Today marks a milestone in a story of a woman whom many of us have come to know and love. Mid-morning in an auditorium in Oxford, England, Becky Blanton will cross the stage and address the TEDGlobal conference about how she has gone from being homeless journalist living in van three years ago to being an invited speaker at TED.
The door opened for Becky to speak because she won the Johnny Bunko contest last winter. It was through the Bunko contest that I came to meet Becky. I was one of the three finalists in the contest. Becky, as an expression of the magnanimous person that is, secured an invitation for me to join an online social network of leaders started by Seth Godin, called Triiibes. That is a story in itself which you can read about here, here, here and here.
Becky's story is more than Johnny Bunko and more than being homeless and living in a van. Here's how she described it to some of us a couple weeks ago.
The important thing is not the whole homeless story - but the fact that our reality is based on our perceptions. Any of us can change our situations, find our hope, change our circumstances. Few of us will do so in such a dramatic fashion, but I was hard-headed and kept "trying to make things work," and failed. My commitment to my pets is what kept me in the van. I refused to give them up and accepted a choice (keeping my animals) of living in a van rather than giving them up and moving into an apartment. All choices have consequences - and gifts. This choice had both. (emphasis mine.)
I'm very happy for Becky. She deserves this moment in the public eye as much if not more than anyone I've ever known. I'm grateful for her friendship, and wish her all the best as she speaks today. An early recording of her six minute talk had me in tears.
After writing the above, Becky sent a report to her tribe of supporters. Here's some of what she has experienced, along with some pictures. It captures part of the person that Becky is.From Becky at TEDGlobal2009/Oxford: Okay. Bear with me....this is the TED experience beginning with arrival....
Spent the day sightseeing on a tour bus and talking to the driver, Alan. He's invited me back to stay with his family if I come back. I handed out cards to everyone on the bus who was curious about TED. My cards say, "It is not our abilities that define us. It is our choices." Alan drops me off at the door to Keble College, not on his regular round of stops, but he's a NUMBER ONE customer service oriented guy!!
Nick is a physicist studying at Keble College. He wants to be a journalist. We talk journalism and vandwelling as he carries my bags to my room overlooking the quad and the building that is the TED Global centerpiece.
Shelia Bailey owns Daisies Flower Shop in Oxford. She's responsible for the flowers for the TED party tonight. She loves Oxford and pointed out the best seating and the place where there's most likely to be a breeze. She gives me her card as well and shows me the inside of her flower van....since I love all things vans...having lived in one.
Miles is the IT guy who ""fixed my mac" but it broke again. I figured out how to reset it this time. He camps and we talked camping and vandwelling. Now I know where to go to park on 3,000 year old trails in England!
I arrived early and saw the guys with the hawk demonstration and asked to take photos...and to let the hawk land on my hand!!! THEY SAID YES AND I GOT TO PLAY WITH THE HAWK!!!!!! My TED experience is complete. I also talked to the Tom's shoes folks - they said "HI Seth." They said you told them you really liked what they were about and the shoes when they saw you in California.
Albara Alohali is here from Saudia Arabi. He has a new Canon camera. We talked about settings and then got shoes. He didn't want to play with the hawk.....He's the guy setting up Saudi Arabia TED. Lots to do after registering.....no line! Pays to be early!
Then it's off to the TED stage! Got pictures of "Griff" sleeping. He started work at 4 a.m. this morning and is "beat." There have been 24 presentations - practice, since they set up. Several other folks hand me off to various people until I arrive at the AV (audio Visual) room where I am told I am DEEPLY loved. I have no audio visual stuff so they get a 30 minute break. They need it. There is no air-conditioning here and it is HOT HOT HOT!!! My room is gorgeous....just remodeled...in the oldest wing of the school.
And lastly the story of the hawk...
Right off the bat stuff has been cool! I got to play with a hawk!! Hawks, the handler said, are "Tribal animals." When they get used to human beings and learn to trust them, the human becomes part of their Tribe. More on that in a separate blog post, but here's a cool photo! Yes! I got to wear the glove and "catch" the hawk about a dozen times!!! FUN FUN FUN!!!
And in a follow up email she wrote...
I told Bruno at dinner that my TED experience was already complete - I got to play with the hawk! He said, "Yeah, talking tomorrow pales in comparison I'm sure!" Glad he has a sense of humor! I don't have room for ALL the stuff I did, but basically the locals here are really friendly and told me where to go to drink beer in the bar where Bill Clinton smoked pot, where to get the best photos of the boats on the river, where the best fish & chips are - (they were right)...all the fun stuff they don't cover in the tour books. And the bus drivers know my name! Talk about great customer service - these bus tour guys are awesome!
Becky UpdateMy TED talk is done. Parts went great, parts I forgot. I hope they can piece it together. As much as I practiced and memorized - it all flew out of my head halfway through. Thank God for notes. Actually, now that it's over, I think I've forgotten the whole morning. Not unusual. What shocked me so much about the experience was the kindness of strangers. So many smiling faces - so many people wanting me to do well. I hope I did. It was the hardest thing I've ever done - even harder than living in the van for a year. Too much to blog about, but it was intense. (emphasis mine.)
Dan Pink rearranged his schedule to be there in the front row cheering me on. He is amazing. Simply amazing. I walked over and shook his hand at the end of my talk....it was too emotional....I don't have the words to describe it. But something inside me changed. For the good! Lunch is in an hour. Amazing people. Amazing speakers. I can't believe I can't form complete sentences or function, but it is that powerful, and those are just the TED University folks.
I think I just want to go somewhere and cry. It's intense. So intense to be here. If you get a chance to go to TED - do it. You'll never regret it. And this is just the first day. wow.I must have done better than I thought. People came up to me all day and night, crying and hugging me. I spent almost an hour in the bathroom because as I was washing my hands women kept coming in the door and stopping to tell me their story and their feelings after hearing my talk. I'm stunned at how intensely people WANT to connect with other's experiences. A female doctor took a year sabatical to live on a boat and told me she got the same response. People saw her differently and treated her with hostility. When she moved off of the boat after a year, people went back to treating her like a doctor. It made her so angry. (emphasis mine.)
A woman who had been kidnapped and tortured, held hostage and raped for
months - also identified with it. Non-Americans were more moved than
Americans and identified more deeply. I've never been hugged and cried
so much in my life. Everyone wanted a longer speech and more details.
It was a great way to get stories. I asked what they liked best about
the talk and wow! The floodgates opened! It was like getting my own
personal TED experience hearing people's stories....just incredible!!
What I saw as "forgetting my place," the audience saw as emotional
pauses....so, it worked I guess. Humbling. Totally humbling experience.