplest thing is the best thing.

Sometimes I feel like a violet in a butter dish, surrounded by exotic arrangements. Right now, my book agent is sending the manuscript of my memoir out to publishers. As I learn my way through this process, I hear that what "sells" in actor memoir is drama. Rehab, Twitter fights, scandals...those long, ugly roads that I intentionally bypassed.

My book doesn't have those things. It has similar stories and themes as this blog - the challenges of growing up, figuring out who you are, and balancing that with what is expected of you. It's about those real life questions we all wrestle with, like how do we peel ourselves off the couch after we've had our hearts broken? How much do we give up so we can discover our true purpose in life? It's about the ways we are all the same and why it's never to late to write the script for your own life.

The point is: if you are a violet in a butter dish, there is no use in trying to be an exotic, towering orchid. And if you are an orchid, it's pointless to try to be a violet. One is not better or worse. They are just different. The real value comes in living whoever you are with wholeheartedness.

But it seems that because I don't have orchid-type drama, it's more challenging to convince publishers that people actually want to read that. According to those rules, if I would just have a psychotic breakdown and/or get a bikini wax on a reality television show, I would write a better book.

Sometimes that is frustrating, but this flower story reminds me that I don't write for the people who just want orgies and car crashes. I don't do it to be famous or to sell more copies than a Real Housewife. I am not going to dress myself up like an orchid and climb into a tiny box that someone else created, just to sell books. It's not worth it.

I write for me. I write because it's the air I breathe and it's the way I relate to the world.

I also write for you. I write for people who love to read and love to connect. I write for those who feel that words have the power to change things. Inspire people. Provide comfort when everything looks dark and scary.

That's why I write.  And why I will keep writing. I thank you for reading the words of a happy little violet in a butter dish.

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Weighing in on weighing in: celebrity gossip

As per usual, there have been a lot of celebrities in the news lately. It's all:

  • Shia LaBeouf
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Justin Bieber
  • Woody Allen

And I wonder if I should write about these things. Sometimes people expect me to have opinions, perspectives and profound thoughts that shed some new light on the drama. I've written about those things a couple of times in the past and the articles tend to get shared a lot and the blog hits go through the roof.

But it just doesn't feel right to me.

Because really, I can't explain why Philip Seymour Hoffman fell off the wagon after 24 years and why Shia LaBouf put a paper bag on his head. I'd just be speculating and rambling and really - I don't think it's any of my business.

I tried writing something about Justin Bieber a while ago. Something about how I, too, was once a 19-year old Canadian with questionable decision-making skills. But after I wrote it, I thought "so what?" This is not what I care about anymore. I deleted it.

Sometimes I wonder if all this celebrity media attention is not just a big distraction so that we don't have to sit quietly with ourselves and our own lives. It's way more fun to judge Justin Bieber than it is to deal with my own shit. Criticizing someone else's life means I have less time to notice the ways that I deal with the world. But spending my time condemning others is not really going to make my life -  or anyone else's - any better.

So what do I care about? I care about the stuff that we all go through. The stuff that is messy and complicated and in need of constant re-examination. The stuff that keeps us all up at night. I care about trying to figure out how to be an authentic person when so much in our culture is centered around image and status. I care about contributing to the world even though the problems are so much bigger than me. I care about finding different definitions of success. I care about life lessons I've learned from my dog.

I'd really like to avoid having posts on here that are like - "Huh. Yeah. I donno. Some people are weird, I guess." I'm just going to write about things when I feel I have something worthwhile to offer to the public conversation. I've decided that sometimes it's okay to just be quiet.

It's not that all celebrity commentary is trite. There are people who write about entertainment issues and do it really well. My faux little sister Mara Wilson is one of those people who does it thoughtfully, while offering insight and wit. But I realized that I can't do it and feel like my authentic self. I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate these waters of being me, and this particular channel is too turbulent.

Instead of writing something about Woody Allen and feeling like a fraud, I'm just going to stick to the things that are really important: how to survive almost being killed by a manatee.

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

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

What the hell does "success" mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stepping back: lessons of 2013

I'm not a fan of new year's resolutions. There are just so many ways to screw up my vague proclamation to "be healthier" or whatever. I'd just be setting myself up to spend the entire month of March wallowing in my abandoned resolutions and a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk.

But I do love to step back and take time to reflect on life. This past year has been a significant one for me. I threw myself completely out of my comfort zone and learned a lot as I flailed around in free-fall. So, here are my favorite lessons of 2013.

