"Let me keep my mind on what matters
Which is mostly standing still
And learning to be astonished"

~ Mary Oliver ~

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Moments that Mattered: Coming to Terms with Chronic Pain

 December, 2011                                       

It’s ten years now since the onset of the chronic pain condition that lives with me as my constant companion.  I am impersonal about it, “the” condition -- careful not to say it’s “mine” or “my” pain condition, because, believe me, this pain doesn’t belong to me!  If it got lost somewhere on its own path through life, I don’t consider that my body is yippee yahoo where it got found.  It may be here for a temporary stay, although after ten years it is clear that it’s far outstayed its welcome.  I have come to believe that the pain is nothing personal – it isn’t me, it isn’t mine.  It is just the companion who is always here, hidden skilfully in some moments, but turning up like a dirty penny every time it wants me to take notice, and, insecure as it is, it clings, abides with me, fearful of moving on to continue its journey alone.  No one wished this pain on me, as far as I know, and, if I were a believer, I am sure no God would have had a hand in placing a plague of pain on me.  One thing for sure is that I didn’t bring it on myself! 
When it first began, my body responded right away by limping; it was too painful to put my full weight on my right side, the pain emanating from the hip and travelling at will down my leg.  When it didn’t subside over time, I went to many types of therapies, looking for “the cure.”  My first efforts were with massage, chiropractic and physio, as well as a series of consultations with one type of specialist, then another.  I was referred to two different orthopaedic surgeons, both of whom told me that I wasn’t a candidate for surgery.  One said I just needed to tighten up my core muscles and the pain would disappear!  If only... The other said that nothing would help except narcotic drugs.  I suppose I now have encyclopaedic knowledge concerning the types of help available out there!  I’ve been for osteopathic therapy, acupuncture, intra-muscular stimulation, TENS machine work, epidural injections, and on it goes. 

I had numerous tests conducted – CT scans, MRI’s, neuro-muscular testing, etc.  They showed, and I already knew, that I had osteoarthritis from my neck down to my coccyx, some scoliosis, some spinal stenosis, and osteoporosis, all affecting my spine.  None of these on its own seemed likely to have caused the degree of pain that I experience, but perhaps the combinations and the exact locations have made “the problem” difficult to diagnose. I have had a bone scan done on my hip twice, and both times my hip looked absolutely healthy. The hip is clearly not the source of the problem but just a random recipient, referred through the nervous system, undoubtedly from the spine. 

The pain has continued relentlessly over the years, never mindful of my wishes and desires, and regardless of all therapeutic interventions.  Before long, walking was not the only casualty.  One by one, activities in which I had formerly been an enthusiastic participant were dropped.  I couldn’t handle the tai chi chuan, Yang style, 108 form; dancing, International, Israeli folk dances, ballroom, jive; strolls to the beach, aerobic exercise class, leading groups and teaching when standing was required.  For me, it was a lengthy list of losses, much to feel sad about, endless thoughts of “I can’t,” “I used to,” and inevitably, “poor me.” 

Not only did I stop a number of activities of my own accord, some friends stopped calling me.  One, who I used to walk on the beach with, just stopped phoning, coming to the conclusion that because I couldn’t walk as fast as she could, there was no point in making plans with me.  This hurt.  I had thought that our friendship was bigger than that.  I knew inside that I was still the same fun-loving person, the same person who loved a deep and heart-felt conversation, that there was more to me and to friendship than walking, but I was dismissed.  Most others were nicer to me, thought of alternatives if walking was too difficult, and asked me what other ideas I might have as alternative plans.  

 I know that I wallowed in the pain for a while, wallowed in the state of feeling sorry for myself, and then would promptly go to the opposite pole and deny everything about it; I was fine, fine, fine.  I’d suffer in silence, not wanting people to feel sorry for me; not wanting too much time spent talking about it or focusing too much attention on me.

