Lisa Cerasoli is a unique figure in the fitness industry. She is not only a certified personal trainer and author; she is also an accomplished actress, appearing in many very popular TV shows. But even more important than this, Lisa Cerasoli has also been a caregiver and more than anything else that Lisa’s done, this is what made me want to interview her because her insights into aging, caregiving and love are things all of us can learn from.
Because Lisa has done so much in her life (and she ain't done yet!), I have divided this interview into sections about her life as a personal trainer, her work as a caregiver, writer and actress.
JC. Lisa thanks for taking part in this interview. Can you give everyone a quick rundown of your websites?
Lisa Cerasoli. Sure. Right now, these are my websites:
I also have a site at Caregiver Village
I'm also working on: A Caregiver Website and YouTube Channel and an IMDb title page for my documentary, 50 DAYS with Alzheimer’s.
JC. Lisa can you list your books and a brief description of them.
BRINK follows Annie, 28, who hazardously yet humorously free falls from an all-time low to rock bottom before discovering her inner strength and finding true love. This story pierces the core of the female psyche, and my writing style has been compared to J.D. Salinger and Diablo Cody (Juno). Yeah, me!
As Nora Jo Fades Away, Confessions of a Caregiver, a memoir. Winner 2010 Paris and DIY Los Angeles Book Festivals. Foreword by Leeza Gibbons. “A Buck a Book!” goes to the Alzheimer’s Association and Leeza’s Place.
Life shifts from Michigan to Mars when Lisa and the family move in her gram, Nora Jo, upon diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. This incurable illness brings a whole new kind of crazy to The Weaver’s offbeat but copasetic abode, driving it into the full-throttle Darwinian mode. And it sure is comical, but in truth, this illness is mostly a series of tragedies, and this shift ends up redefining the price a family is willing to pay to help one of its members hold onto dignity.
THE GENERATION FIT SERIES:
- Are you fit to retire?
- Are you fit to be a mom?
- “Are you FIT to be a KID?”
- “THE Freshman 15: 15 Moves to Keep you FIT through College”
This series of workout manuals is easy to follow and requires no equipment. It’s also a proposal for a TV show and DVD series.
Lisa Cerasoli, Personal Trainer
JC What events lead you to get your personal trainer certification?
Lisa. I was a working actor and spent a lot of time at my dear friend, Lesley Goldberg’s gym, At Your Side Private Exercise. I actually tried to quit a few times because it was a private training facility and a bit pricey, but just like Ross on Friends, I couldn’t “quit” the gym. Finally, Lesley suggested I become ACE certified because of my passion for exercise…and within three months I had a full-blown career as a trainer. I have kept up this certification for eleven years, and I just adore training and educating people on fitness.
JC. Were you a personal trainer before you were a writer or after?
Lisa. I started writing pretty much at the same time I was studying to become ACE certified.
JC. What was the hardest part about studying for the ACE exam?
Lisa. I’m one of those freaks who love to study, so studying for the ACE exam was easy. Now, taking the exam for five hours at UCLA was a bit grueling. Who knew multiple-choice questions could be so tricky? But, I passed!
JC. Did your days in pre-med prepare you for the ACE test?
Lisa. I’ve always had a “thing” for biology and the human body, so I would definitely say that my interest in body mechanics and body/brain psychology made the whole experience quite exciting.
JC. How are you preparing for your Silver Sneaker certification?
Lisa. I’m going to get certified in Yoga Stretch and also in Muscle Strengthening & Cardio. There is no manual, per say. I have been practicing yoga for over a decade, so I’m a huge advocate of the art form/exercise. And, also, I helped Gram exercise and I work out with my mother, too.
JC. How will you use your Silver Sneaker cert?
Lisa. I would very much like to go into eldercare facilities to promote and implement group exercise programs, and also work as an in-home personal trainer. I truly believe that for our older demographic “socialization” is as important as regular exercise. I think that this certification will allow me to assist older folks both physically and help them with issues that are very real in their aging lives – like loneliness.
JC. Do you do any personal training now?
Lisa. I have trained high school girls basketball team players (groups of 3 or 4) because my husband is a coach. Over the last two years, I also have had (and do have) a small clientele of 3 to 5 people. I have been caregiving, so my clients are friends or family members who need that extra push at the gym. It’s really kept me in-the-loop, though.
