Women and Black History Month

Women and Black History Month

I watched last night as Viola Davis accepted her best supporting actress Oscar for her performance in Fences. She is the first black star to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony for acting. Bravo!

Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures star, Taraji Henson, who plays the role of Katherine Johnson, brought the real NASA physicist Katherine Johnson out on stage.  Johnson, now 98, made history as one of the first black women involved in the space race during the 1960’s. The film, an adaptation of Margot Shetterly’s book, tells the story of a group of NASA engineers, all black women, and how they computed the math that sent John Glenn into orbit. Henson, along with Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae did a fabulous job of making this piece of history finally come to life on the big screen. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie you should do both. My favorite film this year.

Throughout time there has been a long list of black women who have fought for freedom, made political and business history, and continue to fight for their right to inclusion and diversity in society today. In this country and countries throughout the world, black women continue to play a critical role in the past, present and future of our history.

A few that come to mind for me:

Hattie McDaniel was a 1940’s actress and radio personality.  She was the first black woman to win an Oscar for her performance in Gone With the Wind.

Rosa Parks, one of the most influential women in the fight for racial equality, refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus, leading to the desegregation of buses across the country.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the world’s first elected black female President and Africa’s first female Head of State. Liberia has continued to move in a better direction since she took office. Ms. Shirleaf helped my friend, Katie Meyler, build her first school for girls in Liberia.

Maya Angelou was an actress, screenwriter and director who became a legendary poet and award-winning author. Her book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Cries, remains one of the most inspiring autobiographies of all time.

Dame Eugenia Charles, better known as Mamo, was the first female Prime Minister of Dominica. She was a tough woman who survived a coup led by the Ku Klux Klan and went on to reshape her country.

Madame CJ Walker, born to slaves in Louisiana, became the first black millionaire businesswoman with her successful line of hair care products. Her philanthropic efforts included donations to the YMCA and NAACP.

Dorothy Height, one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington was the only woman seated on the speaker’s platform.  She spent decades working for racial equality and women’s rights.

Ella Baker held posts with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement.  She helped to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides, fighting segregation and promoted black voter registration during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

This is just a short, very incomplete list of the many black women who have made significant contributions in history.

In the United States, Black history month is an important part of our nation’s tradition helping to create awareness of the historic challenges African Americans have faced and continue to face today. But, should we only be reminded of this rich history during the month of February?  There are a number of museums and institutions that offer a year-round opportunity to learn more about our African American history.   As Morgan Freeman once said, “I don’t want a Black history month.  Black history is American history.” He makes a very good point.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Zac

Thanks Zac

Making a film is an amazing experience. Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery.  To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.  This past year has been a tremendous opportunity to test myself, make mistakes, correct them and feel a great sense of accomplishment.

I just got back last night from Arizona where we filmed the Sun City Poms, a rather famous cheerleading group, all between 55-85 years of age. It was a long trip with a major flight delay getting out of Philly, but we made it in time to get some sleep and wake up early for our first interview of the day. Actually a rooster woke us all up at 4 am, but that’s another story!

Traveling with an experienced crew is awesome.   I travel with a Director of Photography, a Second Camera person, a Sound Mixer and a Production Manager. Each plays an integral role in the filming of the subjects and uses multiple pieces of equipment to ensure we get exactly what we need. I can’t begin to describe the amount of equipment that goes into a film shoot like ours.  I wish I had taken a picture of it all gathered together in the many shipping containers, special cases, etc.  Hours are spent packing, unpacking, building and dismantling cameras and other equipment.  It is a major process for each crew member.

Zac, one of the owners of Expressway Productions, is our Director of Photography, or DP. He has been with me since the beginning of the project and truly understands what I am looking for when interviewing the women.  He manages the rest of the crew to ensure lighting, sound and alternative film shots are capturing all possibilities.  Aside from that he is the “King of B-Roll.”  That stands for background footage.  No matter where we are, or who we are shooting, there is ample time set aside to capture film footage related to the subject we are covering.  A most recent example: picture me driving a 12-Passenger van/bus (the kind that almost needs a ladder to enter) slowly through the streets of Sun City, AZ with a huge camera set on a tripod, touching my right shoulder and completely blocking my view to the right.  The lens is pointed out the front windshield and is capturing the neighborhoods, the orange trees and the senior citizens on golf carts.  This goes on for an hour or two until Zac feels we have enough footage. On occasion he asks me to stop and he hops out, grabs another camera for a close up shot of a sign he likes.  Little pieces of this footage will make it into the film.  I love waiting to see what catches his eye.

