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TEDx and Me

Last night, I gave a TEDx talk, “The Power of the Pause,” at the 4th Annual Valparaiso University TedX event. The theme was [Moment]um which is probably why my proposal was accepted. I sent it in on a whim and had no idea what was in store over the next two and a half months. 

You would think that I was preparing a twelve-minute presentation that would define my entire existence. I spent hours and hours and hours writing, rewriting, memorizing, and re-memorizing. I read Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo and reviewed sections of Dale Carnegie’s texts. I reviewed TED talks and reflected on what has gone well and what has bombed in my presentations at Valpo. 

I had the talk completely down ten days before the event. I even reached out to my cousin Brendan Sullivan of Creativity Coaching to help me with the delivery. (This is big. We Neylons try not to bother anyone.) But that was for the talk I did not give. Maybe someday I will deliver that one to an audience who wants to hear about a fifty-six year-old lunatic who can’t decide where her passions lie because “everything is so fascinating.” Oh man. I think I really wrote that.

My son Brendan also coached me on the TEDx talk that never was.

As an over-preparer who wants to really get things right, I was stunned when – nine days before showtime – the TEDx Director, a senior Mechanical Engineering student completed devoted to the TedX event’s success, met with me and told me my talk did not fit into one of the two categories of Ted Talks: a brand new innovative idea or a new angle an old idea. I thought, “What? You mean people don’t want to hear about the chaos of my life and my discovery of the value of presence?”

Then I realized – they don’t. Hugely humble moment #17 in this process.

So I completely rewrote the talk after spending hours of my cousin and my son’s (both Brendans – we repeat names a lot in my family) to help me.

That Friday with one week to go, the ME student and I met again and discussed the revision. Unsmiling, he said, “You are making progress.” I thought, “Hm. I think that’s a good thing. Not exactly the crowd-cheering accolades I was expecting.” I was determined to get this young man to grin. At the end of our meeting, he cracked a slight one when I complimented him on so carefully following the TEDx guidelines. I was sincerely appreciative. 

So I read pages and pages of Doug Silsee and Richard Strozz-Heckler’s work on presence over the weekend, worked on what I thought was my final draft, and sent it off to the student who doesn’t study the humanities on Sunday – five days before the big day.

On 4:10am on Monday morning, I opened my laptop to a message from Mr. TEDx, and he said that it was looking good. He hadn’t changed any of my ideas, but he had rearranged them. He also changed a few words here and there.

My cousin Brendan texted me on Monday afternoon and asked how the talk was coming along. I replied that the new version was now a totally different speech. I thanked him for helping me work on my presentation skills and assured him that they would transfer to this new version. I was staying positive.

As I rehearsed Ted version #9, I tried to own words that were not mine such as “taking stock of the somatic input from my . . ..” I never say “taking stock.” Tim might buy stock, but I don’t take it. I think of beef when I hear the word “stock.”

On Tuesday, my son Brendan and I had a Zoom meeting for what I thought would be a quick check-in for content clarity. After getting through the first page, Brendan said, “Whoa. Stop, Mom.”

Oh man. I had had it. My soma was kicking in big time. (My talk is about the soma, the body-mind-heart integration that sends us messages.) I felt deflated, defeated, annoyed, and ready to say screw it.

I simply asked my loving son, “Why?’

“You sound bored.”

“I frickin’ am bored! I’ve been working on this damn thing for weeks, and now some of this isn’t even in words I would ever use.”

He said, “Find those words and change them back to your language. This is your talk.”

So I did.

There were only three short phrases that did not ring true to me, but they were enough to throw me off, to make me feel inauthentic.  The student had the very best intentions. He just doesn’t talk like I do. He’s an engineer. Enough said.

So I switched the wording back, rehearsed like a mad woman for three days, and lost my mind on stupid stuff in the last hours before showtime. Yep. I got my eyebrows professionally waxed on Thursday night, did an at-home Arbonne facial, whitened my teeth, and got my hair blown dry and curled on Friday morning. I wish I was making this up. (I have only had my hair done twice in my life – for my daughters’ weddings. Nobody got married last night in the 720 seconds of me standing in that red circle.)

