Tag Archives: extraordinary people

Thinking of my Mom at Christmas

by Gail Mooney
December 23 2011

The last Christmas I spent with my mother was the Christmas of 2003. I didn’t know that would be our last Christmas together. She died very suddenly, less than two months later. I often wonder if I had known that Christmas was to be the last one that I’d spend with my mother, if I would have asked her the questions that I always wanted to ask. One thing I do remember about that Christmas was a moment during the evening when I caught a look in my mother’s face that I had seen before – a distant look where I felt as if she was somewhere else.

After my mother’s death, I learned a great deal about my mother – things I would have loved to have talked to her about. I was a perceptive and curious child, and there were always questions that I wanted to ask her, but I never did. I don’t know why. I could say that there was “never the right time” but I’ve grown to hate that expression or should I say excuse. I guess I was just too afraid.

I would not have been able to take the journey around the world with my daughter Erin and make this film if it hadn’t been for my mother. That’s why the name of the production company is Nola Productions, Nola was my mother’s name. When she died, she left me a bit of money and that helped finance Opening Our Eyes. That and airline miles, hotel points, crowd-funding and lots of help from my friends. But my mother gave me something even more important than money, that made this film happen. She gave me, belief in myself and compassion for others. If it hadn’t have been for my mom, I wouldn’t have had the desire to make a film that delivers the message, that we can all make a difference in how we choose to live our lives. And she always told me to believe in myself and my dreams and that anything was possible.

If you were to ask me (and many have) what was the best part of the trip – I’d would tell you that ii was spending time with my daughter. We not only explored the world together – we got to know each other as people – beyond the mother/daughter relationship. We’ll both remember the amazing places we went to and the extraordinary people that we met, but I think the memories that will linger the longest will be the conversations that we had along the way. We both asked the questions that we had been wanting to ask and shared the stories that we needed to share. Ultimately we “took the time” to get to know one another.

When I tell women about this trip and what I did with my daughter – they always say one of two things – or both – “Oh I would love to do that with my daughter” or “ I wish I had gotten to know my mother better”. I’m grateful that I had this time with my daughter and I know my mom was with us all the way. We couldn’t have done it without her.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone.

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Finding Your Bliss and Your Purpose

by Gail Mooney
December 22 2011

Last spring, my daughter and I set out to circle the globe on a 99-day journey, seeking people who were making a difference in the world.  A little more than a year later, we have completed a feature documentary about ordinary people on six continents who have not only had a positive impact on others, but they have had life changing experiences themselves.

This journey and the film were inspired by a

Maggie Doyne with her children at Kopila Valley Childrens Home, Nepal

young woman that my daughter had gone to high school with, Maggie Doyne,  At 19-years old, Maggie opted not to go straight off to college, but instead traveled on what was intended to be a gap year between high school and college.  Five years later, at the age of 24, she has built a home in Nepal for 35 orphaned children, where she now resides and had recently finished construction on a primary school for 250 children when we visited her last summer..

Maggie has caught the attention of quite a few high profile people who have helped her in her mission.  Last fall she appeared on the cover of the NY Times Magazine illustrating an article by Nicholas Kristof about DIY foreign aid.  She’s a remarkable young woman.  But what is often overlooked when one mentions Maggie’s accomplishments is that she herself, has changed her life’s path – before barely beginning.

Maggie is just one of eleven people that appear in our film, Opening Our Eyes.  As we traveled the world, my daughter and I quickly realized that all of these extraordinary people had one thing in common, beyond doing good for others.  They all had disrupted their own lives and had shifted course.  They had discovered their purpose and in the process, found their bliss.

Maggie is fortunate that she made this discovery while she was still young.  In a less dramatic way, I had my own awakening early in my career.  In the late 70’s, I had just finished studying photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California and I headed back East to pursue a career as a photojournalist. It was not the best of times to be starting out as a photojournalist, at least in terms of being able to make a decent living.  So, I took a bit of a detour and pursued commercial photography instead.  While making the rounds with my portfolio in NYC, I went to see legendary photographer Jay Maisel. Jay was known for his blunt demeanor, and when he looked at my perfectly presented photographic portfolio, he tossed it at me and told me it was garbage.  He asked me if I had anything else to show him.  I took out my dog-eared photos from my first world journey that I had taken before heading to Brooks. As he looked through my “snapshots” he asked me how old I was.  I replied that I was 25 years old.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?” That was a turning point in my life and I never looked back from pursuing my passion.

