"...strong is what we make each other..." a repost in preparation for The Women's March

The following post is a repost from last year's International Women's Day which. It felt apropos to post today, the week before the Women's March. Photos individually credited, here. 
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One of the first articles I clicked on this morning -- on this International Women's Day was this extraordinary collection of photos/stories of female protest worldwide, and as I scrolled through and read the stories of these women, all of whom REFUSED to accept status quo -- who continue to REFUSE... who fight EVERY DAY for their lives and livelihood,  I thought of another poem by the remarkable Marge Piercy... about strength in the face of weakness and the power of vulnerability, about what it means today to be a woman and what it has ALWAYS meant to be a girl, about solidarity and camaraderie and the harmony of female voices whose megaphones were pulled from the ribs of every Eve who ever dared refuse an Adam.... About the GLOBAL village and who is doing what to raise whom

Because in the same way it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to embolden her -- to empower her and elevate her world. And so. Today, and every other day, I salute our international community of women and girls with love and gratitude -- for teaching and raising and risking, and pushing and powering on.  I salute you. 

For Strong Women
by: Marge Piercy

A strong woman is a woman who is straining 56c79a041500002b000b065a
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing “Boris Godunov.”
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A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.
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A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why aren’t you dead?
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A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
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Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.
A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar.
56c799f31e0000230070e6a7 56c79a061500002b000b065b A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
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A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
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What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.
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Thank you.

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First of all, thank you for your loving comments, support, personal notes and all around kindness these last few days. I have been working up the courage to post last week's post for... a while, but since the election felt tempered in my enthusiasm and began to question, more than usual, absolutely everything.

Raising money to make a movie suddenly felt petty considering everything that was going on – being an advocate for my project (and myself) felt inappropriate -- like setting up a lemonade stand in the middle of a funeral. I have never raised money for anything before, nor have I been this invested in a creative project, so putting it all out there knowing that the risks are as high as the rewards is somewhat (x 789789718923) petrifying.

I was CERTAIN that 2017 was going to be the year of the woman. That we would be celebrating our female power like never before. I was CERTAIN that, inspired by HRC and women like her, I would watch and learn -- and feel more empowered than ever before to FIGHT AND WIN. Because in 2017, that would be possible. I had this grandiose picture in my head that 2017 would be the female future we all rallied for. I thought that on November 8th, the glass ceiling would smash and we would all dance upon the pieces like YES. SHE DID IT! AND NOW WE CAN, TOO.

Instead, something else happened. And I spent many days and nights thinking about how that something was affecting me, my family, friends, our entire country...  Hillary's loss was personal for many of us but not as personal as her opponent's win... I have known men like him all my life. I have been afraid to stand up to them -- unable to say no... disgusted with my inability to fight back because "it won't be worth it," or worse...

The election triggered something in me that resonates with the core of what PANS is about -- a girl who reclaims her power after feeling like her community has stripped her of it -- not just the boy who assaulted her but the girls who stand by him, refusing to believe her side of the story. And while Pans is, of course, based loosely on Peter Pan, it is also a deeply personal story about finding and creating alliances with people who HEAR YOU while refusing relationships with people who would rather not. It's about the importance of SAYING NO and being UNAPOLOGETIC as advocates for our own bodies/minds/souls.

It's the movie I wished I had as a teenage girl.

It's also the movie I wish I had now.

Since November 9th, I have looked to myself and other women in my community to be my leaders. I have looked to my peers and a younger generation of outspoken young people who are unafraid and unapologetic in their dissent. Since the election, I have repeated ad nauseam to my children, to my family, to myself, that maybe it was never about one woman leading the free world but MILLIONS OF US leading ourselves and each other.

Maybe WE ARE THE ONES WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR.

Maybe there are thousands of other women who, like me,  have been working on projects for years about ALL OF THE THINGS we must fight against NOW. In trying to find a way to feel emboldened in this moment, I keep going back to that.

If it wasn't for November 8th, I don't know if I'd have an 8 year old daughter signing her journal every night, Your Future President... 

Sometimes it takes the rise of a villain for us all to become superheroes. And sometimes it takes writing fictional stories for us to realize our truths. If more women could tell the stories...if more women could cast more women, could hire more women, could explore more women’s stories, maybe we wouldn't have to fight so fucking hard to be heard.


My experience writing this script was parallel to that of my main character. It took writing this script for me to realize the depth of my own experience in the same way Wynne realizes how profoundly she has been affected by her assault. Perhaps this is why it's been so scary for me to write publicly about this project. My journey as a woman on this project parallels that of my heroine as she, too, finds HER power. Maybe that's always how it works but in my experience it has been revelatory.

