For those who’ve been having TEDxGreenville withdrawal, we begin a series of impressions of our Unzipped event, all written by people from the TEDxGreenville community who worked on or attended the event on April 11. We begin with a juicy post by one of our co-founders, Marc Bolick, who found that every presentation in this year’s one-day conference was worth mentioning and he did, making for a longish post. He’s done a lot for TEDxGreenville, so we let him have his full say. Thanks, Marc, for getting TEDxGreenville going and for taking time to share your thoughts with everyone.
This year’s event marks our fifth TEDx in little ‘ole Greenville, South Carolina. And, you would be forgiven for knocking your head once or twice throughout the day and wondering where you really were.
We were here, fifth anniversary and all, rocking the Kroc Center with all kinds of fun and the most engaging and inclusive crowd we have ever attracted to our little frolicking adventure.
So, what happened? The morning started with Melisa Holmes, talking about what all of us really don’t want to talk about with people who we don’t want to talk to about it.
Melisa is a woman, a mother, an ob-gyn physician and associate professor who advocates talking to our kids about – well, the’ birds and the bees’ – at the ripe old age of eight.
And, why not? We all really start wondering about where we come from and how it all works when we’re in grade school. Her genius: talk to them before they hear about it on the playground. Let them hear it from you as a parent, and, that way you can help communicate the wonder and awe of life-making before your child gets bombarded with the crass and harsh R-rated world of teens.
Next up was Dr. John DesJardins from Clemson University’s Bioengineering Department. He told us about the growing number of total knee replacements, and how things can go wrong due to infections or other complications. This may result in a hard choice for patients: be wheelchair bound, have your knee fused so it doesn’t bend, or amputation. A very tough choice, indeed.
He then told us how researchers at Clemson had invented a new knee implant that allows a fourth, more functional option. It’s not a fully functional knee, but allows the patient to lock and unlock the fused knee for greater comfort and convenience. Looking into the future, he sees more and more functional prostheses, where patients will be able to adjust their ‘bionics’.
Up next was Jody Servon, a conceptual artist and associate professor at Appalachian State. She told us about her project, Dreams for Free, which she has conducted 12 times at different locations in the country. It works like this. She sets up a spot with a sign saying ‘Dreams for Free.’ Passers by learn that Jody will give them a lottery ticket if they simply write down what they would do with the lottery winnings should they get lucky.
She has spoken to 600 people, and given away lottery tickets with jackpots ranging from $3 million to $600 million. The project is all about figuring out how to give people hope, to give someone pause, to do something to interrupt someone’s everyday.
It’s a powerful message about connecting with people, being genuine with strangers and getting people to dream beyond the moment.
Jacob Johnson then took the stage as our first performer of the day. He quipped that he’s a musician, and not used to ‘the single digit’ hours of the day. But he proceeded to kick it into high gear, playing and thumping his guitar. He even played a love song to his favorite ‘lady’, his six string. Jacob walked on stage and immediately engaged with the audience. When he walked off seven minutes later it was to enthusiastic applause.
“Are you comfortable in your seats? I hope so. Because after this talk, you won’t be.” So began the last talk of the first session by Marie Majarais Smith. She proceeds to walk us through a horrible story of abuse, brutal beating and rape. We learn that this happened in retaliation for the woman reporting her husband for abuse, and that the retaliation was by her husband’s family.
Horrifying stuff, but it was clear there was more. And with a tense and dramatic build up, we learn that the woman is an undocumented resident. A resident of Greer, SC. This heinous crime took place just a few miles from where we sat. She did not get legal assistance, nor adequate medical help. “In a country that prides itself in law and order, liberty and justice…she received none.”
Marie’s message from this terrible story is simple: “If we believe as a community in human rights, we need to stand up for rights of others right here in our community. There are no humans that are more human than the next person.” Phew. Breathe.
At this point in the program we took a break and folks got to explore the interactive zone. All kinds of funky activities were on offer, from simply grabbing a cup of coffee at the Zip-n-Sip Café, to shedding your shoes and donning goggles to feel your way through the Sensory Path exhibit.
Yeah. It was pretty cool stuff.
