Lisa Niver, BRAVE-ISH: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty

Lisa Niver, BRAVE-ISH: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty

Zibby hosts Lisa Niver to discuss Lisa’s book, BRAVE-ISH: ONE BREAKUP, SIX CONTINENTS, AND FEELING FEARLESS AFTER FIFTY. The conversation delves into Lisa’s transformative journey post-divorce, including her adventures across continents, overcoming physical challenges, and gaining a deeper self-understanding. They also touch on the importance of a supportive community, embracing change, and Lisa’s insights for aspiring writers. Towards the end, they share light-hearted exchanges about their personal mottos and how they keep themselves motivated to embrace new experiences.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lisa. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Brave-ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty. Yay, congratulations.

Lisa Niver: Thank you so much, Zibby. It is such an honor to be here with you. Thank you.

Zibby: You too. Thank you for sharing and really pouring your heart out on the page here. It was so interesting, moving. I love books that make me feel, and I really felt like I was in your shoes in so much of this, from the travel to the pain of the relationship, to trying to figure out who you were, and all of it. It’s all just so relatable and honest and makes for a good read to boot, so there you go.

Lisa: I’m so touched. I really appreciate it. When I was writing the book and I was working on the book, you get to the point — you know this. You’ve written a memoir. You get to the point, and you’re like, is anybody going to relate to this? Is this helpful? Am I just pouring this out on the page and people are going to think I’m such a stupid person?

Zibby: No, no, no. You also really paint a picture of what happens in an abusive relationship, which can start as verbal abuse, can get physical, but is so insidious in the harm that it does over time. You had this one passage — can I read this? Wait, let me back up. Why don’t you tell listeners what your book is about? Then I want to talk to you about this passage and all the rest.

Lisa: Thank you. The thumbnail I say about my book is that I did fifty challenges before I turned fifty after my divorce to reinvent myself. I had been a lifelong traveler. I was fortunate to work on the cruise ships and sail around the world. I’ve been a teacher, a traveler, and fortunate, also, to work as a journalist. During COVID, I wrote about the demise of my relationship and feeling like I lived in Crazytown and trying to figure out how to make a life.

Zibby: You talked about getting from — what did you say? Crazytown to Sexville? It was really funny the way you wrote about that, oh, my gosh. You start the book with a very dramatic scene where you’re in Thailand. Your husband pushes you on the street, so much that you fall. Then he storms away. You’re left crying in a hotel and calling your friends. Thailand, right? You were in Thailand? Yeah. Oh, right, because your friends in China wanted you to come there. Just trying to make heads or tails of what to do, both the immediacy of being in a foreign country and having a major crisis, relationship issue and then the aftermath of that once you’re back home. You then tell the reader a little more about your relationship. This is the part that really struck me so much, was how you described your relationship with your husband Fred, or your ex-husband or whatever. If I could just read this one little section.

Lisa: Please.

Zibby: You said, “This was not the first time Fred had been physical with me. Over the course of our relationship, particularly in the years since we had gotten married, Fred was frequently upset about my behavior, my appearance, even my being noisy. He complained about the lunches I packed him and that I ate my apples too loudly –” I’ve had someone have an issue with that as well, by the way — “and held my sandwich with too many fingers. He hated when I talked on the phone to friends inside our house, so I’d taken to calling everyone I knew on my walk home from work. Earlier on our trip, he had stopped walking with me on beaches because my footsteps in the sand were too loud and would distract him. It upset him that I read too quickly on my Kindle and said that even when I switched pages noiselessly on the electronic device, it disturbed him. On a twenty-four-hour bus trip through India, he complained that I went to the bathroom too often. You could only go to the bathroom when the bus stopped, and sometimes it only stopped every six hours. Fred would not go every time we stopped, but I would. More and more, he used physical tactics to express his frustration. Sometimes he pinched me when he got aggravated, which really hurt and left a bruise. The trip was not making things better. In fact, the longer we were away and the farther we traveled, the angrier he got.” Oh, my goodness. First of all, I am so sorry that you were in that situation to begin with. I’m happy you were able to extricate yourself from it. How did you feel going back and writing about this and reexamining the progression of the negative things? You go back, and you kind of analyze the whole thing. Just tell me about it and how you feel about it now and what it was like writing about it and where you are.