People are cool

I was terrified of you all. I was terrified to put my writing out there and be more public. I was afraid to fail and look stupid. I had been so happy hiding out and only writing for myself, but I realized that I could be even happier being truthful about my life - my whole life - and connecting with people. And I found that you are lovely, funny, encouraging folks and I'm happy to know you. My writing means the world to me, so thank you very much for reading my stuff.

Anonymous commenters can be less cool

When I found out that the Huffington Post did an article without my knowledge (an article about me and this blog that stung with a little snark) their comment section was quite active. Some comments were fine. But others were decidedly haters. This was not constructive criticism, not thoughtful opinions that differed from mine, just general nastiness from behind the cowardly anonymity of a keyboard. My feelings were hurt and my thin skin ripped into tattered shreds. I almost called the whole writing thing quits, I wanted to just go back to my little cave and be forgotten. But what would that say about me as an artist if a little name-calling defeated me? So, I got really good at repeating this:

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet” - Mahatma Gandhi.

I'm pretty sure that Gandhi would approve of my decision to no longer read HuffPo comments.

Teenagers are people and therefore cool

I had the opportunity to talk to high school students about authenticity. I loved it. They were awesome. They inspired me and made me feel welcome and not like an awkward lady who was old enough to be their mother. They asked great questions. They laughed at my jokes. And if they fell asleep at any point, they hid it beautifully.

Being brave is cool

I traveled to New York to attend a couple of writery events this year. I was horribly nervous, but they were rewarding beyond my wildest dreams. I signed with my literary agent at one conference, and met incredible people like Sharon Saltzberg and Elizabeth Gilbert at another. Oh, and I got a shit-ton of free books...and what is better than that? I think being brave should always be rewarded with a suitcase full of not-yet-released hardcovers, even if you have to haul them on and off a train by yourself.

Meditation continues to be cool 

While it's great writing about almost being drowned by a manatee, why residuals are pitiful and the fun stuff I get to write for HelloGiggles, I really love delving into deeper things, too. I published an article about meditation, one of my favorite topics, in Elephant Journal this year. Meditation has without a doubt saved my life. I love being able to share that with others who might suffer from anxiety or panic attacks.

Words are really damn cool

I'm always so thrilled to get your emails and Facebook messages - even if it takes me forever to get back to you. I love hearing your stories and I'm in awe of the way that words connect us. I'm so grateful that we can realize that even when our circumstances look different, we all tend to ask the same questions. We wonder what contribution we want to make in life. We all worry that we are different and might be rejected, we all want to be seen, accepted and understood. And when we talk about those things, we are able to create that bond. Yay, words!

Everyone loves Grace

My little pup really is special and you all have proved it. Thanks for tolerating all the ramblings of a proud dog-mom. Our shelter dog reminds me on a daily basis that it's never to late to reinvent yourself and embrace all the joy that is around us.

It's been an incredible year for me, and I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for all of us. I wish you all the very best for a happy and healthy new year!

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Storytelling: honesty or exploitation?

amazing-black-and-white-book-books-memoir-Favim.com-341079_large

When I first decided to be a little more open with my writing, I was really nervous. I was concerned about interaction with the faceless "public." But I soon realized that I absolutely love getting your emails and Facebook messages. Connecting with you all is a joy. I'm honored that you would reach out to share your stories and ask me questions. (You also tend to be a kind and hilarious group of people who write well, so that's pretty damn cool.)

Recently, I got an email that really made me think. I believe that it said some decent things in the beginning, but in typical me-style, I skipped right over them and got to the part that made me squirm.

...the only issue I have with your blog posts is that you keep pointing out that you "were" an actor. If you want to move on from your past as much as your posts seem to illustrate, why do you keep bringing up the fact that you were once an actor publicly on this blog? Are you exploiting the fact that you were once an actor to promote your book and blog site?

Ouch.

But after I licked my wounds for a bit, I realized that I really wanted to answer this question.

When I left L.A, I hid from my former career for more than 10 years. I rarely talked about it, even to my closest friends. I denied it when people recognized me. I was ashamed of the way it made me stand out and how I was treated differently from other people. I felt like a freak.

I've since decided that negating 18 years of one's existence isn't healthy and I wanted to have the freedom to talk about my life from age 4 - 22. And by "talk" I mean "write" because I'm a writer and that's what I do. I write about it, because my past exists, and I look like an idiot when I pretend there is not an elephant in the room. I'd rather invite that elephant to sit down and rest a while and not worry about trying to hide behind the ficus plant.

