Behind the Scenes and Reflections from TEDx San Diego

Janell Burley Hofmann, December 18, 2013

I arrive in San Diego Thursday afternoon to begin a few days of preparation for my TEDx presentation on Saturday morning. This talk, you see, has occupied space in my heart and mind – even space in my home, for months now. The TEDx reputation precedes itself – a gathering of thinkers, often accomplished thinkers – spreading big ideas to a selected group of live audience participants. Then shared online in twelve minute segments firmly rooted in internet permanence until the end of time. Often, an opportunity to speak at TEDx is seen as a cultural gateway to arrival and acceptance in one’s field of beliefs or a reflection of one’s community visibility. It carries weight. And that can be heavy. But heavy thrills me. I like a challenge. I especially like a challenge that takes me months to prepare, weeks to rehearse and a serious stare down with my life’s greatest vulnerabilities. This talk also takes me across the country, away from my home and five children mere days before the year’s biggest holiday. I am operating on all cylinders and oozing thrill.

Quickly, over rehearsals and welcome feasts, it becomes clear how lucid and dedicated each speaker is to their idea and mission. Beyond that, event organizers, coaches, leaders, volunteers are equally passionate and committed to fostering an environment of radiant learning. I want to wrap myself in this energy. It’s like a direct connection to the source of fuel we all need to keep propelling forward. And even though we are dropped in suddenly to this suspended reality, we are quick to bond, because of our quest to conquer TEDx.

Most of us find ourselves tweezing out our keynotes, boiling down our lectures, actualizing our core message and truthfully, that feels risky. There is no space to spread out and carry on, we’ve got to give it to you straight and make you see the potential in our pursuits with crisp clarity. But we also want to move you. We want awareness and action and emotion. We want you to feel us. We want you to pause, see an idea turned around or upside down or from a new perspective and hold it there, in your own way. Talk about it. Carry it with you for a while. Then hand it out to others. See if it catches fire or finds its way alone. This, our humble offering to you.

It’s fun being so different from people, but so connected through the promotion of a hunger for life’s work. We are twelve, we are fifty, parents and non-parents, educators and students, artists and scientists, at home and away, certain and unsure. And it’s beautiful. What a lovely collection of being. I listen as we carve our own space into the big day, it’s a production, built to honor our very birthright, the only thing we are given purely: the gift to think and rethink. We celebrate and congratulate, basking in our ability to come together just this once, to share what drives us along our own winding paths of creation. However weary and given, we dazzle in the night sky over a beautiful candlelit dinner. Now, all that is left is gratitude and good-byes.

I’m home now, back to the simple – a clicking keyboard, a buzzing dryer, snow. It seems like a lifetime instead of mere days that I sat on the hotel floor in morning darkness, whispering and timing my way through my talk – hot tea and a racing heart, my only companions. What satisfaction to add my voice to the voices that stand for something, what a charge to feel held by others, but also holding, for nothing more than thought. Now, I feel a heaviness, as if I touched something that can’t be carried or kept together too long, because it’s too powerful or bright or fantastic. I slip back into my work, back to the grounding life that serves me. But I can’t stop looking for places and pieces that will easily catch if I pass a spark, for people who can stare at the light without turning away, for ideas that can’t stop themselves from spreading.




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