Alligators Dislike Trikes

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*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.

My Service Dog Is Famous

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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.

I’ll be in the Dallas area for the Friedreich’s Ataxia fundraising ride with Kyle Bryant on March 24th. Come out and say Howdy if you’re around. And please donate to the cause if you’re able :0)

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.

3 New Klepto-Collaborative Poems

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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

accuracy matters.

And                              unfortunately

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.”

PAPER      LOVE

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

a     chef.

Challenge          yourself.

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.

REALLY SEE

Create this canvas

locked and loaded

with light, composition and color

on the most random of street corners.

Honest

first taste     next plane     last breath

expressions of who we are.

A beautiful

capture human moments

chicken soup     mosaic

of

noticed, appreciated

celebrated.

Look at

this picture     prayer

of     a mother

in her     last    hours

surrounded by her children

sharing a meal

of     sacred

from a TV tray.

See

the entire room

lit

travelling

with connection.

Watch     a      father

visiting     the

room went black     grave

of      his     one     true

like nothing else

every 1/100th of a second

I     think    of     you

flowers     forever

love.

Be brave enough

to     peel away our

culture

gender, nationality

last confession     differences

taught     to us          by

soldiers     of

dark     history

blind     government

the Mexican border

of our mind’s eye.

If

we’re not

open, present, vulnerable

seeing          and          connecting

then     we’re     all

hungry

lost the picture     refugees

turn for the worse

watchmen on the rooftops.

Take the first taste

of

see this moment

food.

Become the visual storyteller

savoring intensely

exploring.

Flash

an orange golden hue on

across the globe     all around us

under the carport

faces.

Families

fled their home country

careful to keep a low profile.

They brought

recipes

taught to them by their mothers.

In the dowdiest diners

they gather around     meals

to remember

to      taste

home.

Will you make me some?

*****

Photos by Gary Lanier

Don’t Forget Will

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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.

*****

DON’T          FORGET

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

Childhood     unfolded

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

Accurate          shooting

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

Where are

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

Entirely noncontroversial

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

Hug     him

Like a parent     should

Create a          chamber     of hope

Lock yourself               to clemency

Help         re     write

Will’s                    biography

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

Love

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.

Beyond Measure

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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

further.

past

the surface

yes

invest          in

contextualizing.

uncover

investigate

the years               emotions

that came before

this one          photograph.

all over the world

there are          pools     of

rich, deep          and     risky

changing

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.

imagine

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

familiar.

she made               a powerful story

a wonderful

breakfast        of

elemental

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.


Wear it Like A headscarf

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      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

There’s          Enough

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

Heart-beating          Beauty:

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

Listen

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

Wear it

Like          A headscarf

Our flag

A privilege

Aside

TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands was this past Saturday, January 7th.  It was such a privilege to share the stage with that amazing group of speakers and performers!  For the opening of the conference day I created a kind of klepto-collaborative poem that I’ve never done before.  I’m still a bit amazed my idea was welcomed so enthusiastically.  Imagine proposing to event organizers a couple of weeks before the conference date, Hey, I’d like to do a multi-media version of my klepto-collaborative poem.  But, well, I’ve never actually done anything like that before.

I was pretty sure I could pull it off.  But more than anything I knew that I wanted to challenge myself, to explore new ways of narrative–of storytelling–with photos, video clips and words via the puzzle-piece mix-and-match klepto-collaborative poetry form that I’ve come to love.  The organizers said yes and an invitation went out to the speakers, volunteers and registered attendees.  Based on the theme of “Imaginate,” people were asked to fill in the blank, “I imagine a world where _____.”  And then finish the statement, “I would create it by _____.”

A few thoughtful, inspired responses arrived via e-mail, but not enough for me to really do what I do.  I sent word out to the larger TED communuity via Facebook, Twitter and email; a couple more submissions, but still not enough.  I invited everybody, then, anybody who wanted to contribute to the project.  And words began to pour in from all of the various folks I’d solicited.  In addition to the TED folks I received word-gifts from the likes of author Anthony Doerr and poet D. A. Powell, from a couple of people I know only via the reader/responder community of Ann Leary’s blog, Wicked Good Life.  People sent the invitation on to others and reposted and reTweeted.  Before I knew it, I had more than enough.  More words and images than I could ever utilize in 3 minutes of video time.

So much wordy goodness did I have to choose from that I kinda-sorta cheated, by making the video a minute longer than I’d planned or pitched.  An extra minute isn’t really that long when you think about it, right?  Anyway, I got away with it.  Mostly because everybody’s words and ideas were the shiniest kind of good you could ever hope to choose from. So if you submitted something to me and your words don’t show up in this video–stay tuned!–I’ll be putting together another klepto-collaborative video (or two) to showcase more of the voices, images & video clips sent in.

I’ll get a full list of the contributors up here as soon as I’m able.  I just really wanted to get this video posted sooner rather than later, and hunting through emails in my jam-packed Inbox would mean much “later” than I’d like. (later than you’d like, too, trust me)

 *Except for my own response to the “Imaginate” writing prompt above, none of these words are my own.  I lifted words, word pairings & phrases from the submitted responses (klepto) and crafted the collective (collaborative) poem you see here.   The video clips and photos, save 3, were shot by me or my husband Gary.

See for yourself, this beautiful thing we have imagined and created together . . .

Please feel free to write your own responses of imagining & creating in the comments section; I’d love to hear how you envision a better world for us all.  I’ll be posting the closing klepto-collaborative poem–crafted from all of the speakers at TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands–in a subsequent post.

Heartfelt fireworks & shooting star THANK YOUs to everybody who offered up their voices & visions for this project.  I feel deeply honored that you shared your colorful, fantastical, unique, lush, glorious pieces of self and story with me ~~~

TEDxYouth@TheWo…