Tag Archives: People Making a Difference
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.
This blog is two-fold. First, a brief announcement about some exciting news we received recently – we have been accepted into the Naperville Independent Film Festival! Naperville is a suburb outside of Chicago, so it is especially exciting for me to be able to go to a film festival that’s local enough to drive to and bring friends. Even more exciting is that we have been nominated for the Best Documentary award AND we were notified that there will representatives from a distribution company at the festival! We’re looking forward to attending in September.
I also wanted to share a message from CCI and Greenheart’s President, Emanuel Kuntzelman. CCI and Greenheart is an official sponsor of Opening Our Eyes; it is also the organization where I work. It is a cultural exchange organization that facilitates many different exchange programs, one of which brings high school students to the U.S. and places them with volunteer host families and high schools for the academic year.
We are currently in the home stretch of looking for host families willing to provide homes for the students arriving to start school this fall. Emanuel sent the message below to our field staff, which works to place these students with families and schools. However, I felt that his ultimate message about the power of the individual in changing lives really resonated with Opening Our Eyes’s message:
Steve Jobs once said that “People with passion can change the world for the better.” At CCI we have lots of passionate people ready to do just that. In these final weeks of searching for host families, I would like to remind all of us why we are putting in the extra effort.
You are not just a sole person in your community, but an extraordinary member of an amazing team. You are a change maker, one of hundreds at CCI and Greenheart, that are creating a world that will be more peaceful and understanding through your hard work. The phone calls and networking and extra hours of searching for host families add up to more than just meeting a goal; you are making a real difference in not only the life of an exchange student, but the lives of the host family, their friends, the family of the exchange student and the ripple effect goes on. This is the expanding power of one. One more placement by one more person adds up to many changed lives for years to come.
Thank you in advance for tapping into the power of one–your own, individual effort–to make this happen and help get all of our students placed. When all of our students arrive later this summer, the most important number of all will still be “one”: the one sense of accomplishment that each of us will have in knowing that we did our part to use our passion to change the world, one placement at a time.
Here’s to all of you–the fantastic powers of one adding up to far more than the sum of individuals.
With energy, gratitude, and best wishes for the weeks ahead,
Emanuel Kuntzelman, President
Center for Cultural Interchange and Greenheart
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student for this coming academic year, or you know someone who would be interested, please visit CCI’s website to learn more. You can also call the CCI office at 1-800-634-4771 if you have any questions.
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
I had a friend who once told me that if he should die in his room – alone – he didn’t think anyone would even notice. At first, I thought – how sad – and then I thought that really wasn’t true at all. Everyone, even my friend has a past and with that comes people who know you or who used to know you – and on some level – there will be someone who cares.
Perhaps, what he meant was that people wouldn’t notice – but again, I would have to dispute that because it’s pretty easy with social media, emails and every other means of “instant” communication, to get people to notice you.
Getting noticed brings up an important point – and that is – when we do anything for the sake of recognition – and people don’t respond the way we had hoped – we sometimes feel that we have failed. But did we? If we did something purely for the sake of recognition and we don’t get it – then perhaps we did fail, but not necessarily. Most of the time, people who do take notice, simply don’t take the time to let you know.
I try not to fall into the trap of doing something purely for the sake of recognition because it’s a sure fire way to get myself in a funk if I don’t get the accolades I’m looking for. When I’m driven to do something simply because I feel I “have to”, that’s when the unsolicited recognition seems to come. Somehow, the things that resonate with people the most – are the very things that are generated from something that’s deep inside us. That’s when people “notice” – they don’t just “see it” – they “feel it”.
Life is too short to spend it seeking approval from others. My husband is quick to tell me “it’s none of your business what other people think of you”. He’s so right about that and it took me a long time to figure that out.
