AO Means Light

AOMusic went to Nepal with five young people in August.  We recorded children who are singing on our new album to be released in 2013.  This is our fundraising trailer for a documentary that we hope you will all support.


Daily Diary: AOMusic in Nepal: Day One. Following the Dream.

First Day in Chitwan, Nepal  August 19, 2012:  AOMUSIC Arrives

When I wake up I look at the clock these days and do my math.  Ok.  It is 8am here in Washington and it is just after suppertime in Nepal. “Hope they don’t drink the water”, I ponder. What is the team doing on their first day of having gotten to Chitwan?  Then, I get a note from my daughter Jessie who is feeling the time change and cannot sleep.  My luck.  I get to hear a bit about their travels.  Her email opens with:

Good morning to you from the middle of the Chitwan National Park where elephants roam in the grasses across the water that we see from our balcony. Beautiful!  We start with the kids at 11am tomorrow morning and are very excited.”

After meeting for the first time in Kathmandu Airport, having dinner together and getting to know one another before they get on a bus the next morning, everyone is wired.  The bus is a long journey on tiny cliff sized roads but they got there safe and sound and are now settled into their hotel overlooking the only National Park in Nepal.  A feast for the eyes.

So, tomorrow the crew meets the children and start both recording and filming, gets to know the village after taking a jeep ride from the Hotel and begins interviews with families.

I also got an email that was very thought provoking from the team.  I sent contracts to each of the people going.  You know.  Those legal papers to cover everyone’s asses just in case a rogue elephant eats the camera.  They were modest agreements but they lacked something in keeping with the spirit of this journey.  This is what I heard from the Team which was written by my daughter:

“We need to discuss the contracts.  We feel the wording is stern and of a square tone, not promoting the creative and inspirational intentions we are creating. The contract doesn’t reflect the project! it feels harsh and slightly aggressive.  It just doesn’t hold up to the energetic integrity of the project.  My intuition is that it doesn’t feel right.  The magic will be subdued with a lingering unenthusiastic written contract. Kinda like not wanting to put something out into the universe that is not consistent with the intention.  Law of attraction type deal”.

And this is my daughter.   Waking me up to making sure I am calling in the energy I want for this project.  I am so proud of her. Maybe I just graduated from parenting school.

So, I am letting you get to know the four major people on our AO team and what better way to start but by introducing my daughter, Jessie Felix.  I will write more tomorrow and introduce Karan Sharma from India.

And!  No one has said a thing about rain!  Yeah.

So, for our first world traveler and adventurer:  Jessie Felix.  Jessie is our still photographer, one of our videographers as well as the one who will do most of the interviewing and carry the purse strings.  She is amazing if I may say so myself….especially to travel with three men she does not really know.  Here is what Jess says about herself.


“At 26 I have driven to the four corners of the U.S., been to forty-eight states and traveled to five countries outside of the United States.  I have lived at 39 addresses and counting. I am an artist, a muse, and a nomad. I do not dare sit still as life grows all around waiting to be seen. I have attended six colleges in six different states and walked away learning to trust my intuition and to follow my heart that leads my feet forward.

I have experienced loss, tragedy, and devastation, come close to death, pulled myself out from the depths of hell. I have experienced broken hearts, disappointment, rejections, criticism, and failure. I have witnessed how love can transform and break someone, how death can be immobilizing, that life is a blessing and a curse. And what I now know is that nothing is truly predictable and everything can change in less than a heartbeat.

Happy tears do exist. The best ones fall from your face with complete perfection, and if you can face yourself in a mirror you can face anything. I have witnessed miracles and mysteries and been completely amazed by the most insignificant things. I try to capture what others may not see. I let my emotions come through the lens and immortalize.”

Please visit her at

From Tulsa to Kathmandu


I left for my “Year as a Gypsy” on September 2, 2011.  As that year comes to a close my life has opened.  By shedding my beliefs about what I “thought” might make me happy in life and asking a new question about “what would bring me joy”, I made some bold new moves.  After selling most of my belongings, letting go of my house, my man, my dog and my attachment to any outcome, I packed my car and drove off.  First stop, Asheville, North Carolina.

My blog, has chronicled what can only be described as a “surprising” year.  I had thoughts of writing full time, landed a screenplay writing job, re-invented myself with a new website and felt the stars aligning in what I believed was my destiny.  And then I learned a very important saying first hand and right between the eyes:  “How do you make the Gods laugh?  By telling them your plans”.  It was simply a few weeks into my adventure that I threw the blueprints out and adopted the only thing I knew to do:  Navigate by intuition …one day at a time.

