Tag Archives: learning

TED talks and TEDx: Ideas worth spreading

Ideas floating about, crisscrossing through the university atmosphere. I think a tag line for TED is “Ideas worth spreading” but I might have that from somewhere else. In any case, there is some rubbing and cross-pollination happening now at various college campuses, those hosting the TEDx local days. My son is one of the main organizers for the session at University of Waterloo, and I’m sending him good luck wishes all day. It’s a lot of work to put on this sort of conference, with live feeds and various sessions, food and parking and ticketing and registration and funding and all that. I’m always gobsmacked when people pull these things off well, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the Waterloo one is going swimmingly, but I’m over here kind of bursting with pride.

In my family, TED talks are the creme de la creme. We all tune into the podcasts and I recommend them to everyone – you can take 10 minutes and learn about a totally new idea taught by a leader in the field. The speakers on the live feed  from Waterloo today are younger than they often are in the main TED talks – TEDx uses local stars with unusual ideas, seeking to inspire the student attendees.

I like to see the enthusiasm in the crowd – the young faces still enthused (if somewhat nebulously) about changing the world, about saving us from greenhouse gases, about finding their passion and following it.

If they can create environments where this idea trading goes on, I’m sure they’ll find a good place for all this enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, so many workplaces try to squash innovation and thinking and even valuable activity. Students being interviewed talked about breaking down silos and connecting people – it’s tough, doing that. I hope they can. I’ve tried, with greater or lesser success. The barriers can be intense, the turf-clutching dramatic.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is fighting to get a slightly larger desk while the reason for their job goes unattended.

Even at Waterloo, programs are split into silos, breaking down engineering into tiny specialty areas to entice students  – and then creating an integrative studies program for those like my son who see things holistically so try to stick the parts back together. It seems foolishness to rip things apart and then stick them together again, but perhaps there will be new alignments, new creations that come about through this.

I sure hope so. We want these sparks of inspiration to gather together and create a true fire. Otherwise, it’s another pricey flash in the pan.

Oh, and PS – I’m going to look into that live streaming stuff for Bloody Words 2015 – might make it more accessible for people across the Atlantic Provinces…maybe my son can help?

Thanks awfully, but…

Way back, when I started this writing gig, I felt totally inadequate. All the best writers, I felt, had a disastrous childhood, a set of parents who beat or ignored or hurt them in some way, a problem with addiction, run-ins with the church or with the police or school.


heading into my writing lair…

They had handicaps, couldn’t write because they had to work double jobs even at the age of 12, lived in grinding poverty and stole moments to write on scraps of the Sears catalog when they were shivering in the outdoor privy.They were unloved, outsiders, alone, had made up friends. You know, the poor pitiful writer thing.

That was back when I wrote comedy. Life, I thought, was a huge cosmic joke, and besides, I didn’t have any deep substantial trauma to write out of myself.  I tried to become an alcoholic, but just became depressed when the addictive part passed me by. I tried smoking cigars a la Hemingway but they tasted awful.

Well, the gods, I have to say, have listened to me. Though I rather with they hadn’t. Over the past few years, tragedy seems to be stalking me. I’ve developed the unpredictable disease, MS. I had to stop working and now see my life in a series of downward spirals of increasing disability. Well, okay, only on my bad days.

My parents both died in untold agonies. My marriage also. My family disintegrated. My relatives started perishing, also well before their time. My favourite uncle vanished one day, leaving me wishing for a goodbye, but too late. My favourite aunt withered away, her spirit unquenched until the last horrible days. My mother in law developed and died of ALS, a cruel destiny for anyone, but most especially for her, a strong New Zealand lass who took all of life in stride.

Then other bad things happened, stupid things that served to mess with my head – sexual assaults, terrible male friends with horrible pasts, financial disasters. Depression sauntered into my life and turned it grey. My daughter stopped speaking to me, and broke my heart.

Then, this past week, a lightning bolt that will change my life forever. It’s nasty enough to make me call back those gods and say, hey, enough already!

Suffice to say I have things to write out of me now. And it’s fortunate I like to kill people in my stories cos I have a few I’d like to really do away with but can’t as prison life isn’t healthy. And I couldn’t hurt someone deliberately, really. Sortof.

So listen, ye gods of old, unless you give me my own lightning bolt to fire, maybe you could lay off my life for a bit. I’m sure there’s some other wanna be writer who needs a bit of inspiration. I’m full up now. I’m good. Really.

Lagniappes and other wonderful things

Every once and awhile, a lovely word drops into my life and makes it infinitely richer. I love language. I’ve been grooving on Schadenfreude and other Germanic terms for yonks now and I feel in need of a change. And today, it dropped into my life through a read review on Goodreads.

Lagniappes. To give a little extra. A gift. The thirteenth muffin in a Baker’s Dozen. (Strangely it is a Friday the 13th tomorrow but I like Friday the 13ths as my daughter was born that day and it was truly one of the happiest days of my life).

