Tag Archives: journey
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
It wasn’t at all like I imagined it would be – it was so much better.
I met singer/songwriter Jackson Browne last night,
after seeing his concert in Montclair, NJ. The show on its own was amazing. Jackson did an acoustic set, his 17 guitars lined up behind him, a keyboard and a solo chair, all perfectly positioned on stage. He doesn’t use a play list for his acoustic shows – he simply picks out a guitar and plays the song that he associates with that particular instrument. It can get a bit rowdy with the audience shouting out titles for him to play, but Jackson is more free-form and picks up on the vibe of the audience. His performance last night was incredible – he sounded great and his audio mix was outstanding.
So, why am I writing about Jackson Browne and what does he have to do with Opening Our Eyes? Many of you know the answer to that question but for those who don’t, I’ll explain briefly. I’ve been a big fan of Jackson’s music for over 30 years. I also admire him for his social activism and his efforts (as well as his wife Dianna Cohen) in making a difference in the world. Jackson does countless benefit concerts for various causes and Dianna is founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a movement to get people away from “one use” plastic products – water bottles, shopping bags etc. So, both Jackson and Dianna personified what this film is about.
When I was struggling to find a title for the film, I was listening to Jackson’s music one day while on the treadmill. One of his songs, Alive in the World really resonated with me – it was almost like it had been written for the film, but at that point in time, I was far from even envisioning this project as a film – I was still in the planning stages of the trip. There’s a stanza in the song that goes:
“To open my eyes
And wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes
And finally arrive in the world”
….and I thought – “yeah, that’s it – Opening Our Eyes.”
I started manifesting in my mind that if Jackson became aware of our project, he would give his permission to use his song in our film. Long story short, this project has had many “angels” behind it and one very dear angel, Angel Burns – made this happen. Angel got Jackson and Dianna to watch the trailer of the film and he granted us permission to use it in the film. We can’t release it (yet) on DVD with his music, but we do have permission for community screenings and film festivals with the option to “re-negotiate in good faith” if the film gets picked up for distribution. If that’s not motivation to find distribution – what is?
In communicating with Jackson’s assistant, I mentioned that my husband and I had tickets to his upcoming show in New Jersey in October. I relayed to her that I would love to personally thank Jackson and hand him a copy of the finished film. She wrote back saying that she would set up AS (After Show) passes for us to pick up at Will Call.
That was a couple of months ago and I’ve been thinking about what I would say to Jackson, ever since. I wanted to make sure I thanked him of course and I wanted to tell him how meaningful it was for me to have his beautiful song as part of our film. I also wanted to tell him that Dianna had totally changed my thinking as to how I packaged the DVD’s. Rather than use a conventional “plastic” DVD case, I decided to package the DVD in simple cardboard slip jackets. And lastly, I wanted to give him a copy of a DVD I had made over ten years ago, The Delta Blues Musicians. It was basic and pretty crude because it was the first video piece that I had ever created, but I somehow knew that Jackson would appreciate. It was the stories of seven Mississippi bluesmen – all gone now but one.
So, back to last night. I was on such a high after Jackson’s performance. I was feeling so full – full of life – full of love – full of everything good. We had been told at Will Call when we picked up our passes, to gather at the front of the theater and that someone would escort us backstage to meet Jackson. I saw a crowd of people gathered there, and I figured that we would be shuffled through a “meet and greet” type of thing. Then one staff guy spotted my pass and looked at me and said “Gail?” When I responded with a “yes” (after a bit of a delay – I was totally surprised that Jackson would be expecting “me”) he told me “I’m John – c’mon.” So, John, Tom and I and one other couple headed up the back stairs to Jackson’s dressing room. John left us outside a door marked “Jackson Browne” and told us to wait a bit and that Jackson would come out in a minute.
