A couple weeks ago Ignite returned to Town Hall for our first live show (43rd overall) since Seattle went into quarantine during the global coronavirus pandemic. It was also my first show as an Ignite volunteer, and my first time planning an Ignite pre-show event. Or any pre-show event, for that matter. A night of firsts.
For Ignite #43’s pre-show event my colleagues and I gave everyone very large Post-it notes and Sharpie markers and asked them to write, draw, cartoon, or otherwise explain something they did during quarantine. We also gave everyone stickers with six different colors representing different emotions. We asked everyone to place stickers on any Post-it describing something that helped them to feel joy (yellow), feel safety (green), build resilience (orange), process fear (blue), express anger (red), or express disgust (purple). I didn’t choose these colors or emotions at random, they’re derived from emotional base-pairs hardwired into our brains through evolution–meaning they express elemental survival imperatives (the subject of my long-awaited PhD dissertation).
The purpose of this exercise was for everyone present to build a collective visualization of what we did with our lives during quarantine, and how it made us feel. This data is participatory so it describes the lives of only those people who attended Ignite #43 and chose to participate, rather than a statistical representation of everyone in Seattle. Although if the results say anything, it is that those of us who attended are all definitely from Seattle.
The overall response was quite astounding–in less than one hour before showtime people posted 80 ideas, encoded with over 350 stickers representing all six emotions. So many, in fact, that my colleague Emilie Hall and I spent most of the night feverishly applying painter’s tape in order to keep the map from falling off the massive wall of Post-its. It took nearly all of the first half of the show and intermission to tabulate the results.
But as is often the case, the process of generating the data was as interesting as the results themselves. As the infographic took shape, interactions emerged between those who participated. In a way, the wall became a safe place to be open and vulnerable about the people we were, or continue to be under quarantine conditions.
People used it as an opportunity to share memories and experiences that brought them joy, situations where they had to encounter and overcome fear, or celebrate someone else’s heartfelt resilience. People contributed a little bit of themselves in the form of visual gags and inside jokes, or sly references to music, shows, and media. There was a performative element as well; with people attempting to out-do each other or post something really special as a clandestine message to someone else attending the event.
As these events unfolded, many of us discovered strangers who survived the same way we did, or felt the same way, resulting in conversations. Mutual awareness of a shared situation suffused throughout these interactions. There were moments of solidarity mingled with fond memories, grief and hardship, and transformative experiences. While the sense of isolation we’ve all felt during quarantine remains undeniable, for at least an hour it felt like a shared experience–a collective trauma which we all survived together.
Indeed, this is why a methodologically-suspect infographic makes for an intriguing art installation. For the entire activity was less intended to produce a piece of empirical data than it was meant to produce a lived experience that helped those of us in attendance process a collective trauma. In other words, like all true art, it wasn’t just about the results, it was about the process.
We don’t often talk about the Covid-19 pandemic in these terms–indeed, it is an almost political act to define when the pandemic exactly ended (if at all). Try Googling it and ere long you will find yourself in an exhausting ideological minefield as I very much did.
What I do know is that this little, deadly virus infected 660 million people, close to 1% of the world’s population; so every 100th person. It also killed 6.8 million people, which is literally the entire population of Seattle nine freaking times over. But even as I write that, I feel a strong urge to make an optimistic declaration. Something that ends with, “but that’s all behind us now,” or “2023 is a new year,” or “things are finally returning to normal.” I feel like doing so is necessary because it signals to you, the reader, that I am a rational, sane person.
But if I’m being honest about how I feel, then I’m not even sure this is over yet, and it feels like every piece of info I read to try and educate myself has a weird political agenda attached to it. Yet I know I need to get on with my life. But what I’ve never done–because this is something we are not taught to do in American society–is express how traumatizing the experience was, share my feelings with others, and find ways to help myself heal from the sheer psychological magnitude of the last several years.
This particular piece was an attempt to create a space where we can do just that–talk about the pandemic without judgment, and sort out how we feel. In that sense, our collective experience of trauma can not only teach us more about ourselves but reveal that we are not as alone as we think. Though we have lived in physical separation, on an emotional level we are getting through this together. We are all experiencing similar things. There is a tremendous opportunity for us all to build greater empathy and take care of each other, if we are willing to come together in spaces such as this.
I am not the first person to observe that collective trauma can also serve as a pathway to resilience and solidarity for communities and if you are interested in learning more, I suggest a few resources including the 2021 PBS documentary The Area, directed by sociologist Dave Schalliol, the work of sociologists Erika Summers-Effler, Herbert Gans, and urbanist Jane Jacobs.
