“Here Be Dragons”

Here is, roughly, the partially abridged text of my talk, “Here Be Dragons,” from TEDxSitka 2012:

Stories can be about the past, shared in the present, and transform the future. This space [Allen Hall on the Sheldon Jackson Campus in Sitka, Alaska] is a beautiful confluence of past, present, and potential.

Stories are moments of opportunity. Stories are a chance for the storyteller (in this case, me!) to share something with an audience. In turn, the audience (that’s you!) can become the teller. Our words have an amazing power. Stories are opportunities to channel this power.

Today, I’m going to tell you a story about my name, a story about dragons, and a story about hunting. Three seems like a magical enough number, so we’ll have three stories to explain three things: things that have happened; things that are happening; and things that have yet to happen. All these stories overlap.

My first story is about my name. My name is Amanda. Someone once told me it means “worthy of love” in Latin. I guess that means you should all love this story. [Pause deliberately for laughter and gaze meaningfully at the audience until they chuckle from the sheer awkwardness.]

That is something that has happened – my name has a legacy.

But the real story is that I’m named for Tunamunda, my dad’s Great Aunt Amanda. She used to pull out her dentures and smoke cigars and tell really great stories. I don’t have dentures and there’s no smoking allowed on campus, but I can tell you stories.

That is something that is happening. I hope you like being part of the story!

My last name is Murphyao. That’s a story. It’s what happens when you take a Murphy and a Yao and throw a pirate and ninja themed wedding in a French Canadian church on the south side of Chicago, and then mash their last names together.

It’s a conversation starter, but it’s also my clever way of introducing dissonance into everyday patriarchal and heteronormative power structures.

Or maybe it just makes me easier to find on Google.

So this is something that might happen next. I might be eminently Google-able, never able to hide again, or I could get people to think more about their names through my own.

But enough about me – let’s talk about dragons.

[I sort of mad-libbed this part.]

Insofar as they are an explanation for a question we aren’t even asking yet, dragons still exist. They just go by different names today.

Without the benefit of hindsight, we don’t know what ides we have that will become antiquated in the future.

Science has stories about electricity today, but the explanation is far from complete. Scientific discovery is the unending pursuit of knowledge.

[Then I made a bad joke about the connotations of “chasing the dragon.”]

On modern maps, we don’t have dragons per se, but we have names for cities, labels for countries and continents – all explanations for “what’s over there” that are as arbitrary as dragons were. Aren’t they?

The only way to find out is to keep asking questions. That’s what can happen next. We can go hunting for dragons – root out ignorance – seek the Truth with a capital T.

We can help each other find the dragons in our midst.

[Then I tell a story that I did not transcribe. This must be fun for those following along at home.]

In a way, their dragon was their geographical ignorance, but the other dragon was my assumption that 8th graders in Canada would know American geography. We took that opportunity to have a conversation. The exchange allowed us all to slay some dragons.

It gave us an opportunity to ask what’s really going on when we usually don’t.

Dragons are not easy to find but with conversations and curiosity, we can try.

Telling stories, asking questions, hunting dragons, gives us the opportunity to see the world differently.

You can see dragons and other names as a place holder for past ignorance, but also as a potential source of inquiry for the future.

Dragons give us the opportunity to learn and grow and slay our ignorance – see clearly as it were.

This is convenient, because the word dragon is derived from a Greek word that means “to see clearly.”

But you shouldn’t take my word for it.

There’s a saying: follow those who seek the truth, but be wary of those who claim they’ve found it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories, but the real test of everything all the speakers have said today is what you choose to do with the stories.

Thank you for your time and happy hunting.

Kudos to inspiration from Edward Chamberlin, Thomas King, Denis Wood, Claiborne Skinner, Brian Levinthal, and Richard Yao, as well as other sources. Hopefully some of them are ladies.

Thank you in particular to fellow Sitka Fellows Sam Alden, Andrew Lee, and Ross Perlin for practicing with me, and especially Andrew for force-feeding me medication, vitamins, and lunch right before my talk!

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