‘T’ale of two Teds
A couple of years ago, thanks to an old-fashioned technology once referred to as “e-mail,” I discovered the TED talks.
If you don’t know what these are, let me share with you their tag line: “Ideas worth spreading.”
I think that’s it in an nutshell.
TED is a series of talks on a wide variety of subjects by people who are experts — at least experts about the one thing for which they were asked to speak. It’s hard to explain, so you should just watch or listen to some. Maybe one like spoken-word artist Sarah Kay’s “If I should have a daughter.” Or something really funny like Julia Sweeney having “The Talk.” Or you can have your mind entirely blown with Tal Golesworthy’s tale of how he, a boiler engineer, repaired his own heart. Or remind yourself why art is so critical to our world as Taryn Simon explains her piece “The stories behind the bloodlines.”
I’ve been so inspired by these talks and it has allowed me to “get to know” inspiring people — people who aren’t really famous, at least, not how we generally describe fame. They might be known in their fields — or maybe not. They, perhaps, just gave a really good talk somewhere and got the attention of TED. The presentations are a wonderful antidote to the constant media assault of violence, despair and simpering reality TV stars.
It’s a wonderful bonus of this information age that we have the ability — cheaply and ubiquitously — to choose whether we watch, hear or read crap or whether we choose to seek out thoughtful, inspiring, action-oriented role models and information. Our minds are no longer enslaved to one form of media or thought process.
I have been really thrilled at rediscovering the TED talks recently, when I started a job that requires me to spend more time driving. In preparing for my long-hauls two or three times a week, I look for audiobooks, podcasts and other things that keep me awake. I was really delighted in this search to find the TED app has “TED radio,” where I can click and listen to a stream of presentations. It’s great because it’s a stream not of my choosing, but just whatever was in the queue that day. I am constantly surprised at how a random talk about something that wouldn’t interest me if I were making my own selections turns out to be a piece with a nugget of information I just can’t live without! I’ve even found myself pulling over to jot down notes or names of presenters, so I can listen to them again later.
What I love so much about these talks is that they are really just people telling a little piece of their story. They might be currently passionate about the subject, maybe it’s their life’s work or maybe it’s just a tale that can’t help themselves from telling. Whatever it is, if someone were writing a biography of their lives, the subject of the TED talk would at least be a chapter.
I’ve mentioned my obsession with how we tell our own stories and I thought it was funny to me that one of the big ways I got inspired to do this was by a person named Ted — not the website TED, but a real, live person. His name, actually, isn’t really Ted, but that’s what everyone calls him. Ted is a nickname, although, strangely enough, it’s not derived from his first, middle or last names, all of which are typical first names. (Think something like: James Robert Howard.) I can’t remember the exact story, but it was something like Ted was the name of his imaginary friend when he was little and somewhere along the line, Ted got treated better than he did. So, he decided he wanted to be Ted and forced everyone to call him that. Thank heavens his imaginary friend wasn’t named Fluffy.
But I digress.
When I first met Ted, I told him a bit about my story and, somewhere along the way, he learned about my blog. (I’m not going to lie here. I’m sure I blurted it out in between telling him about my most recent surgery and the state of my vaginal discharge.) Some time went by and when I ran into him again he told me that he had been reading my blog. This makes me very nervous. I know people read my blog, obviously, but when someone starts a conversation with “I’ve been reading your blog,” it usually means they have suddenly seen me in a different light. I was struggling with this at that time. In fact, struggling to the point that I didn’t want to write a blog anymore. People were starting to “meet” me via my blog and believing they knew me. While I believe — still do — that the blog is as honest as I can possibly be and I try to share stories in a fair light, whatever makes it to the blog is a teeny, tiny portion of my reality. Miniscule. Imagine the blog is de-planetized Pluto and my life is the universe. Or maybe the blog is that speck of dust I just flicked off my desk and the universe is me. You get the point.
Ted then told me he decided to start reading the blog at the beginning. This was new. To my knowledge, the only people who had ever done that were the ones related to me. Certainly not a virtual stranger.
“It has been a really interesting process,” he said. “Like I’m reading a novel where I know how it is going to end. I’ve gotten caught up in some of the characters. I don’t like how this one character is developing! I even sensed some foreshadowing. I have to keep reminding myself it’s true.”
The foreshadowing made me laugh. Still does. Oh, baby, how I wish I could foreshadow my own life.
It made me laugh so much and wonder if this was how complete strangers saw me. I was strangely offended at first — this was my life, not a novel! It’s not only a true story, but it’s still happening. But then I saw how funny it must be to be torn between what felt like a compelling novel where you couldn’t wait to get to the end and knowing the subject was someone you knew.
It became funny to me that “the end” was never going to happen – never. I had inadvertently discovered immortality. If I die, the blog ends, but does the story? My successors get to keep writing my story (literally or figuratively). Even if they forget me, that would be part of the story.
I believe that our lives are important. No matter how insignificant you feel, you have been significant with someone or somewhere and that is passed on from one person to the next. Obviously, in some families, remembering loved ones is very important, but I believe even those who seem to be sadly forgotten affect others, who affect others and so on. It’s absolutely possible — likely — that you don’t even know your own significance. It’s doubtful Ted has any clue — until he reads this — how this little exchange several years ago has set me off on an exploration of how we write our own stories. Yet, that impacted me and, in turn, my ability to tell this story might impact others.
It was a profound thought — that I sit here writing a never-ending story. It continues to be profound to the point of having shaped me into a happier person. Even if I never leave this house again; even if I never have one single future experience worthy of sharing; all that has happened so far can be told in one, two, three or thousands of ways — all which would be true.
This has been life-changing for me. I’m a writer and an editor. If I don’t like the way a story is written, do you know what I can do?