If you spend your life worrying about pleasing others, you may end up forgetting who you are. They say friends come and go. I’m not so sure about that. Even if someone isn’t present in your life anymore, they still exist in your past. They were meant to be there for some reason, even if they brought you pain, they were meant to play their part in your life. I think sometimes we stress too much about the negatives in life and somehow think the best way to live is to avoid things or people that make us uncomfortable, but in doing so we end up bringing in the emptiness and loneliness we were afraid of.
When I started this project two years ago, I didn’t realize how many people out there really do care. That in itself was worth the journey.
At one of the film festivals I recently attended, I had a wonderful conversation with a young filmmaker. I told him that if I had known that I would still be involved with this film, more than 2 years after I conceived of the idea – I probably never would have started it. He laughed and even though he was probably 20 or 30 years younger than I, he spoke from a place of wisdom beyond his years – no doubt an old soul – at least in spirit. He told me “You never really “finish” a film – you just get to a point where you are ready to let go. “
Am I ready to let go? I ask myself that question daily. I should be screaming an emphatic “yes” for every logical and practical reason. It has consumed me from the very start, in every way imaginable, and on one very real level, I can and need to “let go” and move on. But on another, much deeper level – I’m not ready to move on because this “thing” that I started so long ago, is, and always has been, more than a film. It has become a “shift” – a shift in my point of view, my perspective, beliefs, and values. In fact it as caused a “shift” in just about every area of my life.
This film was never meant to be something that I created for fame and fortune. Any fool knows that making a documentary is hardly a way to make money. It has been a drain financially from the beginning. As far as fame – well I’ve had my moments to shine and I’ve had some wins but I’ve had far more losses and rejections that have kept me humble and I’m grateful for the recognition when it comes. So, why is it that I’m still not quite ready to let go? Every time I begin to feel overwhelmed by frustration and want to close the door on this “thing”, I remind myself of why I started this folly. I felt that there was an absence and longing in our culture for hope. I felt there was a need for a “shift” in attitude. I truly believe that this film and other films like it can make a difference by getting people to think.
Every time I have attended a screening of this film, I can see that for those 76 minutes that I have the attention of the audience – I really have them – I’ve touched them – I’ve gotten them to think. I’m usually buoyed by the audience’s reaction and remarks and I feel hopeful that “change” can happen – change for the betterment of the planet and mankind. There is always one person who comes up to me or writes me and tells me that I’ve “moved” them in some way, and they thank me for making this movie. How do I let go of something that has the power to move people? I don’t think I can.
My goal all along has been to create a positive shift in attitude. I can’t abandon that just when it’s starting to grow. Instead, I am planning to make this website, much more than a website about the film. My vision is that it will become a place where liked minded people can interact with one another and create a greater global shift. I can’t be the lone voice, and I don’t think I have the heart to do that. The virtual world can be a lonely world without interaction – too lonely for me. I thrive on connections and the strength that comes from them. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one that craves connectivity on some level. This website will grow slowly in that direction over the coming months. I am working with a web guru to execute what I envision as far as making the website a “community”. I suspect that building the web interface will be the easy part of the process. Getting people to interact and share with one another will take more doing. I’ll need everyone’s help on that part. That’s the only way it will work – and grow.
There have been some who have questioned the wisdom of my folly and others who’ve dismissed the idea entirely. There are some who tell me to move on – that the journey is over. Literally speaking, the journey is over, in terms of the making of this movie but the journey was just the beginning as far as what this movie was meant to do. I’m not ready to abandon that notion just yet.
I’ve been using technology and social media a lot lately to get the word out about Opening Our Eyes. In doing so I have started to reconnect with a lot of folks from my past. I wrote a post recently on my professional blog, Journeys of a Hybrid, about using technology to reconnect with people from the past. I’ve never been one to actively seek out people from my past. I’ve never been to a high school reunion – and there have been quite a few. But now, it’s a lot easier to find and be found by people.
What I’m finding out is that when I do reconnect with people I haven’t seen in many, years, I find that the ones I “clicked with” back then,I still click with, now. Some have showed up at screenings and some at professional events – but each time we reconnected it was like resuming a conversation that had begun years ago – without missing a beat.
