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

“So, what do you do?”


I met someone recently and attempted to do that small talk thing, which, as an introvert, I generally find as pleasant as a paper cut to the eyeball. But just when I was expecting that boring old “So, what to you do?” question  – she shocked me by asking me how I “spent my time.”

I loved that. That had such a sense of depth to it. Because none of us need to be defined by our jobs.

Since bailing on my acting career and starting over, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been an animal shelter volunteer, voracious reader, homemaker, student, yogi, wife, blogger, dog mom, bills manager and a quilter of quilts for all my friend’s babies.

But none of those really fits what people are looking for when they meet you at a party and ask what you “do” – they want to know what you get paid for, it’s become a short hand for easy categorization. It’s all about money and striving and external perceptions of success.

I’ve always found it an uncomfortable question. When I was an actor, that answer tended to take the entire conversation hostage, and instead of being able to quietly listen to someone else, I’d have to say for the 764th time that yes, Mrs. Doubtfire was fun to film. Then, when I became a writer, the answer didn’t get any easier, because I didn’t feel like I was allowed to say that I was a writer. Often, creative jobs don’t come with official credentials. Claiming to be an artist is sometimes greeted by a head tilt and an eyebrow raise that might be an appropriate response to a toddler claiming to be a seahorse.

Even for those who have more traditional jobs, titles hardly tell the whole story. My husband’s job in marketing doesn’t communicate his soft spot for iambic pentameter or his devoted yoga practice. So why do we often tend to start, and stop, with that one limiting question?

All my life I’ve wanted to contort myself, Cirque du Soleil-style, into a neat box that is easily labeled and categorized. I’m now beginning to wonder why such a restrictive confinement and sharp corners look so attractive to me. Because in truth, all the various ways that I “spend my time” now, make me feel like I am making a more significant contribution to the world than my old acting gig that came with the paycheck and the prestige.

When did contribution to the world become only measured in dollars? Why do we think we understand someone if they say that they are an interpretive dancer or a construction worker or a banker? Their job might tell us something superficial about them, but isn’t it more meaningful to know that they they raised foster kids or speak Italian or won a Frisbee golf championship?

Maybe your job is your passion. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it fulfills you, maybe it doesn’t. A job is merely one aspect of a person. You can live a meaningful life, one full of passion and purpose, even if your job is less than ideal. There is so much more to life than work and it doesn’t have to define who you are.

Even though I absolutely love what I do, being a writer is not the whole story of who I am and what my life is about. When I was an actor, I let that job define my entire identity – and that didn’t go that well for me. I’m trying to do it differently this time.

So, this is just a sincere thank you to those who do not define another’s worth by what they fill out on their tax form. And a gentle reminder to myself that asking someone what they “do” might not be reflective of their entire being.

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An open letter to artists (I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good)

Screen shot 2015-10-26 at 7.57.31 PM

“Throes of Creation” – Leonid Pasternak

Dear writers,

I love you. You are my people. But please, please – stop whining about writing.

I recently read the introduction to a book that started with the author going on for eight pages about how hard it is to write a book. At the end of it, I felt like telling her – good God, don’t write a book then! Go knit a sweater or paint something or join a soccer team! Do something that makes you happy! Why do I want to participate in something that you call a misery?

But this seems to be a trend with writers.

“Writing is hard work and bad for the health.”

 – E.B. White

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than other people.”

– Thomas Mann

“There is nothing to writing. All you do it sit at a typewriter and bleed.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I don’t mean to be calling bullshit on Hemingway, but let’s face it – no one complains like writers. No one can translate suffering into such beautiful prose.

But I have a problem with it. It perpetuates the myth of artists as fundamentally tortured and mentally unhealthy. Personally, I want the world’s artists to be okay, to stay alive and vibrant and pour their joy into their work. I don’t want to think that the book I hold in my hands nearly sent you over the edge. And I certainly don’t want my own life’s work to be the death of me.

Why don’t we see contractors or veterinarians flinging themselves to the proverbial fainting couch over their vocations? Why are there no quotes about scuba diving instructors torturing themselves for their work?

I have a theory. I think it’s because as writers we worry that we need to earn our place in the world. If we tell everyone how hard writing is, we can justify the importance of our work. We think that suffering means we are serious.

It’s time we let go of that.

There is nothing glorious in pain. Let’s stop inflicting artistic misery on the world and thinking that makes our work seem vital.

Our work is vital.

Art is vital.