I’m not just a bad hip, but what am I?  Who am I now?  I knew that I had to acknowledge the pain but at the same time I needed to explore alternatives.  I drove up to Queen Elizabeth Park one morning, managed to get from the car to a bench near the fountain, and sat down to write.  I found myself drawing up a list of losses.  Let’s just get it all in black and white, so I know what I’m dealing with.  That was my modus operandi.  This was my statute of limitations:

Unable to work, Loss of income, Limited lifting, Difficulty standing, Often stuck in the house, Frustration, Depression, Pain on bending over sink to brush teeth or rinse a plate or fill coffee pot; Pain picking up things from floor; Tying shoes, painful; Cutting toenails, I’m in pain; Putting on socks, difficult; Getting in and out of the tub, don’t ask; Getting in and out of the car, why mention it; Anticipating the threat of pain before undertaking any activity, I cringe, I tighten, I stress; Moving too slowly; Vulnerability; Can’t make definite plans re future; Can’t join many social activities – going for a walk, dancing, exercise classes; Big risk of overdoing

No sooner had I written down this list of limitations than I began to envision what I could do about it, what was reasonable to expect of myself.  OK, I can’t dance, but what can I do?  I can’t dance for more than ten minutes, but can I for a fewer number of minutes? Are there more sedentary activities that I can enjoy?  When my mind opened to possibilities, another list began to develop.  Writing, at last time to do some writing!  And knitting!  I haven’t knit since Grade Six, but think of what I could make for my grandkids, my friends, myself!  Maybe I need a refresher course in knitting, a little expertise in a particular area – I’ll call the wool shop and see when they have lessons coming up!  Is there a type of exercise that I can do?  Something that still makes me feel that I am actually burning calories or working up a small sweat?  I join classes in seated aerobics, standing during the class whenever I can, I take Pilates for a while, yoga for a time, and rely a lot on the stationary bike, which somehow allows me to spin my wheels, even if only for short periods at a time.  Let’s see.  I can:

Stretch; Strengthen; Move slowly; Take small steps; Do short sessions of any exercise – even 5 minutes; Continue building body awareness through meditation scans (Jon Kabat-Zinn); Create a regular healing time in my life, healing activities: Meditation, Body scan, Mindful yoga, Exercise bike, Breath work – penetrate the pain with breath; Read; Move but make frequent stops, rest; Go short distances; Plan one-stop shopping; Sit to cut up vegetables; Use crayons to do therapeutic art – colour the pain; Do music therapy; Bring mindfulness to daily activities; Do chores mindfully; eat mindfully; Do chores in stages I can handle – vacuum one room a day; Pace myself; Use the portable TENS machine; Go for massage just to pamper self; Keep body as limber as possible, relax; Take bubble baths, with candles ... and with wine!                                                                                                                                                    
 Stretching Exercise Royalty Free Stock Photos - Image: 23267658
Fortunately, I am a “yes-butter” in a positive way.  Tell me something negative, and I’ll immediately say, “Yes, but couldn’t you do this instead?”  This is second nature to me, part of my argumentative temperament .  And perhaps that way of being is what led to a turning point in my thinking; it certainly contributed to it.  But the main turning point itself, the moment that mattered most, had to do with a new understanding -- a whole shift in my thinking, my attitude. The moment that mattered was the one when I realized that how I see the pain is the determining factor in how I am able to deal with it.  
 Senior woman doing dumbbell exercise Stock Image

I have been a long-time meditator, for several years now, and I do a lot of reading about the teachings of the Buddha, and how they can be realized in our everyday lives – general mindfulness practice, being awake in the present moment, being aware of the now rather than dwelling on old worries or new ones anticipated.  But there are many other teachings that turned me around when it came to pain management. 
Pema Chodron, Zen teacher, writes of recognizing our suffering.  She tells us to stop pushing it away; stop struggling with it – this reactivity will just make it worse.  Look at it directly and examine exactly what is threatening us.  When we become ill or get old or don’t get what we want – just recognize our suffering as suffering.  Be curious about it.  Notice it and its manifestations.  Be mindful of our own reactions.  Pain, of whatever sort, is a part of life, the shadow side of pleasure.  We don’t want it, but it is bound to arise anyway.  Pain and pleasure go together.  They are ordinary.  Pain is not punishment!  And pleasure is not reward!  Both are just ordinary.  We need to stop resisting those parts of ourselves that we find unacceptable, for whatever reason.  Breathe them in, breathe into them.  Get to know them intimately and see them as your companion.  Look deeply and honestly, and give your deepest compassion to the pain itself and to yourself for the pain you are bearing.