Zac is a perfectionist.  He does not quit until he gets the lighting just right or the shot framed exactly as he wants it.  I watch him.  He’s watching the light fade to night and he is springing into action to go outside and secure a light panel against a picture window.  That amount of light coming in through the blinds keeps the lighting consistent and we go on. By the end of the filming, forgetting about the panel,  I am tricked into thinking it is still light outside.

We ended our second day of filming in AZ with the Wickenburg Rodeo Days Parade.  Two and a half miles. Zac, Ian and Sean walked, jogged and ran the distance getting shots of the Sun City Poms from every possible angle. Sometimes they wore harnesses that held their heavy equipment, sometimes not.  They kept up with the 80 year old baton twirler and the rest of the Poms, with an average age of 74, performing to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart. It was quite a sight. I don’t know who amazed me more, the Poms or our camera crew.

I have no doubt that when I begin editing the many hours of footage from Sun City it will all be good and once again I will have trouble choosing what to use in the segment. Stay tuned!

Thanks Zac, for being a great partner and a truly exceptional DP.

Have a great day!

Love, Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is Something About Vermont

There is Something About Vermont

I have lived in a number of states and climates throughout my lifetime. I have been fortunate to have visited all but two states in the U.S. and several different countries. That said, I feel justified from an experience standpoint to say “there is something about Vermont.”  Those of you who know me have often heard me say I wished I was still there.

My family moved to Vermont when I was entering 10th grade.  I wasn’t happy about it then as you may imagine. Coming from a more urban area it was an adjustment. Walking into a new high school, (Go Rutland Raiders!), not knowing anyone, registered about a 7.5 on my anxiety scale.  Luckily I have the kind of personality that allows me to walk up to strangers and introduce myself.  Luckier was the fact that the first people I approached were kind and curious about the new kid.  It did not take me long at all to form friendships and get introduced to my new town.

At some point during this introduction I looked up.  I can’t remember the exact moment but I stopped thinking about what 15 year old girls think about and I noticed something. I saw the staggering beauty of the mountains that formed a circle around the town.  It was foliage season and the colors were spectacular.  The air seemed cleaner than what I had been used to and there was a slowness that existed around me that felt comforting.  It was like my breathing became slower there.  I actually recognized that at age 15, so there must have been something special going on.

Life went on, as it does, and I left Vermont for other places but came back twice and not because my family was there.  The second time I returned they had already moved away themselves.  I came back because I could breathe better.  I say that as a state of mind, not that I have breathing issues! It always felt safe and was a place where I could collect my thoughts and figure out my plan.  The combination of the natural beauty, the people and the simplistic way of life still suits me well.

Why then didn’t I stay?  Lack of opportunity for me back then was the real kicker.  I had two children I was going to have to put through college someday and the prospects of advancing my career were limited.  Add to that long, hard winters.  I was not financially equipped at the time to have the appropriate vehicle to live where I was living. Being semi-off the grid (only wood heat) in a drafty old farmhouse at the top of the mountain is a challenge in both winter and mud season.

Each year it took 9 cords of wood to heat the house using two woodstoves and I became adept at helping to split and cut wood. It was hard living but it was glorious.  Our view, all the way to the New Hampshire White Mountains, was breathtaking in every season. The kids could cross country ski out the door for as many miles as they wanted to.  The four room school house they attended had some of the best teachers they would ever have. My friends were the best.  There were locals and those who had come from all over the country because they too had felt that special something. I felt pretty rich then even though I had no money.

But it wasn’t to be forever given my nagging desire to grow and expand my future opportunities.

My last exodus from the Green Mountain state was 33 years ago. Seems I have lived a couple of lives since then.  I still go back, not nearly as often as I would like, and still dream of having a little house there that I can escape to.

Each time I go, as soon as I cross the border into Vermont, I take a deep breath and feel the same calmness wash over me that I felt 51 years ago when I was a sophmore in high school. It’s pretty magical and I have met others who say they have that same experience.

I get to have the feeling again this week as I drive north, entering into Vermont on Wednesday.  This time I will bring my work with me as I will be filming a woman in Lamoille Valley for the Beyond Sixty Project.  I can’t wait to get up there with the crew and hang out on Lake Elmore for a couple of days and take in the winter scenery.  Anticipating the feeling I will get is already making me smile.

