Just click on Watch TEDxHouston Live - and you’ll be joining me, virtually, in one fabulous, inspiring day of TEDxTalks.
I’m most looking forward to hearing Karen Walrond, Jane Weiner and Chitra Divakaruni. Woohoo!
Just click on Watch TEDxHouston Live - and you’ll be joining me, virtually, in one fabulous, inspiring day of TEDxTalks.
I’m most looking forward to hearing Karen Walrond, Jane Weiner and Chitra Divakaruni. Woohoo!
Talk about timing and coincidences! I published a post 2 days ago on my other blog, WonkyBent, about Life Lists and Phil Keoghan’s “No Opportunity Wasted” philosophy, which inspired me to quit putting off a dream I’ve been wanting to realize: completing the Bike MS Coastal Challenge in Southern California. Since the unexpected deaths of two of my friends, both of whom were not much older than I am, I’ve been especially aware of the unpredictability of life and the foolhardiness of believing I have plenty of time to accomplish all that I hope and plan (which I go into much more fully in the previous post). Yesterday I received the weekly recommendations for TED Talks via email and as I attempted to scroll past that email to another I’d been waiting for, I inadvertently opened the TED email and, somehow, simultaneously started one of the videos within. All of a sudden the words Before I die I want to leaped at me with spine-straightening sound and bright colors dancing on my desktop monitor! I half-gasped/half-squealed and nearly fell out of my office chair. Seriously, I jumped so violently I scattered two cats off a nearby bookshelf and my service dog yelped from sleep and then came to my side ready to save me from whatever danger had caused me to act snake-bitten.
Sometimes the universe is downright unnerving and startling with its insistence and the unexpected means used to deliver messages you’re not supposed to miss or forget or take lightly. Via books and music and movies, the deaths of people I care about, an incredibly close-call driving on I-45 just the day before my birthday, and now, packaged inside of an email. I keep being told in one way after another, Life is fragile, life is short, make today count. The universe continues to reintroduce and reinforce the message, so I sat back and restarted the TED Talk video and as I watched I became, in turns, engaged, enchanted, excited, grief-stricken, grateful, inspired, convicted, and grateful all over again. So thank you, Universe, you may be acting rather stalkery and doomsdayish of late, you’ve leveled me with loss and you’ve managed to scare the bejesus out of me more than once, but this Talk is exactly the kind of thing I love.
A woman in New Orleans created a humongous blackboard out of the walls of an abandoned building near her home, then wrote out “Before I die I want to _____.” over and over again so that her friends and family, neighbors and tourists and total strangers could take pieces of chalk and fill in the blank lines with their wishes, goals, dreams and musings.
To my way of thinking, this is an innovative, interactive and empowering form of collaborative poetry! For some, it’s a hands-on-cooperative and athletic endeavor, as well
She’s passionate and humble, a seeker, a visionary and change-maker. In the delivery of her narrative, which includes sharing her grief over a lost loved one – and through the tears she cannot stem or conceal for a brief portion of the telling – she’s vulnerable and transparent, allowing us to connect with her in a profound way. Grief is universal, but our experience of it is unique. Sharing our individual journeys of universal experiences binds us closer together, I believe. That kind of “intimacy”can be transformative, the fertile ground from which compassion, admiration and appreciation – for ourselves and for each other – takes deep root and thrives. I witness this repeatedly in creative writing workshops; that kind of connection is what I loved best about acting.
Chang’s motivation for creating this bigger-than-life-sized community art-story was born from one of the most personal and provocative experiences we, as humans, know: someone she loved died unexpectedly. (sound familiar?)
But, here, let me allow her to tell you what transpired.
I feel so blessed to have seen and heard this TED Talk by Candy Chang, to have had it land in my Inbox exactly when it did. If that’s not serendipity, seriously folks, I don’t know what is. I count myself privileged to know Chang’s story and I want to be a part of the next chapters, capitalize on the fertile ground of connection she created and nurtured – so I’m going to fill in that blank spot of white chalk line with my own words and wishes. From yesterday’s post, you already know some of the things I want to do and places I want to go, but I’m going to share with you two more entries from my Life List, two pretty humongous goals. So big, in fact, that I’m irrationally worried, actually afraid to put these wish-dreams out into the world (even though I know that’s the very action that’s called for to begin the process of realizing the goals). I think I’m trepidatious because these two dreams are so dear to me, so much about who I am and what I believe in. Some of my goals, like finishing a book, completing every mile of an MS 150 (via recumbent trike) and participating with Team Leary Firefighters Foundation in the New York City Marathon (in the handcycle division) every year I’m physically able – a lot of people have similar, if not identical goals on their lists (save the trike and handcycle part, I mean!). These two new wish-dreams feel private, even though I realize they can’t stay that way if I mean to make them happen. Perhaps I hold them close because, unlike the MS 150 or a marathon, they probably don’t appear on anybody else’s Life List, might, in fact, be utterly unique to me alone. If I fail to make them happen, I will absolutely have regrets. But then I guess being courageous with the entries on your Life List is to risk failure. The bigger you dare to dream, the more disappointment if you fail. Wishing and dreaming is easy, but investing in those wishes and dreams, owning them and giving everything you have within you to see them realized, that can be scary as hell. But then again, the things I’ve accomplished that mean the most to me are the experiences wherein I was terrified off and on the whole way through. And I don’t regret that risking in the least. Sometimes terror, when you funnel that white-hot nerve-jangling energy, can ferry you farther than desire and determination combined.
But first let me say, Candy Chang, I’m truly sorry for the loss of your friend, who was like a mother to you. I have lost my mother, and I have lost the woman who was more of a mother to me than my mother was able to be. That loss of unconditional motherly love is one of the gravest forms of loss I’ve known in my lifetime. Thank you for taking your grief and making of it something bright and fresh and compelling, something that wakes us up to the precious brevity of our lives and makes us put into words – like a declaration and a promise – what we want to do before it’s too late. Thank you for sharing your story on the TED stage, so that it could be sent to my computer screen (even if the way of it did almost maim me and give the cats cardiac arrest!). Thank you for being so brave, bold and generous with your art. Thank you for the gracious invitation and warm welcome, for encouraging all of us to be brave, bold and generous creators of dreams for the art-story of our lives. Thank you, again, for asking the question. Here’s my answer.
Before I die I want to produce a Public Service Announcement illustrating that the ADA provides & protects the rights of access & accommodation to persons with disabilities who are partnered with trained service dogs. People with intellectual, emotional & physical handicaps are routinely harassed & refused entry/service by shops, eateries, theme parks, places of lodging; because of their service dogs, people are denied transportation from buses, planes & taxis every day in our country. I believe a PSA would educate Americans, raise awareness & sensitivity, and stamp out this disgraceful form of discrimination against people with disabilities and the devoted animals who serve them.
Before I die I want to form a non-profit that inspires people with illness and/or disability to cycle, specifically via recumbent trikes, which can be foot or hand powered or a combination of both. I’ll have a stable of various trike models & transport them to hospitals, rehab facilities & VA centers to let people try them out. I’ll host regular group rides & hold training clinics. There’ll be a fund to help those in financial need purchase trikes, allow cyclists to travel to competitive/fundraising events and afford required equipment modifications. We’ll collect & share our stories in the hopes of inspiring others (schools, community centers, etc.); we’ll advocate for inclusion in events with able-bodied athletes (marathons, bike races) and for equal representation at the Paralympic Games. We’ll cheer one another on and go on adventures, exploring newly-discovered trails, taking charge of roads we never would’ve tackled up-close if we hadn’t claimed or reclaimed cycling. Instead of feeling sick or slow, damaged or less than, we’ll pedal our way to vibrant and vital, so capable, confident and exuberant that on-lookers will be dazzled by our obvious, complete beauty. Any illnesses or disabilities we may have will vanish into stealth-mode when we power our own versions of 3-wheeled flight.
