In this episode, we speak with Tessa Fleming, a filmmaker, director, teacher, mother, and artist.
This is a conversation about what it takes to live a life that you want. How to be able to step outside of our current way of thinking to take bold steps into doing something that makes us feel alive.
We talk about shifting perceptions about what we’re told how things ought to go, and boldly saying no thank you, that's not for me and going in a completely different direction. It's about giving ourselves the permission to do the bold and wild things we want for ourselves and to see in the world.
Tessa recently premiered a short movie called Us Time which you can watch for free.
In this episode we talk about:
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Tessa is a budding writer/director who started her professional life as a high school English, ESL and drama teacher. Tessa has lived and worked aboard, most memorably in India, on a mobile library driving through rural townships checking out books and delivering programs alongside local librarians to enthusiastic readers. It was here where her love of working creatively and collaboratively with others was solidified. Tessa loves stories and loves telling them. Us Time is her first film. Tessa lives in Guelph with her partner Daniel Grant and their two sons.
Ami: Thank you, Tessa, so much for joining me today. I'm so delighted and excited to have you on this conversation. I have been looking forward to this all week, so thank you.
Tessa: Likewise. Thank you, Ami. So happy to be here.
Ami: So in getting ready for our time together today, we were messaging back and forth around what we really wanted to talk about in this conversation. And you mentioned that you think the biggest task is to disrupt the thinking that life is linear and that we control we are in control of mapping it out. And you said that I really believe that if we get clear and into a vibration of what we desire, we don't have to worry about the how. Opportunities and people and pathways emerge when we live in the possibilities of pure potentiality. There is potential for anything. And I love that so much that just gave me such an awesome opening to this conversation, but be just an excitement to be able to unpack that a little bit. I'm curious, would you consider yourself a disruptor?
Tessa: I think my goal is to move towards desiring to see myself as a disruptor. But that is definitely something that I wanted to start assigning to myself, because I think you said it like when we live in the pure potentiality that anything is possible, that we all have, like someone said to me the other day, that all of us have within us the ability to do anything like literally anything. It's just the the will, the belief, the confidence to hone in and to harness that and to into doing it, to doing the thing. So I think there's a real power in saying I am a disruptor, even if there's hope, since I Know you're not. What do you what are you dare you call yourself that? So I have a real yearning to to be that.
Ami: I love that I yeah. That's it's relatable and it's something that I've turned to. I find that for myself when I've just made the decision to be a disruptor, I just I kind of stood in Distruptor and held that it's like I'm walking towards it and I'm coming. I have the energy of being a disruptor all the time. It's like I just am that, you know, as opposed to is when I do this and then I do that and then I do this, then I'll be disrupting something, just kind of holding it. Like right now I'm like, that's who I am.
Tessa: Thank you for saying that. I think that's really powerful because that has to come first. Everything else that's the how like the worry about the how we would we wouldn't be able to go to bed at night if we were to how things would happen in life. It's about getting clear on what we are and what we want to step into. And the rest is really details. By the same token, titles that we give ourselves, I think are most powerful because we are there's a choicefullness and how we step into that it has assigned to us. And I think for me, I think a lot of women can identify with this, the title of people-pleasing and caretaker and, you know, minimizing ourselves into smaller versions of really who we are. So I think disruptor is it is particularly powerful for women right now as we learn to shed old beliefs about our smallness. Hmm.
Ami: So tell me about that journey for yourself. Like what types of beliefs have you been in the midst of shedding for yourself to stand more in alignment with where you want to be and who you want to be walking a life with more meaning and purpose for yourself?
