Monday, March 23, 2015

Creating Space for Others

Kerry Washington received an ally award from GLAAD, and her “acceptance” speech was articulate and amazing! It’s an “acceptance” speech, because she is in no way accepting the the status quo and the inequality of our system. She explains that we as “Other” must support each other and that by creating roles in media that portray women, people of color, GLBT, and other marginalized groups, the American media will become more reflective of the American population, in which the norm is uniqueness. Congratulations Ms. Washington!

Kerry Washington accepts ally award at GLAAD

This screenplay has 14 speaking parts, 10 of which are diverse female roles! The moral of this film is that we are stronger together and that by working together, women have the power to the change our society. Some things in this film may make some people uncomfortable, but growth is uncomfortable. I applaud Ms. Washington, and hope that this project will soon be among the proud ranks of art that increases visibility of the marginalized.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Financing Family

"Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs in my field, since the payment is pure love." - Mildred B. Vermont. This quote makes my shoulders clench and brain scream. Whoever you were Mildred, and sadly because you’re a woman the internet has no record of you other than this quote, I respectfully disagree. Or perhaps you were being ironic when you said it. I can’t imagine that most moms feel well compensated for their work as a mother. They may believe their sacrifice is worth it, but there is no economic compensation for motherhood, no fair salary. This quote appears on the wall calendar in the group therapy room in “The Private Life of an American Mom.”

I believe in this project is because it portrays the real cost of our society’s economic failure to value parenthood and family. Throughout the movie, Mom and Jack spiral in an increasingly unequal relationship. It becomes clear that this fundamental inequality in the family stems from a socioeconomic structure that offers no support for families. The message is widespread in the American economy, from the terrible pay for most childcare workers and teachers to the fact that it is so difficult for women to find a job and return to the workplace after having kids. The message to women is: your work does not have value. “The Private Life of an American Mom” captures the effects of this socioeconomic structure on Mom and the other women in group therapy. This film shows that the cost is born in the health and minds of the women who are undervalued.

Jack is not a bad guy, and would probably call himself a feminist. When he recognizes the toll this structure is taking on his marriage and on Mom herself, he takes a drastic financial measure to support Mom’s equality. It is not a personal decision most would make nor is it a wise one in terms of financial security. Jack made the decision alone because he knew Mom would never support it, and he also knew that her health and dignity were worth the cost. Much like my own husband supporting me in this endeavor.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Road

Today’s quote and the one from March 5, are two of five quotes that appear on the wall calendar in the group therapy room in scenes of “The Private Life of an American Mom.”

Sometimes it’s a little tough to keep the faith on this project. I sent letters to over 40 feminist and mental health organizations asking if they would support the project by communicating with their members when the Kickstarter campaign launches. I heard back from one organization. Interestingly, it was the only Silicon Valley organization that I contacted. I haven’t given up, I will be following up with phone calls to most of organizations that received a letter. And I will probably try again when the Kickstarter campaign launches.

The plan for this project is to shoot some sample scenes around Easter and then to use those video clips on the Kickstarter campaign. I will launch the Kickstarter campaign in early May, before Mother’s Day. Then use that holiday to promote the campaign. After the campaign, I will decide what the next steps are… I may seek sponsorship support for some of the many products that families use everyday. Especially coffee, mmm… coffee, Moms live on coffee. During this schedule I will continue to look for a California SF Bay Area indy film production company or local producer. I will still be doing at least two blog posts per week at least through the Kickstarter campaign, and probably until this project is complete. We still have a rough road ahead, I hope to find proof of life for this project soon! I will definitely post the videos here as well. Look for the sample scenes in the second week of April.

Thank you, PLAM blog followers for sticking with me. I have to remind myself every day why I am doing this. I’m doing everything I can to make this movie a reality, because Moms are underappreciated and undervalued in society. Because mental illness is viewed as weakness and those who struggle with it are stigmatized. Because inequality is built in to our family structure by the complete lack of economic support for childcare and home-makers. Because the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing wider everyday and we need to start talking about these issues. I never thought I'd make a movie and do not wish to be a celebrity, but I believe in this project. It has humor and truth to impart.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Private Life of an American Mom - Characters (5)

The name of each woman in the therapy group reflects both traditional feminine associations and her personal role in the film. One thing “The Private Life of an American Mom” shares with many other works of fiction is that the secondary characters have backstories that are much more developed than the story is allowed to reveal. Fortunately, this blog is great place to provide more detail about these women who are important to the story even though they do not appear with the same frequency as Mom, Monique, or Jack.

