Miriam Sitz

Space exploration, stem cells, shale and sex: San Antonio’s fourth TEDx took place yesterday, drawing some 500 attendees to the Rackspace Global Headquarters office.

Molly Cox and Victor Landa served as emcees, inviting the audience to open their minds and explore twenty different ideas worth sharing during the day-long event.

TEDx San Antonio 2013 Logo

The highs and lows of storyteller Anastasia McKenna’s theatrical rendition of the gingerbread man story captivated the audience’s attention, her pitch and volume rising and falling as the story progressed.

McKenna stressed the opportunity for connection and interaction that comes with the act of reading to a child and beseeched the audience, “Please, read to one another. … Joy is the feeling of the soul finding hope and love and discovery. Joy is the sharing of books.”

Samuel Ximenes believed in the ability of “citizen explorers” and private companies to forge a path to lunar living. The space architect and founder of XArc Exploration Architecture Corporation described the steps he envisions will be taken as humankind moves forward with a “sense of adventure and discovery” toward its ultimate destiny of becoming a multi-planet species.

Marketing executive Eric Fletcher spoke to the danger of allowing benchmarks and labels to define the boundaries of one’s life, arguing that rigid metrics may not offer a complete picture of a person. “The most transformative thing we have at our fingertips is the ability to see and nurture possibility and promise.” Legally blind but unhindered by societal labels, he proposed that Vision and vision are both “not defined by what the eyes have seen, but by what is believed deep in the heart.”

Doug Frantz, associate professor of chemistry at UTSA, invited the audience to consider the practically limitless possibilities in the field of stem cells. He explained how chemists and biologists are working together to understand and leverage the power of these tiny building blocks of life, the medical applications of which extend well past regenerative medicine to cancer, heart disease and more.

“King defined non-violence as love in action,” said Cary Clack. “It’s love seeking to create community and good will.” The former columnist’s contemplative look at living a life of non-violence began with the recollection of a man he used to see outside of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Andres Andujar believed that great cities and downtowns share a crucial component: great parks. “Urban parks improve city centers and the quality of life of the community,” said Andujar, the CEO of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation. “Successful parks are relevant, unique, beautiful, save and reflect the character of the locale.”

“I see life itself as a canvas for art,” said photographer Nelson Guda. As artists, “we’re trying to understand the human experience.” Guda began the ENEMIES project 2011, which took him to places of extreme conflict in an attempt to discover how people come back from places of terrible darkness.

According to psychotherapist Jason Fischer, “need” is a four letter word – by several definitions. Fischer contends that there is nothing we need, and that the truer and healthier attitude is to recognize and strive for the things that we want. “Needs” breed a sense of obligation, which can easily transform to resistance and resentment. “There are no prerequisites for happiness,” the counselor said, continuing to assert that everyone can choose happiness once they have let go of needs.

Liza Long is the author of an anonymous-come-viral blog post titled, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” Eliciting strong public reactions of both support and criticism, the heart-wrenching and poignant piece has called attention to the taboo and seldom-discussed topic of serious mental illness. “Stigma is alive and well,” said Long, making an emotional appeal for dialogue and an attitude of understanding, support and compassion.

Vulnerable leadership, disruptive talent and productive malcontents: They’re all ingredients for a thriving, innovative and healthy workplace, according to H-E-B director of human resources Myric Polhemus. The highly intelligent, hardworking, but rebellious employee can develop creative solutions to difficult problems when paired with a manager who can listen, ask questions and accept criticism.

Architect Brantley Hightower explained the reasoning behind the grand courthouses that anchor many small Texas towns. “In order to grow, … they needed to communicate to the outside world that their county was prosperous and that the rule of law was firmly in place.” These early settlers spread that message not through what they said, but through what they built. “They chose not to build a reflection of their current condition, but instead build something that aspired to something better.”

The staggering incarceration and recidivism rates in this country beg for investigation and reconceptualization. Attorney Ryan Cox compared the penal system of the U.S. to that of Norway, where greater emphasis is placed on rehabilitation. Dehumanizing facilities, “draconian sentencing laws” and a lack of preparation for life and work outside of the prison walls combine to increase recidivism in the U.S.

“We are all sexual beings,” began sex counselor and educator Faith Harper. Harper proposes that we build relationships, connectedness and intimacy through touch, but that too often, shame forces us into silence and takes away that distinctly human ability to connect. “We can own and embrace our sexual selves,” she said, “no matter what the circumstances.”

Martha Atkins works to move the subjects of death and dying out from the shadows, and into a place where they can be discussed, investigated and made less fearsome for all involved. Much of the Atkinsosity CEO’s research has focused on end of life visions. These comforting end-of-life visits from long past friends and family are ubiquitous among the dying, but there’s no scientific consensus on their origin. “It doesn’t matter why they happen,” Atkins proposed. “It matters that they do.”

“Bacteria cover everything,” UTSA professor of microbiology Karl Klose began, as the audience squirmed thinking about the germs on their hands, chairs and neighbors. Using prison and prisoners as an analogy for bacteria’s behavior in the body, Klose narrated the ways bacteria do and don’t make us sick with simple comparisons and hand drawn images.

Kristina Durante, UTSA professor of marketing, investigates the implications of reproductive hormones on consumer behavior. Her research has revealed that a spike in estrogen right before ovulation affects the way women position themselves in relationship to their perceived competitors, fostering feelings of competition between women in terms of appearance and product ownership. The spike also increases women’s draw toward the masculine and charismatic “bad boy” archetype as a potential mate.

Texas is home to at least 200 ghost towns, the haunting remnants of boomtowns that busted. Research director Tom Tunstall of the UTSA Institute for Economic Development suggested that diversifying the economies of towns in the Eagle Ford shale region, as well as sustainably developing infrastructure, schools, roads and attractive green spaces, could buffer against this threat.

Nick Longo’s unconventional road to Geekdom has led him through the military, the greyhound racing track, a coffee house turned internet café and the software industry. Gifted collaborators have played a fundamental role in his success – collaborators such as Graham Weston, with whom countless conversations have started, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Guided by his own “noble cause,” Longo said that “business is the mindset; entrepreneurship is the heartset.”

Former Marine and classical ballet dancer Roman Baca expressed gratitude to his military service for two vital components of his life: his family of Marines, and his ability to walk confidently in directions that make him afraid. After returning from a tour in Fallujah, Iraq, Baca struggled to adjust but eventually channeled his energy into helping other veterans and young Iraqis to express their experiences through dance.

The interactive Rivard Report booth at TEDx San Antonio 2013.
The interactive Rivard Report booth at TEDx San Antonio 2013.

Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitzClick here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.

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Miriam Sitz

Miriam Sitz writes about urbanism, architecture, design, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamSitz