I realized that I've had more distinct jobs (even full-time jobs) than romantic relationships, and that this differentiates me from folks who have had more relationship experiences than jobs.
Intense friend-feeling is weird! I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I feel embarrassment when I tell a friend how intensely I care about them, and it's doubly embarrassing in public. The other day, on the Hacker School chat network, Julia Evans thanked me for sharing a useful resource on a topic she had been thinking about, and I burst out, "I could live my whole life just trying to create and curate and give you the resources that you are about to need, like rolling a carpet out in front of you, and that would be a worthwhile life." And then felt really vulnerable. What if people think I am in love with her? I'm not! What if she thinks I feel too strongly and am creepy? (She reacted happily so I do not think she thinks this.) I bet non-English languages are better at this, or maybe English registers or dialects or discourses that I'm not used to.
A friend asked me what is most meaningful to me in art, what it is in art that affects me. I slightly got at this when I wrote about what I like and do not like in fiction, but I also ended up saying: seeing some bit of the human experience, described or shown, that I deeply recognize and/or that I've never seen put that way before. And then, what changes me? Travel and music and sex and meditation, which get past my word-shields, I think.
I feel as though I am the most sentimental person I know, aside from my mother.
A few of us were talking about Seth Schoen, and about open source culture. He was my first open sourcey friend and the guy who got me into All Of This. He is my origin story. And he is a gentle hippie who loves to teach and who exuded calm and kindness whenever I asked a question. So I suppose I thought he was what FLOSSy types are like. And then some of my friends came in a different way, and imprinted on shouty people and rose in hierachies where articulating your anger scored you points, gave you cred, got other people to pay attention to you.
A friend has just made me oatmeal. Post.
The Open Source Bridge schedule is up. About half the speakers are women, and all three keynoters are women, and I haven't counted, but there's at least one hour in the schedule where all six speakers are not cis men.
I'm already seeing some teeth-gnashing conflicts with my own talks, e.g., not being able to see Fureigh's talk about the Drupal Ladders project. Which, of course, is a sign of a great schedule.
OK. We're doing a lot better than the median on gender. Next up: ethnicity and class.
Some get-togethers turn into dominance displays -- participants see each other as someone to defeat. We often see this pattern in technical spaces, such as conferences, mailing lists, programming classes, and code review. Skud's 2009 piece "The community spectrum: caring to combative" mentions a few groups who created caring technical subcommunities in response to a competitive or combative culture. Since 2009 we've seen more such efforts -- more and more tidepools where I feel welcome, where I gather strength between trips into the ocean.
Hacker School recognizes that dominance displays discourage learning. For years, Hacker Schoolers have worked to "remove the ego and fear of embarrassment that so frequently get in the way of education", to replace constant self-consciousness with a spirit of play. (Apply now for summer or fall!) During my batch, my peers and I balanced plain old webdev/mobile/etc. projects with obscure languages, magnificently silly jokey toys, and pure beauty. We made fun in our work instead of making fun of each other.
No one "wins" Hacker School. There is no leaderboard. Whenever possible, Hacker School culture assumes abundance rather than scarcity; attempts to rank projects or people would defile our ecology.
And now we have a conference, !!Con, with that same philosophy. It's by Hacker Schoolers but open to anyone* and encouraging talks by everyone.
I love that the !!Con organizers are designing this conference to inclusively celebrate what excites us about programming. If we learn and enjoy ourselves by writing implausible or derivative or useless or gaudy code, and by sharing it with others, the proper response is to celebrate. By focusing on sharing our personal experiences of joy, we let go of dominance-style objective ranking (which is impossible anyway), and instead celebrate a diverse subjectivity. The organizers' choices (including thorough code of conduct, welcoming call for proposals, and anonymous submission review) reinforce this.
I think about this stuff as a geek with many fandoms: programming, scifi, tax history, feminism, open source, comedy, and more. In the best fannish traditions, we see the Other as someone whose fandom we don't know yet but may soon join. We would rather encourage vulnerability, enthusiasm and play than disrespect anyone; we take very seriously the sin of harshing someone else's squee.
This is the fun we make. Not booth babes, not out-nitpicking each other, but wonder.
So, I'm submitting talks to !!Con, and I'm going to be there, May 17-18, soaking in this new warm mossy tidepool of love that's appeared right here in New York City. Join me?
* !!Con will be free to attend, but space will, sadly, be limited, as will the number of talks.
I have been sick with a cold for about a week. Fortunately, this year's Yuletide fan fiction harvest brought me tremendous bounty! I now feel the urge to re-watch or re-read Protector of the Small, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Brick, Stranger Than Fiction, Legally Blonde, and World War Z.
My bookmarks include:
- "Brightness all", an adorable puppy-centric Protector of the Small fic that includes a fake-angry letter from Nealan and the soft spot of curmudgeon Wyldon. Also check out the tags on that one.
- "Inexplicably and without method" for curmudgeonly Karen from Stranger Than Fiction reluctantly learning to use a personal computer.
