Getting invited to TEDxCambridge (expressing my thankfulness)

by mammalfish

Happy Thanksgiving, all. =)

I’ll be blogging about my experiences at the TEDxCambridge conference very soon; I’ve been mocked a bit for saying this, but I’m maintaining that it was the best day of my life. I just really like learning! When I sat down to write, though, I ended up at the beginning, so here’s my journal-like post on applying for my invite to the conference.


On Tuesday afternoons, I sit in the lab and procrastinate. It is a ritual. In the windowless room, time is still. I am alone between the hours of three and five, one wide expanse, during which the refrigerator softly hums, and the parrots, G and W, rifle carefully through their grey feathers with their beaks, or huddle on their perches, one foot raised, dozing. Or they squeal and whistle along with the music I play for us, watching me wide-eyed as I dance, solo, about the tiny room, singing for the three of us. We enjoy our time together.

This week was a particularly bad bout. I had a paper to write but other things felt more important. In an effort to be productive, I had resorted to looking up academic events in Boston on my laptop—my thought process must have been something like, “Well, I am clearly not managing my own education at this school very well. Let’s see what I can learn if I get out of here, then.” In my Googled wanderings, I stumbled unceremoniously across the news that there was a TEDx conference happening at Harvard on Saturday—in four days.

I must have begun muttering to myself wildly. W ground the halves of his black-bone beak together. G cocked his head to one side and chirred. Too excited not to move, I found myself on my feet, pacing, and I offered my hand to G. He stepped up onto it, scaled feet clenched and claws digging into my thumb; I raised him to my face, looked him in the eye. He gently pressed his beak to my nose and waited. It is our favorite gesture, the pose from which we hold our one-sided conversations.

“Wish me luck, bird,” I whispered. “I’ve wanted this for years.”

You may or may not be familiar with the TED organization. If you are not, let me tell you: they do a marvelous thing. The most interesting and innovative people—scientists, policymakers, theoricists, Renaissance men—the planet’s thinkers and doers—are invited to give short lectures to selected audiences. But the lectures are also filmed, and uploaded to a central website, where we normal ones can watch them for free. TED helped me to fall in love with science—with learning itself. I have spent many a lazy morning watching TED lectures, and staring out my window and dreaming of the world I saw. I dreamt of going to one of those conferences and chatting with so many brilliant folks about that world. This may seem like an odd childhood dream to some of you—and it is!—but my fellow nerds, science-lovers, and knowledge-mongers will empathize with this.

So here it was, on the Saturday after this Tuesday. Four days. A TEDx conference in Our Fair City. The theme would be “Thrive”, which was clearly a vague-enough term that a million fascinating things would be talked about. I clicked about the website and found that attendance was by invitation only, but that invitations could be applied for. The application was a set of five essay questions about myself.

I spent an hour pouring my heart into my keyboard. I wrote about my childhood and adulthood; I wrote about asking questions of the universe; I wrote about how I was trying to turn my habit of watching animals into a career. I am twenty-one years old and I am trying to turn myself into a scientist. I am just beginning to learn how to thrive. I suspect it will always have something to do with loving my world, and my universe, and my questions. I expressed my whole self in type as much as I could, while the refigerator hummed in the background and the parrots fluffed their feathers idly and yawned. I sent in my application.

I received my invitation at midnight. I took a break from writing my paper to dance a jig around my room. When my dreams come true, which happens far more often than I deserve, it feels like such amazing extravagance. I’m already lucky enough just to exist without this happiness. I never quite know who to thank.

I got back to work, and waited for Saturday, which, by midnight, was only three days away.