I have multiple sclerosis & the real difference-makers in my life-with-MS are my mobility assistance dog & my recumbent trike. Before I die I will make a difference in the lives of others who have been impacted with illness and disability. I will share my story, my time and experience with the hope of giving people whatever motivation, information, tools and resources they need to empower themselves to live the healthiest, fullest, most fun-filled and independent lives possible. I want those whose lives would be bettered by partnering with service animals to know every option available to them for acquiring a service animal; I want to offer support filling out applications and facilitating connections with trainers and organizations. I would love to create a way for people with service dogs to be in touch with volunteers willing to walk their dogs and handle vet visits on those occasions when a person’s illness/disability prevents them from attending to the needs of their service dogs. I think we need a version of Amber Alerts for service dogs, a way to notify the public and all first responders to be vigilant to lost service dogs, because when someone is separated from her service dog, she is separated from her means of security and independence, and in the case of alert animals for diabetes and seizures, a person without her service dog is at greater risk of health crisis. People partnered with service animals should be welcomed & accommodated wherever they go, because the “going” is often a harrowing challenge already. Before I die I will do everything I can to eradicate ignorance of the ADA’s provision for the rights of people with disabilities and their service animals. I want anyone who might be enabled to cycle with a recumbent trike to have access to one & the support needed to get out & ride – for exercise or to compete, to connect w/family & community, to know the freedom, independence & fierce joy cycling brings. Before I die I will do everything I can to make sure everyone knows that if you can push with one foot – even a prosthetic foot – and have one upper limb to control a combination steering/braking handle, more likely than not, you can ride a recumbent trike.
* * *
So there, two more goals spoken “out loud.” Kind of like drawing the plans for your dream-house. Like registering for the Bike MS Coastal Challenge in Southern California - please support me if you’re able! - and booking the flight that will deliver you to the Starting Line; you haven’t left your own street yet, but you can imagine the Finish Line waiting for you with open arms. Less like bargain hunting; more like a shopping expedition for something that has no substitute. Less like a balloon let go into the heavens; more like a hunting dog set loose on a scent-trail. Less like a message in a glass bottle dropped in outbound ocean waves; more like a carrier pigeon sent with declarations of devotion, asking for a hand in matrimony.
Poetry and letters have so much in common; if not twins, they are at the very least kissing cousins. Don’t you think?
In this drawing, just imagine and LETTERS FOR KIDS! printed right next to the word “poems.”
Dave Eggers, the founder of 826 Valencia & 826 National, is one of my heroes. He’s the awesome author/advocate dude who inspired me to create Word Play, a poetry in the schools project. I happened upon this video of him accepting a TED Prize, wherein he talks about what motivated him to create a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering kids’ literacy and creativity. In his TED Talk, Dave extends an invitation for everyone to get involved in their local schools and communities, to invest in young people. Not so much with dollars, but with time.
Spending time doing what? you may ask. Sharing something you’re passionate about.
That’s what Dave did when he created 826 Valencia with a mission of mentoring young people & sharing with them his life-long love affair with reading and writing, learning and creating, journeying through worlds of make-believe. His wildfire passion ignited my own and set me on a path that changed my life immeasurably for the better. If you go back to the start of this blog, you’ll see lots of photos, art and creative writing from all of my wicked-smart, uber-imaginative students. We wrote letters to President Obama, which were hilarious and kind and, sometimes, quite sobering. Many of the kids gave advice, a kind of To-do list for the president. Some told about themselves and drew pictures, and many of them included poems they’d written. Like this one, written by a 3rd grader, that left me speechless with its beauty.
Dear Mister President Obama, I made this in my poetry class. Tell me if you think it is okay:
I used to be a dog, but now I am the moon.
I used to be the moon, but now I’m a wolve.
I used to be a wolve, but now I’m a howling night wind.
I used to be a howling night wind, but now I’m a goodbye.
I used to be a goodbye, but now I’m a laughing ghost kid.
I often wonder if President Obama ever received those letters, if he read them, how the kids’ words and images made him feel. I wonder if he was tempted to write back, maybe even pen a poem or draw a picture.
I wish Letters For Kids existed when I was doing Word Play because I think it’s the perfect way to get kids reading and writing more, a lovely source of connection to and communication with other lovers of words, letters and story, as well as an utterly unique and inspiring source for writing prompts (Hint, hint, teachers!). And what a great way to make new friends, to learn fascinating things about other people, to learn and share things about yourself.
My Best Friend
I am a good person.
I am funny.
I am smart.
I am good at tracking severe weather.
My grandma reminds me of a song.
My brother reminds me of a monkey
and an electric guitar
all playing at the same time.
Letters and poems, regardless of their level of intimacy, have this way of speaking with a”raised” confessional voice meant for a larger audience. A way of saying Hey, listen, I’m telling you something about myself and my experience of the world – something important, listen.
An Exquisite Corpse Collaborative Poem
- by the 5th – 7th Graders of Word Play
I used to live in Georgia, but now I live in Miami.
I used to be a dog, but now I’m a monkey.
I used to be a nurd, but now I’m cool.
I used to never do my work, but now I do.
I used to write, but now I draw.
I used to have shoes, now I have paws.
I used to be a single child, but now I’m not.
I used to crawl, now they look how I walk.
I used to talk, but now I don’t.
I used to like someone secret, but now I won’t.
I used to be dead, but now I’m alive.
I used to sit, but now I fly.
I used to be nice, but now I’m mean.
I used to cry, now I let myself scream.
I used to watch TV, now I really play.
I used to be silly, but now I’m crazy.
I used to eat like a pig, but now I eat like a ant.
I used to have a piggy bank, now I help pay rent.
I used to be shy, but now I’m grave.
I used to be afraid, now I am brave.
I used to be a puppy, but now I’m a deer.
I used to be scared, now I’m No Fear.
I used to be a fish, but now I’m an alligator.
I used to be an Igloo, now I’m a refrigerator.
I used to be a cat, now I’m a police.
I used to be a daughter, now I’m just a niece.
I used to be hot, but now I’m hotter.
I used to be a janitor, now I’m a movie star.
I used to play the drums, now I play the piano.
I used to be alive, but now I’m mostly a ghost.
Here’s what some of my students had to say about why they love writing. And this is one of my favorites.
Go Poetry Go!
I learned that poetry lets you yell out
all your feelings, your thoughts
You get to put all your creation
in a single poem!
Poems are just like life.
I would feel chopped
by a slicey knife.
Go poetry go!
Bring on your show!!!
Subscribers of Letters For Kids get to write back, to respond to whatever engages them in the letters they receive from middle-grade and YA authors, like Adam Rex and Rebecca Stead. That just might be the neatest thing of all. Your donations – via your subscriptions to LETTERS FOR KIDS - give you the gift of being a part of all the tremendous tutoring, teaching, mentoring and artful adventuring that 826 National makes possible. So don’t miss out, share the letter love!
