Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: TEDxRainier Known/Unknown 2014

TED (Technology, Engineering, Design) x (independent) Rainier (Seattle), McCaw Hall

"Who are we? Why are we here?," I thought on arrival at TEDxRainier.

After a long week and some family medical emergencies, a drive to Seattle and the prospect of sitting for a Saturday felt dubious at best. It did not help that I'd recently read, "The Machine Stops," by E.M. Forster and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse both books which call into question the value of questing after ideas and the wisdom to be gained from lectures and teachers.

Everyone I spoke to said they were here, "to be inspired," and not by any particular speaker. We were curious, open-minded, somewhat ambivalent explorers. I'd attended TEDxRainier once before, awhile after earning my MFA, for a creative boost. It had given me enough to ponder that I hadn't felt the need to return for some time (in fact, I last went in 2010 — some boost!).

This time, I was particularly interested in the speakers talking about space exploration (related to my current writing project), but I knew anything could happen. I remembered that my last TEDx had been enjoyable and felt worthwhile. As soon as the first lecture began, that feeling returned.

At TEDxRainier, humanity felt good. The words kindness, caring and empathy were often used. People spoke passionately about changing the world with positive intent. The speakers had each found a niche and focus for their energies and were making things happen. They showed the breadth of humanity's influence and interests.

The most challenging speaker and ideas for me came from Rex Hohlbein and his story of facing homelessness. The idea is very simple, "Just say hello," but could change the very way you walk through, see and experience the world. It raises deep seeded fears, wrenching personal experiences and complex socio-political issues. Not an argument, but something to ponder.

On a related note, the presentation that spoke to me most strongly was the performance of "Mother For You I Made This" by Erza Dickinson and Velocity Dance.

Dickinson created a series of dances about growing up trying to understand and to care for his schizophrenic mother. After his dance, he walked to the front of the stage and talked about how alone and isolated he felt as a child. However, when he began to put his work out into the public, he found community and shared experience.

He spoke to all the artists working alone creating while trying to process the effects of mental illness. He called for people to speak out and bring attention to our failed mental health system.

TEDxRainier's steady, smooth flow of speaker does not allow an opportunity to ask questions, mostly appreciated, but I had just two burning ones:

For Rex Holbein: Has he had any negative experiences from engaging homeless strangers? Sadly, there's fear there (and how warranted?).

For Michael Skinner on epigentics: What about positive effects passed down? Could you expose a mother to an environmental factor and then see certain benefits to her great-grandchildren within a few generations? This idea also raises interesting possibilities. There's a story in there.

While humanity felt mostly good at TEDx, it was also there in all its depth. There were tinges of evil and perhaps edges of selfishness, greed, and certainly privilege. It raised cautions about the costs of exploration and questions about the value of pursuit of certain singular goals, passions and ideas (see also The Machine Stops and Siddhartha) to the exclusion of all else.

There was some whiplash and contradiction. We go from thinking about the homeless to mining asteroids in a planetary economy. Do you spend your life listening to prisoners or solitarily climbing mountains? It's impossible (certainly undesirable) to overlook the suffering caused by dairy farms, oil drills and animal testing (knowledge gained at the cost of many lives - remember those penguins and externalities?). Pondering.

Some themes that emerged: 
  • The power of data to change the world. Whether penguins, pollinators, or coffee: if you measure and track, you can make a stronger argument for improvement and you make change.
  • The power of stories, connection and a positive outlook to change the world. When we look for good, listen, say hello, appreciate each other and connect we can improve ills from homelessness to climate change.
  • Whether you want to quit smoking or climb Everest, success may lie in your willingness to fail and live with discomfort. A key question, "How uncomfortable are you willing to be?
At the last TEDx, I came away with a bit of a reading list. This year, I felt the literary arts were conspicuous by absence.

Here's an idea I think is worth spreading: The power of fiction to change the world, "Fiction and poetry can succeed where facts fail," see John Yunker's post "The Necessary Evolution of Environmental Writing" something he speaks to passionately. In a similar vein, I'm drawn to read and write novels about utopias (when dystopias are all the rage). We have to imagine the world we want, as well as confront the consequences we're afraid of.

For those interested in the talks on the environment, penguins and water, there's The Tourist Trail by John Yunker and post-TED I've moved Float by JoeAnn Hart (which talks about microplastics in our oceans) to the top of my reading list. Would anyone else add any fiction to their TEDxRainier inspired reading list?

Before coming to TED, I questioned the investment. Couldn't I just spend a day watching TED talk videos to learn something instead? I am unlikely to do that all day. And, undeniably, there is a magic in being there (clearly a lot of behind the scenes orchestration and organization and volunteers make it so) — being there engages and ignites.

The question I came away with last TED is the same one I have at the end of this one: "Now, what will I do with all this inspiration?"

Key quotes and takeaways:
Dee Boersma: Should penguins pay our bills? Let's measure our true costs.
Hadi Partovi: Teach kids (especially girls) computer science. #HourofCode
Preston Singletary: Mix modern and traditional. Collaborate to keep culture alive and create anew.
Kathleen Macferran: Presence matters. Listening restores relationships. (see also Siddhartha)
Johnathan Bricker: Willingness. "The secret to self-control is to give up control."
Chris Lewicki: "Because of this our destiny in space is assured." Mine asteroids, go farther in space exploration.
David Schomer: "My teasing muse coffee has kept her fragrant promise made to me 25 years ago in the food giant."
Jim McDermott: "Don't take death lying down." Write your medical advance directives.
Sara Bergmann: "We are nature." Design biodiversity back in i.e. Pollinator Pathway.
Ed Viesturs "Be comfortable with the uncomfortable."; "If you don't mind it doesn't matter."
Gifford Pinchot: Happo/Damo-Ratio-consider the happiness created vs the damage done.

