What I did on my Portlandia vacation
Hello from SUNNY PORTLAND! It’s gorgeous here. I’m enjoying scootering all over town, seeing friends, eating delicious food and loafing around with Danny.
I spent Friday with Selena and her awesome cute baby and her cat Funny. We talked about a million things and had coffee and doted on the baby. I do love babies!!! We talked about work and general stuff about our lives, feminism, children, and so on. I gave her a whole bunch of zines from Double Union. I also finished reading an academic paper on feminism and programming and culture clashes by my friend Luis Felipe which delved into many of the implications of the C plus equality parody/impersonations and similar instances of aggression by way of parody code. I look forward to its publication . . . I also worked on getting some of selena’s code up and running and we talked about ways to extend it for other uses and the indie tech/web decentralized-everything shift or course correction in how people are thinking about making tools these days.
Both the baby and I have saucy tshirts on. Mine says “Macho Pero No Mucho” and the baby’s says “Bird Nerd” as she is clearly destined to be a future birder like her parents.
Then went to the Mozilla office to say hello to Lukas’s Ascend Project students. There was not much time to do a lot other than say hello and drop off my stickers. They were making stuff with Webmaker and pushing/pulling/merging to their git repos. It looked like a lot of fun and like the class had good cameraderie. I talked with Dino as well about the upcoming Ada Initiative ally workshops.
Then got a cool email from the State Department. How often does anyone say that sentence? Weird eh? They have a delegation from Egyptian hackerspace organizers and teachers who want to come visit Double Union and talk about making hacker and maker spaces for women. This made me super happy!!
Danny and I then went to the Wieden Kennedy office which was hosting a party for the XOXO Festival. I have been in there before but only remember it dimly; it was very pretty. We hung out in the “Nest” which is hard to describe. The center of the building has high ceilings and walkways across it. On one of the walkways there is a hangout space with …. giant twigs all around it so it’s like being in a nest. The couches are fuzzy grey and and look like rocky outcrops with boulder pillows. It is 100% awesome. Robin and Dan Hon’s tiny kid sat on my scooter saying “vroom” for like, an hour and dinging the tiny bell on the handlebars. Apparently he had just spent a weekend recently getting to ride on tractors so his life is fabulous. He taught me the sign for “bike” and “motorcycle”. I not only like babies I really like tiny children (At least when they are not screaming or covered in body fluids.)
The rooftop party was also very relaxing, it was sunny, people were super friendly, I saw Tim and Pamela and Evan P. and Kanane and tons of other people I know while we ate, ok, the hipstery-iest ridiculous food: deviled quail eggs, chocolate covered (peeled) tiny apples on sticks, homemade marshmallows with candied lychee, can’t remember what else. Cocktail that tasted like a sweet-tart with dragonfruit in it which looked disturbingly like a tentacle. I enjoyed all of this greatly. The rooftop was decorated with tiny succulents (or epiphytes) in glass terrariums which reminded me of the brilliant design-critique tumblr Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table .
It was amusing that part of the “festival” for XOXO was going to different tech company offices. I would have gone to the Slack one but the timing didn’t quite work out. It reminded me a little bit of the vibe of BarCamp Block but less unconferencey and much more luxurious. At BarCamp Block we persuaded 9 different tech companies in downtown Palo Alto to let us use their office space over a weekend for our decentralized unconference. We made a mesh network specially for it. It was lovely… Anyway, XOXO felt very decadent. I have ambivalent feelings about it even while enjoying it greatly.
We then checked into our airbnb place and had dinner and took a cab to the Yale Union building where there was a night of video gaming and demos which sounded right up my alley but unfortunately the building was not accessible. Danny went up the stairs to scout for me, ie, to see if I should give it a try to go (painfully) up the giant flight of stairs while he carried my scooter, or, if he could find out if there was an elevator. Meanwhile I scouted around the outside of the building. There was a ground floor entrance with a phone number to call for access which implied maybe there *was* and elevator so I called it but it went to voicemail. After hanging out for a while at the foot of the stairs talking with friends I found that there was some bustle and consternation perhaps about no one knowing how to make the elevator work or unlock it or find a person who might have the key to it. From Danny’s description of the elevator it sounded like one of those murky freight contraptions that I should emerge from with a fog machine generating a cloud to make me look like a special super villain. We decided to move on to another venue of the conference, the main one called the Redd Building.
The Redd Building is gorgeously industrial. I liked the patio with its cubist-ish mural, awkward tables and mural-echoing sunshades. This whole bit of town reminds me of Austin from 25 years ago. Lots of brick buildings and patios and beer. Less trellises with xmas lights. (Are trellises with xmas lights on outside patios still a thing in Austin bars?) I gossiped more with Robin who told me about an ARG she worked on where you learned about art or art history by pulling off a (staged) heist from an art gallery and then forging some paintings. It sounded amazing! EVERYTHING SHOULD BE LIKE THAT. The actual talks did not appeal to me as I do not care about tv shows so i hung out in the pleasant outside patio with food trucks talking with people for a while then we went home & I realized I had been running on tramadol and coffee fumes for most of the day and collapsed into bed whimpering in pain and taking ALL THE POSSIBLE MEDS. My left ankle feels worryingly fucked up. I hope I don’t end up in a boot again. The pain is also intense down my right sciatica line-of-horror and messed up peroneal nerve but that will wear off over the next few days from the injection earlier this week, I trust. The other day someone I have known for a while went, “wait, are you actually in *pain*?!” Uh hahahaha yes. I thought that everyone knew that I am in constant pain and it is just an endurance game of how long I can power through it and stay good tempered and have intellectual focus. I also feel like I whine all the time about pain and exhaustion. Apparently this is less apparent than it feels. We should all have fuzzy red halos around us like in video games so it can be apparent who has the fewest hit points or constitution is low or whatever.