LETTERS FOR KIDS makes a fabulicious, story-packed, creativity-stoking gift for kiddos & young-at-hearts of any age (that means you)! It works like this. The wordy-good folks at THE RUMPUS arrange for actual paper-&-ink letters to be written by real, live authors – like Lemony Snicket! and & have them delivered – *gasp* – by real, live (well, mostly) postal carriers right to your very own mailbox. But whoa, hold on there narrative lovin’ cowboys & cowgirls. If you act NOW (and by “now” I mean the month of August), a donation goes out to 826 National writing & tutoring centers with every subscription purchased. Which means you get to be a hero twice-over. Yo, how cool are you?!?
Get your very own sealed-with-a-kiss subscription on its way to you, today! Get more details (& washing instructions for your new superhero cape) right here. Don’t forget, every subscription is, in effect, a “double gift ” subscription. Because whether the subscription is a gift for yourself or someone else, you’re also giving the gift of helping to better the lives of all those lucky 826 National students with the donation The Rumpus sends on your behalf. Really, folks, it’s hard to imagine a more pay-it-forward two-fer deal than this.
I also highly recommend Letters In The Mail. It is the single best thing I’ve done for myself and for my writing in – I don’t even know how long. It might just take the cake in recent history for most beloved and most beneficial thing I’ve given myself.
And Letters In The Mail, like Letters For Kids, is ridiculously affordable. Even for writers. Even for POETS. Which is really saying something :0)
Here’s a mini-interview with Stephen Elliott on Huff Po about why he created Letters In The Mail. Stephen Elliott, founder of The Rumpus, also writes The Daily Rumpus, which I’m more-than-happily addicted to. You can subscribe for the free “overly-personal e-mails” on The Rumpus website.
PSS (or is it PPS?) ((or is it PS-squared?))
The Rumpus has a rockin’ poetry contingency these days: reviews, interviews with poets, even original poetry. There’s The Rumpus Poetry Club, and The Rumpus Book Club for fiction and nonfiction titles. You get the books before they’re released and there’s a group chat and interview online with the authors and poets, as well.
Without a doubt, The Rumpus is my favorite literary website. Okay, okay, it’s my favorite website, period.
Now go, buy your subscriptions for Letters In The Mail & Letters For Kids. Buy a couple of gift subscriptions for kids you know, while you’re at it. Like Letters In The Mail, a Letters For Kids subscription is the kind of present that keeps giving throughout the entire year. Now that’s something worth kickin’ up your spurs to Woohoo! & Yeehaw! about.
Send some Letters. Get some kids excited about words on the page, using them to communicate ideas and emotions, to tell stories. Who knows? Maybe we’ll grow crops of letter writers, poets and storytellers in neighborhoods all over the globe. All you have to do is plant the seeds. Just ask Dave Eggers.
What I Like About Poetry Days
- a collaborative poem by the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Graders of Word Play
I can think of a place I want to be.
Writing about wishes & secrets.
It can be funny, silly, fun, fanassy, cerious.
I can stop thinking about school.
We talk about sounds a lot & I like sounds.
When she makes us think silly.
It’s much better than TV.
When we make it up or the truth.
Making a chatbook.
Writing about the ocean, beach & camping.
She says to make believe, make it up!
Luke is pretty funny & rilly rilly cool.
I can expreece my feelings.
I can think of peace full places.
I can be silly & it won’t matter.
I can see one of the sweetest dogs in the world.
Writing about what happens in my dreams, even bad dreams.
When we got to imagine being in a forest.
It is very fun when she reads poetry to us from other kids.
Getting to take out your amoshens.
I can lie and no one gets mad, because it’s funny & everyone laughs together.
I like seeing the dog & petting Luke, & I like righting!!!
When she & Luke comes and does poetry with us it’s like living at home.
When you get to umagun, because you can do anything when you umagun it.
She tells us to think about the woods at night with no one there & what do you smell
& taste & hear!
I get to see Luke.
I write what I feel.
I get to rime words.
Poetry makes me happy so much.
The author of “13 Naughtiest Bits From the Masseur Lawsuit Against John Travolta” has used words to describe sexual assault that are defined as mischievous, impish, racy, spicy, juicy, sexy, lustful, appealing to or stimulating of sexual desire, playful. How is that okay with you?
This is who you say you are: “The Daily Beast provides expert insight & opinion on the day’s most important news stories in the world of politics, int’l affairs, finance, science, culture & more.” So I have to ask you, since when is making light of sexual assault appropriate? And why is such a thing being condoned and promoted by you?
The author of this article describes the reported details of an alleged sexual assault as “naughty bits” & “salacious.” Words both preposterous & reprehensible in the context of a conversation about sexual assault. Which, in case you’ve somehow forgotten, is a heinous crime of violence.
When you call the particulars of sexual assault “salacious” you are deeming them as tittilating, lusty, gossip-worthy, which I find stomach-turning-offensive.
Use of the adjective “naughty” when describing the various acts that comprised a sexual assault is unconscionable. Let’s say for a moment that your sister or mother were a massage therapist and had her breast grabbed by a client. Would you call the client’s action naughty? Please tell me how, in both the judgement of this author & you, the publisher, equating sexual assault with “misbehaving” takes place.
Perhaps the author of this article is under the impression that if a sexual assault victim is male, it is somehow less of a crime, not as shattering or shame-inducing. Perhaps she imagines that in the cases of sexual assault where no visible marks or abrasions have been inflicted, that there is no scarring, that the crime is somehow less of an assault, not-quite violent. Perhaps she thinks that the allegations of this particular sexual assault are likely false and that allows her lee-way with the language she employs. Perhaps, because the body of the article is largely comprised of quotes lifted, she says, directly from legal documents, she believes she was avoiding taking sides and not expressing a personal bias. When the headline and intro you craft bandy about words that insult and demean every victim of sexual assault and diminish the crime of it to unsavory conduct, that’s blatant bias, and it doesn’t get any more personal, trust me.
Falsely accusing someone of a crime is a crime. This author’s use of language is all but laughing at the suffering of a victim of slander. Which is all the more egregious when the nature of that slander is perhaps the most horrific sort. John Travolta isn’t being accused of stealing, buying drugs or punching a photographer; he’s being accused of sexual assault. When you make light of the crime he’s being accused of, you cannot avoid making light of the consequences of being falsely accused of that crime.
Now imagine that your brother or your father, your husband, has been accused of sexual assault. Would it be fair or accurate to say that your husband is being accused of being naughty? If your best friend asked you what, exactly, the alleged victim is saying that your loved one did, how would you feel if your friend phrased her request, “Give me all the naughtiest bits.”
This author hand-picked details from an account of alleged sexual assault and held them up with sensational glee – as sport, as entertainment. Veracity of the allegations aside, the language and tone of this entire article make light of the crime of sexual assault, which in turn belies the gravity of being accused of sexual assault. Most disturbing of all, this author has basically said that perpetrators of sexual assault are being “naughty.” You know, just misbehaving.
I believe language matters, that words have power. I’m trying to understand why someone would make a point of talking about sexual assault in a way that makes it sound like a case of poor conduct or simply not minding one’s manners. I’m trying to understand why someone would treat the legal document containing details of sexual assault (alleged or not) as if it were a Where’s Waldo of juicy, gossip-worthy tidbits (Oh, look, there’s another one!). I’m trying to understand how all of this fits with your claim, Daily Beast, of providing “expert insight and opinion.”
Again, I ask you: how is any of this okay with you? It sure as hell isn’t okay with me.