Art heals. I don't think it knows how not to. 

So many things happened while working on PANS – reminders at every turn that making this movie is not only important for me and for so many other women,  but mostly for young girls who don’t have the opportunity to watch their stories on the big screen, specifically those about what it means to rise up, speak out against rape and resist the culture that supports it.

Hollywood prides itself on being a liberal mecca but pay attention and you'll see that toxic masculinity, whitewashing, racism, misogyny and chauvinism. (Showvanism?) are a Hollywood institution. Female directors STILL make up only 7% of the top 250 grossing films and to this day, the vast majority of films lack female representation behind the camera.

ED: In 2014, 85% of films had no female directors, 80% had no female writers, 33% had no female producers, 78% had no female editors and 92% had no female cinematographers, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

On-set harassment, even rape, are not isolated instances. And while, sexism is CLEARLY a problem behind the scenes, on-screen storytelling ripples WORLDWIDE. Exhibit A: Think about the favorite films our generation grew up with. (WTF.) Meanwhile, articles like this are published without irony.

Consumers have always been in control. We don't have to eat what is put on our plate. We can (and I believe we should) demand better.

Anyway. Now that the floodgates have opened, I have so much I want to talk about... when it's an appropriate time to do so.

Later this week, I will be directing a short tease that we will use to launch our crowdfunding campaign, which goes live next month. As of now, we are scheduled to shoot PANS this May on location in my hometown of Encinitas. We have already done one preliminary scout which was amazing. I am going to need a ton of help to get the word out for this project and will post about that more later as well. If you would like to reach me or my production team with any questions and/or investor/sponsorship inquiries you can do so at pansfilm@gmail.com.

Thank you again for your kindness and support as I navigate this project. The next few weeks and months are going to be crucial, so it means everything to me to know you guys are behind me. THANK YOU. We are putting together a really beautiful crowdfunding campaign that I'm really excited to share with you. 
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In the meantime, thank you from the bottom of my heart for empowering me to be better at empowering myself. I am, like my project, a work under constant construction, which is why I'm so beyond grateful and consistently overwhelmed by this community.

More soon + love and gratitude always. 

It's a girl. #pansfilm


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Ten years ago I started a script. Or, wait…it wasn't a script at first. It was a novel, actually. Ten years ago I started a novel.

Archer was a toddler and I had just finished my second unpublished book and was determined three times would be the charm. I was a force of fiction-writing nature in those days, determined to write one novel a year, which I did, until I gave birth to my first child. I kept writing, of course, hundreds of thousands of words a year… but most of those words ended up here, on this website.

Still, I was determined to write fiction. I was still young and had an unflinching amount of chutzpah when it came to rejection. Each rejection was a branch, I told myself. And I couldn't get to the top of thee tree without branches. So I climbed. And I climbed. And I kept climbing.

The original title of my third novel was Wendy and the Lost—a modern take on Peter Pan but from Wendy's POV. The book was my first for a "YA audience," although I never saw it as such. Adults do not suddenly grow out of reading stories. Old readers need young heroines, too.

I had spent much of my childhood LOVING Peter and the lost boys while despising Wendy and Tinker Bell, who were depicted in the book, as well as the Disney adaptation, as overly protective/maternal-to-a-fault/wet blanket (Wendy) and jealous/vindictive/mean spirited/mean girl (Tinker Bell).

In Peter’s world, as well as in my learned experience, boys were curious adventure-seekers who slouched and got dirty and had all kinds of fun being irresponsible and boyish. They were allowed to do stupid shit a la boys will be boys. They were curfew-less mischief-makers, digging their tools into trees and their heels onto gas pedals. They crashed into each other with their bodies and everyone applauded.

Over the years I drew parallels between the story of Peter Pan and my own adolescence. I grew up, in the way Wendys do, and in doing so realized there was much more to this story—to MY story—but also to hers… that in so many ways, Peter Pan represented what was lacking in fairy tales and bedtime stories and ALL WORKS OF ART WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND CONCEIVED BY MEN. There was another story, here—about a girl—whose narrative was never included in the book.

I read Barrie's Peter Pan several times through the years, always looking for a Wendy I couldn’t find. It became clear to me that while Wendy was intended to be the heroine all along—the protagonist—she remained practically invisible. Ubiquitous, yes, but also unnecessary—a girl transported into a world of boys only to be used as a sort of tool for contrast. Wendy's practicality and realism gave Peter and the boys that much more appeal. As for Wendy, we never got a chance to see, or even realize, her magic.

