Episode 21: GTN Awareness Week

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson with guest Marc Smolowitz

Release date: October 28, 2022

In episode 21, Chris and Emma were joined by Marc Smolowitz, a director, producer, and executive producer who is currently in post-production on THE G WORD, a feature-length documentary that aims to be the most comprehensive film ever made on the topics of gifted, talented, and neurodiverse education across the United States. We were happy to talk with Marc and help celebrate THE G WORD's second annual Gifted / Talented / Neurodiverse Awareness Week. GTN Awareness Week included a great selection of panels and programming from October 24-28, 2022.

In our discussion, we covered a range of topics, including storytelling, intensity, intersectionality, trauma, empowerment, and #GiftedJoy. Marc told us about THE G WORD and shared his history and experiences in the context of positive disintegration and giftedness. Chris is a part of THE G WORD’s Global Partnership Network, and we encourage others to consider supporting the film and its mission.

Bio: Marc Smolowitz is a multi-award-winning director, producer, and executive producer who has been significantly involved in 50+ independent films. In 2022, Marc is currently in post-production on THE G WORD—a feature—length documentary that aims to be the most comprehensive film ever made on the topics of gifted, talented, and neurodiverse education across the United States. The film asks the urgent equity question—In the 21st century, who gets to be Gifted in America and Why?

Links from this episode

GTN Awareness Week

THE G WORD website

THE G WORD’s Global Partnership Network

Thank you, Bee Mayhew, for editing this transcript! 

Transcript

Emma: Welcome to Positive Disintegration Podcast. This episode, we're joined by filmmaker Marc Smolowitz to celebrate Gifted, Talented, Neurodiverse Awareness Week. We're talking storytelling, intensity, intersectionality, trauma, empowerment and joy. Hold on to your hats because we're talking about the G Word film.

Good day, wonderful listeners. Welcome back to another episode of Positive Disintegration, a framework for becoming your authentic self. I'm your host, Emma Nicholson, and with me is Chris Wells. Hello, Chris.

Chris: Hello, Emma. Nice to see you again.

Emma: You too. Yeah. And we've just passed our one-year birthday as well, which is exciting.

Chris: It is exciting. Hooray 🎉 Thanks, listeners, for keeping us going.

Emma: Yes. And for your support and your feedback, it's always great to read your emails and hear your comments as well.

Chris: That's right. It's so great. Oh my gosh, the podcast has definitely exceeded my expectations.

Emma: It's been great. We've had a lot of interesting guests, covered a lot of ground and it's kind of a celebration for us. Um, which is a bit apt because, we're also talking about Gifted, Talented, and Neurodiverse Awareness Week, which is a celebration in itself.

Chris: That's right. That's true. We're excited to have Marc Smolowitz with us tonight.

Emma: Marc Smolowitz is a multi-award-winning director, producer, and executive producer who's been significantly involved in over 50 independent films. He's received numerous awards and nominations. Marc is currently in post-production on “The G Word”, which is a feature-length documentary that aims to be the most comprehensive film ever made on the topics of gifted, talented, and neurodiverse education across the US. The film asks the urgent equity question, in the 21st century, who gets to be gifted in America and why? Welcome, Marc. We're really happy to have you.

Marc: Thank you, Emma. Thank you, Chris. I'm really happy to be here with you tonight.

Chris: So Marc, I remember meeting you for the first time at NAGC in 2018. My friend Tamara Grady was on a panel with you and you were talking about “The G word”. It's hard to believe that that was four years ago, but I remember being so blown away by the clips you showed from the movie and just feeling so, I'm trying to think of what the right word was or what the right word is to capture… it really felt amazing to see giftedness captured in a film like that.

It was so powerful. You were dealing with talking about trans issues, and it just was so beyond anything that I'd ever seen in the gifted field. To that point, it was amazing.

Marc: Well, thank you. Yeah. It's hard to believe that that was four years ago. I think with the pandemic and how that has affected our sense of time, everything sort of feels like, you know, pre-pandemic/pandemic and now whatever we're in at this moment. Being at NAGC that year in the fall of 2018 was an extremely important moment for the movie and the entire enterprise around the movie.

We met at a workshop that I gave that was on LGBTQ issues and I focused on the trans characters that are in my documentary, Ilana Church. It was a really wonderful session right to really center trans voices and giftedness and that sort of intersectionality, and I could feel it in the room. I could feel how it was resonating with people that this was timely. This felt like what people were noticing in the field, in their lives and [in] their work and their families and their schools and in their communities.

There was a woman that came up to me at the end who, at the time, I think she's still there. She may have moved on, but she worked at the Grayson School, which is kind of in metro Philadelphia. She came up to me and what she wanted to talk about was how important it was for her to be in a workshop like this as an educator and hear from a filmmaker who was so willing to talk about pronouns, for example, right? To support that discussion and [be] willing to talk about who uses which bathrooms and why and to support that discussion. She was doing the deep and important work of trying to advocate for those discussions in her school, in her gifted school. Highlighting that, you know, these are students who are in our classrooms, right? People from all these different beautiful identities and communities that are occupying spaces in the 21st century.