We resumed the program with a big message of personal unzipping by Chauncey Beaty. This life coach and poet shared her story of moving back home to live with her mother as an adult, and confronting all the baggage that she held over from her childhood. She talked about what she calls ‘Daughtering’ or ‘Sonning’, which is the act of releasing your parents from the unreasonable expectations that you had as a child.
Chauncey encouraged us all to “Restore compassion with your parents. Go back to the soft. Open your heart over and over and over again.” This is because when you cling to negative stories of the past, they can consume you and prevent you from reaching your full potential–your full happiness.
She closed by addressing her mother in the audience. “Mom, I honor you.”
Next up, Paul McAvinney, an inventor and someone who has seen up close much of the development wave of technology that we live with today. He was a pioneer in multi-touch screen technology, something we all take for granted as we use our smart devices.
Paul is clearly not only a technical wizard, he has a very creative side and even invented an instrument called the video harp. But he cautioned us that useful information resides in humans, not in computers.
David Benedict and Sterling Abernathy then took the stage and wowed the audience with mandolin and guitar compositions of David’s own making. These were two very talented musicians and the crowd soaked it all in.
Then, Conrad Ma was introduced as a beat box performer. A what? Well, he uses his voice to belt out rhythms and sounds that simply stupefy. Ma got the audience going by getting everyone to repeat his sounds. This worked up to a point, and it showed just how difficult his sound talents are to produce.
Conrad then proceeded to do seven sounds with his mouth and the mic, slowly adding a sound, one-by-one until they were all layered together in a grand finale. Lots of folks were amazed to see these sounds so convincingly produced by just a person’s mouth and vocal cords.
So ended the morning sessions as people filed out of the auditorium abuzz with thoughts and a gee wiz look on their faces from Ma’s unique talent.
After a recharge with lunch and a good break to allow folks to connect and interact, we restarted the program with Joey Obermann. Light is something that affects our lives in ways that we can barely perceive, according to Obermann. He gave examples of how different kinds of light make us feel and act.
Certainly something we can all relate to these days is sitting in front of screens. The eerie blue glow our device screens create is similar to the light of dawn, so sitting in front of screens right before we sleep is not good for our quality of sleep. He showed everyone how to change their iPhone screens to a more pre-sleep intensity.
Did you know that states plan the number of prison cells they need to build based on the the number of failing 3rd grade boys? This and many other facts about a quiet part of our society, our prison systems, were brought to light by Caroline Caldwell.
Caroline brought to attention a number of paradoxes for convicted offenders. After they do their time, they are faced with a plethora of requirements that are often impossible to meet. Re-entering convicts are required to be in multiple places, often at distant places a short time apart. Yet, there is very limited public transportation. Drug convictions bar formerly incarcerated people from receiving any federal student aid, obliterating any hope of a college education.
In her closing, Caroline said “Why are we hell bent on making people pay for the rest of their lives. We set the price, and they paid the price. But we bounced the check. We have got to forgive and accept and allow them to move on.” We need to “sew hope” and let re-entering people know that we forgive them. Makes sense and sounds fair.
In closing, the audience sees a picture of Caroline, clearly it’s her at an earlier age. It’s a black and white photo. An expression of despair with hands on bars. This is someone who has walked in the shoes of the people for whom she advocates.
And what happened next was, well, quite astounding. Following Caroline’s stirring talk we hear from Gen Kelsang Nyema, a Buddhist nun. Now you could be forgiven for not knowing that Buddhists had nuns, it’s not something we hear about often here in the Upstate of South Carolina. But, Nyema is clearly someone who has studied her religion and exudes a peacefulness that immediately connected with the audience.
She started by asking three questions: Are you having a good day? Why? And, tomorrow, would you rather have a good day or a bad day? Her teaching was about how we need to look inside ourselves for happiness. How we cannot put our happiness at the whim of other people and of circumstances.
If we want to be happy, we have to “stop outsourcing our happiness to other people.” And, we have to cultivate a source of inner peace, a state of mind that comes from meditating and concentrating on a peaceful state of mind.
Then, the whole crowd of 350 plus people proceeded to meditate with Nyema. It was amazing. There was some squirming at first, but as she led the audience through a calm citation of almost hypnotic suggestions of how to rest the mind, you could hear the collective relaxation flow into the room and through the people. Quite fascinating! Quite refreshing.
By now, the zipper is firmly at half-mast and Greenville’s TEDx community is enjoying a wonderful treat of a day.
