Diane di Prima reading for DivaFest

Diane di Prima does one long solo reading per year in San Francisco and for the last 7 years that’s been at DivaFest at the Exit Theater. The little theater was packed with wistful and wild-eyed poets and hardcore di Prima fans as Diane led off just talking about stuff and asking us all for any spare kleenexes before she started out reading. She talked a bit about being the poet laureate of San Francisco saying that she loves the poetry folks of this town and it honors them and it honors poetry. But the parts that are political or B.S. and that it doesn’t have very much money to support her going in to teach poetry writing to kids and so on, that part isn’t so great. It’s nice but the greatest honor she has ever received was knowing someone typed out her first book on carbon paper to pass it around Leavenworth prison.

Diane then said that she is thinking of what’s new, poems as news, poets as antennae and is reading a bunch of unpublished work and the new things that may go into Loba or the next Revolutionary Letters. “A lot of things that are news are very old. They’re new and old at the same time.” I really love poet talk and Diane can’t even help doing it and at the same time is just plain not full of shit. (Reminding me of my friend Greg who died… should be on his grave stone, “He wasn’t full of shit.”) I respect the ability some people have to just talk and then to read their writing in a way that isn’t bullshitty or different than their usual self. Just write it! And then when you’re talking, saying something! That’s so good.

I kept imagining wishfully that Diane would come to WisCon where she would be strangely happy among fantastic strong writer matriarchs in lavender quilted vests and iron grey hair and wild imaginations that range through all time and space!

Diane di Prima reading at DIVAfest.jpg

Notes on the poems!

The first poem was “My Andalusia” which was written as an exploration of writing about things as you imagined them when you were younger. What you thought about Egypt or New York when you were 6. Diane’s Anadalusia was an alternate history coming up to the present and future where sufi and kabalah and christian and scientific communities flourished uninterrupted by war. “to make light brighter, distance more vast.” Maybe it was “vastness more vast.” “And About Obama” “and if you were living in the enemy’s house wife and kids there too guarded by assassins … for what *were* after all dreams …” I slipped in and out of knowing what she was talking about and then felt quite unsure that other people in the room knew either though they “Hmmmmmmmm!”ed as if they did. “At least the Bay Bridge snapped… somebody had to say something”. And then some old news – “a deer and her young hesitate” which I think then had some radioactive waste. It worked even past my reservations. LOTS of hmmmm-ing on that one which reaction made me wince. (Though, I love people who love poetry so should not criticize. )

“Don’t turn away” (with brief explanation of Kurosawa biography and earthquake story and his brother saying, “Don’t turn away – You want to make films, don’t look away – LOOK!” If you are working on something, don’t turn away. Hyena -vulture – guardians – the race of forbidden – where we keep the dead – warm mud – Look, tears magnify what you can see – Don’t look it up don’t study it’s all before your eyes. (Well and yes I suppose Earth is a mass grave, really. ) Diane read this long prose poem so well and powerfully, forceful, the words building up and poem tumbling over itself. Well done and never maudlin / self righteous / guilt ridden-yet-self-absolving which is the trap so many middle class poets fall into automatically.

“The daughter” – couldn’t wait till she died, pulling weeds, “didn’t I think it looked a whole lot better.” Oh my.

Poem for Sheppard, healer & beloved. Treebark rule (an herb tea he makes her) Touch the crown of their heads as they have not been touched since newborn / they are worth all care / they are gold of gold ” Now here I cried at the poem a bit not knowing Shep but knowing he is sick and that she is not perhaps in the pink of health either and knowing what it means to be in pain and cared for (vs. not cared for) and the other way round And that it is one of the best things. Mia Mingus said it very well in Access Intimacy

Access intimacy is also the intimacy I feel with many other disabled and sick people who have an automatic understanding of access needs out of our shared similar lived experience of the many different ways ableism manifests in our lives. Together, we share a kind of access intimacy that is ground-level, with no need for explanations. Instantly, we can hold the weight, emotion, logistics, isolation, trauma, fear, anxiety and pain of access. I don’t have to justify and we are able to start from a place of steel vulnerability.

Interdependence is worth fighting for and certainly good to write about. I liked the poem.

Then a long poem for a benefit for Haiti for which the organizers kept adding on new countries so it is called Haiti Chile Tibet. I cheered mightily at the bit at the end with the list of Just a Few Suggestions. 1) All hands on deck means just that. It’s a really small boat. 2. Anyone bringing help is welcome – OBVIOUSLY. Don’t ask where they’re from. (HHAHAAH so true – thinking bitterly of the red cross during katrina! lord!) 3) All borders disappear in catastrophe. They are stupid and irrelevant anyway. 4) There is no such thing as looting in a disaster. 5 on the police 6) on guests 7) Give up confusing your property with your life. This will save a lot of problems! I like a poem that describes the world with a little lyrical perspective and humility and then ends with practical wisdom!

