Writer, Lisa Jakub, had a secret, a secret that spanned eighteen-years of her life, and one that she was trying to hide.
No, she hadn’t killed anyone nor was she evading taxes, it was something much more benign (and legal). Lisa was trying to outrun her past life as an actor. Since turning 22, Lisa had married her best friend, moved away from the Hollywood lights, adopted her dog Grace, and had gotten her high school diploma, all the while trying to figure who she was without the auditions, scripts, and acts. For a while Lisa tried to pretend that ‘Lisa Jakub the actor’ and ‘Lisa Jakub the writer’ were two different people, but every so often, be it in the locker rooms after yoga or in the aisles of Target, someone would come up and say, “hey, you look like that girl from Mrs Doubtfire.” In the end, running was becoming exhausting, so Lisa published her memoir, aptly naming it after a common conversation piece: ‘You Look Like That Girl: A Child Actor Stops Pretending and Finally Grows Up’. In it, Lisa chronicles her journey to search for a life that was authentic to her and one that made her happy, whilst simultaneously taking ownership over her past life as an actor and doing so with honesty, vulnerability, and humour.
In the prologue to your book, ‘You Look Like That Girl,’ you tell a story of a group of kids coming to your house on their bikes, and you describe the girl in the group being “Cute, tall, blonde, and the earliest known representation of everything I found intimidating about women later in life.” You also refer late in the book to a guy asking if you were pretty and you saying “There it was. The question that I would struggle with for the first 30 years of my life.” Both these instances really stuck out for me. Can you elaborate on what the feeling was like and if and how it has changed.
Starting when we are very young, girls get so many messages about what is pretty and what is not. I always felt “pretty” meant tall, blond and blue eyed – everything that I was never going to be. I clung to that false ideal through my twenties, but now that I’m thirty-seven, I’ve realized that life is too short to obsess about those kinds of concerns. Our society goes through fads of what it deems attractive and different cultures have other ideas.
It’s constantly changing and impossible to live up to.
But what never goes out of style is a girl who is courageous, compassionate and engaged with the world. That is truly beautiful.
Do you feel that writing ‘You Look Like That Girl’ was a way of simultaneously acknowledging and owning your past as an actor so to speak, but also a way of putting that past life to rest, allowing you to move forward and be a writer?
Yes. Absolutely. I didn’t actually plan on publishing my memoir, I just needed to write it for myself. I’ve always processed the world through writing, so when I left Los Angeles and retired from my eighteen-year career at twenty two years old, I felt like I had to write that down. I needed to come to terms with who I was – an actor, a writer, a person with anxiety – and create an identity that was not based on any of those limiting labels.
In the process of writing the book, I realized that it was not just a bunch of stories about my wacky childhood, it really was about these universal themes of belonging and success and figuring out who you are. I thought it might be relatable to someone who had never even been on a film set.
Yoga is one of the most important things in your life, and you have talked extensively of how it literally saved you when it came to your anxiety and panic attacks. Would you mind talking about what yoga means to you and what about it makes it such fundamental part of your life?
I can’t imagine my life without yoga. If I go more than forty-eight hours without practicing, I can feel my body and mind getting stiff. Yoga is a moving meditation and it’s my safe place. On my mat, I can be at home, wherever I am. I can practice acceptance of whatever is going on in the present moment without judgment. Feeling really tired in my practice today? OK. Totally rocking it out? OK. Fell over on my face? OK. It’s a place to work on compassion, patience and equanimity.
Yoga taught me how to breathe properly, and how to use the breath so that I don’t get carried away by the emotional rollercoaster of unhelpful thoughts. Everyone has that repetitive loop of chatter, Buddhists call it “Monkey Mind.” We’re not trying to stop those thoughts, it’s just about changing my relationship with them and not taking them so seriously. I don’t have to act on everything that goes on in my head, and that means I can make better decisions. When someone sends me a snippy email or my mind starts obsessing about something I can’t control, I can step back and say -wait a minute.
Let me take a deep breath first.
Then I’ll respond to this in an intentional way, rather than just reacting in a knee-jerk, melodramatic explosion.I didn’t know how to do that before yoga.
Also in your book, you discuss going to see a very early screening of ‘The West Wing’ and how you fell in love, not with the actors or wanting to be up there yourself acting, but in the words the actors were speaking and the story they were immersed in. I know you’ve always had a close relationship with words and stories, but what was it about this particular experience that made you realise how much you loved words and that you could actually be a writer?
Seeing someone else’s passion can sometimes ignite our own. Hearing Aaron Sorkin talk about his writing process really resonated with me and I wanted to figure out what my own writing voice sounded like. I didn’t feel that kind of excitement about acting and I didn’t think I could feel that way about anything. I really relate when people say that they don’t know what they are passionate about – sometimes you just don’t know.
And I think there is this misconception that your passion has to be your job.
That’s not true at all. Living passionately is about your everyday choices and what you want to contribute to the world. That’s fine if you figure out how to make money from that – but it is absolutely not the only way to do it. You can volunteer or have meaningful hobbies or just treat people in a way that honors who you want to be in the world. That’s living a life of passion.
