The TED Talk That Never Was

I am a TED Talk reject.

Admittedly, my talk wasn’t all that provocative or novel. It clearly didn’t qualify as an “idea worth spreading,” which apparently is TED’s tag line.

But I was on a mission to conquer my fear of speaking live on camera, and what better way to do so than with a potentially global audience?

I downloaded all the TED Talk guidelines about how to give a magnificent presentation that TED himself would watch. (And I learned that TED isn’t actually a person but an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.)

I picked out my dress for the talk. It was purple because that color looks fabulous against TED-Talk-red.

And I told all my friends that I was trying out. Blasted it out on Instagram. Gave a preview of my talk on Facebook Live.

So when I received the “we had a very competitive pool of applicants…” rejection email, I was disappointed. Surprisingly embarrassed. Definitely ashamed.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if it was worth it. All that effort and energy, for what?

I have a hard time with inspirational quotes about failure. Stuff like, “It’s the process, not the destination that matters.”

Because the destination does matter.

I struggle with questions like, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” Because the honest-to-goodness answer is that I’d jump off a cliff and try to fly.

There are always consequences when we fail, real risks that cause real problems.

Problems like dying.

So as I reflect on my TED Talk failure, I am going to tell you something a bit different than these inspirational quotes, questions, and sayings.

Something that is, dare I say, an idea worth spreading.

Because next week, I am giving my own version of a TED Talk. I have reserved the same theater where the actual, real TED Talk event took place.

There will be cameras to film it. I even have a live audience. And yes, I will be wearing my purple dress.

At first blush, this may seem like a stubborn act, a rejection of my rejection, so to speak.

But it isn’t.

I was asked to teach an online class and they needed to film it. And because I’d put all that effort into preparing for my TED Talk That Never Was, I was ready.

I was ready.

For me, that’s what failure is all about. That is my idea worth spreading.

Failure makes you ready for the next time. But this time, the next time, your are smarter, wiser, and a little more brave.

Am I nervous about my non-TED Talk? Absolutely.

People might not show up. And if they do, they might not think my ideas are all that provocative or novel.

They may find my purple dress to be a bit much.

I may very well fail.

But if that happens, I will learn new things. I’ll end up smarter and wiser.

Braver.

And I will be ready for the next time.

 

Post-script: Eat your heart out, TED.

 

 

 

 

Remind Me to Start a Revolution about that Next Time

This is the third morning in a row that I’ve woken up at 4:30 a.m. I thought it was a fluke, but three times in a row isn’t a fluke, it’s a pattern. And within patterns, there is usually meaning.

What does it mean to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for three mornings in a row?

To figure it out, I need to write because something is swimming around at the edges of my subconscious, swirling in the purgatory between my unconscious and conscious mind.

Writing allows me to fish it out, to cast a line into those unknown waters and wait for the tug of recognition. And when it comes, if I finesse the rod just right, if I don’t pull too hard or too gently, that something will emerge, thrashing and alive from the depths.

I’m pretty sure it has something to do with an excerpt from a book I was reading, a clever line written in jest by the author about an issue she cared about but not quite enough to do anything about.

“Remind me to start a revolution about that next time,” she wrote.

I cast that out across the expanse of my subconscious and wait, senses alert. What do I care about but not quite enough to do anything about? What do I want to start a revolution about next time because right now, this time, is not a “good time”?

fishing

The cursor on my computer screen blinks. I am patient and quiet. Is anything there? Or better yet, is anything there that I can handle right now?

Because I am not sure this is a good time to start a revolution, thank you very much.

I’m married with two kids and a dog. I work full time. My family is coming off four weeks of taking turns being sick with the flu because apparently “the vaccine didn’t quite match up this  year.”

I’ve somehow managed to contract pink eye, most likely from all the visits to the pediatrician’s office. (Because, flu.)