My talk was last in the four-hour event. (No kidding. 4:00-8:00pm.) I was so calm as I soaked in insight from a NASA engineer, a California-based e-commerce author and entrepreneur, a recovered addict with a story I will never forget, and others. Then it was my turn to go backstage. I went through a series of centering exercises, but my soma would have none of it. My body screamed, “Panic!”

To me, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The microphone was put in place over my ear, and I didn’t realized it was on when I told the student workers that I was drawing a blank on parts of my talk. One student put his finger to his mouth and told me that my mic was on, and the audience could hear me. Holy shit. (There’s another story here about Tim’s mic being on throughout our entire wedding mass, but I won’t go there.)

One kind student taped the mic to the side of my face. During the talk, it randomly banged against my cheek and sent “Kaboom!” sounds in my right ear.

I lost my place due to a mishap with a slide, and I struggled to figure out how to blend the unexpected slide with what I was really going to say.  I remembered that good presentations do not rely on technology, and I was determined to plow through.

I couldn’t tell if my jokes were hitting. How does my son Brendan do stand-up in LA? The vulnerability is torture. 

I finished, walked back stage, fumbled with the wires, and told the students that I lost my place. A swarm of them comforted me. One said that he was lost in the talk as he watched on the monitor. I want to find that kid and give him a hug.

I was last, so I did not re-enter the recital hall. I stayed in the lobby and waited for Tim and my friends, Teresa, Tom, Lissa, Ali and Bill to come out. I thanked Doug and Elly from dining services and marveled at the work involved in putting on this event. The cookies and desserts were beautifully displayed; the huge TEDx banners, the sign-in areas, the entire Center for the Arts reflected the complete professionalism and planning of our Valpo students. I was overwhelmed with their efforts, and I just stood there – numb. 

My friends emerged from the auditorium. Bill turned to Tim and said, “You ought to marry her.” Tim said, “I did.” My soma gently whispered, “Woosh.”

I said, “I goofed up. The mic . . ..  the tape on my face . . . the slide . . . my notes . . ..”

Tom said, “You couldn’t tell.”

Lissa said, “Don’t look at your notes. You’re done.” (Earlier that day, she had said she had always thought about doing a Ted Talk until she saw me be completely consumed by it.)

Ali said, “I cried when you said . . ..”  I thought, “You are so amazingly kind.”

Tim and I walked back to the car, and he didn’t say much about the message. He had heard the damn thing at least fifteen times.

We went to a Mexican restaurant, and I buried my woes in a basket of chips (the whole thing) and a mountain of quacamole washed down with one and half Corona Lights. I was too tired to finish the second bottle.

As we left LaCabana, I looked down at my new, black suede Dansko boots I had splurged on  for my big debut. They were spattered in slush. I thought, “I do love these boots.”

This morning, I read texts and emails from close friends who said they prayed for me. My only goal was to somehow glorify God last night. Just now, I reread my notes. I see that I did hit the main points. My prayer is that people are impacted, that people pause and seek change, that people strive to become instruments of peace, that people forgive themselves and others.

I now pause, feel, identify, reflect, shift, and choose an alternative perspective – the gist of my talk.  I choose gratitude for the opportunity to grow. 

Too Good to Wear

On Saturday night, we went to dinner in Chicago with Bethy and Danny. They treated us to an outrageously wonderful meal for Christmas, and I debated about what to wear.  The five-star restaurant called for the best, the dresses reserved for weddings, galas, really special events. But I opted for a sweater dress because of its comfort and warmth. The others just seemed too good to wear.

After dinner, we went to a fancy hotel for a drink because Danny had heard it was a cool place. We learned that the mixologist created each indulgence with specific artists in mind. My favorite was Ernest Hemingway’s gin gimlet. The back of the drink menu had a guide to each referenced painting, poem or classic novel.

The server wore a stunning three-dimentional necklace of artfully crafted white daylillies. I had never seen anything like it and commented on its beauty. She said, “Oh thank you. It is a [insert some special designer that I don’t recall], and I thought it was too fancy to wear here.”