Lisa: Thank you. Yes, it was deeply disturbing to write about it, in some ways more than to live it because it didn’t quite add up for me as I was living it. That was a strand in the book, about trying to figure out my issues with pattern recognition and working on my eyes. In some ways, writing it was more traumatic. I used to write until I was pretty sure I was going to throw up, and then I would lie on the floor. It was really hard. I quit a lot of times. I wasn’t sure that it was worth it. I made the decision in the process of writing it that it was very cathartic for me, and so every time I quit, I did start again. I did have a lot of therapy. That was helpful. I had a small group of people that knew what was going on and were checking in with me. I had one friend that I called, and she said, “Listen, I will argue whichever side you want. I’ve known you –” We actually had our forty-year reunion of our — a hundred and fifty of us went to Israel for the summer in 1983 for nine weeks. We just had a reunion. Was one of those people. She said to me, “I’ll argue whatever side you want. Do you want me to argue you should quit this project? Do you want me to argue you should finish the book? Do you want to just go out for the day?” You need a lot of support in all stages of your life. I was very fortunate to have that. It was a hard process. I’m very happy to be on this side of it. I hope that anyone that’s in a difficult situation, if it’s an angry boss or a partner that’s not appropriate, that people find the way to tell someone and get the help that they need.

Zibby: Wow. If you could go back knowing now, when would you have done something different, if you would have? It’s hard being in it. We see you sort of tracing the path. Sometimes it’s like what they say about a frog in boiling water. Is there a moment looking back where you wish anything had changed, or no?

Lisa: I actually think a lot about the frog in boiling water. It’s very hard. It’s very appealing to think about, what changes would you have made differently? I think a lot about that movie Sliding Doors.

Zibby: Me too. I love that movie, oh, my gosh.

Lisa: I think a lot about that. What if I had never written him in the online dating world? What if after the time at the dance class when he threw himself out of his own house, I was like, that’s it? I spent a lot of time in therapy wishing that I had a magic wand and wishing, what if I never met him? What if this? There were a lot of what-ifs. One of the things that helped me the most was really thinking a lot and learning about forgiveness and that forgiveness doesn’t mean that the behavior was acceptable. There’s a great book called Supersurvivors. We talk a lot in the United States about post-traumatic stress disorder, but this book was the first time I ever heard about post-traumatic growth. One of the things they say in the book is — I’m in Los Angeles. We talk a lot about driving here. One of the things they say in the book is that it is very challenging, if not impossible, to drive your car only looking in the rearview mirror.

Zibby: Very true.

Lisa: I read a lot in that book about forgiveness. What does it mean to focus on forgiving yourself? I wasted a lot of time in therapy complaining that I didn’t have a magic wand. I’d like to be a superhero. I have Wonder Woman car seats. I’d like to imagine I could’ve done it differently. The best thing for me was to keep moving forward. I spent a lot of time processing it. I learned what I could from it. I hope that in the future in similar situations I’d make other choices. I feel fairly confident I would. I don’t have a great answer to what one thing I would change.

Zibby: It’s a hard question because it’s our life. I don’t think you should be living in the rearview mirror either. I’m sorry to dredge this all back up. I just got so interested in all of it.

Lisa: No, I appreciate your careful read. Thank you.

Zibby: It’s just always hard to know what to do when you’re in the middle of it. I just found it very, very powerful. As you recovered and went back to Bel Air in your parents’ house and regrouped — what do you want to do? I was being armchair psychologist. I was like, maybe there was something undiagnosed about him. I don’t know. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.