“Homeland Security to T’ang Dynasty Princess” – short & sweet. take off your dew covered slippers, step away from the window. Funny then not then funny again, indeed

Lot’s wife doesn’t have a name Who was she how did he greet her when she came in from the field?

“Why money makes me feel bad.” I feel bad when I get some . Then feeling bad when not having any. Yup.

War haiku – July 2006. Lebanon. Even an hour of this / would be too long /White phosophorus. Great lords of the sea /it is Tyre they are burning. Don’t ask if I have bad dreams…

Millenium poem. Revolutionary letters # 83. In the wink of an eye. If Iliad Odyssey… harmony.. and Blake says Fuck all this! & Baudelaire & Rimbaud comes back from outer space he’d rather die a sleazebutt human! American cats et in on it (Melville) They don’t know from order! (laughter uncontrollable there!) Brightness fell from the air. magical will…

I like that poem and want to read it on the page! It was tremendous!

June 3 1966 To the unnamed Buddhist Nun who burned herself to death (she called the NY Times and then called the reporter who told her that buddhist nuns don’t have names.) (not) O monk is it hot in there? (koan about it being a stupid question)

Diane noted that part of her wants to apologize for being so dark. She has this bit of Loba *(unpublished) about the painter who painted Mary out of elephant dung (Chris Ofili) (Turmoil!) And thinking all the other things people might not realize are also sacred. Litany – Our lady of the elephants. Our lady of the armadillos. Our lady of subways… Lady of largest heart. (Yes- Inanna reference!!!!! Right on)

Freaking awesome poem called Fire sale – everything must go. I long to publish this one.
Well, we can’t build the new society from the shell of the old” “I love those old Wobbly songs” Let’s stop looking over our shoulders! Let’s stop copying Scandinavian socialism, it’s too sad! You all talk too much!” Oh, man, I love it.

We then had some questions and conversation. Conversation hard though in Authority/Audience format (alas) I asked what Diane is reading and she said lots of Ursula Le Guin (YEAH…. instantly I go back to my WisCon imaginings and pictured them both at the Mad Scientist Otaku Tea Party Cafe laughing over tea with robots and mad scientists serving little cakes) And all of Shakespeare in little Arden editions because you can hold one at a time and they don’t hurt your hands to hold them up. someone asked about plays and Diane said she has some plays one called Whale Hunting about the death of Shelley just before he drowns with Mary Byron and Shelley. Oh man! I’d like to see that play. And another one which I did’t hear about because I was imagining the Shelley one. A very dear woman stood up in the back and said her name is Grace HArwood and she has been witness to Diane’s aweseomness since 1970 and is so happy she is poet laureate and it’s about fucking time! (cheers and applause) Another question , what do you think is possible? Are you writing more memoir? (Yes but slowly and don’t tell anyone, she does not want her agent to know so there is no pressure) It has a lot about the shape of life and the demands of old age and is around 200 pages now. Diane asked us what we are writing and doing and where we published and after what was perhaps not a long enough pause I said I am making tiny books and held up my Burn This Press stuff. (Then wished I hadn’t and that i had explained my whole earth catalogue poem and my difficulties with it ) Another guy talked about a small press cooperative he is in up near Yosemite with 35 authors, Poetic Matric Press and he named a poet who does something interesting with Damascus I think (then I was remembering the excellent Damashq story from the Lesbian Steampunk book.) Someone up in the back asked about Denise Levertov and whether they knew each other. Diane said they were at readings together and she was very proper and without meaning to or knowing it she often upset Denise just by having some 4 letter words in a poem. also “she could have gone further”. I got excited and wondered what she meant there b/c I am fond of Levertov but get very frustrated by her and want to give her a shove and go “okay… now go further”. She wraps it up too fast and doesn’t get out of a certain comfort zone (though that is arrogant of me to say) What poetry would she recommend for kids? What poetry would be NOT for kids? (maybe Kaddish… i dunno…. lol) They’re just people! Just give them poetry! They come with all the equipment. (I agree) She said when she was little people read her shakespeare quite young and she read all the robert louis stevenson and poe things that kids usually read.