More than that, I wanted to write about the stuff that few others seemed to be talking about. Like the fact that actors are normal people. The fact that the entertainment industry is not automatically the right path for everyone. The fact that when you see the sausage being made, sometimes you don't want to be part of it. The fact that people, regardless of their profession, can change their minds and chose a dream that looks different from what people expected of them.

Am I exploiting my life? I don't know. Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild about walking the Pacific Crest Trail. In it, she talks about her past - so is she "exploiting" her drug history? Her mother's death? Maybe she is exploiting Pacific Crest Trail itself?

Writers tend to write what they know. Which is a good thing, because when we write about things we don't know - it makes for some pretty shitty reading material.

But he went on:

Almost a little hypocritical if you ask me. I honestly believe if you wanted to step away from your celebrity status completely, then you should change you name, make a classified pseudonym for all your public posts, and creative writing projects.

While I want to thank this person for his career advice, I also want to add that I've been doing that for years. I did change my name and have another successful blog that has absolutely nothing to do with my former career. I also wrote for non-profits and did communications consulting. You don't know about any of that...well...because I used a pseudonym.

In addition to that writing, I also want to write about pop culture. I'm a sociology nerd who reads soc textbooks for fun. I'm fascinated by the way we structure and institutionalize our lives and the way we, as a society, behave.  I want to write about the cultural pressures that come along with choosing a different path in life and I don't want to feel like I have to hide who I am. And who I am includes (but is not exclusively limited to) my past.

I wanted to write about some of my personal experiences because I think they are a way in which I can contribute to the conversation. I have some stuff to say that I hope can be of use to someone. I've shared some things about my life, and in return, people have told me the most wonderful, intriguing, inspiring things about their lives. That connection through storytelling is what it's all about for me. And I can't connect if I'm not honest about who I am.

He concluded by saying that actors have amazing opportunities and that:

This aspect alone in my mind is well worth the tradeoff of being labeled a "celebrity" with a "fan"base.

To that I say - awesome, you should go be famous. Enjoy.

And, if after this you still find me to be an exploitive hypocrite who was wrong to leave my job - that's okay. Luckily there are lots of other things that you can read on the internet.

——–
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Reader question: on motivation, writing and everything else

write

I recently received an email from a guy named David who was looking for some writing advice. He enjoys writing (and judging by the email, the dude has some serious talent) but he has been feeling a little stuck.

It's funny to me that I giving writing advice, and teach writing classes, mostly because I've never taken a writing class. I didn't take writing classes in high school (which I rarely attended since I spent most of my adolescence working on movies) and not later in life when I finally got around to going to college in my late 20s. I've never studied writing, other than reading a ridiculous amount of books. I just write from my heart. I never remember if I want a colon or a semi-colon.  I use the word "fuck" when it seems advantageous.

But I love talking about writing so I was thrilled to get David's question, which was basically - Writing is hard. How do you do it?

Writing IS hard. Because you are generally pouring your soul onto the page and then asking any literate person who walks by - Hey...would you be interested in judging the contents of my essential being?

It feels like peeling off your eyelids.

But for whatever reason, I have to do it. Have to. If I don't write for a few days I get twitchy and weird. So, I write.

For me, the essentials of writing come down to the following three things. But these things are not writer specific, I realized. I'll use the word writing here, but just replace it with whatever you are interested in pursuing, and I think it'll still be fairly valid.

Good fences make good writing

For me, being creative is all about setting boundaries. I need time. If I'm sitting down for 15 minutes once a month and expecting to write like Jonathan Franzen, I'm in trouble. I write every weekday from 8 AM - noon. I don't answer the phone (sorry, Mom) and I put off everything else until the afternoon. Unloading the dishwasher or taking the car for an oil change happens later. It's not always perfect - sometimes the dentist can only see me at 10 AM and I have to rearrange things. But 95% of the time, between the hours of 8-12, I'm writing. I thrive on a schedule and a routine.

That being said, I'm extraordinarily blessed to have the time I have. I am married to someone who is incredibly supportive and understanding of my chosen profession and we don't have kids. I understand that not everyone can carve out 4 hours a day, so, look at what works for you. Maybe it's 2 hours every Sunday night after everyone has gone to sleep. Maybe it's every day for 10 minutes while you wait for carpool. Whatever works for you, build a big fence around that time and fight like hell to defend it.

The Shitty First Draft

The Post-it note on my computer reads - Write Anyway. It compels me to write when I am not inspired, when it is raining, when House Hunters International is on, and when every word reads like complete and utter garbage. That Post-it note will not accept any of my excuses. The Shitty First Draft is essential, it just needs to be put on paper. Because within all that crap, there will be the tiniest nugget of something that is workable. The rewriting is where the art is. That's where you'll uncover the truth and beauty.