They're all gifted and they're all in our classrooms, so it behooves educators in every kind of school to lean into that and be real about that and sort of strip out the politics, right? Just really understand who is in the room and let's support and encourage who's in the room to become their full, fully realized self. If giftedness is a part of their equation, their journey, we have to encourage that. We have to discover that, we have to create conditions that help these young people get on a trajectory with their potential, and their opportunity for potential. That's been the message of the movie all along.

These events are where I have been able to build those relationships where other people get it, right? Snap, the light bulb goes off and they're really excited how the movie and the movement that we're trying to support around the movie brings together identity and giftedness into the same conversation. I’ll highlight that one of the ways, I talk about the movie in a lot of different ways, and you introduced it by asking that equity question, which has been one of my main inquiries: who gets to be gifted in America and why? I think it can be in America, it can be almost anywhere, it's just centering that equity conversation around giftedness.

Another tagline or another descriptor that I use is a ‘polyvocal meditation’ on giftedness and identity. We have six stories, and they highlight all these different beautiful expressions of identity and giftedness, and one of them is trans, you know? That was extremely important to me to have that kind of inclusive representation in the six stories.

Each story also has a lot going on with neurodiversity, twice and thrice exceptionality. These are all in every story, but there's all different aspects of race, gender, sex, class and what I call zip code, right? So where you live or where you were born or where you've grown up and gone to school really informs your relationship to all this stuff around giftedness and how you will access those things or not.

I love that we met at that workshop and now we're much more deeply involved with each other, and you became one of our partners, and here I am on your podcast, and we're here to talk about GTN Awareness Week. What I'll say about that is that we're not just a movie. We're supporting a movement around the movie.

One of the things I am, in addition to being a filmmaker, is an impact producer. That word ‘impact’ is a huge part of my job. It's a huge part of my commitment to this kind of storytelling. Impact about all kinds of important topics and issues. I've made movies about lots of different topics, reflecting the concerns of lots of different communities. But here in the gifted communities, we've created this beautiful partnership network; groups around the globe that have joined with us and are on this journey together and like what we're doing, and they clicked with it and understand that identity and equity and these ideas and how they relate to giftedness are really such an important conversation to be having.

Chris: It's very powerful and one of the things that I love about what you're doing is that you're really challenging the stereotypes around giftedness. There are so many stereotypes of what it means, and it generally has to do with achievement. What you're doing is wonderful. In the end, I love how you have created this partnership network and just invited so many other voices to be a part of the work. I feel like I haven't been the best partner because I haven't participated in any of your meetings yet, they just always happen at a bad time for me, just because of where it lands in the day for me. But that doesn't mean that, you know, my heart isn't in it and I'm with you and we're excited to have you with us.

Marc: Oh, yeah. I mean, the nature of partnership is… I think in any meaningful partnership, you sort of drop in when you can, right? You participate when it makes sense. It's a no pressure network and the folks in the organizations that have more bandwidth are sometimes showing up for more meetings and doing more hands-on collaborations, but we feel everyone's engagement and support.

It's a wonderful thing, just being on this podcast with you tonight, [it is] a virtuous gesture of support. There are so many ways to be in partnership around giftedness and this movie. I’ve read a lot about positive disintegration and Dabrowski so I'm just excited to be here to even sort of, you know, lean into that part of the conversation I feel like a lot of the stories in the movie are fairly [good] exemplar of positive disintegration and those parts of the work that both of you are so passionate about. It's not as if the movie is going to kind of walk you through Dabrowski's theory, per se, because I think no one movie can do all things to all people.

There are so many interesting verticals within giftedness, right? that really are so, so, so important. Hopefully what the movie can do is be a convening opportunity for communities to come together and talk about those things that everyone is interested in and excited about and thinking about. I'm excited for the six stories to create those opportunities, those points of entry. Not everyone will exactly see themselves in the “G Word”, but one of the reasons the movie is called the G word is that we're all making it up, right? We're all creating it in our life, in our work, and whatever that looks like for you, hopefully it'll be in conversation with the movie when it's done.

Our partners seem excited about what we're trying to create because I think you know we're focused on storytelling first and foremost, and yes, I highlight our impact efforts and there is a social change component to that, but at the end of the day we're a storytelling endeavor. We're about giving voice to these things and isn't that just a pretty fun way to come together around something? At the end of the day, it's stripped of politics [and] hopefully you can be very welcoming, and I really try to think about the movie and what we're doing.

A metaphor I use a lot is… I try to create this sense that the movie is like a room. The room is warm and welcoming, and it has open doors and open windows and lots of light coming in and different kinds of groups with different perspectives are welcome to join us and in this really creative journey of bringing these stories to the mainstream, together. And as such, they'll be differing opinions about giftedness. I hope, I think, the movie is going to be able to sort of give audiences that sense of openness and that this is just a century of possibilities for all this stuff.

Emma: Marc, you just said that, you know, storytelling is a fun way to bring these issues out and to start discussion about it. I think it's actually probably the most critical way because as you and Chris both touched on, there are stereotypes around giftedness. One way to break stereotypes is to tell individual stories and sort of smash those stereotypes to say, “Well, this is what giftedness means for those particular individuals”. But also from a Dabrowski perspective, if we're looking at developing empathy as part of our way to connect with others, what better way to develop empathy for others and to start that whole thing of subject-object thinking, of seeing others as a subject, than to do it through story? Rather than just throwing facts on a screen, it's probably the most critical mechanism of letting people share who they are through story.

