A fellow “baby boomer” commented to me recently, “I guess we’ve all abandoned our dreams by now.” I immediately reacted by saying, “Speak for yourself.” I for one can’t imagine abandoning my dreams. Am I odd in that regard? Am I naïve? Am I different from my generation in that I’m still an optimistic dreamer? Or was the fellow who made the remark the odd one?
I’m not quite sure if my hopeful outlook has to do with who I am, or is a trait of my culture as an American or I’m the product of the generation I grew up in? I suppose my hope stems from all of the above. I read an article in the May 20th edition of Time Magazine, entitled the ME ME ME generation – the Millennials. Part of the article talked about basic broad stroke traits of other generations. Generally I don’t like broad stroke summations of a culture or a generation but nevertheless I found some of the descriptions to be pretty much on target.
As far as being “hopeful” the Millennials are more in kin to the Baby Boomers, and tend to believe in themselves and the power of realizing their dreams. They seem to be more interested in what they can do and on a global scale than Generation X, which came before them. Sadly, Generation X came up at time when “greed was good”, “heroin chic” was a style in vogue and ennui ruled the day. Those are pretty broad strokes for sure, but I think the over riding thread that seems to define a generation is whether they tend to be hopeful or not.
I find that I always need to be creating something. It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s what gives me hope. It’s also what every single person possessed who took part in our film project. They all believed that they were doing whatever was in their power to do and that gave them hope. Of course the key is in the doing and that is why I love to create.
Think about it. You can either give yourself reasons NOT to do something or you can give yourself reasons TO do something. Giving yourself reasons not to do something may seem like it empowers you but it actually leaves you powerless. It puts your destiny in everyone else’s hands. That rarely yields hope. The act of doing something, on the other hand, creates possibility.
The universe holds possibility for anything and everything to happen – we just need to put things into motion to allow them to happen. Nine out of ten things might not work out but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play a part in the process. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have value. Perhaps the value will be realized later on.
“If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story.”
I’ve been to quite a few screenings over the past year of our feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes and it has been an interesting experience. What I love the most are the questions and comments that come up in the Q&A after the screening. The most asked question is “How did you pick your subjects for the film?”
I could write an entire bog about how we picked our subjects (and may have already), but the simple answer is that I sent out an email to everyone I knew asking them if they knew or knew of people – individuals – on all 6 continents – who were making a positive difference in the world. The response was overwhelming and I still have folders of subject ideas that I would love to do short stories about if I can find the funding and the time.
My daughter and I waited until we got back from our round-the-world trip to decide on our North American subject(s) and ended up shooting that segment 4 months later. Surely we were in a different frame of mind and it shows in the piece – it’s a big edgier and less optimistic, but then again it is a story about two women, Maureen Taylor and Marian Kramer, working against all odds in the inner city ravages of Detroit. They are volunteers and street activists – the “voice” for the poor and disadvantaged of their community.
Many times when I’ve screened the film, folks want to know why I chose that story to be in the film and some tell me I should take it out – but I won’t. We have edited this segment when we cut the film from 76 minutes to 61 minutes. In the process, we “toned it down”, but I didn’t do that to appease the crowd, I did it because our subjects were good and caring women who were passionate about their cause and I wanted the audience to like them. I also wanted the audience to listen to what they were saying, rather than get defensive and tune them out.
Ultimately the Detroit segment has what every good story needs – conflict. But it also has hope for a better future. This segment is different from the other stories in the film, in that it’s not about giving children and teens a home, or rescuing food or saving the environment, but it is about something that is equally important and that is giving the people a “voice”. Without that, there is no hope for hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged people in America.
Being able to have our voice heard is perhaps the most important privilege we have as citizens of this country or any country for that matter. If our “voice” gets silenced, or restricted, the rest of our freedoms will be in danger. Maureen and Marian understand the importance of using their voice. I do as well, and that’s why that story “stays in the film”.
The best part about creating the documentary, Opening Our Eyes, was getting to be around some of the most amazing, inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life. So many things that these folks said during their interviews, still run through my mind on a daily basis.
One thing in particular was something that Maggie Doyne said when she was talking about what she built in Nepal “It’s not perfect. If I had waited for things to be perfect, none of this would have happened.”