There's a lot of talk about writer's block. I believe that only happens if you give in and stop writing. I've never had writer's block because I refuse to stop writing. I've written some truly horrible stuff, including pages about how miserable my life is because I don't know what to write about. But I NEVER stop writing. Writing is a muscle that can atrophy very quickly if it's not used. So, forget the idea of having to be inspired to create. Just sit down and write words. You'll get tired of your own complaining and you'll write something else, and that might just be inspired.

Find some tough love (but not in that order)

It is so beneficial to have someone who is both your cheerleader and fresh pair of eyes. My husband has been my first reader for years now. Honestly, this dynamic started out a little rocky. He would read something, say really nice things and try to help. In response,  I would be so sensitive that I would ignore the complements, feel offended by his help, cry and throw pens. It took us a while to get this part of the relationship down, but we're a good team now. He's great at giving me feedback that is both kind and honest. He's become an expert in the support/critique combo.

"I love you/this sentence isn't funny."

"You're a great writer/this paragraph doesn't make any sense."

Support/critique needs to come in equal doses, and it's super helpful if the support part comes first. And I've gotten better at hearing both the adoration and suggestions, even though I retain the right to ignore the latter. Because while most of the time, Jeremy has a good point, sometimes he is wrong. And it's my work, so I make the call.

Your first reader can be a friend, teacher, mentor, writing group, someone who can both hold your hand and slap some sense into you. If you go the route I did, be warned that it adds an extra layer of challenge if your first reader is also someone who you are sleeping with - but it's certainly possible. Make sure you choose your reader wisely because showing your work while it is still in progress is really scary and vulnerable. Choose someone who understands the gravity of that responsibility and if they don't totally get it - explain it to them.

Yes, dear David, you are right. Writing is hard. But let's face it: it's not coal mining or working a tobacco field. It's creating a world on paper. It's connecting with others through making emotion tangible. It's freaking MAGIC.

So just write anyway.

And thanks for asking.

~Lisa

P.S. You wondered if I required any Liquid Inspiration to write - and the answer is yes. I simply cannot write without my extra-large mug of decaf tea.

*since I wrote this post, I started teaching online writing classes through Writing Pad. So if you liked this advice, come take a class with me and get a whole bunch more!

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The Post-Huff Po post post

Life got a little strange last week. I received an email from a reader informing me that the Huffington Post wrote this. I'm grateful for the Huff Po piece because it connected me to all of you new readers. You have told me your stories and said unbelievably nice things and seem like a thoroughly lovely bunch people. I'm happy to know you.

But, it seemed ridiculous to me that they titled it "Lisa Jakub's Post-'Mrs. Doubtfire' Life: Former Child Star Blogs To Inform Us Of Her Whereabouts"

They made it sound like I was playing Hide-and-seek for the past 12 years. Like I've been crouching in the hall closet under a pile of shoes and I just jumped out and yelled "I WIN!"

I don't really think you have been sitting around wondering where I am and what I've been doing with myself. That is not the impetus of my writing. So, that brings me to an important question: what is my intent?

I'm a writer and I have to write. It's a compulsion. I want to write about all kinds of things. I want to write about how I love Mara and about how movie money works. But I also want to write about how it's okay to change your mind. It's okay to choose a life that is not what everyone else expected of you. It's okay to decide that being happy is worth more than money or a law degree or marrying your high school sweetheart just because they were nice enough.

Me "revealing" my early life in film was only done by way of introduction. That is part of who I am and I need to be honest about myself if I'm going to tell you a good story about anything. You'd never believe me, otherwise.

But that is not a very riveting headline, I suppose, so they make it sound like I am graciously giving you the answer to a riddle that's been keeping you up nights.

Some of the Huffington Post comments were mean - mostly of the "I don't care about her" variety - but the vast majority were kind and supportive and I'm thankful for that. I must admit that the mean ones did make me laugh. They made me want to go to a website about fishing and click on the article, read it, log in and tell them they should stop writing it because I don't happen to care about fishing.

But reading that you are irrelevant is not that fun, so I have a new rule: NEVER read Huff Po comments.

What I will do is write about movies and that crazy world of pop culture. But I'm also going to write about making the hard decisions and what happens when you're 34 and still don't have all the answers.

Oh, and I'm probably going to make a lot of spelling mistakes.

I hope you'll stick around for all of it.

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