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← TEDxEast - Sarah Kay - How many lives can you live?

Sarah Kay, founder of Project V.O.I.C.E performs and discusses living through storytelling and learning how to stop rushing.

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Showing Revision 20 created 12/20/2015 by Krystian Aparta.

  1. (Singing) I see the moon.
    The moon sees me.
  2. The moon sees somebody that I don't see.
  3. God bless the moon, and god bless me,
  4. and God bless that somebody
    that I don't see.
  5. If I get to heaven, before you do,
  6. I'll make a hole and pull you through.
  7. And I'll write your name, on every star,
  8. and that way the world,
  9. won't seem so far.
  10. The astronaut will not be at work today.
  11. He has called in sick.
  12. He has turned off his cell phone,
    his laptop, his pager, his alarm clock.
  13. There is a fat yellow cat
    asleep on his couch,
  14. rain drops against the window,
  15. and not even the hint
    of coffee in the kitchen air.
  16. Everybody is in a tizzy.
  17. The engineers on the 15th floor have
    stopped working on their particle machine.
  18. The anti gravity room is leaking
  19. and even the freckled kid with glasses,
  20. whose only job is to take
    out the trash, is nervous,
  21. fumbles the bag, spills
    a banana peel and a paper cup.
  22. Nobody notices.
  23. They are too busy recalculating
    what this all mean for lost time.
  24. How many galaxies
    are we losing per second.
  25. How long before next rocket
    can be launched, somewhere.
  26. An electron flies off its energy cloud.
  27. A black hole has erupted.
  28. A mother finishes setting
    the table for dinner.
  29. A Law & Order marathon is starting.
  30. The astronaut is asleep.
  31. He has forgotten to turn off his watch,
  32. which ticks, like a metal
    pulse against his wrist.
  33. He does not hear it.
  34. He dreams of coral reefs and plankton.
  35. His fingers find
    the pillowcase's sailing masts.
  36. He turns on his side.
    Opens his eyes at once.
  37. He thinks that scuba divers must have
    the most wonderful job in the world.
  38. So much water to glide through!
  39. (Applause)
  40. Thank you.
  41. When I was little, I could
    not understand the concept
  42. that you could only live one life.
  43. I don't mean this metaphorically.
  44. I mean, I literally thought
    that I was going to get to do
  45. everything that there was to do
  46. and be everything there was to be.
  47. It was only a matter of time.
  48. Ad there was no limitation
    based on age, or gender,
  49. or race or even appropriate time period.
  50. I was sure that I was going
    to actually experience
  51. what it felt like to be a leader
    of the civil right movement,
  52. or a ten-year old boy living
    on a farm during the dust bowl,
  53. or an emperor of the Tang
    dynasty in China.
  54. My mom says that when people asked me what
  55. I wanted to be when I grew up, my typical
    response was princess-ballerina-astronaut.
  56. And what she doesn't understand
    is that I wasn't trying to invent
  57. some combined
    super profession.
  58. I was listing things I thought
    I was gonna get to be:
  59. a princess, and a ballerina,
    and an astronaut.
  60. and I'm pretty sure the list
    probably went on from there.
  61. I usually just got cut off.
  62. It was never a question
    of if I was going to do something
  63. so much of a question of when.
  64. And I was sure that if I was going
    to do everything,
  65. that it probably meant I had
    to move pretty quickly,
  66. because there was a lot
    of stuff I needed to do.
  67. So my life was constantly
    in a state of rushing.
  68. I was always scared
    that I was falling behind.
  69. And since I grew up in New York
    City, as far as I could tell,
  70. rushing was pretty normal.
  71. But, as I grew up, I had
    this sinking realization,
  72. that I wasn't gonna get to live
    any more than one life
  73. I only knew what it felt
    like to be a teenage girl
  74. in New York City,
  75. not a teenage boy in New Zealand,
  76. not a prom queen in Kansas.
  77. I only got to see through my lens
    and it was around this time
  78. that I became obsessed with stories,
  79. because it was through stories
    that I was able to see
  80. through someone else's lens,
    however briefly or imperfectly.