I hope you have a place you can go to that gives you peace and calm.  Sure is worth the journey. If you haven’t tried Vermont I highly recommend it!

Love and Peace,

Melissa

 

 

 

Resolutions

Resolutions

Whenever I hear the word resolution I think of a new year.  I imagine you do as well.  It is something we grew up with.  It was common to have any number of people ask what you would resolve to do in the new year.  I suppose it makes sense as we have flipped 12 pages of the calendar. What better time to promise yourself something than in a new year?

The Babylonians did it as far back as 2000 B.C. They had a new year festival where they pledged to be loyal to their kingdom and promised to appease their gods. The Romans did it too, every January.  Did you know January is named after the Roman god Janus, a two-faced god they believed could view the past and future simultaneously.

Each new year brings us the hope of renewal and betterment.  What could I do in this new year to improve upon the last? As a kid I stated my resolutions out loud.  It was usually something like do better in Math or keep my room clean so I won’t get yelled at.  Those resolutions didn’t work out so well.  I maintained my average status in Math and my room stayed pretty messy until I moved out on my own. As an adult the resolutions moved to get more exercise and lose weight.  By the way, lose weight is the number one resolution made every year by millions of people.  Why is it so hard to keep these resolutions?

According to the Journal of Psychology, about 50% of the population makes resolutions each new year.  The top three resolutions include exercise more, lose weight and stop spending money you don’t have.  Did you ever notice the run on gym membership adverstising December through February?

The 50% making promises to themselves have a high failure rate.  Why?  Are our aspirations set too high?  Are our behaviors so patterned in us that we don’t know how to or cannot change them?

Making a resolution work requires more than an affirmative statement.  It requires behavior modification and focus. This is something not every human can do on their own, sucessfully. Did you know you actually have to create new neural pathways in your brain in order to change your behavior patterns?   I made resolutions kind of willy-nilly and did not pay close attention to the behaviors I would have to change in order to succeed.  I knew nothing about neural pathways.

Maybe if I had a math tutor and committed to an extra couple of hours of study each week I could have been above average in math!  Not sure what would have helped in keeping my room cleaner other than paying my little sister fifty cents to clean it for me. Losing weight was sometimes a bit of a success but not consistently.  I continued to ignore the behavior changes that would be necessary to get real with my situation.

Maybe the word resolution is too big and scary.  Should we do away with it and try something kinder and gentler?  How about using intention or plan instead?  Help me out here.

I have some intentions and plans in this new year but they don’t have an end date.  I will not fall into the trap of giving myself a specific timeline to complete or measure my successes or failures.  All intentions and plans will be based on lifetime goals and changes.  I will ask for help if I need it and begin each day with a quiet meditation reminding me to be focused in the present, not yesterday or tomorrow.  That is how I started today. It’s not feeling like a resolution but rather a path.  I suppose sometimes I will go slowly and sometimes I will run and maybe even stop for a bit, but I don’t plan any reverse action.  I am reading about how to rewire my brain so that my neural pathways are connected properly and will let you know what that’s all about!

I hope whatever resolutions, intentions or plans you have made in this new year come to you in good time.  Be kind to yourself.  It took a while to create you and your behaviors.  It may take a while to adjust the things you want to change too. Ask for help if you need it.  If you have been successful in creating new neural pathways to change your behaviors I would love to hear from you!

I am excited about 2017.  I hope you are too and wish you a wonderful year filled with good health, new experiences, love and lots of laughter.

Have a great day!

Love,  Melissa

 

 

A Look Back

A Look Back

2016 was quite a year. Unless you were hiding away all year in your safe place you know it was not a particularly good year.

In the United States we had a historic election. The battle to the White House was the nastiest in history. We had our first woman on the ballot.  She lost after securing the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes.  I will not elaborate.   It has all been said.

Europe saw continued focus on terror attacks with the worst assaults in Istanbul and Brussels.

In Orlando a mass murderer opened fire inside the Pulse Nightclub, our deadliest mass shooting of the year.

Britain voted to leave the EU, a real shocker to folks across the pond with rippling financial consequences. There are efforts underway to block Brexit so we will have to stay tuned.