My view changes gradually.  I see myself in a kinder light.  I have compassion for the pain and for myself having to cope with it. This attitude doesn’t take the pain away, but it helps me, somehow.  It’s more useful to me than self-pity.  I go to a workshop on meditation and writing, given by Ruth Ozeki, author and now Soto Zen Buddhist priest.  She asks us to walk outside, and to notice --  the sounds, the sights, the details of everyday nature.  We are to pay attention.  It’s a beautiful spot in Stanley Park.  All of us are overcome with the setting, feeling such gratitude for each tiny leaf, the vein-work so delicate, for the sturdy bark on seasoned Douglas firs, for the pathways of crawling, climbing insects, for the deposits and growth of many mosses.   

I can’t walk too far and stay in the garden area, using my cane, as always, to help me balance and to share the weight of my body’s exertion.  Suddenly, my eyes fill with tears.  My heart opens.  I realize for the first time the enormous work being done by my left hand, holding the cane, but gripping for life, accepting the energy it must outlay with every step.  It has never spoken up to complain.  It has suffered in silence.  And I am overwhelmed with the knowledge of what it is willing to experience to help out the right side, to compensate, to be a friend, to give its every ounce of strength for another.  I feel immense gratitude and appreciation, immense compassion for the task it has taken on without question. 

I attend a retreat given by Christina Feldman, Vipassana teacher.  She knows nothing of my particular pain, but she knows the human condition, the human pain which all of us experiences.  With eyes closed, she asks us to focus on the body as a whole, to scan it, observantly, noticing sensations – perhaps tingling, warmth, or pressure – and to stop if there is an area that keeps calling us, drawing our attention.  My focus immediately rushes to my hip, my poor hip.  She asks us to breathe into that area, to bring the breath and the refreshment of oxygen into that part.  She asks us to notice whether the sensation is constant or if it changes.  Explore it, examine it, and get to know it.  When I get to know it deeply, I don’t have to keep focusing there – it has run its course of attracting me.  I know it’s there, but I can look beyond.  Christina says to notice how much of our body is taken up by this part, and I see that the pain takes up maybe 10% of my body, maybe not even that much.  She asks if we’d paid equal attention to the other parts of the body, the other 90%.  Again, as I had felt in the meditation and writing workshop, the rest of my body had been so ignored, so left out, had sat so unappreciated while I chose to focus on the pain.  Christina called for a spacious view – to put a lot of space around the painful area, and to pay attention to that space, that huge and vast space that we’ve back-burnered for so long.  “Expand the attentiveness beyond the difficult situation, to the entirety of the space, the whole.”  This was another moment, perhaps the moment that caused the greatest change for me in my attitude.  The spaciousness arose, full, rich, filled with wonders, filled with abilities, filled with ethical characteristics of unconditional support and compassion for the painful area.  I saw that cringing, holding, wishing the pain to go away were all things that contracted me, made me suffer more.  I recognize the poison in that, how it can become obsessive and patterned, how I could have been identified with the pain and seen myself as the woman in pain, the woman with the cane.  Spaciousness is inclusive; it’s all of it, the big picture.  As Christina Feldman put it, when we notice the bird flying in the sky, we see the sky, too, not just the bird.

Christina then asked a question, the answer also pivotal in my journey.  “What do you allow to be the gatekeeper of your happiness?”  Is being pain-free the only condition of my happiness?  No!  I will not allow myself to depend on being pain-free to be a happy person.  I wrote in my notebook:  “My happiness in life does not depend upon being pain free.”  What a healing and freeing set of words!

To look at healing, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You are already whole... let’s shift away from fragmentation and isolation towards wholeness and connectedness.”  I now can relate differently to this chronic pain.  I can come to terms with it, with things as they are, and stop wishing them away.  It seems to me that if I can accept life as it is, it will bring me inner peace, something that can sit at the heart of my health and well-being.

