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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

TEDxColumbus 2014 Steam on twitter

by Rashmi Nemade

This was my first time attending a TEDx event. Sure, I have watched TED Talks online, but being at an event is a wholly different experience. It was electric; the buzz and anticipation were palpable. People meeting for the first time, seeing others after a long time, and many asking if this was their first TEDx. An impressive 900 people were in attendance—a sold out event.

The day began at noon with lunch, after which we were welcomed into the theater, music booming. I found a seat, introduced myself to the people around me, chitchatted. Honestly, I hardly felt like I was there to watch ‘talks’; It felt like a show, and once the organizers took the stage that’s exactly what they called it—a show. This one with talks, dance and music, all interesting and engaging. There were three sessions and between each a break, with the hosts encouraging us to change seats to meet more new people. It’s a fantastic way to get different vantage points in the theater as well, but if you’re a note-taker like me, avoid the last row at the Riffe. It can get surprisingly dark up there.

The first session inspired action. It was bursting with the energy of opening the event and included talks on education, art and math, and a performance by Transit Arts of poetry, dance and music. Feet were moving and hands clapping.

And fingers were tapping out tweets. Here’s a few from the first session:

Foley D DehoffFoley Mary KFowley K WolffFowler ChuTA Escusa

Transit S Fisher

Prince S Hughes

Rinaldo K Coholich

First jeff

Then came the first break: snacks and, for many of us women, a long bathroom line (and a little bit of worry that we’d make it back in time). The second session focused on what’s percolating beneath the surface with talks on fracking, nanotechnology, psychology and racism. I’m a science person, so it was a nice lesson for me to see two speakers, Jessica Winter (nanotechnology) and James White (bias/racism), actually enlarge and deepen their topics by including their own personal stories.

Mishra B LoeschWinter b longBushman HJTwhite k marty

Another break brought out irresistible pastries and sweet treats. Some, I recognized from a local high-end bakery. As I reflected on the lunch and two breaks, I have to say, I was pleasantly impressed at the quality of food at this event. The lunch had great options for any dietary preferences and the snacks were ample and filling.

The third session ignited the flame and started with music from Damn the Witch Siren. It was hip. It was cool. It was as if they had titled their piece “Sensory Overload,” and it reminded me that I am old. It was also, I suppose, a good segue into the first talk which compared the Columbus punk rock startup of the 90s that fizzled with the Columbus tech startup of today that the speaker Jay Donovan argues (based on a 4-part model) will soar. This session also included three so-called “passion” talks that are short and more personal. The passions are trains, teen parents, and thrift store photography (I’m being brief, but at 5 minutes long, why not just watch them?) The most memorable, for me, was the last talk by Chad Bouton whose visionary research has given the freedom and independence of movement to a paraplegic student. The talk was personal, touching, grounded in science, and when the student came out on stage—emotional.

Dthe Witch siren M Brown

Session two  j glavic

CIFRail O carroll

Bouton thanson

Whew! After three sessions, I found myself in a strange paradoxical space—both invigorated and exhausted! I’m an extrovert, so being in the TEDx environment is energizing for me, but at the end of this day, I couldn’t possibly mingle and meet more people during the happy hour. There was so much to think about, process and explore, that I just wanted to get back to some place quiet with my own thoughts. Luckily, for an extrovert it doesn’t take that long. The walk to my car and drive home was all I needed. I walked in the door and was off processing all that I had learned by sharing the day with my family!

M RobinsonzainabR Frantz

 

Rashmi Nemade is principal at BioMedText, Inc.

Editor’s Note: The logic behind tweet selection is there’s no real logic. Searching by #tedxcbus and tedxcolumbus, we tried to cover the variety of talks and performances, and include a variety of voices on twitter. We did not avoid negative tweets. We didn’t find any. Perhaps Columbus critics were just nice enough to  leave off the hashtag.

 

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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus

Sunflower wallby Kendra Hovey

In yesterday’s post I asked Who is going to TEDxColumbus? only to conclude that with a willingness to meet and engage with others, we’ll have to all find out for ourselves. Just maybe, we’ll also find talent and commitment not only on stage, but off-stage, perhaps in the seat next to us.