Cyber hacks and WikiLeaks contined to make regular headlines.  The Russians have been accused of hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s email server, attempting to sway the election in Trump’s favor.  WikiLeaks may have conspired with them by releasing thousands of the hacked emails.  Data breaches at many of large US corporations may have put your personal information at risk.  Yahoo just announced this past week that their system had been hacked…..again.

Aleppo. A humanitarian travesty of epic proportions. Pray for these people if you pray.

Fake news.  Apparently it is everywhere.  Will 2017 give us a guide to help us find real news?

_______Lives Matter.

I will stop with this list.  It is not nearly complete but certainly highlights some of the top issues we have faced as humans during this year, 2016.

However, good things happened in 2016 too.

A woman was acutally on the Presidential ballot.  We have to remind ourselves of that milestone. The thick glass ceiling was shattered by Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris and Catherine Cortez Masto, when they were elected to the Senate. Pramila Jayapal and Stepahnie Murphy grabbed seats in the House of Represenatives.

The US women’s gymnastic team took home some gold!

Sexual assault survivors got a Bill of Rights ensuring their cases will be regulated fairly.

Friends of mine were married.  New babies were born. There is healthy food on my table. My family unit is well and working hard at their life interests.

I have hope for 2017.  Even though I consider myself a realist, I am also optimistic.  I have seen countless tragedies unite people to improve common causes.  I have a feeling we will see more of this in 2017. I will certainly continue to do my best to be a part of something larger than myself.

I was supremely fortunate in 2016 and for that I am very grateful. I hope you can say the same. Thank you for following my blog and reaching out to me with ideas and suggestions for my new venture. Your kindness and support is a part of what keeps me grounded and moving forward.  I appreciate each of you and wish you all good things in the year to come.

Peace and love,

Melissa

“You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one”

John Lennon

 

 

 

 

I Met Santa Claus: He is Real

I Met Santa Claus: He is Real

Santa Claus.  You may know him. He is also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas or just plain Santa.  Our modern Santa is based on the traditions of old St. Nick, a fourth century Greek Bishop and giver of gifts, as well as the British version Father Christmas.  Santa’s place in history is well established.

I know him as very jolly, with a white beard, small spectacles and wearing a red velvet suit with beautiful white fur trim.  He lives at the North Pole and has a workshop there where he employs elves to help him create and assemble toys and games.  I am pretty sure he keeps a list of all children that tracks their naughty and nice behavior throughout the year. All well-behaved children receive gifts from him each Christmas morning. He seems to be a forgiving man.

This year at Thanksgiving I was having a conversation with my oldest brother.  We were talking about Christmas Eve 1957 or 1958 when we lived in Fairfield, CT.  I was shocked to learn that he too saw Santa Claus flying through the air with his sled and eight famous reindeer that night.  I have known since then that I saw him.  For sure.  I don’t bring it up much. Who would? But now I know it’s true.  It’s like when two people see the same UFO. You can confirm it!  We saw Santa Claus.  It made me feel vindicated and happy.

This weekend I took my youngest grandson, Owen, to Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. They were having a winter festival and we thought it would be a nice drive to the country, away from the holiday shopping crowds.

When we arrived we parked the car and talked about how it seemed cold enough to snow. No sooner had we finished our short conversation and little flurries started falling from the sky. It felt kind of magical and we looked at each other in that knowing way, where you don’t have to say anything but your thoughts tumble out. Magic!

As we walked toward the little shop we noticed Santa Claus sitting in an old sleigh out in the yard.  Owen grabbed for my hand and slowed his pace.  He said, “Hey Grammy, let’s go in the store first.”  I sensed his hesitation about going to meet Santa and we headed into the store to browse.  When we had browsed thoroughly we headed out. Once again he grabbed my hand and steered me in the opposite direction of Santa.  We found ourselves at the organic hot chocolate table and ordered one.

Looking for a place to sit we found benches around a roaring fire pit, situated about 15 yards from Santa.  Owen made it clear that he wasn’t interested in going over to the sleigh to meet Santa but he was enjoying watching him from a distance.  Occasionally a small child would be lifted into the sleigh to sit with Santa and we watched as he talked with them. He seemed very interested in what they had to say, spending a good amount of time with each child.