Tessa: Such a powerful question, and it's a question I yeah, I've been thinking so much about, I mean, I think for so long, it was about like what would bring security and safeness and where my interpretation of my intelligence and my smartness, where would that be the best fit? And people always said, oh, you'd be a great teacher, you should teach. And there was this like resistance towards teaching because school was very stressful for me, because I, I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself. And I have a bit of perfectionism in me, and it was just stressful, it wasn't the learning in the traditional school system didn't evoke or invite joy. It was about producing a certain mark to feel good about myself. So right now in my life, I am stepping more away from teaching and into the role as a filmmaker. And if you had told my twenty one year old self when I was in university that I would be making films one day, I wouldn't believe you. And I even now like it's giddy making like I feel an aliveness. And also still the disbelief, right, that. Oh my God, who are you calling yourself? A filmmaker. But this is the power of stepping into the disruptor. I want to be living a life of storytelling. I want to be my own boss. I want to collaborate with other people's stories. I want to tell stories that we don't hear. And I am stepping into that role. So that for me is a complete 180 and the career director trajectory that I had intended for myself. And you had said to me and we met about a year ago and you had said, you know, the teaching job is sort of like the golden handcuffs because it's summers off and it aligns with your kids schedule. But there's something inside me that doesn't want that.
Ami: What does that something want,
Tessa: It wants a lot more freedom. It doesn't want to within teaching there's absolutely a lot of autonomy in terms of what you're doing, but you're still teaching to a curriculum. You're still working under fluorescent lights where kids are meant to be seated six, seven hours a day. And there's just so much about that model that I find very antiquated and out of date. And I don't think it serves a lot of people under that building, under the buildings. And you have the brick and mortar way of educating kids, I really feel needs to be rethought. And covid is certainly reimagined it slightly. But I mean, I don't think the alternative is kids sitting at home on their computers. But for me, I yeah, I want a different platform to be with people and classroom.
Ami: There's so many things I wanna talk about. What you just said. I just want to share that is so fascinating that you just spoke about the school system because I was meeting with my coach yesterday. And one of the things that we got to of the things I really got to the depth of was that why I care so deeply about purpose and meaning was because for so long in my life, I was in a in an educational system that didn't fit for the way that I learned. And the what what happened was that in order for me to be able to sit still, to be able to get through the day, if I was given medication like I was on Ritalin for from the age of eight until 18, and I was like discussing and talking about how I felt so locked out of who I was, the child in the school system, like it was like I really was so hands-on and I needed to move my body to learn, but that just there wasn't that opportunity for me. And I felt like I was given this magical pill that said, OK, now you're going to be able to sit still and be able to be in the desk.
Ami: And I had so many negative repercussions for me. You know, I just really I had this big story that I'm not intelligent because intelligence is a certain way you can regurgitate information or learn in a certain way or be able to use big words and all those things that I just didn't. And so for me now, it's like I'm just like really learning and understanding that intelligence is so many things. And it's and it's so it can be it can be displayed and it can be. What's the I don't even know the word I'm looking for, but it can be present in so many ways. And so that's what I care so much about, is like unlocking that for myself and for the people that I'm working with and having conversations with that, that we all have such a beautiful gift and that sometimes our school system did us a disservice. And I felt like it didn't need a service. I don't want it for everybody, but I don't think it's true for everyone. I think for some people, people really excelled. But for me, I struggled and I feel like I was so locked out of so much of myself.
Tessa: Yes. Oh, there's so much in what you just said. I want to respond to. I mean, yes, yes, yes. And I think the people that you feel are magnetism towards right now, you see as disruptors are people that have really unlearned a lot of what they were taught in school. And I think they are I mean, I think the word disruptor, hopefully, and, you know, I mean, hopefully not many more years from now, but maybe that word it won't need to be disrupted will be people like self-expressing themselves. I think now it's disruptor because it is living through your own heart's desire almost feels like revolutionary, you know because I think of the school system. I mean, if the school system really honoured and invited kids to celebrate and step into confidence in the way that they self-expressed, I think we would have a lot more people living through their heart and not doing what they think they should do. And I mean, medicating a child because she learns in a different way. I mean, that to me is an example of why the school system doesn't work for so many people. And I think for me, I, I functioned in that way like I was that particular form of learning where you regurgitate information, you use big words and you stay in your seat and you and you like your teacher. I mean, I, I towed the line and I, I regurgitated that system, so I was praised for it. So that was this one narrow minded way of my intelligence that was manifested. And now I'm learning that I actually have all these other ways that I express that I prefer. And I do think it's gotten better. But the education system, the public education system is still very much celebrates a very one dimensional form of learning. And it really at the exclusion of so many beautiful intelligence that are kinesthetic in their body and want to be outside. And we're really not listening to children in the way that we should be.
