Authentic creativity at Hippocamp: a whole fancy PowerPoint talk

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 8.21.25 AM I'm super excited about the Hippocamp nonfiction writers conference in Lancaster, PA this weekend! I'll be giving a talk about how to find your own unique creativity: how to refine it,  own it, and how to make sure you never get blocked from it. I've got PowerPoint slides full of embarrassing old photos, helpful tips and cartoons. It's gonna be fun.

There are still some tickets to the conference available, so come hang out and talk about words with me and a whole bunch of extraordinary writers.

And no promises, but last year at this conference - they had a mashed potato bar.

Just saying.

with love,


(If your school, conference or company is interested in having me come speak - you can see my speaking kit and contact me for more information.)

Why I will do yoga until the day I die

IMG_0922 Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter's wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It's made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I've always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It's not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I'd really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you - I don't want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine, so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don't mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn't get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn't do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms - ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn't instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:



But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don't understand. It's about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It's about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that's good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it's still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being "good"  - it doesn't matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.



If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types - new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you - check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 


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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've been friends with people for a while and they have no idea that I used to be an actor. They know me as I am now, a writer and a yoga teacher and a wife and a dog-mom. My acting past is simply not relevant. 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 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.

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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Childhood choices: is it okay to recruit a 9-year old?

Jaden Newman is 9 years old. She also just became the youngest person ever recruited by a college program. Jaden plays basketball. I'm no talent scout but I saw a 30-second video of her playing - and she's damn good. Clearly, the University of Miami thinks so, too.

While I understand why many people are celebrating this fantastic achievement, it still makes me squirm a little. I'm not sure that we should be celebrating colleges recruiting 4th graders.

It's wonderful that Jaden is such a talented, hard working kid who has found something that she loves to do. But can't it just be left at that? Isn't that enough? Why does basketball need to be something that defines her future right now? There's a lot of baggage that comes along with being labeled a "phenom" before you hit double-digits.

I'm not sure why a university needs to take ownership of Jaden's future at this point. She should have the freedom to wake up next Wednesday morning and decide that she doesn't want to play basketball anymore and that she is much more interested in the debate team. Childhood is all about being free to explore who you want to be for the rest of your life. And if there is pressure of a college scholarship and this precedent-setting recruitment, I worry it will stifle her vision for herself.

Maybe Jaden really did find the thing she wants to do for the rest of her life at the age of three. Maybe this is just giving her a great option down the road. I hope that is what happens.

When I was three, I started my career and I identified myself as an actor for the next 18 years. Then, when I was 22, I slowly realized that I didn't want to do that job anymore. I had never even bothered to ask myself what else there was, because it hadn't occurred to me that there were other options available. I assumed I was incapable of anything else. Suddenly, I had no clue who I was. I identified myself as an actor before I identified myself as anything else. If you had asked me who I was, I would have said:

1. An actor

2. A girl

3. A Canadian

So, if I wasn't an actor anymore, was I anything at all?

For me, it worked out - I don't have any regrets. I was able to find a new path and eventually found my self-worth somewhere else (thank you, therapy). But not all kid actors end up in a good place. I hope Jaden knows that she has the ability to be something different if she wants - even if it doesn't come with the media attention and the prestige of college sports. Just because she is good at something doesn't mean she is required to do it.

When little kids say they want to be firefighters, we don't suit them up, put an axe in their hands and send them out there. But with sports, music and acting, it seems like the rules are different.

I believe that it's always important to know, wherever you are in life, that you are allowed to change your mind. None of us have to be just One Thing. If we all had to commit to what we wanted to be when we were little - there would be a whole lot of firefighters and ballerinas. And my husband would be a bird.

So, go do what you love, Jaden. Kick ass and have fun - whether you want to be a basketball player, a firefighter, a ballerina or a bird. I'm pretty sure you'd be awesome at all of them.

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Mom, mom's mom and me: under one roof

Last week, I was in North Carolina sitting on a lawn chair watching a lot of Jeopardy. The living room of the tiny beach house just has a love-seat, and my mom and grandma were already forced to share that space with my dog. So, I dragged in a lawn chair and yelled out incorrect responses that I always forgot to put in the form of a question.

Three generations (well, four, if you count the dog, and you should always count the dog) were vacationing under one roof for five days. At ages 35, 57 and 85 - we all seemed to be just different versions of ourselves. It could have been the backdrop of a Tennessee Williams play.