I work and live with a perfectionist, my husband and my business partner. We are opposites in every way. I am one to take my “big idea” and jump right into it. I’m also one who wants to complete something and follow through right away, regardless if it’s “perfect” or not. For example: I could have/should have gotten this film professionally color graded before I sent it out to festivals and distributors. But, I didn’t have the funds to do that, so rather than let the film “get old” until I could get more funding (which may not have happened), I pushed it out to the universe, and good things have happened.
It’s good to be detail oriented and to strive for perfection, but not if you use it to give yourself reasons to stop yourself from moving forward. Many times, when I tell my husband my latest “big idea”, his first instincts are to tell me dozens of reasons I shouldn’t act on it until……………everything is perfect. His intentions are good – he wants to protect me from failure, but if I let it, his words might also end up protecting me from success.
We both recognize our differences now as our individual strengths and that when we listen, learn and balance those opinions and differences so that they can work together instead of opposed to each other, great things can happen. But that takes practice and also not having to be right all the time. There is no one “right” and that’s the beauty of collaboration and working in harmony.
“She’s from the mainland isn’t she?” the woman said as she got into my friend’s truck. I laughed and she said “I knew you weren’t from here when you said, “hi, I’m Gail and extended your hand” – “ we don’t do that here.” My good friend PF Bentley was driving me to the tiny island airport and he had stopped to pick up a couple of friends for a meeting they were going to attend after getting me on my way.
Last week, after getting an email from PF alerting me about incredible airfares to Hawaii ($425 roundtrip from Newark to Honolulu), I made an impulse decision, bought a ticket and here I was on the island of Molokai, heading home after 4 days on the island. Some might say, that’s an awful long way to go for such a short time and I suppose that may be true. However it was 4 days that gave me a well needed break, and more importantly a time to step back from the noise of my life and ask myself “have I gotten off purpose?”
The fact is I had gotten way off purpose over the last few months. I had begun doing things other people wanted me to do and in the process I forgot who I was. When that happens, everything seems to turn sour and in the process I seem to do more “pushing” my dreams out there, and getting nowhere. Instead I should do what it is I am meant to do, regardless if people accept it or understand it and then things will fall into place as they should.
Over a decade ago, PF had taught me how to tell a story and how to translate that to “film”. If it weren’t for PF, our film, Opening Our Eyes would not have been possible. Thirteen years ago, he stirred something inside of me and I went from a state of stale complacency to an awakened spirit. The spirit had always been inside of me, but I had begun not to listen to it.
It’s been a short but glorious 4 days. PF and his beautiful wife Amy soothed my soul with humor, color, art, wonderful food and love. Amy is one of the most creative people I have ever met and a true inspiration in many ways. She taught me the ukulele and we played and sang and laughed. PF taught me new technical skills – color grading and mixing sound, but he also showed me his island home and once again he awakened my spirit. Mahalo (thank you) Amy for bringing color to my life and thank you PF for once again getting my train back on track.
It’s not easy to hold onto your ideals, let alone your dreams as you get older. I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard, that I have managed to stay true to my ideals and I’m still foolish enough to believe in my dreams. I wish more people my age had. Maybe we’d have a better world.
Dreaming is usually left up to the young, who can’t even imagine that their dreams wouldn’t come true. Somehow when you get older, you give up on some of your dreams. It seems like in our culture, we buy into the notion that with the responsibilities that come with age, there is no room for our dreams. I must tell you though, that I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t hold on to my own dreams – how could I ever teach my daughter how important that is, for a life well lived.
When my daughter Erin and I set out around the world together two years ago, it was to film the stories of people who were doing extraordinary things. These were all ordinary individuals who believed in the impossible. The film was inspired by Erin’s high school friend, Maggie Doyne, who opted not to head straight off to college after graduation. Maggie traveled and wound up in Nepal helping children, orphaned by ten years of civil war. Seven years later, Maggie lives with her 40 children, in a home she built in Nepal, has built a primary school and is now raising money to build a high school.
Maggie is 25 years old with wisdom beyond her years and a youthful spirit to believe that anything is possible. She reminds me of myself when I was her age, although I pale in comparison to what she has done at such a young age. I too traveled when I was just starting out in life. I left college after two years and circled the globe to satisfy my curiosity. When I returned, I went back to school to study photography, graduated and set out to make my living at commercial photography. My heart was in photojournalism and documentary photography, but everybody told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – and I believed them.