JC. Do you remember your first client?
Lisa. I had a series of “first” clients at At Your Side...private exercise. There were actually three mother/daughter teams – and they were all “brides-to-be!” It was frightening and exciting, and incredibly gratifying. They all reached their wedding day weight goals…and I survived them!
JC. Do you teach any group fitness classes?
Lisa. I love resistance and circuit training most. I often teach small groups of four. I have never had a class of 20 or more, however, I’m a pretty loud and high-energy chick, so I wouldn’t be turned off by the idea, it’s just never come up.
JC. What do you think are some mistakes you see personal trainers making?
Lisa. The biggest mistake I think both trainers and clients make are setting unrealistic long-term goals. It’s the biggest reason that people end up quitting. Another big mistake is thinking it’s all about the number on the scale. I am adamant about taking body measurements and using those to gauge goals.
JC. What lead you to write your series of fitness manuals Generation FIT?
Lisa. I was driven to create my own series of fitness manuals when I took my mother to the gym last year only to discover the woman couldn’t do two pushups (girl style!). And my mom is a very active sixty-something, woman, who is not overweight. That’s when I thought, “Dang, she can’t do two pushups.” That’s a real problem and probably an epidemic among older people, and the reason they “fall and can’t get up.”
Also, I think that so many of the latest workout programs on the market cater to people like me – people who love to exercise and can handle the intensity (P90X, Insanity). What about the majority of the population? So many people are starting from scratch and need simple, easy-to-follow exercises, and a program they can stick to. So, that’s where GEN FIT comes in.
JC. Are your fitness books written for personal trainers or the general public?
Lisa. My fitness books are designed for everyday people with busy schedules and not a vast knowledge of exercise. They know the basics, but never really considered the notion that “a few daily pushups” could change their health and their life.
JC. Does ACE help market your books?
Lisa. My books are just getting pitched to places like Beach Body and Fit TV. I have just completed the ten-minute Sizzle Reel, so they are in the very young stages of development.
JC. Are your fitness books on Amazon? How can people get them?
Lisa. The ebooks are in-the-works with Five Star Publications. They should be out soon.
JC. What do you feel is the hardest part about writing a book?
JC. Why do you love writing so much?
Lisa. Every time I hear someone say, “It’s like you read my mind,” I feel completely at peace. Writing is such an intimate form of expression. I think to be able to lose the fear of what other people might think and just lay your heart and humor on a page is incredibly fun. And then to have strangers feel as if you wrote something “just for them” is absolutely divine. You receive a sense of gratitude that is truly irreplaceable.
JC. You spent some time in college majoring in Pre-med. What was the hardest subject?
Lisa. OMG. Calc 2. Thank God I lived with the valedictorian of my class. Thanks, Melissa!
Lisa Cerasoli, Writer and Book Author
JC. How long does it take you to write a book?
Lisa. Ha! I was so impressed with myself when I pumped out 358 pages of BRINK in four months. And then we (my literary agent and I) spent the next three years editing. But with Nora Jo, the memoir, it took around six months from incarnation to publication. I got very good at editing, plus it was a memoir. I didn’t have to Google anything. I already knew everything about my life!
JC Which book was the most fun to write? Which was the hardest (and why)?
Lisa. BRINK was a challenge because my editors kept wanting to tweak the storyline, and I really dug the story (but what do I know?!). Ultimately, I got my way, and then fortunately I nabbed a few wins to prove the book was “OK.” Honestly, they were both a complete blast to write.
The romance is a little raunchy at times, and writing really good raunch can be quite entertaining. But I only write when I feel inspired. I am not one of those writers who will stare at a blank page all day. When inspiration strikes me, I write! I just love it! And like you mentioned, I was a Pre-med major, so I didn’t sit around in high school or college and write anything for fun. I never could have guessed I’d grow up to be a writer.
JC. How did you find your publisher?
Lisa. I can’t lie to you, Joe, I got a few very friendly pass letters, man, were they friendly. But, finally, I said to Ken Atchity, my literary manager, that I was going to self-publish, because I was frustrated. He then pitched me to Five Star, and we’ve had a lovely relationship ever since.
JC. Any tips for writers who are trying to get published?
