Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Wife, the Rock Star

Back on October 12, Ma'ikwe was on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield MN giving a TEDx talk on "Sustainable is Possible." It was released on YouTube only last week (Dec 4), and as of just now (as I type) 2183 people have seen it. Woohoo! If it gets enough views it will be moved up to the big tent ( where the cream of the crop are posted. Only 1647 make that cut (going back to a presentation by Al Gore on "Averting the Climate Crisis" in Feb 2006, which has been viewed more than 1.7 million times).

TED started way back in 1984 (shortly after Al invented the internet), as a nonprofit dedicated to ideas worth spreading. It brought together people inspired by the themes of Technology, Education, and Design, from whence the acronym. Expanding beyond two conferences a year (the TED Conference has been held each spring in North America since 1990, and TEDGlobal has been held on another continent every year since 2005—it was in Edinburgh this year and will be in Rio de Janeiro next year), TED maintains its award-winning website where anyone can watch the best presentations. In November 2012, that site surpassed one billion in total visits.

To meet the burgeoning need, TED launched TEDx in 2009, with this mission:

Created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading,” the TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.

To give you a sense of how robust this program has become—of decentralized public speaking—there were 535 TEDx events in 86 countries just last month. Talk about going viral! The rules are that speakers are not paid for their time, they are prohibited from making commercial pitches, and the events cannot be run to generate a profit. At the discretion of the folks managing the main site, they can observe which of the talks arising from the TEDx events prove robust enough to be brought into the main arena for enhanced exposure. This, of course, is the holy grail for Ma'ikwe.
Ma'ikwe's TED Trek
In Ma'ikwe's case some students at Carleton (which is near and dear to Ma'ikwe's and my hearts as the college we both attended—though 21 years apart) decided a year ago to organize a TEDx event on campus and put out a call to students, faculty and alumni to submit proposals. Candidates offered a five-minute sample of what they wanted to say via Skype, from which 19 were selected by a panel of students to the all-day extravaganza on Columbus Day.

The thing about TED talks (x or otherwise) is that the presentation (18 minutes or less) must be made without notes, filmed in front of a live audience. You are allowed (even encouraged) to offer a series of slides as a visual backdrop to your words, and they employ a technology that allows the speaker to control which slide is up and a visual clue on a monitor that displays which slide is queued up next. Otherwise you're on your own up there in the bright lights, wired with a cordless mic. (Not everyone is up to the challenge. On the day that Ma'ikwe spoke, one presenter froze on stage, walked off in the midst of his presentation, and then promptly passed out, falling flat on his face. Ouch!)

As you might imagine, Ma'ikwe practiced her talk for hours and honed the script multiple times before driving north to her destiny amidst the fall foliage of the Midwest in October. While she's hopeful that the online views will drive traffic to both: a) Dancing Rabbit as a three-dimensional, on-the-ground experiment in sustainability; and b) Ecovillage Education US, and our annual 37-day immersion course each summer, the truth is that the talk was worth doing even if none of that happens. Going through the discipline of crafting a tight message about what is near and dear to one's heart, and facing one's demons about delivering that message to a live audience of hundreds without getting flustered will be valuable for the rest of her life. It will make her a more effective social change agent. The view count on YouTube is simply frosting and a fast-rising cake.

• • •
Continuing the theme of Ma'ikwe's emergence as a change maker, just yesterday she and I were visiting Acorn, a 20-year-old income-sharing community in central Virginia that I've been in association with since they were a gleam in Twin Oaks' eyes—when that community was bursting at the seams with people wanting to join in the early '90s and the group made the choice to start another community in preference to building another residence. 

Ma'ikwe and I were en route to a facilitation training in Pittsboro NC this coming weekend, and agreed to stop at Acorn mid-stream to offer a pair of evening lectures on group dynamics. While I've worked with Acorn a number of times in the past, on this occasion it was Ma'ikwe who had been asked to do the presentations, and I'm just the window dressing, which is a good sign (not because I'm particularly effective as eye candy; rather, it's good that Ma'ikwe is developing a reputation of her own).

To put this in better perspective, she didn't just spring forth fully clothed from Zeus' forehead in the past year. She's been a published author for most of her adult life and released a book in 2007, Passion as Big as a Planet, on the theme of eco-activism and spirituality—which is exactly one more title than I've had published. So she had a lot going for her before I came along, and I'm confident that she'd be successful even if we'd never met. That said, we each believe that our union makes the other more effective, which is no small part of the glue in our marriage.

Slowly, but surely, our work as a couple in the field of cooperative group dynamics and sustainability is evening out: some I do alone, some we do together, and some she does alone—with the last segment being the fastest growing.

People finding their own voices: it's an idea worth spreading.

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