And last night, my nine year-old told me there’s a lice outbreak in her classroom and she thinks her head itches…

So no, it’s not really a good time for me to start a revolution, unless it’s to set fire to my house, my eyeballs, and my daughter’s hair.

Unless it’s to quit my job as a mother/wife/caretaker and tell somebody else, anybody else, that I’m all done now.

In fact, even if I don’t start a revolution, if I’m really, really, really honest with myself, I AM ALL DONE BEING A WOMAN IN THIS WORLD.

Oh wait. That’s it. That’s the something that I want to start a revolution about next time, and it just landed at my feet, thrashing and alive from the depths of my subconscious. There was no waiting for the second and third tug, no finessing of my rod. It just burst out of the water like Jaws.

I am all done being a woman in this world. 

Is that even possible?

How can I quit my job as a mother, wife, caretaker and overall keeper of my family’s universe, because I’m pretty sure it would all implode into a black hole without me?

How can I stop feeling the conflicting demands of work and motherhood where being in one place means I’m not somewhere else, so I’m always, always failing at both?

How can I acknowledge the pain of my stay-at-home-mom friends, women who didn’t understand how their “choice” would drastically limit so many of their future choices?

How can I tell my daughter that even though she’s smart and hard working, she’s at an incredible disadvantage compared to the boys in her class?

How can I?

How can I not.

I am all done being a woman in this world. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth, and not doing anything about it? That makes me a co-conspirator in everything that hurts me, my daughter, other women, and men for that matter.

Since I can’t really be all done with my identity as a woman, I guess that means I’m all done with this world. I’m all done with a world that makes it so incredibly hard to be a woman.

Does that make me a revolutionary?

Perhaps. It all depends on how I move forward from here. And while I’m not sure what this will look like exactly, I do know this. My efforts will not be unrelated. They will not be flukes.

Like waking up at 4:30 a.m. three mornings in a row, there will be a pattern with meaning.

And if anyone looks closely and cares to fish it out, they will find it for themselves.

I am all done being a woman in this world. And I’m starting a revolution about it this time

One-Night Stand Activism

 

For many women, becoming an activist is kinda like waking up after a one-night stand, looking over at the dude sleeping next to you and wondering, “Now how the heck did that happen?”

The evidence is there. Hand-made signs propped up in the garage. Maybe a pink hat or two in the front hall closet. You know who your Senator is and how to reach him. (I say “him” because I have an 90% chance of being right on that.)

And perhaps you’ve sent him an email or called his office about issues you had no idea even existed four weeks ago. (Cabinet nominations? I didn’t know that was a “thing” until this year, and I’ve been a card-carrying voter since 1992.)

You’re conversant in a slew of acronyms (ACA, NoDAPL, NSC) and new phrases like “alternative facts” and “false media.” And you’re really, really pissed about them.

Even though I’ve identified as a feminist since my high school days, I never considered myself an activist. That label was for angry people. People with issues.

And I considered myself a relatively nice person with a relatively normal, issue-free life. I also had better things to do.

activist

Who are these people? And how did I get here?

But right after the Trump Apocalypse, I signed up for the Women’s March. I’ve never marched in anything before except high school parades. To me, marches were a thing of the past, something activists did in the 60s.

Yet like a newly-hatched sea turtle with this overwhelming need to get to the ocean, it was calling me, and although I didn’t know exactly why, I knew that’s where I needed to be, even if the seagulls tried to eat me.

Speaking of seagulls, I was nervous that my daughter and I might be risking ourselves in some way by attending. Marches can take on a life of their own, and given the right circumstances, they can turn into mobs, which are legit dangerous things.

That said, I struggled to envision a bunch of women setting cars on fire or breaking windows because really, who’s gonna clean up that mess afterwards?

Then there was the fear of the counter-protesters rolling in with their hate and maybe even their violence. But deep inside, I knew all the nice ladies with their cute pink hats would become poster-wielding ninjas if something like that went down. (Especially the grandmas. They seem especially angry nowadays.)

