Tag Archives: TEDxSummit

The Space Between

As many of you know, I’ve been working for the past few months to help plan TEDxDesMoines. I can’t believe it’s just 10 days away! From coming up with this year’s theme: The Space Between, to helping select speakers and mapping out how our attendees will interact and experience the day, it’s been a big adventure. (Not to mention our trip to Qatar to meet and workshop with other organizers.) When I left journalism, a big reason was to get to be one of the people who was actually doing things to strengthen our community. Planning TEDxDesMoines has been completely volunteer, and it’s kept me pretty busy. But when I think about the opportunity to bring together people from different backgrounds to listen and then react to paradigm-shifting ideas, it’s definitely worth it.

We have a few tickets remaining, so if you’re interested in going on July 15, don’t forget to register soon. If the $40 registration fee is too steep, shoot me a message and I might be able to work something out through a few volunteer slots we have open. The day will feature three different sessions with a wide range of speakers. We planned this conference so that you don’t have to be a tech person, or work in a creative field to fit in. Hopefully everyone will come away from the day having made a new connection: to a concept they’d never considered, or a person they’ve never met.

Here’s one of my favorite TED talks, “If I should have a daughter” from spoken word poet Sarah K:

If I Should Have a Daughter

P.S. I got to write a guest post “X Marks the Spot” for Silicon Prairie News last week. It was fun!

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Inspiration on how to rock your block

Here’s a quick inspiring video for your Tuesday:

I have lots of ideas, but when it comes time to implement them, I often start to panic. Would anyone show up? How do I pull this off? The key message here for engaging with your community:

SHOW UP.

GIVE IT A NAME.

SET A DATE & PUBLISH IT.

Really great advice, involving hard but fun work!

Thanks to Greg from TEDxFargo for sharing it with me.

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Des Moines and Doha

Sometimes, in a strange place, it’s the similarities that stand out. There are so many facets of my TEDx Summit experience that deserve separate posts, but I wanted to highlight a few commonalities between cities that struck me.

I tried to leave for Doha without expectations — open to all of the potential experiences and people I’d encounter. Still, a part of me was a tiny bit nervous to travel to the Middle East and convene with a bunch of community change agents under a dome that had literally red Xs all over it, if you know what I mean. I needn’t have given my safety much of a second thought.

Photo: James Duncan Davidson via the TEDxSummit Flickr galleries: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tedxevents/with/6948533866/

From the moment we touched down in Qatar, the red carpet was rolled out for us TEDx-ers. Regardless of nationality or creed, we were hosted in a 5-star hotel and shown the sights of Doha, the capital city, with day trips to the less developed corners of the country bookmarking our workshop days.

Kayak trip in the mangroves in Northern Qatar

Even during our ‘Desert Day’, I couldn’t help but think of it at a Bedouin-style Living History Farms

Downtown Doha was a commotion of cranes, as the city builds out and up, thanks in large part to an influx of wealth from oil. The TED Prize theme is The City 2.0, so it was especially interesting to be hosted in a city that, as Alexander put it, is still writing its story.

I suppose if I had any expectations at all, it was to see lots of street vendors and the kind of scrappy transportation I’d seen in pictures from places like China. Instead, it was almost more like West Des Moines — lots of SUVs and roundabouts and chain stores from Europe and the U.S. Which isn’t to say there isn’t any culture. As the soccer stadiums and convention centers go up, Qatar’s leadership is making an effort to embrace modern design and architecture, and to create places for the arts.

Spider sculpture at Karata, in Doha

Most of our events were at the Katara Cultural Village, where I squealed with delight to see a Louise Bourgeois Spider sculpture similar to the one we have in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in the Western Gateway of Des Moines. There was a whole Bourgeois exhibit there!

Toasting a new group of friends at the Souq

The hotspot for nightlife (Qatar is a mostly dry country) is the Souq Waqif, which does feel a bit like a Disney-fied Middle Eastern Market. This was the spot to smoke shisha, eat chicken shawarma, share tea and soak in a sense of atmosphere with the city lights twinkling around.

If you want to drink, many of the fancier hotels have a liquor license. We had access to the club at the W hotel, although apparently we just missed Kanye West, who was supposedly in town to film a music video and/or check out the jaw-droppingly awesome Murakami Exhibit.

At the Murakami Ego Exhibition

(I may have missed Kanye, but I did get to meet up with a long lost friend from college who’s been living and working in the region.)

Museum of Islamic Art

Another great artistic connection came with the fabulous Museum of Islamic Art, which was designed by I.M. Pei. Our own Des Moines Art Center has a modern wing designed by the renowned architect, too! (The staff at our Art Center was kind enough to send me with a poster inscribed with a sweet note for the Doha museum directors, which I presented like a little art ambassador. I think they were confused/delighted by the gesture.) Explore the Museum yourself thanks to the Google Art Project: http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/the-museum-of-islamic-art-qatar/museumview/

The MIA was extremely impressive and the well-curated, sleek space was a good foil to the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum, which was one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. It was massive, with collection upon collection opening up from room to room, so you’re looking at fossils and then clothes from the region and then weapons and art and cars and planes, all laid out with very little context. I think if there’s a Night at the Museum III, this would have to be the setting. We were all a bit snarky about it’s layout, but then I remembered some of my travels to small towns in Iowa where people would set up storefront displays of “primitives,” as the sweet and now departed museum owner Darwin Linn in Villisca used to call his antiques.

