Hello, my name is Lisa Jakub and I used to be an actor

This is a weird thing for me to write about.

You see, I’ve been spending the last 10 years running from my past. A friend said that I’m so dodgy about my old life, that I behave like someone who killed her entire family and moved out of state. I’m that elusive about it.

I didn’t kill anyone. I was just an actor.

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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.

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* 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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Upcoming event at Bowers Writers House at Elizabeth College

Bowers

I am super thrilled to be speaking at Bowers Writers House at Elizabethtown College in PA!

In two weeks, I’ll be discussing inspiration, the creative process and I’ll be reading a chapter from my book. I’ll also try to stay calm and not just squeal with excitement about getting to talk writing all weekend.

I’ve done talks at high schools and conventions before but this will be my first time at a college. I still get nervous about the whole try-not-to-look-stupid-in-front-of-people thing…but I really love the connection and energy that come from engaging in person.

And I suppose it’s good for me to get out of my house and put on real pants once in a while.

If your school/organization is interested in having me come talk – about writing/living authenticity/my life growing up – contact me at LisaJakub108@gmail.com.

And many thanks to Bowers Writers House for having me!

 

Emma Watson, feminism and thoughts from my college advisor

“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

~Emma Watson, quoting Edmund Burke at the United Nations

I recently watched Emma Watson’s speech to the UN about feminism. I had shivers the whole time. She got me thinking about digging up this post I wrote a while ago, but was too timid to publish, because for some reason “feminism” has recently become a hot-button issue.

Then I read about all the horrible threats she is getting as a result of her speech and shamefully, my first thought was “how terrifying – well, I can’t write about feminism now.”

And that is exactly why I’m posting this.

I am a feminist. An outspoken, virulent feminist.

This means I believe that women deserve political, economic and social equality to men.

This does not mean I hate men. That is not feminism.

That is sexism.

Here are some things about me:

  • I prepare my husband’s lunch every day and cook dinner most evenings
  • I knit
  • I like flippy floral skirts

I am still a feminist.

  • I do the DYI fix-it projects in our home
  • I like bugs and dirt
  • I don’t know how to apply make up

I am still a feminist.

A few years ago when I was graduating from college, my advisor asked me what my plans were. I talked about writing, about some non-profit work I wanted to continue doing in Southern Africa, about traveling with my husband and rescuing a shelter dog.

She looked at me and said “But what about a baby? You have to start planning for that before it’s too late and all that other stuff is just going to get in the way. You must want to have a baby, it’s the most important thing a woman can do.”

After I found my voice, I explained that having a baby was not, and never had been part of my plan. She scoffed at me and said that I would change my mind and that I needed to have a baby because only then would I be a “real woman.”

That’s why I’m a feminist.

Because no one should be allowed to dictate what a “real woman” does or does not do.

Because no graduating male would have been told that his professional aspirations needed to be put on hold to procreate.

My gender should not dictate the dreams I’m allowed to have for myself.

There is nothing wrong with having children, or not having children, it’s a personal choice. There is more than one way to live, and I’m not saying that having children is wrong any more than I am saying that parasailing is wrong just because I don’t choose to do it.

It’s easy for many of us to look around and think that women have it pretty good right now, but the struggle for equality is not over. Women still only make 77 cents for each dollar a man makes, and that number goes drops even further for black and Latina women. And let’s not get into rape and domestic abuse stats.

I see a lot of young women rejecting feminism, and I’m not saying everyone has to be a feminist. But I think feminism has a branding problem. Like Emma Watson says it’s not anti-man. It’s about equality. And I think it’s becoming too common to write off what feminists of the past have done for women and take for granted the rights that women currently have in this country.

To the men: please understand that feminism is not a threat to you. Feminists are not trying to hate you or replace you or undermine you. Feminism is open to you, as well, and it’s an invitation for you to defend human rights and enable your wives, sisters, mothers and friends the freedom to be their authentic selves. In breaking down gender stereotypes, you become freer as well. You are not required to be the breadwinner, you can cry at the movies and walk through the door first if you want to.

And to the women: You don’t have to say you are a feminist. But if you like being able to wear jeans – you should thank one.

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Never enough: growing up airbrushed

bags

I’ve been going through old photos to use in my book and I just found this headshot from when I was 16 years old.

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

That’s the world I grew up in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough is enough.

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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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Farewell to Robin Williams: a thank you note

robin

Robin Williams died today.

It seems surreal to write that.

But since writing is the way I process the incomprehensible — I find myself writing.

Everyone is tweeting and facebooking and calling into radio shows about what a great talent Robin was.

Yeah. He was. But that wasn’t what I adored about him. It was the fact that he was an incredibly kind human being.

When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy. My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a “non-traditional” student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.

It’s devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject. When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and the next day, he handed me a letter that he wrote to my school. He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.

When I told him I still didn’t think they would take me back, he said, “It’s kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth.”

The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal’s office. But they didn’t invite me to return to school.

But here’s what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.

I know I said thank you at the time and I’m sure I wrote one of those stiff thank you notes that 14-year-olds write with slanting lines and spelling mistakes. But that all seems so insufficient now.

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life. It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

None of us really know what fights Robin was battling, but I know his struggles were not uncommon. It’s estimated that 16 million people in the US have struggled with depression – and I include myself in that statistic. It’s real and it’s not shameful and there is help available.

You can bring it to the light, you can tell the truth, you can go to a meeting, you can reach out to a friend.

None of us are alone.

And if you have someone in your life who you are grateful for — someone to whom you want to write another heartfelt, slanted, misspelled thank you note – do it. Tell them they made you feel loved and supported. That they made you feel like you belonged somewhere and that you were not a freak.

Tell them all of that.

Tell them today.

 

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The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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(ETA: If you are interested in reading the letter, you can see it here.)

 

Viva L’Italia

“If we get married, we should have our wedding here because it’s so romantic.”

I choked on the chocolate chip gelato I was shoving in my face.

“Dude – you can’t just say shit like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jakub 007

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

He always has the best ideas.

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

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Book news!

Apparently, this is what a signed book deal looks like

Apparently, this is what a signed book deal looks like

I’m thrilled to announce that the wonderful folks over at Beaufort Books will be publishing my memoir, You Look Like That Girl. It will be available on shelves and as an ebook in fall of 2015.

Thanks to all of you for reading, sharing and supporting my writing. I was so nervous about putting my words out there, but you have given me the confidence to pursue this crazy publishing dream. I can’t thank you enough.

The book will be very similar to this blog in terms of content and tone. I can’t wait to share it with all of you. There is a lot of work to be done to get the manuscript ready for publishing, but while I do that – let me know if you have any cover ideas…

Clubbing baby actors

I just wanted to fit in.

Desperately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She thought I was an idiot.

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

“Here. Get two.”

“Wait, why are we buying these?” I asked.

She snorted at me and handed me the change.

“Research.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen was getting caught by a Goth. But four years later, Christine got sick. 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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Panic attacks, social anxiety and other perks of being me

At age 13, battling a panic attack just before a press conference for the movie Matinee, at Universal Studios

 

Recently, I did an interview and we discussed anxiety disorders. I realized that although I’ve written about that topic in other places, I’ve not addressed it much on this blog.

It can be challenging to talk about panic attacks and social anxiety. We’ve been taught that it’s either nerdy (think someone with high-waisted pants, sucking on an inhaler at a party) or it’s just regular stress that we should be able to handle.

It’s neither of those.

I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid. I’ve always been described as “sensitive” and “thoughtful” and “a worrier.” When I was about 11, my mother would push her thumb into the middle of my palm, calling it my Breathe Button. She’d remind me to take a deep breath as I gasped like a fish and anxiety drained the color from my face.

At a certain point, my inherent shyness and introversion turned into hyperventilating, blacking out, and not being able to leave the house. At its worst, I was having a couple of panic attacks a day. If you don’t know what a panic attack feels like, consider this:  it’s common for people to end up in the emergency room during their first one because it feels so much like a heart attack.

It feels like you are dying.

And I was doing that twice a day.

That anxiety was complicated in my early 20s by the fact that I was not happy in my life. I felt trapped and scared and not sure what could ever comfort me. I’ve been carried out of restaurants mid-panic attack, I’ve made bad choices in a fog of anxiety-ridden self-sabotage. The world had become a very dark place and there were many times that I was not sure how I could ever get out of it.

I’ve written before about what has helped me. Personally, it’s all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation and yoga. I wanted to avoid the drug route – I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking drugs that you need – I just wanted to try a different way. Although I have had prescription bottles at the ready, I’ve always found other ways to manage it.

Even though it’s greatly improved, my anxiety has not disappeared completely. Last weekend, I felt some significant panic just thinking about having to leave the house to go to the grocery store. My heartbeat was irregular. My hands went numb. Flickers of light clouded my vision and made me cling to the counter with vertigo. Those are all signals that I’m not breathing well.

The difference now is that have a whole arsenal of tools that I can use to stop that panic before the sobbing-on-the-floor point. I have breathing exercises. I remind myself that this feeling is temporary and will pass. My husband knows what he needs to do, and not do. My friends understand that sometimes I can’t come to large social gatherings (large means more than 2 people) and if I do, I always drive myself so I can leave if I start to feel panicy. There are preventive things I do every day to reduce my anxiety so that it no longer runs my life – like yoga and a daily meditation practice.

Whenever I talk about anxiety publicly, I get messages from people who deal with similar things and who are glad that we can talk about it. That sense of connection is the reason that I write words and put them out into the world. Because I hope that someone will find them, read them, and say, hey, I totally get that.

I wish there was one common answer we could all share — sadly, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. But if you are dealing with this stuff, know that you are not alone. There is no need to feel ashamed. There are people and books and techniques that can help you. Anxiety tends to drive people into isolation, but suffering alone is never the answer. You can take control of your life and your own wellbeing. You can ask for help.

I used to think my panic attacks could be alleviated by some external image of “success.” Maybe if I got cast in bigger movies or dated a different boy, I would suddenly be fixed. When I finally realized that I was capable creating some peace for myself, right where I was  – that’s when it all started to get better.

 

I created a bookshelf of some of my favorite books that helped me with my panic attacks. You can see it on Goodreads. (And while you are there – friend me so we can share books!)

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