Marc: I couldn't agree more. And it's one of the tentpole beliefs of my work, right, is that storytelling belongs to everyone, and we all have our stakeholders in it. Every community, as we create opportunities for people, at the grassroots level, to really engage with storytelling, we see them, we see people, on a journey whereby they change. They change their perspective, and moving from the individual to the collective in that milieu of storytelling is also something we really try to support.

So the movie, through our impact endeavors, creates lots of points of engagement, lots of different types of opportunities for people to contribute their voices. And here, this weekend, I'm in Southern California where I'm attending a conference and I'm doing three sessions and storytelling is kind of woven into all of it, right? My first session is about trauma and giftedness and how trauma and empowerment and identity and giftedness are kind of in these really dynamic relationships with each other and sort of how I'm bringing that into the movie.

The second one is really about how that kind of storytelling doesn't just belong to me as the filmmaker, it actually belongs to everyone who wants to undertake it. I teach my participants exercises… things that they can do that they can bring into classrooms, that they can bring into their own lives, to empower themselves to find their voice or help others find their voice and all this. In this milieu of trauma that giftedness is so really embedded in, one of the things that we landed on this year for our GTN Awareness Week is this sort of theme called “hashtag gifted joy”,

For your listeners who may not be familiar, the G-Word Documentary Enterprise is part of our impact work. Last year, we hosted our first annual GTN Awareness Week, so ‘Gifted, Talented, Neurodiverse Awareness Week’ in 2021, in October, it was wildly successful. It just kind of blew us away. We had so much interest. I mean, I think in part, people were still so virtual in the pandemic that they were looking for really important ways to keep those connections going in the fall of 2021.

We had more than 2,000 people register from 16 countries for nine hours of free programming over five days and it was amazing. That programming is available on our website, and it's an archive, and it's always there. I invite people to go to our website and check out last year's archive because there's great, sort of evergreen, content there that you can connect with. Some of it has to do with storytelling. Some of it has to do with verticals of communities within giftedness. We have a focus on Latinx voices. We had an amazing queer and LGBTQ+ panel that was multi-generational. It had different generations in conversation with each other. That was quite an amazing night.

So these different tentpole subjects, that are very evergreen… This year we decided to do [it] a little bit differently and come up with a theme, and we decided to work with our advisors and partners to create programming together. And oh my god, it's incredible what everyone came up with! We have this great slate of different types of workshops and topics that are less ‘gifted one-on-one’ subject matter or, you know, introduction to diversity, equity, and inclusion within gifted, which is a lot of what we did last year. It's very specific in some instances, because the theme or the prompt or the invitation was to let's celebrate, let's lean into this idea of “hashtag gifted joy” or more pointedly, let's bring joy and equity into focus.

So the movie is about equity and giftedness, that's a huge thing that we're centering, but in that equity exploration, we see trauma. We see challenges for gifted and twice exceptional folks and neurodiverse folks and as I've been giving talks and working on this movie and seeing how the community is developing and using these different tools like storytelling, there's only so much trauma that people can sit with, right? Trauma is a phenomenon whereby you can really get stuck, right? And that is a very important piece of trauma, right? To break out of it can be very, very, very hard for folks.

It's really, I think, community that can be a way out of that sense of being stuck. This sense of moving from the individual narrative to the communal narrative, or the individual narrative to the collective narrative. For me, one of my things I've been highlighting the last couple of years is how trauma and empowerment are sort of two sides of the same coin, especially in these gifted spaces. You cannot talk without one or the other, right? And that these empowerment narratives are critical for people.

I was realizing that the empowerment narrative is often an individual narrative. It's a singular person's narrative. What we wanted to try to start supporting was more of this communal narrative, it's more of this collective narrative and that's when I landed on the concept of joy. We have to come around to joy. So in some ways, trauma, empowerment, and joy are like this three-legged stool. That's the visual I've been using lately, where they kind of all prop each other up and they can sort of stay in conversation with each other. And the joy piece is really the communal piece, the collective piece and we're seeing people grab hold of it.

I sort of liken it to LGBTQ Pride Month, right? Like, we as queer people, one month out of the year, we get to love ourselves unconditionally and publicly and emphatically and celebrate each other and in all of our beauty, complexity, and diversity! That's our month and it's because 11 months out of the rest of the year, we don't get to do that and a lot of times it can be really hard to be a queer person in any country and we feel targeted, there's so much stigma and shame. So why can't the gifted, talented and neurodiverse communities have a week, one week- we don't need a month, let's start with a week and let people come together in the spirit of joy and celebration much like Queer Pride Month. But, you know, come out of the closet as gifted. You can do it. You're safe here. And we can have some celebration. I think to your point, Emma, storytelling is a huge way that we celebrate. It's because storytelling is about everyone's voices and all the diversity of voices in the communities that we're celebrating.

Emma: That three-legged stool analogy really sort of grabbed me because we're talking in essence about the components of healing. Dealing with the trauma, getting empowerment and then experiencing joy on the other side. Through storytelling, you'd know as a filmmaker, Joseph Campbell, Tolkien talked about even seeing or reading someone else's journey can help take you through that process.

