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.

But I didn’t kill anyone.

I was just an actor. Continue reading

How to care for your introvert: a helpful guide

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Classic introvert behavior: talking with the animals at a party. (Me and Mr. Fox)

Does the photo above look familiar to you? If so – congratulations! You’re in a relationship with an introvert!

This introvert might be your romantic partner, friend, child, parent or even yourself. No two introverts are exactly alike – some are more introverted than others, some are outgoing introverts, some are shy introverts – but these simple care tips will help you to have a long, enjoyable relationship with your introvert.

  • Give your introvert a minute. We are not always fast on our feet and sometimes we need a while to adjust to a new situation. We need to quiet the voices in our head and figure out what we really think. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can get the words together in a succinct way.
  • Understand that if we never call you, it’s because we have a deep and eternal hatred of the phone. Texts or emails are how we connect.
  • Please don’t tell us to not be shy. Shy is different from introverted, anyway, and it’s pretty much like telling someone not to be tall. It also insinuates that there is something wrong with us. Not everyone needs to be extroverted.
  • Last minute invites are often challenging for introverts. Dinner with just one close friend usually takes several days to gear up for. Large gatherings (more than three people) need even more emotional prep. Sometimes, we just can’t manage it. No offense. But please keep inviting us to things, with as much notice as possible, because we have a wonderful time when we’re psyched up for it.
  • New people can be intimidating, but we’ll warm up. Introverts don’t need an army of friends, but we have a tight inner circle of people who we love wholeheartedly.
  • If we leave early, it’s not because we are having a bad time. It means we are leaving before we get overwhelmed. We probably had an absolutely lovely time.
  • We love the environment but we’re not carpooling because we need to have our own get-away car, in case we need to leave early. (See above.)
  • We are not judging you, we’re just good listeners. We are not bored or annoyed or zoning out. We like observing. We’re just taking it all in and we’ll share our thoughts when it feels appropriate.
  • Small talk will make us want to peel off our fingernails, but engage us in a conversation about the deeper things in life and we’ll talk for hours.

Trouble shooting

  • “My introvert is being quiet. Sitting on the couch, reading a book and looking serious. Is there something wrong with my introvert?”
    • There is nothing wrong with your introvert. This is her natural state. Allow her to recharge. Maybe bring her more tea.
  • “My introvert said she didn’t want to come out with me to a concert with all of my friends. Does she hate me?”
    • No. Your introvert still loves you. In fact, she loves you so much that a quiet dinner and a Netflix binge sounds much better to her.
  • “My introvert invited me to go to a loud concert with all of her friends/is talking in front of a large group/seems to be enjoying the company of others. I feel like I don’t know her anymore. Is my introvert still an introvert?”
    • Yes! But sometimes even introverts enjoy extroverted activities. Some introverts are great at public speaking and performance. Just be aware that she will likely need lots of downtime afterwards to recover.
  • “Only, like, two of these things apply to my introvert.”
    • People are different. We are not actually like plants. This is just the guide I wish I could hand out to everyone in my life.

(For a great read on introversion – check out Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain.)

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The writer’s bloodline

When I was six, I learned how to tell a good story by sitting on the diving board of my grandmother’s pool.

Every night, Gramma would swim laps before bed. Her best friend would come over and as the two of them sliced slowly through the water, I told stories. I was obsessed with a stone owl statue that stood guard over her garden, and I chronicled his adventures with the toads and butterflies and squirrels.

As I perched on the edge and dangled my toes in the water, I played with story arc and character development.

I leaned about suspense and foreshadowing.

I learned how to utilize supporting characters to bring out the essence of your hero and how to use humor to illuminate an essential truth.

I learned how to be a writer.

After the swim, Gramma would critique the story as she toweled off, telling me the parts she loved and the parts where she lost track of the plot line. She never coddled me, never gave praise when it wasn’t due. I’d nod and thoughtfully furrow my brow and considered how I could refine the owl’s story for tomorrow night’s swim.

My Gramma knew how to use words. She came up through the newspaper world. She was one of those gutsy young broads of the late 1940s – working long hours as an editor at the place she reverentially referred to as “The Paper.”

She lived at the Y, and wondered if the fellas in the newsroom were saying she looked tired when they told her she had “bedroom eyes.” One day, with shaky hands, she marched into her boss’s office and demanded to be paid on par with those men. After that, they respected her more and started offering her cigarettes. She tucked them away in her purse, saying she’d smoke them later. She didn’t like cigarettes, but her boyfriend did, and the man who would become my grandfather couldn’t afford his own smokes.

Her love of words traveled through the bloodline and directly into my heart. However, unlike me, her spelling was impeccable. She slaughtered me at Wheel of Fortune.

In so many ways, she made me a writer.

And I am so deeply grateful. For that, and a million other things.