  81. And I started craving hearing
    other people's experiences
  82. because I was so jealous
    that there were entire lives
  83. that I was never going to get
    to live, and I wanted to hear
  84. about everything that I was missing.
  85. And by transitive property, I realized
  86. that some people were never going
    to get to experience what it felt like
  87. to be a teenage girl in New York city.
  88. Which meant that they weren’t
    going to know
  89. what the subway ride
    after your first kiss feels like,
  90. or how quiet it gets when its snows,
  91. and I wanted them to know,
    I wanted to tell them
  92. and this became the focus of my obsession.
  93. I busied myself telling stories
    and sharing stories and collecting them.
  94. And it's not until recently
    that I realized
  95. that I can't always rush poetry.
  96. In April for National Poetry Month
    there's this challenge that,
  97. many poets in the poetry
    community participate in,
  98. and its called the 30/30 Challenge.
  99. The idea is you write
    a new poem
  100. every single day
    for the entire month of April.
  101. And last year I tried it for the first
    time, and I was thrilled
  102. by the efficiency at which I was able
    to produce poetry.
  103. But at the end of the month I looked
    back at these 30 poems I had written,
  104. and discovered that they were
    all trying to tell the same story,
  105. it had just taken me 30 tries to figure
    out the way that it wanted to be told.
  106. And I realized that this is probably true
    of other stories on an even larger scale.
  107. I have stories that I have
    tried to tell for years,
  108. rewriting and rewriting and constantly
    searching for the right words.
  109. There's a French poet, an essayist
    by the name of Paul Valery
  110. who said a poem is never
    finished, it is only abandoned.
  111. And this terrifies me
    because it implies that
  112. I could keep reediting and rewriting
    forever and its up to me to decide
  113. when a poem is finished and when
    I can walk away from it.
  114. And this goes directly against my very
    obsessive nature to try
  115. to find the right answer, and the perfect
    words, and the right form.
  116. And I use poetry in my life,
  117. as a way to help me navigate
    and work through things.
  118. But just because I end the poem,
    doesn't mean that I've solved
  119. whatever I was puzzling through.
  120. I like to revisit old poetry,
  121. because it shows me exactly
    where I was at that moment.
  122. And what it was I was trying
    to navigate and the words
  123. that I chose to help me.
  124. Now, I have a story
  125. that I've been stumbling
    over for years and years
  126. and I'm not sure if I've found
    the prefect form,
  127. or whether this is just one attempt
  128. and I will try to rewrite it later
  129. in search of a better way to tell it.
  130. But I do know that later, when I look back
  131. I will be able to know
    that this is where I was
  132. at this moment, and this
    is what I was trying to navigate,
  133. with these words, here,
    in this room, with you.
  134. So -- Smile.
  135. It didn't always work this way.
  136. There is a time you have
    to get your hands dirty.
  137. When you were in the dark,
    for most of it, fumbling was a given,
  138. and you needed more
    contrast, more saturation,
  139. darker darks, and brighter brights.
  140. They called it extended development.
    It meant you spent
  141. longer inhaling chemicals,
    longer up to your wrist.
  142. It wasn't always easy.
  143. Grandpa Stewart was a navy photographer.
  144. Young, red-faced
    with the sleeves rolled up,
  145. fists of fingers like fat rolls of coins,
  146. he looked like Popeye
    the sailor man, come to life.
  147. Crooked smile, tuft of chest hair,
  148. he showed up at World War II,
    with a smirk and a hobby.
  149. When they asked him if he knew
    much about photography,
  150. he lied, learned to read
    Europe like a map,
  151. upside down, from the height
    of a fighter plane,
  152. camera snapping, eyelids
    flapping, the darkest darks
  153. and brightest brights.
  154. He learned war like he could
    read his way home.
  155. When other men returned,
    they would put their weapons out to rest,
  156. but he, brought the lenses
    and the cameras home with him.
  157. Opened a shop, turned it
    into a family affair.
  158. My father was born into this
    world of black and white.
  159. His basketball hands learned
    the tiny clicks and slides
  160. of lens into frame, film into camera,
  161. chemical into plastic bin.