Everyone's families are complicated and contradictory. That's just the reality of family dynamics. Families are loving and brutal. They are intimate and they are strangers. They are accepting and critical. They are all those things, intertwined with memories and expectations and the desire to make you another cup of tea.

But through all the inherent messiness, there are important moments that come from spending extended time with family. Like hearing the story of how my 20-year-old Grandma would flirt with the guys she worked with at the newspaper, so that they would give her cigarettes. She didn't smoke, but she'd tuck them away and give them to her boyfriend -- that broke boy would eventually be my grandfather.

My mother knows the first album I ever bought, even though I've forgotten. She remembers exactly when I attempted to expand beyond the Carole King and Earth, Wind and Fire that pervaded my early musical education. It's so easy for me to revert back to those days. Mom still uses phases of discontent, like "Shootski pootski" and "Ishkablibble' that catapult me back to a time when I wore a fringed jean jacket and thought those were legitimate swears.

In this company, many sentences start with "Do you remember...?" - a person, a place, a time in space that feels so removed from this. So far from this 1,000 square foot beach shack with windows that don't close properly and a finicky toilet handle. But here, over the sound of bickering seagulls, we remember our shared past.

As much as all this reminds me of my history, it also grounds me in the present. I see the grey streak I started to notice in my hair in my mid-20s, reflected back at me. That grey expands into my mom's salt and pepper hair. It expands further into my grandma's silver shine.

We are not women who dye.

All this shared DNA and shared experiences express themselves in distinctive ways. We are decidedly different women, with different outlooks and ways of understanding the world -- but when I see my mom and grandma sharing gestures, I wonder if I do them, too. It's like an archeological dig of your own existence, except instead of discovering broken bits of pottery, I'm looking at a woman making an egg salad sandwich.

My mother has put a quote (most commonly attributed to the great poet, Dr. Seuss) on the bathroom wall of the beach house.


I'm reminded where I get my sense of truth-telling from. That no-hair-dye honesty is strong in all three of us. It's both a blessing and a curse. That same honesty that brings us closer has also hurt feelings and gotten us into trouble and damaged relationships. The truth is powerful, and I want to use it carefully. Sometimes honesty needs to be sheathed in kindness to soften the blow. Sometimes we are skilled at that, sometimes we are not.

I wonder, as I make my way through the years, what family traits I will keep, what habits I will let go, and if my hair will turn out to be the perfectly shiny silver of my grandmother's.

I watched a lot of Jeopardy last week and I realized that it's the perfect analogy for life. Because life is all about asking the right questions.

The answers take care of themselves.

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Psych 101: memories and lies

I was 28 years old and starting college. I had never really been a student before. I started working as an actor just before I turned four, so school always came second. Sure, I went to school sometimes, but it felt like something I did just to fill the time until my next job, like cross-stitch or tennis lessons. But as I neared my thirties, I figured it was time to try that thing that other people did - get educated. I bought a backpack and a lot of pens.

The school thing went okay. Socially, it was challenging. I tried to just fade into the background but people would yell "Hey, Doubtfire girl!" from down the hall, and then they'd get nervous and run away when I turned around. I didn't really have friends, but that was okay -- I had all those pens.

I took an Introduction to Psychology class. The professor came into the room on the first day, shuffling a stack of impressive looking papers while extolling the importance of early childhood experiences on the adult psyche.

She asked us all to recall our earliest memory and share it with the random stranger next to us. I couldn't have been more offended by the intimacy of this assignment if I had been asked to whip out a nipple for my seat-mate.

The truth is, there is footage of my earliest memory.


I am on the set of a Cottonelle toilet paper commercial. A man is standing on a ladder, pouring a cardboard box full of cotton balls on my head. The commercial will be in slow motion: me with my unusually large eyes, joyously attempting to catch the fluffy cotton balls that rain down on me. I'm thinking it's strange that this grown man’s job is to dump cotton balls on my head. My job also feels ridiculous - catching aforementioned cotton balls - but I am barely four years old. I reason that it's okay to have a silly job since I'm just a preschooler.

But that was just not a memory to share with a complete stranger on the first day. It would have led to more questions and the kind of attention that I was trying to avoid. I was already desperately attempting to blend in with kids who were 10 years younger than me, kids who didn't have a husband and a mortgage and a 10pm bedtime.