(20:30)

Marc: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, storytelling as it's been the way that I have healed myself through my own personal traumas, and I've had many. One of the things I often share is that it's my personal experiences with trauma, the things that I have also faced that I think was one of the reasons I felt I was the right filmmaker to actually try to help tell these stories and shine a light on them in a way that was actually useful.

I'm really happy that my three-legged stool visual resonates with you because I do feel like so often what we're trying to do as storytellers is really help find words to explain things that are hard to explain to other people or find images that are helpful to explain things to people. And I do that a lot as a filmmaker, right? But with giftedness, like that's all that folks in the gifted community are sort of charged with, right? So helping this strange, unknowable concept called ‘giftedness’ make sense to everyone who's outside of it… trying to not prejudge it, right? The movie, if we do anything well, I hope we have to be a great movie. We have to make a very good movie. The movie hopes to be in conversation with the mainstream about precisely that, right? This is not what you think it is. There's more going on here than what you think and it doesn't always look and behave and sound like you think. It's not just this white, male, cisgender, affluent, high achieving narrative. It just can't be.

On the one hand, I really do agree with you that part of my interest is in combating those stereotypes, but I'll go out on a limb here and I'll say I think there are just some really high achieving people out there. In fact this movie really believes that. There are smart, high achieving people, but more often than not, those are the kinds of folks that are propped up and have resources, right? And I'm a social justice storyteller- I'm really interested in giving voice to things that we need to support, to bring to the forefront for disenfranchised folks. Where are the black and brown and poor kids in the gifted conversation, right? The neurodiverse kids and the twice exceptional kids and adults, right?

If we could have those people be in the conversation, think of the societal benefit. I always use that as one of my important things I highlight- that this is about the benefit that we could all see in a very challenging century. If we could help people be met where they are to discover their gifts, whatever that narrative might look like for each individual, think of the societal benefit if there were more people on a trajectory of potential and opportunity. I sort of hesitate to use the word success, but I think whatever that individual person's version of success can look like for them, think of the benefits to the larger civil society.

We're talking about millions of neurodiverse folks out there who need to be met where they are and storytelling helps people empathize, like you say, it helps them see people who are different from themselves. I try to do that with the people in my film being a part of that process. I try to set up a real virtuous collaborative relationship with the people who are in the six stories in my movie. I really believe that it's not my job just to show up and throw cameras at people, document them in this fly on the wall kind of way as if I'm not somehow mediating that relationship.,

We filmed one of our stories on Native American reservation, there are power relationships, there are very real things that happen when a white filmmaker shows up, at a Native reservation to film. It's important, incumbent upon me, to be thinking about those things and to be very transparent about those things and understand that there are authorship implications. So, I hope I'm bringing that sense of inclusion into [this]. That's why I chose to do this movie with six stories. Some filmmakers would think I'm crazy, so many stories in one movie, but I felt it was extremely important that there'd be urban, suburban and rural voices and that there'd be different communities in the room and that the great diversity of our nation, you know, be in the room. So yeah, it's going to be six stories and I'm really excited to see how collectively they kind of share one larger story.

Chris: I'm excited to see them too. I don't mean to switch tack on you abruptly, but I'm wondering, talking about trauma makes me want to ask you about your own experience of positive disintegration, because so often I think they go hand in hand. I know for me, trauma more than once in my life, was absolutely the cause of an intense period of disintegration for me. I'm wondering if you want to share at all with our listeners what positive disintegration means to you? I usually ask people to talk about when they were introduced to Dabrowski's theory, but feel free to talk about this stuff any way you want.

Marc: Sure, I mean… I have been introduced to Dabrowski and this has come up a lot because I'm making this movie about giftedness, right?

This is a vertical of interest within research and it's a very powerful one and it resonates with me because it's very aligned with my own story. My experiences with trauma are sort of preconscious and begin with my DNA, in my cells. My mother and my grandparents were all Holocaust survivors from Poland. They moved, after the Holocaust, to Israel in 1950 and then to the United States in 1956. There's no way that I am separate from the sort of traumatic events that happened to my mother and my grandparents who were survivors of that genocide, right?

The way that I put a finer point on it for people is actually to share the numbers, right? So there were 3 million Jews in Poland before World War II. After the war, there were 30,000 Jews in World War II. Three of those 30,000 Jews were my mother, my grandmother, and my grandfather. So if those kinds of numbers don't give a young Jewish kid a sense of purpose, I don't know what does, right? In terms of [adding] more intensity to it, my grandmother, my grandfather, I used to call them Bubbe and Zadie. They had 18 siblings between the two of them, and all of them had husbands and wives and all of them had children and they all perished in concentration camps. So there's a huge looming cloud right over the generations that came right before me, and that lives in my body, that's in my self, right?.

And so that's the kid that started growing up in the United States, in this position of privilege, largely middle class, very bright gifted kid I was, and I've talked about this before with other folks, is that for me, my giftedness emerged in really positive attributes that were very external- like leadership and the arts and those kinds of gifted behaviors and expressions. Very, very high achieving very, very good at school, very good at everything I could get my hands on, really. I mean, I was a smart frickin' kid. We used to have this joke in my family that everything Marc touched turns to gold and there were just things, certain aspects of so-called excellence that came easy for me.