One old friend I reconnected with, said something to me that got my attention. We hadn’t seen each other in decades. He told me that he had wondered over the years, what had happened to me, but that somehow he knew that I was probably doing what it was that I was meant to do – and that I was living my life fully. He said he remembered my “spirit.” When he “found” me on Facebook and heard about the movie, he was prompted to reconnect.
As much as it is fun to go down memory lane every now and then, I am finding that using social media to connect with “new” friends is a powerful tool to connect with “friends” who are kindred spirits. I am in the process of working with a web designer to build this website into more than just my blog and information about the film. My vision and long term goal is to use the website to build a “community” – a community of like minded people who are interested in “making a difference.” I want to build a gathering place for people to interact with one another. I want to take it beyond just my voice. The film can set the stage for inspiration but the virtual “community” will give people a place to connect, share and learn from one another.
Changes on the website will take place slowly over the coming months – everything always seems to take longer than what I think it will take – but eventually it the site will morph into a place for people to interact with one another. I think these days – it’s more interesting to use technology in an interactive way rather than just present a one-way conversation via a blog post.
It will only be successful if the community grows and shares. I hope that everyone who reads this post will contribute to the dialog as it unfolds, and gets others to engage so that we can all create a shift – toward bringing about a world that’s less self centered. The best part is that with the technology at hand these days and social media, we can connect our past “friends” with our future “friends” and make this world a better place together.
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
I was catching up with a filmmaker friend yesterday and he told me that he was going to be working on a pro bono piece for a non-profit charity in his area. I was delighted to hear that because it was just one small sign that maybe – just maybe this idea of “making a difference” is catching on.
To be honest, there may have been a time in my life where I would have been protective of my creative ideas to a fault – but not any more and certainly not in terms of the focus of this film. What would be the point anyway? First of all this film was meant to motivate others to “do something” – anything really that could make our world a better place. And secondly – it really has no bearing on what I am doing – meaning whether or not I will succeed or fail if they do. I realize that someone does not need to lose in order for me to win and vice versa. In fact I’m of the mind that we are all more powerful when we partner and collaborate with one another toward the same end – especially when it comes to sustaining our planet.
It has amused me from time to time when I have seen people click the “unlike” or “dislike” button on this blog or other stories that I have posted on my Facebook Fan Page. Why on earth would someone dislike a story about a 14-year-old girl’s efforts in tutoring others at her school? I wonder sometimes why someone even wants to use their energy in such a negative way and if that in fact brings them pleasure – especially when it is affixed to something that is positive. Quite honestly I don’t check analytics much because I try not to let others negativity or negative opinions of who I am or what I am doing – determine my worth. Most times it’s merely a reflection of who they are or what they are dealing with in their own life. And so I do my best to understand.
But the simple fact is I’m just another human being – no better or worse than anyone else. I’m no saint – that’s for sure. I’m a passionate person and that is sure to rub people the wrong way. In fact there are times when I wish I could take a vacation from myself. I am only human, with my own frailties. While it may sometimes seem like I’m fearless and that everything always goes my way – I can assure you that there have been many sleepless nights where I lie awake playing out all kinds of scenarios in my head that are fraught with peril.
And so these days, I try to accept who I am, and be mindful of how I may affect some people and try to look for the beauty in others instead of the bad. There have been plenty of times I may have chosen to see only the negative side of things and have hurt others in the process but that has only brought more pain in my own life. So if I come across as an obnoxious goody goody at times – it’s because I try to be more compassionate of my fellow man. Do I always succeed? No, I am not perfect. I try to learn from past mistakes and do better the next time.
So please steal this idea – of seeing the good in people – and try to be a better person yourself. Think beyond yourself and your own inner circle of family and friends and go out and make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Imagine if more of us thought like that? And it just might bring more gratification in your own life – than hitting the “dislike” button.
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.