I found myself in many situations where I realized I was the same. I was living my story within the pages of other people's manuscripts and taking care of people who never bothered to ask me about my day. I said YES instead of NO to appease the stories of others, at the risk of losing my own.

I came to this and about 787897 other realizations when outlining the book.  I began drawing more and more parallels between the story of Peter Pan and the stories of almost every woman I knew -- girls who wanted to get lost in Neverland, too.

After an early draft of Wendy and the Lost, it became clear to me that this wasn't a book—this was a movie. I was already feeling frustrated by the lack of female driven films and stories told realistically for young people when my first daughter, Fable, was born. Fable’s birth turned me in a completely different direction as a mother and woman, thrusting me full-on into a creative and political femaissance.

Fable became my muse.
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My first draft of "Wendy and the Lost" (which was essentially about high schools kids and drug use) was atrocious and I hated every minute I spent writing it. I knew it sucked from page one, but for whatever reason, I kept on writing, kept on sucking, kept on despising everything about every word.

This is a first draft, I told myself. JUST. KEEP. WRITING. GO, GO GOGOGOGO!!!

So I did.

I wrote a second draft after that. And a third after that, polishing my piece of shit as best I could.

Then, after much hand-wringing and tears, I scrapped the entire draft (and months of work) and started from scratch. Same name. Same story. This time, though, "Wendy" wasn't just any high school student, she was THE KICKER ON THE SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM!

I spent months on this new version of my story. I stalked high school football playing girls on twitter—became obsessed with female athletes who competed against boys and men, and once again, wrote a very mediocre draft. I spent about a year with this version before once again scrapping and starting fresh— this time with a new title and a new (and also OLD) direction. This time, I would do what I had always done best: write a story inspired by MY experience.

And so, ten drafts and almost three years later, I started again.

New draft.

Page one.

Fade in...

Sometimes it takes a minute or an hour or a year or ten years to realize what you really, truly want to write about. It happens to me when I sit down to write a post. every. single. time. Most posts start out in completely different directions before I realize they are actually about something else. I've sat down to write about marriage only to end up writing about potty training. I've sat down to write about the politics of preschool etiquette only to realize halfway through I am actually writing about my own insecurity in large groups. Some posts take me months to finish. Hell, I have posts in drafts I started years ago.

Writing is a transportation vehicle, and sometimes when we least expect it, we end up in a field we could have only arrived at had we taken a Mack truck to get there.

This is what happened to me. I knew I had something important to say. I knew I had a personal story to tell. I knew Peter Pan was how I wanted to tell it. But it took many years and many failed drafts before I recognized what, when, why and how... 

When I met Linda, my now producer, mentor, guide and friend, Archer was in kindergarten. I was working on my newest draft of PANS, and over coffee mentioned it to her in passing. It was a mess, I explained, but it was getting somewhere...

I told her about Wendy's many incarnations and that in this new draft I was taking a far more daring approach to the character, basing her, instead, on me and my experience as a (gulp) teenage girl.

In short, I pitched her my movie. And in doing realized I had something. 

I've said this to Linda before, but I want to say it here, too. Sometimes we cannot see ourselves through our own mirrors—sometimes it takes meeting someone to say, "here, look this way..."

Linda heard me that afternoon and because of that, I was able to keep writing. And while it would take me another five years of rewrites to get PANS into its current state, Linda was there for all of it. She still is.  Her voice—Field of Dreams style—perpetually hums in my ear when I feel overwhelmed by the scope of what we're doing and what still needs to be done. "If you write this, we will make it. Just keep writing. Keep pitching. Keep meeting. Keep keeping."

“Do you want to direct this yourself?” she asked.

Without hesitation I said yes.

***

Two summers ago, on my 34th birthday, we had our first pre-pre-production meeting. The script was done (I’m laughing because it has been rewritten AT LEAST ten more times since then) and with it, my first glimpse of the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel. Months later, I met with our now casting director, and by January of last year, we were casting. 
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I took a picture that day of the empty chair before our first actor came to read for the starring role (Wynne/Wendy), and on the way home, I cried. I had never experienced anything like that before. One by one, INCREDIBLY talented teenage girls came into the casting room and became a character I had conceived. They dressed like her. They walked like her. They spoke her truth as if it were their own.
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At first, I tried to cover my scared-shitlessness with a false sense of “I got this,” but over the course of the first round of auditions, it became clear that separating my professional self from my personal self was not an option. And so I just went with it. My voice cracked. My hands shook. My sweat… was everywhere.

