It’s so nice to have a birthday that falls on the weekend, because then you get to claim the entire weekend as your birthday weekend. Right? That was my rationale at least when I signed up with two of my friends to attend the all-day TEDx Rainier conference last Saturday, that included a special program on ‘the Universe’ on Sunday morning. My birthday present to me.
I have been a big TED fan for a while now, but I have no recollection of how I got turned onto TED. I think it was probably from my bother-in-law, who has attended and spoken at several TED events. His son, my nephew, even did a TEDx Youth talk at his school back in 2011 (I think it was.) I have a TED channel on my Roku and a TED app on my phone.
TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design”. The first TED conference was way back in 1984. Apparently it was a flop, in that it lost money, but they tried again 6 years later in Monterrey, California, where it became an annual event. In 2006 they started posting TED Talks on-line, and today TED talks gets 17 new page views per second. Wow! (I learned all of this from their ‘History’ page.)
The TEDx Rainier conference went from 9am to 6pm at the 5th Avenue Theater down town, and the lineup was big – 24 speakers. I only recognized two names: Art Wolfe, whose beautiful northwest photography hung on the walls of the old REI on Capitol HIll, and DANCE This, who a friend of mine is always raving about. (You can see the entire line-up here.) When we got to the theater there was a line going around the block, so we got on the end of it and started chit-chatting. Someone came around handing out puzzle pieces, and we started trying to put our pieces together with the people around us – a fun way to pass the time and mingle with the other attendees.
Finally we got in and got some seats. The first speaker came on, who was actually the 5th Avenue Theater’s managing directory, and she gave a history of the beautiful theater. Next was a surprise guest speaker (so that actually makes 25 speakers in the line-up), Congressman Jim McDermott. He talked about his humble upbringing, being the first in his family to go to college, then medical school, and serving in the Navy. He spoke of his political career, his travels around the world, and his pride in being an American – where we have “the most unending possibilities in whole whole world.” He proposed two ideas for becoming better citizens:
- Everyone should live in another country for at least 5 weeks, and Europe doesn’t count.
- Everyone between the ages of 18-24 should serve their country for a year. He didn’t mean bring back the draft, but serve in any capacity, like teaching, or building and maintaining our country’s infrastructure. He said that the amazing thing the draft did was it brought together young men from all over the country, from every type of background, and made them work together, side by side, with a common goal.
It was now just a little past 10am and I was already filled with inspiration, and had no idea that this would continue for the next eight hours. Of all the speakers that day, only one was boring to me. I think he was boring because he didn’t tell his story from a personal place. Just about everyone else seemed to have an amazing idea that came from their life experience or from something unexpected that happened to them. Like the woman from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe who talked about ‘food sovereignty‘ and the right to eat traditional local foods. And the 18 year old NASQAR racer who started her amazing racing career just three years ago. And the pie baker who didn’t know what to do with her life so she stuck to what she loved – pie and coffee,. And the girl who was saved by hypnotherapy, eventually becoming a hypnotherapist herself, after suffering from debilitating seizures (she had a wheelchair and wore a safety helmet) that traditional medicine couldn’t explain. And the naturalist author who got depressed while living in the city, only to start writing about connecting people with nature in their everyday lives. She said that she got so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed. Until one day a crow outside her window wouldn’t shut up. So she got up to shoo him away, and when she did the crow stopped cawing and looked her in the eye as if to say, “Ha! I got you out of bed!” And that was her Aha! moment, of realizing that nature was still all around her. I just love a good Aha! moment.
There’s no way I can write about all of the extraordinary speakers that day, but I took a bunch of notes, mostly quotes I liked, and so I will share just those:
- Congressman Jim McDermott said of living in another country and learning the language: “You can’t learn a language without making a fool of yourself. But you will be appreciated.”
- Dani Cone, the Pie Entrepreneur, spoke of her mantra which she learned from her mother: “Be good. Do well.” (Which she later realized was actually a lesson in grammar.)
- Professor Beth Kolto, Researcher/Entrepreneur said, “Believe in the creativity of non-experts.”
- Art Wolfe, on photographing painted nudes: “Once you paint someone, they think they have clothes on.”
- Jaak Panksepp, Animal Emotion Researcher and Neurosciences said, “Science doesn’t answer the ‘why’ question, it answers the ‘how’ question.” and “The physiology of motherhood is the physiology of love.”
- Teri Hein, teacher, writer, and founder of 826 Seattle said that instead of hoping for the best, we have to always “assume the best in our children.”
- Hamda Ysuf, an amazing spoken word poet from Somalia said this about a racist encounter: “Roses are red, violets are blue, you are a racist, and so is Fox News.”
- Ben Hunter, a musician (fiddler) and community activist said, “There’s nothing wrong with being crazy. It means you’re alive.”
- Ben Klasky, IslandWood CEO: “When you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re at your peak learning.”
- Wayne Cotter, Comedian & Engineer: “What comedians and engineers have in common is that they are both making sense of things by looking at them in a different way.”
- Lyanda Lynn Hapt, Author and Naturalist: “Walking is the pace of observation” and “We live in a vibrant more than human world.”
It was a truly amazing day, so much to take in. I didn’t even get sleepy from all that sitting! And I continued my inspirational birthday weekend the next day by taking the whole family to the UW Planetarium for a TED-sponsored talk about the Universe. A student working on his PhD in Astrobiology gave the talk, while we sat back in the cushy reclined seats, staring at the star-filled “sky”. So much about the universe has been discovered since the last time I went on a school field trip to the Hayden Planetarium! But I won’t even try to re-tell what I learned because I’m sure I’d get it wrong.
When the talk was over he took questions, so I asked, “How does the planetarium work?” Our teacher explained it was Microsoft software that he controlled with an XBox controller, which he gave to Miles to try out (uh oh), and Miles took us for a dizzying spin through the Universe – from the center of the sun all the way to the outer edges of the galaxies.
After that we ran around campus playing tag, and then went to the Jolly Roger for mini-burgers and beer. When we got home Todd made me a delicious chocolate cake and I opened my presents. But really, my gift was the entire amazing weekend of inspiration, friends, and family. Lucky me.