CULTURE KLASH: Shining Revelations

By on August 16, 2017

TEDx Jackson Hole hosts speakers who’ve uncovered answers from living in darkness and light.

Keely Herron

JACKSON HOLE, WY – For about two minutes on August 21, Jackson Hole will enter darkness in the middle of the day. Then, for an hour and a half, it will come back into the light as the sun emerges from behind the moon.

The day after, 11 speakers and performers will take the stage at Center for the Arts to share what it means to live in darkness and in light. The theme of this year’s TEDx Jackson Hole is inspired by this “big, celestial opportunity” that is the eclipse, Lisa Samford, JH Wild director, said.

The theme is always intentionally vague, Samford said. This year is no different. Darkness and light mean different things to different people. Some of this year’s speakers will employ a literal understanding, like Dr. Laura Peticolas, who will share stories from her “massive citizen project” on the eclipse: a 90-minute crowd-sourced film that gives a “real-time pathway of totality,” Samford said.

Peticolas, an astronomer at UC Berkley, has asked photographers and filmmakers along the path of totality to submit their documentation so she can clock the moment of totality along the whole path.

Others speakers, like local entrepreneur Keely Herron, understand darkness and light as dual states of being. Herron’s father committed suicide in 1999 when Herron was 25 and her brothers were still in high school. His death, and their silent suffering afterward, was shrouded in darkness.

“The stigma around suicide and mental illness piled onto the trauma because it was really hard to talk openly about it,” Herron said. “Stigma is a powerful toxic force that forces people to put on a happy face, even when they’re really suffering.”

Such is the entry point into Herron’s talk, which she admits is still a work in progress. Her whole life, she said, has been a constant exploration of darkness and light, of grief and joy. Born, raised and educated in Minnesota, Herron left her home state in 2002. She held steady jobs, mostly in advertising, for seven years in New York, then pursued an MBA in Spain and worked in London for a year and a half “before finally moving back home in 2012 to Minnesota.”

She returned home looking for some semblance of a “normal” life. She wanted to “fit in—get married, and have kids.” But pursuits of normalcy were unsuccessful, so she packed up and got ready to leave again. Her options were to move back to NYC, move to California where she had a few friends, or “try some place completely different.”

“Completely different won,” she said. She arrived in Jackson Hole knowing just one person. After 10 years in the professional world, she spent a winter selling tickets at the Village and skiing, and a “glorious summer waitressing and slinging cappuccinos.”

Just last fall, she started her own business, Wonderland Marketing, and is now fully living on her own terms.

“I’m taking the opportunity of working for myself to pursue more creative projects and do more writing, which is what I thought I would do back in high school and college,” said Herron, who has a BA in journalism. She has her own program on KHOL called “Opera for Everyone.” She tells her stories at local story slams. Now, she’ll tell her story on the Center stage.

Herron’s is one of the evening’s heavier talks, alongside Laurie Works. Like Herron, Works will explore “emerging from darkness” in the wake of a tragedy, Samford said. Works witnessed a mass shooting that killed her twin and younger sister, and has since dedicated her life to creating something meaningful out of that, Samford said. She is now studying to be a mental health counselor.

Other speakers run the gamut. One is a scientist who suggests the placebo effect is more than just a placebo effect. “Our brains are immensely capable, and some brains are capable of creating the drug your body needs,” Samford explained.

Another speaker, Sun Dance Chief James Prosper, will compare massacres of his history to the battles Native Americans still fight today.

The evening is also full of familiar faces, like Herron’s, sharing their take on the theme. Author Alexandra Fuller will explore her upbringing in white supremacist Rhodesia. Playwright Andrew Munz narrates his time in Iceland on the “edge of the fjord.” Singer-songwriter Beth Macintosh will take the stage with her sons Widen and Rainer Macintosh-Round for a musical interpretation of the theme. Contemporary Dance Wyoming will explore darkness through dance.

“It’s a magic mix of performance, science, adventure, art and culture,” Samford said.

JH Wild almost hosted the event the night of the eclipse, but Samford said they realized that would be a “terrible life decision.” PJH

Doors open at 5 p.m. Tuesday, August 22 at Center for the Arts. Talks begin at 7 p.m., $20 to 40.

About Shannon Sollitt

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