Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TEDxSeattle Update

I parked in downtown Seattle with an extra 20 minutes to spare. I sat in the car, practicing my four minute speech out loud. With five minutes to go, I got out and headed up the busy street to the lobby of the Cosmopolitan Condos. Nervous, excited, curious, thrilled, petrified.

Although on time, I was the last to arrive. We headed into an elevator to the top floor where a group of 12 people greeted us. The TEDxSeattle curators introduced themselves and then let each person in the room explain their connection to the show and what to expect.

A hundred and eighty people applied, forty people made an audition, and a total of twelve people would make the cut. We auditioned in groups of four, each given a four minute time slot to sell our ideas. Afterward the curators and audience would ask questions.

The woman sitting next to me volunteered to go first. She had a kind and gentle soul. But I had a hard time following what she was trying to share. What she started her talk with had nothing to do with the supporting facts and she ran out of time before she could complete them. The curators stopped her, asking her to summarize what she wanted to share in one short sentence. She couldn't do it.

"Who's next?"

I immediately volunteered. I had practiced, reminding myself of when to pause for greater impact. To read the audience, to let them help me tell my story. I made eye contact with everyone in the room. But I couldn't stop my tears. I couldn't compartmentalize the weight of the subject and my emotions took over. Talking about Ryan's sudden death even seven years after the fact still leaves me in puddle.

"Grief is a gift."

I started to get my resolve back. The more I focused on the change I want to create, the more powerful my voice became.

"Our culture does a poor job acknowledging that part of living is dying. And I want to start a conversation that changes that."

The audience clapped, I wiped my face, thankful for the opportunity. Thankful I was brave enough to stand up in front of a room of strangers.

"You know, this could just be a really sad, emotional story. But what intrigues me is that the stages of grief haven't seen change in over 30 years," one of the curators commented.

Yes! Exactly.

"I remember you. I remember when your husband died. It rippled through the climbing community," the intern who was 16 at the time of Ryan's death, commented.

"I remember seeing you on TV, and how angry you were," said the other curator.

Except I never went on TV. And I wasn't angry. I didn't want to correct her in front of these people.

"Are you prepared to be the spokesperson for this?"

"Yes. There's a reason this happened to me," I immediately responded.

"Why not write a book?" Already did.

"How about a blog?" Been there done that.

"Why TED?" the curator asked.

"Because TED is a conductor for change."

I sat down shortly thereafter. I knew I had a good chance. I had a hard time listening to the next women's speech. And then a film maker, the last one in our group, went.

"Pardon my visual cues," he started. "I'm hoping to be coached so I don't need to rely on such."

The following is my recollection of his story....
Twenty years ago, he freight train hopped around the states. (He looked to be in his late thirties, maybe early forties.) While on the east coast, he went to a punk rock show and listened to a woman sing with such raw lyrics and emotion, he was naturally drawn to her. He approached her during the intermission and asked where she drew her inspiration from. She admitted to him that she had been molested as a child and singing was her form of therapy and expression. The film maker wanted to know more.

"We're headed to the west coast next. To Seattle. You should come," she offered.

So he did. He hopped on a series of trains, finding himself in Spokane, Washington. From there he hitch hiked, getting picked up by two men in a two-door hatchback Honda Accord. They let him into the back seat on the driver's side and the driver started asking him questions. Within an hour, they pulled off the main interstate, turning up a desolate road.

"We're just stopping for gas," the driver said.

The film maker noticed the gas gauge was nearly full. When they didn't see a gas station for miles, the driver told him they were headed to pick cherries. Except this wasn't cherry picking season. Sensing danger, the film maker started to beg them to let him out of the car. The driver pulled out a gun and shouted at the film maker to shut up or he would shoot him.

Carefully, he pulled out a pocket knife out of his backpack and opened it on the seat next to him. Tension built in the car.

The driver pulled the Honda over, telling the passengers he had to pee. He handed the gun to the passenger and told him to watch the film maker.

Not knowing what kind of mood the passenger was in since he hadn't said a word this whole time, the film maker started begging with him to let him go, that he was a good kid, that he wouldn't say a word.

"SHUT UP! HE SAID YOU SHOULD SHUT UP!!!" the passenger was pointing the gun at him.

The film maker took the pocket knife and jabbed it as hard as he could into the back of the seat, compressing the vinyl enough so that it barely grazed the passenger's back. It was enough to scare him, and he jumped out of the car. Acting instinctively and quickly, the film maker opened the driver side door and ran as fast as possible into the woods, escaping the kidnappers.

He ended his story. The room sat speechless. Then what? How did you escape? A master storyteller of suspense!

"My job as a film maker is to show perspectives," he continued. And he wants to show perspectives that are less known. Like from the view of the attacker. Why did those men pick him up? Why did that punk rocker get molested? His TED talk would be about the importance of seeing different perspectives.

The room exploded in applause. It was incredible.

The curators told us they would talk on Monday and let auditions know their decision shortly thereafter. I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with old friends and mustering up courage to deal with old strings, like selling my old wedding dress and sorting through Ryan's old climbing magazines left in the basement of my old house that my sister now occupies.

Monday came and went. By Thursday, I still hadn't heard. No news is good news, I figured. And then an email came.

"We truly enjoyed meeting you and hearing your story.  We know you've been patiently waiting to hear back from us.  Unfortunately, we have some difficult news to share that impacts your application.
We have decided to cancel TEDxSeattle 2015.  This was an incredibly difficult decision for us to make, and we did not do so lightly.  A host of factors, both event-related and personal, have made it clear to us that we will serve everyone best by making this decision now.
We trust that you will find other forums to tell your story, as you wouldn't have made it as far as you did in our process if we didn't already believe in you."

Lame sauce! But it beats rejection, I guess. And that's not going to stop me in getting my word out there...