I felt an explosion of inspiration and, due in no small part to the amazing wisdom I’ve soaked in through the Emerging Women community, I recognized the quiet voice of truth and my inner mentor. I got to work. A couple weeks later on a plane to New York, I wrote out treatments for 10 episodes of “Belonging in the USA: Stories from our Neighbors.” Everything was in flow. A week later, I received fiscal sponsorship from Fractured Atlas, the very same day that I was heading to Los Angeles to spend a week shooting the pilot episode. From the very beginning, there has been a feeling of ease and purpose with this project. Emerging Women, and the incredible community of truth tellers and seekers I’ve met there, were catalysts in regaining the confidence in myself to do big things, like create a series.
For the past decade I’ve been helping families draw connections from their past to their present while mapping out the vision they want for their collective future through the company I founded in 2005, Legacy Connections Films. In my work as a family filmmaker, what has struck me over and over is how easy it is for us to lose the threads that connect us, perhaps especially when it comes to our own families. With this new project, “Belonging in the USA,” I am challenging all of us to connect the threads that link us together.
The series emphasizes connection, understanding, and empathy in a time when so many forces are constantly screaming that we are disconnected, dissimilar, and saying we should be afraid of anyone who is different. I reject this. I reject the notion that just if someone is different from me I cannot look into their eyes and see their human longing, yearning, hurt, and joy as my own. I reject it because I’ve lived radical empathy for years.
I’ve sat across from conservative male hunters as a liberal vegetarian woman and felt connected to them through our shared humanity. I’ve sat across from women who’ve suffered the loss of children in unspeakable manners and grieved with them, though I’ve never lost a child. I’ve sat across from wives whose sense of self has been shaped primarily by their children and by their husbands’ accomplishments and created the space to help them see their own contributions to the world as well, never once judging them because of all that I have done in my life. I realized years ago that one of my inherent gifts is that when I sit in witness to another being and look into his or her eyes, I see the child this person once was, and all I feel is love. This is the Native Genius that I naturally inhabit. At the first Emerging Women event in 2013, Kristen Wheeler described this and I finally found a name to what it is I was feeling.
Now more than ever is the time for me to use my Native Genius. Now, when even typically open-minded people have suddenly adopted an “us and them” mentality. Now, when many of us are feeling overwhelmed with fear, pain, and what if’s. Now is when we need to come back to what is essentially true. At our core, we all have a child that wants to be seen, heard and acknowledged. Connecting with this part of us is my Native Genius and will be a huge part of what you see revealed in the folks I interview.
This is all because when Trump became president of the United States, it caused me to wake the fuck up! I had been living in deep denial. A bubble of my own making, where everyone I knew and related to in my life shared relatively the same beliefs, ideas and ideals as me. And yet, I have felt the rewards of deeply listening to people that by all appearances I have little to nothing in common with. I wanted to find a way to consciously and deliberately connect with people who may seem different from me to counteract the influence of politics. So I will use my Native Genius to tell the stories of our collective, human family- the inner selves that are longing to be seen and heard – the parts of ourselves that transcend all apparent differences.
So I am creating a new kind of web series that will allow me to explore my own uncomfortable prejudices and judgments, a series that will force me to enter into communities and conversations that are not my own and ask questions, get curious, do a lot of learning, in order to bring about healing in my own soul. One of my favorite parts in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is her chapter called “Motives” in which she talks about how she would rather a person write a book in order to entertain themselves as a writer than to help her, as a reader. This stuck with me because growing up Jewish, I have often felt the heavy pressure to try to make the world a better place, tikkun olam. Her chapter on motives helped to put this in perspective. Now I realize that all I really need to do is try to save myself or entertain myself, and the right people who need a similar kind of saving or entertainment will show up to partake in whatever I’m offering up. This is making art as a gift to oneself, not just because we want to do something big and lofty – some grand contribution to humanity (though, c’mon, that’s totally something I want to do, too).
In “Belonging in the USA,” I will interview different people to share their life stories, experiences, struggles, and wisdom all through the context of this political shitstorm we’re currently living in (without making it all about this political shitstorm we’re currently living in). I want it to feel like you’re in each character’s living room, invited to join in on an intimate conversation between them and me, the curious seeker bringing out their story.
With this show I feel that I’m creating an opportunity to explore some of the themes and ideals that are most valuable to discover whether they are valuable to others. What is universal? What is true? Do you derive meaning from the same places/in the same ways that I do? And if not, what life experiences caused you to be/feel/act the way you do?
The goal of the show is radical empathy, the idea of experiencing another person’s life story as if it were your own. My vision for the series is that by getting to know our neighbors near and far we begin to imagine how we can all live through these difficult times together.
The pilot episode of “Belonging in the USA” features Michael D. McCarty, member of the Chicago chapter Black Panther Party, army veteran, acupuncturist, and professional storyteller who currently teaches storytelling workshops to inmates in the California prison system. Michael’s story is one of personal transformation, systemic transformation, and passing along the gift of transformative storytelling. Michael has been a friend of my family for my entire life, and he has been a great teacher of mine since my adolescence. I am honored that he has entrusted me to share his stories with you.
We will host screenings around the country to create opportunities to engage larger communities and particular communities that don’t often intersect to have public conversations about race, values, privilege, unconscious bias, what it means to belong in America, how to be a neighbor, and what empathy looks like in an age of ever-increasing complexity, pseudo-connection and anxiety. I hope you will join me in my efforts to share this work with a larger audience. Please watch our trailer on YouTube. Like it, comment on it, and share it with your networks. This will be the primary way to get the word out about our work. Click here to support this effort with a tax-deductible donation.