Margaret - this character is fascinating and although her role is limited, she requires an incredibly talented actor. Margaret is bridled intensity. Of all the women in the group Margaret is the highest risk for harming herself and others. Margaret suffers from severe postpartum mental health disorders. Margaret, a white woman, is highly intelligent and was a high-level software engineer before she lost her job due to long term pregnancy related illness. Margaret’s husband is not very supportive or helpful with the baby and household work.
Margaret means “pearl” in Greek, which is appropriate: pure beauty formed from grit inside. This name also provide a dose of irony because Saint Margaret, the patron of expectant mothers, was martyred at Antioch in the 4th century.

Ling - Ling is Chinese and we don’t know much about her. Her gentle nature is often steamrolled by her dominant husband and mother-in-law. Her softness hides a steel core and profound wisdom. She has one child, a boy.
The name Ling is interesting because it can apply to men or women, but it has different meanings. The female meaning is “sound of a bell” and the male meaning is “new dawn.” It can also mean “small and exquisite” or “compassionate and understanding.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Private Life of an American Mom - Characters (4)

What’s in a name? Well, if you’re looking at the meanings of men’s and women’s names you will find very different things. Themes of strength and dominance related characteristics are prevalent in men’s names meanings. In contrast, women’s names meanings lean toward flowers, physical beauty, positive emotions, and submissive characteristics.

Gopi - Gopi is an extraverted Indian woman. She moved to the US as a child with her parents, her English is perfect and accented. Gopi is in an arranged marriage; she and her husband get along but they are not in love. Gopi lives with her husband’s family and they have one child, a boy. Gopi has a sunny personality and positive outlook on life, she works part time in office administration, and has a degree in business and is passionate about marketing. She does not love her home life, but has her own interests. She appreciates that she can get out frequently, because there are so many family members at home to take care of things and watch her son.
The name Gopi means devoted cow herder of Krishna, aka besotted milkmaid - there were so many times while breastfeeding that I felt that phrase could have described me. I loved the symbolism of this name and thought it would fit in “The Private Life of an American Mom” and for Gopi, who only has position in her family related to her husband and son.

Maria - Maria is the youngest woman in the group. She has three children, two girls and a boy, and is pregnant with her fourth. Her family is conservative Catholic and they do not support birth control. Secretly, she made plans with her doctor to have a C-section for this birth and have her tubes tied. Maria loves her husband and her children; she enjoys being a Mom, but feels trapped. She is aware that she did not have the opportunities available to most of the other women in the group. She takes what many will view as extreme measures to find relief.
The name Maria is prevalent in Western culture and history. It is the most common female name in all Spanish speaking countries. Maria is a Latin form of Mary and means “bitter” or “wished for child.” Mary was the virgin Mother of Christ in the Catholic and Christian religions. Maria is rich in history and the name is found across many cultures.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Calling All Mental Health Advocates

I have been reaching out to mental health organizations, looking for support for “The Private Life of an American Mom”. Here is the text of the letter I sent. If any readers have organizations to suggest or other promotional ideas, please contact me!