Best question from audience especially since asked by very young dude, or best response I guess, Do you ever get embarrassed by things you wrote when you were younger, you wrote it 40 years ago? “No. That’s who I was. I love those who-I-wases. (swoooon) I worked on it till I was pleased with it. It still stands. (reads a poem). I liked that person. She thought she was a lot tougher than she was, but she got along somehow. Take your own side. That’s the hardest job of a writer. ”

“Things are different because, I’m not sure about the because. There were very few of us writing. in 61… the newsletter me and Leroi Jones put out had 114 names across the country, poets, painters, dancers, choreographers. Lots of indie bookstores and they all wanted 5 copies. Libraries doing special collections of American Lit. Now it’s harder. Why? I don’t understand the use of cyberspace as a publishing medium. I don’t get the shape of it and how the poem is with it. You have a book, that’s the poem in space. You have a reading, that’s the poem in time. I don’t understand what shape I am working with when I’m in there and in what shape things are cut. ”

Afterwards I gave some books away and Diane was so mobbed it was hard to talk with her but I will write her a letter. I did hang about to say thank you and to give her a tiny blank book (made from scraps of Burn This Press books). A guy came up and told me about Exit Press and someone else told me about the Brown U. bookstore and who to write to to send books for their small press section. Someone else invited me to the Lunada readings at Galeria de la Raza, which sound great… All the Divafest plays and shows look fantastic – it is a celebration of women writers. There is a pirate play and one about Eleanor of Acquitaine and it’s going on all this month – take a look. Also Diane runs weekend workshops periodically – I went to one in around 2002 and heartily recommend it – “hanging out and writing” was exactly what we did.

I unfolded my bike and rode the 5 blocks back to my car which was down 6th across Market – legs shaking and my right foot unable to really do its thing correctly and my hip aching fit to bust – But feeling very free and scared in the good way & as if I were cloaked in secrets.Taking my overcaffeinated self and sinus infection back to bed now for utter collapse as the sudafed wears off.

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Honoring Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ died today. I’m very sad. I didn’t know her personally but she was one of my feminist heroes, and I wrote back and forth with her a few times about her work. Now I wish I’d said more, written and sent the letter I was writing to her in my head these last few weeks… I had the envelope already addressed with a tiny book inside, waiting for the letter. Instead, I’m writing about her death.

I don’t know what to say. She was so important to me as a writer. I grew up reading tons of science fiction, history, literature, and poetry. When I was a teenager, I had a huge feminist awakening that most of what I read was by men, and that that wasn’t because men were just better writers. I began to go to the effort to look for women’s writing and their histories, in anthologies, in indexes of reference books, in bookstores, and when I got to college, picking classes based on the reading list gender breakdown. It was in my first year of college at University of Texas at a co-op overflow book sale where I saw a stack of Russ’s book How to Suppress Women’s Writing. I read most of it on the floor of the bookstore and then bought several copies for a dollar each and gave them away to people. I bought it for years whenever I saw it in bookstores (to give to people) and seems like I always had a few copies floating around my bookshelves. I read all her other work that I could find and was blown away by The Female Man and We Who Are About To…. Once I got to WisCon, and then even better once there were online bookstores, I read all of her work. I highly recommend What Are We Fighting For? as a thoughtful exploration of feminism and feminist practice.

book cover for how to suppress women's writing

But it’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing that means the most to me. Back when I was 17, a writer and already deep into researching and cataloguing women writers who I felt were neglected by history and literary criticism, it was absolutely life changing to come across this book that outlined *patterns*. Russ gave the methods of suppressing women names. She made them easy to recognize and name. That’s so important! From that point on I had a useful intellectual framework, a helpful bullshit-detector, that helped me identify bullshit as applied to cultural production in general. It helped my own identity, because I could detect the suppression techniques applied to myself and my work, and could better resist them. And it helped me to know how important it is to focus on, and support, other women, and to be in solidarity with them and with others in groups being suppressed by what I think of as intellectual violence, by underhanded, dishonest means. I felt like the need for choice and action, for active search, for being analytical and careful about my information feeds, what I chose to research as a scholar — so much of that stemmed from Russ’s little book. I’m so grateful for all her work, especially her funny, perturbing, weird science fiction — but I love How to Suppress Women’s Writing dearly for how it helped me when I was a young and angry woman. I built on that book and on Dale Spender’s work in writing my anthology of Spanish-American women poets from the turn of the century. And its central points motivated me to collaborate with Laura Quilter, archivist of the Feminist SF Wiki, kick-ass wikipedia editor, and really, another one of the feminist scholars who I deeply admire, with our friendship one of the mainstays of my life.

When Joanna conferenced in to WisCon, for an interview with Samuel Delany, I transcribed the interview along with Laura . We sat there feeling so emotional and I think grateful, and for me at least, I felt sad that Russ had sort of retired from the fray, but glad that she could, and happy that she sounded so happy. I am wildly enthusiastic and passionate about many things but am often in pain and exhausted and fighting to get through the day, so I feel like I understand more and more that that is just one thing that happens and probably is in my own future. I am sorry if that sounds weird or isn’t well expressed. What I mean is that I think that the expectations of all of us who love and admire her might have been a bit of a burden — when is your next book! answer your fan mail! why aren’t you writing something else! — And I am glad she put down that burden at some point and was able to enjoy the sky and reading and watching Buffy, her friends and family, and kind of kicking back. It felt like a good thing to incorporate into one’s feminism. That we can respect each others’ lives or spaces and things are not all about productivity, work, writing, fighting — what are we fighting for? The right for us all not to have to fight, really. So while I’m sorry she was ill and had chronic fatigue and other problems I’m glad she had the space just to live. I hope that makes sense.