But then as I got older… I really attribute a lot of this to this sort of Holocaust narrative. My family, and this is not any pressure that my mother and grandparents ever placed on me because it was always talked about in a really open and supportive way, but I started to internalize a perfectionism narrative that really impacted my journey in very deep and profound ways, especially as I got older and I realized I was gay. That was a huge element of my life story that is tied to all this stuff with positive disintegration.

Much later in my life, I became HIV positive, and I almost died of AIDS twice. [I] learned a lot about myself and that very traumatic period of my life. Yeah, I mean, you don't face a really significant terminal illness, the way that I did and not look at yourself pretty deeply in the mirror, and come out the other side. There have been aspects of my life story that have really prepared me to tell these stories. One of the things I often say is that I don't know why I'm that guy that can do this. I'm one of those people who has been through some pretty difficult times, and I have come out the other side stronger and I don't know why I have that resilience, I know I've had some pretty dark times in my life, but I've mostly kind of gotten through them and have come out a lot stronger.

I wish resilience was a medication that we could just give people, you know, and sort of hope for the best, but as we know, trauma and all of these complex feelings around healing from trauma- it's not a ‘lights on lights off' phenomenon. It's much more nuanced and complex than that, so even when you are in a place of feeling well and your resilience factor is high, trauma can really yield its complex head in your direction in moments that you least expect, right?

Even as I know I have some resiliency, I know I have to always be very committed to taking care of myself in the face of all the trauma that I have survived. So yeah, I've had my share of challenges that fit in, I think, with Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration, for sure. To summarize my experiences with trauma, I think [it] made me potentially the right filmmaker to make this movie about giftedness. I could be useful, I understand what my characters have gone through, and I bring a certain resilience factor to it.

I mean, I will say that my own experience with gifted education was extremely affirming. It was absolutely a great story of a middle-class kid and suburban New Jersey schools and then eventually in LA schools who was met where he needed to be. met in order to get on a trajectory of potential and opportunity. I thrived because I was pulled out and put into gifted programs a couple times a week. That's a huge part of my story. And the more that I make the movie, I'm only affirmed for myself that that actually was so formative. I want other children and other adults to have that opportunity, to have that formative and affirming experience with their giftedness.

Chris: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Marc. We really appreciate it. And it's heavy to come from a family where there's been so much trauma, in a place where there was so much trauma. I mean, I hadn't even thought until you started talking about your family coming from Poland, that connection with Dabrowski, who, of course, was trying to do his work and was coming up with this theory during World War II and ending up working at a hospital where the patients had been exterminated by the Nazis a decade before. That kind of trauma is intense. And I hear you that it's not something that you can separate from your own experiences to come to have your family come through the Holocaust.

Marc: One of the things I really honor is that I have my story and some of it is ancestral, some of it is things that have happened to me during my own lifetime. And what I'm mindful of is that any person that you might meet or encounter has their own story, right? We all meet each other, in the moment, and we bring that entire set of accumulated ancestral memories and experiences and our own lived experience and memories and experiences to that moment when we meet someone. I think it behooves us to actually give each other a break and understand that trauma is potentially always in the room, right? And to take what they call a trauma-informed approach to life, right? You just never know who you might be meeting and what has happened to them that day, that week, that month, that year, you know, the prior 10 years, right?

Tomorrow, when I give my talk, the first talk, which is about trauma, one of the things I do is I throw up a slide and I put all the different types of potential traumatic events that we know of. They could be things like natural disasters and climate change, war, or, you know, combat veterans, crime, hate speech, or discrimination, I have a whole list there.

I just say,” show of hands, how many people have experienced one or more of these things, either themselves, in their families, in their immediate communities, or the people who are close to them”, and all hands go up. There's always a real consensus that, one of the things that we share in the 21st century is a real proximity to traumatic events and the accelerated way in which those traumatic events are reported to us. Even if we're not going through something, the news and information ecosystem that we're faced with in the 21st century can, you know, be this intensely accelerated thing that's coming at us.

It also triggers us in ways that we can't always make sense of vis-a-vis our trauma and our own past trauma. So people are dealing with a lot and we just have to give each other a break sometimes. I think people more often than not have had some experience with trauma. And so we can do each other a solid by taking a more trauma informed approach to how we do this work, do any kind of work really, right? Just even, daily human interaction, right?

And it's hard because people come with different belief systems, and it gets very complicated. We know it's an extremely divisive time, but I'm very much a glass half full sort of person. I know it's a very cliche metaphor but really it makes my point. You know I like the glass being half full, if the glass were half empty, I probably would want to shoot myself [chuckles] So, for me, again it's about how do we explain these things right, how do we make sense of these stories?  Joan Gideon said, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live”, right? It's stories, [it] is how we make sense of who we are and how we explain our experience to others. 

People who are dealing with giftedness and twice exceptionality and thrice exceptionality, neurodiversity or trying to find the right words to make it more understandable… you know, Dabrowski's theory, it's a viable tool for some number of people to really help explain their experience. What a gift when you find those words, when you actually find a language for your experience and you can use those words or whatever, words or images or stories to share those with others. I'm all on board storytelling. I think it belongs to everyone.

