Last night, Debbie and I attended The Connecticut Forum at The Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford, Connecticut. We were long time season ticket subscribers to the Forum, but have taken several years off because life has been busy. We never stopped supporting the Forum, which is a fantastic organization. Typically, there are four Forums each year on a variety of topics.
Last night’s subject was Explorers & Adventurers, which if you are an avid reader of this blog, know would be right up my alley. Debbie and I didn’t want to miss, so we secured a sitter for our kids and made it a date night. The moderator was journalist Alison Stewart. I thought she did a fantastic job. The panelists were Cheryl Strayed, Paul Nicklen, and Diana Nyad.
I have not read Strayed’s book, Wild, nor have I seen the film adaptation that is wildly popular. However, I’ve done some long distance hiking, love to write, and enjoyed hearing bits of her life story. I was fascinated with Nicklen’s single-minded pursuit of excellence in environmental photojournalism. His photos are amazing. I share his approach. My style of photography is to get images in extreme circumstances. Now, my circumstances aren’t as extreme as his, but I get it. He specializes in polar expeditions.
Despite all the talk of great imagery, near death experiences, and amazing wildlife; the most poignant part of the entire evening was when he let his guard down and admitted that personal relationships are basically non-existent in his life. In his own words, he says that he has let a lot of people down. He had a failed marriage, partially as a result of his work and travel, and that relationship with family and friends were strained. This is the part of the story that touched me most. I love adventure, but there is a limit. If the pursuit of excellence on that level, or the quest to make a difference for the world creates such imbalance in your life, then that is where I struggle to comprehend. Nicklen’s story isn’t unique at all, but in last nights setting, it was interesting to hear. I love his National Geographic work and now I see it a bit differently.
We saw Nyad speak at the 2014 YPO-WPO EDGE in Los Angeles. On that day, she delivered a monologue for more than an hour. It was a gripping story about her life and her quest to swim from Cuba to Florida. I’ve followed her story in the hardcore endurance sports and ultra swimming press, which I’m sure 99% of last night’s attendees are unaware of. I have some ultra swimming friends who think she “cheated” in her record swim and have come out hard against her accomplishment. There has been a lot of controversy over the years regarding the validity of her efforts and the ultimate results. There have been claims that she discredited her rivals and was harsh in her treatment of others. There is no question that she is an intense competitor. I don’t know enough about the specific allegations to have an opinion, and most people will never know those details. Her public persona as someone who “never gives up” is quite powerful and despite any technicalities related to her records, she is a strong person who has positively impacted many lives.
The interaction between these three resources along with Stewart’s questions was fascinating. The second half of the show was a Q&A session led by Stewart, but with questions submitted from the crowd. That is the typical tried and true format of the Connecticut Forum. We were happy to be back in Hartford last night.