Yesterday I had the incredible honor of speaking alongside nineteen brilliant presenters at the very first TEDxUWMilwaukee conference, sponsored by (the generous, engaged, and incredibly supportive folks at) Northwestern Mutual. I sit here, just hours from the event, still buzzing with the spellbound feeling that comes with being a part of something really extraordinary.
Above all else, my heart is full of immense gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the experience we shared as we journeyed through the day together. While the world scurried around us, we entered a small campus theater as strangers, loosely connected in our desire for new ideas and inspiration. The palpable excitement shared by everyone in the theater, the organizers, speakers, sponsors, volunteers and attendees, was matched with a warmth and conviviality that we could feel in the very first moment that kicked off the day, and it made me absolutely giddy. (Me. Giddy. Yeah, let that one sink in a minute. Gross. I know. Let’s move on.)
Throughout the day, I had the chance to talk to many folks in audience, and they all shared the same sentiment, “Every single speaker has been incredible!” I think that we all approach something like a day long conference expecting (hoping) to hear some really great talks, but also recognizing that with a group of twenty different speakers, it’s likely that some of the topics fall outside our area of interests, and/or we might not connect with a particular speaker. It happens at every event, it’s totally normal, but OVER and OVER again, people were sharing their excitement about ALL of the talks. One particular comment I heard quite a bit was that the entire line up was strong, and how impressed and excited folks were to discover that. When we emerged for that first intermission, people were beaming. It was fucking glorious.
Obviously, none of that happened by chance. The event organizers have been working for nearly a year to curate and produce an awesome TEDx event. They worked with all of us (speakers) for months, helping us shape our ideas, improve our approach, and helping us translate the passion we feel for the ideas we want to share into a talk that resonates. They brought us together in various smaller groups throughout the summer to give us the chance to help each other through the development of our talks. These curation meetings were such a huge part of what made this whole experience so special for me. On the evening of my first curation meeting, I showed up to join this diverse group of really smart people who are doing some really incredible things, and I felt pretty intimidated at first. But this group, the speakers and the organizers, weren’t just brilliant thinkers. They were humble and kind, and I think maybe we all shared in a little bit of intimidation at first. Of course, it was short lived, and I left that first meeting feeling extremely fortunate to find myself on a team of really excellent human beings.
Working as a group improved and enriched my talk to something I couldn’t have done on my own, and exchanging criticism and offering suggestions was easy to do with this group because every single one of us wanted everyone else to succeed. For my part, I found myself also wanting to give a really great talk, not just for myself, but because I wanted my contribution to convey the respect I have for this group, and I wanted my talk to be a reflection of the amount of work that everyone involved put into this conference.
For me, yesterday was an incredibly beautiful and humbling experience. The number of people who so generously shared their own stories with me after my talk is something that will stay with me always.
The faces of the people who approached me to share a hug, a laugh, a couple rogue tears, or a simple “Thank you for sharing” are seared in my heart, which is perfect, because while my brain can’t always be trusted, my heart will never forget.
Stay tuned for follow ups on re-caps, photos, and the videos! This shit’s gonna be bananas. xoxo
I wrote Mustache Love after my daughter told me about being teased for having a “little mustache” at school. Earlier this year, I auditioned for the LTYM Show with the piece, was cast in the show, and am now preparing to unleash the love upon a live audience. Reading over the piece in preparation for the show reminds me of how a little blog post, on a lesser known blog, somehow turned into a movement of inclusion and would inspire a community to come together and stand vigil over a friend in trouble.
It began with a hashtag. My homey, @TheBusBandit, retweeted my blog post and added #MustacheLove to his tweet. The response to the blog post was huge, both on Twitter, on the blog, via email, or in person. So many people showing the hairy-ass love, and sharing their own versions of #MustacheLove. The mustache was different for everyone. For some it was their weight, others, bucked teeth, acne, height, skin color, the list went on and on. Everyone had a “mustache”. Everyone.