I wrote to Joanna to ask her to copyleft How to Suppress, and let me keep it in print and put it online for free, so that it wouldn’t be disappeared out of history and young people’s serendipitous discoveries — and would be online and easily bookmarkable for feminist bloggers to use as a touchtone. She seemed to like the idea and put me in touch with her agent, but nothing ever came of it. If not me, I hope someone else will be able to keep it in print in a low cost edition, maybe Aqueduct Press or someone else who will give it the care it deserves. But I loved it that she was kind enough to write me letters and postcards and stay in touch.

It helps to read other people’s thoughts on her and how her work was important to them — I was comforted a little (but sadder) reading the long thread on metafilter today.

I know a lot of people i know are devastated by her death, when I think about it, I am middle aged now and am watching the people I grew up admiring, my heroes, grow old and die. I’m sad for us all…

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The Collected Works of Marita Bonner

I’m reading Frye Street & Environs: The Collected Works of Marita Bonner. Marita Bonner was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance who graduated from Radcliffe in 1922, moved to Chicago, and wrote a series of stories about a street of immigrants and African-Americans and their social dynamics. The short stories are pretty great, though very depressing, as the characters mostly come to bad ends; jail, the electric chair, social diseases, suicide, murder, soul-crushing poverty, rape, prostitution, adultery, boyfriends and husbands killing cheatin’ women, heart attacks from overwork, and a lot of babies who don’t get very good babysitters & grow up on paregoric syrup. They’ll definitely stick in my mind.

Here’s a list of the stories and plays:

On Being Young–a Woman–and Colored.–The Young Blood Hungers.–The Pot Maker: A Play to Be Read.–The Purple Flower.–Exit, an Illusion: A One-Act Play.–The Hands: A Story.–The Prison-Bound.–Nothing New.–One Boy’s Story.–Drab Rambles.–A Possible Triad on Black Notes.–Tin Can.–A Sealed Pod.–Black Fronts.–Hate is Nothing.–The Makin’s.–The Whipping.–Hongry Fire.–Patch Quilt.–One True Love.–On the Altar.–High-Stepper.–Stones for Bread.–Reap It As You Sow It.–Light in Dark Places.

I didn’t so much love the plays; not my thing. But it was interesting to read her stage and casting instructions which depend so heavily on casting someone of exactly the right shade of dark or light or bronze to express their character. A lot of the characters would fall into the category of “tragic mulatto”. Basically if you’re light with blond hair and violet eyes in a Bonner story, you’re out of luck and probably have several Social Diseases along with your silk dresses and bath salts (for the women) or handsome chiseled features and natty suits (for the men). Bonner tells stories about black people criticizing and fighting with other black people over social class and education, keeping her harshest criticisms though for people who are trying to be up and coming but who mistake expensive stuff for the way to do it. Other characters like Lee in “Hate is Nothing” have a sense of aesthetics balanced with their education and morals. Lee, like so many of Bonner’s characters, wants some excitement and escape. She goes driving off into the night to the nightlife of Tootsville, but instead of meeting a bad end she gives a ride to a lady in distress, helps bail her daughter out of jail, and comes home to hash out some of her issues with her husband and mom-in-law. Lee likes “nice things” but they’re presented by Bonner as being refined and artistic — silk cushion covers and a fine china tea set from Lee’s grandmother. I was relieved that Lee got a happy (if melancholy) ending.

“Black Fronts” tells two stories of social class from three different points of view. in Front A an extended family struggles through the depression by going on relief, having three families under one roof plus taking in a boarder, while one of the sons tries to keep up his status of being a lawyer along with his partying wife, Rinky.

You know Rinky. The skin of civilization which covers the black worlds has been erupting her type for years…. no back – no middle – all front… Rinky was one of those still so bedazzled with their own fresh varnish of diction and degrees that they cannot discriminate between those born to the manor and those born to the gutter.

Bonner just cannot stand poor Rinky and her husband and their pretensions but she has some sympathy for their worries as they lie awake at night thinking over how they just spent their last $5 on a bohemian party for their friends with sandwiches and booze – how will they eat, or live, and what happens when their creditors demand to be paid up in full? Rinky frets awake about how to send a dollar home to her mother down south (though even as she worries it’s more about her social position in dispensing largess than about responsibility or concern.)

