We had our first AFI/Directing Workshop for Women day yesterday. I was excited and more nervous than I wanted to admit. But from the first moment I saw one of the women I’d met during the interview process, my nervousness eased. It didn’t go away – I’m anxiety ridden by nature – but all of the women and the staff in the program are, quite simply, wonderful, and so I relaxed.
But my nervousness reared its ugly head again as we sat around a huge square set of tables and began to introduce ourselves. “Tell us everything about yourselves, from where you were born to where you went to school and more.” Shit. I hate talking about myself. Especially if I can potentially get emotional or – horrors – even cry in public. So, when it was my turn, I kept it safe. I talked about being a twin, going to college, becoming a DGA trainee and then becoming a writer. I got to the part where I changed how I wrote because, as I put it, “I had a major upheaval in my life that made me reexamine how I write and so I began to write what I was passionate about. And that’s how I was able to write this short.”
In short, I chickened out. That major upheaval in my life was my son’s diagnosis with high functioning autism. Now, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed by now, I’m not shy about telling people my son has autism, nor am I ashamed of him. Both of my children are incredibly bright, talented, creative kids who I’m inordinately proud of (no matter how much I bitch about them on Facebook). So not delving into that aspect of how I came to be at the AFI program had nothing to do with how I feel about autism or my son.
For a split second while I was giving my history at AFI, I contemplated going to that emotional place but I told myself I couldn’t because I didn’t want to be labeled the “autism mom of the group.” But for Christ’s sake, I was with an amazing, supportive group of people. That wasn’t going to happen.
I was scared to be vulnerable. I would have to tell them how Anthony’s diagnosed stopped me in my tracks, how I spent hours obsessing about how to help him, and more hours crying because I didn’t know if I could, how I stopped writing for almost a year so I could follow him around with a camera and document all the behaviors the state agency denied existed so they didn’t have to give him services, how I cut all that footage together into a half hour doc and recorded ten pages of voice over to go along with it, how I did this two times in one year to get him services, how it was excruciatingly painful to have to write about all my beautiful, intelligent boy’s deficits in order to get him the help he needed – I knew if I told them all that, I would break down. And I couldn’t bring myself to be that vulnerable.
But Anthony’s diagnosis changed me in profound ways. I listen more. I don’t sweat the minutia life as much. And I set aside the bullshit writing I’d been pursuing. No more chasing the market. No more writing from my head. It was time to start writing from my gut, writing from my passion, finding those voices in my head that screamed to be released. And once I did this, I wrote SIX LETTER WORD. It’s not perfect but it’s real. I’m proud of it. I hope to be proud of it once it’s a film. But I realized yesterday that in order for that to happen, I have to be willing to go to that place of vulnerability that I balked at yesterday, to let people know what drives me, what’s behind this story. I have to share my experiences, no matter how painful, because those experiences inform my film and my film can inform other people. I have to take a risk and trust that that risk will take me and my film where we need to go.
So today I jump back in, full force, and move forward with my heart and mind open.