Spoken-word poet and artist Shane Koyczan is onstage at TED, sharing his own experiences and charming us silly. This is an intimate, heartfelt look into a life that has not always been easy. “I’ve been shot down so many times I get altitude sickness just from standing up for myself,” he says.
Being told to stand up for yourself is a common response to trouble. But “that’s hard to do if you don’t know who you are.” Asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, Koyczan found it a difficult question to answer. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a man,” he says. “When I was a kid, I wanted to shave. Now, not so much.” (Koyczan, it should be noted, has an impressively full beard.) “When I was 8, I wanted to be a marine biologist. When I was 9, I saw the movie Jaws and said ‘no thank you.’”
He said he wanted to be a writer. And he was told: “Choose something realistic.” He said he wanted to be a professional wrestler. “They said, don’t be stupid. They asked me what I wanted to be, then told me what not to be. I wondered what made my dreams so easy to dismiss.”
In Koyczan’s world, even his dreams were called names. But he kept on. I was going to be a wrestler, and my name would be the Garbage Man. “My finishing move was going to be the Trash Compactor.” He turned to poetry, and he concludes this beautiful, lyrical presentation by reading the poem “To This Day,” which he wrote to explore the impact of bullying, and which was animated through an open call for contributions (the film plays in the background). It’s a clarion call for action, and it makes the audience decidedly weepy. A sample:
so we grew up believing no one
would ever fall in love with us
that we’d be lonely forever
that we’d never meet someone
to make us feel like the sun
was something they built for us
in their tool shed
It’s a bravura performance, and a tearful Koyczan receives a prolonged standing ovation.