Sunday, October 18, 2009

What if every project we had was an Idea Project?

As you can see from the space between postings, my inspiration level has dipped in the last few weeks. I've lately been wrapped up in my own to do lists, from hacking away at this dissertation proposal to moving houses to sorting the lingering dust from the playa still white and ripe in my psyche. Between the mundane yet arduous task of packing books and books and more books (thank you to all my friends who came to the book packing party!), I kept getting emails from the ever persistent Cooper Bates. They said things like - and I quote - 16 days away from Idea Project! We're giving away art as a badge! Your life might change in ways unimaginable! And I kept responding with such lame, but true, resistances like: I'm surrounded by boxes, I'm behind in my work, I'm traumatized by moving, I'll come if I can. Until finally he said, Are you coming on Saturday? Tell me you are. You will be oh so happy afterwards, I guarantee it. How can you turn down such sincerity and hope backed with a guarantee of happiness, knowing most certainly that the boxes at home had nothing nearly as good to offer? So, yesterday I attended half - it was the best I could do - of LA Idea Project, and left extremely happy, completely inspired, and an even more committed Cooper groupie.

LAIP is sort of a local version of TED, the global event "where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration." If you haven't yet started your addiction to the TED website where you can watch any of the exactly 18 minute lectures for a mini-inspirational retreat, get started here and browse. There is no shortage of humor, genius, or mind-blowing inventiveness. LAIP was more intimate a gathering, with an audience I would estimate between 150 and 200. I missed the morning option of yoga, meditation or tai chi and what I'm sure was a great session of speakers entitled "Imagine". But I did catch the three afternoon sessions, and they completely lived up to their titles of Rethink, Envision, and Hope.

Dr. Aditi Shankardass, a neurophysiologist, spoke about her research in charting brain waves to more accurately understand the mental disorders of children diagnosed as autistic. The rising numbers of autistic children, she says, are actually due to inaccurate diagnoses rather than a boom in autism. If looked at more carefully, many may not be autistic at all but may instead be suffering from mini-seizures that cause behavioral activity that mirrors autism symptoms. Looking at the activity of the brain directly rather than the behavior of the child exposes the more precise problem. Sharing three test cases, she showed how the proper diagnosis and then treatment for the seizures allowed the misdiagnosed kids to restart their development at a near normal pace, learning to speak, think, and play in ways they and their parents had thought impossible. This was my first 18 minutes of LAIP.

Carmen Rizzo talked about his musical collaborations with the throat-singing Russian Tuvans and shared phenomenal images of this remote and rugged landscape near Siberia. Patri Freedman prophesized seasteading, the creation of colonies in the ocean (for real) where rather than living by the limits of capitalism, socialism, or communism - the miniscule number of governing ideologies we have actually tried to date - new settlements are encouraged to try alternative and hybrid versions on the tabula rasa of the ocean in the hopes of discovering a real utopia. Ann Johansson showed her phenomenal imagery of Sierra Leone, where the child mortality rate below five years of age is 28%. Bill Shannon demonstrated the Shannon technique of crutch dancing (see image) which takes break dancing, skateboarding, and sheer physical motivation and turns a disability into adept and fluid physical street poetry. Videos and other cool stuff here. Bill Larson touted his company, Simmatec, leaders in automated parking and perhaps the most practical idea shared of the day. According to Bill, if we were willing to get out of our cars and let a machine park them, we could save the planet, reduce violence towards women, eliminate child parking accidents, and save the 1/3 of a year we each lose if we continue to spend 15 minutes per day looking for parking.

Anne Murray Paige, a news reporter who found herself a victim of breast cancer, became the topic of her own documentary, The Breast Cancer Diaries, which she spoke about and shared beautiful, sad, and inspirational pieces of with the audience. Ian Shive is an entertainment industry person turned photographer, which seems a common enough story around LA these days, until about 8 minutes into his talk where he surpassed the aesthetics of national parks and nature images and started discussing conservation advocacy. Not only does he make beautiful images, but he lobbied congress with these images to show evidence of the habitat and ecological damage brought about by the construction of the nonsensical US/Mexico border wall and his since been successful in helping to halt HR 2076, putting a freeze on border wall construction. The day ended with Sekou Andrews and Steve Connell, performing some high energy spoken word tailored to the theme and mood of LA-IP - hope, love, inspiration, action. I also met the guy who first hacked the iphone who seems to have had a million new jobs since then and a new friend who will one day soon break all the electronic boundaries currently keeping the world wide web from being accessible to all the wideness of the world. Imagine the democratic possibilities. When he is on the cover of TIME, I can show everyone the silly photo I took of him for his iphone contact image and say I knew him when and that I met him at LAIP.

The note I wrote to myself at the end of yesterday was this - Hey, me, stop wasting time. The bottom line of it all is that you are what you do. For some it is a trauma or a tragedy that causes an action. For others it is a life change, a passion, a person. Whatever it is, you can't wait until you have more money, more degrees, more family, more reasons. There is now, that's all there is, so do what it is you are meant to do, or what the world means you to do, and do it soon. The LAIP theme this year was 'Suffused with Promise'. It's a bit 'first world' rhetoric, but it's true and thoughtful - we are suffused with promise, the hint (or more) of lime that is adventure or creativity or activism or empathy that runs through our blood and through the blood of our ideas. A good idea is a good thing, but a good action based on that good idea ripples out into the world and hits other shores, raises other tides, and rocks other boats. LAIP rocked my boat this week. Thanks, Cooper, for being so persistent and persuasive and committed to the cause.