Lisa: It does come up. As you know, you interview a lot of people, I’ve found for myself and the people I spoke to that getting divorced, a lot of women, and men too, feel like a failure. We have this idea, everything’s going to work out, even though the numbers don’t speak that all marriages work out. For me, it was a lot about thinking about, what was a success for me? What was a failure for me? One of my friends said to me, “It was not a failure to get divorced. It would’ve been a failure to stay in that relationship.”

Zibby: Also, you weave in, of course, your love of travel, which is the heart of this whole book, is how much you love travel. After reading, I went and watched your video about — We Said Go Travel. Traveling is not just about looking at a new place. It’s finding a new piece of yourself when you get there, which I found so profound because sometimes it does take that change of environment to give you a new view of yourself and life in general. You’ve had this wanderlust forever. The cruise ship, The Love Boat thing, was hilarious as well. Tell me a little more about travel and how you grew your business and the twists and turns it’s taken and everything that happened since.

Lisa: I’ve been so fortunate to have an incredible community. Working on the cruise ship was amazing. I describe working on the cruise ship that it’s like you live in a college dorm, but no one has any homework. Every morning, you wake up, you’re in a new country. There are always people to do something with. I got to go scuba diving all around the world. Then with the blog revolution, I started We Said Go Travel. I also started the YouTube. I’m very close now to two million views on YouTube.

Zibby: Amazing.

Lisa: Thank you. It’s funny, as different things have come in — I’ve had We Said Go Travel since 2010. At some point, they started Twitter, which has obviously evolved to X. Facebook has evolved. Instagram and Threads, there’s been so many changes. For TikTok, I interviewed my friend’s daughter. I was like, “I don’t really know what to do.” She said, “Oh, Lisa, let the robots edit for you. They’re much smarter than you are.” Okay. I’ve been trying different social medias. I’ve had some great trips recently. I was in Puerto Rico on World Environment Day. I got to interview Dr. Richard Murphy on my podcast. He’s been with the Cousteau Society for fifty years. I was fortunate to interview you on my podcast. Thank you so kindly. It’s been amazing. I spent a couple weeks in Ireland. Then when I was back, I got to interview the ambassador of Ireland. The travels and the website and the videos and the podcast have all supported each other. In fact, next week, I’m coming to New York to be at the Clinton conference. I’m so honored to be able to write about them for Ms. Magazine and the Jewish Journal. It’s been amazing. All these threads, in the beginning, didn’t seem like they would ever weave together. People were like, why are you doing social media and the videos and this and this and this? Now at this point, everyone’s like, oh, that was a good idea.

Zibby: Yes, it will all make sense later. Good motto to have. That was another thing that I thought was great and so helpful to so many people who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives and which direction. Is it okay to make a U-turn? Your whole thing with med school and being in med school and dropping out — I shouldn’t call it dropping out, but switching gears and pursuing what you loved after getting into the best med school and all that preparation and doing that and then going into education and just really following your heart with where it took you, literally, physically, that’s one of those brave moments in Brave-ish, leaving the path that is set out before you and going off course. What do you think it takes to listen to those voices in you and make those hard decisions?

Lisa: It’s a really good question. I like how you called it switching gears because sometimes I felt like a derailed train. Switching gears seems much more positive. I do encourage people to listen to the little voice in your head. I know sometimes people think you’re crazy or paranoid. Definitely, when you take a leave of absence to work at Planned Parenthood and preschool from med school, people do think you’re pretty nuts. It was the right choice for me to reinvestigate. It was hard because people really thought it was a bad idea. The head of the school and the school therapist didn’t think it was a bad idea, so I had some support. I guess the comment I would make about switching gears is if people don’t support you but you really think it’s the right choice, you might need a bigger circle. There are people that will support you. You might bring on your own circle.