Wirewood was up next on the performance front. This is an engaging duo of cello and guitar playing surprising renditions of 80s pop songs. Laura Koelle Pyle played the cello masterfully (if you can do that to 80s music), and Keith Groover strummed out some excellent guitar riffs that took us back in time. It was just enough, and not too much, nostalgia and – ahem, music from a certain decade – for the majority of us to enjoy without cello-induced flashbacks.
Last before the afternoon break was Chiccy Baritone, and, ok, I have a soft spot for this woman because she, like me, is an engineer. And her spoken word performance was all about navigating the blurry lines between her profession (engineering) and her passion (poetry). She nobly laid down smooth and winding phrasing to leave us all with nothing less than a blast of energy, a verbal breeze in our hair, to close the session. She was strong, full of kick and gave us all a reason to get more unzipped.
On to the break we went, frolicking once more in the beautiful glow of the day. We basked in being all TEDed up by now, and the lines formed again around the interactive happenings. Folks re-caffeinated, milled and mingled around the foyer, engaging in conversation and thanking the sponsors at their exhibit stands.
Yet, for us in the know, there was a tension in the air. ‘Cause we knew what was coming. A grand crescendo of a final session starting with none other than…
…Roxy, drag queen and native of Greenville who was performing for the first time in her home town. It was the beginning of the final session, and there was still ample energy in the room, but it needed a little…something to pick things up. Well, that was not to be a problem.
Let’s pause for a moment of physical description. Roxy is a buxom lady dressed in a full length red fabric that may have been chosen un-coincidentally to match the mighty TED Pantone 485 red. I mean it was red, a sort of provocative, hot red. She lulled the audience into a calm, yet expectant, roll of laughter, as drag queens are wont to do.
And, then, we slowly moved to the serious. She brought us to an acronym, SAFE, meaning Stereotypes, Assumption, Fear and…Expectation. With a dramatic and highly professional stage flourish, Roxy removes the Pantone 485 dress revealing – wait for it – a man!
Yes, a man named Clay Smith. He tells us that it’s time to ask questions. “You can be just as zipped up about not asking about someone else, as you can about who you are.”
He leaves us with this thought: Be open to change your mind. You don’t have to change your mind, but be open to change.
By now, you’ve laughed, you may have cried, you’ve certainly had a great ride on the emotional roller-coaster that we call TEDxGreenville. The day is winding down. Now, another treat awaits.
Ella Mae Bowen, a young lady from Walhalla, South Carolina, walked on stage toting a brown guitar with a patina well beyond her age (it turns out it was her grandfather’s guitar). I sat dumbfounded and awestruck as she first charmed the crowd with her soft, yet strong demeanor. Then, she kicked into high gear with three amazing songs that left the impression that you had just heard an artist that you will hear a lot more of in the future. Hers was simply an amazing performance. Awesome, powerful, beautiful!
As the final talk of the day, Heather Marshall began by telling us of the story of her search for her birth parents. Her Scottish birth parents were young, too young for the age, and without options other than to give her up for adoption. A gripping story to start with, for sure.
Heather then brought her idea forth through her story. As she was waiting to meet her birth mother, she had time to consider what her reaction would be if her mother was dying, obese, an ex-prostitute, etc. How would she react to each of these situations?
She learned that expectations are like a third party in a relationship, constantly bouncing around in your head. Instead of dwelling on our expectations for others, we should allow ourselves to fully rest in the reality of the moment. “Whatever expectations you have should be kept away from your relationships.” Only this way can you engage in a truly loving relationship with others.
And, finally, the grand finale of the day happened as a troupe of the Carolina Ballet Theatre moves on stage. These young professional dancers proceeded to wow the audience with a modern interpretive dance that was truly beautiful. You had no doubt that you were watching a team of people who were passionate and dedicated to their art.
In a flourish of final unzipping, a choreographed segment of the performance involved bringing four audience members on stage to blend seamlessly, truly seamlessly into the dance routine. It was a perfect end to the show!
In all, TEDxGreenville 2014 was the biggest, the broadest, the smoothest running event so far. Fitting tribute to the hundreds of people who worked on this year’s event, the many speakers and performers from past years, and our dedicated tribe of TEDx enthusiasts that have supported us to this milestone fifth year.