Stretching to TEDx

Exploring my threshold for retention

In April, I had the amazing opportunity to present at TEDxKemoreSquare. It was the proudest moment of my speaking career so far. The most challenging part was stretching my drifty old mind to remember sixteen minutes of material in order. It took me months of writing, editing and rehearsing. What made this all the more of a major life feat was how I overcame the collision of factors that usually conspire against me. Staying focused and memorizing anything of any length is very difficult with the deadly combination of being drifty over fifty, having some attention challenges and several head injuries under my belt. I dug in and beat the odds.

I credit a fleet of people, including two of the event organizers, Noah and Alison Siegel who guided me to find my message and shape the presentation. My underground team of porn experts and sexuality educators all provided some edits and feedback. A few friends chipped in with some helpful perspective. My friend Lisa O’Malley let me wear her sassy scarf, which really took my lady tee shirt to the next level. Most importantly, my message really took shape as I went deeper into the research, giving me more conviction that this message is needed.

As the date of TEDxKenmoreSquare approached, I committed to read through my talk multiple times a day. I knew that if I had it memorized, I could then relax in the presenting. I was struggling until my daughter Sadie joined me for a week in Los Angeles. She was game to help the old lass get her talk dialed in. I had some speaking gigs at various schools around LA, so I flew her out to spend time with me between my presentations._

The Power Scarf

Sitting for hours in LA traffic every day was an opportunity to buckle down and learn one section at a time. It quickly became apparent that Sadie could memorize multiple paragraphs after a just a few rounds, while I wracked my brain and spaced out whole sections every time I recited it, even at a dead stop. Humbling.

Fueled by determination, I spent every free moment working to learn the material. While Sadie swam and explored at the beaches, I sat alone in the cold, wrapped in a towel reciting and gesticulating. In LA, this behavior doesn’t register as odd, which gave me the freedom to also rehearse while walking down the streets, on public benches and in restaurants. Normally, Sadie would have been horrified, but I think she realized that it would be more embarrassing to have me mess up on film and in front of an audience than make a fool of myself in a place we are not known.

By the time she got on the plane to head East, I had already surpassed my perceived capacity for absorbing material. Just a few years ago, it was a major stretch for me to memorize four or five minutes of a story at various story slams, even though the stories were from my own life. The problem for Old Drifty is that I can get lost on tangents and easily distracted with no time to wrap it up before the clocks runs out. And of course word retrieval can be a serious challenge.

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with another participant in a story slam who was at least twenty years older than I. After I struggled with a several people’s names and the names of a couple familiar objects, she smiled and quipped, “The nouns go first!” She was not kidding. I have been known to refer to a measuring cup as “the how much cup” and to act out a colander with random hint words as if I was a contestant on $100,000 Pyramid. I will note that I am old enough to remember the name of that game show as $1,000 pyramid.

Despite my driftiness, I did it. When the talk was over, I let all of those words and the order of them seep right out of my brain. I needed to clear the hard drive for the names of good friends, places I know well and the familiar household items I use every day. Cheers to defying menopausal gravity and finding new depths of capable on the back nine.
Here is a link to my TEDx talk, How Porn Skews Sexual Expectations.

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