Ami: Hmm, yeah. Thanks for saying thanks for acknowledging that and just and sharing your experience with it as a teacher, I think it's really valuable. And it's it just makes me feel really seen in in like my my experience, what I had. And, you know, yeah. I'm just I feel so grateful that I have been able to get that about myself and know that that's not that that identity that I created for myself. It doesn't have to be the truth that I'm doing really amazing things in this world, but I really, truly am. And it just has come in a different way. And I kind of love it now. It's like I keep saying in so many episodes, like I keep using this word like mischievous joy. I'm like I like I figured out how to do it differently, you know, like it doesn't have to be the way that that we said it had to have gone, that it can be done so differently. I love.
Tessa: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. You know, it's so funny. And education, when you think of it, it's actually ridiculous. Like we've got every person is entirely different. Like there's not one person born on this planet yet. We have this really monotonous, like monoculture of an education system where we have one teacher who's meant to connect with 30 personalities. Are you kidding me? Like,thats a no already. And then you have all kids who are meant to sit in a desk like I. I just feel like that's so counter to the individuality and the diversity of all the different souls in front of me. I really think it has to be blown up and and rethought.
Ami: Yeah. Thanks. Yes. I love to talk about your filmmaking. You're a female filmmaker and director and you've been passionate about the democratization of the film industry. And to me, that's really about making it more accessible for everybody. Would you agree that that's what that's about? Yeah. And something that you've been an advocate for and have been exploring for yourself is just disrupting the current trajectory of how people get into moviemaking. And you've just recently completed a short film called US Time, which is a female written, produced, directed story about female desire and sexuality and relationships. I love to hear about this journey that got you to where you are now and how you became a filmmaker and what that all took. And what did you have to let go of to get here now? And I love to talk about it. These is so many things. I don't we don't need to throw it all at this very moment. But also, let's talk about where that piece of trying to make the film industry more accessible.
Tessa: Yes. Well, I think with the advent of new technology, I mean, we're all carrying around many computers now. I think the smartphone, just like simply has really helped do that because we have really great cameras now on our phones and the option to take video footage. But I think I think it's happened slowly, but I think people are really, really ready to be telling their own stories and to be listening to stories where they see themselves. And so it's been, I think, on the heels of me, too, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, where the culture is reflecting the change that we're all really, really thirsty for. So I definitely feel like a participant in that and a part of that sea change that's happening for my own personal journey and making Us Time, like looking back, I, I still can't believe I did. Like you're like a female filmmaker. Yes, that's you. I took a course, of course, you've taken as well with with Kat Nantz on Rewilding The Feminine rewilding pleasure and piece of homework from that course you were my coach in that course was to make three bold requests.
Tessa: And again, So stepping into a life that you want not living small in. One of my requests was to a fellow friend, a woman who was also trying to live more of a creative life. My partner Zoe in this movie. And I asked her to look at some of my work and that morphed into she was writing scripts. I was writing scripts. I said, well, why don't we make a short film? And my partner is a cinematographer. So we within our own circle, we could do this completely on a shoestring. Daniel was going to shoot the movie and a former student of mine was going to do sound. My brother in law did music. I learned how to edit, I taught myself to edit and I edited it. And then we had our movie. So it was just realizing that we didn't need to apply for a grant. We didn't need I didn't need to wait for someone to give me permission to step into this new vocation or this new hobby or this new passion that I got typically.
Ami: How goes is that how it goes? Usually, in the film world, you typically don't just start a film and make a film like I don't know anything about the film industry. And you would love to hear more about that.