My grandmother is not here anymore, she passed away two weeks ago and I’m still learning to talk about her in past tense.

But the stone owl from her garden now stands watch over mine.

And he reminds me of where this writer’s soul of mine came from.

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Me and Gramma, a few months ago, visiting a winery in Virginia. One of my favorite days ever.

 

 

A love note to books

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My favorite bookmark, in my current book…

I recently saw a little kid almost walk into a wall because she was reading a book.

It made me so very happy.

Not just because I think it’s funny when people run into things, but because I totally understand the enraptured joy that kid was feeling because of her book.

I’ve had several people ask me recently why I love books so much. (I’m assuming it’s just a question, and not an accusation, like, what is wrong with you, you freaky book girl?) Some people ask me how to start the reading habit, or how they can encourage their kids.

I began my love of books as an extremely emotional and introverted three-year-old. Books were a way to discover the world, escape from my own, and inspire my writing. Characters in books became my closest friends. By the time I was four years old, I was working as an actor and traveled frequently for shoots, so real-life friends were harder to maintain than the ones on the page. Those characters were always there when I needed them, and they always accepted me and welcomed me into their world – it didn’t matter how different I was.

My heart sighs with delight to see a kid reading. They are expanding their mind, learning about the world and figuring out their place in it. Especially now that video games and movies and TV can be all-consuming – reading is all the more sweet.

I’m not going to go on a technology rant and bash TV- I love a good Netflix binge. I love technology. I love my Kindle. I also love paper books and I think there is room for both. I once heard someone say that in the whole physical vs. ebook debate, they were “container neutral” and I thought that was brilliant. I don’t care how we get the words. We just need to get them.

The incredible thing about books is that you can read about absolutely anything. I don’t believe you need to cave to books you “should” read. If Dostoyevsky doesn’t do it for you – no sweat. Read what makes you feel alive and inspired. Read what you love. Is it sailing? Robots? 14th century farming techniques? Great. Find a book about it. Can’t find a book about it? Write a book about it.

Read a book that grabs you by the collar and throws you into the chair. And – this is controversial advice – if you don’t like a book, I believe you have permission to stop reading it. I give a book 50 pages to make me fall in love. If not, no hard feelings, but we go our separate ways. There are too many things I want to read, I won’t force myself to slog through something and resent it. I don’t think authors want you to suffer while reading their work. (Okay, maybe some do, but I don’t.) For me, reading is pure joy. Pure happiness.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read something that challenges you, pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you think differently. Great art has a way of doing that. Art, at its core, is an expression of life and beauty. It might not seem traditionally beautiful – but the best book will contain something breathtaking, hidden in the form of deep truth and skilled wordsmithing.

And there is nothing that makes me happier than discovering something unexpectedly beautiful.

(If you are interested in knowing what books I love, and what I’m currently reading – check out my Goodreads profile, and friend me so we can share book recommendations! I also have specific shelves there for my favorite books on anxiety, meditation, writing, etc.)

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Through the looking glass of fame

Photo courtesy of USC Photo/Gus Ruelas

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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Don’t just do something – sit there

The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren’t prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television — so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I’m not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I’m told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this “chanting hippie shit” was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn’t fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan’t like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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Stepping back: lessons of 2014

feet

In 2014, an astonishing number of people continued to google “Lisa Jakub feet” – and I still aim to please.

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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Happy freaking holidays: a guide to surviving December

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This is a stressful time of year.

Sure, it’s joyous and whatever too, but let’s not candy-cane-coat this. Many people are feeling a time crunch, family pressures and money stress. Those of us who struggle with anxiety and/or depression tend to have a hard time, thanks to ridiculous holiday expectations.

But we can do this.

Here are some things that help me this time of year.

Leave

Walking (especially with the dog) is sacred time for me. Even a few minutes of fresh air helps clear my head, get me grounded, reconnected to the natural world, and focused on what really matters. And anything that makes Grace happy, makes me happy.

Give

I always feel better when I am able to stop obsessing about my own life and help someone else. Volunteering or just doing something for others (baking cookies for the mail carrier or simply telling someone how important they are to me) brings an abrupt end to my pity party.

Downdog

I am a yoga fanatic; I think the benefits are endless for mind, body and spirit. I love that it can be done at home without fancy equipment and is accessible to everyone, even those with a severe lack of physical grace, like myself. I start my day with some simple Sun Salutations (which are great for beginners) and tend to unroll my mat whenever I’m feeling stressed.

Write

Writing is my outlet. I have written angry diatribes, compete with outlandish accusations and the inventive usage of profanity. Once I write it out, I usually realize how silly it was to begin with and can let it go. And watching all that that drama go through the shredder is immensely satisfying.

