Last week, thanks to the good graces of one of my greatest friends (really, she’s more like a blonde sister) I attended Ted Salon at the Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge for Unseen Narratives, a TED storytelling event. I came ready with my own printed copy of the program, which opens with the following proposition: ’our bodies are made of atoms, but our lives are made of stories.’ Kristina and I are both shy writers. While each of us (and I speak for her here because we’re sort of kind of related) would claim to be writers by instinct, we’d equally admit that pressures exist which often make it difficult to tap into our own styles and write something. Anything. It’s appropriate, then, that she would encourage me to put on a decent dress, join the TED community for a night, and hear stories that might inspire me to write. If I could, I’d tell her to do the very same thing: listen up and put it on paper.
As you may expect, it was a night of inspiring stories, some of which spoke to the very things I treasure most. Filmmaker and co-founder of Film Club, Beeban Kidron described how film transforms young people, acting as a dynamic catalyst for confidence and reflection. Film is an underdog in education, because educators and parents — perhaps rightfully, due to a lack of positive case studies — often doubt its ability to teach. Film club disputes this assumption; youth who participate emerge with new critical thinking skills, a passion for the medium, and a level of engagement only film can draw from audeinces. She also spoke of the important role Vittorio de Sica’s Miracle in Milan has played in her life, having attended a screening of the film on her father’s birthday as a child. There were a few moments during her talk where I projected my own experiences onto her story, as if they were speaking to each other, with film at the core. I often joke that I was raised by movies, and spent my childhood dreaming of being an actress. I studied film history in college, and the work of the Italian neo-realists, de Sica in particular, moved me more than any other period, perhaps because we can still see their influence in film today. Is there anything better than a broody, Italian-cinematic take on social promises that never come to fruition? I would count de Sica’s Umberto D. and Spike Lee’s Crooklyn as two films that changed my life. They beautifully address ordinary human journeys set against challenging and unequal social contexts. Umberto is denied the opprtunity to grow old in the way we would want our grandparents to, and the ‘magic of childhood’ is also a dark cloud for Troy. Truly, I have never loved two characters like I do Umberto and Troy. Benjamin Braddock is a close third.
Tracy Chevalier spoke about why entering an art gallery should be like eating a meal at a restaurant (go with your gut and spend time with a few pieces), and Andy Puddicombe, a former monk and current meditation teacher, alerted us to the power of doing nothing. Amanda Renshaw took us through the challenge of building the World’s Greatest Art Museum, the most crucial hurdle being where to start and end when curating the largest ever collection of art. The evening ended with Pam Warhurst, one of the founders of Incredible Edible, an action-based programme that has helped turn the northern English town of Todmorden into an edible landscape and newly-empowered community. From transformed parks and gardens to urban agriculture education in schools, Todmorden is an example of living, breathing shared responsibility and, in Pam’s own words, the ‘power of small actions.’ Pam got a standing ovation from the crown and a watery-eyed response from me because her extraordinary story, like all the speakers’ stories that night, is ongoing. Her sincere delivery and reassurance that strategy documents do far less than people organised around a shared goal echoed the aims of the aims of the evening, as stated by TED and frog design: to remind us that ‘stories help us relate to others.’ I can’t wait to visit Todmorden. And to write about it.