Lisa. In my semi-humble opinion, people give up too easily. They also don’t want to put a bundle of time and money into their passion. And another big thing is that so many people don’t take criticism very well. I have delved out some major advice on many deaf ears in the last five years.
It’s a drag; these writers could have had something with substance, something close to perfect, if they were open to advise. I mean, isn’t that what we’re all striving for in our writing? Perfection. Mediocre never won a medal. And I barely send out an email without having someone edit it! Two eyes are better than one. Shakespeare probably said that. That guy is responsible for half of our colloquialisms; it’s just that no one realizes it.
JC. Did you blog before you started writing your books?
Lisa. No. I have just gotten into blogging / journaling in the last year or so. It was a challenge with caregiving. I have done a little tweeting, but haven’t gone pro (yet).
JC. You are on YouTube also.
Lisa. Yes my YouTube channel is lisamariecerasoli.
JC. How did you set up your first book signing event (did you do it, agent etc?)
Lisa. My first book signing for BRINK was right before Christmas, and I was in a mall at a Christmas Craft show. I made a killing.
I got really lucky for Nora Jo. The Alzheimer’s Association asked me to be the keynote speaker for their annual 2010 conference at Northern Michigan University. The books arrived hot off the press days before the event.
Lisa on Caregiving
JC. Did anything in your pre-med background prepare you for your role of a caregiver?
Lisa. I’m going to go with – absolutely nothing prepared me for caregiving. Nothing prepares you to be a caregiver to someone who is dying, whether it be terminal cancer or Alzheimer’s. And my first caregiving task (my father – cancer) didn’t really prepare me for my second bout of caregiving because the illnesses were so different. In fact, people in general are so very different (in the ways in which they cope with various illnesses).
So, in the caregiving business, you really learn to role with the day-to-day punches as they come at you. I can’t imagine there’s a class in college anywhere that prepares you to watch your father cry every day for months because he’s afraid of dying, or one that teaches you how to console your grandmother who is distraught because she’s just learned for the 100th time that her husband is dead.
Is there a class that teaches you how to handle grandma when she steals and squirrels away food and beer and jewelry and money? Caregiving is a pretty strange business.
JC. Is your grandmother Nora Jo your dad’s mother?
Lisa. Yes, Miss Nora Jo was my dad’s mom.
JC. What’s the best thing about being a caregiver?
Lisa. I didn’t write this in my book, and I probably won’t write it in my follow-up book, but, some days I feel like I did the impossible. I had no idea I was capable of such a thing – of handling the business of watching someone die, and physically and emotionally helping them through it. And then I did it twice.
Sometimes, I look back and wish I had done things differently. I wish I had more patience with my gram. But I am so grateful we were together; it changed my life. It has changed how I think of myself; it changed my daughter’s life. She is the most evolved six-year-old I’ve ever met.
And it has eliminated subconscious judgments I used to have about other people. I believe we’re all given “gifts.” I am so lucky I’ve found a few of mine, like caregiving. And I’m not lucky ‘cause I’m smart or slim or because I have great friends, or because I won the lotto (I didn’t win the lotto). I’m just lucky because caregiving has made me aware of the abundance of tiny miracles that happen around us and to us every day – even in sickness, even in death.
JC. What has changed the most in your life since Nora Jo has come to live with you?
Lisa. Wow. Everything changed when Gram moved in. My whole life ultimately became devoted to that illness – Alzheimer’s disease. And then my life became devoted to figuring out how to manage it. I had never felt so purposeful (or so exhausted) before. It wasn’t purpose wrapped in fun, though. It’s not like I was screaming, “Yippee!” all day long or anything like that, but I felt a constant drive.
I think my acting career was a rehearsal for my fight against this illness. I believe personal training will prove to be a nice complement to my new cause, especially the Silver Sneaker Certification. I just completed my first documentary, 50 DAYS with Alzheimer’s. All my career endeavors are colliding. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s kismet.
JC. Can you talk more about your documentary 50 Days with Alzheimer’s did you do the documentary yourself?
Lisa. The title has recently been changed to 14 DAYS with Alzheimer’s because “50” seemed daunting to some folks. We took care of her and my grandfather for eight years total, so I found the word “daunting” to be rather comical. But, if you are NOT familiar with the illness, I can see where they are coming from. The film itself has not changed that much, mostly the motif I used throughout the 30-minute documentary. It’s a laugher and a crier and is an intimate look into the lives of a person with Alzheimer’s and their caregiver.
