It's been 81 years since Virginia Woolf published her famously-quoted essay, based on lectures she delivered at Cambridge a year prior. And it's been decades since I read it. It has taken me just about that long to finally follow her advice; " a woman must have a room of her own if she is to write." Only this time I'm not just writing. I'm also directing -- an ultra-low budget feature film that is personal, intimate, and absolutely from a woman's point of view. It still kinda stuns me. After decades nurturing the voice and vision of other filmmakers, first as a studio executive, then as an independent producer, I'm daring to claim to my own creativity.
So here I am, in the middle of my life, filling up my own room. What took me so long? I was raised as a feminist; my mother gave me a subscription to MS Magazinefor my 13th Birthday. I embraced an education, followed by a robust career as a studio executive. And I considered it an empowering choice, for which I was grateful, to step off the career track and onto the mommy track. How did I loose track of my own dreams in the process? Or did the dreams transform?
When my mother was my age, she considered the best part of her life as behind and not ahead. My grandmother, at this same age, considered herself "old." And my great-grandmother most certainly was. But that was then, and this is the era of longevity, vitality, wellness, endless possibilities, unlimited expectations and constant, dynamic change. We've rewritten all the rules. But maybe rules don't apply, anyway. Maybe rules are scaffolds we construct to contain what we can't control. Which is just about everything.
My dreams and expectations changed radically when my child was diagnosed with autism. From that moment, and for the next decade, every thought in my head, urge in my heart and pulse in my body was redirected to helping him. When your child is diagnosed with autism, you're told that MUCH can improve. And that the most profound change can occur before the age of 5. My son was already three. So the clock was ticking, the meter was running, and I had a choice to make; pursue my own needs, or save his life. So I put away the screenplay I was writing, abandoned the film collective I was trying to form, and shut off any notion of going back to a traditional job. In their place, I organized a line of behavioral therapists, occupational therapists, auditory training technologies and cassein-free diets. And I thanked God each day that I was graced with the resources to do so.
And guess what? A miracle did occur. Now, at age 16, my child has emerged out of a fog of neurological chaos into days spent text messaging friends, logging onto Facebook, and rolling his eyes with embarrassment when Mom shows up and cramps his style. He is so reciprocal and engaged that his diagnosis is now "secondary autistic features." Secondary. Autism is no longer the first thing you notice when you meet him, if you notice it at all. It's no longer the first thing I think about when I wake up, or the last thing I think about when I go to bed. He is living a full life. And here's the good news and the bad news; so can I.
My life. What had it become? My marriage had frayed past the breaking point and was over years before it officially ended. My son was attending a residential boarding school, which continues to advance him leaps and bounds. And I found myself wandering alone, in a large and empty house. And then I saw it -- the door at end of a long passageway, bolted and forgotten. It was my own room. I unlocked and entered it. And began to write.
I wrote about what I had lived, as the mother of a child struggling to endure each new day. I wrote about what he had lived, with the hindsight of what no longer plagued him. I wrote with the hopes that those on a similar journey would feel the connection of identification. That those who didn't share it, might understand and identify with what makes us most human; love. I wrote a love story between a mother and her child. It poured out of me. And now that screenplay is about to be filmed.
Fly Away tells the story of a single mother of a teenage daughter severely impacted by autism. On the brink of adulthood, what used to work for the girl no longer does, and the mother must confront what every parent sooner or later must -- if our children are to thrive, we must let go. But what does a person with autism age into? What lies ahead for them -- and for us -- as they do?
The crest of the wave of the epidemic increase in autism is maturing. Our kids and our families are on the edge of a cliff, not knowing where to land. It's a huge concern, if not a crisis, for our community. And for our society, as one percent of Americans are on the spectrum of autism, with more being diagnosed each day. Fly Away dramatizes our predicament. The mother finds a place for her child to live. And then she must find a place for herself.
Today, we are in full swing, in pre-production to shoot Fly Away as an ultra-low budget film. An amazing cast of actors, including my dear friend Beth Broderick (brilliant in so many ways, as evident in her own Huffington Post blogs), and a hugely talented and dedicated production team, have joined with me. We formed an LLC, and are selling lost cost shares to investors. We're also supported by tax deductible contributions. A non-profit organization, Film Alliance, is sponsoring us, accepting l00% tax deductible contributions on our behalf. We have our own website (another room of one's own). Importantly, the leading national advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, will collaborate with us in a grassroots social networking campaign, assuring that our film will reach its audience.
It's amazing what can happen when you walk out of the room. But first, I had to remember it was there, open the door, and enter it. Thank you, Virginia.
Follow Janet Grillo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/flyawaymovie