Tessa: Yeah, I mean, I'm just learning about it myself as well. But I mean, typically, if, you know, you want to be a filmmaker and you have the means to do so, you will go to film school. You can get a degree in film. A lot of people there's a lot of institutes in the States and in Canada. Daniel, my partner, went to Ryerson and then that's where it all sort of starts. And you make your connections and you start networking. And even then, though, like Daniel graduated with a class of one hundred people and only a handful of them, maybe three or four now at this point are still in the industry because it's incredibly competitive and it's very hard to get into or that's that's what they tell you. That, I think has been the traditional perception of that industry, that it's very hard to climb to the top. And there are a few people who are in control of all the money. And there's sort of this gatekeeper system, which I think is really being dismantled and people are starting to just make their own films. And there's a podcast now called No Film School, where they're giving really amazing tangible advice and wisdom and resources about how to do this on your own. There's websites like Film Free Way which make it really accessible to apply to festivals that are really off the beaten path. So the more research Zoe and I were doing, we're like, wow, this is really opening up. And certainly, I know festivals like TIFF have changed their policies where they're moving towards gender parity. I think within five years, all the films they accept, half of them have to be written and directed by women. So things are changing and it really feels like it's finally time for women to step into the role of filmmaker and to flip the gaze. So it's the female gaze we're looking at and not constantly seeing ourselves through the male gaze.
Ami: Well, I love how in your story the there is a big theme around sexuality and typically in our films we see it as the male having a big sexual desire. But in your film, the female has the sexual desire that would like to engage and is turned down. And I love how you just completely flip the script of sexual desire and show a woman actually asking for sex.
Tessa: Yeah, yeah. Come on. Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's funny that didn't at the time that didn't feel like I was flipping the script. I was just writing something that felt close to home and and interesting to me. But then it wasn't until I premiered the film and people were sort of saying, wow, this feels really fresh. And I've never I haven't seen this before. And I, I got so much feedback from women that they saw themselves in that role. And it's so common, I mean, it's not original within the dynamics of our own relationships, but it's not something we see on screen. And I think that's the real change that's happening is, you know, live lives rich with meaning and diversity. And we but we aren't seeing that represented in front of us. Hmm.
Ami: Well, here's the thing I love that you did in that Tesa. I love that you didn't wait for permission to make a movie. Like you didn't wait to go to school, to become a filmmaker, to get all of the accolades, to get all the things lined up. And then when someone says, OK, now you can make a film, you do it. But instead, you just said, I'm going to make a film and then tell me a little bit about like I think you were mentioning the other day about how, you know, you try to get into TIFF, you try to get all these festivals and you go into any of them and you're like, fuck it, I'm just going to make my own premiere.
Tessa: Yeah, I mean, that's the. What happened, I applied to the four major festivals across the country, like Vancouver, Calgary, Atlantic, and didn't get in, and we're still in the process of applying to some now some smaller festivals. But we just said we're not going to wait to get in to have someone else premiere our movie. So we just created a big event and we invited all of our friends and family. And we had yeah, we had over 200 people attend. We ask people to dress up. My sister-in-law is a singer-songwriter and she interviewed me on Instagram Live. And so we created our own fanfare around it as if we had gotten into a big festival. And I think that that's really what you have to do. I think you just have to it's again, it's like calling yourself a disruptor, calling yourself a filmmaker, and then it follows. I mean, and now I've been hired to do two music videos since that premiere because people like the movie and they want they've asked me to shoot their music videos and now it's happening, it feels like. But I did. I called myself a filmmaker first and exactly right things.
Ami: You were a filmmaker first. You didn't wait for the evidence. We've got to think so much of our lives. We've been waiting for the evidence of why we don't have enough evidence. We can't be the thing. But instead, you've totally flipped that and you said I'm going to be a filmmaker. And then the evidence showed up.
Tessa: Exactly. I mean, it's amazing.
Ami: Curious from you, how did how does trust play into all of this for you? How would you define trust?