I told her that when my mom was ninety, she had sores around her neck from a nightgown with rough seams. When I asked her why she continued to wear it, she replied, “Oh I have much nicer pajamas in my closet, but I’m saving them.” We sat in silence for a moment and then laughed our heads off.

Don’t save the best in 2019. Put your best out there – of yourself in every way – and share it.

Later on Saturday night, Tim said he didn’t even notice the server’s necklace. I love that about him.

 

Keepers

A few weeks ago, I told Tim I was getting rid of anything that didn’t inspire me. I ransacked our bookshelves and filled nine boxes for a local library and a school where the kids don’t have books. What’s left are the treasures, the ones I want to lend, the ones that motivate, the ones that touch my heart, the ones that educate, and the many still on my “have-to-read” list.

My children tell me that I should toss the Encyclopedia Brittanica set. I say no way. When Katie was six, Bethy five, Brendan three, and Brigid a few months old, I bought those books on a payment plan.  I was sure they were going to my kids smart. When I told my mom about the monthly bills, she would have none of it. She paid the balance. Debt, even for a sparkling white stack of bound brilliance, was not an option.  Depression Era – you get it.

So now that beautiful set of knowledge sits on the top shelf in our family room as a reminder of how naive I was as a young mom. And they are a symbol of my mother’s constant generosity.

They also bring back memories of my childhood on Artesian Avenue in Chicago. When I had to write a paper in grammar school, I referenced the encyclopedias. When I tried to figure out what to be for Halloween, I flipped through the glossy pages for ideas. When I looked something up, I got distracted by all the other cool information within the volume. I loved my parents’ encyclopedias. My mom kept them in the living room, a space off limits to my nine brothers and sisters and me, except for when we were looking things up for homework.  I’d sit on the floor, lean against the heating vent, and thumb through pages. And then I’d put the volume back exactly where I found it.

So I’m keeping my set of encyclopedias. My kids can donate them when I die.

A few hours after I sifted through the bookshelves and moved on to the kitchen cabinets, Tim texted me: “Hey Nance, you inspire me. I hope I inspire you.”

 

 

 

Frankie’s Eulogy

Nine years ago, I slowly stepped up to the alter at St. Cajetan Church in Chicago to deliver my brother Frankie’s eulogy. From the podium, I stood ovewhelmed at my witnessing of the love and attention of my brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, Sullivan, Neylon, and Doody cousins, life-long family friends, and neighbors. I wondered what Frankie would say about all of these people taking pause out of their busy lives to be there on that cold, December morning. They put everything on hold to be there for my brother, a man who lived a life of pure humility.

My plan was to read The Prayer of St. Francis at the end of a very short tribute to a brother I wish I knew well. I glanced at the casket and prayed. I expressed gratitude on behalf of my family, and intuitively asked everyone to read from the back page of the mass booklet carefully crafted by sister Eileen.

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is dispair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

“Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

A wonderful friend sent this poem to me today.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho 
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans 
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
 

Today is Better

16 Sept. 2018

Why is today better than yesterday? Why am I not on the verge of tears today? Why yesterday did I weep during my run, and today I will step out with strength? Yesterday morning, Tim hugged me. He offered to hang the mirror in Valpo. He filled the bike tires. He rode bikes with me. He held my hand on the way home from Duneland Beach Inn. He loves me and he shows me in his way.

This morning, he reads in the lake house living room, and I type in the sunroom. I interject my thoughts, and he responds patiently. He loves me.

I mention our grief, but I do not dwell in it. It will always be there, but today, it is not ruling my world. It is not rushing through my veins to my heart. Today, it feels like Grace is in the air. We just have to bear witness to it.  

This morning, I respond to e-mails. I reassure a professor who missed that his advisee needs another General Education course to graduate. I tell him we can  arrange for the student to add the course. I can sign off on the petition. It feels good – one simple e-mail of reassurance and understanding and connection. These things happen. We can resolve it together.

Today, I banter with the kids about my dress for Bethy’s wedding. I say I found another sparkley one to buy for when Brendan wins an Emmy or an Oscar. Today, we dream. We move forward.

I e-mail great friends about a dinner date. We make plans to attend the Three Oaks Festival before the dinner. Tim is on board.   