- "wrapped in red" in case you wanted a lot more glamorous Leverage-esque sophistication from Nancy Drew! Reminds me a bit of the parts of Haywire I liked. Reminds me that I should watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith sometime since Mel recommended it!
- "What We May Be" for a short, sweet peek at a Galaxy Quest curmudgeon. (Oh look, Sumana has a trope.)
- Two Breaking Bad stories, both about Marie: "Blood Ties" portrays her changing sisterhood with Skyler, and "Casts & Slings" shows her with "another survivor," as the summary puts it.
- Finally, "One Of Their Better Parties" gets the farcical voice of Arrested Development dialogue just right, including everyone's varieties of self-delusion and a deployment of "I've made a huge mistake."
Do you have any favorites from this year?
That sounds exactly like Hacker School. So I applied for the autumn batch, and I've been accepted. I will therefore be taking an unpaid personal leave of absence from the Wikimedia Foundation via our sabbatical program. My last workday before my leave will be Friday, September 27. I plan to be on leave all of October, November, and December, returning to WMF in January. During my absence, Quim Gil will be the temporary head of the Engineering Community Team. I'll spend much of September turning over responsibilities to him. Over the next month I'll be saying no to a lot of requests so I can ensure I take care of all my commitments by September 27th, when I'll be turning off my wikimedia.org email.
When I'm in the zone, growing my programming skills, time is a blur, I feel powerful, and I am in awe of what we can make. And the more I think about doing Hacker School, having that feeling for weeks at a stretch, the more excited I get. So I'm thrilled that I can take three months off my job to come to Hacker School, so I can make tools to make my life easier, and so I can be a better community manager for MediaWiki (calling out easy bugs for newbies, running stats, packaging and customizing tools, etc.). I want to nurture the programmer side of myself, because programming is heady fun, and because the skillset will supercharge everything else I do. I'll be a more effective citizen, coach, and leader if I increase my fluency in code.
After all, it's going to take a lot of energy and innovation to improve the quality of open source software. We need open source software that ordinary people can use, with documentation in the languages users speak, and whose design addresses the needs of women and men worldwide. Whatever approach I take to that problem -- mentorship, platform-building, recruiting specific demographics, media-making -- I anticipate wanting to hack a lot of dashboards, APIs, courseware, wiki templates, poorly formatted datasets, CRMs, and helpful little scripts along the way.
Thank you, WMF, for the sabbatical program, and thanks to my team (especially Engineering Community Team's Quim Gil, Andre Klapper, Guillaume Paumier, and my boss Rob Lanphier) for supporting me on this; I couldn't do this without you. And thanks to the women-in-open-source community, especially the Ada Initiative, for helping me gain the confidence to take this step. (The Ada Initiative's trying to finish its fundraiser, in case you can help.)
If there's anything else I can do to minimize inconvenience, please let me know. And wish me courage!
Cross-posted to Cogito, Ergo Sumana.
My parents came to the US from Karnataka, in south India, in the 1970s, and they were lonely. They spoke Kannada and English and Farsi and Hindi and Sanskrit, but Kannada was their mother tongue, and they arrived in Oklahoma and found no Kannadiga community to speak of. (Go ahead and groan. My dad passed on his love of terrible puns to me.)
I'm not saying they were the first Kannada speakers in the US. There were definitely already Kannadigas in the US in the 1970s. Indians had been immigrating here for decades.* There were letters and long-distance phone calls and occasional visits, a few families getting together, the adults laughing and swapping tips in Kannada while kids ran around. But the Kannada-speaking diaspora was scattered and had no central place to talk with each other. A bunch of people who shared a characteristic, but not really a community.
So my parents did some community organizing, in their spare time, in between working and raising my sister and me. How did they get Kannada speakers together? They started "Kannada Koota" local organizations (like user groups). "Koota" means "meeting" in Kannada. They basically started a grassroots network of Kannadiga meetups. How did they get these folks talking to each other, all across the country? They started a bimonthly magazine, Amerikannada, and ran it for 7 and a half years, until their money and energy ran out. It had great fiction, and articles from the literary magazines back home. And it included ads for those Kannada Koota meetups, "how I started a Kannada Koota" articles, and tutorial exercises for "how to learn Kannada", for parents to teach their kids. My parents were sharing best practices, talking meta, inspiring people all over.
I didn't really know that, as a kid. As my parents processed subscriptions, recruited articles and ads, wrote, and edited, my sister and I stapled, stamped, glued, and sealed bits of paper in languages we couldn't quite yet read. We had a rubber stamp with the logo: a griffin-like creature, half-lion, half-bald eagle. I gleefully deployed those magical bulk-mail stickers, red and orange and green with single-letter codes, and piled envelopes into burlap sacks and plastic bins for the frequent trips to the post office.
It was always my Dad who took the Amerikannada mail to the post office. He was strong in those days, heaving the great bags of mail like an Indian Santa Claus (mustache yes, beard no) alongside the blue-uniformed workers on the loading dock, the part of the post office most people never use or even see. My sister and I came along, not to help -- how could we? -- but to keep my Dad company.