I suppose Maggie and I are lucky in that we discovered our purpose at such a young age.  But in making this film I learned one important thing – it’s never too late to find your bliss.

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Doing the Right Thing

by Gail Mooney
December 16 2011

I gave a TEDx talk in Sao Paulo, Brazil last week, which was an energizing experience on many levels. I also had the opportunity to screen the film for a non-US audience for the first time.  This has always been a very “global” project by the very nature that I’ts comprised of 11 stories on six continents. But it was the first time that I received a more “global” perspective and feedback on the film.

One young man from the audience asked a great question that had never been asked before in previous Q & A sessions.  He asked me if making this film had changed my life.  My answer was “yes, and it continues to change my life in many ways”.

Even though this was the first time anyone has asked me this question,

Maggie Doyne, Kopila Valley Children's Home, Nepal

I think about how my life has changed all the time.  Perhaps the biggest change was for me to really recognize what’s important and what’s not. I’ve come to realize that the thing that’s most important to me is for me to live my life doing the right thing.  By that I mean, recognizing the fact that while it may seem to get me a little further ahead, by beating out the “other guy” or their agendas – it really doesn’t.  Just because someone else “loses” doesn’t necessarily mean that I win.

When I returned to the US after being away for almost four months, I was struck by how we were behaving as a society.  It seemed to me like we were spending more time and energy focusing on how to stop “the other guy” than we were on focusing on what we wanted and what we can do. So for me, after spending four months with people who were living their lives according to their own doctrine and happy because of it, I decided to shift my way of thinking. I’m now much more focused on what I can achieve while doing the right thing without the detriment to others.  Perhaps if we all thought like that, everybody would win. Nowadays it seems like there are too many losers in our collective society.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Erin and I returned from our round the world adventure, and I am very aware and grateful of how the making of this film has changed my life. I’d like to think that it has made me a better person.

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TEDx, Kindred Spirits and Spreading Good Ideas

by Gail Mooney
December 6 2011

I’ve had an amazing week. I’ve been in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the last few days to do a TEDx talk and to screen Opening Our Eyes. It has been a remarkable time, in many ways.

As I listened to the many speakers of the day, talking about what they were doing in their life and in turn affecting other people’s lives, I couldn’t help but feel the common bond amongst this group. They were all thinking beyond themselves and that in itself was not only energizing but gave me great hope for the future. Most of the speakers were young – and it brought me back to when I was their age, so full of hope and believing that I could change the world. I suppose I am in the minority of people of my generation, because I’ve managed to hold on to those beliefs. If I hadn’t, I never would have embarked on this journey that I started with my daughter, almost two years ago.

Yesterday evening I screened the film for many of the same people that had attended the TEDx conference. While I may be from a different generation and cultural background – we were kindred spirits in our beliefs, and our concern for others and the planet that we live on. It was the first time that I showed the film outside the United States and even though that was part of our dream – to take this film globally – I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received. But during the Q&A, I realized what I had probably known all along – that no matter how different our cultures may be in so many ways – we had the common bonds of what connects all humanity. We all need food and shelter and the obvious needs of life – but there is something more that all humans need – the need to love and be loved. The need to know that someone cares.

I think sometimes we forget that basic human desire, overcome by our drive to be successful – sometimes thinking that someone surely has to lose in order for us to win. Last night someone asked me “Has your life changed since making this film?” I’ve had half a dozen screenings in the US and I think this was the first time that I was asked this question. I didn’t have to think much to answer the question, and I said “yes – I have changed mostly in what I place importance on in my life. The little things that used to bother me a great deal, don’t seem to matter anymore in the big picture of life.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this morning and I think that even though my outlook has changed, I still basically remain the same person I have always been – meaning my fundamental character. I think what has really changed is that I’ve recognized the person who I have always been – and stopped living the dogma that others believe in.

