How the worst night of my life became a TED X Talk
By Nadia Ramoutar, Phd
The Universe shifted for me yesterday as I took to the stage in Tralee, Kerry to give my TED X TALK “The Art of Being an Artform: The Journey from Trauma to Transformation. The Universe has done that before in a big leap. I was on a path and an outside force knocked me off course slightly. Fortunately, yesterday it knocked me in a good way. I am still “buzzing” as my new friend and fellow TED X talker Jennifer Maher would say. In the light of day, I wanted to harness this moment and write to you about how the worst night in my life became a TED X talk.
It is mystical how art can make use of tragedy. It is one of the few things that can use despair as fuel. I have always wanted to give a TED Talk since I first knew they existed. The emergence of the TED X talks made my dream a possibility. Earlier this year, after the bizarre and challenging experience of years of COVID 19 lockdown in Ireland I learned there was going to be a new TED X event about four hours away from me in a place I love, Tralee, Kerry.
I made a pact with a childhood friend, Ken Gibson that we would apply. It was a risk to take as he would most likely get in and what if I didn’t? I swallowed my ego and I sent in a video. I knew one of the curators James but the other one Bryan didn’t know me from a hole in the ground as we say in Ireland.
After a bit of back and forth, I was in. Ken was selected before me and I had tiny wobble as I thought I was not. Some precious friends had applied and were not selected this time, so there was a slight discomfort there. Coming from a large chaotic family I often struggle when good things happen to me but not to all. I worked through that with the ones close to me and I was on my way.
There was work to be done. How does an idea become a TED Talk? A lot like a baby growing in a womb. Each week a new part gets to be born. It’s in there and it’s looking like a tadpole and nothing like it will be on the day it arrives fully formed. I have been watching TED talks since the 1990s. I have seen thousands of them. I knew the diversity of the topics within the challenge of very specific rules.
I get it in my head every now and then that I want to do something really hard. I have decided to throw myself into something that most people who never entertain like writing a book, doing a triathlon, directing a film or getting a Ph d. It’s like I can’t do something in an ordinary way. It doesn’t interest me. I want it to be a challenge. I want to have to solve something that I think I can’t. There is something odd in me that needs to know there is more to me. Perhaps it is my dyslexic brain looking for new patterns in the ordinary, I don’t really know.
As Bryan and James heard my early speeches which were long and lofty, they quickly let me know I was going to have to go to the heart of the story. I could not just casually throw in there that I almost died being stalked and attacked by a man when I was a 19 year old college story. This was the talk. I had to tell the audience who I was – a biracial women born into a very Pale, white Dublin, Ireland – who grew up and wanted to be a news anchor. But, that plan came to a brutal halt one Monday night at the University of Florida.
So, what was I going to do?
I did the hard thing again, I researched my own attack. I found the police records. The case number. The attackers photo in prison. I went back to that Monday night when I was 19 years old and relieved the horrors of how I was almost raped and killed.
I cried. I could only work on it during the day. Memories I had buried long long ago, came back to me and haunted me again. But, I knew that to move through this I had to do this work. I had therapy in the past but there was something new here. I wanted to know. I wanted to remember what I struggled so hard to bury for so long.
The weekly practices forced me to tell the story. James and Bryan couldn’t have been kinder or gentler in coaching me through this. They even cried with me. When I took the talk to the rest of the group they helped me greatly to let go some of my intellectual ways of hiding.
One day it hit me, I don’t want to hide anymore.
The day was getting closer. What was I going to where? There is a lot of talk about being comfortable and not wearing anything too distracting. Fair enough. But I knew I was talking about “the Art of being an Artform” – I needed to become an artform. So I went to Claire Garvey, Dublin designer and she immediately offered to help me. I recruited my best friend since Childhood, Arlene to come with me. She is the most honest person I know. She would not let me look outrageous or bad. We had a joyful experience and emerged with an artform of a dress. Claire is a quiet and meek genius. My favourite kind.
The day was looming. I was practicing. Recording myself. Crying every time I said it out loud, but I just kept going. I didn’t let it stop me nor did I try to stop it. I was making peace with my trauma. Something I didn’t realise I still needed. (Please note, I don’t think this is something people should do unless they feel strong enough or have professional support.)
With the dress sorted, I started to practice in front of other people. I was aware that my story was almost always met with an emotional response. It also got a very compassionate and understanding response. With each time I gave it, I became clearer that it was a story I had to tell.
I didn’t realise that after three decades the trauma I experienced as a 19 year old woman had such a domino effect in my life. I also didn’t realise that I had effectively saved my own life by taking steps to reconnect with myself as an artform.
Are we aware fully of our story and how it impacts us?
I am seeing myself in a new way. I hope that when you see my talk you two will find the courage and the insight to face what may hold you back.
I am also hopeful that we can start to really witness the artform in everyone we meet. We also know to give people space as we never know what story they hold in their hearts.
What an incredible experience to give a TED x talk. It was something I always wanted to do and doing it took me beyond who I have been before. I showed up in that moment totally present to the audience and to myself. I don’t know that I have ever been capable of this before to this level. I elevated beyond my former self and was birthed into someone new. The actual day exceeded my greatest expectations. I was so prepared and so pleased to wear the Claire Garvey dress. It gave me such a joyful uplift as I spoke about being an artform. I am deeply grateful to such a warm and responsive audience who lifted my abilities to a new level. I left the stage a better woman then when I walked on. I gave it all I had to give and it gave me so much back in return.
I feel so grateful to the team who made TED x Tralee possible, and to the audience who lifted me up beyond belief and I will be forever grateful for the chance to be in the spotlight on the Red Dot Carpet presenting my whole self as only I could.