So, here I am, many stories later, still no driver’s license, but well traveled, well cared for, well fed, well loved and inspired beyond anything I could imagine.  And after just one short year I have found that my heart is happiest singing, participating in a music company that has children at the center of everything, and creating opportunity for myself and as many others as possible to live their dreams.  How could I have known any of this before taking the leap?

Today, August 18th, one of those dreams is being realized for a group of young people who just landed in Kathmandu, Nepal.  I took a leap of faith and decided to produce a short film of recording children in Chitwan, Nepal, singing songs composed by my partner, Richard Gannaway and AOMUSIC. By reaching for my dream as a filmmaker, four amazing young people are reaching for theirs.  Paying it forward is not just about money, or gifting someone, but is also about what happens when I say yes to a vision from the heart…it expands to include so many other people who get a chance to do the same.  Physics of the Heart.

It is the height of the monsoon season in Nepal.  This “Dream Team” is made up of my daughter Jessie, who with her Canon 5D will be interviewing the village, the children and the team as, come rain and more rain, the children learn to sing.  Her photography will be part of a campaign for a documentary series.  Then there is Rob who is from Asheville and a yoga/slack line teacher as well as musician par-excellence who will be recording the children.  Josh is the “Yoda” of this entourage.  Josh has been living in India and has a story to share that will both curl your hair and make you stand up an applaud the tenacity of spirit in this young man.  Josh is a musician and teacher of music to children all over the globe.  And lastly is Karan, from Mumbai, India who is going to film the entire journey of AO in Nepal.  He has filmed numerous documentaries and brings so much to this unfolding story of AOMUSIC as we trek to where children are in need and hear the songs of their undaunted hearts.

So in these next ten days I will post a short story every day from Nepal to give you a window into the courage, the creativity and the spirit of those on this trip, the people of Nepal, my own unfolding in this process that has not been without obstacles, all in the hope that just one person might find their own heart on fire for change, for reaching for your dream and for helping those who need you most when you do.

As for me and coming to the close of a year on the road?  The Gypsy Life has become the life I choose from this moment forward. There is no other way to live for me.


And The Winner Is

I have been in The Film School here in Seattle for five days and some undetermined amount of hours.  I have lost track of when the sun rises and sets, since all my classes are in a grey walled room with no windows and too many banks of florescent lights.  Even though the Seattle Needle is right outside the front door, the Monorail runs overhead and I can smell the waterfront, I only can imagine these things since the four walls of the school are where I will spend every minute of daylight for the next three weeks.

I live by day in a utilitarian room built to show clips of now famous films at the drop of a hat.  Lights on. Lights off.  We then all scramble to determine the arc of the scene, the intent of the character and the question the protagonist is missing the answer to, but chases for 120 pages. We watch Cassavetes, Newman, Altman and countless directors shape films that will live in us forever.

I am in this room for about 10 hours in a day, with an hour for dinner that starts at 4pm when we should all just be having “happy hour” to drown our sorrows, as we realize we are green writers at best. We crawl out of the womb of film at 9pm.  Homework till midnight and by then who gives a crap when you showered last, you flop into bed with all your clothes on, forgetting when the last time you shaved your legs was.

At the end of each day I gather my arsenal of pens, papers, my computer, water bottles, energy bar wrappers that are strewn over the table I share with 19 other shell shocked soldiers of fortune, throw everything into an all too heavy back pack and head for the solace of my hotel. The Mediterranean Inn.  When I push through the now very familiar doors, Cory, who is on duty for the late night shift says, “Ms. Maya?  How was your day in class?  I smile, not having a clue what to say except for, “I found out today I like acting.  Who would have thunk it?”.   And, did I say I am exhilarated?  Did I say that I am exhausted but blissed out to the nth degree?  I will next time he asks.  And Cory always does.

This school is one of a kind, founded, directed and taught by those who have a burning desire to teach a new wave of screenwriters the ancient craft of story telling, long ago lost on Hollywood.  They are reminding us how to craft a story with rich characters and endless tension.  The hero at the center the quest is the driving force of the story and write with few words, with ample non-verbal information and with dialogue sparse and too the point.  Sound easy?  It is grueling. It is yoga with a pen.  It is bootcamp.