So, I lied about my first memory.

"My first memory is of my grandfather," I said to the teenager next to me, who was twirling her hair and trying to look interested.

"He was pacing the upstairs hallway of his house. He had a heart condition and was pretty much restricted to his bedroom and that one hallway. I was walking behind him, my hands clasped together behind my back, mimicking his gate and posture. He always sang these Scottish bar songs and he would close his eyes when he got to the high notes."

This indeed is an early memory of mine - it's just not the first. This particular memory appears to indicate that I am a born follower and some sort of copycat. And a liar.

What does it mean that my real first memory was on set?

I'm not sure.

Maybe it means that my identity as an actor is so deeply rooted that I can never completely rid myself of it.

Maybe it means that I always questioned the viability of acting as a long-term career for myself.

Or maybe it just means that trying to catch cotton balls is pretty fun.


Here's the whole commercial - if you are feeling nostalgic for Canadian toilet paper commercials from the 80s.


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Conversations in Common: March Madness Edition

When it really comes down to it - we're all the same. Even, unfathomably, me and this guy. This is my friend Jim Miller.


Jim and I have many things in common. Like:

- we were both more famous in the 80s than we are now - we both wore short shorts for our jobs* - we both retired in our 20s and needed to figure out what the hell to do next

But unlike me, Jim wasn't an actor - he played basketball. When we first met, I didn't know anything about him. I was mostly just concerned that the 17-inch hight difference between us meant that I needed to talk louder. But, it turns out that he could hear me just fine up there and we became friends.

And then people said stuff to me, like "Do you know who that is? That's Jimmy Miller."

There were actually italics in their voices.

The italics were well earned. Jim was MVP of the 1984 NCAA Eastern Regional championships as the University of Virginia advanced to the Final Four. He was a Parade All American, Converse Academic All American, he won a Hertz Number One Award that OJ Simpson presented to him (and no, he's not sure how to feel about that either). He played with Ralph Sampson. He was drafted by the Utah Jazz. He played in Austria and Spain. He was on little cards looking very sporty, like this:


After years of having people whispering about me, now they were whispering to me, about Jim.

Let me make something clear: I think Jim was more famous than me. There was actually a POSTER of him that college students used to hang in their dorms. Sure, I was on the Mrs. Doubtfire poster but I was one of five people, and my face was mostly obscured by Robin Williams' breast. So I'm pretty sure this means Jim was more famous than me.

But regardless of who was more famous, we have a lot in common and that's incredibly comforting since I have spent so much of my life feeling like a weirdo. It's good to know that other people have left high-profile careers and are doing just fine.

I sat down with Jim recently to talk about his past and his experience with retirement - things we had never talked about before. After several hours of comparing notes, I was even more reassured that the superficial differences between people are so misleading.

When he thinks back on his career, his favorite things sound just like mine. He found that relationships and travel were the most rewarding part of his job. It wasn't all about the fancy things like sitting in the VIP section of a club on Sunset with Lawrence Fishburne. It wasn't all about the awards that he keeps in his basement somewhere. It was about the people. The places. The experiences.

I was most interested in how he made his decision to retire, and wondered if it had been as difficult as my decision had been. After being drafted by an NBA team and released, Jim was playing in the Continental Basketball Association - the minor leagues - playing with guys who were 10 years older than him. They were well into their 30s and still clung to their hopes of playing in the NBA. That possibility became less likely by the year, but they were still chasing the dream. Seeing that made Jim realize that he didn't "want to be one of those guys, lost in the CBA."

That instantly reminded me of a very similar moment in my life. I was siting in a waiting room in a casting office. It had taken me two hours in L.A. traffic to get to the audition and it wasn't even a script I was excited about. I saw a woman in her 40s come out of what must have been a bad audition. She looked exhausted and decided to take it out on the receptionist and yell at her about why they didn't validate parking.

There are moments in any profession where we get a glimpse of our own future - and it might not jive with what we want for ourselves. I was 22 years old. I really didn't want to be 40 and still going to crappy auditions where they decided to hire the buxom blond instead. I didn't have a devotion to the work that could fuel me through the hard times.

Jim and I talked about the difficulty of deciding to retire, even when the job was not fulfilling anymore. With professions like ours, you feel obligated to stick it out, give it one last try. But, finally, he said you just have to "have your 'Come to Jesus' moment and look in the mirror" and make the hard decision.