You know how I know this? Because the first evidence of humans making art is forty thousand years old. The first evidence of any sort of agriculture is only ten thousand years old. This means, as a species, we thought about making beautiful, essentially purposeless things thirty thousand years before we thought about coming up with a reliable way to feed ourselves.*

Yes, writing can be hard. It is emotionally engaging in ways that can be uncomfortable. It makes you dig deep into your own stuff, finding harsh truths and accessing universal struggles. You are inventing entire worlds. But it is also among the most cushy jobs on the planet. You’re not tending to leprosy victims in a rural clinic or calling the parents of a car crash victim. You are not picking strawberries for twelve hours in the blazing sun.

The world will not have a greater appreciation for our work if they think we are dragging our souls through the mud for it. We don’t have to be martyrs to do impactful work. Scars are not badges of honor.

Everyone has a voice. How amazing is that? So, let’s use it. Proudly. Let’s enjoy the work that we chose to do. Let’s sit down to our work and pour our love and enthusiasm and passion on to the pages. Let’s ooze delight all over the keyboard. Let’s ditch the insecurity and believe that we earned the right to tell our story, just because we are alive. Let’s not contribute to the negativity of the world – the tortured writer is such a cliché. It’s boring.

And if writing is really that painful for you, if the vulnerability of creative expression really does send you to bed, paralyzed with endless writer’s block and shivering with agonizing self-doubt…maybe it’s time to close the Word document do something else.

There are plenty of other jobs available that are filled with rejection and pay next-to-nothing.

*for more on this, check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic

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For the love of an old dog


photo by Sarah Cramer Shields

My best friend is walking a little slower these days. The dog who once drove me crazy begging for her dinner, now mostly sniffs it and needs to be coaxed to eat. She is deaf. She gets confused. She still gets excited to go for walks, but when we get four houses down the street, she’s ready to go back home again. In the morning, she pauses at the top of the stairs, nervous that her legs might not work the way they used to.

So, I carry her down the stairs.
And clean the floor when her bladder gives out.
And hand-feed her scrambled eggs when she doesn’t want to eat.
And massage her stiff hips.

There are Good Days and what I optimistically call Less Good Days. But I’ll be there for all the days until the end, making her as comfortable and happy as I can. And when there is no more comfort and happiness to be had, I’ll be the one who has to decide that it’s the end.

This is the deal we make when we love. This is the brutal contract we sign when we open our hearts. Whether we adopt a springy young thing or, like we did with Gracie, adopt a senior dog, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will leave and we will be shattered.

My husband and I walked into the SPCA four years ago and she was waiting for us. She chose us. And when the sign on her cage said “senior” – I winced. I winced because I didn’t want to feel this helpless pain so soon. I wanted at least a decade with this crazy, speckled, toothless mutt. But she was our dog and she made that clear. So we brought her home and bought a bigger bed so she could sleep with us and we promised to be grateful for however long we got. We agreed to the deal.

But now I want to amend the contract. I want to negotiate for more time.

I’m dreading the day when there is no one waiting outside the bathroom door for me. The day when there is no one using me as a pillow as I binge-watch Breaking Bad. What is the point of 11 am if there is no walk with Grace? My shadow will be gone and a piece of me will be gone with her.

But that time is not now. Now, my job is to care for her in this final chapter, for however long that is. My job is to put her comfort above my sadness. I am here for her, in these times that are much less fun than the hikes and trips to the beach that we used to have. I don’t turn away from the hard parts, it’s my responsibility to be as devoted to her as she has always been to me.

This is love in action: I rub her back and give her medication and clean the floor for the third time today. I pester our vet with endless questions. I try to be thankful for these days, even as I know the heartbreak is coming.

The heartbreak is always coming.

This is what it means to be truly alive. To show up and feel what it is to be human – to not turn away because it’s unpleasant. We have to surrender and lean in to the whole of it. We fully experience love and loss, joy and pain, happiness and suffering. There is no way to have one without the other. They are intrinsically linked and no amount of negotiating with the universe will unravel them. Trust me. I’ve tried.

We are all brave as hell – those of us who love so entirely. We expect to be broken by our love. But we still do it, again and again, offering up our tender hearts, our endless devotion and our unconditional love for those wise souls who teach us how to be better humans.

And really, I’m not sure that there is a more beautiful way to be broken.

Speaking events in Elizabethtown, PA


Pennsylvania, I’m coming to visit! I’ll be at Bowers Writers House at Elizabethtown College this weekend!

There will be three public events:

Dinner and Conversation with visiting author Lisa Jakub. Friday Oct. 16th, 6-8pm (wherein I try not to talk with my mouth full.)