Dear Mental Health Organization, 

Your organization is committed to promoting awareness around mental health issues. My project aligns with your organization's mission. I am looking to gain traction in producing a mainstream movie that raises awareness about mental health disorders, wrestles with racial division, and confronts sexism. How can it possibly do that and entertain? Because it’s the story of motherhood in America. “The Private Life of an American Mom” is an intimate picture family life in the home, where mental health issues often remain concealed.
Our protagonist, Mom, is an exhausted mother of toddlers and has clearly been battling depression. The film’s opening scene is Mom’s first appointment with a therapist, who prescribes group therapy. The group therapy sessions in “The Private Life of an American Mom” reveal truths about mental health illness: 1) mental health illness falls on a spectrum, 2) those suffering mental health disorders deserve respect as individuals and recognition for their strengths, 3) persons suffering from mental health illness are empowered by sharing their struggle in a safe environment. Perhaps not all mental health organizations will agree with every part of this film, but everyone involved in mental health advocacy does agree that public awareness needs to increase. Making this story widely available will focus public attention on mental health issues.
If you and Your Organization are interested in increasing mental health awareness through supporting “The Private Life of an American Mom,” here are some options.
  1. Communicate with your members and contacts, via email or other media, encouraging them to support the Kickstarter campaign when it launches.
  2. Officially support the making of this screenplay into a mainstream film. Send notification in an official capacity that your organization supports this project.
  3. Advise further steps. Do you have any individual or organizational connections that could help make this screenplay into a film? Would you ask your affiliates to consider supporting this project?
If you are interested, but would like more details about “The Private Life of an American Mom,” I am more than happy for a member of your staff to read the script. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Space Between Us

Response to Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech calling for wage equality brought attention to the fact that there is division among marginalized groups in our country. I tried to draw a Venn Diagram identifying different marginalized groups. This attempt illustrates the point that we don’t fall into isolated categories, we are a beautiful mess. All of these groups are oppressed and we will all do better when we all do better.

One reason I am working so hard to make “The Private Life of an American Mom” a reality is that it presents some of the universal problems of being marginalized. The characters find unifying solutions and share their struggle. In one way or another, motherhood is something we all can relate to. PLAM characters come from a variety of backgrounds and their truth is that they find strength in their differences. The space between us is the room to for us to grow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle"

Here is an excerpt from “The Private Life of an American Mom.” This scene is the third and final group therapy session. Later in this session and scene Mom, Maria, and Margaret unveil a big reveal about the depths of depression. But for this blog post, let’s look at the classic feminist statement “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” It’s not a predominant part of this scene but the reference is intentional.

I learned more about the history of this aphorism from Gloria Steinem did not originally coin the phrase, but rather an Australian woman, Irina Dunn, in 1970. I referenced this aphorism intentionally to show respect for the feminist movement. Feminism is undoubtedly one of the big issues that characters in “The Private Life of an American Mom” wrestle with.

I even bought a T-shirt from an Etsy shop that makes unique tee designs with reflective printing on the back for bicycle safety! Thanks darkcycleclothing!

Today's quote came from reclusivedreams

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What next?

The script is done; “The Private Life of an American Mom” is good, it has relatable characters and deals with relevant issues… The struggle is to turn the script into a movie. And it’s worth the effort because it takes on important issues: the struggle of motherhood and the marginalization of mental health disorders. I am looking for mental health organizations and associations who would be willing to support this endeavor. But even if a big organization lends their name and support how far will that get toward making this into a movie? I can only try.

While writing I found a lot of insight from the Writer’s Write blog, the source of today’s quotes. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Private Life of an American Mom - Characters (3)

Monique is a thirty-something black woman. She, like Mom, is the mother of a 4 year-old and a 2 year-old. Do you ever meet someone and just “click”? You feel instant attraction to them, you just know that given a chance you two could share entire conversations with a series of facial expressions. It’s the best thing in the world when that feeling is mutual. Mom and Monique are both strong, smart women who struggle in their role as Moms. Their friendship is immediate, fun, and powerful. One characteristic that Mom and Monique share is that they make decisions based on logic. I used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI) personalities to define, shape, and understand how the main characters would act and what they would say. Monique is an INTJ. She is incredibly smart, driven, and does not tolerate fools. Think Olivia Pope from Scandal, with a few more chinks in her armor - she is a Mom after all. Monique copes with her mental health issues by a means that is all too common. In a lot of ways she is the hero of this story, and provides an object lesson that our weaknesses do not define us and admitting them allows our strengths to shine.