I am mentored by famous actors like Tom Skerritt of Alien, A River Runs Through It and Mash.  I have teachers who have written award winning screenplays, have won Oscars and are clear that “story” is everything to any movie and unless we as writers know how to tell that story we will go the way of thousands of writers every year: into disillusionment and back to our jobs at Starbucks.

And I have one amazing man who is changing my life by the minute.  Stewart Stern.  Oscar winning screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause, The Ugly American and the right hand man for decades to Paul Newman and JoAnne Woodward.  He wrote Sybil with Sally Field and also won the Oscar.  Stewart is 90 years old.  He teaches us about the power of words.  When he speaks to us, he speaks of how his personal life informed every word he wrote for every movie he made.  Every mother was his mother, every troubled teen was his life up on the screen.  We all listen to him until the late hours as he shares his journals and his stories of how his life is the movie he writes over and over again.  Stewart reads to us complete with cookies and milk,

 I put the crusty bread and cold slabs of butter in my mouth with a spoonful of hot soup and the mixture of the cold and hot, the melting butter and the edge of bread in my mouth, took me back to another time when I was sick in bed as a child.  The combination brought back my mothers care of me when I was sick.  I suddenly recalled my entire boyhood room and my mothers steps up the stairs on a winter day. I remembered my mothers foamy egg nog, left by my bed in the sick room and the photo of Johnny Weissmuller I had seen in the barber shop window.  Mother had gone out to Columbus Ave., to the shop there and she bought it for me.  Her face was cold and her nose was running when she arrived back to our house and I made her tape his photo to my window pane so I could look at it from my bed.  I suddenly knew why I had wanted to be sick as a child;  so my father could find stature as the doctor in our house and my mother could show me love that was so hard for her to show most every day of my life.”

Stewart makes every story a tasty morsel that no screenplay can do without and that each of these stories are universal.  When he finally wears out and needs to pack up the dozen photos of him in WWII or the pictures of him with Paul Newman or winning an Oscar one after the other, I float home.  A dozen hours a day with Stewart would simply not ever be enough for me.

But, I am told that to be a writer, a real and deeply meaningful writer, I have to understand the story as the actor and the director would.  So, yesterday acting classes were followed by classes on direction.  What do I know about such things?  Well, apparently more than I thought. And I am thrilled with the opportunity.

At the beginning of the day yesterday I was handed a surprise script.  I had to ACT!  The first of the day.   Piece of cake I thought as I shook, knowing I had never acted a day in my life.  Maybe I would play a pensive housewife, or maybe a political figure with wisdom like Meryl or Helen Mirren and with something poignant to say.  I hoped for a meaty roll to test my true metal as an actor.  But, that is not what happened.

I got the part of a 16 year old girl siting in the back seat of a Subaru with my 34 year old leach of a professor, played by the hottest young guy in the class.  Not only did I have to be 16, but a sexually molested messed up teen, one that had never done drugs before and I had, in the end, to come on to my professor with a out of the box line that went something like this:  “I know you want to fuck me, so just go on and do it!”.  I fell out of my chair hoping that someone much more qualified would jump at the chance for a juicy part like this, but NO.  The job fell to me.  And this was the first scene of the class.

Me, Hot Guy and Tom Skerritt directing.  Oh and did I say I had to jump my co-star in that cramped back seat and have a long passionate kiss?  This new married guy with a 20 month old boy?  Yep!  That’s right.  Me the grandmother of the group and Hotty Boy. I knocked it out of the park, to my own surprise.  Who knew there was an actor lurking in the depths of my screenwriting?  And tomorrow I get to direct another students scene that looks something like The English Patient.

But, before the day was over a surprise guest walked into the classroom.  This woman was so unassuming that I thought that she was a secretary at the school or maybe she was someones mother in class.  Thelma Shoonmaker.  Three Oscars, 22 nominations,  and the editor for all of Scorsese’s films.  She just sat in a chair and talked about 40 years as an editor for films that will go down in history.  This is a daily occurrence.  And I am only on day…5.  16 to go. Pinch me now!

Thelma Schoonmaker

So, it is midnight and I think I will wash my hair, wash out a pair of underwear in the sink, put some hot water to boil on my one hot plate and go to bed.  All I can say is that I am nearly 62 years old  and finally finding out the truth about following my heart and doing what I deeply love.  This choice leads to more of the same.  More of what I love, things with more heart and inspiration and way more joy.  I wonder why it has taken me so long to simply do what I love?  Now I will get to find out if the money will follow. It is certain to.  Or maybe I just won’t even care. This adventure is already worth its “wait” in gold.