In his mid-20s, Jim retired from basketball - the thing that had been the center of his life since he was 9 years old. He had to figure out who he was beneath the basketball player, but he felt that since all his energy had been so focused, he was not properly trained for the world outside of professional sports.  I totally related - it seemed that neither one of us had any direction after retirement. So, he took to a trial and error approach, just like I did.

We both felt the pressure to do something "important" to fill that void. We needed to do something that somehow justified our decision to leave. Something that seemed just as cool. But really, what were either of us going to do to fill the massive void left by Hollywood or professional sports? Those careers have been idolized to such a degree (just check out E! or ESPN for a reminder of the extent of the hero-worshiping) that it's hard to imagine where you go from there that doesn't seem like a disappointment to other people.

But as Jim said, it can be really dangerous when you tie up your self esteem with what other people think of you. Because then you are living for others, not yourself. Your sense of self-worth needs to come from somewhere else, somewhere deeper than your resume. But that can be difficult when you've tied up your identity with one thing for so long.

Jim now loves being a husband, a dad and running his own financial consulting firm. He talks about this phase of life being his halftime. He is assessing the things that looked important in the first half of his life, and seeing if they still deserve his focus and energy. He is making adjustments. He is choosing to do some things differently in the second half. He's not afraid to change the line up of his priorities.

I find that so inspiring, because I think many of us operate from a place of momentum. We do what we've always done. We think we are too busy/tired/stubborn to do something different, even if it would make a huge difference to the quality of our lives.

But if we can just give ourselves a little break and really examine where we are, we can get back out there even stronger and play this life according to our own rules.

*proof of Jim and I in our short shorts.


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Open doors: thoughts on being proud

Most people probably assume actors would be good at being proud. Why wouldn't they? What, with all those parties and photographers and fans fawning all over them. Maybe there are some actors that are good at it. I certainly wasn't. And none of my actor friends seemed very adept at that emotion, either. The industry culture is just not set up for that.

A lot of us were too worried about getting to the next thing - the next audition, next job, next premiere - to take a moment and feel good about what we just accomplished. We were always terrified that we had said the wrong thing to the wrong person or wore the wrong thing to the wrong place. It felt like shuffling along a narrow pathway on the edge of a sheer cliff. We were always just one tiny misstep away from losing Hollywood's fickle affections and falling to our deaths in obscurity.

Growing up in that environment, combined with my inherited Canadian tendency for overly-aggressive humbleness, continues to make pride something of an enigma in my life. I baffled my husband when he was telling me over dinner that he was proud of something he accomplished at work.

Him: So, it went well and I was really proud of that.

Me: You were?

Him: Yeah.

Me: What does that mean?

Him: Am I using hard words?

Me: No, I mean, can you literally explain what it feels like to be proud of something?

Him: Well, ummmm...are you serious?

I was serious. And that seemed like a serious problem that I could not even identify what that emotion felt like. Because if you are not able to be proud of your accomplishments, that means you are relying on other people to tell you if you are doing something good. You are just sitting there like a poor, neglected animal, waiting for a pat on the head. You are completely beholden to other people's opinions of your actions, instead of relying on your own sense of purpose.

That sounds like a terrible way to spend my life.

Which brings me to the other day.

We have this bathroom door that closes by itself. It's annoying. The dog accidentally gets trapped in there and we have to keep it propped up with a giant bottle of hydrogen peroxide, which I end up tripping over on my way into the bathroom in the middle of the night.

It had been like that for, like, 6 months but last Saturday, I decided that I had enough of the stupid door. I googled something like "how to stop my door from closing by itself" and found a video. I got a hammer and screwdriver and removed the hinge pins and hammered them a little so that they were slightly crooked. Then I put them back, and that created enough friction that the door doesn't close by itself. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes, but I had to go up and down stairs a lot and I also had to find the screwdriver.

When it was done, I stood there in my pjs, hands covered in greasy door-hinge stuff and watched my bathroom door not moving of its own volition. Something inside my chest felt light. My face got a little warm. I smiled. Oh my God, I'm proud. This is it! I'm doing proud!