I love this term. I think it resonates for me because my life is full of these things. The little extra joy. I’ve been oddly blessed with them, from strange fellow bus riders to the feel of my son’s shoulders shaking as we both smothered laughs at the theatre to the red leaf spotted on a yet-green maple to the sound of water rushing down my ravine at night when all is silent. I try to pass them on, a kind word here, a touch there, but I’m of course not as good at it as I should be.  Perhaps I should get “yapay” as my tattoo…?

Sending thanks to those who have sent me these little gifts, in all your ways. They mean so much.

And goshens, I’ve got to study Creole. Or get back to Spanish. Richness abounds.

Regional Note: Lagniappe derives from New World Spanish la ñapa, “the gift,” and ultimately from Quechua yapay, “to give more.” The word came into the rich Creole dialect mixture of New Orleans and there acquired a French spelling. It is still used in the Gulf states, especially southern Louisiana, to denote a little bonus that a friendly shopkeeper might add to a purchase. By extension, it may mean “an extra or unexpected gift or benefit.”


Cliche is a town in France

Well, actually, that in itself is a cliche, and untrue. The town in France is Clichy. Nice is another town in France.  Nice is a word you shouldn’t use in writing. Like cliches, it is verboten.

I’m taking an excellent writing course these days from a fellah named Russell Barton. He’s pretty cool, as writing instructors go, filled with interesting little nuggets of information and good writing information as well. He edits our homework assignments with fierce red pen and today he went on a rant that struck me right in the core.

Emollients, he said, like “just” and “as if” and “seemingly” were all fine in the first draft of things, as they helped roll the story out. After that first draft, though, they should be terminated with extreme prejudice.

He caught me. I’d passed in a first draft of a story that was filled with oozing unguent. It slid out of my fingers covered with gooey modifiers and justifiers and wishy washy language suitable for any bureaucrat. My fingers practically slid off the page from the grease and the oozing red ink, spiraling about in ever more frustrated language from Russell.

It’s a darn good thing I brought cookies with me today, else I might have been slid right out of the class. At one point, Russell explained that I’d have to be a much better writer to attempt something I wanted to try. Ouch.

But it’s just what I need. I’m at the point now I don’t want the namby pamby, “Ooh, you write so well.”  I want people to tell me, “this is muddy,” or “try this a different way,” or”for God’s sake, cut that out!” I need a kick in the teeth, a push to exceed expectations. I’ve received wonderful support of late, and I am grateful for the positive voices – they gave me the strength to go on.

Now it’s time to do the hard work. I’m ready to make this writing a go. And Russell is helping me along, one angry red swipe at a time.

Guidance, divine or otherwise….

Where is a good self-help book when you need one? Too many of them seem more like the books on the right side of this bookshelf…

I’m searching for a ring for my finger than says “think think, think!” just like Winnie the Pooh would say.  I want it large enough that I can read it so that, at the moment of decision-making (something I find a wee bit impaired with my MS of late), it would remind me to take a moment, chew things through, maybe reconsider.

It’s not that I’m making bad decisions, exactly. It’s just that I distrust my judgment.

Part of it is being an orphan.  My parents died so long ago I barely remember what they would say to any of my brilliant schemes. They were already ill with cancer when they were my age.  This would, no doubt, change their perception of what was important, much like MS has changed mine. I miss their advice, though.  Often it would make me mad or frustrated or guilty or sad, but at least I had something to test my ideas against.

Right now I fall back on the old Tarot card reading stuff – not that I believe in it, but if the cards say “don’t do this” and I argue I need to deal again, I at least know what I want to do.

I’m on my own a lot, too, with naught but a parrotlet for company.  She’s cute but prefers to dance along when I sing along with sad songs and not offer solutions to my problems.  So I rely a lot on books – “helpful books” – to gain experience and thoughts about life, the universe, and everything (okay, perhaps relying on Douglas Adams wasn’t such a good idea). Ideas that seem distinctly brilliant and doable in my solitude show their cracks and duct tape patches in the searchlights of friends and family.

And, while I struggle with my own issues, there are so many people around me also struggling, and I have to rely on my imperfect knowledge to try to provide solace. Advice is hard. I feel like we are lined up like those Betta fish, each in their own little cup. No one has the same fishbowl as anyone else – the best we can do is peer through our own glass and try to spot them through theirs.  Sometimes we can see the cat’s paw approaching, but most of the time it’s just murky. On both sides. Maybe if I just waggle a fin in support?

I’m heading into a big decision time. Well, at least one.  I find myself feeling that layer of excitement that you feel creeping over you as you ratchet up the slope on a roller coaster for the first time.  Not sure how the ride will be, excited to think about it.

My friends are split with their advice. My mind is also split. So I look at the ring I’m wearing – one with purple amethysts, the stone of dreams, and think, think, think. And hope for guidance, divine or otherwise. And also hope that those I’ve stumblingly tried to help haven’t been too damaged by my heavy-footedness, that perhaps some of what I know came through the murk.