A few years back I had tried some epidural injections, to no avail, but in July of 2010, I was given the first of several nerve blocks – steroidal injections to the lower spine.  With the injection at L5 nerve root, I at first felt no difference whatever.  But when I had to go on Tylenol 3 for some dental work a few days later, I suddenly realized that the pain in my hip was gone!  It was a serendipitous shock!  When I spoke to the doctor, he told me to continue to take the T3’s for as long as they helped, and I did that.  The nerve block, in combination with the codeine in the T3, was a magic formula that lasted for more than two months.  I was then told that I could have these injections every three months.  I waited and waited to be called for the next one, but it didn’t happen.  The pain specialist somehow didn’t send in the referral and then was terribly ill, himself, so that nothing was done for several months.  Finally, in total agony, I got in again in February of 2011.  It was another beauty.  I did very well till late May or early June.  When the injection was to be repeated in June, the exact location of the inserted needle felt different to me -- it is a very exacting task -- and sure enough, I had absolutely no response to that nerve block at all.  By that time I had changed the Tylenol 3’s for Emtec, a similar medication but without caffeine added to it.  The Emtec, no matter how much I took, did not help.  My son was to be married on August 20th, and I called in desperation to tell them that the June injection hadn’t worked and that I really didn’t want to be writhing in pain at my son’s wedding!  After much manoeuvring and behind-the-scenes sleight of hand, my pain specialist was able to arrange another injection.  With five days remaining before the wedding, I went in to the hospital.  The order had been placed for the S1 nerve, which I didn’t understand, as previously, it was the L5 that had worked so well for me.  I begged the radiologist to listen to me, and he therefore put most of the shot at S1, but reserved a small bit for L5.  I immediately felt that he’d hit the right place this time, but unfortunately, I was to have very little relief once I started the Emtec again. 

As I look back at this lengthy and difficult journey, I see none of it as tragic..  I have learned so much that I am well able to accept how things are right now.  I am booked for another nerve block at L5, am waiting for a specialist at the spine clinic for the possibility of a foraminotomy, a surgical procedure that could give the L5 nerve root more room, and in the meantime I am taking a larger dose of Emtec in order to at least take the edge off the pain.   I realize, looking back, that I have lived a life for these past ten years, a full life.  I still have wonderful friends, a family that brings me much joy, and so many activities that provide me with meaning and purpose.  I knit, I write, I do volunteer work, I still take part in two formal exercise classes a week, go on my exercise bike in between times, meditate daily, belong to two meditation groups, go on retreats when I am able to do so, read voraciously, and keep up with books, articles and talks on the current state of education, the Jewish-Palestinian situation, elders and the environment, and mindfulness.

You see, I have come to see the pain as a gift.  It has taught me to be kinder to myself, to honour my body and all the work it does for me, that there’s more to me and to life than its effects, and that I can live a happy, productive and full life without depending on its exit. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

TEDx Vancouver

November 12, 2011

Today at the Chan Centre I watched 15 speakers, all with inspiring endeavours that they have experienced or created, most often with the use of technology, but not always.  As I look back on the day it is very clear that the overall message was about youth taking action.

The audience was filled with university students, so striking was the young demographic in attendance.  I wondered how so many hundreds could afford the price of the ticket!  The stage set-up was extremely unusual; perhaps you could call it “art techno.”  I saw a large silver orb, sitting on the apron of the stage, a set of giant baby blocks, a life-sized model of a Canada Goose family, a Roman bust lit by a giant gooseneck lamp, an empty picture frame suspended from the ceiling, a chaise longue, an old red lantern, a piece of art, hanging mid-air, with an arrangement of letters and numerals, an empty hutch ornamented with a giant egg in a bowl, a new age mirror mounted on the side of a ladder, and a red carpet.  There were photographers everywhere and a huge film camera, its boom rising and falling, turning forward and back, panning the full house.

Lisa Johnson of CBC hosted the event, the title of which was Frontiers.  To start the day, Lisa asked the audience, “Where are your frontiers?”

1)      Reid Gower, the first speaker, sees “the frontier” as now, not the future.  He said that it was only a matter of 66 years from the Wright Brothers’ attempts at flying to travel to the Moon.  The future is now.  Inspired by the work of Carl Sagan, Reid created a video series which addresses planetary and space issues through poetry and music.  You can check out The Sagan Series (Part I): The frontier is everywhere at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oY59wZdCDo0.