The funny thing is, the people who are in my life now, tell me how young and energetic I look and how happy and content I appear. I think what they see is what I am feeling on the inside. I also think that because of that, I am attracting people who are meant to be in my life. I’m no longer concerned about people who I thought I wanted or needed in my life, but might not have felt the same way. I only wish that I had learned this a long time ago. But as many of the wonderful people who appear in our film told us “there is a time for everything.” Thank you to all the beautiful people in Sao Paulo who have made this a very special and memorable experience. Our hearts will remain connected even though the miles may separate us.

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Getting Past the Ego

by Gail Mooney
November 25 2011

 

I was invited recently to speak at a TEDx event in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Someone in Brazil had seen the trailer for Opening Our Eyes and wanted me to come to this event and talk about the subjects in our film.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the  commonalities amongst the people in our film; they all think beyond themselves and consider how their actions will or won’t affect others.  In return of course, they are all richly rewarded.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think about Ronni Kahn’s words “don’t do it for the money….. or for the recognition…….do it for the sake of doing.”  Every one of our subjects lives their lives this way.  At a time when the prevailing attitude seems to be “what’s in it for me?” these people have put their egos aside and are “doing for the sake of doing”.  That is why so many of our subjects tended to shy away from the camera and the limelight, but were eager to tell their stories in order to help their causes.

Let’s face it, in a culture of “packaging and fizz”, it’s hard to sort through all the noise and pick out authenticity.  Even that word itself  “authenticity” has been over used and has lost its meaning. But we can all spot “the real deal” when we see it.  Just like knowing who your real friends are – you just know.

So, I think the only way to talk about the subjects of our film, in just 18 minutes, is to point out that they are no different than you or me – they are just ordinary people who think beyond themselves.  They are doing what they feel is the right thing to do and are staying close to their convictions and beliefs. They believe in the impossible and have a can do attitude. They are “walkin’ the walk”, not just talking. They take one step at a time in pursuing their dreams.

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Going it Alone

by Gail Mooney
November 9 2011

A week or so ago I left for New Zealand – a long haul from the US. I was headed to the SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) convention in Wellington. As I boarded the first leg from EWR to LAX, I felt like I was missing something. I kept doing a mental checklist in my mind – cameras, passport, wallet etc. etc. but something didn’t feel right – it felt like something was missing. I realized that what was missing was my daughter Erin.

It felt odd to be heading to this amazing destination without her. She had been like my right arm on our 99-day journey around the world last summer and I felt oddly alone. I have spent the better part of my life, traveling to all four corners of the globe as a solo act so to suddenly feel alone, after all those years of independent travel was unexpected.

Today it really hit me, just how profound that experience had been. Not only had it been the ultimate travel experience that I was fortunate enough to have shared with my daughter – but I realized that it had changed my life in many ways. Perhaps the biggest change in my life had been a change in my attitude – in more ways than one.

An hour ago, I was the recipient of the Bronze award for Travel Photographer of the Year by SATW. I was humbled and very appreciative to be receiving this award. A year ago, I probably would have felt differently. In fact, I may have looked at it with some misgivings to NOT having won the Gold award as opposed to being appreciative of winning the Bronze.

After spending a summer with remarkable people who were doing extraordinary things that were making a positive difference in the world, I have a totally different outlook. One of our subjects Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest in Sydney, Australia remarked “Don’t do it for the money or for the recognition – but just do it for the sake of doing.” A simple thought really, but one that comes with deep consequences.

We live in a culture in America where we often overlook that life’s real rewards aren’t necessarily in winning, but being content with the journey and the rewards that come with that. It took me a lifetime to figure that out. I know now that beating out someone else for the top prize isn’t what makes me a winner and in fact that someone else doesn’t have to lose in order for me to win. As much as I feel grateful for the recognition from my peers – my biggest reward was really a journey well traveled.

One doesn’t need to leave their country or even their home town to realize a journey well traveled – they simply just need to live their life the best way they know how and that’s different for each and every one of us.

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Flashback

by Gail Mooney
October 26 2011

Yesterday as I was packing my gear for an upcoming three week trip to New Zealand, I had a major flashback to when I was getting ready for a 99-day trip around the world. My daughter, Erin and I had embarked on that journey about a year and a half ago.  But this time, I was going solo.

I looked at all the gear laid out on the dining room table, just as I did last year, wondering how I would fit it into one small backpack. I will strip it down of course, taking only the gear that I can manage by myself.  For the most part, I will be traveling solo this time. It got me thinking about the round-the-world trip that I took last year with Erin.

