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Earthworms’ Castings

Jean Ponzi

With Jean Ponzi

Speaking Up

One thing I can do is talk.

I get to use this habit and skill in the service of principles I hold dear. Like speaking up for Nature, and how Human Kind can, and IMHO should, be both.

On Thursday, September 12, 2019 at The Pageant I will take this up a notch. I am giving a TED talk.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED launched in 1984. The first lineup of topics included a demo of the compact disc and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot showing how his theory of fractal geometry could be used to map coastlines.

TED’s tagline is Ideas Worth Spreading. TED events seek out people with something unique and compelling to say, and give them a big red spot in the public eye and ear, heart and mind to communicate their passion. TED talks are given live on stages, worldwide; some are shared on radio, all go up online.

It’s both a very cool and very hot spot to be in. And a TED-ly serious process commitment.

In St. Louis a keen volunteer group runs TEDx Gateway Arch, one of a global network of community based events independently organized under a free license granted by TED. TEDxGA puts on a sophisticated, complex show: live speakers, interviews, recorded segments, and musical and art performance. In major local venues, jazzily promoted and staged.

About three years ago, I went to see Steve Sommers, who leads the TEDxGA team. I figured, being “Green Jean” Ponzi around these parts, his event would be glad I had dropped in its lap. We had a nice conversation, and that was that. Then.

In January ‘18, I learned that TEDxGA was seeking local speakers. The online process to apply required me to pitch my pithy topic, in no more than 100 words.

What was I proposing? What is my spread-worthy Idea? The Nature of Negativity, from an Earth Girl’s Perspective. Stuff I have pondered for decades, thinking now its time has come.

Normally how I get to address an audience is that somebody calls or emails and invites me. The last thing I applied for was my current job, in 1995. It took me two full days, including getting input from friends, to craft my C-note of verbiage. I hit send. Time passed.

One day before spring I was thrilled to read an email, inviting me – to audition. I am not totally sure, but I think my last audition got me into the Wisconsin All-State Honors Choir, singing alto, in 1972.

The TEDx audition took place on turf I know: the Stage at KDHX. I had produced and performed there in two live variety shows, the Earth Day Worm-O-Rama and Invasive Species Follies. Both were multi-faceted deals with casts of characters and a band, where I knew my stuff and improvised. This time I had to PREPARE. Over days of pacing around, talking my pitch. I arrived (gasp!) early and used my Earthworms show KDHX key to hole up on the studio floor for a last hunk of practicing what I had crafted and rehearsed.

The roomful of TED Talk hopefuls signed up to pitch our topics in the order we arrived. I was Number 9, a good slot: long enough to watch and learn, not too far along to lose my edge or blow the whole day there, waiting.

We each had three minutes to deliver our ideas, and sell our stuff as speakers. More reviewers than I could count had pencils poised. A timer was blinking its laser-red digital eye.

In my moment, I took the stage I had trod vivaciously twice before. I picked up the mic, opened my spiel – and promptly got off-topic, talking too much about myself and recycling, which was not part of my pitch. I barely recovered and wrapped my complex, fascinating and somewhat obscure focus before the timer switched me to Mute. I didn’t really listen to a couple more, then left.

Magnolias had bloomed and browned when an email inquired: would I be available to interview with the TEDxGA team? Sure. I love a good interview. In fact, I’ve been doing them, live on-air, for about 31 years now. It’s fun to converse with others this way, and a treat when someone wants to focus on me. Or it had been.

My upbeat, skillful Earthworms interview tone turned deaf on the day I talked with the TEDx peeps. I felt and sounded suck-up hokey. What was this process, rendering me too eager, feeling beside myself – and nervous?

Nature was fully leafed-out green when the email announced that TEDx Gateway Arch had decided to suspend production for 2018, to evaluate and evolve their process. Thanks for applying. We’ll be in touch again when we restart.

I sank into reflection. How could work I care about, that I do well, get so discombobulating? How could Green Jean get so worked up? Come so undone? Way worse: is my Idea dumb?

I did appreciate the learning, then I put it all to rest.
On a fine June day this year, hello! A TEDx email said they’re holding two events this fall. Would I be available on either date to join them as a speaker? I did not reply. I picked up the phone. Steve answered. He was happily surprised that someone had called him. I do love to talk, after all, and it’s something I can do, in the service of my values.

Yes, I said, thank you. Committing, with those words, to the generous and intensive TEDx process I asked to join. To bring my Idea Worth Sharing to the audience for a TED event: curious, attentive, diversely human, big.

To a Master Class for my vocation and my craft, and my human nature.

Come see it via TEDxGatewayArch.org, or watch later on YouTube. And check out Earthworms interviews on KDHX, podcasting for your convenience, often and unrehearsed at Earthworms.kdhxTra.org.

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