Early on, I was looking for assistant work in NYC and I went to see legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel. I brought my perfectly executed commercial photography portfolio with me to get Jay’s advice. For some reason, I also brought some “snapshots” that I had taken on my trip around the world, before I had gone to photography school. Jay looked at my portfolio and tossed it back to me saying “this is crap”. After seeing the shock on my face, he said, “this isn’t what you want to do, is it?” I showed him my snapshots and he said, “this is what you want to do – why aren’t you doing it?” I proceeded to tell him all the reasons that people had told me, and I was telling myself, why I wasn’t following the path I was passionate about. He looked at me and he asked, “How old are you?” I replied 25. And he said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?”
There have been many days since then, when I have wanted to throw my hands up and give up on my ideals and dreams and then I remember that day with Maisel and I think about people like Maggie – and I manage to hold on.
I ran into someone over the weekend who I had not seen in many years. We had been good friends, but we had drifted apart, over some disagreements, that neither of us could even remember. I’m sure those disagreements seemed important at the time, but now they just seemed trivial. We both realized that we had let our egos get in the way of our friendship and instead of trying to heal the hurts that had severed our friendship – we put more angst, anger and sadness in its place.
I started thinking about the kids that I met at the Oasis Youth Network
in Sydney, Australia, when Erin and I were there, shooting this segment of Opening Our Eyes. One young man was telling his story of growing up in a broken home, with parents who were drug addicts and gamblers. He talked about stealing money for his lunch when he was a kid, and never having clean clothes to wear to school. He talked about getting into a life of drugs and crime and eventually being sent to jail, away from his children and everything that was good in his life. And then he talked about how Oasis had given him his life back and how Paul Moulds in particular had given him a “second chance”.
When we interviewed Paul Moulds for our film, he made a comment that still resonates with me to this day, almost two years later. In talking about kids who grew up in homes like the one this young man described, or worse yet, kids who were homeless and trying to scrape out some kind of life on the streets, he said: “we try to help these young people by training them and finding them a job – but who is going to be willing to hire them when they have no address, no education and no record of employment?” He went on to say that no matter, how much pain some of these kids had grown up with or how many wrong decisions they had made in their lives, that he still believed in giving them second chances. I remember thinking at the time that the world needed more people like Paul – people who believed in giving others, a second chance.
We all say and do stupid things in our lives and in the process, we end up hurting ourselves and the people we truly care about. We’ve given into our “precious egos” when we behave like that. Ultimately, many of us come to realize that we only bring more pain in our lives, by continuing to hold onto the hurts from the past, instead of letting go of our egos, and giving someone who may have done us wrong – a second chance. I think sometimes in our efforts to protect ourselves from being hurt by others, we bring more pain to our lives by shutting the door on second chances.
Jackson Browne writes, “It seems easier sometimes to change the past”. Unfortunately, we can’t change the past, but we don’t need to keep holding onto it. While it’s not easy to give someone a second chance, it feels so much better to leave the door open to possibilities. Imagine what the world would be like if we all thought like Paul Moulds, and thought that everyone deserves a second chance.
Chris Guillebeau wrote in his blog today “When I became an optimist after years of seeing the glass half-full, it was largely a practical choice. I just realized I was tired (literally) of putting my energy toward negative thoughts. It was draining and decapacitating. I vowed to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore anything else as much as possible.” I can’t wait to meet Chris next week at his World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. In fact I can’t wait to meet all the people who attend this conference and think the same way Chris does.
Chris went on to say “Embrace the WOW. When someone does something interesting, appreciate it for what it is. Stop judging or discounting their achievements.” That sentence really resonated with me because there are days when I feel that no matter how much I have accomplished in my career and in my life, there are people who try to marginalize my achievements.
When I start to feel frustrated by people like that, I remind myself of what Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest told me on a July day in Sydney, Australia “Don’t do something for the recognition – do it for the sake of doing.” Ronni was one of the many inspirational people my daughter Erin and I interviewed, on our trip around the world in the summer of 2010, during the making of our documentary, Opening Our Eyes.
