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Otessa Marie





@Hysterical Womxn 



What is your professional title, purpose or passion?

Ooh, this is hard... finding a short title for what I do. I think many of us wear many hats, which may seem disparate, but are actually very closely tied & interdependent. 
I like to say I am a "Digital Storyteller": I direct, produce, & write digital series (tv series, podcasts, etc...) I also founded  the longest running indie festival for the industry: the DC Web Fest. The Fest supports other creators, with a lens for womxn and D&I. I consult and am a professor. I am a published author, and artist... All is storytelling to me. Storytelling is my passion. And encouraging & helping others with their stories is part of this! 


What did you want to do when you were a child and what changed?

When I was a child, I wanted to be an ethnobotanist. Yes, as a small child I said "when I grow up, I want to be an ethnobotanist". Haha. However, as a 2nd generation immigrant, there was some pressure on me to be an engineer... which was ultimately something I pursued, but did not find to be the best fit. It was around this time that I rebelled (I suppose that’s the right word)... and after diving deep into my university’s course offerings, I realized I wanted to tell stories. I switched to Film as my main focus, but even then I knew that digital storytelling was what I wanted to do. I wanted to engage in social praxis and social change. Stories are a means to hold a mirror up to society, and to ask: “What if..?” Not many know this but I did still pursue degrees in other areas, including theoretical Math (string theory and non-Euclidian geometry FTW!) I am still passionate about botany and zoology, and volunteer at the National Zoo. But I think my childhood dream of ethnobotany was one of social change. And I am still doing that, albeit in a different way... and in a way in which each story is like living a different life.  It was a wild ride. I’m happy to say I am happy to be here, doing what I do. No regrets :-) 


What's the best career advice you've ever been given?

 I have SO MANY PEOPLE to credit here! 

My mother: “No one ever says on their death-bed — Gee, I really wish I had worked more late nights at the office.” As a burnout queen, I thank her for that. 

My father: “It might not be about this thing... this might be the thing that gets you to the next place.” A perceived failure is an opportunity to think out of the box. 

My friend Aerica: “You are no longer a junior staffer. You are senior level. You worked hard to get here, so accept that & validate that.” 
My colleague Diana who shows the importance of GRACE... and teaches by example. 

Jess Manuszak (who I recently interviewed for "Hysterical Womxn"), who said (paraphrasing here) — I think we need to stop thinking about things as switches, and think about them more as dials. 
Believe in your journey, accept its power, ask your worth, and help others do the same.

I could keep going... I’ll end with this: Do not accept abuse. Navigate away from toxic environments, surround yourself with people whose energy inspires you. 


What is the best thing about your current working environment?

 I’ll say it again: THE PEOPLE. I am surrounded by tremendous folx. It is a honor and privilege and it keeps me going to know that we can lift each other and get to the next place. 


Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

 In New Zealand, creating more projects and having finished my next books (which are currently in my drawer 😬!) Telling more stories... continuing to direct and write and learn... and to continue to surround myself with people who inspire and with whom we mutually uplift. 


Tell us more about a charitable organisation or project you think is great.

Currently— Anything that deals with mental health, addresses toxic culture, & ensures there will be an inhabitable world for the next generations. The world is not inherited from our forebears: it is loaned to us by the young. And two small shouts-outs: One to  my non-profit the DC Web Fest as well... which in its own way encourages others to tell stories that change the world. And another to my multimedia podcast “Conversations with Hysterical Womxn” which I discussed before :-) 


What drives you?

What drives me... for a very long time it was fear & self-loathing. I’ve been changing that. What was sufficient to get me here, is not sufficient to get me to the next place. I am working to change my driving force... to be driven by the pursuit of authentic connections and purpose. 


Any final comments?

Thank you! Thank you for doing what you do, and for including me in your journey. 


What does a normal day look like for you?

There is no normal! The constant is change, and I like it this way. I find a combination of working with others in a traditional setting, combined with the ability to work from home to be the best for my work/life balance and creativity. The one essential “normal” for me is to work with people I admire and respect. I have a saying: “if I wouldn’t have tea with them on my own time, why would I work with them?” Respect and safety in the workplace should be non-negotiable. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. But, that is the one “normal” I have made a mission to cultivate... to work and surround myself with inspiring and uplifting people. Life is too short for anything else. 