Front B has a top and a bottom story. The top is in the voice of a maid, Mrs. Jones, ironing some napkins and needling her employer for not being as generous or having as nice stuff as another lady she works for. As she irons she is abusive to the children she’s there to babysit and plots out how to steal some napkins and sugar and vanilla (for the church and baking for the preacher!) while seething internally with resentment at her employer for not being a white lady, for not taking care of her own kids and doing her own dirty work. Mrs. Jones thinks of it as shameful to work for another black woman. The bottom of Front B is the middle class black woman who employs Mrs. Jones on the phone with a friend and in her internal monologue, frustrated and trying to carve out a little time for herself in the day (and failing). She especially hates how Mrs. Jones criticizes her for not having enough nice things, then steals the nice things she *does* have. Front B was one of the best stories in this book, with the internal and external monologues of each character perfectly set and perfectly mixed.

The hard workers and penny pinchers don’t fare any better than the social climbers, either because they die from overwork, their babies die, they get raped by their white employers, or because while trying to save their kids from poverty, they interfere with the course of true love or hold their children back from ambition. Or if that doesn’t happen, their children grow up to be slutty teenagers who frequent pool-halls and then there is inevitably a knifing and someone fries in the electric chair.

I also admired “Drab Rambles” which has a short preamble on the basic damage to people of color in the U.S. done by racism. “I am hurt. There is blood on me. You do not care. You do not know me. You do not know me. You do not care. There is blood on me. Sometimes it gets on you. You do not care I am hurt. Sometimes it gets on your hands — on your soul even. You do not care. You do not know me. ” “A check-mated Hell, seething in a brown body.” The story is told in two unrelated portraits. The first is of a 50 year old coal shoveller, Peter Jackson, at a clinic because of his bad heart. The second is of Madie who is trying desperately to keep a job while she has a little baby (also named Madie) to look after. Problem is anyone who will employ her for more than 5 minutes wants to rape her.

Madie second was black brown. The baby was yellow. Was she now going to go job hunting or have a sister or brother to keep with Madie second?
Cold perspiration sent her shivering in the alley.
And Madie cursed aloud.

I can’t say I exactly liked “One Boy’s Story” but like the others it will stick in my mind. The little boy Donald lives with his mom who takes in sewing from the white women of the town. The local doctor, white, has an affair with his mom, which everyone but the boy knows about. At some point she tries to end it and another man shows up, who looks to be her previous boyfriend or sweetheart, but when he figures out the doctor is Donald’s father he freaks out and leaves. The doctor comes tomcatting around again while the little boy hears his mom freaking out. He hits the doctor in the head with a stone and then while hugging his mom and crying afterwards, the pin of her brooch goes into his tongue AND HE GETS GANGRENE AND HAS TO HAVE HIS TONGUE AMPUTATED and everyone is a little bit glad that he can now never tell what he did and how he killed his dad. The end? Man that was gross and depressing.

I’m curious now to read more about Bonner’s life and to look at the work of her and Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “S Street Circle” of writers. I felt a bit sad that she stopped writing and publishing in 1941. I respect how she didn’t just write about the problems she herself faced as a fairly middle class woman with an Ivy League education. She dove into all sorts of intersectional problems of race and gender and social class. Her stories are eloquent and masterful in language & character expression, definitely worth a read.

I got this book out of a free box outside a little branch library in West Oakland along with a lot of other cool classics of late 19th and early 20th century African American literature and felt a bit sad too that the library didn’t have room to keep these works.

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Immediate housing needed in San Francisco

K. and her three kids need a small apartment in San Francisco as soon as possible. A one bedroom apartment would work. They’re looking for a rental or sublet through September, when they have housing lined up.

K. was the victim of domestic violence and called shelters in SF for months and months, to be turned away and told they don’t have room, to have intake workers promise to call her back and then never call, to be told over and over – NO ROOM. Call someone else. Government and non profits, passing the buck.

A San Francisco blogger, Tangobaby, has been helping K. by telling her story, gathering donations and help from blog readers, and calling all over the city along with her to try to find resources and help. It sounds to me like they now have enough donations to pay rent on a place. In fact, at this point they could pay the entire summer’s rent up front. But they are having trouble lining up a place to live.

What would you do if you were in her situation?

Think about a time you have had to go apartment hunting. And the uncertainty on – how is the landlord judging you? Now do it with 3 kids, one a 2 month old baby, while you’re homeless. And while you’re not white. Racism plays into this difficulty, I have no doubt of it.

I would like to propose that anyone who reads this who is in SF, contact anyone you know who owns a rental property. Talk to realtors who might know of landlords. Pull whatever strings you can to help out and contact Tangobaby if you have a good lead on a place to stay. And, here’s a wild idea. Might someone who might have an easier time renting, or staying with friends, or travelling – might they move out of their own apartment and sublet to K. and her kids for the summer? Or might someone with a big apartment who needs a roommate, take a roommate with 3 kids including a baby? Think about it, and seriously, ask the people you know if they can help.

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Ada Lovelace Day

I felt a little wistful as I thought over who to write about. I wished for a clear mentor or hero who I would have known about from childhood onward. Not many of us had that kind of computer science hero or even a childhood or teenage computer geek peer.