Soon the short line was empty and we watched as Santa climbed down out of the sleigh. He started slowly walking in our direction and stopped at the fire pit, warming his hands. Not looking at us he said, “sure is cold today, isn’t it?” Owen stiffened a little next to me and I answered that yes it was cold.  We started a little conversation and eventually he asked if it was ok if he sat down on the bench with us.  Owen, eyes averted, nodded yes.  Then there we were. The three of us sitting on a bench by the fire talking about Christmas, the weather, about friends and elves and favorite toys, especially Legos.  Owen told him all about his friend Roman and they both agreed Roman might make a good elf someday.  As Owen and Santa continued their conversation I noticed a few children lining up at the sleigh to meet Santa.  Santa saw them too but he hadn’t finished his conversation with Owen yet and seemed in no hurry.  He was busy telling Owen how he had made a birdhouse out of Legos that was later destroyed by squirrels!  They have squirrels at the North Pole!

When it was time to leave and let Santa get back to his sleigh and the waiting children, we wished each other a very Merry Christmas and then Santa winked at me. He had a real twinkle in his eye. I saw it. Owen was silent on the walk back to the car.  When he was all buckled in he said, “Santa Claus is real Grammy, and he is very nice.”

I met Santa Claus on Saturday and he was as real as real can be.

I hope your holiday season is filled with magic!

Love, Melissa (aka Grammy)

 

 

 

Making a Movie and Finding My Pace

Making a Movie and Finding My Pace

For those of you who have followed me since the end of last year, thank you! For those of you who have joined more recently, welcome! Hanging in with someone who is working on a film project can be a bit of a time commitment, and I appreciate yours. I hope you will stay for the finale.

When I started this project a year ago I thought I would be finishing up about now. To me, a year seemed like more than enough time to complete the film. I looked on in astonishment earlier this year when I met with Directors and Producers at Sundance who gave me their film timelines. Five years, three years, two and a half years. Why did it take them so long?  It took me some time to digest that news and look at my project in a more comprehensive light. Remember, I came from a corporate culture where everything I designed and implemented was done quickly.  I was very used to producing quality deliverables in short time frames. Why should this be any different?

December 31 will mark one year since I “retired” from my long career and headed out to follow my dream.  I never saw this as a hobby or part time gig, but rather my new job. Since the end of last year, I have developed the idea for the film structure, partnered with a production company, set up my own LLC, trademarked the Beyond Sixty Project, spent more time with entertainment lawyers than I wanted to and completed the first six interviews for the film, including the post production phases of the process.  Oh, I almost forgot one of the more exciting aspects of this process.  I am ready to ink a deal with our first sponsor!  Even with all of these milestones completed, I still questioned the timeline.

I had the opportunity to speak with an established Film Director out in LA a couple weeks ago and she implored me to get off the phone, go stand in front of a mirror and and tell myself that I have accomplished more in the last 11 months than any new film director or producer she has worked with, and she has been around the business of filmmaking for a while.  Needless to say, that call left me feeling pretty positive and a bit more realistic about time frames.

My production partners have kindly cautioned me to not get ahead of myself more than once. They were right too. We have a nice balance together. I am lucky to work with them and draw upon their experience when it comes to production timelines.  I think my pace adjustment is now almost at a level of comfort.

Recently a friend asked me what I hope to accomplish with the film. The answer was easy. I want to produce a high quality, full length documentary film about women over sixty.  I want to help tell their stories of resilience and continued relevance.  I do not want to re-tell the stories of famous women. I want to help tell the stories of women that people would not recognize if they passed them on the street.  I want this film to bring to light the incredible strength inherent in so many women and maybe figure out where it comes from.

There are lessons to be learned from women, especially those who have stayed in the game past sixty and continue to be relevant and in pursuit of challenges and personal improvement. I hope young women who see the final production will be moved to seek out older women as mentors.  I hope older women who see this will be inspired to try something new no matter how old they may be.  I hope men, young and old, will walk away with a deep sense of appreciation and admiration for women’s struggles and their hard earned accomplishments throughout history.

At this writing I have completed my first six interviews and have several more to go.  It has been incredibly rewarding spending time with each woman and I am humbled by their honesty, self-awareness and willingness to share their stories.  While they each come from different geographic locations and family backgrounds, the common thread of resilience is always there.  I am fascinated by this and in the process of researching this trait in women throughout history.

Now back to scheduling my next set of interviews, editing current footage and meeting with my partners to continue on to the next phase of this wonderful project.  Thank you for sharing in my journey and stay tuned.

May your day be filled with all good things!

Melissa