I think about when Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, “How many women will be enough on the Supreme Court?” She said, “Nine.” When there was the first one, the first person who was Jewish or the first person who was a woman, it is hard in the beginning to shift gears. I guess the point is you don’t know. You have to be willing to take the leap. What’s the quote about — take your leap, and build your wings on the way down. Sometimes people won’t think you’re making the right choice. I went on a lot of walks. I talked to a lot of people. I just kept coming back around to the same thing. I was really willing to be wrong. I didn’t drop out at first. I went on a leave. I was like, is this the right choice? When I left ships after September 11th and my company went bankrupt, I did try to stay a little bit longer. It just wasn’t right. I think the most important is to check in with yourself. Does this feel right for me?

Zibby: Interesting. Tell me more about the writing of even the second half of the whole thing and all of the adventures. Tell listeners more about all of that and what life is like now. Give us some tidbits and all of that.

Lisa: The book is the fifty things that I did. Growing up, I had a lot of accidents. I thought that I was clumsy. It turns out that wasn’t accurate. I was not properly diagnosed. My eye doctor, Dr. Alan Brodney, really helped encourage me to try new things. I know you’re very good at tennis. That was one of the things that he recommended. You could imagine, without a lot of hand-eye coordination, that trying to learn tennis as an adult was, shall we say, frustrating. That led me to try a lot of other things. I took a lot of things back. I never thought I could be a biker rider. One of my challenges was — I did have two instructors, so I don’t recommend trying new things on your own. Make sure you take the steps and wear the pads and get instruction. I did go mountain biking at Lake Tahoe in Northstar. It was amazing. In fact, there was crying. A lot of my challenges did have crying.

One thing that I realized — I was on this incredible trip in Italy. We went on a gondola ride, as you do in Venice. We had the best time. We got off the ride, and someone was crying. We went and we took her out for drinks. We talked about what was going on. She was separated trying to decide if she was going to get divorced. We had a lovely chat. She has a completely different life now. When I went back to my room, I was like, wait a second, someone was crying, and it wasn’t me. I’m doing better. You got to take the wins where they are. I’ve had incredible experiences. I got to scuba dive with sharks in Mexico, bull sharks. I got to go to Cuba for the first time. I’ve been a lot of places because I worked on the cruise ship, so part of my fifty before fifty, I was working to get to my hundredth country. Because I spent so much time at sea, I had to figure out, which were the countries I was missing? I had done a search for landlocked countries. I went to San Marino in Italy. That was one of my places.

Zibby: That’s amazing. You’re not just doing things like scuba diving. You couldn’t even swim before. You didn’t take swim lessons until you were a grown-up. The misdiagnosis, several doctors said, you’re just not going to be 20/20. Then it turns out that you, essentially, had a lazy eye and could remediate that with EMDR. That’s basically what happened. That’s a huge life shift.

Lisa: A huge, huge life shift. When I was teaching, I would often have a student that would get an IEP or diagnosed, and they were dyslexic. They would come to me and say, I always thought I was stupid. One of the things that happens with eye disorders in children is — it’s not like, as an adult, if all of a sudden, you had double vision. You would go to the doctor and say, I used to see this way, and now I don’t. I’ve done a lot of reading about this. High-achieving girls tend not to complain. I was doing well in school. I had a lot of accommodations that happened on their own. I sat in the front. A lot of the things the doctor would have given me, I did on my own to try to make it. That was, honestly, one of the things that — medical school was the first place I couldn’t out-accommodate on my own. I had issues with gross anatomy and histology. I pretty much ran up against the edge of my intelligence and my ability to accommodate my issues without help. It really helped me. I remember Dr. Brodney telling me, “For sure, if you do vision therapy with me, you’re going to have do a lot of work on your own every day, but I promise you you’ll be better at sports,” which I am. I didn’t know that it would lead to so much understanding of where I was misaligned in relationship.

Zibby: So interesting. You also write about and show us online and all of that, your experience with your own body and eating and weight and weight loss. Tell us about the fifty-pound weight loss. Tell us about how you feel about things now and what that whole journey has also taught you.

