You already know Lisa Jakub and that’s okay.
You know her from her work in Mrs. Doubtfire or Independence Day or maybe even George Lucas in Love, that viral video before ‘viral’ was actually a thing. She’s a face you grew up with and there’s probably a part of you that recalls a sweet childhood or family memory when you see her face. And that’s adorable.
But Lisa Jakub has left the film world and she’s done so gladly. Nowadays she strolls a path of vivid authenticity as a writer/ writing instructor and her words are wildly refreshing. I invite you to put the Lisa you-think-you-know on a shelf, and get ready to meet a remarkable, down-to-earth, and absolutely exquisite writer.
1. What do you write and what are you reading?
My first book is a memoir called You Look Like That Girl. It’s about growing up as a child actor, and my decision to leave Hollywood to search for a life that felt more authentic to me. I am currently finishing up my second book, which is about anxiety, depression and panic attacks. It’s my story of dealing with a panic disorder and interviews with other people who are struggling. I also look at the latest research on what works to make life a little easier for those of us with mood disorders. This book is grounded in love and humor and it feels like we’re just sitting over coffee and talking about specific ideas we can try so we feel a little better. I’ve read a lot of anxiety books by doctors and that’s great – but this more accessible, honest approach is what I wish I had when I was at my darkest point.
As for what I’m reading, right now it’s Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Meltonand The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.
2. Your book You Look Like That Girl opens with a scene of you being coiffed by a team of stylists only to have producers look you over and announce that you ‘just weren’t pretty enough.’ This rejection felt so gutting. What has rejection taught you?
Rejection feels brutal and you just want to crawl under a bridge and stay there. But rejection is inevitable if you are getting out in the world and trying things. It can also clarify your priorities. For me, being told I wasn’t pretty enough helped me to realize that those values didn’t align with what I wanted to be doing with my life. It reinforced that I needed to retire from acting and figure out what I really wanted to be contributing to the world.
When I found my passion in writing, I didn’t suddenly become immune to rejection. The first time I submitted the memoir manuscript to an agent, he said I should just ditch the whole project because no one would be interested in a ‘celebrity memoir’ that didn’t have rehab, orgies, and car crashes. This time, my reaction was different. That rejection spurred me on. I wanted to prove him wrong because I believed there was a place for a book that showed who actors really are – just people with jobs. I wanted to talk about the fact it’s okay to change your mind and change your life if it’s not fulfilling, no matter who you are.
I really should send that agent a copy of the book and thank him, because his rejection was very motivating for me.
3. Best book you’ve ever read?
That question is unanswerable, it’s like choosing a favorite child. I will say that The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt recently rocked my world. As did Nine Stories by JD Salinger. I reread John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany every other year. Everything Zadie Smith writes leaves me weak in the knees. Brene Brown’s work speaks to a deep truth that I need to have drilled into my brain on a daily basis. That’s not one book, but it’s the shortest response I can offer. I’m sorry.
4. Anxiety is deeply personal for you. What should people know about it?
(It) is real and it’s not shameful. We need to start thinking about mental health issues the way we think about physical health issues. No one would ever say they should just ‘get over’ cancer, or think they got appendicitis because they’re weak. And yet, many of us feel like we need to deal with our mental wellness alone. But if we are brave enough to be honest, there is help available and things can get better. I really struggle with feeling like I’ll never fit in, but I now have a whole toolbox of tactics to deal with my anxiety. Mostly I’ve learned acceptance and love and gratitude. That’s made all the difference.
5. When were you most proud?
Ugh. I find being proud to be very difficult. I think this can be a hard thing for women in general but add to that the fact that I’m Canadian and I take humble to the point of obnoxious. But it’s important to acknowledge your accomplishments, especially in our society that keeps moving the bar so we are often striving for unobtainable goals.
I do speaking events at colleges, high schools and conferences. When someone comes up to me afterward to tell me that something I said resonated with them, that they related and they want to share their story – it hits me right in the feels. I also love the community that I’ve cultivated around my blog and social media sites, that direct communication with my readers is so meaningful to me. When we can connect and feel less alone, there is not much better than that.
6. Writing about sex can be so awkward. Talk to me about it.
After my grandmother told me that she wanted to pick up ‘that book with the shades of grey’ I stopped thinking sex was taboo. I think if there is something I really find awkward to write about, that is exactly what I should be writing about. Shame is a dangerous thing, it locks us up in the basement and keeps us from engaging with the world. So, the more shameful something feels, the more I know I need to write about it.