2)      Nolan Watson’s presentation began with a shocking title, Compassion Kills.  He sure knew how to grab attention!  Watson says we are making critical mistakes in the humanitarian directions we are taking, even though what we do stems from deep compassion for others.  He says we need to become “smart” humanitarians, with a strong sense of purpose and responsibility.  He started his own organization to do humanitarian work in Sierra Leone, but in his case, 100% of donations are applied to the end cause.  And how else is he “smart?”  He says that right now compassionate projects are those that keep children alive – and while this is important, of course, he thinks that the aims are extremely short-sighted.  Yes, current donations can ease pain and save lives, but these are not longterm solutions – in fact, this practice is “deadly.”  What results, he says, is sustained dependence on the givers.  He says that our aims need to be, whatever the cause, that recipients become independent of the charity.  He says we should earmark donations to education and skill-building which will allow recipients to create their own futures.  Invest in Africans, not Africa.  Don’t let the emotions of compassion override the real work that needs doing.  See: http://www.nationscry.com/

3)      Marcin Jakubowski.  This was a TED talk, projected on screen.  Marcin works with open-source technology, used for ecological purposes.  He creates versions of tools and hardware that don’t cost as much as name-brand products for farming, building, and manufacturing.  These are DIY projects, do it yourself, even things as complicated as tractors, as he uses an open business model by which you can pick up all instructions on a CD.  In this way there is a huge distributorship and many more people participating in developing their own culture.  Raising money to purchase this hardware is no longer necessary as people in developing countries can have access to creating their own future.  See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/marcin_jakubowski.html

4)      Seth Cooper is a games scientist.  He creates video games that are used for scientific discoveries that solve problems in the real world.  The human brain plus computation work together.  Lab experiments are difficult to fund, whereas these video games use experts and non-experts to play at finding solutions.  For example, there is a game called Fold It which motivates players to make the best folded protein, something deemed essential in the world of science.  The game requires both human and computer skills, it’s challenging and fun.  In studies it has been found that the human element is extremely important, and in fact, humans do better than computers with certain skills.  In creating this game and others, players around the world can work together or alone, but problems with proteins are in fact being solved.  The game changes over time, adjusting to what becomes known and what remains a question.  Players can teach their strategies to the computer and to other players.  Using games can teach us how to fight the flu, create materials, make better uses of energy, etc.  Three criteria are required for game creation – i) the problem must be computationally unsolvable, ii) human ability must be required, and iii) important purpose must be evident.  Games, it seems, can push the frontiers of scientific discovery!  See http://michaelgr.com/2008/05/11/fold-it-the-protein-folding-game/

5)      Romeo Dallaire, retired general with the Canadian forces, survivor of the Rwandan catastrophe, spoke very powerfully, his subject stated as empowering youth with technology.  Dallaire tells us that the status quo is something not sustainable.  Things must change.  He called upon the youth of Canada to shape the future, not just survive it, achieving their maximum potential.  He spoke of :

a) The environment, saying that there needs to be a communion between us as humans and the environment.  We invest in weapons to protect, but we do not work towards environmental protection.  This he sees as critical. 

b)  The area of technology and communication.  It’s almost universal now that people have iPhones, etc.  This has led to revolutionary movements for freedom as we’ve seen with the Arab Spring this year.  But now, this same technology gives us the ability to see what’s really going on all over the world, all the atrocities.  He asked what our response is, knowing what we know.  80% of the world are people who live in massively abusive situations, and unfortunately, these conditions   have led to extremism world-wide.  How do we prevent or shape or advance humanity?  Dallaire says it’s the youth who must move into activism in order to do this.  How? 

1)  Social Media – youth hold the balance of power; get involved through social media, engage.  The world is now small.  You can influence the role of Canada in the future.  Keep in mind engagement, activism, and influence.  If all eligible voters from the youth population actually voted, he said there could be positive change in our country’s directions and actions.