I’ve spent the better part of my life traveling the world and taking pictures. Most of those years, I was a solo act, on assignment for various magazines and corporations.  Last year, when Erin heard that I would be circling the globe, she wanted to come along. Initially, I hadn’t imagined the trip or the project as a collaborative effort – let alone with my daughter.  She had recently graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and had been lucky enough to get a job. But Erin wanted to be part of this project and journey and so it became a combined effort – a mother-daughter team.

That ended up being the best part about the trip– sharing that experience with my daughter. We’ll have that bond for a lifetime.  And now, I couldn’t have imagined doing that journey any other way.

Since then, there have been countless hours/days/weeks/months that have gone into the post-production part of the film, leaving the “journey” a collection of water colored memories floating in my head. I’ve remained closely connected to the project because I’ve been very hands-on with the edit. So for me, those memories remain part of my daily psyche.  In that regard, the making of the film has been a bit bittersweet as I am reminded daily – that part of the journey is over.

We’ll always have those beautiful memories burned inside our heads. More importantly, we have a film that can be shared with others around the world, in the hopes that it will provoke thought and maybe even move people to action – to make a difference.

Please share this film.  That’s the only way it will happen.

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Ten Things You Can Do To Make a Difference

by Gail Mooney
October 11 2011

I woke up in kind of a funk.  I watched the news and I instantly felt worse.  Everybody was pointing their finger at one another and they all needed to be right.

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, I had just come home after being out of the country for almost four months.  I had never felt better in my life, both in body and in spirit.  I had been following my heart and I had been on” purpose ” I had spent the entire past summer with people who were making our world a better place.  They were inspirational  and they all had one thing in common.  They were exactly where they wanted to be – in both body and soul.

Every now and I need to remind myself of the state of mind I was in after returning from that journey. I start thinking about all the ways that I can make a difference – even if it’s just a small act.  Its those small acts that

Maggie Doyne and Biscal, Kopila Valley Children's Home, Nepal

make big differences in people’s lives.

Robbin Moulds, a subject in our film said: “At 211 degrees water is hot.  At 212 it boils.  That’s a  one degree difference.  I say to people – what’s a one degree difference you can make?”

  • 1.  Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.  You’ll make them feel good – I guarantee.  Don’t put it off – you may not get the chance again.
  • 2.  Take someone else’s call.  Call waiting can be cruel sometimes and it makes it easy for people to avoid and ignore.  Would it be so horrible to have to listen to someone for a few minutes?  Ignoring someone is the worst thing you can possibly do.
  • 3.  Say something nice to someone  that you don’t really care for.  Surely you can find something nice to say.
  • 4.  Don’t always try to be right.  It’s a lonely path to be on.
  • 5.  Help a child with their homework or teach them one of your passions.
  • 6.  Read to someone – a child, an older person, someone who needs help with English.
  • 7.  Pick up a piece of litter that someone else has discarded.
  • 8. Write a note or a letter to someone.  I treasure every hand written note that I get in the mail these days.  They are rare meaningful gems.
  • 9.  Don’t judge someone by how they look.  Get past the clothes and adornments – the hair – the size and have a chat with someone you normally wouldn’t talk to if you judged them by their “cover.”
  • 10.  Make amends with someone you’ve had a falling out with. I try to patch things up if friendships get off track.  I treasure the relationships I have with people and I don’t take them for granted.

Live in the now and as Steve Jobs said:  Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

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99 Days and Counting

by Gail Mooney
September 28 2011

When I formed this idea, almost two years ago, I would not have believed then that I would still be working on this project now. Not only am I still working on it, but it has taken on a life of its own. In fact, we have  a new tagline, which aptly describes what this project has become:

It’s not just a Move – It’s a Movement

With that said, we have decided to launch another funding cycle, through Indiegogo. This time, we have more than just an idea and a lot of uncut footage – we have a finished movie and a movie that’s getting rave reviews.