Check out the movie trailer on my youtube channel:
14 DAYS with Alzheimer's awards:
Win: Los Angeles Film Festival 2011
Official Selections at LAD Matters Boulder Film Festival, Independents' Film Festival, and Grand Rapids Film Festival.
JC. What was the hardest part about filming a documentary?
Lisa. I filmed the entire documentary myself without any special lighting or staged circumstances. I basically started carrying around my FLIP nonstop and would break it out at a moment’s notice. I couldn’t do anything extravagant because I didn’t want to freak out my grandmother. She knew I was filming her, although she kept forgetting, but I still didn’t want to turn on a light at 2:00 a.m. to film her while she was delusional. All in all, though, I got great footage and more than I planned on considering she actually passed away during filming from complications due to a heart attack.
JC. How can people see the documentary?
Lisa. You can see my mini-movies on my YouTube channel: lisamariecerasoli, and the movie trailer, but right now, it’s hitting the film festival circuit so it can’t be available publicly online yet. It will ultimately be a part of my caregiver series package that is currently in-the-works.
JC. Did you have to make any physical changes to your home when you became a caregiver for your grandmother?
Lisa. There’s not enough time in this day to answer this question fully, but let me break it down for you: Did I make any changes to my house to accommodate having a person with Alzheimer’s disease living in it? Yes. I put everything and anything she could still manage to use on her own, like a coffee maker, coffee, sugar, toaster, etcetera on the counter (eye level). I hid all of our knives. The glassware became “plasticware.”
The things we wanted to keep but were breakable went on high shelves. Rugs went “bye-bye.” Baby gates became a real hot item at the house. They kept Gram from going up stairs and outdoors. They separated her from the dogs, or from the refrigerator at night.
Night Lights!! We should have bought stock in nightlights. I clutter cleared to the point where people would come in and tell me my house looked “staged,” as if it was a “show house” (although, the dozen Kleenex boxes should have given away that is wasn’t). We had to hide the beer (she liked the beer and was allowed one or two) in the bathroom, or somewhere obscure. We created a series of SIGNS:
- Bathroom this way
- No Beer Cans in the microwave. Thanks
- Gram, your Bedroom is HERE
- Please don’t feed the Dog. he WILL DIE. Thanks
- Gram, Your Little Boy is not lost. He is with me. Love, Lisa.
These are a few of the changes we made. I also had to check her room and drawers regularly for perishables. And we also invested in your typical handicapped accessories – chairs, walkers, canes, a decal for the car, etc…
JC. Who do you talk to when life seems overwhelming?
Lisa. My mommy. Doesn’t everybody? I love you, Mom!
JC. What are some words of wisdom your mom gave you when you were having a difficult time as a caregiver?
Lisa. Here’s a little tidbit on caregiving: when you’re doing it, most of the people around you (including mothers) are mostly like, “Wow, I don’t know how you people do it?!” So, my words of wisdom came from my husband, and I’d reciprocate, and this went on the entire time – our back-n-forth “pep talks” to keep each other going.
JC. How can a caregiver find support when they need help (and resources)?
Lisa. I am so glad I am friends with the Alzheimer’s Association. I completely trust them. I have also called the hotline in the middle of the night during a breakdown or two.
Their number is 800.272.3910. They are a fantastic 24 hour-a-day resource. But I had other family members like my husband, my brother and my hubby’s sisters to talk to, too.
JC. Tell me more about Care Giver Village –what is it, who is it for, and what inspired you create it.
Lisa. I did not create Caregiver Village (they did). They found me because of my book and asked me to host a site. Caregivers NEED HELP and they need social interaction, even if it’s on the web and at midnight. I can’t wait for this to get up and running.
JC. What do you feel are some of the big challenges facing caregivers today?
Lisa. I think they feel alone. They are embarrassed by feelings of guilt. They are overwhelmed but ashamed to admit it. They feel they don’t deserve payment for their time, or a break from caregiving.
Many are embarrassed by the person they are caring for. Many can’t manage that person. Doom & gloom become a constant static state for so many caregivers, and when that happens reaching out for help is almost impossible. I think caregivers think that others often judge them for not having a “real” job.