#MustacheLove became more than just a blog post. It was a common thread, a right of passage, the act of breaking free of what is “pretty” or “normal” or “handsome” or “good”. It was acceptance. It was courage. It was reminding each other that we’re all okay, just as we are. Because as grown as we are, we still forget sometimes.
Then came the mustaches. They came from everywhere. Mustache jewelry, mustache window clings, mustache pillows, mustache photos, a group of my running buddies ran a route in the shape of a mustache just to make me smile. In 2010, I needed #MustacheLove more than ever. I had two major surgeries, needed to ask for help more than I ever had in my life, and had to come to terms with a very different kind of “normal”. The months after the first surgery brought a roller coaster of highs and lows, emotionally and physically. Three months later, I needed another surgery. I talked a good game, but I was scared, pissed, and tired. I was gaining weight, I walked with a cane due to my deteriorating gait, and I looked sickly and shitty all the time. As much as I knew how to help my daughter deal with self image issues, I started feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. And I knew better, right? Sigh.
Then something happened.
I logged into Twitter the night before my second surgery to find that hundreds of avatars had been slightly altered. There, I found the usual faces of my Twitter feed, with one addition. Each one of them was wearing a mustache. A friend had created a Twibbon that overlaid a wickedawesome mustache over all of their beautiful faces. That night, #gosarago was a trending topic in Milwaukee. It was a glorious mustache vigil that I will never forget.
On Sunday, May 8, 2011, I will read Mustache Love to an audience of hundreds. And it isn’t the same Mustache Love that I wrote almost a year and a half ago. The words are the same, with some small additions and edits, but it feels different. When I talk about the day I made the decision to let my own (impressive, btw) facial hair grow (for 6 months) to show my daughter that good people will love you no mater how hairy (or heavy, or buck toothed, or pigeon toed…) you are, I won’t just be thinking about the good people who will love you in spite of your mustache.
I’ll be thinking of all the people who will wear one for you.
I’ve been struggling with a way to sum up this past year in one perfectly wrapped year-end post, all tied up with ribbons, nice and neat. I’ve begun this post countless times, always trying to find the best way to convey to all of you exactly what this year has been like. I have wanted to share with you how much your love and support (and mustaches) have meant to me this year. But it’s been a complete waste of time. I could never sum up what I have taken away from this year in one pretty post.
This year wasn’t pretty. This year was hard. It rocked me to my core. I am still fighting to reclaim much of who I once was, rebuilding pieces of who I want to be, and learning to make peace with the loss of things I can’t get back. Throughout this year, I felt an incredible range of emotions, from anger and fear, to acceptance and gratitude. The one thing I never felt was alone. In so many different ways, your tweets, your emails, your offers to help, your prayers, hugs and smiles, you guys helped me navigate through this year with hope and gratitude, and some days, maybe, just a little bit of grace.
Some of you, and you know who you are, sat at my bedside and held my hand. Others held my children, and made sure my family was fed. Some of you, without being asked, just kept showing up. It is something I will never forget, and those acts of kindness will shape the way my children live their lives and how they treat others. We are forever changed because once upon a time, a girl fell down, and an entire community came together to pick her up, dust her off, and carry her awhile until she could walk on her own.
I cannot think of any words of my own to express what I feel when I think back on this year. More than anything else, the thing that resonates most was more than just never feeling alone. You made me feel protected. Protected. That’s huge. It meant more to me than you could possibly know. There were times when it was harder than normal to pick myself up and get through one more treatment, one more hospital stay, one more fucking MRI. It’s those moments that I don’t talk about. I don’t tweet about them. Those are the moments that I have to dig deep. I have to forgive myself for feeling so weak, so sad. I have to pull it all back together and remember that my life is beautiful, even if this moment is not. I remember earlier this year, sitting in the quiet, listening to this song, it made me think of all of you. Loving me, protecting me, never letting me stand alone, and I thought, “This is going to be okay.” You did that. I am forever grateful.
Timshel, Mumford and Sons
Thank you, for everything. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.