I admire the many women I know (or know of) who start organizations to give community and support to women programmers and geeks. People I admire from afar in Linuxchix: Val Anita Aurora for her excellent writing, Akkana Peck because I’m always stealing bits of her .bashrc file and I admire how she posts useful tidbits like that, Sulamita Garcia, Miriam Ruiz for being a developer also outspoken about sexism and misogyny. Desi from Devchix who not only is a leader in a great organization for women but who is such a good evangelist and teacher for Ruby on Rails (almost enough to tempt me away from Python and php). Angela Byron aka webchick who is so helpful and a great teacher for being involved with Drupal, too. All the women on linuxchix, ubuntuwomen, phpwomen, devchix, and Systers: you are my heroes!

Of developers I know, well, I don’t know that many. My co-worker Kirsten aka Perlgoddess, Kaity aka ubergeekchick (uberchicgeekchick on github) who writes and podcasts so thoughtfully about development and creativity, and skud aka Kirrily Robert who is a developer, a great blogger and good friend. My co-workers at BlogHer, Julie Douglas who taught herself php and Drupal, and Skye Kilaen who works with me on blog templates and problems (can debug a legacy Moveable Type template like nobody’s business!) and who runs All Access Blogging, which gives detailed step by step information on how to make various blogging platforms accessible to people with visual impairments. And my sister Laura, who as well as being a hilarious and fierce personal blogger who can express any emotion simply from inflecting the word “dude”, inspired me through sharing her 10 years of professional experience as a web developer in SEO, and by having more O’Reilly books about HTML, CSS, Java, and Javascript than I do, enough to make California slide off into the sea, and tackling the ever-shifting landscape of web dev head on no matter how much it makes a person just want to scream. And last but not least my fellow conspirator and BFF, Laura Quilter, whose expertise I depend on, running the back end of feministsf.org server, blog, mailing lists, and wikis.

Of other techy women I have worked with I would like to say a few things about women who either worked or learned from me. I look up to them too. Jasmine Davila, Olivia Given, Lark Baum all worked with me at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, doing web stuff, tech support on about 400 classroom and office Macs, twiddling with the servers, installing the physical wiring in tiny basement network closets and crawling through the ceilings wearing our headlamps, Flukes, and walkie talkies. They were so awesome. We all learned it on the fly, without any big attitude that we had to have a big attitude. We were not always pretending omniscience in a field where the range of things to know changes daily. We approached what we had to do as stuff to learn. That still inspires me a lot! I include in this category my mom, Karen Henry, who began asking me questions about the Internet in about 1994 and who ended up teaching classes on email, gopher, databases, and the early Web as a business and science reference librarian at the Houston Public Library.

Obviously I love and admire social media leaders and thinkers like Tara Hunt, all the women of She’s Geeky and BlogHer, but there are too many to list! All my co-workers, the bloggers on our site and in our network, all the social media experts and technophiles, I am honored to get to be part of these networks of thousands of women. And to all the relentlessly intelligent bloggers I know from blogging, feminism, and science fiction fandom like Tempest, Jen Cole and Aleja Ospina, Karen Healy (Girls Read Comics) and Robyn Fleming (Cerise and The Iris Gaming Network), Strata Chalup, SJ from I, Asshole, Sarah Dopp, and Debbie Notkin, thank you for putting your words out there.

For anyone who has ever sat down with me to hack on some code or who has made any sort of public technical blog post with code in it, I feel a deep sense of sisterhood and am very, very happy to know you. It is both sad and inspiring but every woman I have ever spoken to in person about coding, even the people I think of as light years ahead of me in knowledge and experience, has expressed feeling like they are not hackery enough to really “count”. As if in every thing we do has we have to prove our perfect technical competence for the honor of all womanhood. I try to fight this feeling in myself. Let’s keep fighting it and put more of our work out there even if it’s not “good enough” or done. And let’s keep supporting each other’s work and using peer mentoring and pair programming as much as we can!

(post for Ada Lovelace Day pledge organized by Suw Charman. Thanks Suw!)

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She’s Geeky conference this weekend in Mountain View

This Friday and Saturday I’m going to the She’s Geeky conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Take a look at the proposed topics and at the list of women coming to the conference! It was a great conference last year – really a blast.

She's Geeky conference

Thursday night there is a big She’s Geeky dinner get-together at Ming’s in Palo Alto, and I’ll be at that too along with my sister Minnie from Thank You For Not Being Perky, who has been a web developer for about as long as it’s possible to have been a web developer, and who also blogs for Indie Crafts Gossip and makes the most amazing spats ever.

I have a bunch of possible things I could speak on. I’d like to hear and talk about WordPress, php, Drupal, developing on a Mac, Ubuntu, and of course am always happy to talk about all the other things I generally end up talking about: blogging and general Web 2.0 stuff, social media, women, mom bloggers, feminism, anti-racism, disability rights and access, and science fiction and fantasy.