It did cross my mind that some crazy person might shoot at us. So I took stock of my life and decided I’d make a good martyr for middle-class mothers. That’s a segment of society with a lot of untapped power, and seeing one of their own go down might be just the ticket to unleash it.

So all told, I felt quite safe. And strangely ready to die if needed.

Does that make me an activist? Yes, I think it does.

And if you’ve read this far into my post, you might be an activist, too.

You might be an activist if you are afraid of terrorists attacks (I mean, who isn’t?) but don’t think throwing hate at the entire Muslim world is going to make us safer.

You might be an activist if you have a uterus and would like men to stop talking about it, let alone making laws about how you use it.

You might be an activist if you care about the environment, public education, science, or national security. Because all of those things are under attack right now. (And I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

You might be an activist if you have a child. Or know a child. Or sometimes see a child at the grocery store or at the park. Because what’s imprinting on their young minds and hearts as “normal” is anything but.

You might be an activist if your family immigrated here one year ago or hundreds of years ago, and the thought of a wall brings up memories of communist Russia.

Speaking of Russia, you might be an activist if you wonder just how much they were involved with Trump’s election. (Or you might be a paranoid conspiracy theorist.)

You might be an activist if you have a friend or loved one whose nationality, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, ability or socioeconomic status make them even more vulnerable than they were before. As if they were not already vulnerable enough. 

Yes, you might be an activist, and you probably always were. Because like most people, you probably value things like love and respect. You probably were taught to believe America is the land of the free and the brave. And you probably know this is only going to get better if everyone, every single one of us, finds that little bit of activist in ourselves and does something.

Even if it’s just reading this post.

xoxoako

PS – Share this post with a friend and you’re not just a one-night stand activist, you’re a revolutionary. (More on that in my next post.)

 

Under This Sky With Me

night sky.jpg

 

In one week, I’ve probably gone through all the stages of grief, although I don’t remember what they are exactly, so I can’t say for sure. Denial, anger, and something else…

Oh yes, acceptance.

So I take that back, I haven’t moved through all the stages because I am not in acceptance. I don’t mean I’m in rejection, either. I won’t be protesting or writing angry yet inspiring blog posts. All are tempting, but they only serve to distract, appease our collective guilt, make us feel powerful when we are not.

I’m too pragmatic for that. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen this before. Had it look me up and down. Learned to live with it.

Hate, fear and ignorance have always been with us. They are as old as the sun and the moon and the stars.

I got my first piece of hate mail when I was seventeen years old. For writing about my grandparents who were sent to Japanese internment camps. This was before email and Facebook, so the letter came in an envelope addressed specifically to me.

Hate knew where I lived. Like the sun, it burned my skin, forcing me to the shadows.

My uncle grew up in the south where they turned fire hoses and dogs on his people. Lynched boys not much older than him. Some fifty years later, he receives anonymous notes saying he’s not wanted here. In Colorado, not Alabama.

Fear walks down his street. Like the moon, it rises every night in the darkness.

This week, my son overheard kids yell down the hall, “Goodbye, Juan. Maybe we’ll see you on the other side.” Because being brown means you’re not an American. They do not know his ancestors settled here more than 150 years ago.

Ignorance echoes in our schools. Like the stars, it is everywhere.

Hate, fear and ignorance have always been with us. They are as old as the sun and the moon and the stars.

For those who have never been forced to look up at the sky, I’m sorry. I know it hurts to lose what you thought to be true. But now you are closer to truth than before.

For those who have always known this truth, I’m sorry. The sun is burning brighter, the moon is glowing colder, and the stars are so close they can almost touch you. I hope they recede, move away and go back up into the sky.

But I hope they stay close enough.

Because now everyone can see them. Not just the Asian people or Black people or Latino people. Not just women. Not just gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people. Not just people with disabilities.

All people.

For those who are looking up at the sky for the first time, blinking back tears in its brightness, know this.