Today, I may be a grandma again – Grandma Nance who loves to Dance. Today is a blessed day. We wait with joy. Our grandson will enter this world when he is ready. He is hope and Light. We look to the future and stop wondering how we missed out on the miracles of our own toddlers because we were too busy with our lives.

Today we slow down. Today we live. Today is better because it is today.

i thank you God for this most amazing by e. e. cummings

(Brendan Scannell, Duneland Beach, IN, June 26, 2018)

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

This poem was originally published in Xaipe1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).


 

Ivy River

I wrote this reflection on May 9, 2018, in Marshall, North Carolina while at a Presence-Based Coaching Conference at the Bend of Ivy Lodge. Sitting alone on rocks nestled on the edge of the Ivy River with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I reflected on life, work, love, play, and relationships. I grew uneasy as tasks at home and work invaded my private space. I had left home in a frenzy – unfinished class project, hurried visits, rushed final lesson plans, paper grading, lost and found cell phone, and a fuzzy sense of purpose –  all buried in extensive to-do lists.

I pulled out my journal and wrote the following:

I Ionged for this time alone ninety minutes ago. Now I am restless. So much to do. What? Nothing now. Just be here in this gorgeous place full of rich history and natural beauty.

I am hungry. My butt hurts. Time to move. Time to shift.

Is this what my life would be without work? Would I lose purpose? Would I doze in the afternoon? Is that okay?

Structure and flexibility –  life’s polarities. I dance within this flow. I just need to find a bit more space. 

Then I brainstormed a list of ways to change, rearrange, explore. Yoga after work instead of before. Get up earlier. Chat less. Make intentional choices. Then I looked at the Ivy River and wrote this poem:

The Ivy River – Marshall, North Carolina

“Water – tumbling over rocks, repeated patterns of Light and life – graciously unsure of its destination. 

Bubbling, dipping downstream, fanciful flow greeting the air – open to new possibilities. 

Forging forward –  a community creating rhythms – reassurance,  serenity, hope.

Murmuring, ‘I have been here hundreds of thousands of years, resilient, ready for the unknown around the bend.’

Neighbors marvel – moss, mud, pebbles, stumps, sticks, stones – not trying to capture, remember, share, or like – just feeling and being, not wishing for a fellow witness.”

I am right in there with the moss and mud – learning from the Ivy River how to be. Those stumps, sticks, and stones teach a lesson, too.

 

 

Running as Transformative Space

As a solitary or social activity, running sparks transformation – it changes in the way I feel, but more importantly, it changes in the way I think. Others experience this miracle of presence through other means – photography, drawing, painting, biking, music, knitting, serving, swimming, gardening, cooking (I wish).

When our kids were young, running provided me with the time to see the world from their perspectives. When I could not figure out a child’s, especially a teenager’s, motivation, I would put on my Brooks and hit the streets. Out in the open air, different viewpoints would float by as I grasped at underlying meanings and discovered empathy. I’d take the time to remember what it felt like to want to be in charge of my life and to have a parent say “no.” My dad used to say, “We’ll see,” which frustrated because “We’ll see” almost always meant “no.” My dad was smart. He knew things take time to unfold, and that tough decisions often involve waiting and seeing.

I’ve learned to “see” new insights and explore caverns of clarity in the rhythm of steps and breath. “Aha” happens in silent space. When running with friends, the freedom of movement in our synchronous strides ensures security and non-judgment in the safety of “running talk.” The winding routes mimic the processing of our ideas and reactions, no matter how idealistic, wacky, or rudimentary. We work out our minds as we work out our bodies as we work out our purpose. Compassion and understanding resonate through the connection in meditative running, casual conversing. and soul searching.

I wish I could bottle the clarity, creativity, and gratitude I feel when I’m out there on the trails and roads.  When I run alone, I write in my head. Like my feet, the clarity is often fleeting – dissipated by the time I unlace my shoes and hustle into the shower to get to the reality of my day. What sustains me after each run is a sense of peace and wholeness. Just because it’s not recorded doesn’t mean it isn’t there. This month, I’m going to try to capture it in words. We’ll see.