I wrote a blog post about my decision to be child-free and didn’t post it for years. But when I finally did, the response was fantastic and supportive. We tend to think that everyone is going to think we are weird if we get vulnerable and real, but actually, it empowers other people to do the same.
7. Who do you love and how does that sneak into your writing?
My dog, Grace, was always a huge part of my writing process. She was a rescue, we adopted her as a senior from the shelter, and she was my guru and my muse. She passed away three months ago, and I’m still trying to figure out life without her. It’s strange to write without her curled up under my desk. But the lessons she taught me, about resilience and love and devotion will be part of my work, and my soul, forever.
8. You are a dedicated yogi. Tell me three reasons why I should start practicing.
I try not to be a crazy proselytizing yogi, so I’ll tell you why I practice and you can decide for yourself.
(1) It is the most important thing I’ve done to get a handle on my anxiety and depression (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also way up there.) It taught me how to stop constantly obsessing about the past or worrying about the future. It taught me many lessons about presence and acceptance that translate off the mat – making me more courageous and capable in the real world.
(2) Physically, I’m in the best shape of my life – and since I’m creeping up on forty, that’s a big deal. I broke my back when I was eleven years old and was plagued with lingering issues and pain. But that all changed seven years ago when I walked into a yoga studio. I couldn’t touch my toes, but that didn’t matter. Yoga is for everybody – you start wherever you are. I hear people say all the time that they are not strong/flexible so they can’t do yoga. Yoga is how you get strong/flexible. There are no prerequisites – if you can breathe, you can do yoga.
(3) I found the community I always wanted. My yoga studio is like home, I walk in and I’m welcomed regardless of what kind of day I’m having. It’s my safe space. I have laughed louder and cried harder in that studio than anywhere else. No one cares if you look cute or if you fall down on your face and stay there because you are just too tired to get back up. It’s a place where it is totally okay to be yourself.
9. You have gone from high school dropout to writing instructor. What’s your encouragement for others who are on a difficult writing journey?
I think all journeys are difficult, just by the definition of being a journey. If you are growing and following those things that make you feel sparked up, it’s inevitably going to put you in new and difficult situations. I think it’s a powerful practice to get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you choose to not run away even when it gets challenging, yes, you are risking failure. But I realized that I would rather fail than quit – because at least failure is brave. One of my yoga teachers says, if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. The ‘comfort zone’ is boring. I’m all in favor of growth and change – even when it feels a little scary. Maybe especially then.
10. Who are your mentors?
I don’t have official mentors, but there are several women in my life who I look to for inspiration and encouragement. I started a little writing group and those folks prop me up when things feel overwhelming. I have friends – singers and illustrators and podcasters and writers and teachers – who are doing spectacular things with their lives and they remind me to keep doing what I love. My husband is my constant support and he believes in me even in the moments when I am uncertain. I gather strength from all of them.
11. Tell me a story about a story:
When I was six years old, 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 while I perched on the edge with my toes dangling in the water. I told her stories that mostly centered around the nocturnal adventures of the owl statue that sat in her garden.
After the swim, Gramma would dry off and critique the story. She was particularly qualified for this, as she had come up through the newspaper world in the 1940s, a gutsy ‘Girl Friday’ broad who demanded to be paid the same as her male coworkers. Gramma taught me about foreshadowing and conflict and character development. She’d tell me the parts of my story that she loved and the parts where she lost track of the plot line. There was no coddling, she never gave praise when it wasn’t due. I’d nod and thoughtfully furrow my brow and consider how I could refine the owl’s story for tomorrow night’s swim.
I don’t have an MFA, I don’t really have any writing education at all – she was the best writing program I could have had.
Who makes the best yoga pants?
The best yoga pants are the ones that actually get you to do yoga. I don’t care about pricey yoga gear – my stuff comes from Target or Marshalls.
High-five to Lisa for being game for this interview and for giving me a reason to get back into child’s pose.
-Peruse Lisa’s writing, blog posts, and speaking engagements at her website.
-Purchase her book You Look Like That Girl
-Follow her on Twitter: @Lisa_Jakub
-Marvel her yoga poses via Instagram: @LisaJakub108
***As part of this series, writers are asked to submit photos capturing who they are as well as a glimpse of his/her writer life.
***Know someone that would be a great fit for 11 Questions? Nominate them or yourself: KellyQBooks (@) gmail (dot) com