Lisa: Growing up in California in Los Angeles, definitely, issues of weight have always been at the forefront. When I went to college, I gained a freshman fifteen. At one point, I had gained quite a lot of weight. As you mentioned, you and I share a love of Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

Zibby: Double chocolate chip.

Lisa: So good. We love Häagen-Dazs. Just moderation, people. It’s been interesting to figure out how to feel comfortable in my body. One of the funniest things is I travel with a hula hoop. Bloomberg did an interview with me. It’s in the title, about how I travel with a hula hoop. You could read a little bit about my adventures. Of course, being in Los Angeles, there’s a class for everything here, and that’s how I got started. I took hula hooping for adults. I travel with my hula hoop. I hula hooped with the Maasai warriors in Kenya. I hula hooped in jail in the Philippines. There’s videos of all that. My funniest recent adventure — I love Loreto in Baja, Mexico. I was with a bunch of scuba divers. I said, “Maybe you could help me.” I hula hooped while flying a kite.

Zibby: Talk about coordination. Seriously, that’s crazy.

Lisa: It’s a funny video.

Zibby: It’s hard to do both of those, let alone at the same time. Crazy, oh, my gosh. The book itself, tell me about that. Tell me about the publishing process, what that’s looked like, how you feel with it coming out, all of that.

Lisa: My book, Brave-ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty, is published by Post Hill Press. It’s distribution with Simon & Schuster. During COVID, I was working on this book. I was able to query agents. I signed with Chip MacGregor. He’s been an incredible champion for my book. He was the one that found Debbie at Post Hill Press. Literally from the very first moment that we spoke, I could tell that she was such a champion. She loved my book. She’s always been an incredible supporter, even when my book came in really long and there was a lot of edits, as you understand from being a publisher yourself, and an author. They’ve been an amazing team. Chip and Debbie have really helped me navigate all of the issues of publication, promotion. I’m just so excited that people actually get to read the book.

Zibby: Wow, congratulations. Was there anything unexpected that happened along the way or something great that came out, or hard or challenging in new ways or anything with the journey of the publishing process?

Lisa: I think the hardest thing about writing a book as a journalist is I’m not used to writing something at this length, and wondering, does this hold together? Then I guess the other thing that was really challenging for me through the different rounds of edits, there were times I didn’t really want to read the tough parts of my story again. I was like, friends, this is not fun for me. It was a challenge to figure out, could you lose this piece? Did it still tie together? I remember reading one version and thinking, this story doesn’t make sense anymore because we didn’t save this other part. This is funny because… Trying to figure out which things tie together. How many threads can you have? I love being Jewish. I love my temple. My eyes were terrible. I couldn’t swim. They’re all parts of me, but how much can go in one book?

Zibby: To your point on the temple, I was really struck when you were in that moment trying to decide what to do with your life and your marriage, and you reached out to the rabbi. You had said the “Until death do you part.” He had pointed out that you don’t say “Until death do you part.” Also, you wouldn’t push a stranger on the street. Why is it okay for a spouse to do that to another spouse? I just thought that was .

Lisa: I’m actually speaking at the temple. I’ve been working on what I’m going to say. I’ve been very fortunate to have a close relationship with a lot of the clergy at my temple. They’ve really made a difference for me. I know earlier we were saying, if you’re not sure what you want to do with your relationship or your life or you’re a college student and you’re like, I don’t know what my major is — very much, for me, faith has been a huge part of being able to make good choices. Having someone who can be a sounding board that feels like family but isn’t family — for me, my college group, everybody went to services, but we all went to a different place on campus. We didn’t all have the same religion, but we shared that belief that we should try to be better people. We should be kind to other people. I think that’s very much a commonality for me. The temple, I do believe, is one of the things that helped save my life, that I wanted to go back and that I had people that were there for me.

Zibby: It’s wonderful. What’s something now that you’re trying to drum up some braveness or bravery, rather, to do? What scares you a little bit and you’re working on getting there?