What have you achieved that you feel most proud of?

Some of my most “notable achievements” include having one of the very first web series (pre-YouTube!) My first “Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden” garnered many Webbys, Telly awards, an HRC commendation, went viral, and was a beacon for the types of stories I didn’t see enough of — diverse, inclusive, lgbt-friendly, real-talk for young adults. I also wrote the book for digital storytelling (because there wasn’t one)... my textbook is called, “The Wild West of Film”. I had the pleasure of working on this series with my mother as well, who was an inspiring artist, entrepreneur, and early adopter of tech. (She and my dad started the first computer store on the East Coast). Having the chance to work on this with her is one of my greatest memories,  and achievements. And to hail back to my 1st generation dad, who wanted an engineer... I have a cute story. He was lecturing in Chile. One of the university students approached him afterwards to ask: “Are you related to Otessa Ghadar, the famous filmmaker?” 😂 (I would NOT agree with that moniker but regardless...) In that moment, I felt my father accepted me and my life’s work. I wasn’t the engineer he wanted, but I had pursued my dreams and made an impact, and was a daughter he was proud of.  am also proud of my current multimedia & podcast project: “Hysterical Womxn” or “Conversations with Hysterical Womxn”, which deals with experiences in toxic culture, to learn from them and affect change. We also discuss things like emotional labor (what I call “unpaid teaching”) and find ways in which these are actually INDUSTRIES, ones which can be monetized. It also was born of grief and healing, so a personal journey for me, but one which I hope helps others. We hear knowledge is power so often. But we need to include emotional knowledge in this. Talking and sharing experiences is powerful. But if we don’t have that type of power, we are likely to feel alone and isolated, without the information or support we need. Another achievement I would credit is this... in the beginning I was told that I was crazy, or stupid for pursuing digital storytelling. And yet looking back, I was actually at the cusp of the new frontier. So haters may hate (and they may even be your thesis advisors), but in the end, if your biz strategy is strong, do the damn thing. I wish I had believed in myself more, invested in myself more then — but I still did the damn thing. And, despite all the naysayers, I was right, & it launched my career. I may still be bananas... but I wasn’t dumb. In truth tho, I have always disliked this question tho... because I feel we do not learn much from our successes. It is my struggles and my failures which have taught me the most. So I credit those as “potential successes, when seen from a changed POV.” How is this struggle, when seen from a new vantage point, actually an OPPORTUNITY. Those moments are the true achievements— they teach us to be bold, to get up, to keep going. 


Tell us about a a woman who inspires you

My mother. For all the reasons above and for more. She did SO MUCH. Among the myriad of phenomenal reasons — She was self-coding computers to create computer art in 1979, after leaving everything behind and barely escaping the Iranian Revolution. She kept going. She was passionate. She was empathic.  And I don’t know of anyone else who was doing this type of artwork at the time. I think she was the first. She made and created so many phenomenal works and pursued so many inspiring endeavors. The art world wasn’t ready for it then, but I’d like to do a retrospective now. 


What was your biggest failure?

Oh, I’ve failed all over the place!! But I got up again. I think too often young girls are force-fit into a mold of PERFECTION IS THE HIGHEST CALLING. I think we should shift that to teaching young girls to be BOLD... not perfect. So when you fail, go out and fail some more. But get up. Learn and pivot and keep going. Don’t let others take away your worth or invalidate you. 


What do you like most about yourself?

What do I like most about myself... my ability to work on my flaws, to surround myself with people who encourage me to resonate higher. ~ My desire for self-actualization and continued growth. Self-work. 


How can we make the world more inclusive and accepting?

How to make the world more inclusive & accepting? As you can probably see from this questionnaire, brevity is not my strong suit. But I will try to be brief. What if we taught empathy in school? What if we taught empathy? 


What skills have been key to your journey so far?

Drive... motivation... but not blind motivation, one which can accept when something isn’t working, which can accept that ego-death, to change course and change internally as well. 


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