“No”

Setting boundaries is integral to maintaing sanity any time of year. I have social anxiety, and parties tend to be really difficult for me. When my husband is with me, it’s a little easier, but there are events that I need to attend without him. Even though carpooling with friends might be more efficient, I almost always drive myself so I don’t feel trapped and I can leave if I start to feel a panic attack coming on. Knowing that I have an immediate out allows me to relax and actually have some fun. But even with those accommodations, there are times I need to decline an invitation and stay home with the couch and a book. And that’s okay, too.

Sit

Meditation has been an incredibly effective way of dealing with my anxiety. Like everyone else, I always thought that my mind was just too busy to meditate — but something significant changes when you take a few moments to breathe, slow down the incessant thinking, and become aware of the present moment. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it.  If you are interested in trying mindfulness, just sit in a quiet place, set a timer (start with just three minutes and work up to more) and count each inhale up to ten, and then back down to one again. Your mind will wander – constantly – but don’t get frustrated. Simply come back to focus on the breath, no matter how many times you start thinking about that witty comeback you didn’t say.

Here are some of my favorite books on meditation:

10% Happier – Dan Harris (For the meditation skeptic)

Wherever You Go There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn (For simple directions on mindful living)

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program – Sharon Salzberg (For those looking for audio guided meditation)

You can also check out the rest of my favorite books on Goodreads.

Most of all, don’t get caught up in silly holiday propaganda and think that everyone else is perfectly merry with their perfect families and perfect homemade hot cocoa you are the only one getting stressed out.

Remember the profound words of Ellen Griswold —

 

So, let’s just take a deep breath and we’ll all make it through this joyous season in one piece. Happy holidays, everyone.

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Moving on: usefulness, beauty and a lot of cardboard boxes

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“Have nothing in your home which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

~ William Morris

We’re moving.

They say that moving is one of those highly stressful life events that ranks up there with divorce or death of a family member.

I love moving.

I know. It’s weird.

We moved a lot when I was a kid, and I’ve continued that into my adulthood. I love any reason to get introspective and over-think things, and moving offers a plethora of opportunities for life evaluation.

When I was growing up and working on movies, l spent the majority of my time traveling on location and living out of a suitcase for three months at a time. I lived in Holiday Inns and corporate housing. I lived in other people’s houses and unfurnished apartments where Mom and I used banker’s boxes as tables. Life was very transient, and “stuff” never had much importance to me.

So, I love to purge and get rid of anything that is weighing me down. I give it all away. It lightens my load, simplifies my life and gives back to someone in need. Win/win/win.

Moving offers me a moment to really assess the things in my life. When it comes down to this reality – do I really want to carry this thing down two flights of stairs in this old house and then up two flights of stairs in my new house – it shines a whole new light. Does this thing really have meaning to me? Or do I have it just because I have it?

What else in my life have I been carrying for too long? What else is worth putting down and getting rid of? What pain, what shame, what anxiety? Because even four flights of stairs is nothing compared with holding on to something for forty years that is neither useful nor beautiful.

And maybe that emotional baggage was never even really mine to begin with. Maybe it’s like that box of CDs that an ex-boyfriend left behind, or that wobbly coffee table that I inherited from my parents.

I feel like a snake shedding its skin. I get to make decisions about priorities and how I want my family to live. I get to paint my dining room orange. I get to start over and throw out all my assumptions about how things should be. Throwing my life into chaos reminds me that each day, I get to decide how to live. It doesn’t have to be based on momentum and habit. I’m allowed to change and grow and leave that old, useless shit behind, like a pile of broken-down Ikea dressers from my 20s.

So, even though we are staying right here in Virginia, it feels like a whole new start – where only things useful or beautiful are allowed to stay.

Luckily, our dog is both.

Gracie stays.

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Hey, wake up – this is your dream

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Lisa Jakub – author. Age 8.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting by a pond with my friend, T. It was a warm fall day and the pond looked as if it had been ripped out of Idyllic Ponds Monthly Magazine. There were gently rustling reeds, lazy koi fish kissing the surface of the water and a heron, arrogantly surveying it all from the shoreline.

T is a writer and an English professor and we were talking about writerly things, like muses, death and Scotch. We talked about my book being published and he told me about the novel he was working on. We were perched on a wobbly stone bench and T stood up to stretch his legs and smoke a cigarette far enough away that I wouldn’t complain about it too much. He exhaled pensively for a moment and looked back at me:

“So, I have to ask you this, what’s it like to be living your dream?”

I laughed at him because the question seemed absurd. It feels strange to think of your own life like that. Most of us are more likely to tally up all the things we’ve not done, and focus on them.

When I look at my incredibly talented writer friend, I see his MFA that I’m envious of and his job in the academic surroundings that I admire. He’s a creative soul whose apartment is filled with Escher prints and typewriters and masks that he made in college. But he’ll downplay it all, even the things he’s published, waving them away like the cigarette smoke that still manages to get in my eyes. And all the while, I’ll feel inferior because I don’t have advanced degrees and I don’t even know how to make a mask — and I’ll wave away the beautiful moments in my own life.

