I woke up that morning energized and perhaps slightly disillusioned…we were sure to win! No one else had such an innovative idea that could reach so many populations. I arrived at the hackathon to find my collaborators in a similarly lighthearted mood. We eagerly solidified our presentation, divided up who was going to say what, and practiced it in front of anyone who was willing to listen. And then, to settle our nervous energy, we spun poi. While the rest of the room was buried in last minute breakthroughs and edits, we were laughing and playing, the music therapists (who had only spun for the first time the day before) showing off new tricks. And then, the presentations began.
We watched intently, and I couldn’t help but compare each one in my mind to the Orbitar, the Orbitar always coming out on top of course. And when it was our turn we took the floor with confidence and spinning socks, showing the room as well as telling them, just how awesome our idea was.
We did everything just liked we practiced, taking turns speaking with ease, demonstrating the patches Natan had been working on with minimal technical snafus. And when we took our seats again I was beaming. When the presentations were over the judges streamed out of the room in a neat line. And we waited. Not even poi spinning could quell my nervous energy! They emerged again after what seemed like days, and began to announce the prizes one at a time. Third place went by. Second place, taken. And first place, the moment we had all been waiting for…came and went in an instant. To someone else. And it was in that instant that every fear I ever had came flooding out, about the Orbitar being a failure, about poi spinning itself being useless, about my ability as a project leader and innovator, it all seemed…pointless. The “I don’t care if I win, I’m just here for fun” attitude that I sported less than 24 hours prior seemed like something from an alien universe. Winning had become everything, it had become the validation I needed to keep going. And so, I fled. Without saying a word to anyone, I ran out the door and straight into my bed, and I lost the most valuable opportunity the hackathon could provide…the post presentation hob nob with the judges, investors, professors, and other entrepreneurs. I spent it asleep.
When I woke up from my cocoon of frustration that evening around 8pm, I made a slothful journey down to the kitchen. My roommate and her friend were sitting at the table engulfed in good conversation and good cheese. Though I’m sure they only meant to offer me some brie, they unknowingly offered me their ears, and I poured out the entire hackathon saga. Their simple and straightforward response, something along the lines of “there’s always next time” some how made me feel much more alive. Who cares that we didn’t win the thing I initially didn’t even care about winning? And it slowly occurred to me that I had won something much greater…the combination of an experience, and of one sentence, that would lead to an entirely new line of research: “Why don’t you conduct a survey yourself?” one of the music therapists said in response to me earlier that day, as I was speaking about my inability to break into a therapeutic setting to conduct research and collect data. It had literally never occurred to me, that I, a student of art, could conduct a survey. That I didn’t need a therapist or an institution to help me. That I didn’t need a degree or years of research behind me. That I didn’t even need any math skills beyond the count-on-my-fingers system I faithfully deployed daily. I could simply make a survey. I could simply ask people to fill out questions about how they are feeling, have them spin poi, and answer these questions again. I could simply collect the data on poi spinning I had always dreamed of. And so, the first poi data collecting project, began.