Pondering profanity

I was probably eight years old the first time I swore in front of my parents.

I was playing outside and saw a garter snake. I love snakes and – being the stupidly enthusiastic animal lover that I am – I said, “I love you, snake, come here” as I rushed to pick it up. The snake wisely turned and bit me. My affection quickly extinguished, I dropped the snake and screamed “You bastard!”

(Now that I think about it, this was an accurate foreshadowing of my love life through my early 20s.)

My parents, after a moment of wondering if we needed to go to the emergency room, started laughing.

I learned something really important that day: swearing is funny.

Swearing is funny for a number of reasons, but mostly it is funny because it is unexpected. It jolts us out of the regular flow of things. It wakes us up.

I love swear words for this simple reason — I love words.

Words have long been my closest friends. I learned to read when I was three years old, and since I started working as an actor and traveling for shoots when I was four, books were more commonly my companions than other children. Whenever I was lonely, I could dive into that literary world that was populated with characters who would always be there for me. I have a deep and everlasting love affair with the written word.

That’s why I refuse to believe that there are words that are “bad.” I just can’t think of them that way. (Okay, maybe except for the word “slacks” which is just a terrible word and it should be banished from the English language entirely.)

But words themselves simply can’t be good or bad. They just are, and that’s the beauty of them. They can only be infused with our intent. They can be used in ways that are beautiful or ugly or heart wrenching or enlightening. The only way I won’t use words is to degrade other people, so words that are commonly used in that way don’t show up in my work. But as for the rest of them, they are fair game in all their magical combinations.

I know some get offended when I swear. People say that I’m not a “lady” because of my language (don’t even get me started on that) and I think some people forget that I’m no longer 14 years old and so I can say whatever I’d like, which is one of the many perks of being a 36-year-old person. But I figure if I can drop the F bomb in front of my grandmother and she never flinched, no one else should get overly worked up about it.

I don’t swear because I can’t think of a different word. It’s not out of ignorance or a desire to annoy anyone. I use profanity as a punctuation mark. It brings the reader fully into the moment of the piece. It’s meant to express how I truly feel, the words come from the depths of my heart out of my fingertips and onto the keyboard. And sometimes what comes up is a curse word.

I use them sparingly, because with overuse, any word can lose its power. I use them thoughtfully, because I choose every word I put on the page with the loving care that one might use to tend a rose garden.

And I know that it makes some clutch their pearls in horror, but the simple truth is that I swear because I love my garden of words.

Even the words with thorns.

***This post was inspired by an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour. If you are not listening to it, do yourself a favor and go download immediately. It’s pure joy.***

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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.

gramma

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

 

 

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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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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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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On letting go: growing pains and book publishing

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

It’s entirely exciting.

And incredibly painful.

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

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

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

To be adored or criticized or ignored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then let it go with grace.

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming event at Bowers Writers House at Elizabeth College

Bowers

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

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

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

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

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

And many thanks to Bowers Writers House for having me!

 

The freedom to fail

I’ve been thinking about vulnerability lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had this thought recently:

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

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

What if people think I’m a terrible writer?

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

What if I make spelling mistakes in my blog posts?

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

I might.

But on the other hand — I might not.

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

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

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

free

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

Who knows?

But it just might be fun.

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

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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…