  162. His father knew the equipment
    but not the art.
  163. He knew the darks but not the brights.
  164. My father learned the magic,
    spent his time following light.
  165. Once he traveled across the country
    to follow a forest fire,
  166. hunted it with his camera for a week.
  167. "Follow the light," he said.
  168. "Follow the light."
  169. There are parts of me
    I only recognize from photographs.
  170. The loft on Wooster street
    with the creaky hallways,
  171. the twelve-foot ceilings,
    the white walls and cold floors.
  172. This was my mothers home,
    before she was mother.
  173. Before she was wife, she was artist.
  174. And the only two rooms in the house,
  175. with walls that reached
    all the way up to the ceiling,
  176. and doors that opened and closed,
  177. were the bathroom and the dark room.
  178. The dark room she built
    herself, with custom made
  179. stainless steel sinks,
    an 8 by 10 bed enlarger
  180. that moved up and down by a giant
    hand crank,
  181. a bank of color balanced lights,
  182. a white glass wall for viewing prints,
  183. a drying rack that moved
    in and out from the wall.
  184. My mother built herself a dark room.
  185. Made it her home.
  186. Fell in love with a man
    with basketball hands,
  187. with the way he looked at light.
  188. They got married. Had a baby.
  189. Moved to a house near a park.
  190. But they kept the loft at Wooster street
  191. for birthday parties and treasure hunts.
  192. The baby tipped the gray scale.
  193. Filled her parents' photo
    albums with red balloons
  194. and yellow icing.
  195. The baby grew into a girl
    without freckles,
  196. with a crooked smile,
  197. who didn’t understand why her friends did
    not have dark rooms in their houses,
  198. who never saw her parents kiss,
  199. who never saw them hold hands.
  200. But one day, another baby showed up.
  201. This one with perfect straight
    hair and bubble gum cheeks.
  202. They named him sweet potato.
  203. When he laughed, he laughed so loudly,
  204. he scared the pigeons on the fire escape
  205. And the four of them lived
    in that house near the park.
  206. The girl with no freckles,
    and the sweet potato boy,
  207. the basketball father,
    and the dark room mother
  208. and they lit their candles,
    and they said their prayers,
  209. and the corners of the photographs curled.
  210. One day some towers fell
  211. and the house near the park became
    a house under ash, so they escaped.
  212. In backpacks, on bicycles to darkrooms
    but the loft of Wooster street
  213. was built for an artist,
    not a family of pigeons
  214. and walls that do not reach the ceiling
  215. do not hold in the yelling
  216. and a man with basketball hands
    put his weapons out to rest.
  217. He could not fight this war
    and no maps pointed home.
  218. His hands no longer fit his camera,
  219. no longer fit his wife's,
  220. no longer fit his body.
  221. The sweet potato boy mashed
    his fists into his mouth
  222. until he had nothing more to say.
  223. So, the girl without freckles
    went treasure hunting on her own.
  224. And on Wooster street, in a building
    with a creaky hallways,
  225. and a loft of the 12-foot ceiling
  226. and a darkroom with too many sinks
  227. under the color balance
    light, she found a note,
  228. tacked to the wall thumb-tacked, left
    over from the times before towers,
  229. from the time before babies.
  230. And the note said: "A guy sure loves
    the girl who works in the darkroom."
  231. It was a year before my father
    picked up a camera again.
  232. His first time out, he followed
    the Christmas lights,
  233. dotting their way through New
    York City's trees.
  234. Tiny dots of light, blinking out of him
    from out of the darkest darks.
  235. A year later he traveled
    across the country
  236. to follow a forest fire,
  237. stayed for a week hunting
    it with his camera,
  238. it was ravaging the West Coast
  239. eating 18-wheeler trucks in its stride.
  240. On the other side of the country,
  241. I went to class and wrote a poem
    on the margins of my notebook.
  242. We have both learned the art of capture.
  243. Maybe we are learning
    the art of embracing.
  244. Maybe we are learning
    the art of letting go.
  245. Thank You. (Applause)