Morning renewed me somewhat, so with my trusty holster of fucking Tramadol by my side, I went out to hack some portals and find a nice cafe while D. stayed asleep which is his ideal vacation (and our usual pattern when traveling). I admired a lot of bulidings. I think bricks are beautiful. They often seem so human. However they were manufactured you know they were laid down by hand by a person and often by people who thought about creative ways to design a wall or a window archway or put a pattern with different colors or sizes of brick. San Francisco does not have a lot of creative brickwork. . . . I also just love the warm vivid colors of brick. Check out this stone and brick wall with a planter with horsetail fern. It did not have to be beautiful and yet it is! Someone loved it when they made it and it is clearly still tended well now. I like aesthetics that manifest appreciation and love in a space.
The cafe I was aiming for is called Commisary; its yelp reviews mentioned light and fluffy scones and good coffee. I have nto been drinking coffee because of my recurring gastritis but I figured this weekend I can go off the rails a little. Therefore, if I’m going to break my no-coffee rule, it has to be DELICIOUS coffee. The cafe has cute outside tables and a pleasant atmosphere. When I rolled up there was a step which made my heart sink a little. I can manage to over it but it usually just feels depressing or sad, it is awkward and a bit painful for me, and it perturbs other people who express their freaked-outness, worry, or discomfort with disabled people by acting very annoying towards me in a whole range of possible ways. I also have a sad alienated feeling like no one gives a fuck when I encounter a barrier like this even if I personally can negotiate the barrier because someone with different impairments than me will not be able to and no one cared to think about that. Steps are like a huge fuck you. Then… yay…. behind the planter there was a tiny ramp. This is actually a very lovely and clever ramp design. I’d like to see more entrances like this! The one thing that could improve it is a handrail on the “step” side for people who need steadying while going up a step and for whom ramps are harder than steps. My minor angst was assuaged. I felt very happy while enjoying my scone and coffee. It started to really feel like a vacation. No responsibilities and no one expecting me.
I had also scoped out another cafe that is INSIDE A BIKE SHOP. Oh yeah. I figured it was worth a look because often I can find perfect scooter or wheelchair accessories in a bike shop. I have also been looking for someone with decent machine tools to cut the bar that holds up my scooter seat back to shorten its distance from my back and lower it. Well, thank you Portland bike scene because Western Bikeworks is the most fabulous place. I didn’t try the cafe but I got some nice new wheelchair gloves, very dapper, and a cup holder, and a thing to strap around the scooter back to hold my battery charger while traveling. The sales people were all super nice. NO one acted like I was a weird intruder with astonishing never before thought of desires for bike stuff to bolt onto my wheelchair. One of the mechanics in their shop sat with me to have a look at the seat back. We talked it over and he cut some lengths of the metal bar off and drilled a new hole to hold the spring clip and set it all up beautifully for me. Thank you Doug, you’re a rock star! My chair is so much more comfortable now!
I’ve been talking with April from EFF and my friend Zach about holding another hackability night for wheelchair, scooter, and mobility/access gadget hacking and modifying, but this time at Bike Kitchen while also inviting bicyclists and bike mechanics. This should happen soon!!!
Though I am not heavily participating in xoxo I have a critical observation of it, beyond my usual eyerolling about lack of accessibility. I was expecting , and willing to put up with, uncertain or bad accessibility. The thing I didn’t expect is this: It’s been like going back in time for me to a tech conference from 15 years ago where it is a total sausagefest in a deep way. It is not just that there are way more men than women. It is that the men I’m meeting and talking with though they seem mostly quite nice and interesting, are talking to me and the other women around me as if we don’t do anything interesting, creative, technical, or amazing ourselves. I am spoiled by years of San Francisco and feminist activism and choosing to be in spaces where I am respected. But, I haven’t been treated like that or seen other women treated like that for many years in this kind of context. It is a pervasive assumption that I must be here to be a fan, or in a support role, or because I am just a passive consumer of whatever amazing things ‘independent tech” men are doing. You can’t fix this by inviting a couple of women on stage, at least, you can’t fix it right away. It reminds me of pre-2005 SXSWi and I found that just astonishing. What the heck. So, I feel like a time traveler or an anthropologist on Mars. I would far rather hang out on the fringes with non-douchey people. It is not even that people are horrible it is that their deep rooted assumptions are showing. It’s so embarrassing. They are only focused on themeselves or other men who they consider capable of being Important. How ludicrous! How sad! How much they miss out on! The harm to our civic creativity! The loss to society! The damage to the emotional and creative wellbeing of the women around them! As usual, that Marge Piercy poem comes to mind, where she realizes the sexism of male poets and philosophers and decides to go hang out in the kitchen instead where things are more interesting. I am sorry to make anyone sad by these observations but I gotta say it because like 500 women in various portland scenes will be reading it thinking YES EXACTLY ALSO WTF and I care more about what they feel and think than about hypotheical dudes being defensive or explaining how they cannot be sexist because they have a daughter and mean well, etc. etc. bingo, etc. etc. etc.
Quote of the day: “I have something to say about this whole “Maker” bullshit. I made a human. OUT OF MY VAGINA.” Now there is a creative endeavor. LOLZ!
This long chatty blog entry brought to you by my need to rest in bed for a good long while before going out again. To downtown Portland now to fool around and maybe go to Powells Books and have no real destination for a while. D. is having more of a day in bed as he does not feel very well (as is often true, of the two of us he is in many ways more impaired than I am ) And I think we will meet up in the evening at the Redd building and figure out what’s happening there, music, games, maybe wrangling someone to unlock that dammed freight elevator . . . . Peace out.