I think back on all the travel logistics I needed to coordinate – our itinerary would have made one of the best travel agents panic – let alone figuring out how to do it using airline miles and hotel rewards. I also needed to think about the gear we would need to shoot both stills and video, that would fit into 2 backpacks. And I needed to make sure we had the necessary visas and vaccinations.
When we got back, I had over 5000 images and 150 hours of film to edit. Within two very long, bleak winter months in early 2011, I managed to lay down an initial rough cut of 3 hours of interviews. While I was doing the rough edit, I was also running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to get funds to pay for a professional editor. I knew that would ultimately make all the difference in the world as far as how the film was cut – and it did.
It will be a year, next month since we screened our first “sneak preview” at the State Theatre in Traverse City, MI. Since that time, we’ve been honored at film festivals receiving awards for Best Documentary, Best Humanitarian Documentary and Best Trailer. But that stuff is for the ego and while it was sweet to receive those awards, the biggest reward for me, was the “journey” itself. I don’t mean just the trip itself, but all that I learned along the way. That’s the part that’s hard to explain, especially to the people who seem to “judge and discount” the achievements of others.
Like Chris Guillebeau, I made a decision some years ago to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore everything else as much as possible. I need to remind myself of that every day and walk away from the things and the people who don’t bring value to my life. Life’s too short for that. When I keep that in mind, I stay on purpose and that’s when the good stuff happens.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” - John Ruskin
It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally launched the redesign of the Opening Our Eyes website – or at least phase one. There will be a phase two which will make the site more interactive – but that will be down the road.
Here are a few cool changes that our fabulous designers have made:
• Total redesign from the “home” page and throughout.
• A list of upcoming screening and speaking dates.
• More photos everywhere, including on our “subjects” page
• Podcasts and behind the scenes videos uploaded
• A “store” with links to our book and ePubs
• A sign up button for news and updates
Of course the site will still contain our ongoing blog as well as the trailer for the film.
Please check out these new areas of our website and let us know what you like – or what you would like to see in the future.
In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted on any future film festivals that the film has been invited to.
Today is Mother’s Day and it’s my last weekend in China. I’ve been in China for the past three weeks, teaching Chinese journalists how to think and shoot in motion. It’s been a tough time and these past three weeks seem more like three years, instead of 3 weeks. I’m missing my home, my husband, my daughter and my personal freedom. Today, I took a well-needed day for myself – to reflect and re-energize for my final week here.
Yesterday, there was a knock on my hotel room door. I opened it to a wet (it was raining), but smiling woman, holding a big bouquet of flowers. Tom and Erin (my husband and daughter) found a way to get flowers delivered to me, clear across the world. Those flowers will give me strength to get through each day this last week here in China – even as they begin to wilt. Like a faded photo of loved ones, carried in my wallet, they will remind me of my support system in my life – my family.
My mom is no longer alive, but her spirit is always with me, especially during the hardest of times. I wish I had told her when she was still alive, how much she buoyed my spirits and gave me strength on my lowest days – I wish I had told her more often how much I loved her. She knew that, even when we disagreed – we connected in unspoken ways.
My daughter, Erin lives in Chicago now, ironically the city I was born in. I had planned to take a trip out to Chicago to see her and her apartment that she moved into almost a year ago. But that trip was canceled, along with my appearance at a screening of Opening Our Eyes at Northwestern, Erin’s alma mater, due to this trip to China.
I knew that this teaching job in China was going to be difficult, I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be. To be honest, I needed the money, making a film has not only been a huge time suck, but one on my finances as well. I didn’t set out to get rich off this movie – anyone can tell you that you are a fool to think you can make money by making a documentary. I set out to make this film because I felt there were some things missing in my own life, but I also felt that “we” (human beings), especially the collective “we” in America, had gotten off course in the last 20-30 years. We had become a “what’s in it for me society” and at the same time become unhealthy and unhappy. Our “successes” and “things” weren’t making us happy. We had become frustrated and yet didn’t even know why – ask any “occupiers”.