Why are we compelled to move on to the next thing and discard our accomplishments? I’ve always felt that if just one person enjoyed my work, I’d die happy. But now Facebook is telling me that I need to keep tabs on pages that are similar to mine so I can “keep up.” Suddenly, I’m in a world where 8,000 Facebook fans doesn’t feel like enough.

Why do we change the rules on ourselves?

If we really were living our dream — would we even notice?

When I get still for just a moment, I realize how astounding it all is. I’m a writer. That’s the dream I’ve had since I was eight and compiled the Collected Works of Lisa Jakub. I’m also healthy and I have friends and family and a place to live. That’s a dream, too.

So, my answer to T was rather dualistic:

Living my dream is wonderful.
And it’s exactly the same as life before I got a book deal.

I think most of us assume that if we are living our dream, then everything must be all shiny and effortless. Therefore, if it’s not perfect, we can’t be there, yet. I still have maintenance issues with my car that require me to spend three hours waiting at the repair place. My dog is still half blind and has seasonal allergies. I used to get frustrated and cry because no one wanted to publish my book, I still get frustrated and cry because I have meetings with my publisher and I worry about disappointing them.

People have said that it must have been easy for me to get my book published because of “who I used to be.” I won’t detail the mountain of rejections from agents and publishers, the endless emails saying that no one is interested in a Hollywood story from a no-longer-famous person that doesn’t involve orgies and rehab – but I’ll just say, getting published was not easy.

But this is what we do, as humans. We tend to assume that everyone has it easier and better than us. They have connections or innate talent or more money or prettier hair. But none of that means that they don’t have troubles and stress and heartbreak. It’s just in different packaging.

Knowing those concerns are universal makes them feel so much more manageable. This is simply what it means to be alive. We might as well find some joy and gratitude in there, because life is never going to be perfect. For any of us. No book deal/MFA/sweet car will cure the essential human condition of uncertainty and unease.

But maybe being alive, being truly awake in your life, is the real dream.  Maybe the rest of it is just icing.

The ducks in the pond paddled towards us, looking up expectedly with their cutest begging duck faces. Since I only had bottled water and T only had gum, neither seemed to be appropriate offerings. The ducks got tired of watching us wax philosophical and glided away, muttering what I’m sure were disappointed profanities.

T and I left the pond to wander through the fallen leaves that were mostly obscuring the pathway. Kicking the leaves aside, we made our own path.

Back to our lives.

Back to our dreams.

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Sticks and stones and broken bones: an anniversary

brace

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back running into a burning building to save a puppy.

Sorry.

That’s a lie.

But it sounds so much better than the truth.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back falling out of a chair.

I was siting in one of those office chairs with wheels on them. I pushed back to get up, the wheels caught on the carpet, l fell backwards, hit a wall, crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and got severe whiplash in my lower back.

It’s not a good story. In any way.

I spent about five days in the hospital, then they sent me home, wearing a metal back brace and drugged up on liquid codeine. My mother put glittery, puffy stickers on the brace to cheer me up – but the little dolphins and angelfish dotting the icy metal contraption just seemed pathetic. Depressing. Like those velvet paintings of big-eyed children. They’re supposed to be sweet and youthful but instead they stab your heart with a deep and hollow melancholy.

Months passed with me on the couch, counting the flowers on the wallpaper. I needed a wheelchair to go more than a few steps. I couldn’t lift my arms up to read, so I rigged up a cookbook holder that connected to my brace so I could read Sylvia Plath endlessly. I watched Doctor Zhivago and wondered what my recovery would look like. I wondered if I would ever be able to ride horses again (yes) or walk in high heels (no, but I doubt that’s really about the broken back). Mostly, I wondered when the pain would stop.

This Saturday will be the 24th anniversary of my injury. It is always a time of great introspection for me. I have very few lingering signs of the accident. The nerve damage has dissipated in the last 5 years (thank you, yoga) but my left leg still drags a little, zombie-like, when I’m tired. My right hip sits significantly higher than the left. But since my ability to ever walk again was once in question, it seems silly to mention such minutia.

The most notable result of my broken back is this profound sense of the tenuous nature of life. It became clear that one moment, one movement, one chance encounter, one turn to the left when you intended to go right – can change everything.

It can catapult you into triumph or catastrophe.

I know what it is to have my body betray me. To have my arms not be able to lift, my legs give out, and my back shiver with pain. And at a certain point, there is nothing to do but surrender to the tides. To know deeply that you’ll be okay, whatever happens.

So this Saturday, I’ll pay homage to my spine.

Because in many ways, I’m just learning how to use that beautifully strong backbone of mine.

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