You Look Like That Girl book signing. Saturday Oct. 17th, 2-3pm (wherein I try to spell your name correctly.)

Reading and Reflection: a special evening with visiting author Lisa Jakub. Saturday, Oct. 17th 7:30-9pm (wherein I read and reflect and try to make it special for you.)

For more information and to reserve your spot – click here.


There’s real famous. Then there’s me.

It is possible to leave Hollywood.

It’s not easy.

People wrinkle their foreheads at you and ask “why?” in this tone that makes you feel like you have just announced your intention to dress yourself entirely in tinfoil. People say you’re crazy for walking away from a good career just because it wasn’t making you happy. But it can be done. You can leave the film industry and do new things and you can almost leave it all in the past. Almost.

Certain things tend to linger.

I rarely talk about my old job in my daily life. I am now a writer who lives in Virginia, and my acting past is simply not relevant. I’ve been friends with people for a while and they have no idea that I used to be an actor. Usually, it will come up because I have to explain why I never graduated from high school or why I have DVDs of the movies that are still in theaters on my coffee table.

It’s not like I’m legitimately famous. It’s not like I walk into a room and I’m Jennifer Lawrence and everyone starts squealing. Occasionally, people recognize me. Often they squint at me and ask if we knew each other in high school. Or, it’s just odd.

My past creates certain challenges when making new friends – because I don’t know if they know, either from recognizing me or hearing about it from someone else. So, I don’t say anything, because saying something would be obnoxious. Why does my old job matter now? Who’s like “Oh, just so you know, 15 years ago, I worked at The Olive Garden, I hope that doesn’t make things strange now.”

So when I dance around the issue of my past, when I get flushed and nervous and look at my feet while using vague language like, “I was in Honduras once, for this…um…you know…work thing….” I look like I might be a repentant drug lord.

So, I test the waters and mumble “Oh, dunno if you know or not, I used to be an actor, so um…yeah…there’s that.” And I nervously wait for their reaction and try to come up with an excuse to check my phone for text messages.

I’ve had people get weirded out and uncomfortable, thinking this somehow makes me exotic and un-relatable because actors are apparently made of different stuff than regular folk.

I’ve had people get too excited and too comfortable and then they only want to talk about whether or not Fran Drescher really talks like that.

And then there is my all-time favorite reaction. When one of my friends found out, after months of knowing each other, she looked at me and said “Oh my God, it’s like, you’re….fake famous. That’s hilarious. Hey, hand me that yoga mat.”

She’s right. I am fake famous. I have this little bit of recognizability, but I don’t get mobbed in public or walk the red carpet anymore. I never enjoyed those things, they just sent my anxiety into overdrive. I like my life so much better now.

As it turns out, the authentic me is much happier being fake famous.

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Last call for my online writing class!


My online memoir class starts this weekend – want to join us?

This class is open to all levels – from experienced writers to those who have only written emails. All we require is passion and enthusiasm. You’ll learn a lot about memoir craft, we’ll do fun exercises to open the creative floodgates and I’ll offer feedback on your work. We’ll read great writing samples and totally nerd out about words. It’ll be awesome fun.

Here are some of the topics we’ll be covering.

  • Class #1 – Where to begin: on beginnings, middles and ends
  • Class #2 – The Hero’s Journey: structure and story arc
  • Class #3 – “Truth” and dealing with the real life people you write about
  • Class #4 – Living like a writer: deadlines, scheduling and writer’s block
  • Class #5 – Go deeper: show don’t tell and finding your voice
  • Class #6 – Covering a few Ws: Character, dialogue and settings
  • Class #7 – What’s next? Pitching, queries, agents, publishing and editing

The class will be held ONLINE – on seven Sunday afternoons:

Sept. 27

Oct. 4, 25

Nov. 8, 15

Dec. 6, 13

 From 12 – 2 pm PST  (3 – 5 pm Eastern)

I hope you’ll join me! No grades, no stress, just great information and motivation for your book. Sign up here.

(And if you want a little writing tip to get you started – here you go!)

Questioning the Cult of Busy

“How are you?”

It’s become the standard answer to the question.
Ah, yes. We’re busy. We’re all so very busy. We have so much going on. Things are CRAZY.

I’m not doubting that life tends to get hectic. Jobs and kids and pets and Instagram accounts. Yard work and work outs. Parents get medical procedures and laundry gets left in the washer.

We all have stuff.

But somehow, being “busy” seems have become a point of pride in our culture. Like, “I am a very important person because I only have time to sleep for five hours a night.”