Mostly I’m hoping to meet other women who like programming. No genius hackers required. I am a little more low-key than that. I would not mind showing off my newfound stupid awk tricks, or how I am pretty good at coaxing information out of the del.icio.us api these days.

Likely I will spend some time teaching people stuff they want to know, sort of at random, or fixing their blog templates, because it makes me happy and I feel very popular when I treat my ability to do tech support as feminist activism…

Last year’s She’s Geeky conference in Mountain View was fantastic! I met so many people from the Systers mailing list and in general felt super inspired to be at a women-only geek conference!

Here’s some other conferencey stuff coming up for me this spring and summer. It’s a lot of events!

SuperHappyDevHouse

Not a conference, just a hangout. But really great! SuperHappyDevHouse30 is coming up Jan. 31 in Menlo Park. I always have a good time at these! I almost never know anyone there, and there’s usually like 1% women, but people are very friendly and I’m convinced this could be a great place to have regular geek girl meetups. It’s usually at an actual house, so I’m curious to see what the feel is like when it’s at Sun.

Potlatch!
At the end of February, in Sunnyvale, I’ll be at Potlatch, a small, bookish science fiction con that has Books of Honor instead of Guests of Honor. I’ll be on a panel about a book by John M. Ford, Growing Up Weightless. The other book of honor is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home. The con has only one programming track and is full of Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle sf geeks, intersecting fairly heavily with the WisCon (feminist science fiction) folks. L. Timmel Duchamp will be there, and Vonda N. McIntyre, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and a lot of other fantastic writers and readers.

ETech!
I’m speaking at ETech in early March on “DIY for PWD: Do it Yourself for People with Disabilities“.

With a cultural shift to a hardware DIY movement and the spread of open source hardware designs, millions of people could have global access to equipment design, so that people with disabilities, their families, and their allies can build equipment themselves, and have the information they need to maintain and repair their own stuff.

SXSWi!

I’m speaking at SXSWi in a “core conversation” about Open source and disability access!

Sex:Tech

And then at Sex:Tech about sex information and disability online, with Jen Cole from GimpGirl!

WoolfCamp!

Just recently Grace Davis emailed to say she’s thinking of holding another WoolfCamp, possibly at her house in Santa Cruz in April! I’ll keep you all posted.

woolf camp

WisCon!
The BEST. WisCon is the world’s largest feminist science fiction convention! End of May, in Madison, Wisconsin. The book I’m editing is about last year’s WisCon!

BlogHer – Geek Lab!

I’m helping to organize BlogHer’s Geek Lab, which will happen in July in Chicago alongside the regular conference. We’re going to have two presentation areas separated or curtained off, with projectors and seating for about 30 people; one for beginning topics and the other for intermediate/advanced. Slots for talks will be 30 minutes, with 15 minute breaks. The idea is that people can present on a topic and then commit to hang out for an hour afterwards to go in depth, at the area with tables in between the presentation corners. These “office hours” can go on while other people might just be using the space as a place to hang out with their laptops or get together to share information.

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Help out Richmond Jane Doe rape survivor

Does anyone have an extra working laptop or one that might be cheaply fixable? The woman in Richmond who got gang raped for having a rainbow gay pride bumper sticker is, well, is in dire difficulty. She needs help with housing, since the rapists have her home address, and she and her partner and their 8 year old daughter haven’t been back there. She needs a car (she was raped a lot in the old one and can’t bring herself to get into it). And she and her partner could really use a computer they could use to help them out in general .

I donated money via Paypal here:

http://tatasworld.typepad.com/were_here_for_you/2008/12/our-sister-needs-us.html

But I thought I could also ask around to see if anyone could help out with a computer.

Here is a news link
http://www.mercurynews.com/crime/ci_11309942

And here are some other bits of info if you want to use snail mail, contact the police, or verify the story with the local Rape Crisis Center.

If you would like to send a card, please mail it to:

Richmond Police Department
Attn: Sgt. Brian Dickerson
1701 Regatta Blvd.
Richmond, CA 94804

If you can send a financial contribution (even a few dollars) to help her pay her medical bills and other costs associated with her recovery, please mail a check payable to Community Violence Solutions to:

Community Violence Solutions
2101 Van Ness Ave.,
San Pablo, CA 94806
Attn: Mrs. Joanne Douglas

In the memo section of the check please write: Richmond Jane Doe

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SCALE conference: Women in Open Source

I heard about this conference, the Southern California Linux Expo, only because they have a Women in Open Source track. It showed up on my Google Alerts and on several of my mailing lists. Here’s their call for proposals to give talks.

Since I’ve never been to the conference I wondered what kind of talks they’ve had in the past. How can I know what to propose, otherwise? Or if what I might talk about would be useful (or hard core enough) to their participants?