2) NGO involvement – through NGO’s there is a great potential for activism.  He spoke of Clowns without Borders, bringing laughter into places where no one laughs.  See http://www.clownswithoutborders.org/

In these ways, Dallaire sees the possibility of shaping the future with optimism.

6)      Hassan Elahi, on another TED talk, has created a method of creative problem solving using art and technology. He was held and questioned by the FBI for six months and underwent nine polygraphs, all but accused of terrorism.  In fact, he teaches at a Tampa university.  In order to please the authorities, he began to record his every move with images to document his whereabouts and actions.  He now has 46,000 images of food, airports, toilets, etc.  Out of a huge insult and obvious racial profiling, he created a solution that gives the authorities what they want, and, at the same time, has become a giant art project.  He says he has a lot of privacy, in fact, because once he’s recorded the detailed images for the day, he’s free to do whatever he wants!  In some way, he says, he’s devaluing FBI info because he can provide so many more details than they can collect!  See: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/hasan_elahi.html

7)      Jose Figaroa.  Jose appeared at the TEDx talks to speak up about the gross errors and poor treatment of our immigration authorities and government.  From El Salvador, he left there to become a refugee in Canada during all the tumult there in the 1980’s.  He now has received a deportation order which will affect his life and family.  The reason for the order, apparently, is because he had once been a member of the FMLN, an organization created to fight governmental repression in El Salvador.  After immigrating to Canada and being here for some time, his son was diagnosed with autism, and now he really needs services in order to get proper treatment.  This would never be available in El Salvador.  However, the Canadian government have accused him of belonging to a terrorist organization – the FMLN.  Strangely, that organization has now become the government of El Salvador and has a diplomatic relationship with Canada.  Our system has not caught up with this fact and Jose remains on the deportation list.  It seems that part of his creative effort to stay in Canada is to speak where there are people gathered, and perhaps those people will take it upon themselves to speak up for him to the government.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farabundo_Mart%C3%AD_National_Liberation_Front

8)      David Gallo, in another TED talk, showed a video on bioluminescence which lights up creatures underwater, like fireflies.  We have explored only 3% of underwater life in the ocean to date, and because of bioluminescence we’ve been able to see more -- neurally-controlled coloration and close-ups of incredible life forms.  The cephalopods and their design were featured in the video, especially remarkable for their camouflage.  See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/david_gallo_shows_underwater_astonishments.html

9)      Dr. Kate Moran, director of the Neptune Project, followed up on Gallo’s talk.  She says that we now have new ways of exploring the sea, which takes up 70% of the planet.  She pointed out that 99% of Earth’s life forms live in the sea, quite a phenomenal statistic.  She explained and pointed out the 1600 year river flow around the globe which adjust climate and is adjusted by climate.  The oceans can absorb extra heat from the greenhouse effect and also CO2, mitigating climate change.  The old methods of photography from ships and instruments is now outdated.  Mavericks have found new ways of connecting the internet to the ocean.  Project Venus is working on the coastal areas, and Project Neptune, offshore.  The sea is now lined with tens of kilometres of cables and instruments, as well as the use of robots to instal and maintain those instruments.  Videos with HD light can be filmed now so that much more is identifiable – e.g. identification of species moving into spawning sites, gas releasing through the ocean floor, active tectonics, black smokers of minerals solidifying, and new life forms.  Tsunamis can now be better predicted.  Educationally, we can watch from home or school digital fisheries. See http://www.neptunecanada.ca/

10)  Charlie Todd has started a group called Improv Everywhere.  He is a comedian, but a very creative one, trying to create more laughter in the world.  He showed his video of seven guys getting on a subway car, one at each of seven consecutive stops, all of whom were wearing shorts in the middle of winter New York!  The video focused on a woman sitting in the subway car, reading a book, and her reactions.  She’s pretty stonefaced at first, but once she has eye contact with another passenger, she becomes much more animated.  At an eighth stop, someone gets on the train selling pants, and all seven jump up to say that’s just what they need to buy!  In addition to creating NO PANT days, he created LOOK UP MORE, where he surreptitiously directs people who are standing in all the windows of a building to dance or point, Operation Best Buy, where he commissioned a huge number of people to arrive at Best Buy wearing blue polo shirts and khakis (the outfit of Best Buy clerks), and one for a particularly long subway escalator called Rob wants to give you a high five!  Evenly spaced throughout the long ride up, are people, each with one of several signs – 1) Rob 2) wants to 3) give you 4) a high five.  The fifth sign says Rob with an arrow pointing to the guy holding the sign.  This gives a laugh to the people coming down the escalator who get to read all the signs.