At home, while toying with BASIC on a PC Jr, I overheard the shouted long-distance phone calls in mixed Kannada and English. Stuff like "Go ahead and give me the directions to the venue, and I'll tell it to Veena." or "Well you know who you should talk to? Raj is going to be over there around then...." Weekend after weekend I spent reading science fiction in some corner at a Kannada Koota.**
The funny thing is that I thought I was rebelling against my parents by taking the path I did. I majored in political science at Berkeley instead of engineering, and fell in with open source hippies. I used AbiWord on Caldera Linux to write papers about nineteenth-century American political theory and naturalization rates among Indians in Silicon Valley. I fell away from coding and saw that other things needed doing more urgently: tech writing, testing, teaching, marketing, management.
And here I am now, a community organizer like them, finally appreciating what they did, what they made, what they gave up. My dad had to work to support us; he couldn't edit Amerikannada full-time, even if that would have been a better use of his talents, and a greater service to the world. My parents couldn't find enough ads and subscribers to pay for the cost of keeping the magazine going. I appreciate WordPress and PayPal all the more because I see that Amerikannada folded (partly) for the lack of them.
What if one of my parents had been able to bring in income from the community we were building? What if it had been sustainable?
Today, the community that I most identify with is that of women in open source and open culture. We've talked to each other in pockets and locally for decades - hats off to LinuxChix and VividCon, for instance - but in the last few years, The Ada Initiative has brought us more resources, a stronger community, and faster progress than ever. And this is possible because the Ada Initiative's staff is full-time.
So, here's the surprise: Leonard and I will match every donation to the Ada Initiative up to a total of USD$10,000 until midnight August 27th PDT, one week from today. Yes, again. And this time, if the community matches the full amount, we'll chip in an extra thousand dollars.
The Ada Initiative's work is useful in our own lives. When I needed an anti-harassment policy for my workplace's technical events, and when Leonard wanted resources to advise his technical communities on diversity, we consulted the Ada Initiative's resources. AdaCamp brings together, teaches, and inspires women from all over, including me. And the network I found via the Ada Initiative helped me write a keynote speech and respond to unwanted touch at a hackathon.
But more than that, we know that we're improving our world and helping science fiction, open source, and Wikipedia live up to our values. We believe in inclusiveness, compassion, empowerment, and equal and fair treatment for all, and the Ada Initiative opens the doors for more women to get to enjoy those values in the places we love.
And my parents taught me that I should give back. It feels so much better to give back than to give up.
* One couple who moved from Gujarat to California in 1958 had a son who's now a Congressman.
** Nowadays I get to be the only Kannadiga at science fiction conventions.
Leonard was about to head off to brunch, and I knew I'd feel better if I also went outside, to ensure that I left the flat at least once today. Bleh, I don't wanna, inertia said, but I reminded it that I'd be happier if I did. And along the way I should drop off that neglected dry-cleaning. Bleh, I don't wanna, procrastination said, but I mentally replied that if I didn't do this errand, it wouldn't magically get done.
Holy crap! I viscerally felt the proper relationship between the bratty kid inside me and the adult I am. I can listen to the kid, but it also listens to me. I knew that those urges only sometimes represented a neglected inner child, but now I have another useful analogy that will help me manage them properly: mailing list flamers. The voices of perfectionism, anxiety, impatience, cruelty, and laziness are just frequent posters on sumana-l. I'm not going to killfile any of them, just try to skim, roll my eyes, and move on.
I walked Leonard to brunch. The dry cleaning place was closed, so I'll try again tomorrow. I came inside just long enough to drop the bag and grab tea and my book: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I sat outside on my apartment building's stoop and read for a while. My neighbors came and went and I chatted with them. A light rain started, stopped, started, and stopped again. I came back inside to write this.
Last week the project lead (skud) also posted some plans to "talk to a whole range of people and get a sense of what's important and what we should be prioritising." I'll be interested to see how her product management process goes, and have already enjoyed reading questions she will be asking gardeners. It makes me happy to help nurture a small business that is doing things right on lots of levels.
Anyway, Growstuff is cool, so check out growstuff_blog_feed for more updates.
I dent and tweet but do not tumbl, book faces, pin, plus, buzz, and probably other things I have forgotten.
This is why he and I are pledging to match up to USD$10,000 of donations to the Ada Initiative made before November 1, 2012.
The Ada Initiative works to increase the participation of women in open technology and culture. They gave me the wording and support I needed to create Wikimedia Foundation's Friendly Space Policy for technical events, which helps everyone at a Wikimedia hackathon feel safer so they can concentrate on rockin' out. If you liked "Be Bold: An Origin Story", the keynote I delivered at Open Source Bridge this year, thank the Ada Initiative, whose advisors helped me shape it. Everyone who wants to grow the open source community benefits from the Ada Initiative's work, and so donating to TAI is like investing in a good piece of machinery; TAI's going to make my work easier for a long time to come.
Please join us in donating to the Ada Initiative, especially if you've also gotten a good career out of open source.
I still have 15 things on my TODO list. Fuck me is the saying, I think.
It's a giant hike with lots of walking every day. Gods help me keep my stamina up!