Tessa: I mean, for me, trust is everything on this journey because, I mean, we all crave it, but what we don't see our lives unfold before us, right? We just don't like we are constantly being invited to come back to right now. And it's the hardest thing, I think, for all of us to do. Really. I think that would be my answer is to remain present and trusting that even though I can't see the path in front of me, I don't know what being a filmmaker will unfold in terms of being able to pay my mortgage or support my family. I love that old Tibetan proverb leap and the net will appear, but you have to leap first. And it's so hard on me, like there's so much in my personality that yearns for structure and predictability. But then there's this other competing force that's just like jump like be free. And those two things are constantly battling. But I have to quiet the doubts and really try to amplify the leap in me because that always satiates me way more. And I feel intuitively in my gut that that is what needs to be heard beyond the doubt.
Ami: Hmm. I'm hearing there's like a spiritual element to trust for you.
Tessa: Yes. Big time. Yeah, big time. I, I think this path I'm walking is. Yeah. I mean it, it is. It's all spirit. I mean I that's the reason I think we're all here is to try and to learn how to trust and to remember that we're connected, we're also connected to each other. And I think when we can step into that connection and that trust and know that we're really never alone, that we're surrounded by an entity, call it what you will, that supports all of us, that we are supported and we can we do have the resources within to make those leaps, you know, to really wake up, to be conscious of our own conscious, to bring consciousness into what we do is to bring presence into what we do, and that is the aliveness we feel when we can really drop into the moment. And that really is is is where all ideas and inspired thought comes from. Right. When we can be in that presence. And if you and I said the other day, like, you never sink your way into a solution. Right. It really comes from stillness and a place of trust. Hmm.
Ami: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I, you know, I've been really something I care so deeply about is is my is my spirit full belief in entrusting something greater than myself. And I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have a strong belief in the belief in that. The thing that I love about it, though, is that for me, I've created what I want my spiritual being to be like that. That was something that I took me a long time as someone that was raised in a Christian church and all of those things. I thought that spiritually had to be a certain thing and I had to look a certain way and to speak to it in a certain tone of voice and, you know, in your body, in a certain position. And and I've just been learning that if I can be anything that I want it to be and I can call it whatever I want. And I mean, the other thing is, is like whether or not anyone believes in that, I don't care, because for me, it really works for me. It really helps me make very risky decisions. It literally is what will allow me to take the leap to know that I will be caught, because never in my life have I never been caught. I, I don't actually have evidence for not being caught and might not be caught with the same color net that I thought was going to be. But I'm definitely going to get at the right time. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I'm always caught. So, you know, not just like that is that transitions into what I want to talk about next, which is a conversation on motherhood. You're a mother with two young children under the age of four. I'm a mother of two young children under the age of six. And as mothers are so much creative output that goes into raising our children. And how do we save some of that for ourselves, like what has that been like for you?
Tessa: Yeah, I mean, that's the question. And I think I'm just yeah, I think my journey as a mother is getting better at that. Someone said it's not about balance. Actually, it's it's out of balance right now. Right. Like we are mothers at an age group of our kids have a lot of demands, but it's about harmony. It's like how do we create a harmony where our kids needs can be met within reason and how we can also feed ourselves And I think it's really it's a challenge for sure. But I think creative people that want to live through their heart are up for that challenge. I I'm reading I don't know if you've read women who run with the wolves. Yeah. Real seminal book for her author. Clarissa Forgotten how I don't remember a lot. Yeah. She was a single mom with two kids and she wrote that, she wrote it over 10 years and she just wrote it in 15 minute increments and she just dropped in and she dropped out and she got really good at coming in and out. And, you know, I think at some point I realized I can't wait until my kids are in school or they're older for that golden opportunity to start living my dreams or to start feeding my own creativity. That really has to happen now. I thought I want to near that for them, too. I want to mirror taking care of myself. My sister and I were in a meditation challenge for 21 days and one of the pieces of homework was to interview your mom about what her greatest regret was.