I’m a four-time attendee and this has been my experience—and I’m an introvert. I’ll give you one example: Cathe. At the 2011 event, Cathe and I were two of six “strangers” randomly selected to sit around a table and have lunch together. While some attendees have loved this idea, others not so much. Our table had a great time, and Cathe is definitely a “pro-luncher.” As she told me recently, “I’ve now got these ideas that I’ve heard and then I’m going to sit with these people and were going to have a wild conversation about it. It’s fantastic. I just can’t believe how interesting it is…. We exchange cards … make a little contact and off it goes…. Honestly, to sit down and not try to convince anybody of anything, but just talk about what you just heard—we don’t do it that often.”

At that lunch Cathe and I exchanged cards, talked, and met-up again, and gradually I learned more about the work to which she has dedicated much of her life. It was about thirty-five years ago that Cathe witnessed a young friend’s descent into illness from an incurable brain tumor. Just weeks after her friend’s death, she read an article about hospice (a rather new idea in the U.S. at the time). She called the facility. The woman who interviewed her—who is still in the hospice movement today—told Cathe that she still had her own grieving to do and to call back in six months. She did, and has worked in hospice ever since—a journey that would take her to the far and open spaces of Africa and to the closer and closed spaces of the Ohio Reformatory for Women.

Hospice work is “doing whatever needs doing,” says Cathe. Maybe it’s talking, doing laundry, cleaning out a cat box; there was one woman who couldn’t eat anymore, “but she loved food,” say Cathe, “she would give me a list. I’d buy the ingredients and from her bed she would tell me how to make it. She just liked the smell of it in the house. Then her family would come over and eat it.”

Sometimes, what “needs doing” is just sitting, simply being there. “That was a terrific lesson for me,” she explains. “I was so sure I wasn’t valuable because there wasn’t any demonstrate-able thing going on. Now I know that is not the case.” Hospice volunteers are more than extra hands. “Illness is isolating,” she says, “hospice says to the patient and the family, the community hasn’t forgotten you, and when a patient dies we keep track of the family for a year…. How do you talk about that kind of care? How do we talk about it?”

Contemporary American culture does not have an easy time with language around death and dying. Cathe’s comfort and straightforwardness is refreshing. It’s also essential for good healthcare: “Hospice care is in essence a conversation. The patient is at the center, surrounded by family and a multi-interdisciplinary group of caregivers. Everyone talks to each other about what is best for that patient.” Not just hospice, it’s a model that would benefit all healthcare.

These elements of conversation and community are something Cathe experiences at TEDxColumbus. It’s why she now tries to attend every year: “I find it incredibly interesting that this is the same kind of thing that happens at TEDx. You put us in the center and all these ideas are spoked around us. With hospice, if you have a caring community and family, we support that. If you don’t have that, we help you create it. With TEDx, if you do or don’t have an intellectual community, we are going to create this community—and then we’re all going to share lunch out of a box!”

Janet ParrottCathe was introduced to TEDxColumbus through Janet Parrott, a 2011 speaker and also director of the film Song of the Soul. This film exists because of Cathe. Having heard about the expertise of hospice work in Africa, she began visiting and learning, and after a chance meeting with Parrott back at home, Cathe said to her, You get a film crew. We’ll go and I’ll show you what is going on in South Africa because it is really hopeful. These are wonderful people and we should tell their story. It was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but as Cathe recalls, “Poor Janet goes: Okay.”

It was a lot of work and a lot of travel. Cathe is grateful for the film and “extremely proud” that it is written, directed, produced and financed entirely in Columbus, Ohio. Her hope is that the film will build understanding about hospice, and also show the competence of the programs in Africa, and this one in South Africa particularly. “People go to Africa thinking we’re going to save them, we’re going to show them things, Africans know stuff,” she says incredulously, “they have a tremendous amount to teach us.”

children at sunflower 2Cathe is also involved in a Harmony Project program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW). The Harmony Project is about “connecting communities across social divides through art, education, and volunteerism,” and it’s about singing, lots of singing. But within that collection of voices are people of different backgrounds, with different needs and life circumstances and the collaboration between them and the gift they give to others with their voices is what makes the Harmony Project transformative, healing, kind of like good quality healthcare.

