April 2010. I was living on an air mattress in a friend’s office with two dogs, recently separated from my boyfriend of five years, wanting desperately to pivot my career from tech and culture writing to something with more active social impact. So I emailed my friend Joi Ito and he invited me to go with him to Oxford, UK the following week for a social entrepreneurship conference called the Skoll World Forum. I got my dogs a sitter, booked a hotel, acquired a press pass, and hopped on a plane to England.
A week later, on a Thursday evening, we’re sitting in the fancy auditorium that serves as the plenary room for Skoll and Sally Osberg is telling us that some volcano erupted in Iceland and a giant ash cloud has shut down most of Europe’s air space indefinitely. It’s like a scene in a sci-fi movie. That night, I end up in a bar with June Cohen from TED and Premal Shah and Matt Flannery who run Kiva and Larry Brilliant of Google.org and his son Joe — and many many other really smart, world-changing humans. Since we had no idea how long we were going to end up being together, we became fast friends and spent hours on the streets of Oxford planning our escape by blimp or cruise ship, whatever works. Here’s a lovely video of that night when we all realized we’re stuck in England.
It was one of those rare moments in our fast-paced lives when everything came to a massive halt, and we were forced to reconsider where we were and why that even mattered. Matt and Premal and Sundeep and I went on a series of similarly random adventures after that, and we remain close friends to this day. I now work for Joi, who helped me pivot from writing about tech and culture to designing creative solutions for the world using tech and culture. And Volcano Baby Opal’s favorite bedtime story is about the time when the volcano erupted in Iceland at the same time that her mom erupted in childbirth.