Tessa: That was one of the questions. And my mom said to us, and my mom's an artist, she's a painter. And she said, I wish I'd given more time to my creativity when my kids were little. And that really landed for me because they I mean, your kid, you want to bring wholeness and back to your children. And if it's if you know, if it's a well, that's only sending water to your kids, but not to yourself. I mean, your kids are going to feel that depletion. But we do we are steeped in a culture where women are the archetype of the sacrifice or the caregiver. And I think, again, it's disrupting that. Right and stepping into more wholeness and more, you know, more egalitarian ness between partners like I Love You and your partner recently renegotiated some child care. Right. So you could be stepping into more of what lights your fire. And I think those are tough conversations, but I think they're really essential if there's a certain privilege and an ease in order to have those discussions. Not every woman has a partner or the capability to have that. But I think there are small pockets in the day where you can nourish yourself. I mean, if we have if we have ten minutes to scroll mindlessly on Instagram, it's about also having the self-discipline to create the time and to step away from the distractions and back into our bodies.
Ami: Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for saying all of that. So, you know, I, I find that part to be so important because I was raised by a mother who didn't take the time for herself, you know, and if I could go back, I just wish she took the time for herself because I saw the impact it had on her. You know, now that I'm an adult, I saw the impact. She was depleted. She was so depleted. And I didn't want that for her. And I don't want that for myself. And the thing that I've noticed that I've had to really come to terms with is that I just didn't even know that it was OK to ask for it like I really had to go against. I didn't even know there was a cultural norm there that was like, no, my husband works and he is the main breadwinner at this time. And so therefore, that means that you take the burden of the child care. And for me, it really did feel like a burden, actually. Like I, I didn't want to be with my kids. I love them. Of course. Please don't second guess it for one second. It's not at all what this is about. Or I really felt like my whole in my bucket was just depleted. And when I was finally able to be after, you know, my oldest turn, six, I was like, hold on, I actually need something here.
Ami: I need to have some space for myself. It completely changed. Like, I have such an amazing relationship now with my kids and my husband. He's just like, yes, you can go all the time because I see when you come out of your time like you are so lit up and happy and you're not, like, complaining at me at this for the same complaint over and over again. So yes, I will give the time. I will make the time for you to go and do that. And that has been the biggest gift to my family. And I think it's going to be the biggest gift to my children to see a mom who can go and do amazing things in the world and do things that light me up and go travelling. It's OK for me to leave my kids for a little bit, for me, that's OK, I can leave my kids for a little bit, I can go and do something. And, yeah, you know, it's a journey, but it's been again, it's like it feels mischievously joyful to me. Like I'm like, oh, I figured out a little secret. Does anyone else know that there's a secret that can be cracked
Tessa: That you can't ask for what you want? Yeah, totally. And I think I mean, just so much of what you said, I have I have goosebumps. It just I mean, it completely lands and resonates in my heart what you're saying, because I'm on the same journey as you. And I don't think it occurs to women that they can create that space for themselves. And it doesn't occur to men either to offer it because we're both steeped in this culture of these very divided gender roles. And I think, again, it's subverting that. It's disrupting it. It's challenging it by creating that space. And it's always known until you ask. Right. It's like this little door. And the more you start opening it, more light comes in. And I think you do your kids so much service and good by nurturing yourself. I mean, that is being modeled to them that that's how we thrive and survive in the world is by taking care of ourselves. So it seems counter-intuitive and it's so hard to step away, but it is actually such a gift for everyone in the family.
Ami: so much of what you're saying, you know, the way that I define disruptors, someone who displaces their current way of thinking to live a life worth living. And I just feel like in all of the conversations that we've just had, it's so clear to me that you were walking that path that you are so willing to bump up against your edges and the things that might feel a little bit uncomfortable for you to really shift and be really intentional about a thing like yours, you're so intentional with how you're living your life. And I just want to admire that and acknowledge you for the great work that you've done.
Tessa: Thank you, Ami. Thank you for seeing that part of me and amplifying that. Yeah, it's powerful. I saw this again. I feel reinvigorated. It's amazing. I feel like there are new stakes in the ground for what I'm doing and more incentive to go out and claim that disruptor for myself.
Ami: Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Tessa: Thank you. Ami is going to joy.