In proofreading what I have written here, I have just realized that never once did I type the name of the author of the article in question. At first this astonished me. My profound disgust and righteous fury are such that it seems perfectly reasonable I would’ve used her name at every opportunity, thrown it, over and over again, like plates against a wall. But I get it now, that being unwilling (unable?) to name her is the cyber-space equivalent of when the awfulness of something is too monumental (big enough to knock you down, sweep you away), too overwhelming in its ugliness and stench (if you get too close it will get on you, infect you, never wash out). When anger, disbelief and revulsion flood our brains, that toxic recipe is often translated into fear. Which in turn communicates to our bodies the same adrenaline-rush neuro-message that it sends, say, when we’re in the wild, cornered and threatened by something feral, potentially life-threatening. Not looking directly at a dangerous, powerful creature–not meeting its eyes–is a primal instinct, a brain/body self-defense mechanism. It is the source and heart of the phrase, I can’t even look at you right now.
I cannot spell out that woman’s name. And even if I could write it, I refuse to.
Denise Lanier, whose mother and grandmother, an aunt and a cousin, were victims of sexual assault; who has many sisters-friends who have been victims of sexual assault; who has been the victim of sexual assault,
*a non-literary entry, though the experience of the day was pure poetry
Sometimes I can’t help myself from cross-posting entries on my other blog, Wonky Woman On A Bent Trike. Especially when the posts regard something I’m passion about. And while I’ll grant you that this post is, in “surface” subject matter, about a ride on a recumbent trike, some alligators and snakes–those things are just a part of the story. A story about “sorry” not being the only alternative to “safe.” A story where “safe” and “sorry” are more siamese twins than strangers.
I took my first trip to Brazos Bend State Park in Brazoria County yesterday. My OH my! The colors were like something that Pixar had engineered. The wildlife was verdant, abundant, and so font-row I almost squealed like a little girl several times.
I saw countless birds; a black snake & a copperhead, barely avoiding the former with a front trike wheel and almost stepping upon the latter while maneuvering for a better photo of this alligator.
Turns out, alligators don’t like trikes. Or at least not the sound they make crunching gravel. So even if I’d had my camera at the ready, all you’d see in the photos of the other six gators I came upon would be the swish of giant reptilian tails and the over-excited plumes of high-flying plop-splashes back into the depths of the lakes.
(Which, btw, reminds me that I really, really want one of these thing-a-ma-jigs.) ((One might argue that I actually need one.))
I sighted a red shouldered hawk before I even left the parking area, perched on the amphitheater’s stage as if awaiting his big monologue. There was a doe with three fawns munching in a wildflowered meadow–much too close to the alligator-and-lilly-pad-filled edges of waterways, if you ask me. I had that sensation, like when you’re watching a horror movie, and you want to scream out “What are you thinking? No, NO, NOOO . . . Don’t go into the attic/basement/field/forest/darkened hospital wing . . . For the love of pete, R-U-N!!!”
The great thing about this park on a sunny and hot day is the over thirty miles of trails with great tree cover. Which is to say, sweet, blessed, heaven-sent shade. There are well-spaced water fountains and restrooms, with outhouse-style port-o-lets at the far reaches of the more rural trails. I didn’t see very many people, which was nice. There were a few couples hiking, two very sweaty (and surprised to encounter a recumbent trike) runners, three family groups; no other cyclists, which surprised me, because these trails are frackin’ gorgeous. There’re gravel and crushed limestone trails, firmly packed dirt trails, paved wheelchair, scooter & stroller-friendly trails, wooden boardwalks, rutted & muddy root-filled trails for the rough & tumble-seeking mountain bikers. All of which the Greenspeed Magnum conquered without even batting an eyelash.
And though I didn’t actually encounter the horse & rider, I did notice evidence of them on the trail paralleling the Brazos River. I would’ve loved to have been on a horse out there yesterday–I miss horseback riding with a grief that tastes more like a loved one missed than a thing I’m not able to do anymore–but I’m grateful to be able to be out on trails at all, and I felt that effusive, delicious, heart-dancing brand of thanksgiving in a keen-bright manner.
The wildlife and flora, the bliss of solitude in the close embrace of mother nature, the anticipatory vigilance of all that the next curve of trail will hold–it’s a giddy, humbling, wide-awake, oxygenated, full-of-awe feeling. I couldn’t help but think of Phil Keoghan’s motto: No Opportunity Wasted. I think Phil should come to the great state of Texas and ride some of these opportunity-drenched trails with me. I bet I could smoke him and his two-wheeler on these twisting treed byways and really give those alligators something to talk about :0)
No Opportunity Wasted was the perfect theme of the day. Because the truth is that I didn’t want to get out and ride yesterday; I was still pretty sore & fatigued from the weekend’s rides. But I needed to take my husband to his job in Lake Jackson because he was leaving his vehicle with me while he goes on a work-related road trip. I’ve been meaning to go check out Brazos Bend State Park, but my ICE Qnt isn’t really outfitted with the proper tires for those kinds of trails. In spite of how my body felt, I refused to throw away the opportunity of being in close proximity to the park while being in possession of the Greenspeed Magnum (the SUV of recumbent trikes, on loan to me for review).
It would’ve been so easy to settle into the idea that I’d ridden hard and well over the weekend and deserved to rest my aching muscles and joints. When you have an illness and/or disability, others are quick to tell you to take care of yourself, take it easy, take a break. You even give yourself the same advice, you know, with that rationalizing, maybe-we-should-play-it-safe part of your brain. Sometimes it’s good advice, the “better safe than sorry” adage. As long as you’re not using “safe” as a code word for “easy,” as a way of opting for what’s more comfortable and convenient. As long as you keep in mind–smack-dab in the front of your mind, hot spotlight shining upon it–this principle of not wasting opportunities. Whenever you can dang well help it!
Yo, Phil, you know that life list of yours? Add this amazing Tejas adventure; you won’t regret it. What could be more fun than out-riding alligators and dodging snakes?
And don’t forget, good readers, sometimes “safe” and “sorry” are more like two faces of a coin that’s worth the same amount no matter which way it lands in the toss; more like interchangeable thesaurus-versions of themselves than cause-and-effect or good advice, much less good medicine Now go, get out there. Ride, run, write, explore, create, LIVE.
Hey everybody, here’s the interview Don Teague did with my service dog Luke – in which I make a cameo appearance and talk a little bit about poetry and how the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis diverted my career from acting and theaters to creative writing and classrooms.
The interview aired Wednesday on local (Houston) Fox News and my hope is that anybody who might be looking for a way to become or stay active – in spite of illness, injury or any other challenges – would see this interview and give a recumbent trike a try. I’m also hoping that anyone watching who may’ve had a life-altering event similar to mine – one that blocks the pathway of the course you’ve spent decades charting – might gain some encouragement from my story. I whole-heartedly believe that many of the obstacles we face are tremendous opportunities on their flipsides. Here’s the interview withLuke, the trike, a little bit of poetry, and me.
Kyle happens to be one of my heroes and also one of the chief encouragers of getting me going on three wheels which has majorly influenced – in fact, outright transformed – my health, head-space and heart-space these last couple of years. In case you don’t already know, my other blog WonkyBent is all about life with MS, a service dog and a recumbent trike.
I’ve never actually met Kyle in person so I’m really looking forward to that; there’s something about looking someone in the eye and voicing your gratitude to them that is a truly exceptional, grace-filled experience. If you ever have that kind of opportunity with someone who’s inspired you and made a remarkable difference in your life, don’t let the chance pass you by. You can read more about Kyle and my other heroes (including the time I got to thank Michael J. Fox on The Oprah Winfrey Show) in this WonkyBent post.