Emma: While your glass is half full still, we're talking about the theory. So moving on to the second leg of your three-legged stool, which is empowerment. I see the connection there with what Dabrowski talked about when you start that hierarchization process of figuring out your own values and sorting out and saying, well, this is not like me. This is something society has led me to believe. I really believe something else. [You’re] going through that process of figuring out who you are in preparation for living to your authenticity.

As a filmmaker, and particularly in making this film, have you seen the seeds of that behavior going on? Because obviously there's been a lot of trauma expressed. Do you see people moving on to the next phase from that?

Marc: That is such a great question, Emma. I absolutely see it. I see it all the time. And that is what has made making this movie so inspiring and such a beautiful, rich and unexpected period of work in my life. I've been involved in this film in some way significantly for six to seven years. And transparently, it began by way of an email that was in my inbox in 2012, so 10 years ago, that was the origin.

We know how much the world has changed in that decade, right? So even if you just look back at the last six years which have really been when we've been making the film- we did the majority of our production in 2016-2019.  I had to find the six stories that I was looking for, to tell the story that I wanted to tell about giftedness. What I was most drawn to in those stories was a sense of hope in those stories, a sense of solutions in those stories was where and when I was seeing that sense of empowerment in the stories and resiliency in the stories. That's really what I try to do with this work on the film, is show how my characters were evolving in front of me.

Many of the stories are longitudinal over time, meaning we follow people, over a couple years or more, and you really start to see how they're evolving and on that journey from trauma to something else and how the film supports that, how being involved in the movie was a part of that. One can only imagine, but it's all interconnected. Then in terms of the people and the organizations, the movement that I've been so fortunate to be involved in, supporting [us] through our partnership network, there are amazing people doing amazing things in this gifted neurodiverse set of communities that are just really about moving us closer to a place of healing around all this stuff.

And sure, different professionals in different places on the map have a different set of priorities or interests around what we do to get there, but there is a sense of we're on this journey together and this is a movement in motion. That was really exciting for me as a filmmaker to connect with and discover and become a part of.  I think there's a dynamic aspect to the movie because we've been following these stories during a pretty amazing time for the growth of these communities. I think also against the backdrop of a very complex nation and world, right?

It's incredible to see how education at large has been impacted, for example, by the pandemic- look at it through the lens of gifted and gifted education, and all the same challenges that become extremely specific for a very large number of people. People are grabbing at empowerment narratives in their own ways and their own work across these communities and we're just trying to encourage that in the work that we do with our GTN awareness week, by example. That's a huge part of why we landed on joy this year. I think I'm noticing the evolution in the community that we're trying to serve and support and I'm calling out things I'm noticing in ways [that] I hope invite people into that conversation. This is a conversation. This is a virtuous community. These are things that are what we try to hope to support and develop and bring out that are already there. All the impulses are everywhere. The people who do the work in these communities are amazing.

Chris, case in point, we met four years ago, and it's been such a wonderful thing watching you be on your journey and develop this podcast and all the things that you have been developing. Every one of our advisors and partners is on a journey like that. I think the empowerment narrative is a huge part of it. The healing narrative is a huge part of it. The joy narrative is one that we really want to encourage because to be a part of a community, you can't just show up for trauma. We need to celebrate, we need joy. I think for me, by way of background, I've always been an activist my whole life.

When I was in my early 20s, I landed in San Francisco in the middle of the AIDS movement. I joined ACT UP and Queer Nation and these were hugely defining years of my life where my community was under attack and people were dying right and left around me, which was another trauma that I lived through. Not only did I have my own AIDS story later on in my life when I got sick, I landed in a traumatic narrative in San Francisco, which was basically a graveyard in the late 80s and early 90s. We helped my generation, the Gen X queer kids that moved to San Francisco in the early 90s, we brought life back to that graveyard and we did it through activism.

So that activism story has been a huge part of all of my film work, it's really coded into my DNA. It's a part of my bones. I think doing activist work around gifted stuff is a really dynamic part of what this movie hopes to do. But I think in the older and wiser that I've gotten, I'm really committed to keeping as many people in the room as we can, that's a huge part of my goal. I mean, I love niche and specialized groups and discussions and we have to support those too, but we're the “G word” [laughter], we are the gifted movie.

I want most people to show up in the movie theaters or watch it on at home on their favorite streaming service and, and see themselves a little bit in the movie, if it's not exactly their story and understand that intelligence and neurodiversity and all this stuff is really related, relates to their lives and their own journeys. And empowerment is key, we notice these things in all the people we get to work with.

Chris: Yeah, I'm thinking about gifted joy. I have to say that so much of the work that I've been doing over the past few years has brought me so much joy, building a community of people who are interested in this theory and who find meaning in Dabrowski's constructs. It's been really beautiful, and working with Emma for the last year! I mean, if you had told me four years ago when I went to that workshop that you were doing in 2018  that I'd be doing the podcast now with Emma, I don't think I would have believed it, but it's been one of the best decisions I ever made because it's just it really took me out of my comfort zone and got me out talking about it. And again, feeling in community with everybody, it’s very special.