That doesn’t make you important. You know what that makes you? A victim of advanced interrogation techniques.

I just had a book published. I did a book tour and media that consisted of things like twelve radio interviews in one day. I’m writing another book, I write two blogs, contribute to various online publications and I’m about to start teaching a writing class. I travel and give talks at schools and conferences. I also run the website and social media for a local business in my town. And then, you know. I have my life.

So, I understand busy.

But this is a shift for me. Generally, my life is not that busy. I’ve intentionally made it that way. I say no to things that spread me too thin and require me to multi-task, because multi-tasking just means I do several things badly. For the past several years, I’ve just been working on my book. So, I was writing. I was walking the dog and doing yoga and cooking dinner. I read a lot.

But with this new avalanche of stuff, I’ve recently fallen into that trap that I hate – sighing and saying I’m BUSY. And enjoying the fact that people seem impressed by that.

But nothing in my life is better or more impressive or more fulfilling when I’m busy. It might be just the opposite.

So, instead of saying I’m SO busy, how about I talk about something real.

  • I’m excited about my new teaching gig.
  • I’m sad that my friend is moving out of town.
  • I’m madly in love with this new taco place I discovered.

That’s actually how I’m doing. That has some substance to it. And it doesn’t have the slimy aftertaste of a humble-brag.

What’s so important when life is…let’s call it… “full”…. is that I don’t get caught up in my own busyness. I don’t think that any of it defines me, or somehow makes my life more worthy than when I have time to take a nap on a Wednesday.

Why do we feel the need to fill every second of the day with stuff? Is it so we can feel we are important to the world? Like we need to earn some badge of worthiness? Like people will forget about us if we’re not everywhere at once? It is just the classic Fear Of Missing Out? If we step back, can we see that much of this business is self-imposed. We really can sit and read a book sometimes. The world will keep spinning all by itself.

I’d offer this: relaxing isn’t lazy when it’s planned.

We need time to relax and play as much as we need water. Play isn’t frivolous. We can be better at the important things with the kids and the job and the pets and the Instagram accounts – when we have taken the time for self care. Stillness is important. Reading the Pottery Barn catalogue in the bathtub is important. Sitting on the porch and talking about why there are so many caterpillars this year – is important.

Stressing out about making the perfect key lime bars with the hand-squeezed key limes for the pool party is not that important.

We can choose to set boundaries on things and tell people we are sorry but we just can’t take that new thing on. And we can be okay with the fact that we said no.

We can be *gasp* not that busy.

Because when we can create some space, we can actually be awake for our lives. We can be better for everything and everyone that we love.

Check out this New York Times article “The Busy Trap.” It’s long, and I know you are busy, but it’s a good read.

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Want to hang out with me and write?

I’m teaching an online memoir writing class with Writing Pad! It’s open to folks with all levels of writing experience – you just need to be courageous enough to want to share your story.  This is going to be a fun, supportive environment where we can all work together and create something wonderful.

The class will be held ONLINE – on seven Sunday afternoons: Sept. 27, Oct. 4, 25, Nov. 8, 15, Dec. 6, 13

 12 – 2 pm PST  (3 – 5 pm Eastern)

I hope you’ll join me! Sign up here.

(And if you want a little writing tip to get you started – here you go!)

Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations



This is apparently the mathematical breakdown of what it means to be happy.
I totally agree, don’t you?

Actually, my idea of happiness doesn’t ever include exponents, but what this equation means is totally fantastic.

There was recently an article in The Atlantic that offers this equation and says that happiness doesn’t depend on how things are going. It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you thought they would.

Happiness is all about expectations. 

This is entirely true in my experience. My life used to go like this:

  • I get manically excited about something (starting a Facebook page to share my blog)
  • it starts off the way I hoped it would (I post stuff, I have 9,000 fans)
  • then, that’s not enough, I change my expectations and emotionally crash because I don’t have the upgraded version of that manically exciting thing (why do I not have 90,000 fans?)

And when things don’t go at all as I expected? If someone doesn’t respond the way I want them to respond, or I work really hard on something and it flops – suddenly I’m curled up on the couch claiming I’m eternally destined to be a dismal failure. It’s a screwed-up roller coaster of emotional angst.

And it’s the nature of the human condition.

It seems we’ve always been that way, and that’s why 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that life is suffering. (He used the Pali word dukkha, which could be less-dramatically translated as “unsatisfactory” or “stressful.”) We suffer because we are constantly clinging to something that is slipping away. Everything is slipping away because everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever.