TEDx Rainier words of the day: externality, lysis, Ka Ka Win Chealth, pteropods, Anthropocene, willingness, epigenetics, deconfliction

TEDx Rainier writing prompts: penguin cities filled with penguin sentinels, robot fish, planetary economy, transforming killer whales, sea star ghost town, ancestral ghosts in your genome

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A very TEDxRainier inspired Sensorium

Taste: green tea; oily noodles
Sight: steaming tea and soup;  a sea star melts into a gruesome death; rolling calving icebergs; Mother for You I Made This; The Storyteller, 2013, blown and sand carved glass by Preston Singletary
Sound: Ka Ka Win Chealth, Bjork and Stevie Wonder influenced Shaprece; Native American soul funk, A Little Big Band
Touch: hot tea; cool water
Smell: coffee, of course
Extra: robot fish; the man who climbed Rainier 200 times and Everest seven—where every step is 15 breaths
Grateful for: the giant octopus—fascinating, charismatic, intelligent animals; curiosity, caring, a sense of urgency; humanity—kindness, caring, empathy

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving: Grateful for 2014

Being a compilation of all the "grateful for" thoughts in the Sensorium this past year...

I begin being grateful on clear January days/nights;
with sleep, good sleep;
and dreams, dreams, dreams.

Thank goodness there are stories. Books. Early nights in
and books written so well the sentences make you swoon — Books!;
And words, reading, thinking, bursts of creativity — and, at last, inspiration.

 I head out for the globe, walking, walking;
 O! So thankful for my feet;
Into adventures - small and large, in hometowns and far flung.

There's socializing, dancing, anticipating concerts;
Imagine solar sails for space - the Sunjammer Project;
I am grateful for endurance.

And, then, I am grateful for my home;
hugging my purring cat, a comic book box;
Sam.

In spring, there's the fruit stand and farmers' markets. Flowers!
I take out the kitchen tools: blender, juicer; and there's
The Happy Cow Cookbook: Recipes from Top-Rated Vegan Restaurants Around the World.

I appreciate specificity,
The Humane Society (also Paul Shapiro really puts out a nice e-newsletter);
Inspectors of Broad Slow Social Change (i.e. Rebecca Solnit);
I think of slow utopia, orchids, Kuan Yin.

There's something about a small accomplishment; a quiet demeanor;
I look at a "Dreamer of World Peace," statue of Peace Leader Sri Chinmoy at Lake Union, installed November 7, 2010 in Fremont, Seattle beside the Sound.

I dream of aging well and gracefully;
I am grateful for memories of tastes and smells;
And, there's always the possibility of memoir. As it has not been an easy year.

 I am grateful for every one of you, this day;
And experience deep feelings of contentment and love;
You, friends, this day. And then, at last, I give thanks with all my heart.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Laundry Soap and Smoke on an Autumn Night

Taste: Granny Smith; pumpkin pie
Sight: the orange glow of a clear November morning just before sunrise between the Olympics and the Cascades
Sound: business shoes, businesslike on pavement
Touch: a warm pocket
Smell: rosemary and cabernet; pancakes and pizza; smoke and laundry soap
Extra: apatheia - freedom or release from emotion or excitement
Grateful for: words

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mother's snapping, cracking, sliding, sinking and saying something with alarming profundity

Taste: cinnamon and cloves
Sight: muddy shoes; a cloche hat; words typed upon a scarf worn around one's neck
Sound: snapping pumpkin seeds, cracking knuckles
Touch: sliding in the mud, sinking in the muck
Smell: Himalayan cedar
Extra: a profound sentiment; a bizarrely specific timeline;
"Let us love this distance, which is thoroughly woven with friendship, since those who do not love each other are not separated." — Simone Weil
"We have to be kind to each other in here...We're all we have left." — "Torching the Dusties," Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
Grateful for: reading, thinking, bursts of creativity, inspiration

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Singing, ringing bowls: what used to be there

Taste: caloric, creamy comfort food - vegan pumpkin cheesecake, vegan corn dogs-light and crisp, almond milk holiday nog
Sight: Gary Numan - face, jaw, hands, lips, waist, movement; the Neptune Theatre; the moon over the pumpkin patch
Sound: alchemy bowls, Tibetan healing gong, singing bowls, a bowl made of rose quartz - Sound Healing
Touch: fingers between the toes - massaging one's own feet
Smell: roasted pumpkin seeds
Extra: hedonistic adaptation; fascination; a display of charisma and self-confidence; katabatic wind, fall wind, to flow downhill; shul: the impression of something that used to be there
Grateful for: my feet

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Imponderable distress at the center of the universe

Taste: Gravensteins
Sight: winged arc of a crow - swoop
Sound: "You are the center of your universe....sound vibrating all around you."; swoop
Touch: corpse pose to fetal pose; squish!
Smell: M&Ms; Play-doh
Extra: his absence increases the tension in the room; imponderable bloom;
"I will not measure you out anymore distress than you need to write your books. Do you want any less than that?" — "The Young Man With a Carnation," Isak Dinesen
Grateful for: stories

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