Marc: Well, I'm so happy. I mean, we're all on that kind of journey in our own way, in our own time, right? I actually think that when people take up the microphone and do something like podcasting, that takes a real sense of empowerment. In order to do that, you have to have a sense of self efficacy and self-worth and believe that your voice is going to add something to a very crowded, cacophonous milieu of voices out there. Giftedness is no different from any other topic or community, there's so many people who have something to say about it, right?

Having the sense of courage, the sense of bravery, the sense of ‘I'm the right person to grab hold of the mic’. I love that. I love it. You know, there's nothing more empowering. I love all the people who are podcasting in this space. I love going on my power walks in San Francisco in the park and listening to all of you fill my head and my heart with these ideas and these voices. It's been amazing to see that in some ways, Chris, I think you would agree, there is just an incredible number of people doing it. The diversity and the distinctiveness of all the voices is so important to what makes it all make sense for people. People need to have options, they have to be able to pick and choose and find their way through this stuff.

With your podcast, you and Emma are providing a place for people to convene around Dabrowski's theory.  I think it's so meaningful, and you're fulfilling a real important vertical within all these discussions. And I think, I'm sure you're seeing that groundswell of people leaning into it and being excited by it. Someone else will come up with the next gifted podcast. I can't even keep up with the numbers of folks who are doing it. Today I heard about one called “The Gifted Place”, which I thought was really cute. It's kind of like the “Good Place” TV show. It's The Gifted Place, right? [shared laughter] Yeah, so I thought that was a cute name for a broadcast about [being] gifted.

What's been happening in an amazing way these last few years, alongside these empowerment narratives being really centered in the community, is the centering of neurodiversity and the understanding that this is a neurodiverse century. That giftedness is a part of neurodiversity and that all these different exceptionalities that are in the room, in the conversation about giftedness are a part of neurodiversity. Even the neurodiversity movement and communities are starting to be more welcoming of giftedness and understand that we're having the same conversation, the same larger set of conversations. And that, to me, is something that I've leaned into very early with this film.

When I really discovered the concept of exceptionalities, twice, thrice, multipotentiality… I really feel like that's when it clicked for me that there was something deeply intersectional going on with giftedness that where identities in our brains and our intelligence intersect with our lived experience and that it’s intimately tied to our giftedness, to our knowledge and our ways of understanding the world.

I'm a real believer in lived experience and learned experience and you see that a lot in the movie where educators understand, ah, if I don't think about a child's culture, how can I really meet their needs around giftedness. And culture is just the beginning place of who they are, there's so many aspects of identity that we occupy in our lives, in the ways that we move through the world.

I wear a lot of hats. I'm Jewish. I'm HIV positive. I'm queer, I'm married to a man, I'm an activist, I'm a filmmaker. Some of those things are race, gender, class, sex categories. Some of those are things I call myself because I'm passionate about them or they're my profession or they're how I want to think about myself and how I live and what I do. I don't think we can separate any of those things from my gifted journey. I think each person who leans into this stuff is making sense of who they are in relationship to those things. It's the empowerment narrative, the eventual prospect of joy that I think propels us forward.

This is my message to the world: if you can, don't stay stuck in trauma. Try hard to not stay stuck in trauma. And it's [said] in the most supportive, loving way that I say it, because I know how hard that is. I have been that person. I had three years of my life where my life had to get very, very small because of illness. When you go to those dark places, you have to learn how to get out of being stuck. And it's the most amazing thing when you figure it out for yourself. I know this isn't exactly Dabrowski, but it feels related to me… One of the other aspects of giftedness that really resonated for me as I was doing my research and figuring out if I was the right person to make the movie was the concept of living with intensities. Some of the concepts of overexcitabilities and seeing those aspects of myself at different points in my life, playing out and how those things are connected to my own past traumas and ancestral traumas. And yeah, I mean I'm a pretty intense person, you know, and my intensity, you know, when it's working for me, it manifests as creativity. It manifests as leadership. It manifests, you know, all the things that make it possible to be a filmmaker and be an entrepreneurial filmmaker and help other people make their movies. Yeah. So Dabrowski is a really interesting way to explain a lot of things that are coming up in this milieu and I love it. I just love when there are words to explain things. That in and of itself is empowering.

Emma: This is what leads to joy, I think. A lot of the stuff that you've just talked about, Marc, particularly with intersectionality and developing all your hats, this is what Dabrowski talked about when he was talking about ‘you've got to develop all the dimensions of yourself or else you have asynchronous development’. You said about a squillion podcasts out there with a squillion voices, which is important because people have all these aspects to themselves where if they begin to self-educate and develop all those things is what's eventually going to lead them towards joy. They're truly being authentic because all their aspects are being nurtured and developed. rather than just one or two, they get that broad palette of all the colors. I think particularly for intense people or overexcitable people, I think it was Michelle Kane that we had on, where she's talking about some people are working with an eight pack of emotional crayons, right? The standard pack. Other people have the deluxe 64 pack with the sharpener and sometimes we're coloring with six crayons all at the same time. I think that multi-dimensional development becomes even more important when you are a more intense person, because you're feeling those aspects of yourself so intensely and deeply.

Marc: Absolutely, absolutely. I think everything you just said there resonates with me very deeply. I think we're constantly, as intense people, we are constantly trying to parse out how to feel whole in various ways around different aspects of our identities and our experience and how those things manifest in our behaviors.