11)  Shahrzad Rafati is the CEO of broadband TV.  Born in Iran, her only media influences were hero movies and cartoons.  They influenced her and entertained her when Iran was at war.  At 17 she immigrated and tv became her teacher for language and culture.  She was taken with the power of freedom of speech, something not valued in Iran.  She saw on tv what inspired her and how she could make her life extraordinary.  She became an expert in the tv world.  She says that all those polls that seem to ask if tv is good or bad for children are asking the wrong question.  She spoke of Daniel Anderson who says that tv can be positive if adults ensure an enriching experience, turning kids on to programs of value.  She says that we need to teach kids to make good choices since statistics say that over a lifetime we will be watching 15 years of television!!  See VISO Give at  http://broadbandtvcorp.com/viso-give which showcases videos from non-profits and documentary film makers from around the globe. For every video you watch on VISO Give, money is donated directly to that cause, so keep watching and help make a difference with your online actions!

12)  Eli Pariser, another TED talker, spoke with a warning.  He says that when we use search engines online or just use the internet at all, choices come up based on what that search engine sees as Relevance for you.  It is the main way that your choices appear.  However, there is invisible web editing by facebook and google and many others which filter your choices, only certain ones appearing, depending upon your browser, your location and other factors.  The move is to personalize things in a way that you’d find your likely choices listed, but you don’t get to see what they’re leaving out.  Even netflicks has this same problem.  They’re doing the figuring for you.  Certain of your previous behaviours lead to an algorithmic solution that has no ethics whatsoever.  You must speak up to the search engines that you want a much broader view with other parameters included -- Ask to see:  what’s Important, Challenging, Uncomfortable as well as Other Points of View.  We need to stand up for a sense of public responsibility and personal control.  See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

13)  Jer Thorp, data artist, currently works for the New York Times.  He spoke about Hypercard and how it was designed for users to make their own programs.  Suddenly, there’s nothing like this at all.  He urged that science, art and design combine to allow people to share content on the internet and be able to create their own programs again.  He told of his work in designing the memorial to 911.  Names are placed in connection with each other, co-workers together, siblings together, embedding narratives in a very human way.  Our histories are being stored on modern devices like iPhones and we need to put the data into a human context along with the technology.  See ProjectCascade at edlab.tc.columbia.edu, a data visualization tool for tracking twitter activity around New York Times content.  And https://openpaths.cc/ for more of Jer’s work.

14)  Kara Pecknold, design instructor at Emily Carr, pushes for the notion of using design to change the world.  She says that when we think of design, we need to be thinking beyond objects – action is needed.  She cited Dr. John Snow, who mapped out a cholera outbreak in London and was able to discover the source of it, thus creating the opportunity for its removal and an end to the cholera outbreak.  She told us to turn ideas into action through using the design process:

Discovery – what is the problem?
Definition – what do we need?
Development – what are the opportunities, options?
Delivery – what action will be taken?

She says we need to shift our thinking from expert knowing all, telling all, to shared knowledge.  All the experts working together to create new solutions, these experts being the lay people directly involved with the problem!  She did such a project with women in Africa to sell their basket ware.  Now, she’s working on a cycling project in Vancouver which involves non-design students creating a way for people to realize they want to buy a bike!

15)  Stephen Slen and Aaron Coret, snowboarders and best friends, spoke of their passion for snowboarding and the terrible accident experienced by Aaron which changed his life forever.  He is now a paraplegic.  These two were so inspirational, as Aaron realized while in hospital that he could give up on everything or find a way to live a life of meaning.  It was these two who designed the “landing pod” used at the 2010 Olympics for the grand entrance of snowboarders, etc. but the design was imagined by Aaron as a training tool, a soft landing place that could be used in educating snowboarders and preventing other terrible accidents like his.