I recognized my inexperience, fully acknowledging that these young women, some as young as 14, had far more experience than I did at castings.

And yet, I had 34 years of experience being myself and, in that moment, and every moment that has come next – in rooms where I have been a novice amongst old pros – that’s what has mattered.

And so I let myself cry when I felt moved to cry. I became emotionally involved with every aspect of every moment. I made it personal, got attached, hugged everyone, and realized my strength as a director was my strength as a mother—that in the same way I wrote PANS for my teenage past, I was directing as a mother, present—that this project, more than anything I had ever creatively done, allowed me to be both my THEN and NOW selves. The mother and the child.

Over the course of the next several months, I spent Friday mornings with my casting team, reading young women and young men for the parts we would eventually cast. I watched audition tapes from actors from all over the world. I fell in love with MANY performers and performances -- mainly teenage girls and young women who blew me away with their REAL. 

I have more respect for teenage girls and young women now than I ever did before—for young actors who get a bad rap, specifically young female actors who in my experience have been INCREDIBLE and brilliant and warm and REAL and collaborative —every. single. one. 

I am floored and in awe by the support of women in this business, as well as three incredible men who joined our team last year as producers, KNOWING and RESPECTING and HELPING me realize my goal of an inclusive, female-centric crew—turning Neverland on its ass in order to recreate a better, more lasting land that includes EVERyone

***

It feels strange and also scary to finally publish this post.  Outside of close friends and family, I have kept this project mostly to myself—folded up in my back pocket for the better part of a decade. Meanwhile, I have spent thousands of hours on this project. Hell, THOUSANDS OF DAYS. But I’m ready. I’m exited. And I’m proud of the work I have done. 

There are times – like this one right now – when you find yourself at the top of your tree with ten years of branches below you and realize, holy shit, I'm really getting somewhere... look at this view, man! LOOK AT THIS VIEW! Which is what I’m allowing myself to do – today – with this post.

Over the years, there have been many times when I’ve thought, “what the fuck am I even doing?” There have been times when people have asked me the same thing. There have been multiple occasions of people trying to talk me out of directing my own movie…

“Why don’t you just sell the script and work on something else?”

“You’re still working on the Peter Pan thing? Don’t you want to sell it and start something new?”

… But that was never an option. I had spent too many years raising this project not to see her into adulthood…

Pans was my fifth child.

Pans IS my fifth child. A child I have raised and loved and learned A THOUSAND THINGS from.
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Which is why I’m writing this post – to introduce you, finally, to this project, which has lived with me for as long as I’ve kept this blog… I have honed characters, re-written plot lines, redesigned characters based on conversations I have had with you… and I’m so grateful for that. I’m so grateful to have a community of women who challenge and open me up – who make me feel safe, even fearless…

Thank you.

Thank you for helping me build a platform from which to share and speak and exist truthfully and explicitly, not just as a mother, but as a woman – ever-evolving, changing, fucking up, making it work, trying my best to fight forward, love deeply, speak my truth. Thank you for supporting me and each other; I am a better mother, a better writer, a better woman because of you.

And from here on out, I will be including you in this new mothering journey (and yes, it feels very much like a very long, very drawn out labor.) Because this project isn’t just for me -- it’s for my girls. It’s for my friends and family, sisters, strangers, you. It’s for every young woman who has ever been made to feel less than because of her Wendyness It's for survivors of sexual assault, most importantly teenaged survivors and those currently in the throes of adolescence. 

Pans is about strength and solidarity, vulnerability and dissent -- it's about speaking up and SAYING NO with ACTION and ART. It's about RESISTANCE and VOICE and what it means to stand with each other in solidarity. It's about young women who realize their power and raise themselves. It's about creating SISTERHOOD within the brotherhood.

It's about lost boys FOUND GIRLS. 

Will it be an uphill battle from here? Hell fucking yes. As I type this, we continue to climb what is now an enormous, branch-filled, treacherous-ass tree.

We still need a pretty massive sum of money to get us into production. (Yes, there will be crowdfunding campaign. Soon. Very soon. More on that in a few days.) And after that, there will be MANY MORE BRANCHES before we get to the top.

And yet…here we are...
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First day of casting, January 2016
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Here I am—exhausted, excited, scared shitless and, yes, I'm going to say it, REALLY fucking proud.

I'm making a movie. 

It's called PANSAnd it's a girl.