• Courage can be an inside job

    by  • October 29, 2014 • Blog

    Right before things went bad

    Right before things went bad

    When I was fifteen, I hitchhiked across country in winter, running away from something and towards nothing.

    I remember what it felt to be handcuffed and shoved into the back of a police car, picked up for being a runaway.

    I remember the strip search at Juvenile Hall and the invasion of my body, already invaded by a trusted teacher and a beloved minister. The woman who made me bend and touch my ankles shoved her fingers into me, hard, looking for drugs.

    I can still feel, in the deepest frozen places inside me, the sound the cell door made when it closed and locked and I knew that nothing would be the same, not now, not ever.

    But most important, over and over again, I remember this image: I am fifteen, somewhere on the prairie sitting on a swing, overlooking a high school where girls are practicing cheerleading. I am not one of those girls. I am a runaway. It is really cold and my toes touch ice on the ground as I swing, back and forth. And I am singing, out loud, me, a girl who can’t carry a tune. I am singing The Sisters of Mercy. I still know all the words. “Oh the Sisters of Mercy, they are not departed or gone. They were waiting for me when I thought well, I just can’t go on. And they brought me their comfort, and later they brought me their song…”

    When I wrote the new version of this film last winter, all the real images flooded back to me. And I wrote and wrote and wrote, fourteen days without stopping. And I knew that the real title to this version of JANE is Leonard Cohen Saved My Life.

    The beautiful piece of art we created for the California Women’s Conference, Fire in the Heart, was born from that same place in me. And I discovered that so many people know that art has saved their lives – music, poetry, dance, film, narrative…

    I can feel it in my cells now – the film is on the right track. Girls do have an inner life, and it is often fierce and full of intelligence and longing. I have written, to the best of my ability and with all of my own fierce conviction, a film about the inner life of a bright alive girl, and what happens when things go terribly wrong.

    How do we become resilient? How did I not become a permanently scarred human being with a sad and scary future? At that time, I did not have a God or a spiritual base, nothing outside of me where I felt I could find refuge.

    Art and artists saved my life: Leonard Cohen, Mahalia Jackson Aaron Neville, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin,Linda Ronstadt, Tom Paxton. The books that held me together: Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook. Alice Walker’s Meridian. Herman Hesse’s Demian. The poetry of Anne Sexton and Maya Angelou. The films of Ingmar Bergman. Cities of refuge.

    I want this film to be made. I know girls need images that speak to their intelligence and resilience without them having to pick up a gun or a sword. So many of the films out about teenage girls demand that they be warriors, as if our future depends on their capacity to run faster, shoot harder, be courageous under fire. What about the courage it takes to not collapse in the face of difficult and sometimes horrific trauma? How do we build an inner life that sustains? How did Nelson Mandala do it? How can JANE do it? This is a film I want to see, and not just because I wrote it. I want both girls and boys to experience the building of an inner life, a subtle life, a life where meaning is an inside job.