The physical and emotional strain on caregivers creates:
- Heart disease
- Long-term fatigue which results in a suppressed immune system
We need more awareness. That is a big part of my mission in this arena – creating awareness.
JC. You’ve said that your book As Nora Jo Fades Away is like a survival guide for caregivers. Do you have any words of wisdom for the caregiver who is reading this right now?
Lisa. I will quote straight from my book: “And then one day I finally learned that caregiving was a team sport. So, now, every Wednesday night my husband and I get a “grandma sitter,” and he’s discovered, to his dismay, that I actually like things like food and sex and conversations that aren’t always about bodily functions and dead relatives.”
JC. On your website people can listen to your “caregiver’s wakeup call” for inspiration. Do you plan on doing more of these audio inspiration messages for caregivers?
Lisa. I have 30 inspirational wake-up calls for sale online at www.mywakeupcalls.net. I am also currently working on PSAs – they are “mini-movies” that are very artsy. I am doing a “video course” for caregivers, too.
JC. Your book about your grandmother, As Nora Jo Fades Away has gotten some great reviews. Is your grandmother aware of the book? How does she feel about being immortalized in print?
Lisa. My Gram passed away at Christmas 2010, just three years shy of living with us. Prior to that, it was a real laugh-riot every time she passed the book. She’d say, “Who is that good-looking chick on the cover of that book?” And then she’d smirk up a storm. Occasionally, when we’d get in a spat, though, she’d say, “Pardon me while Nora Jo takes her beer and fades away into her rocker.” She was a funny lady. And the illness did not take that away; it practically amplified it.
JC. You say your grandmother liked beer. What was her favorite beer?
Lisa. Gram loved Busch Light – WARM Busch Light. That is why we had to adhere the sign – “No Beer Cans in the Microwave. Thanks” – to the microwave.
JC. I loved –and was touched – reading the story of your dad and his battle with cancer and how you left acting to be with your Dad when he needed you most. How did your Hollywood friends react?
Lisa. When I left Hollywood to care for Dad, I could not have gotten more support had I paid for it. My friends and managers were amazing. Honestly, it was some family and certain old friends who had trouble with me breaking ties with Hollywood.
I threw a party last year when I was in L.A. for the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. I hadn’t lived there for seven years. I wanted my husband and stepson to meet some of my old friends, so I invited about 30 people. As you can imagine, I was so worried that no one would show. I stopped counting at 40. It was spectacular. The hotel didn’t share my exuberance, though, but was a great night, nonetheless!
Lisa's Life as an Actress
JC. List the different TV shows etc you have appeared in.
- General Hospital – series regular
- The Pretender, Diagnosis Murder, Pensacola, Boomtown – recurring
- Oh, Grow Up and House of Frankenstein – guest star
- Simone – the movie – featured.
- Acapulco Bay – Series Regular
JC. Did you go to school for acting or did it just come naturally?
Lisa. I’ve wanted to act since I first got addicted to Gilligan’s Island, back when I was five. I did plays throughout high school and eventually, my third year of college just transferred from Architecture into the acting program at Arizona State.
JC. Do you remember your first acting gig on TV? Did anything stand out or surprise you on that very first day?
Lisa. Well, my very first acting gig took me to Mexico City and Acapulco for seven months where we shot a Tele Novella (which is a soap opera with and ending) called Acapulco Bay. We shot 120 episodes. I played one of the leads. I remember feeling like I was in a dream.
The weather was unbelievably gorgeous. It was in the 90s, just like I like it. The “set” was a mansion on a hill overlooking the ocean, and the people were incredibly friendly. Then a week later I nearly died from food poisoning… The Tele Novella itself was what I’d describe as a “cheesy version of an American soap,” so that was pure entertainment. But it didn’t decrease the invaluable lessons I was learning about memorizing material and being in front of a camera.
JC. I LOVED the Pretender! What was it like being on such a classic cult TV show?
Lisa Cerasoli. The Pretender was the most incredible experience because my role was so all-encompassing, emotionally speaking. The cast and crew loved, and I do mean LOVED their job on that show. Also, it eventually sent me to Paris for a week-long, all-expense-paid Pretender Conference. I will never forget it.