You talk a lot of being part of an “on-set family” when you made films and how that was one of the parts of acting you loved, but that when filming wrapped you lost that family and were forced to move on. This is something I can relate to more than I probably care to admit. Whatever the job, I tend to gravitate towards the people I connect with, which then leaves you reeling after the job ends and you no longer see those people everyday. How did you deal with it at the time? And how did you later reconcile or “fix it” this feeling?
I always had a really hard time with that and I’m not sure that I ever learned how to deal with it. After every shoot, I’d usually get sick and not be able to leave my bed for a couple of weeks.
I’ve just transferred this bond to my friends at the yoga studio where I practice. I’m very attached to the feeling belonging, support and acceptance that I get there. I’m lucky to have that in a way that is fairly stable, but it’s still hard when someone moves away. I’ve just accepted that this is who I am – I have a big heart and I love the people who I let into my life. I have wonderful friends and I try to be a good friend in return. I think it’s worth it to be open-hearted in the world, and make deep connections, even when it means you get heartbroken sometimes.
I actually found your blog when I started having panic attacks so it was a saving grace to know I wasn’t alone, and a lot of what you talked about and recommended worked. Your upcoming book is going to directly deal with the issue of anxiety and depression, and I wondered if you could talk about that more. I understand it’s a mix of personal experiences, yours and others, as well as delving into the science and psychology behind anxiety.
Oh, I’m so glad you found me! I’m so happy to hear that some of the recommendations were helpful for you. That means the world to me. I am so passionate about this next book. It is about all aspects of anxiety and depression. It’s about the causes, the ramifications, and most of all, it’s about ways to manage this challenging disorder. Through stories of my own difficulties as a person with social anxiety and a panic disorder, and stories of other’s paths, we’ll look at the science and the daily realities of managing as an anxious person. It’s very important to me that we can figure out how to laugh about these difficult topics, so with a bunch of humor and love, we can realize that we are not alone.
You have stated how important authenticity is to you and living a life that is true to you, which are clearly words you live by. I wonder if you feel as a writer and a lover of words, the word “authenticity” is overused and is starting to lose it’s meaning or rather it’s meaning is starting to become muddied in the water where other words such as “empowerment,” “blessed,” and “awesome” have fallen?
I feel like everyone can use words inappropriately. Whether it’s “feminism” or “literally” that’s the fantastic and frustrating thing about writing – anyone can use words however they would like. I just focus on using the words the way I really mean them and hope that they resonate with readers.
There’s a sentence in your book that reads, “Everything that happened to me had to be chronicled in a spiral bound notebook or else it didn’t really happen.” I am one of those people who see music and books as being timeless memory carriers. They can depict a moment or many moments in time, and will always be there even if the person forgets or is no longer around. I am intrigued if this belief was a direct result of making movies, i.e. committing life forever to celluloid, or was that belief always there for you? And is that belief still as important to you as it was when you were younger?
I don’t remember not feeling that way, so it’s hard to say exactly where it came from, but I don’t think it has its roots in movies. For me, acting felt like I was recording someone’s truth, but it certainly wasn’t mine. I was just acting out their creation.
This is something I still believe and I continue to chronicle life that way. The main difference being that I write more frequently on my laptop, rather than a spiral notebook.
I remember watching a snippet of a talk you did in Toronto to promote your book where you talked about how everyone has something that makes them feel odd and they might get rejected because of it. In turn this fear keeps us in situations or in “boxes” that stifle our talent and true purpose, and though our box might be comfortable for a while, it eventually becomes too hard to bear but getting out can be just, if not more brutal, and there’s always people who would actually prefer if you stayed in the box. Would you mind elaborating on this a bit more?
I’ve adopted the phrase “embrace your weird” as a mantra for my life.
It never fails that whenever I really turn around and face what I fear, it dissipates. Often, I do this by writing, but it can also be talking to my husband or a trusted friend. When I deal with difficult emotions – shame, jealousy, anger – and I don’t just run from them, they no longer have power over me. They can’t survive being out in the light. Because when I am honest about it, other people always say that they understand and have felt that way, too and they still love me. It’s no longer something to be ashamed of.
But it’s also true that sometimes taking steps to make changes in your life freaks people out. That might cause them to take a look at their own issues and that can be scary. People are generally uncomfortable with change, but that’s their choice. No one else is required to believe in your dream for your life – just you.
You also said that it was only when you accepted your entire self (actor, writer, wife, girl with anxiety) that you found some peace. Was there defining moment that forced you to accept the many facets of ‘Lisa Jakub’ and what it was like when you started to find some peace?
It’s been a gradual process and one that still work on every day. But I feel like I’m able to look myself in the mirror and like what I see. Not because I am perfect in any way, but because I am finally myself. The fact that I have acne and grey hair that will never behave itself – it’s all just part of me. Joseph Campbell said “The privilege of a life time is being who you are.” There is such joy and peace to be found when you can just let go and just be grateful for your life. It freed up all that time and energy that I used to spend on trying to be someone I’m not – and now I get to do some really cool stuff.
I AM THAT GIRL Interview with writer Lisa Jakub – http://www.iamthatgirl.com/lisa_jakub_in_her_own_words