Beyond Measure


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?


we see

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 surface


invest          in




the years               emotions

that came before

this one          photograph.

all over the world

there are          pools     of

rich, deep          and     risky


the global dialogue.

join in

the storytelling

help               make sense of

the awful and weird

the      complicated     and confusing.

sharing          is

crossing divides

a               beautiful     earthquake

a true           birthing

of many voices.

participating is          a way of

painting a different picture

a really brilliant

laughter         alarmed

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

a photograph

that dominant narrative of

poverty porn.

think          more

drinking     in

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

more welcome

hold onto     that.

barred from her own country

a young woman

left               her family

absolutely everything


she made               a powerful story

a wonderful

breakfast        of


Dali Lama     change.

all of    these images              these stories

are saying

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

start                              today

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.

About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. &

4 responses »

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