At night, we’d look out from our bus windows to see families strolling around Doha’s Corniche, a waterfront pedestrian walkway that reminded me of families doing the loop around Gray’s Lake. On the last day, we had lunch at a delightful modern pavillion along the water, which reminded me of  the “Hub Spot” taking shape along the Principal Riverwalk here.

I met and heard people speak who were putting on TEDx events all over the world — everywhere from Birmingham, UK, to Baghdad, Iraq, to Brazil. But I also met a great group of people from the Midwest who were just as inspiring.

Breakfast with Alice, the co-organizer of TEDxFulbright. She grew up in Indianola, Iowa!

The last night, we were finally able to meet up with a woman named Ebaa who grew up and lives in Qatar, but who went to the University of Iowa with a friend of ours in Des Moines. She treated us to a feast at an Egyptian restaurant in Katara and we talked about places like Cedar Rapids between lively singalongs by a Fez-wearing band that was playing at tables.  Finding connections like that was the perfect closing experience that underscored how small this world can be.

I enjoyed my trip to Doha; it made me realize how proud I am of Des Moines!

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Back in the Midwest!

Jet-lag hasn’t yet set in after a nearly 24-hour return trip from Middle East back to the Midwest.

In one of the "unconference" session tents

Much more on the experience later, but this “Why We Travel” essay shared by one of my new TEDxSummit friends resonated.

So travel, for many of us, is a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing; I, at least, travel in search of an innocent eye that can return me to a more innocent self. I tend to believe more abroad than I do at home (which, though treacherous again, can at least help me to extend my vision), and I tend to be more easily excited abroad, and even kinder. And since no one I meet can “place” me — no one can fix me in my rsum –I can remake myself for better, as well as, of course, for worse (if travel is notoriously a cradle for false identities, it can also, at its best, be a crucible for truer ones). In this way, travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move: On the road, we often live more simply (even when staying in a luxury hotel), with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance.

TEDxSummit, 16 April - 20 April, 2012. Doha, Qatar. Photo: James Duncan Davidson.

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Smiling into the wind

Early Friday morning, I’m bound for an adventure I never expected, chased after or planned for. In a few short days, I’ll be standing in a desert, surrounded by some of the brightest, most inspired strangers I never thought I’d meet. If all goes as the itinerary outlines, I’ll be engaged in workshops and explore art museums and lean into the warmth of a camel and cruise on the sea in a region I know only by news reports of unrest. In the coming days, I will undoubtedly travel beyond my comfort zone and I’m welcoming the opportunity to unbridle my imagination and ride it to the edge of the world. I’m excited and anxious and blissfully free of expectations.

The theme for the opening night talks is “The Power of Reframing.” It looks like you might be able to watch the stream, too!

I’m sure I’ll have lots to share when I get back. Until then, I hope the winds are fair here and there!

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So glad I had a passport handy

When I graduated high school, my goal in life was to become a writer for National Geographic. To travel the world and write about all of the interesting people I met and places I visited. My grandpa keeps stacks and stacks of the saffron-bordered magazines in the attic (or “cold room” as we call it), and as a little girl, I would spend hours after school and in summers reading about the brain or an ancient civilization or specie of whale.

photo via

I still remember the night my freshman year at Mizzou when my college roommate and I went to see a group of National Geographic photographers (including the amazing Sam Abell) speak. I was captivated. To be in the same room with the people who achieved my dream was a rush — the intellectual high I’d hoped to get in college. After the lecture, I remember literally running through the columns on the quad and back to our dorm with hardcover photo books tucked under our arms.

Photo via

I also remember the stories the photographers told about how long their assignments were and what that meant to their families. And gradually, the dream shifted for me. I still love to travel and my nine-year-old passport is tattooed with stamps (thanks, Girl Scouts!), but I came to realize that the nomadic life wasn’t for me.

There are so many breathtaking destinations and fascinating cultures and I am interested in seeing as much of this planet as I can. But I also started to appreciate the fact that all of the world’s interesting places exist because there are people who commit to them and keep them alive.

At one time, I was convinced that the only way to uncover life’s meaning was to stand in a headwind at earth’s rugged edges. That the only way to be a writer was to get out of Dodge. I still believe that when we put ourselves in unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations — and to travel is to embrace this — we come to a better understanding of ourselves. But I don’t know if I’m convinced that essential truths are only caught after a cross-continental chase.

I’ve written a lot about Des Moines becoming home to me and choosing to be part of a community. I write about my house and the friends I’ve made here and sometimes I feel like — for the people who knew me back when I was a high school travel-writer wannabee — these moments read like I gave up, or settled. Perhaps I’ll spend the rest of my writing life trying to put into words what it feels like to make roots like these. Maybe I’ll never get it right. Or maybe I’ll write a novel instead.

Then this week I had the most exciting news. Just as I’ve felt like things are beginning to settle down (I’m convinced the water here in Iowa has some sort of baby-producing boosting agent), I got the most amazing e-mail. I will be heading to Doha, Qatar as a TEDxSummit attendee along with my friend, Alexander. I couldn’t be more excited for this unexpected adventure. It’s the perfect mix of being able to see a place I’d never even imagined in my girlhood National Geographic dreams, and taking part in a global event meant to enhance my community back at home.

I (along with a small group of talented people) helped Alexander put together the last TEDxDesMoines event (something I wasn’t going to be able to work on if I’d stayed in journalism at the paper), but I definitely don’t feel worthy of this opportunity. I’ll keep you all updated and hopefully will post from Doha this April!

This opportunity is something I feel I never would have had living in a bigger city. It’s one more reason to love Des Moines. I’m still pinching myself that it’s real!

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Filed under BS outside the Midwest, I love Des Moines, Life lessons