I need to post updates on the feral cat rescue and domestication efforts going on over her in Casa Lanier, especially in regard to this week’s unexpected developments.
I also have updates on the found/rescued horse-of-a-dog, who still needs a loving home!
And I have a whole passel of klepto-collaborative poems from TEDxAustin that I need to get up here, too.
So stay tuned, you lovely readers out there. And if you’re trying to keep up with all that I do, you might consider subscribing to both blogs; sometimes I cross-post, but not very often.
The technical/communication universe is supremely ticked off at me: first my Mac died, then my iPhone’s Apps all got erased, then Comcast internet services failed, going on over a week now. Which is why I haven’t posted for a while. But now I come back to you with 3 new klepto-collaborative poems from TEDxAustin!
I’d like to do a much more thorough intro on these speakers, as I did with the previous ones for Chris Riley and David R. Dow, but I’m zipping in and out of this Starbucks as quickly as possible so this is going to be a bit more brief than I’d prefer.
Todd Humphreys is a professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics. He heads a team at UT studying GPS technology: spoofing and jamming, personal, corporate and national security, all of its capacity to serve us, save us, get us lost, or harm us. What I really wanted to ask him is whether the little blue GPS dots can be utilized to find my car in the airport parking garage. There really should be an App for that. Wait. Is there already? Somebody let me know.
One of the ways this technology has impacted my own life in the last couple of years is by way of an App called Cyclemeter by Abvio. I ride in the NYC Marathon with Team Leary Firefighters Foundation using a recumbent trike as reasonable accommodation for a disability. (you can read about that on my other blog, Wonky Woman On A Bent Trike, if you’re so inclined) It does what you’d expect in terms of mapping and timing rides, giving me that data in nifty little graphs that compare my times from previous rides on the same route and keeps all my rides on a calendar so that I can chart my progress by week, month, year. But what I find most valuable about Cyclemeter is the peace-of-mind quotient.
I have MS, and in the day to day world I go about my life with the help of my mobility assistance dog. When I’m out riding, though, Luke is not able to be with me. So anytime I’m off the trike during rides – water fountain, bathroom breaks, doing emergency maintenance, stretching, manhandling the trike in and out of the rack on the car – I’m at increased risk for falling. Since one of Luke’s primary superpowers is helping me up when I fall, being out on roads and trails without him is a mite dangerous. (this is one of those risk/reward things)
When I’m out on training rides I’m usually too steeped in the freedom and independence that I’m enjoying to worry about the What Ifs, but my husband Gary does not have the same distractions from concern. When I’m away from home riding, without my trusty sidekick/co-pilot, part of Gary’s consciousness is wrapped up in wondering if I’m okay, whether I’m back home safe and sound yet. A phone call at the beginning, half-way through and the end of my ride used to be our routine. But now, thanks to Cyclemeter, life’s much simpler for both of us, and much less anxiety ridden on Gary’s part.
Here’s why: when I begin my ride the program is set to send Gary an email with a link that includes my start time and location. Gary can use that link to check on my progress throughout my ride. Cyclemeter syncs with Google Maps and updates my location using the GPS on my phone. If the little blue dot that is me stays in one place for too long – longer than stretching or a bathroom break would warrant – Gary might call me. If I don’t respond he knows exactly where to go looking. And, if it’s the weekend and he’s at home while I’m out riding, he can gauge by the blue dot when I’m about to arrive home and have hot chocolate or a smoothie waiting for me. I love that Gary doesn’t have to worry (well, okay, he still worries – but not as much!) and I love those waiting-for-me smoothies or cups of steaming cocoa on chilly days
Here’s my klepto-collaborative poem from Todd Humphrey’s Talk at TEDxAustin. Todd, if you’re reading this, never in my wildest dreams have I imagined crafting a poem even remotely related to aerospace engineering!
WRINKLES IN AUTHENTICATION
Imagine a world full of GPS dots.
Little sensitive lighthouses
to guide you.
Each one with
a reassuring blue halo
of Here you are!
A silent subversive relay.
A carrier of
inherently prone to
errors the size of a small room.
You might get tracked
harassed or even hijacked
with this invisible utility.
At the expense of privacy.
Leaving behind safety.
In the wrong hands it might be deadly.
Someone who feels threatened with this
“Big Neighbor” potential for chaos
might design a Frankenstein tool.
But if you knew what you were doing
you could build a wave bubble
to spoof your possessions car house.
A switch to be thrown
to reclaim personal space
to help protect the general population.
Or a design that rises to the level of
awful fearsome environment
panicked game over.
An invasion of blue dots is looming.
Like a thick imperceptible fog
just over the horizon.
You could be the proud owner of
a bagful of technical twist.
Captain of You can trust us!
I already told you how crazy I am for Ellie Audet in my previous post. My “want” for one of those paper fashion creations of hers has grown into full-blown covet within the couple weeks since TEDxAustin. So much thought have I given her delightful paper creations that I’ve come to the conclusion an Ellie-created tutu is precisely the thing I should not be without in next year’s New York City Marathon. You know, to make me pedal faster, to give me something whimsical and beyond-measure-beautiful to focus on during the uphills of all those bridges. It would be a tangible, wearable, Easter-Sunday-rebirth-festive symbol of the privilege and gratitude I feel to be a part of Team Leary Firefighters Foundation and among the field of challenged athletes who overcome incredible odds to show up at the starting line. Those folks who, along with me, make of each and every mile an outright parade of celebration for what we can do. Which, when you think about it, is an adventure of transformational proportions.
I was thinking the tutu would be my version of a superhero cape. Because even though I’m a cyclist and a differently-abled marathoner, I’m first and foremost a poet. So it makes perfect sense to me that my superhero signifier of flight – of resurrecting courage and hope, of conquering adversity – would be a tutu rather than a cape :0)
Ellie, if you’re reading this, imagine the klepto-collaborative poem I made from your TED Talk written in flourishes of cursive with peacock-teal ink on cotton-candy-blue handmade paper, with maraschino-cherry-red confetti, lavender flower petals, silver and gold glitter, slivery strips of tangerine and sunshine yellow satiny ribbon woven into the mix. Oh, and I’d like to place my official order for a Ellie Audet Original tutu to wear with tremendous paper-lovin’ pride during the 2012 NYC Marathon, please. Can you do something with an orange, red and yellow flame motif? I’m pretty sure that would help me pedal faster, and I have no doubt that the firefighters I raise funds and awareness for would really appreciate the oxymoronic irony of such a flammable fashion statement sporting its own “fire.”
A little girl
viewing math, origami, all coming together.
Playing with notions of fashion
to create something useful.
Convey love of the beautiful.
Rest your eyes on this dress.
Cherish the way it folds, crinkles.
The role of paper projections
in relationship to fractal geometry.
Inspiration is basically
And then suddenly a couple’s lawn
is transformed into
an angry queen’s skirt.
Penny de los Santos is a storyteller, like me, except that she uses her camera instead of a word processor as her primary means of story-craft. I love her way of exploring culture and identity through food. I love her beliefs about seeing and connecting. I love that from now on I can legitimize any culinary indulgence as “cultural exploration.” Thanks for that, Penny!
And thank you, with all sincerity, for your unforgettable, evocative images. Your photography is indeed a storied feast. I am welcomed by your invitation, drawn into the circle of warm glow, of community and connection. My heart and mind are nourished by the symbolic meals you prepared with your inspired poetic visioning.
Create this canvas
locked and loaded
with light, composition and color
on the most random of street corners.
first taste next plane last breath
expressions of who we are.
capture human moments
chicken soup mosaic
this picture prayer
of a mother
in her last hours
surrounded by her children
sharing a meal
from a TV tray.
the entire room
Watch a father
room went black grave
of his one true
like nothing else
every 1/100th of a second
I think of you
Be brave enough
to peel away our
last confession differences
taught to us by
the Mexican border
of our mind’s eye.
open, present, vulnerable
seeing and connecting
then we’re all
lost the picture refugees
turn for the worse
watchmen on the rooftops.
Take the first taste
see this moment
Become the visual storyteller
an orange golden hue on
across the globe all around us
under the carport
fled their home country
careful to keep a low profile.
taught to them by their mothers.
In the dowdiest diners
they gather around meals
Will you make me some?
Photos by Gary Lanier
The second speaker at TEDxAustin was David R. Dow. He is a litigator, a professor, and the author of Autobiography of an Execution. I think this paragraph from The Huffington Post article about his book says everything you need to know about his advocacy work:
“As a law student, I remember being offended by the legal principle that regards children as a form of property owned by their parents. Since I started representing death row inmates twenty years ago, I’ve seen one concrete ramification of this principle: executions. Most of my clients, the ones that are not innocent, did something terrible. Most of them did something terrible because, when they were young, neither their parents nor our society paid them any heed.” In regard to his mission, carried out through his job of death penalty lawyer, Dow says, “I can’t bring myself to leave until it’s done.” I know I speak for many when I say I’m grateful that Dow is leading this battle for justice in our country, day in and day out.
My first real, thorough, education about our country and the death penalty came from the book Women On the Row: Revelations from Both Sides of the Bars, by Kathleen O’Shea. In addition to some legal system basics of the death penalty and what it’s like to attempt to navigate trials and appeals, the real gift of Kathleen O’Shea’s book is the sharing of the women’s stories, and the sharing of O’Shea’s own personal story, as well. In reading Women On the Row I came to the heart-stopping realization that, with the slightest shift of circumstances, a few degrees this way or that, my fate might’ve been tied up in a similar tangle of legal twists and turns. I read the testimonies of these women on death row and heard my own voice in many of theirs.
In spite of having read O’Shea’s book and seeing glimpses of pieces of what could’ve been my life, when David R. Dow was introduced by the host as a “death penalty lawyer,” I felt not the slightest connection to those words, to that topic. With the introduction of the first speaker, Chris Riley, and his topic heavily themed with storytelling, my immediate response was Yes! I was plugged in before Riley’s feet hit the stage. But the death penalty? I felt “apart” from all of that. Not that I’d forgotten the experience of O’Shea’s book and the stories, though I guess the bright connection I felt originally had faded a bit with time, with distance.
Those who study human behavior and the brain tell us that our consciousness holds apart and away from us – at a “safe” distance – that which threatens us, so that we can go about our daily lives, so that we can function and thrive. I can only imagine that a big part of what my brain keeps partitioned from me is how closely Dow’s advocacy for those on death row matters to me. I could’ve been the daughter of a woman on death row, or it could’ve just as easily been me.
My mother was a mentally unbalanced woman. She was emotionally, psychologically abusive; she was violent. For the duration of my childhood and early teen years, I responded in the play-dead possum way. It kept me alive and in one piece (physically, at least). In my middle-teens I began to stand up for myself verbally, and while that sometimes felt better – in that I was no longer a completely passive victim – it only served to fuel my mother’s rages even further. In my late teens I grew taller than her by a couple of inches, but my level of righteous indignation was growing leaps and bounds. My mother’s various means of manipulation and humiliation were extraordinary. I’d taken psychological, spiritual and literal slap after slap, kick after kick, for too long. No one - not my father, other family members, neighbors or teachers, Girl Scout leaders or my friends’ parents – intervened on my behalf.
In fact, some of the nuns at my school added to the burden of my mother’s abuse by blaming me for it. They punished me. They told me God was disappointed in me for my failure to respect and honor my mother. They condemned me for all the “lies” I told about her. There was no refuge from my home life anywhere. I was bullied at school by other kids, and the teachers who could have, should have been advocates, some of them only shamed me further and made me feel more alone, helpless and hopeless.
As much as I wanted to, I never responded to my mother’s violence with violence. Well, to say I “wanted to” is not accurate. What I mean is that I wanted for it to stop. My mother, I mean. I wanted her to stop; I wanted the abuse to stop. I was desperate for a way out, a way for the never-endingness of the pain to be over. In the voices of Women On the Row, that’s what I heard ringing out: desperation. I recognized that above all else, because desperation has been my voice. That’s how I know how easily my life could’ve turned into a barbed-wire tumbleweed of police-car sirens flashing red and blue, the cold metal crush of handcuffs, interrogations and courtrooms and confinement. It takes just one act of desperation to ruin a life.
One night, when I was seventeen, my mother picked up a knife in our kitchen. She’d had one too many amber glasses of Jack Daniel’s (with which she self-medicated). My mother came toward me, forcing me backward until I was trapped in the angle of the L-shaped kitchen counter with nowhere to go. She was screaming, irrational, her brain’s faulty chemistry and the alcohol were doing their Jekyyl & Hyde monster show. Her grip on the knife was tight and the blade was flashing like a crazed one-winged silver bird, darting and diving, no more than three feet from my face. My modus operandi of survival – playing possum – was not going to save me this time. Drying in the dish rack next to the sink was another, bigger knife. I grabbed hold of it. In that burning, shrinking into tunnel-vision, merry-go-round dizzying and disorienting, nausea-inducing moment, I was sure it was going to come down to her or me. And I did not want to die.
The realization that I didn’t want to die surprised me.
I had been praying that I would die. That my mother would finally kill me and put us both out of our misery. I was so tired. Utterly exhausted. I was hollowed out to a thin shell from the constant hypervigilance required on the daily battlefield of the homefront. So weary of crafting camouflage, foxhole digging and diving, the minefield tip-toe-walking existence. I was worn down by all the secret-keeping that goes along with abuse, all of the lying to protect my family, and all of the repeated heart-crushings that attended not being believed on the rare times I mustered the courage to reach out and ask for help.
“Do it! Do it! Do it!” my mother taunted, daring me to use the knife I was holding. She was barefoot, wearing a tangerine nightgown, her hair a wild mess. She was lit up and frenzied, something like mania. She had it in her mind that I’d stolen a necklace from her. She was prone to paranoia and would hide her jewelry, then forget where she’d put it. Logic would not be a weapon I could use in this fight, that would be useless and much more likely to inflame her further. She spat “Bitch!” and “Slut!” at me. She raised her knife-wielding arm higher and cocked it back – so I raised my knife too. Her expression shifted then, into something different, into something I didn’t know. She was a new version of herself that I had not met before. In her trembling, in her wide, huge-pupiled eyes, I saw past her fury and her venom. I saw that, for the very first time, she was afraid. Of me.
I could not believe it.
I had been living in fear of my mother – terrorized by her moods, her abuse and violence, the serrated edges of her withholding, her without-warning shifts from light to dark in the flash of an instant – for as long as I could remember. She had tried to kill me, outright, more than once. And yet here she was, on this day and in this moment, terrified of me. She looked like a young child, a tiny girl, feral and petrified.
My heart broke for her right then and there, because I loved my mother. What most people don’t realize about my kind of dysfunctional family, is that the love you have for your abuser is enormous, it is ferocious. You keep loving your abuser more and more as the years go by, looking for new and better ways to show that love. Because you have this idea that if you can just love your abuser enough, love her in the “right” way, she will one day have no choice but to finally see it.
You think it is your job to save her. You think your love will cure her, and then your whole family, you, will be healed.
You believe that if (when) she finally recognizes how much you love her, she will stop hurting you. And you “know” that day will arrive. It has to. There’s no other choice. You have to believe that day will come because that dream is what keeps you going. It gives you the strength and courage to survive all of the abuse; it gives you a reason to keep on living in spite of the abuse. This is the very epitome of false hope, of course. But it’s the only kind you have. And you hold onto it, because it gets you through.
My mother came toward me with her knife held out between us like a sword, but she was weakened by then – like a toddler done in by her own tantrum, a forest fire that burns so hot it destroys itself – and I was able to push her arm down and away. She slumped to the floor, still holding onto the knife. I put down mine and waited until she gave in to the warm glow and golden haze of the whiskey, letting it take her like a cradling, ferrying tide – away from her insanity – rocking and lulling her to something close to human again, something close to peace. And then I washed her face, helped her brush her teeth and put her to bed.
She could’ve killed me. Or I could’ve killed her. My father could’ve walked into the fray and been killed accidentally by that silver bird with its one, sharp, unforgiving wing.
I spent the next hours packing my most precious belongings into black plastic garbage bags and hiding them, one by one, in the attic. I was going to graduate high-school in three days, and then I would leave. Without a place to go to, without any plan other than getting out. Getting away before our sick family finally broke something (or someone) that could not be unbroken.
Thank you, David R. Dow, for what you do. Thank you for reminding me how much I have to be grateful for. I help kids find and raise their voices through poetry. I teach them to explore and share their stories. I know that in order to be your own best advocate, and to effectively champion others, you must stand up and speak out, you must own your truth. At TEDxAustin, a week ago today, I revisited an old part of my story – some early chapters that I’d prefer to forget. But it’s important, isn’t it, to remember. It’s crucial to stay connected to each and every single chapter, to our entire story, to our whole self, including all of our past selves. Because that connection is what opens our minds and hearts to others. Those connections make a difference. Those connections can and do change lives. Some people, like David R. Dow, are making connections, making a vital difference, and changing our world.
For those of you new to this blog or my klepto-collaborative poetry, you should know that all the words, word pairings and phrases are taken directly from the speaker (or speakers, in other cases). These words are not my own, I just take them and puzzle them around, as if they were fridge magnets, and create a new thing – a poem – that hopefully conveys the spirit and intent of the original speaker, while presenting the words and ideas in a fresh way.
Here’s my klepto-collaborative poem from David R. Dow’s TED Talk. You know, the one I first thought had nothing at all to do with me.
Will, brother of my heart, this one’s for you.
This story never knew his father
The first sentence is a single mom
Their lives a mix and match dissolution
Tragic without parole conversation
On the thunderstruck cusp of
A butcher knife
The thrust created a consequence
This boy named Will
Left drifted dipped below
The lines of logistically dysfunctional
He invented a new family
A bad result a gang
With an affinity for more or less
A roomful of lawyers and judges
Cuff ‘em slice
Points of punishment
Into a curriculum of without parole
A strict system of step by step
Chased down the hallway erosion
A citizens agree two people a month
Through the heart execution
Kids like Will
Are falling through the cracks
Created by a big gnarly rocket
Of failed legal systems
Compassionate modes of intervention?
We’ve got to chase down reinvent
The best possible vein
Of moral imperative
Let’s intervene early
Followed by a trial of
Enormous social resources
We can make the picture bigger
Care for kids like Will
The way we’ve never done before
Lock yourself to this idea
Of providing embracing
I’ve read the records I know the story
Professor, I don’t mean any disrespect
But this isn’t rocket science
We all agree on our homework
Nudge that person that Will
Like a parent should
Create a chamber of hope
Lock yourself to clemency
Help re write
With chapters of people in the room
Focused on making a difference
I’ll write the first saving sentence
From a habeas corpus
True mother father like
Invest in innocence
Equal rights handcuffed
To the very beginning
Guaranteeing a real childhood
A wide long safe life
Don’t forget Will
The photo above is by my husband, Gary Lanier. I love the way he sees the world.
TEDxAustin was, quite simply, a TEDx I will never forget. For many reasons. So full am I–moved and inspired–that I’m actually a bit, well, wordless.
Okay, okay, I have some words–but I’m still so deeply inside the reflection, sorting and synthesizing stages of all that I took in from the Talks that my words feel few and far between. They pale in the star-shine of all I heard last Saturday in Austin’s Music Hall. There were dancers; there was singing. There was music, and then there was DJ Spooky music. The rhythms and narratives and melodies have lingered in a lovely way–much better than any swag bag–and I love how the smaller experiences within the overall one, and the distinct pieces of the larger mosaic, are abiding within me.
Oh, and let me not forget to mention, there were paper dresses, in all of their folding, swaying and swinging, crinkly glory. I was besotted with Ellie Audet’s love affair with paper and fashion design. There are marachino cherry-red flowers adorning my memories of TEDxAustin, and I would have it no other way.
The conference organizers asked that attendees leave phones and laptops at home, or at least as “behind” as possible, in order to be completely present, fully engaged, without the kind of distractions that such technology provides. And while I usually subscribe to that kind of setting aside of phones and such for workshops and conferences and believe wholeheartedly in the ethos at hand, not being able to utilize a laptop made note taking for my klepto-collaborative poetry quite challenging.
Which is all to say that I’m doing this klepto-collaborative poem a bit differently for TEDxAustin. While I usually craft and offer up to you all what is essentially one poem with different parts or sections, this time I’ve decided to create a klepto-collaborative poem out of each speaker’s Talk. Mostly because transcribing the words, word pairing and phrases from the (very) many notebook pages is taking me (what feels like) forever. I’ve got arthritis in my joints from all the courses of IV steroids (as a result of treatment for MS) and my hands and fingers were already screaming in a high-pitched squeal after the first session of Talks. The constant, cramped writing in too-narrow lines of the too-small notebook pages took a toll. Typing them into my computer is easier by leaps and bounds, but my joints are still majorly ouchy (that’s a technical term), thus, it’s been s l o w going.
Who knows, though? Necessity is said to be the big mama of invention! The good thing about being “forced” into this new way, this new process of creating, is that I’ll have an entire collection (over a dozen) of little klepto-collaborative poems to offer you–in bite-sized portions–over the coming days. Served up in courses, like a fancy, formal meal at the Queen’s palace. (I’d like to claim to be the queen in this scenario, but I’m more like the chef) ((and the server)) (((without the white frilly apron; sans english or irish accent and the demure, deferential mannerisms)))
I’ll still craft another, longer, poem using bits from all of the speakers in the end–like I did with TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands and TEDxWomen. But this process, I hope, will be an interesting and entertaining exercise–as well as offer a new kind of challenge to me in the creation. Fewer words, word pairing and phrases to choose from is decidedly more difficult, and calls for even more out-of-the-box imagining when it comes to puzzling together the pieces.