In the process of making this film, I not only found my purpose in my life, but also formed an incredible bond with my daughter on our journey and made me grateful for all the things I have in my life that I had taken for granted. Essentially, making this movie saved my life. At the same time, I feel that I have alienated and annoyed friends by talking about it too much and promoting the festivals and awards too much. I sense that I have oversaturated the market and yet I feel the need to stay the course of our ultimate goal of this film and that is to make a difference with this film by motivating and inspiring others as to what they can do to create a shift in our society to become less selfish and self-absorbed. It’s ironic that in doing so, I’ve lost friends because I’ve become too self-absorbed in the process. A filmmaker I met recently told me “you never finish a film – but there comes a time when you are ready to let go”. I’m slowly getting to the point that I can let go – and give up this fight.
Perhaps it took coming to China for me to get to this point. I thought I would have the support of my team while I was here, but in fact for the most part, I felt I was on my one. I will admit that I’m not the easiest person to be with. I have a strong personality and generally say what’s on my mind. On the other hand, I have an extreme sense of loyalty and my true friends know that while I may say things to their face that may be jarring at times, I’ll never do things behind their backs that can undermine them. I never abandon my friends, even when they have hurt me. In fact I often will do things I don’t like because I will put myself second if it means not hurting someone else’s feelings. I have found that by living my life this way, I find out who my true friends are – I have been surprised many times by people who I thought were friends and I found out otherwise. Even at those times, I somehow find myself giving them the benefit of the doubt and believe that after time has passed and wounds have healed from disagreements, our friendships will mend.
There is a lyric, in fact the title of a song “love the one you’re with”. Last week, while struggling to get through the challenges here and missing my family, I got some well-needed support from my students. These nine young Chinese students not only formed a bond with each other to overcome their own challenges of learning video but they became my family. I commented that Sunday was Mother’s Day and that I was missing my family. On the last day, I walked into the classroom and saw that they had drawn a caricature of me on the whiteboard and underneath the drawing they had written “mama”. It took everything I had not to cry. Later when I handed them their certificates of achievement I gave each and every one of them a hug. We had formed our own family that week and we pulled each other through. The word “mom”, or “mother”, or “mama” took on a greater meaning and we all felt it.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the “moms” and our collective mom – “Mother Earth”.
I’ve attended two film festivals to date: The San Luis Obispo Film Festival and the Los Angeles Women’s Film Festival. I can’t begin to describe what it feels like to have a film in a festival, especially so late in my career. As I write “late in my career” there is almost a disconnect. That may be others’ perception of me but for some crazy reason, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, in many ways I feel like it’s just the beginning.
“There’s a time for everything” That’s what Dr. David Mar Naw told Erin and I that rainy day we interviewed him in a bamboo hut in a remote hill tribe village in northern Thailand. It seems like a lifetime ago that we met Dr. David, yet it was but a year and a half ago. Had I known that this project would have consumed my time – and me – the way it did – well, let’s say I might not have started it. Yet I did start it, perhaps because I felt that this was the time in my life to do something like this.
Last night the film screened in Los Angeles and it was close to a full house – a few empty seats here and there. There were a lot of friends and colleagues there last night, and even someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years. And to top it off, Gina Low, one of our subjects was in attendance with lots of her family and supporters of Apeca. I hadn’t seen Gina or Pablo since we left Peru in August of 2010. For me, that is the best part about festivals – sharing my film with friends – new and old. That’s why I made this film – to share – not just the film but also the message behind it of what one person can do to make a difference in the world.
After our film screened, there was one last film that night – “Gloria”, a movie about Gloria Steinem. The film was fascinating, a combination of present day and past interviews of Steinem along with lots of historical footage and photos. Even though Gloria has more than a decade of years ahead of me, I vividly remember that period of time in the “women’s movement”. I attended at least two marches that showed up in the film, as a young college aged woman of the time. That era had a profound effect on my life. I had always questioned “fairness” even as a child and when I came of age as a young woman during that time in history, I had little tolerance for people who told me I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. I vividly remember feeling during that period in time, that as a woman, I had been born at just the right time. A time of change.
It’s never easy to be on the forefront of change and yet it seems to be the pattern of my life. So maybe now, during this time of “change”, this is my time to begin yet again another new chapter of my life. I was interviewed last night and was asked two great questions that were easy for me to answer:
The first was “What got you through it” (meaning the journey).
I answered, “The people, behind these stories, they were incredibly inspirational”.
And the other question, “Did making this film change your life?”
My answer “Yes, in every way imaginable – but I knew that it would.”
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem