Martine McDonald: Being & Becoming

For a while there when we were making “Mister Rogers & Me” in the late aughts, it felt like a very visible project (at least to a certain community of stakeholders, boosters and fans); every stop, start, festival submission and rejection was chronicled on our website, and on social media.

Certain voices really championed us. They ratified our ideas by sharing them, and gave us courage in the face of uncertainty. 

Martine McDonald was one of those voices, always present with an insightful comment, thoughtful amplification or meaningfully audible, “atta-boy!” Which, in the desert of uncertainty that is one’s first film – first anything, really – can be a meaningful salve.

And so, after years of seeing Martine’s thoughtful, positive words on the often otherwise Twitter, I decided to reach out and get to know her a little bit better. 

Today, Martine is an advocate for diversity and inclusion based in Los Angeles, California. Her company, Practice Wonder, is “dedicated to co-creating and developing diverse children’s media with mindfulness and representation of LGBTQ+ and families of color on screen.” She recently began a new role as the Education Director at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

She begins at the beginning.

I never cared much for practice as a kid, mostly because I didn’t care much for sports.

Of course, practice has a far broader application than just athletics (though I wonder how many other kids’ value of practice – Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours – was sullied by weekend warrior, dad coaches).

A few weeks ago, right below Essential Industry Headquarters in my backyard, I watched through a haze of sweat and beer as Chris Abad’s fingers flew up and down the fretboard and unleashed a sound from my amplifier unlikely to be heard again (until he visits again).

Because when he was a kid, Chris stayed up late, put in the hours, ran scales, played clams and generally made everyone within earshot crazy. 

Now? On any given Saturday night? Pure magic.

Even there, though, practice is positioned in relation to payoff or payout. You know what they say about Carnegie Hall, right?

Martine reminds us that true practice is ongoing, and never ending. It is a game where the goal posts move, and that’s what makes the game so fun and interesting – and so difficult.

Wherever we go, there we are. And we’re always almost there.

Nothing has helped me understand practice more than yoga. I am a noob, with just a few months of periodic practice under my belt. Already, though, its discipline and benefits are so clear to me: the way repetition can reveal new information about ourselves; the way intention can ground us in our struggles; the way commitment can bolster our resolve.

From swimming laps every morning, to responding to children’s letters in the afternoon, to praying for people by name at night, Mister Rogers understood practice.

When we practice, he said,  “We play with what we know to be true in order to find out more. And then use what we’ve learned in brand new ways.”

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