And with that, the results:
This chart summarizes quarantine activities by category. The length of each bar corresponds to the total number of stickers it received. We can think of this like a proxy for emotional response. A longer bar means more people reacted to the individual ideas in this category. Likewise, each color corresponds to a different emotion. The number next to each category indicates how many ideas were submitted in that category.
The chart suggests most of the things we did to live life under quarantine helped us feel joy, find safety, build resilience, and process fear. We also spent a lot of time doing roughly the same things: being in nature, hanging out with kitties, doggoes, being creative, exercising, baking, and of course, getting baked.
The next chart displays all 80 ideas placed on the wall. Like above, the length of each bar also corresponds to the number of stickers it received. Unlike the chart above, the number next to each idea indicates the total number of stickers it received. Again, we are treating as a proxy for emotional response. Each idea is presented in the order of the categories above, and ranked in order of the greatest emotional response. So for example, you’ll find everything that falls under “Art” together, and the largest number of stickers went to “drawing,” followed by “made music,” “cosplay,” “face painting,” and “took pictures of flowers.”
As I look at this chart, what I find the most interesting is that binging Netflix, reading, resting, doom scrolling, and playing with my cats are all things I did every day during the pandemic. I also experienced them much the same way others did, as a way to build joy, safety, resilience, and process my fear. For me, it’s a little bit of evidence to suggest that I’m not so different from the people I see on the street. I also recognize that I’ve beaten myself up pretty mercilessly for doing things like resting, procrastinating, and binging Netflix–when in fact I’m far from the only person who survived that way. In a way, I feel like this chart gives me permission to feel good about what I did to get by in quarantine. After all, I’m just doing what other people in Seattle did, and more broadly, I’m doing the types of things that help a human being survive frightening and uncertain times.
What do you think about when you look at a chart like this? Let us know in the comments below, send us a note, or–if you’re feeling adventurous–submit a story idea for Ignite #44 this October and tell us about your life under quarantine.
Final note: these categories aren’t perfect, and activities can overlap a great deal. For example, should “taking a walk with my dog” fall under Pets, or Exercise? Is forest hiking considered a Nature or Exploration activity? So let’s bear in mind that these categories were created mainly as a way to summarize the data. Here’s a breakdown for those who are curious:
Afterparty: We hope you can join our speakers for drinks after the event @ W Hotel Seattle Living Room Bar, entrance on 4th & Seneca. It’s a short walk down Seneca St. from Town Hall. (There is a parking garage but it’s expensive.)
Want to learn what frisbees can tell us about patents, pizza can tell us about life, or horses can tell us about holiday traditions? Of course you do—and what better way to do it than attend Ignite Seattle’s first-of-2023 event at Town Hall: Thursday, March 16th at 7:30 pm! Sign up for your ticket here.
Our speaker lineup (in no particular order):
You Don’t Just Need A Friend, You Need A Community! by Christiana Birkeland
Start a Sexual Revolution But Don’t Tell Your Mom by Alisa Eddy
Surviving the Swimmer’s Cemetery by Kate Curtis
Cut My Life Into Pizzas by Tricia Aung
How To Understand Patents – Using Frisbees by Adam Phillipp
Protein polymers and yeast farts: a scientist becomes a baker by Sam Blackman
How Masculinity Culture is Killing Men by Annie Kuo
Online Dating for Men Who Are Not Quite Dead by Eric Holdeman
The Holiday Card Dies with the Horse. by Nancy Hostert-Ruiz
Deal’n Drugs & Save’n Lives in the ER by Fay Hosseini
What to expect at the show:
Doors open at 6:30pm. Get there early for a pre-show activity!
Show starts at 7:30pm
Show will end around 9pm
Excited? Early bird tickets are $10 so you’d better get yours now. If you would rather watch from home, that’s cool too! Sign up for our newsletter to receive a link to our livestream as the event gets closer.
Do you have a story to tell? Of course you do! And 2023 could be your year to tell it!
Do you want to improve your ability to share your passion? Finally get past your fears of speaking in public? Or learn how to catch people’s attention from your very first sentence?
Ignite Seattle has been training speakers to harness their unique experiences through the power of compelling storytelling for years, and we want to teach YOU what we know.
Join us on January 24, 2023 at Town Hall Seattle for a fun, fast-paced, FREE event where you’ll learn new ways to think about your own story and how to share it with others—both verbally and in writing!
You’ll get actionable and proven advice from experts on:
How to turn your life experience into a great story
How to get past your fears of public speaking
How to identify the spark of your story and grab someone’s attention right away
Plus, there will be plenty of time for your biggest and toughest questions about public speaking, lots of discussion, and chances to share your own story in small groups led by experienced speaker coaches.
You don’t need to have a talk prepared, or even know yet what story you want to tell, to participate. (Although if you’re thinking about taking a turn on the Ignite stage, this is a great place to hone your pitch…applications for our next event—hint, hint—are due February 2!)