I feel like whatever it is out there that you find for yourself that helps you feel that sense of calm or feel that sense of focus or feel that sense of being connected to who you are, even in all of your intensity, we have to create spaces for those things. Even spaces like this, where we get to talk about those things, that those things are going on for people and that we're not alone. It’s deeply therapeutic, extremely important, and absolutely how communities get built and developed over time. It's how that happens.

Emma: And again, sharing stories.

Marc: And sharing stories, exactly. And like I say, you know, if I can yell it from the rooftops, storytelling belongs to everyone. I'm this very lucky guy who gets to do this every day and call this my job and live a creative life.  I often say that, you know, like, I didn't choose this life, this life choose me, I had no choice, like, I had to be an artist, right? That was sort of my calling. I'm a very particular kind of artist, because I'm an artist who gets excited by helping other artists achieve their vision and dreams and goals.

But I feel like everybody has the potential to be a storyteller and to find their voice and to let it manifest in ways that are positive for them and help them through traumatic narratives. That's my message to everyone tonight, is that storytelling can be your friend. It can be a way for you to explore and develop your voice and help you empower yourself and others to really make sense of all this complex identity stuff in the 21st century. All this stuff can be beautiful, it can be joyous, it can be the things that get us excited to wake up in the morning, even as discrimination and stigma and prejudice and power structures are out there working against us to love ourselves or to take pride in who we are or to celebrate who we are in all of our complexity. When we find those spaces to do it, when we find those people and communal moments to share it, it is really, really important.

It's probably one of the more important things that I could advocate for as a filmmaker is that we all have a stake in this thing called storytelling and creating it together. I really hope that your audience will check us out and look at our GTN Awareness Week offerings. Maybe there's going to be something eclectically right there for you and one of your listeners out there who will connect with what we're trying to offer. Let us know what you think and how it manifested for you. This is a virtuous cycle, we want to hear from our followers we want to hear from our audiences, we want to hear what people think about what we're putting out there,

We have so much content. As Chris knows, I've made six short films along the way, I think she was speaking specifically about one that’s called “My Family Still Calls Me Gabby” that focuses on one of our trans characters. That's one of six short films that I've made while making this larger movie. I do that as a filmmaker along the way, these short films help me do so many things. They help with fundraising and they help with building out our enterprise, but they help me as an artist. They help me develop my filmmaking style, choose the characters, the experts, the people I want to talk to, the visual look and feel, the pacing, the editing, the cinematography, all those things. so people can watch those. It's almost an hour of programming and it's such a nice snapshot where we get to drop into different stories and different voices that are part of the the larger beautiful diverse you know milieu of gifted neurodiverse experiences and communities.

We have this thing called “hashtag my gifted story”, where people can contribute their own photographs in a fun way, so check that out. We have a lot of archive programming that I've talked about earlier that is just really, I think exemplar, of how diverse and amazing this community is and how many amazing people are out there doing deep, important work. Our job as the G-Word Enterprise, I think, is to try to shed a light on it, support it, amplify it, and at times center it, so other folks can be in the conversation.

I invite people to join us on this journey. We're so much more than a movie. We definitely are a movie, and there will be a movie, I promise, but we are supporting a movement around that movie, and we want to also be a part of that movement, and we want you to, if you feel like this is something that you can connect with, so be in touch.

Chris: Thanks so much for joining us, Marc. This has been wonderful.

Marc: Oh, thank you, Chris, and thank you, Emma. It's been my treat. I felt like we kind of went somewhere with the three-legged stool and all the things that I was kind of brainstorming with both of you about tonight. Thanks for the time and space to do that.

Emma: Thank you very much. I'm sure our listeners will get a whole lot out of this. And for our listeners, if you do want to check out any of Marc's short films or any of the resources, go to www.thegwordfilm.com and you can check all that out. And Marc, there better be a film because I want to watch it now. So… [laughter]

Marc: Well, thank you.

Emma: Don't hold out.

Marc: I am not holding out. I'm not holding out. I'll just leave you with this. You know, the shorts are a beautiful expression of different parts of the movie. The goal of putting together the larger 100-minute movie. That is a big, big project, so we're deep in it. We're in there editing and it is a beautiful and wonderful and creative thing in my life. And I'm seeing the finish line in the not too distant future. I've stopped putting specific dates out there because I want to sort surprise myself with that moment when I feel like, yes, this is the movie! This is the cut that we'll be ready for the world to experience. We're getting closer every week.

Chris: Oh, we're looking forward to it.

Marc: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Emma: Thank you, Marc. And thank you, Chris, as well, for joining me. Always a pleasure.

Chris: Thank you. It is always a pleasure.

Emma: And thank you, listeners. We're really pleased that you joined us as well. Always pleased that you join us. And thank you for joining us for a whole year of podcasting. Positive Disintegration Podcast is funded by the Dabrowski Center. If you like what you've heard, please consider donating through the link in the show notes. And if you're listening to us on Apple or Spotify, give us a rating or leave a review. If you want to get in touch with us, you can email positivedisintegration.pod@gmail.com or find us on Twitter or Instagram. And until next time, keep walking the path to your authentic self.