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Turning “I’m Fine” into “I’m Freaking Awesome”

A letter to director and film-maker Grant Peelle

Dear Grant,

I was thrilled to discover that your documentary, I’m Fine, Thanks, was showing at the Ottawa International Film Festival on a day when I just happened to be in town.

I lived in Ottawa for twelve years — our townhouse was just a short walk from the World Exchange theatre that hosted the festival — but we moved away last July. Now we’re back in the area for a few weeks, visiting family and friends and catching up on medical appointments.

So by happy coincidence I was able to get a ticket and see the film in person rather than watch the download on my computer (I’m one of almost 4500 backers who contributed to the film’s campaign on Kickstarter).

My husband Shawn and I could have been a family featured in your film.

We had the steady jobs and the nice house, but I was never happy with the way that my dream of writing fiction got the short end of the stick. In fact, I was so unhappy that I ended up with clinical depression and spent years learning how to remake myself and my life so I could be healthy and write the way I wanted to.

Shawn and I followed the travels of your producer Adam Baker and his family in Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand back in 2009 and were really inspired by the freedom they found to do what they loved. In 2011, after months of planning, we embarked on our own Operation Hejira: Shawn quit his job, we sold our townhouse, and we left Canada with our two kids, aged five and three.

I’m writing a book that touches on many of the themes of I’m Fine, Thanks.

Pilgrimage of Desire is a memoir of our first year of travel that delves deeply into the Before aspect of my story, showing why I succumbed to depression in the first place and how I found my way out.

This past May, I ran a successful campaign on Indiegogo and raised $10,000 to finance the publication of Pilgrimage of Desire. The creative demands and the emotional intensity of this campaign were something I couldn’t have imagined handling even a year ago, but Operation Hejira has strengthened my confidence and resilience tenfold.

Connecting with the 157 people who backed my book was a highlight of my year. I can’t thank them enough, and I know you know how that feels.

What an experience to see I’m Fine, Thanks in a crowd.

Hearing the laughter when Johnny B. Truant talked about the banality of bread in crumb form. The gasp when the voiceover described how John Vogel and Nancy Sathre-Vogel cycled from Alaska to Argentina with their two boys. The tears when Victoria choked up about how she felt trapped in her life as an attorney, unable to spend the time she wanted to with her daughter.

I was struck early on by the short clip from your childhood, of your dad telling you to put the video camera down, that nobody wanted to watch all the footage you were taking. What’s telling is not only the moment itself, but the fact that you remembered it and were able to find that clip decades later to include in the film. That tossed-off remark must have made a big impression on you.

As I work on my own book, the story of my relationship with my mother and her influence on my choices in life has loomed large in the narrative. Of course our parents just want the best for us, but so seldom do they know exactly what that is (heck, we often don’t know ourselves). So I really believe in questioning the expectations of those closest to us, which can often send us farthest off course.

Another favourite moment of mine was the look on Karen Putz‘s face when she was barefoot water-skiing. I guarantee you that everyone in the theatre was thinking either “I want that!” or “Thank God I have that!” It reminded me of the day this past June when our family took a ferry to one of the Frisian islands in the North Sea and rode tandem bikes along the dunes. I couldn’t wipe the ridiculous grin off my face.

I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to talk in person yesterday, Grant.

As soon as the film was over, I got caught up in conversation with a coaching client of mine.

She and I have been working together since last October but had never met. She’s a screenwriter who was suffocating in her government job. As we were walking out of the theatre, she told me that she had just given her notice at work and will be spending the next year devoted to her film and writing projects. That decision has been a long time coming, so how cool to learn about it after watching your documentary. As you can imagine, I’m Fine, Thanks really spoke to her. We had a couple of long, emotional hugs afterward, and I’m really touched to have played a small part in her emancipation.

Thank you for taking the risk to make this documentary and put it out in the world.

Let’s get everybody from “I’m fine” to “I’m freaking awesome.”


{ 3 comments… add one }

  • MJ August 22, 2012, 9:27 am

    Ooh, thank you – I have to see this now too (says an attorney trying not to suffocate so much!)!!!

  • Karen Putz (@DeafMom) August 22, 2012, 10:02 am

    Alison, thanks for sharing! Love how you ended this post so right on– let’s get to freaking awesome!

  • Susan Gallacher-Turner August 25, 2012, 8:47 pm

    Great post…and I really want to see this film.
    How can I find it?

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