Which seems kind of dark and horrifically depressing, until you realize this is just the reality of the world and there is an answer for dealing with it:

    • The Buddha called it equanimity
    • The coach from the UVA men’s basketball team told his guys to not get “too high on themselves or too low”
    • The Gin Blossoms said “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”

It’s all about managing expectations. Of course there are things we want. That’s good. But when we tie our self-worth and inner peace to whether or not we get them, that’s when the trouble starts.

I want to do well in life.

I want everyone to like me.

I want to have a nice glass of scotch without it giving me a massive headache.

I can’t always have all the things I want. But I want them anyway. And sometimes, I expect them. Which, if I look at that another way, can seem like I’m saying that I am entitled to have those things. And an attitude of entitlement is gross.

So, is the answer to never want anything? Or to wander around like Eeyore expecting life to generally suck? No. It’s finding that beautiful middle ground. It’s about living in a place of contentment, where what you have is enough, and your expectations are humble – so you are pleased when things are going well and only slightly ruffled when they are not. It’s riding that wave of life with gratitude, rather than fighting with the tides because you’d prefer if the ocean was a puddle.

Let’s stop thinking the world owes us something, let’s work hard but let go of the emotional attachment to the outcome, let’s be kind without looking to get something in return. Suddenly, 99% of what happens is a joyful surprise.

And that is a really happy thing.

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The art of stealing: books I loved while writing mine


Since my book was published, I’ve been getting a lot of book-ish questions.

I was recently giving a talk to writing students and they asked me what I like to read, and what I think writers should be reading. I found myself saying, “I think it’s important to read great work and then steal it.”

I quickly backtracked – okay, I’m not encouraging you to ‘steal’ as in ‘plagiarize.’ I mean steal like…borrow another author’s voice and try it on. See what it looks like with your own spin. A voice is just like a dress, it’s not going to look the same on me as it does on Heidi Klum. But learning how writers we admire use words and tone, and then seeing what that looks like when reflected through our own unique lens, can be really beneficial.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. Inspiration about how to live well and work better is all around us – it can come from anywhere. We get to observe the world around us and decide what aspects we want (or really don’t want) in our own lives.

Here are some books that inspired me while I was writing my book.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

I love to read anything and everything from this man. I attended his reading once, so it’s fantastic to hear his cadence in my head as I read his books and New Yorker articles. His attention to detail and ability to find side-stitching humor in mundane circumstances delights my soul. Because of this book, my book got funnier.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe

Hands down the best celebrity memoir I’ve ever read. He tells great stories and is honest and I loved it. I found it interesting that he was able to stay throughly engaged in the actor’s life – something I personally was not able to do. It’s the perfect example of people needing to pursue their bliss – whatever that is. Because of this book, my book got more candid.

A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

This one is a classic for me and I reread it often. The characters are what bring me back. They are developed and flawed and confusing. They are real to me. I wonder about how they are doing now. Because of this book, my book got more interesting characters.

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

This was my first Murakami book and I freaked out over it. It was so strange. I’ve always been worried about fitting in and being seen as “normal” and this book was wacky and totally okay with it. Such a fun, crazy read. Because of this book, my book got a little weirder.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I fell madly in love with this one. The detail of the narrative was exquisite and I felt every detail of that world in all five senses. It was all so vivid to me that I still miss that world, and I have an enduring literary crush on Theo, the main character. Because of this book, my book got more detailed.

Liz Gilbert – TED Talks

“Liz Gilbert is your spirit animal” – my husband.

When I was writing, I read The Signature of All Things, which was beautiful, but it was really her talks that got me. Her TED Talk on creativity broke my world open. I think every writer/artist/creative soul should watch Your elusive creative genius.

Still Writing – Dani Shapiro

A lovely little book about writing, meditation and presence. Some of my favorite things. My writing process got more easeful, as I remembered to breathe through the challenging parts and remember that it’s all part of the bigger picture. Because of this book, my book got more spiritually connected.

On Writing – Stephen King

One of my very favorite books about writing. Part practical instruction, part memoir, this book ignites my soul on those days when sitting down in front of the computer feels too painful to even contemplate. Because of this book, my book got done.

We are constantly evolving and changing as human beings, whether you are a writer or a painter or a dental hygienist. It’s a wonderful thing to keep reassessing what you want for yourself and your work – because that is always in flux. That’s the beautiful thing about life – we get to start over, every day, and decide who we want to be.

Books are an incredible way to explore your options, and the world…and you don’t even have to leave your couch.


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