JC. Did you have to audition for the Pretender? What was that like?
Lisa Cerasoli. The show was looking for a “name.” I was not considered “big” because of General Hospital, however, they were behind schedule. I got in on the last producer’s call and nailed it. Now, on the way to the audition, I managed to spill my coffee on my lap twice!
So there I was coming off the 405 freeway and driving into the studio lot with my pants hanging out my window (they were drying off). It was quite the site. I think I was so focused on my coffee-drenched pants, that I didn’t have time to get nervous. The incident actually helped me shine in the audition.
JC. Being an actress is very glamorous. Are there any things you didn't like about it?
Lisa. There’s a reason we never see Julia Robert’s naked… It’s because it’s hard, it’s embarrassing, it’s invasive. And Miss Julia is such a super star that she doesn’t have to get naked if she doesn’t want to. Even TV show love scenes are very challenging. After I shot the “pool scene” for The Pretender, I went back to my dressing room and literally threw up. I was so nervous to be half-naked, intimate and exposed in front of cast and crew. I should have had a beer before I shot that scene. That’s what Nora Jo would have suggested!
JC. You spent a few years on General Hospital. Is acting on a soap opera different from a prime time TV show?
Lisa. I loved daytime work because it’s fast like a theatre. They shoot 60 pages a day. One week, I had 180 pages of dialogue to memorize. It was a thrill! And, as you probably know, your “memory” is like a muscle, so the more you use it, the stronger it becomes – like doing pushups every day.
Your first time doing pushups, you pull off maybe five, but by month’s end, if you practice every day, you can do fifteen! I found nighttime to be cool because of the material. And I only ever worked on one big film, and truthfully, I was bored out of my mind. It took three days to shoot a two-page scene. And I got to see Al Pacino when I was on set, so you can imagine how bored I must have been in my down-time to have felt that way.
JC. Who is your favorite actress and why?
Lisa. That is such an impossible question. I can’t pick! I love Hepburn for her spunk. MacLaine for her sharp wit. Streep because she’s Meryl Streep. Who can do Sophie’s Choice and Mama Mia, and be brilliant in both?! And Streep is a genius with accents. If I take you over to the British side of acting, I absolutely adore Kate Blanchett; she’s incredibly engaging and her acting style is so real and raw. And come to think of it, I am a huge fan of Cameron Diaz. She’s so believable in everything she does…and so hot, too. That’s a rare and winning combo.
JC. What are some of your favorite TV shows and why?
Lisa. House, The Good Wife, Parenthood, The Big C, Weeds, American Idol (if I was 22 and could sing-ha!), and there are a slew of others.
Love American Idol for the talent and the fact that the whole family can watch. Sometimes I love a show for the actors in it – Hugh Laurie, Julianna Marguiles, etc… And sometimes it’s about escapism – Weeds.
JC. What TV show would you LOVE to work on right now and why?
Lisa. The Good Wife, Parenthood, The Big C, Weeds, American Idol (if i was 22 and could sing-ha!), and there are a slew of others.
There’s so much TV out there right now. Mostly, though, I can’t wait to sell my project, Weaverville – the one-hour dramedy about our lives as caregivers and play my gram, Nora Join the “flashback scenes” at the end of each episode.
JC. If someone told you they wanted to be an actress, do you have any “do this” or “don’t do that” tips to help?
Lisa. I’ll say what my Dad told me, “You’re nuts. But if you think you got what it takes, then get a degree in something “real,” and get your ass to Hollywood as fast as you can.”
Time does not wait for an actress in Hollywood. Aging is an epidemic there. Showing up in L.A. even in your early twenties puts you at a huge disadvantage if you’re a woman. But, there’s another saying, too, it’s “Don’t give up!” If you believe in yourself, and you never give up, you will make it. BUT, know who you are, and play to your strengths. Self-awareness is a big deal, too.
JC. Your Lisa Cerasoli website is very well done. Did you do it yourself?
Lisa. When I was on GH, a fan approached me (by way of the telephone) and asked if she could create my website. That was back in ’97. We are now great friends and she is still running my site along with a colleague of hers. These women are generous and helpful and really believe in me. Someday I hope I can send them both a big, bag of money!
JC. Thanks for your time, Lisa.
Lisa Cerasoli. My pleasure Joe!