Lisa: That’s such a good question. I’m working really hard on saying yes to things and new challenges. I know for myself, during COVID, being home and not being as social, you have to kind of convince yourself to do stuff again. I used to go to a lot of networking events in LA because we had them. Then we’re starting to have them again. The other night, I really didn’t want to go. I still went. I was like, if I go and I talk to one person, I could leave. Then I got there. I talked to one person. I was like, oh, yeah, I love this. This is so much fun. I ended up speaking with someone that has a company where they make websites. People have been approaching me, how can I be an author? What can I do to have a book? One of the things I recommend to people is, have a website. He and I, we’re going to do a workshop together and talk about how to get started. How do you get publicity? How do you build your brand? You probably remember the musical Avenue Q with the puppets.

Zibby: Yeah.

Lisa: I love when they have that whole scene where the world is happening outside your house. You have to leave your house. Leave your house. Do something. That’s where I’m still working on, always.

Zibby: You could’ve taken that out of my — I really have a hard time leaving the house sometimes. I have a rule. Always go to parties in the rain. Then I feel like I never want to go to parties, especially if it’s raining. I’m like, those are always the best events. Even my kids know. They’re like, “Okay, it’s raining. You have this thing to do. You got to go. You got to go. Always go to parties in the rain.”

Lisa: Oh, my gosh, you need that as a T-shirt. You need to sell that at Zibby’s Bookshop.

Zibby: Okay. Yeah, maybe I’ll make it a T-shirt. Also, never turn down a glass of champagne. Those are my two things I live by.

Lisa: I love this. I have — oh, go ahead.

Zibby: You have a saying? What are yours?

Lisa: I say celebrate early and often.

Zibby: That’s a good one too.

Lisa: It’s never too early to celebrate your birthday.

Zibby: Never too much. Advice to aspiring authors, what do you have?

Lisa: My advice to aspiring authors is never give up. My new saying actually is, rest, not quit. During the process for myself, I kept quitting. Then I read this phrase that said, rest, not quit. The other really important one is — maybe you know the answer. How do you eat an elephant?

Zibby: How?

Lisa: One bite at a time. Any gigantic project starts —

Zibby: — Wait, why are we eating elephants?

Lisa: Okay, we’re not supposed to eat elephants. It’s a kids’ joke. It’s not that funny. Forget about the elephant. Do not eat elephants. Zibby and I are not promoting elephant eating. No, no, no. It’s about the big project. When I used to teach school, one of the projects we did was science fair. Kids get overwhelmed by science fair, just like adults get overwhelmed by the idea they’re going to write an entire book. You break things down. One of the ways that I’ve been able to do this book project is I basically give myself little assignments, like for science fair. For science fair, first, you pick the topic. Then you do some research. Then you follow the instructions from the teacher. This is due this week. This is due next week. For aspiring writers, I tell people the way to write is read a lot and just get started. I tell people, when is your birthday? My birthday is on the eighteenth, so every month on the eighteenth, publish one story. It could be a long Facebook post. You could have your own website. At the end of the year, you’ll have twelve. Maybe you’ll like writing, or maybe you won’t. People say to me, I’m going to buy hosting and a website and a logo. I’m like, do not do that. Start small. Start for free. Go on Weebly or Wix or Realnice. Make your own website for free or do Instagram with really long captions and see, how do you like writing once a week or once a month? The people that tell me they’re going to do something every day, I’m like, listen, no one’s that interesting. Start small.

Zibby: I love that. That’s great advice. I like tying it to your birthday because, of course, you remember that day each month. That’s great. Lisa, thank you. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Congratulations on Brave-ish. I wish you all the best. Thanks for really being so brave as to your share your soul with the rest of us.

Lisa: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to have an event at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica.

Zibby: Yay!

Lisa: Thank you for having me on your show. I just think that what you’ve done for the publishing industry and the way that you support authors and women and memoir and books and your retreats and classes and magazine, it’s incredible what you’ve done. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. I appreciate that. Have a great day.

BRAVE-ISH: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty by Lisa Niver

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