Another thing I like about approaching my klepto-collaborative process differently than usual is that I’ve opened up the opportunity to introduce each speaker from the conference and direct you to her/his profile, tell you a bit about what from each Talk made an impact on me, connected with me, and woke me up. I feel good about investing some time toward this end because the speakers at a TED conference give so generously of their time in sharing their passions with us. While there’s usually a nominal ticket price for a TEDx conference, the cost goes to covering the expenses of putting on the event itself; no profit is made by the organizers; the speakers are not compensated for their time. My heart dances with thanksgiving for the folks who make TED and TEDx events happen, all of the organizers, sponsors, production teams, volunteers, etc. Especially the speakers who show up, stand and deliver such dynamic, educational, motivational TED Talks.
And the audience, the attendees, who are really much more than those words convey. TED folks are the most plugged-in, hungry for learning and new experiences, eager to reach out and make a difference, welcoming and gracious people I know. Their presence makes up what I consider to be extended family at every TED event. In fact, I’ve come to think of TED and TEDx conferences as homecomings, of the very best kind.
At its core, TED is about getting ideas out into the world; ideas that matter; ideas that can make a difference. The way the ideas are conveyed is through story. Because stories, after all, are how we learn and grow and change. Stories are what connect us to ourselves and to one another, to our history, to the now of this moment, and to our tomorrows. Every TED Talk is a story chock full of immeasurable power, unchartable potential, a gift that really does keep on giving. I was thrilled with Chris Riley, the first speaker onto the stage of TEDxAustin, because he’s the kind of person who knows the power of our stories, and he’s using that power to unite people across the globe. (You’re not going to want to miss his Talk, so make sure to check it out as soon as the video hits YouTube)
Chris Riley’s Talk spoke to my heart and mind in many ways. I love that he believes what I do, that every single person’s story is important and deserves to be told. I love that he believes each voice, across cultures and status, race and gender, etc. is necessary, holds a narrative crucial to our understanding of ourselves and our larger, global identity. Chris Riley says, “In order to make sense of the world you now have to be an active participant in the stories that define it.” And I couldn’t agree more.
What stuck with me most from this Talk is the imperative of not only seeking out and listening to the many, diverse narratives that are making and remaking our world every day, but that I–each one of us–must reach out to the sources of those stories, to the very storytellers themselves. Therein lies the truer, more personal and precious connection. Engaging is the first real step to any change-making.
Thank you, Chris Riley. I hope my poem does your Talk justice.
Here’s my first klepto-collaborative effort from TEDxAustin 2012. You can read Chris Riley’s BIO here, and remember to stay tuned for his glorious, story-filled TED Talk. I’ll post the link as soon as it’s uploaded.
ask yourselves what else?
kids standing around
wearing NIKE and drinking Coke
young women living in a yurt
other faces dressed in
fear and horror.
make the effort to distill
the individual narratives
not denying what you see
but looking longer
the years emotions
that came before
this one photograph.
all over the world
there are pools of
rich, deep and risky
the global dialogue.
help make sense of
the awful and weird
the complicated and confusing.
a beautiful earthquake
a true birthing
of many voices.
participating is a way of
painting a different picture
a really brilliant
festival of lives.
listen to untouchable stories
of real life, real people
it demonstrates respect
a tuning in to
swimming pools of emotion.
less looking at
that dominant narrative of
drinking up community
really think about
what it means to connect.
when you participate you feel
less and less apart from
less and less alone
hold onto that.
barred from her own country
a young woman
left her family
she made a powerful story
Dali Lama change.
all of these images these stories
see tune in
respect who I am
hear the reasons I have to go.
telling all of us
don’t worry follow
engage with the storytellers
join in celebrating
weddings all over the world.
I want you to do this
find ways of appreciating
turning listening into sharing
one way to begin?
laugh with me.
So much for my feeling wordless, huh?
In truth, all the words that really stand out demanding to be heard herein are from Chris Riley.
Come back soon; I’ll have the next speaker’s klepto-collaborative up tomorrow. Thanks again, TEDxAustin, for all the stories.
That photo, btw, is by my gorgeous, talented husband, Gary Lanier.
A Klepto-collaborative Poem of TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands ~ January 7, 2012
First off, I have some questions:
Is Osama Bin Laden your uncle?
Why isn’t something being done?
What caused such an act of violence?
Why do you wear that thing?
Why am I thinking this?
What’s worth fighting for?
How much blood would he have to give?
Are you going to blow up a building?
How are you going to pay for college?
Who in this room has autism?
Are these people going to kill you?
What two different things can you combine to create something new?
How pumped up is your science teacher?
What are you capable of?
Can you change your world?
Can you give us some practical things?
What separates you?
Do I let it show?
Hey, Wally, what should I do?
OK, wait Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Close your eyes A knock on the door
Look A story As good as a circus
A phenomenal journey To different parts of the world
Running through a canopy of trees Like Indiana Jones From point A to point B
A giant step Inspired by Wildscape
A mission trip In the fellowship of each other
A long, personal conversation A quest for knowledge
Outside the reservation of What you and I take for granted
To a village Where the girl in the middle’s doing a very good job
Learning the alphabet Of hope
Which roughly translates to School Where We Have Fun
Where knowledge and education are universal
Where there’s No stereotypes or stigmas
Where Instead of Mud huts No running water or electricity
There’s A bed in every room A pillow Under her head
Dive Just beneath the surface
Of what you think you know Of an excess of everything
Imagine if you will Waiting at the bus stop Of progress
With an empty stomach Only one meal a day
This is a letter
From The eyes of a child My mother My teacher
Saying Become an advocate Support kids Make an impact
Raise your awareness Serve as interpreters
Go around Boxes Of default programming
Go to school Lead by example Occupy
Shrug it off Wash everything off Cover the wound
Everything’s gonna be alright
Come together Rise above Become great people
Effect incredible change Innovate Inspire
Begin to see our originality Don’t take candy from strangers
Fast-forward through The media
Trust me Just do that
Welcome A trainload of Cans Filled with Awestruck
Coexist With our flaws SpongeBob And The Beave
With every Kaleidoscope Ideology
Open up Break ground Go around the rail yard Dancing
Elevate Compassion Highlight Heroes
Gravitate towards People who believe in you
Find groups Of A Sweet Intent
Go for your dreams Overcome every obstacle
You must be patient You can do whatever you want to do
The secret is To own it
Spend a lot of time Collecting A vast array of
Oxygen Maps Of humble beginnings
A round of applause Weather data & sculpture
Proud Car batteries & wire
Theme parks & small shacks Chess-playing Elephants
Bright red blood Reflections of iceberg blue
My life story Cleaned and weighed
Hear my voice Hold the door
Feed Clothe Nurture Shelter
Provoke Create Read Literature
Stand on top of the Whitehouse And Think of your children
See originality See connections Keep looking Acknowledge
Sell more groundnuts Pay back that loan
Play Legos Play soccer Play the composition again
Have a bit of a gimmick In the way of a bicyclist
Step back and consider The rise of text messaging Of domestic violence
Have a great system Make that tension go away
Center Be quiet Change the channel Change the setting
Resurrect Initiative Hard work High regard
Swim for two hours in The stuff nobody talks about
Summon the energy to Make a smirk between the asterisks
Make the case For continuing to hone A better future for us all
Create a better world With clean water Education Safe shelter
Change the life of “Hi, my name is Jim.”
Look at this view
Imagine You can stand here and see
Unity All these people holding hands
Diversity You were not expecting
Our best resource is The human spirit
Growing Empowerment & compassion
Carry all of this around every day
Country to country, community to community
Like A headscarf