After a few minutes, Jackson walked out the door. I hesitated, waiting until the other couple said their hellos and left, and then I introduced myself. He said, (in the nicest possible way) “so, I can’t wait to see the rest of the movie” and right on cue I handed him a copy of the DVD in the awesome packaging that digital artist Allan Davey had created. Allan is another angel who has become part of our project and that in itself has made an extraordinary difference in how this film is being received. Jackson remarked on how beautiful the packaging design and artwork was – I thanked him and handed him another copy to give to Dianna. I told him that Dianna had totally changed my thinking in terms of the packaging and had influenced my decision NOT to use plastic DVD cases. Jackson looked at me and pointed to his arm and said “goose bumps”.
There was one last thing I wanted to do and that was to give Jackson that old copy of my “blues” DVD. I told him that I should be embarrassed to give him something that was so basic and a bit crude – and that it was the first video that I ever created. I’ve come a long way since then – and so has technology. But I told him that I thought he would appreciate it because of the interviews that I had captured of all those old blues cats. I told Jackson that my interest in making that video, wasn’t so much about the music as it was about that time and that place in America that gave birth to that music. Once again, he rubbed his arm and said “goose bumps”. I know that Jackson will enjoy that video for what it is and for the stories that I captured. I told him that I had hours of interview footage of those old blues artists – and he thanked me and remarked about the importance of documenting those stories and recordings. I don’t know why I thought to give Jackson that DVD, but at that moment in time, it seemed liked all the dots became connected – like everything I’ve been doing over the last ten years was somehow related.
I apologize for such a long post, in a way I write this for myself – so that I will remember every detail. In all the anticipation that led up to last night – I thought it would feel like the end of a chapter. But instead, all day yesterday, I had this feeling that it was really just the beginning.
Thank you Jackson and thanks to every one of our angels and supporters. We can all do this together. We can make this world what we want it to be.
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
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.
I was preparing a print today to send off to the YPA for their upcoming auction and fundraiser. It was a portrait of blues drummer Sam Carr and it had recently been on exhibit in the Senate building Rotunda. The photograph was part of a personal project that I had embarked on over ten years ago: The Delta Bluesmen. The project consisted of environmental still portraits of the musicians as well as interviews of them that I had captured on video. This resulted in a short documentary and multimedia exhibition.
I thought that it would be nice to include the DVD of the documentary as part of what I was offering for auction. While making sure that the DVD played OK, I got sucked into watching the full 20-minute piece. It had been a long time since I had watched this film and it struck me that all but one of the seven musicians in the film had died.
At the time, I came up with the idea for that project, I really didn’t know why I wanted to shoot a project on these blues musicians – I just knew that I had to. It’s not like I was a super avid blues fan. I did love the music but I wasn’t one of those fans who could recite the “who’s who” in the blues world. I was interested more in the cultural background of these men and their music. What gave birth to that music in that part of our country at that time in history?
I listened to the interviews of these men telling their stories about growing up as poor black men in the South during the 20’s and 30’s in America. Sam Carr talked about a time when a lot of the poor folks, up and left to get the good jobs in the North. I couldn’t help but feel the irony as I listened to Sam’s story and reflect back on our trip to Detroit this past winter. We were there to shoot our last and our only North American story for Opening Our Eyes. Those jobs that those poor folks headed North for – are gone. So are the neighborhoods they once called home – now just derelict ruins and vacant lots. I wondered what the future would hold for the city of Detroit and for the growing numbers of unemployed in our country.
One thing did hit me though as I watched this film that I created so many years ago, and that that I had archived these stories for generations to come. That made me feel good and proud and that in my own small way I had helped to preserve that legacy. That’s more meaningful to me than just about anything else I can think of doing in my life. I believe that this is my purpose – to tell the stories of our time. That’s why I had to make The Delta Bluesmen – even though I had never done anything like that before. It’s the same reason that I had to do Opening Our Eyes. It took me a lifetime to realize my purpose and I am very grateful that I am able to fulfill it.