One of my pet peeves that often appears in movies and novels is the impression that the minor characters only exist in reference to the primary character. In rom-com movies there is often the “best-friend” caricature. This role provides some humor and way to discuss the primary character’s struggles. All too often the secondary characters are given no appearance of any interests other than how they serve the primary character. While writing, especially all scenes with Monique, I wanted the audience to have the impression that the story could have just as easily focused on another Mom from the group. I imagined Monique as the star of her own parallel movie and Mom could be her “friend” in that story. Monique is NOT a secondary character in “The Private Life of an American Mom.” I hope audiences leave with the impression that Mom and Monique were co-Main Characters and that their friendship is based on mutual respect and commonalities. Neither is dominant, both are strong, because strong women crave challenge even in their closest relationships.

The name Monique has multiple etymologies: from Greek it means “alone” or “one who advises,” from Latin it means “counselor,” from French it means “madonna” or “wise.” It was perfect for the role of this character. Monique stands alone. She often feels alone, she is not afraid to stand out and she stands up for others. PLAM’s Monique embodies all of these meanings.

A little bit about the Myers-Briggs personality types: this psychological assessment tool was developed by a Mother-daughter team! Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, created this practical application of psychology theory after studying Jung’s work. If you want to learn more about MTBI personality types, these are some of the sites I used for researching the characters in “The Private Life of an American Mom”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Private Life of an American Mom - Characters (2)

I introduced Mom in my very first blog post, since this whole endeavor is about redefining “Mom” in our modern world. There is no story without a struggle, no victory without a villain. Mom’s struggle is to find her identity in a world that does not value work in the home and yet at the same time requires it of almost every woman who becomes a Mom. Our villain in “The Private Life of an American Mom” is hard to nail down or identify as a single person. The villain is representational, and more often than not, Phil Kronus, the women’s psychiatrist, represents “The Man.”

His name, Phil Kronus, was carefully chosen, and the name comes with an incredibly rich mythology. First the name “Phil,” I loved the play on the sound of the word, similar to “feel” for  a therapist. The contrast is meant to amuse, since Phil Kronus in PLAM is not at all touchy-feely. I hope the audience will forgive him for being a bit straight-laced, because he plays an essential role in the script. He must represent some of the forces that hold women back, while at the same time doing a commendable job helping the group of Moms learn to help themselves and each other. Phil is extremely perceptive, but not sensitive or sweet. In the end, it’s not clear whether this group of struggling moms learns to support each other in spite of or because of his guidance methods.

The name Philip means “lover of horses” or more accurate historically, the leader of the calvary. This meaning leads to the idea that Phil is preparing these women to ride into battle. Aren’t women trapped in a perpetual battle? Or the meaning of Philip could be a reference to the wild woman who won’t accept help in the U2 song “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.” Interestingly, the meaning of the Greek word, philos, which is the root of Philip, means love between equals.

Now for the really good stuff: in Greek Mythology Cronus, or Kronus - and later, Saturn by the Romans, was the last Titan. The twelve Titans were the children of primordial gods, Gaia (the earth) and Uranus (the heavens). Uranus banished all twelve of the Titans that Gaia bore him to Tartarus, or the bowels of the earth inside Gaia. Gaia was furious at him and asked her children for help, only Cronus, the youngest, volunteered. She gave him an adamantine sickle forged within her depths. Cronus hid while Gaia seduced Uranus, then Cronus severed Uranus’ genitals and took the throne with his wife Rhea. Then commenced a “Golden Age” of peace and prosperity on the earth. But power corrupts, and Cronus feared being overthrown by his children. So Cronus swallowed his children until Rhea hid Zeus from him. And the cycle repeats: Zeus overthrew his parents…

It is interesting to note the gender roles going back to ancient Greece, circa 180 BC. (The library of Apollodorus). The interesting symbology of this myth is that the son of the earth overthrew his oppressive father with the help of his mother. Then once again the male deity oppressed his children, and once again the female devised the plan and freed her children, but the replacement male deity is given all the credit. Anyone notice a pattern here? Phil Kronus is the son of a mother, and yet I think he recognizes that he is part of the system that oppresses women. To break the repeating cycle of history, it must be women this time who wield the weapon.