I will comfort you. Sing the same lullabies my Japanese grandmother sang to me, when I first looked up. Songs of empathy for those who suffer, and for those who hate. They are not so different from us.

I will teach you to be safe. Because someone might hurt you for marching in a protest, someone might terrorize you for writing on Facebook. You must learn to be thoughtful about the risk you bring to yourselves and those you love.

I will show you what it means to be brave. To know that love does not always win, good does not always beat evil. And yet, we must live as though they do. Otherwise, we surrender, and this fight must go on.

In return, I ask you one thing. Do not move into acceptance. This last stage of grief is one I cannot enter. Not out of stubbornness, but because I have no choice, and neither do millions of other Americans.

So please. Hold my hand, and I will hold yours. I will comfort you, teach you to be safe, show you what it means to be brave. But I need you stay here. Under this sky with me.

She Hasn’t Woken Yet, But She Will

I put her to bed last night, tucked her in with her hope.

She hasn’t woken yet.

But she will.

When she comes down the stairs, rubbing her eyes, finding her balance, I’ll say.

Sweet girl.

I am so sorry. I had it wrong. I did not know there was such pain and confusion.

I am humbled by this knowing.

But the hope you had last night, it’s still there. I have it and others do, too.

We will gather it up, as we have so many times before. Like seamstresses, we will lay it out flat. Trim and tuck, patch and sew.

Make beauty from these scraps.

The anger that brought us here, it is in the daylight now. We can see it, touch it, feel its heat. Do something with it, instead of letting it live in the darkness, untended.

There is so much we will need to do. And probably more coming. So we must prepare and be brave.

I will hold your hand, and you will hold mine. We will be brave, together.

And yes, someday, I promise.

There will be a “Lady President,” as you say.

It’s just that she is still asleep, like you.

She hasn’t woken yet.

But she will.

On the Eve of Her

Today is the Eve of Her. The day before the most powerful nation in the world chooses a woman to lead. It feels almost sacred.

I wonder if this is how it felt to watch Neil Armstrong first step on the moon. Half a billion people clustered around television sets. Excited, afraid, in awe. Connected in their uncertainty, holding their breath.

T-Minus 5

4

3

2

1

One small step for a woman. A giant leap for humankind.

The small steps will be many, and they are of little interest to me. Of greater interest is the leap.

A young girl saying, “I want to be President,” and knowing it could be true. Because there is a President, and she looks like her.

eve of her.jpg

Broken Wings Make Broken Women (Or perhaps it is the other way around?)

brokenwings

“Broken Wings” graphic design by Andre Wee

Leading in a man’s world.

Is like being dropped from the sky and expected to fly.

“This is how you do it,” they say, “Open your wings. It’s easy. Watch.”

But I don’t have wings, so I land hard, the breath knocked from my lungs. 

On the ground is where we find each other. Delicate hands stretching up to wonder. 

Why are they flying and we are not? What have we done wrong? 

Some of us scrap together makeshift wings. “It’s all about confidence,” they say, flying like Icarus into the sky. 

We never see them again.

The younger ones throw themselves up over and over. Kites desperate to catch the wind, only to bounce and crash across the ground.

The older ones sit down and watch, mending wings and giving advice.

It could be much worse, they say.

Things are getting better, they say.

Perhaps we should just be grateful, they say.

I am becoming one of the older ones.

I look at the wings in my lap, broken and splintered. They are too heavy, too big. Fit to another.

They are not our wings. They were broken from the beginning. No amount of confidence, gratitude or belief could make them fly. 

Broken wings make broken women. Or perhaps it is the other way around?

I gather and carry the wings away. Set them down gently. Build a pyre. 

The other women see the light, move towards its brightness. Dragging their wings behind, they approach to offer their own to the flames.

We stand, blinking back the heat, hotter and hotter. The air expands, and like bits of twirling ash, we begin to rise.

Straight up.

We are flying.