Today is the start of our 99-day cycle of fundraising.  Why 99 days?  Well, for starters, our journey around the world took 99 days to complete the circle.  And, in 99 days, it’s Erin’s birthday – her 25th.  I was 25 years old when I decided to pursue the path I’m on as a photojournalist, instead of following a more lucrative profession.  I had gone to see Jay Maisel, a legendary New York photographer, known for his bluntness.  After making a lot of excuses of why I wasn’t going to follow my heart and become a photojournalist he looked me straight in the eye and said “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises?”  It was a turning point in my life.

The post-production on the film was completed in July.

Opening Our Eyes Sneak Preview, Traverse City, MI

Since that time, I’ve spent countless hours submitting it to film festivals and trying to create awareness for the film. What’s the point of making something like this if it is not seen by as many people as possible? Our goal is simple and that is to get this movie “out there” by whatever means we can so that we can really make a difference with it.

A comment from an audience member at our sneak preview in Traverse City said:

“I just want to thank you for making this movie and let you know that you
have definitely succeeded in inspiring people. I’ve had a {sic} paradigm
shift after seeing this movie. I think you two should count yourself among
the inspirational heroes for bringing these stories to a larger audience.”

And at our sneak preview in Detroit, Oscar recipient, Pamela Conn who won for
“ best short documentary” stated:

“ I would just like to say that that’s the first thing I thought of was that
it’s obvious that this should be submitted for an Oscar. Absolutely this
is Oscar worthy.”

We have created something of value – a value that goes beyond dollars and cents. But to give this thing legs, we will need “dollars and cents” to take it the next steps. It takes money for festival submissions, PR and marketing and theatrical screenings. In fact Jon Reiss, the DIY of the indie film world says that a filmmaker should allocate half of their budget for PR and marketing – or your film will fall into oblivion.

This money won’t go into my pocket.  In fact, even creating this movie on a shoe string budget made up of airline miles and trades for services has exhausted my savings, not to mention taken me away from my business.  But, something is pushing me to do this.  If we can get this movie “on the map” then everyone wins, especially all the change makers that this movie is about.

Please help us with this movement. Contribute if you can or simply pass along this link to others. We all can play a part in making our world a better place.

As Marian Kramer, a subject in our film says “We all have to shine each other up.”

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A Sad Day

by Gail Mooney
September 16 2011

This is out of the norm for this site, but I post this news to remind everyone to live their life each day as if it were their last. It’s a reminder to us all,  to not put off those things you want to do or leave your words unsaid.

I write when I have something on my mind or feel that I have something to say and pass along.  Today, I write because I’m heartbroken.  I need to share some thoughts and then close out.

Willie “ Big Eyes” Smith – legendary blues musician, passed away – suddenly from a stroke.  He was one of the seven Delta blues musicians that I interviewed for one of my first short documentaries back in 2002, The Delta Blues Musicians.  They are all gone now – but one.

I’ll always remember the day I sat down to talk to Willie.  It was relaxed and we had the most wonderful conversation, sitting on the porch of an old sharecropper shack at Hopson’s Plantation in Clarksdale, MS.  I feel good that I captured his thoughts and words that day and preserved them for future generations.  I feel that my purpose in life is to do just that – to document, record and capture the peoples and cultures of our times. I feel that is what I am here to do.  When I stay on that course, I have peace inside.  When I drift from that – I don’t feel right.  I think I’ve always known that – but nowadays I try to stay focused on that path.

Willie’s passing reminds me yet again, how precious life is and to appreciate the now.  For the most part, I do live in the now.  I try to live my life as if this may be my last day on earth.  It frees me from a lot of needless fears that stops lots of people from “doing”.  It reminds me to tell my people that I love them because I may not get that chance again.

We all put things off or leave things left unsaid. Seven years ago,  mom died suddenly, without warning. It seems like yesterday because the pain is still real and there is a hole left in my heart.  I remember quite clearly the week before she died.  It was a busy week and I had planned to give my mom a call because it had been awhile.  I never did get that chance – and those words will go unsaid – forever.

We lost another blues legend earlier this year, Pinetop Perkins.  Pinetop and Willie had just won a Grammy for the album “Joined at the Hip” that they worked on together.  I had been meaning to head down to the Delta next month to the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival – I had missed the festival last year and I wanted to hear Pinetop and Willie play. Sadly, I won’t get that chance to see and hear them in concert again.  But I do have their records and I’ll always have their words, both on tape and tucked away in the recesses of my mind.

We’ll miss you Willie.

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