The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn - fresco by Giorgio Vasari & Cristofano Gherardi c. 1560.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Writing and Hope

There is so much self-doubt in writing. It is such a difficult job to measure success. Too many days, even when I was productive, I still felt it was a waste of time. I never produced anything or measured any results there was never any satisfaction of a job well done, because, well, the words can always be better. I was always wondering what would happen even when I did finish it. (Hmm still wondering that.) Writing is difficult because there is no validation for your work other than the words you put down, and even if you like them, you still have doubts that anyone else will…  Knowing that other successful screenwriters struggled with self-doubt is somehow encouraging.

On one of the days that I was particularly discouraged, I discovered this pin about Sylvester Stallone. It gave me hope, and I did finish the screenplay. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Private Life of an American Mom - Characters (1)

Jocelyn Hughes says to “Treat all your secondary characters like they think the book’s about them.” In the case of “The Private Life of an American Mom” the story IS about the secondary characters just as much as the main characters. The story follows Mom, but in group therapy and as events unfold: it becomes clearer and clearer that Mom’s issues are faced by all Moms. One of the morals of this story is that motherhood supercedes racial, gender, and even individual identity, for better or worse. So “The Private Life of an American Mom” is about secondary characters; it is about all Moms. One reason PLAM needs to make it to the big screen is that most women and parents will find pieces of their story as they watch it unfold.

This script has a very small cast of characters, only 14 speaking parts. Another reason this screenplay is a low risk, low cost production. Here is the list of characters in “The Private Life of an American Mom." I'll introduce most of them later and give some background on personality and name etiology.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut & the Shape of PLAM

In “The Private Life of an American Mom,” aka PLAM, Mom experiences a lot of ups and downs. Most Moms would probably agree that their mood can go up and down quite a bit in one day. Toddlers are genius at pushing their parents’ limits. Hopefully audiences of “The Private Life of an American Mom” will enjoy the plot roller coaster and smile at its similarity to the parental mood swings throughout any given day with children.

Kurt Vonnegut delivered a beautiful 4 minute talk about the shapes of story lines. I applied his plot analysis to Mom’s experiences in PLAM, and graphed it, see pic below. It hits some of the key elements of the most popular story lines that Vonnegut identifies.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Unexpected Difficulties of Mamahood & an Unexpected Birth

Like many Moms, I struggle with motherhood. Some days I really need a shower and I resent that my basic hygiene comes only after feeding, cleaning, clothing, and even entertaining my children. These articles indicate that I am not alone in this.

The idea for a screenplay started kicking around in my head when I was in the middle of some miserable toddler and baby years. My family has had some bad luck in terms of health and life changes, so things were pretty intense for a few years. When we could finally afford to put the girls in preschool, I started writing. I had to get this story down and out of my head. I wrote “The Private Life of an American Mom” in a couple of months and I was happy with it. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was glad to be done with it. I was even more glad that all my misery had been channelled positively into a story that would have broad appeal and challenge cultural norms.

I thought that I would write it and hopefully sell it to someone maybe have enough to start a college fund for each child. I learned it is not so easy to sell a script or even get an agent. And PLAM’s beta readers loved the story, they felt it was their story. More than one person told me I should give up trying to get back into the workforce and pursue making this story into a movie. That’s crazy, and easy for them to say. So my difficulties with motherhood unexpectedly birthed the screenplay “The Private Life of an American Mom.”  And now, here I am, crazy because just like my other babies it doesn’t let me sleep and I’m scared as hell...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Introducing: The Private Life of an American Mom

Mom is the central character’s name. It is almost a paradox that she is the central character because her life is about putting everyone else in her family first. Her name is Mom because she has lost herself in being Mom. Her name is Mom because she is not one woman she is every mother in America, every Mom who has struggled with motherhood. She is every Mom who has ever felt overwhelmingly frustrated with her children. She is every woman who has ever felt that America propagates the myths that being a mom is blissful joy and that being a mom is the highest calling for a woman. I love being a mom. I love my children. But I’m calling society out on the lies about motherhood because I love myself first. What if we as Moms used our power as the bedrock of society to change society’s predominant myths about women and motherhood? It won’t cure our culture of sexism, but telling the story “The Private Life of an American Mom” is a start.