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…

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.

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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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Perceptions of the past

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

― John Lennon

 

“What are you writing now?” He asked me from across the folding table.

“It’s a memoir,” As soon as the words came tumbling out of my mouth, I realized how loaded they were.

I was standing across from James Frey. They guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces and got publicly slammed by Oprah when the world discovered that much of his memoir was fabricated.

He laughed and rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses.

“Oh God, just….just…call it fiction. Please.”

I didn’t know I was going to be having that conversation with James Frey last week when I went to Book Expo America in New York. I was expecting to have a couple of meetings with publishers, score some free advance copies of books, see some writer friends and have my agent pick up the tab for dinner. I wasn’t expecting to be sent into a philosophical quandary about the nature of truth.

There are several ways you can come down on The James Frey Thing. Some people think he’s a liar scumbag. Some people think he was backed into a corner by his publisher and forced to call his book a memoir when he always intended it to be fictional. Some people think he wrote something beautiful and poignant regardless of its accuracy.

But let’s set aside our desperate urge to pass judgment for a moment – let’s not defend or condemn his actions. Because either way, there are a few things that are pretty clear cut about The James Frey Thing.

  • He wrote a book that resonated with many people
  • He made all non-fiction writers think about their own relationship to reality
  • And he made everyone a little scared of Oprah

I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on reality. I also think most people think that about themselves.

In my book and my blog, I write stories about my life. I believe them to be true. It also occurs to me that there might be people who read what I write and have a completely different recollection of that event.

I’ve told the story a million times about how I became an actor. I was in a mall with my parents when I was three years old and a man approached us and wanted me to be in a commercial his company was casting. Recently, I was telling the story on a radio show and later my mom called me to say it was in a market, not a mall. But I always thought it was a mall. When I think about it, I see fluorescent lighting and a food court — not an open, breezy market with baskets of colorful fruit and glassy-eyed fish lying on piles of ice. But apparently, I’ve just filled in the details where my memory has faltered.

Memory is a slippery thing – it picks and chooses the moments it wants to cling to and it changes rooms and conversations and intonations. It makes you braver or funnier or more awkward than you actually were.

Of course, there are details that are (or should be) concrete. I’m not recommending you claim you had a root canal without anesthetic if you didn’t. But what is interesting and important about telling our stories is the emotion and deeper meaning that we bring to it. And that belongs to the storyteller alone. We own it. There are so many ways of seeing the world and understanding the consequences, but our perception of reality takes precedence when we get brave enough to open up and tell our story.

What really matters when reflecting back is – what came from that experience? Was there joy or pain? What was learned? Where did it lead? How can it help someone else and do something good?

That’s what our memories are really for.

Well, that –  plus the glorious feeling of humiliation that we actually used to wear fringed denim vests.

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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.

 

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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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Coming up: speaking engagements

I love writing best, but talking is good, too.

I’m thrilled to say that I am now doing speaking engagements. Here’s me looking really dorky/nervous at my first one.

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This fall, I’ll be doing a two-day visit to Elizabethtown College in PA. I’ll be talking about writing, authenticity, “success” and what it was like growing up in the film industry.

I’m really excited about this new aspect of my writing – reading my work for a live audience is quite a rush. I’m grateful to have the opportunity meet readers in person so we can discuss those universal themes of purpose, happiness and the desire to write the script for your own life. (And yeah, I’ll probably make you listen to a story about my dog.)

I’ll be doing more talks in the future, so if your school/organization/group is interested in having me visit – please send requests to LisaJakub108@gmail.com.

As long as you’ll forgive me if I wear my Chuck Taylor’s and swear a little, I’m pretty sure we’re all going to have a damn good time.

(Unless your group is a church or something – then I promise I’ll wear grown up lady shoes and watch my mouth.)

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Why I write: losing and finding my voice

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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

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This is not me. This is an 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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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

One thing I learned is that many people come here searching for photos of my feet. Here you go, weirdos.

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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Go well, Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died today. As I always do when I’m heartbroken, I write.

I find myself tongue-tied and not sure what to say, so I’ll just start at the beginning.

When I was 15 years old, I pasted this in my journal:

SA

I felt connected to South Africa and South Africans, for absolutely no reason. I had never been there. I didn’t even know anyone who had ever been there. My love was completely illogical. And it was so deeply rooted that my toenails ached for a place I had never seen.

I auditioned for The Power of One and when they didn’t hire me, I cried. Not because I didn’t get the role, but because it seemed like my best chance to get to South Africa. No such luck. My love affair would have to remain long distance.

When I quit acting and moved to Virginia in search of myself, I got my GED and at the age of 28, I started college. In 2008 I had the chance to study abroad. I finally had my chance to go to South Africa. I was ecstatic as I took my antimalarials and set foot on the land that felt as much like home as any place I had ever been. I studied environmental science and anthropology for four weeks. We traveled around the country. Johannesburg, Venda, Kruger, Bushbuck Ridge, Blyde River Canyon.

I found myself in South Africa.

I stepped out of my old self – the former actor, exhausted from an 18-year career in the film industry, feeling lost and ill-prepared for real life. I learned how to be brave there. How to connect with people. How to live from my heart with an authenticity and an honesty that had always terrified me. I was stripped down there. For the month-long trip, I had one small duffle-bag that contained four T-shirts and two pairs of jeans. I had no room to carry my fear and insecurity.

And I got to walk in the footsteps of Mandela, the man who had changed the world. A man who reinvented himself, time and time again. Who admitted his weaknesses and believed that we can only be strong together. His feelings on community and justice and truth burrowed into my soul and made a home there. His tireless efforts for peace and compassion became my inspiration.

When I got home from South Africa, my only regret was that my husband hadn’t been with me. Within 7 months we were back on a plane to Cape Town. I wanted to see Robben Island, the prison where Mandela had spent 18 years of his life. I stood there and wept. Not because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed by his enduring faith in humanity. I cried because I was overwhelmed by the beauty of his existence.

robben island 2

This is a terrible photo of me crying outside of Mandela’s cell on Robben Island

I remain overwhelmed that I got to live in the world at the same time as this great man. I got to breathe the same air and see the same sky. We are all connected through Ubuntu, Mandela’s guiding philosophy: I am because we are.

I am because he was.

I am able to pursue my dreams because he demonstrated astonishing bravery. I’m able to forgive, because he forgave on the deepest level. I’m able to contribute to the world, because he demonstrated that one person can make a difference. I’m able to cause a little trouble with the unacceptable status quo, because he was a total badass.

I strive to move through the world with a tiny fraction of his presence.

And now he is gone and I’m heartbroken.

I always found it so reassuring to know that he was in the world.

But someone like him can never really die. The impact Mandela had will live forever. And although I keep crying, I know that most of those tears are in gratitude for the fact that there ever was a Mandela to miss.

Go well, Madiba.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”

- Nelson Mandela

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