It's not like I had saved the world and I'm not claiming that I'm the world's best door fixer and if I'm still talking about fixing this door a month from now, clearly I've taken pride too far. But this is different from boasting or bragging or being full of yourself. It's just the pleasant, glowing stillness that comes from being satisfied with something you accomplished. It's about being happy with the present moment and your place in the world. It's about not feeling like you need to get to the next thing in order to be content.

Even if it was just fixing a silly bathroom door, I succeeded at making something just a little bit better.

For one glorious, flickering moment - I felt like a fucking wizard.

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In which I attempt to impress my niece with "Teenaged Girl Underwater"

My 7-year old niece wants to be a marine biologist. She was explaining that her first favorite are great white sharks, but dolphins are her close second favorite. At the time, she and I were standing on a paddleboard, cruising around the sadly shark/dolphin-free Bass Lake in California. I don't get to hang out with her, or my 5-year old nephew, very often, since my sister-in-law and her family live on the opposite side of the country. As an only child, I was never sure that I'd have the chance to wear the label of Auntie - so whenever I do see them, I always bring gifts to try to bribe my way into being Cool Aunt Lisa. I'm not naturally good with kids, so I rely on books, baseball hats and interesting stories. I jumped at the chance to get into her good graces.

"I got to swim with dolphins."

She quickly turned around on the paddleboard to look at me, almost dumping us both off.

"Really? Why?"

Shit. I hadn't really thought this through. Should I just say something about Sea World? No, I shouldn't lie to 7-year olds.

"Ummm. Well. You know I used to be in movies, right? Didn't you see that one with your Grandma?"

I thought I had remembered that she came across Mrs. Doubtfire with my mother-in-law, and she had been totally confused about why Aunt Lisa was on TV and looking so young. Other than that, we'd never talked about it. In fact, my former acting career so rarely comes up with any of my in-laws, it's easy for all of us, including me, to forget it happened at all.

"No. Ohhhh. Wait. I do kinda remember that."

I explained that I had done a TV movie called Bermuda Triangle and that's where I got to swim with dolphins. And actually, there was a shark in it, too.

"Great white?" She asked.

"No, it was just a blacktip reef shark." She tried to cover her look of mild disappointment.

I tried to get my cred back.

"I think there might actually be a clip of it on YouTube, if you want to see it." She brightened and nodded, but she was clearly lost in a different thought.

"You know, I think being on TV runs in our family. My Grandma used to be a dancer and she was on TV. So, it's just like that!"

(When her Grandma was 8 years old, she was in a dance troop called the "Hi-Steppers" and they were once on some sort of variety show wearing top hats and white gloves.)

"Yep, just like that!" I agreed.

When we got back to dry land, I was able to find clips, here, here and here to show the kids my dolphin encounter. I tried to ignore the fact that these were clips of me in a hot pink bathing suit in family-friendly TV movie that somehow got removed from context and categorized under the slightly pedophile-ish sounding title of "Teenaged girl underwater."

As my niece told me about her school play and swimming practice, it got me thinking about what I was doing when I was her age. I was filming a seriously intense movie with John Malkovich called Eleni. (And since my entire life seems to be on YouTube, you can see my somewhat terrifying scene at about 23:15.)

These clips remind me why it's challenging to explain to my young friends what I used to do. Because the movies still exist, and while the experience of working was formative for me, the finished product - the actual movie - was not.  It's kind of like having your yearbook pop up unexpectedly.  It seems totally dated and you can't believe your hair really looked like that. It's an inadequate representation of something that is simultaneously important and irrelevant.

Those movies have nothing to do with her relationship with Aunt Lisa, and yet, when my niece stumbled into the TV room post-nap that one time - there Mrs. Doubtfire was, pretending to be something that she needed to care about, just because it was right in front of her.

In the end, while the dolphin swimming was sufficiently interesting for a few moments, the Junie B Jones books I got her had a more lasting impact. I also taught her some yoga postures that seem to have solidified my position in her heart.

Together, the two of us can really rock out a Tree Pose.

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Reader question: on motivation, writing and everything else


I recently received an email from a guy named David who was looking for some writing advice. He enjoys writing (and judging by the email, the dude has some serious talent) but he has been feeling a little stuck.

It's funny to me that I giving writing advice, and teach writing classes, mostly because I've never taken a writing class. I didn't take writing classes in high school (which I rarely attended since I spent most of my adolescence working on movies) and not later in life when I finally got around to going to college in my late 20s. I've never studied writing, other than reading a ridiculous amount of books. I just write from my heart. I never remember if I want a colon or a semi-colon.  I use the word "fuck" when it seems advantageous.