The program at ORW—one of many within the Harmony Project—offers an opportunity for those “serving a sentence to serve a purpose and be a part of the community.” These words are from founder and creative director David Brown, who also rather deftly points out that community is where these women will one day reintegrate. When Cathe learned of this program, she visited OWR and eventually helped arrange for the choir of female inmates to sing and perform over skype to the children at Joan Marston’s Sunflower House Hospice in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She happened to be there with the children, each one with a life-limiting disease, for the first skype. “It was magic,” she says.

Brown understands that women singing to children may sound like a small thing, but he knows that it has “wonder-working power.” At Sunflower House, when a child dies their name is placed on a sunflower and added to a wall full of other named-sunflowers. The women at OWR have created their own sunflower garden wall, and on each flower is the face of a child that they sing to at the Hospice House.

Hospice can sometimes refer to a building or facility, but always it is a healthcare practice and, as much as it is focused on death and dying, it is a philosophy of living. For me, this is a changed and deepened understanding, and it came by way of two strangers meeting at TEDxColumbus with an openness to talk and to listen.

Kendra Hovey is editor at TEDxColumbus: Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

Audince rowby Kendra Hovey

From the list of speakers you know who will be on the stage in front of you, but who will be next to you? Behind you? Who will be in the coffee line? In your lunch circle?

There are 900 possibilities, but I’ll take a small presumptive leap and suggest that one will be Maureen McCabe. The realtor and TED enthusiast has been to all five, plus some of the viewing events, and seeing as it’s not on an Open-House-Sunday, I’ll dare say she’ll show up for year six. And so, maybe, will Kate and Dave. In the past, the married couple juggled work and schedules to make sure they could go together, like a date, but not, cause “date” is just not the kind of language this couple uses. Still, there was date-like anticipation and expectations of fun and inspiration, plus lots of stuff to talk about later.

Audience lunchWho else? Well, each speaker gets two comps, so some of their peeps…and there are always past speakers who return as audience members. There’s a tech manager at a local insurance company who got tickets for her team. She considers the event a team-builder and good research for improving presentations. I’ve heard, too, of a small and overworked non-profit staff that is coming for some needed self-care. They had the option to go to a day spa. They chose TEDxColumbus instead.

There will be students and volunteers, as always, and also out-of-towners: I once sat next to a retired couple who, inspired by their son who had just organized a TEDx event out west, drove to Columbus to learn more about what this TEDx thing is all about. Another year, I met a superintendent of schools (of a faraway district) who, after a year of contentious school board battles, gifted himself a stress-free day off at TEDxColumbus.

I had met this man at lunch—yes, at the maligned and lauded contested “space” that is the TEDxColumbus Lunch. Because we benefit by being open not just to new ideas, but new people, lunch partners were randomized. Though last year that was made optional. This year the event begins with lunch: Just show up, grab a box and eat (with whomever you please).

So as to the question of who else will be at this year’s TEDxColumbus, I really have no idea, so I asked organizer Ruth Milligan. Every year there is a whole crop of new people, she says: “Many individuals come on their own, and now we’re seeing some of our past attendees returning, but bringing their entire offices with them, like 10 to 15 people. But we do assure that the majority of the seats are still available to individuals and friends, partners or spouses that want an inspiring non-office outing for themselves.”

One thing we know is that you will see people who are strangers to you. But, none of us are really strangers. We all have some connection to Columbus. We are curious and want to be engaged. There’s a common denominator that binds us, even if not readily apparent. To get the most out of the day, it’s good to bring with you a willingness to sit next to and engage in conversation with “strangers.” You may just find that the mix of talent, passion and commitment you see on stage is also off-stage, and potentially sitting right next to you. In fact, come back to this site tomorrow; we’ll be posting about one attendee’s passion and commitment, and its positive reverberations close to home and across continents.

Kendra Hovey is editor at TEDxColumbus: Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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