Your coaches will be:
Professional speaker, bestselling author of Confessions of a Public Speaker, and Ignite Seattle emcee Scott Berkun
Author, former literary agent, and publishing consultant Beth Jusino
Storyteller and inspirational speaker Andrew Spink
The training is free, but space is limited, so register today!
Let us know if you have questions, and we look forward to seeing you on January 24.
PS. Help spread the word! If you know someone who has a great story or idea, or wants to feel more confident as a speaker, forward this post and invite them! Or share our Facebook Event Page on your social media channels.
Hi Ignite Superfan! Let’s start with the bad news: we’ve had to cancel our planned Ignite in October. Through the pandemic our team has shrunk, and we no longer have enough folks to make this event happen. (If you’re new to Ignite, this explains what our events are like).
Here’s where you come in: we need your help to bring Ignite back. Ignite Seattle is run by an fun, energetic, and enthusiastic all-volunteer team. We’re a group of former attendees who raised their hands and said “I want to help.” Now it’s your turn!
Not sure what volunteering for Ignite looks like? Below are a few ways volunteers help make the event possible. (But no experience is necessary, we’ll work with you to learn the job!)
We have a growing email list and follower count, but we have no one to tell them what’s happening. If you’re new to marketing, we have a playbook detailing what sorts of posts we usually make when, but you can also implement your own opinions or crazy ideas. You also get to press a red button that instantly emails thousands of fans of Ignite Seattle!
Ignite gives anyone 5 minutes, live on stage, to share their project or passion with Seattle and the world. Many are first-time speakers, and the speaker/slide wrangler coordinates the training sessions and makes sure everyone has their slides ready for the stage. (You don’t need to have public speaking experience for this role, though.)
Speaker Coach: Former Ignite Seattle speaker? This is your chance to give back by giving coaching to help our speakers share their stories with clarity and charisma.
Love bringing people together? We need your help to coordinate things like our pre-show activity, intermission, live-stream, and more. No experience necessary, but this job is a good fit for anyone who loves being organized. (Bonus points if you like spreadsheets.)
Rethink the event, and bring crazy ideas to life: Did you know Ignite Seattle never did a survey until 2018!? When we did, we learned the audience wanted a shorter show that started earlier. (It only took us 12 years to find out…)What if you were in charge of the 3 Rs: help us research, recommend, and realize crazy new ideas? Research could include surveys, observations, and plain old talking to people. Yes that is still a thing.
These ideas (or your own ideas for Ignite) won’t happen without you. Are you ready to help? Sign up for our volunteer info session below or visit our volunteer page if you can’t make it.
Thank you for being part of another Seattle Town Hall event! Your support helps us continue to use storytelling to build community and bring people together. A big thank you to Town Hall for making this event possible and safe.
Need more Ignite Seattle in your life? You’re in luck! We have videos and photos from Ignite #42 ready for your viewing pleasure. Videos from each Ignite #42 talk can be found here. Please share your favorites on social media (@ignitesea #ignitesea). We want these people to have their stories heard by as many people as we can.
Woohoo – Ignite Seattle #42 is happening Feb 17! We have selected 10 outstanding speakers.
Our speaker lineup (in no particular order):
Someone Finally Showed Me How to Walk by Doug Thomas
Get Paid to Travel the US Full-Time in an RV by Silvana Clark
The G-Word: The Fight for Roma Rights in America by Caren Gussoff Sumption
Boatbuilding: A Journey Through a Dying Industry by Dustin Espey
A Single Black Women’s Guide to Surviving A Pandemic by Alicia Crank
50 years after Title IX: Women Athletes Deserve Parity by Sara Kiesler
Gender Identity: A Parent’s Transformational Journey With Their Non-Binary Child by Melissa Reaves
Welcome to the Theatre. Please, Turn On Your Cell Phone. by Carl Sander
Book writing tips from a Dyslexic by Anne van Gessel
I Don’t Have Imposter Syndrome and Neither Do You! by Ruchika Tulshyan
What to expect at the show:
Our team is so excited to bring back the magic of Ignite Seattle! We all could use the kind of enlightenment, entertainment and joy our community creates through our events. We also want to make the event as safe as possible. Ignite Seattle is going beyond the required safety requirements for our community’s safety:
We are capping the event at 30% capacity
Proof of vaccination is required and will be checked at the door
Doors and seating open at 6:30pm, show starts at 7:30pm
Everyone will receive an N95 mask to wear for the show
Show will end around 9pm
Ignite #42 will be different, and it will still be a delight. Join us at Seattle Town Hall on Thursday Feb 17. Buy your tickets today.