But I love talking about writing so I was thrilled to get David's question, which was basically - Writing is hard. How do you do it?

Writing IS hard. Because you are generally pouring your soul onto the page and then asking any literate person who walks by - Hey...would you be interested in judging the contents of my essential being?

It feels like peeling off your eyelids.

But for whatever reason, I have to do it. Have to. If I don't write for a few days I get twitchy and weird. So, I write.

For me, the essentials of writing come down to the following three things. But these things are not writer specific, I realized. I'll use the word writing here, but just replace it with whatever you are interested in pursuing, and I think it'll still be fairly valid.

Good fences make good writing

For me, being creative is all about setting boundaries. I need time. If I'm sitting down for 15 minutes once a month and expecting to write like Jonathan Franzen, I'm in trouble. I write every weekday from 8 AM - noon. I don't answer the phone (sorry, Mom) and I put off everything else until the afternoon. Unloading the dishwasher or taking the car for an oil change happens later. It's not always perfect - sometimes the dentist can only see me at 10 AM and I have to rearrange things. But 95% of the time, between the hours of 8-12, I'm writing. I thrive on a schedule and a routine.

That being said, I'm extraordinarily blessed to have the time I have. I am married to someone who is incredibly supportive and understanding of my chosen profession and we don't have kids. I understand that not everyone can carve out 4 hours a day, so, look at what works for you. Maybe it's 2 hours every Sunday night after everyone has gone to sleep. Maybe it's every day for 10 minutes while you wait for carpool. Whatever works for you, build a big fence around that time and fight like hell to defend it.

The Shitty First Draft

The Post-it note on my computer reads - Write Anyway. It compels me to write when I am not inspired, when it is raining, when House Hunters International is on, and when every word reads like complete and utter garbage. That Post-it note will not accept any of my excuses. The Shitty First Draft is essential, it just needs to be put on paper. Because within all that crap, there will be the tiniest nugget of something that is workable. The rewriting is where the art is. That's where you'll uncover the truth and beauty.

There's a lot of talk about writer's block. I believe that only happens if you give in and stop writing. I've never had writer's block because I refuse to stop writing. I've written some truly horrible stuff, including pages about how miserable my life is because I don't know what to write about. But I NEVER stop writing. Writing is a muscle that can atrophy very quickly if it's not used. So, forget the idea of having to be inspired to create. Just sit down and write words. You'll get tired of your own complaining and you'll write something else, and that might just be inspired.

Find some tough love (but not in that order)

It is so beneficial to have someone who is both your cheerleader and fresh pair of eyes. My husband has been my first reader for years now. Honestly, this dynamic started out a little rocky. He would read something, say really nice things and try to help. In response,  I would be so sensitive that I would ignore the complements, feel offended by his help, cry and throw pens. It took us a while to get this part of the relationship down, but we're a good team now. He's great at giving me feedback that is both kind and honest. He's become an expert in the support/critique combo.

"I love you/this sentence isn't funny."

"You're a great writer/this paragraph doesn't make any sense."

Support/critique needs to come in equal doses, and it's super helpful if the support part comes first. And I've gotten better at hearing both the adoration and suggestions, even though I retain the right to ignore the latter. Because while most of the time, Jeremy has a good point, sometimes he is wrong. And it's my work, so I make the call.

Your first reader can be a friend, teacher, mentor, writing group, someone who can both hold your hand and slap some sense into you. If you go the route I did, be warned that it adds an extra layer of challenge if your first reader is also someone who you are sleeping with - but it's certainly possible. Make sure you choose your reader wisely because showing your work while it is still in progress is really scary and vulnerable. Choose someone who understands the gravity of that responsibility and if they don't totally get it - explain it to them.

Yes, dear David, you are right. Writing is hard. But let's face it: it's not coal mining or working a tobacco field. It's creating a world on paper. It's connecting with others through making emotion tangible. It's freaking MAGIC.

So just write anyway.

And thanks for asking.


P.S. You wondered if I required any Liquid Inspiration to write - and the answer is yes. I simply cannot write without my extra-large mug of decaf tea.

*since I wrote this post, I started teaching online writing classes through Writing Pad. So if you liked this advice, come take a class with me and get a whole bunch more!

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