I went looking to see what the past Women in Open Source tracks were like. Here’s the schedule for SCALE 2008, with links to the talks and participants. I would have gone to the Education panel, the long spam-fighting talk, community manager talk, open source mentoring talk, Building Websites with Drupal, and the women in open source panel discussion. The 2008 BOF schedule was posted too. I might have liked the EC2 and the MySQL groups! In 2007, there was a Women in Open Source mini-conference or track.

It is not so much that the topics are different in the years before there was a Women in Open sorce focus, but the fact they have bothered to take steps to show women’s participation makes me feel much more certain the conference will be interesting and I won’t feel out of place.

It’s nice to see someone doing it right.

If you miss OSCON because you’ll be at BlogHer in July, this looks like a good conference to go to!

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WOMPO First annual festival of women’s poetry

The WOMPO women’s poetry mailing list has had an amazing month on its bulletin board; all of November they’ve hosted The First Annual Festival of Women’s Poetry online.

Their (our) international section, Women Poets from Around the World, is notable for over 100 posts on Filipina poets, curated by Luisa A. Igloria.

I’ve also really been enjoying the Foremothers posts by Ellen Moody. She gathers up poems by women from around the world from the past, and helps us not to lose our history as women poets. I respect her taste in poetry a lot and her blogging (and emailing) is impressively thorough.

Thanks to Shayla Mollohan and the rest of the WOMPO team for all their work this month! And to the list, just for being there all these years. Mostly, I’m a lurker there. But I love that list, especially for their self-organizing principles and all the people who step up and do the work.

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In Celebration of Bitchitude

Hat tip to Jo Freeman, aka Joreen, who in the 70s wrote The Bitch Manifesto. I love this manifesto, and reprinted it in the 90s as a xerox booklet which I sent out over the riot grrl zine network. Later I read Jo Freeman’s more academic writing and found her to be an academic writer I could admire wholeheartedly; she’s right up there with Joanna Russ and Dale Spender. Her books on politics and the history of feminism are incredibly great. I recommend her newest book, We Will Be Heard: Women’s Struggles for Political Power in the United States if you are feeling politically inspired by the elections and want to keep your momentum going. On her website, you can read the full text of many of Jo Freeman’s articles on women, feminism, law, and politics. I talk about this sort of thing a lot: The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior; it is so nice to read it written up formally and coherently. Take a look!

I greatly respect that Freeman acknowledges her pseudonymous younger self, and her fierce & harsh manifesto, and doesn’t keep that side of her life in the closet.

Jo Freeman

The Bitch Manifesto still inspires me. Here’s part of its beginning:

Bitches have some or all of the following characteristics.

1) Personality. Bitches are aggressive, assertive, domineering, overbearing, strong-minded, spiteful, hostile, direct, blunt, candid, obnoxious, thick-skinned, hard-headed, vicious, dogmatic, competent, competitive, pushy, loud-mouthed, independent, stubborn, demanding, manipulative, egoistic, driven, achieving, overwhelming, threatening, scary, ambitious, tough, brassy, masculine, boisterous, and turbulent. Among other things. A Bitch occupies a lot of psychological space. You always know she is around. A Bitch takes shit from no one. You may not like her, but you cannot ignore her.

2) Physical. Bitches are big, tall, strong, large, loud, brash, harsh, awkward, clumsy, sprawling, strident, ugly. Bitches move their bodies freely rather than restrain, refine and confine their motions in the proper feminine manner. They clomp up stairs, stride when they walk and don’t worry about where they put their legs when they sit. They have loud voices and often use them. Bitches are not pretty.

3) Orientation. Bitches seek their identity strictly thru themselves and what they do. They are subjects, not objects. They may have a relationship with a person or organization, but they never marry anyone or anything; man, mansion, or movement. Thus Bitches prefer to plan their own lives rather than live from day to day, action to action, or person to person. They are independent cusses and believe they are capable of doing anything they damn well want to. If something gets in their way; well, that’s why they become Bitches. If they are professionally inclined, they will seek careers and have no fear of competing with anyone. If not professionally inclined, they still seek self-expression and self-actualization. Whatever they do, they want an active role and are frequently perceived as domineering. Often they do dominate other people when roles are not available to them which more creatively sublimate their energies and utilize their capabilities. More often they are accused of domineering when doing what would be considered natural by a man.

It’s nice to read this, to remember & honor my own bitchy moments for what they often are: strength. I think it’s good for all of us to honor our bitchiest sisters. Go ahead and think of the most annoying bitch you know. Measure her up to Freeman’s manifesto and consider what in her is admirable and powerful. It’s a good thing to keep in mind when you might be tempted to tear someone down. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice person; I strive for it myself — and still, for me, Bitchy is Beautiful and Bitchy is Powerful.

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