“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” - Euripides
I don’t often use this space to talk about things as deeply personal as my thoughts on mortality and death, so writing this entry feels uncharacteristically awkward. Like I’m typing while wearing big heavy gloves and also juggling a badger. So. Bear with me.
I love trains. I am also, on a primal level, completely terrified of trains. This is why.
I am someone who has struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide for a nontrivial amount of time. I have good weeks. I have fantastic months. I have terrible days. I have worse years. Being honest with myself and the people I love about my current state, whatever it is, is one of the things that helps me navigate the most difficult (for me) part of chronic unmedicated depression: the fluctuation between OK and NOT OK. On the OK end of the scale, there’s a notch labeled “these feelings are hard but I am working through them.” On the NOT OK end of the scale, there’s a notch labeled “nothing is OK and nothing will ever be OK and I’m not sure how I am going to survive.”
The thing is that no matter where on that scale I fall at any given time, I can’t help but think about jumping in front of trains. Bart. Muni. Caltrain. Every single time. On every platform. With every pass of thundering metal. It isn’t so much that I want to jump in front of a train. It is more the realization that I could. The awareness that there is not a single thing stopping me from doing so other than my own willpower.
The dividing line between life and death is as monumental as it is flimsy and easy to cross. We are made of highly impractical, fragile sacks of meat that stand no chance in a fistfight with a rolling mass of steel like a train. Most people stick around through a combination of self preservation and good fortune. But anyone who has ever considered facilitating the demise of their own meatsack is acutely aware that sticking around also involves a heavy dose of self control.
Some days not jumping feels like a victory. A tiny battle won in the war against my brain. Some days not jumping feels like a failure. Most days I just want to use public transit without contemplating the fragility of my continued survival on this planet.
I’m really just recording this for posterity, because it feels good to have this visceral, intense feeling that I’m familiar with out in writing (I’m making words out of my feelings! Like a real adult!). Also, between last week’s Bart suicide and the ongoing saga of M’s neighbor’s suicide and resulting apartment cleaning nightmare these things have been on my mind lately. Now I’m left wondering how many other people have a similar relationship with trains.
When I first moved to San Francisco, some of the first people I met were ones who had hands in making big art. I was lucky. My first acclimation to the art and maker scene in this city was watching my (mostly new) friends build something insane and beautiful called Syzygryd. I was too new and too on the fringes to be involved in a meaningful way, but I definitely remember watching a steady stream of photos and updates come from people like Slim and thinking, “Wow. So this is how they make art in San Francisco!”
If I have one complaint about large scale performance or installation art in this city, it is that the novelty seems to wear off fast for those involved in building it. I’m thankful that I’m still new enough to this to be enchanted by the supreme weirdness that characterizes a lot of the things I help out with. But even I’m not immune. When I ran the Bad Reggretts Tattoo truck at the last Lost Horizon Night Market (along with the unstoppable Colin Fahrion), it was magical and exciting and fun, but even I was a little blasé. I have a phrase I use in situations like this. It’s called “knowing how the sausage gets made.” Once you’ve seen the process, once you know how these things get assembled… well, the final product can lose some of its charm. “Knowing how the sausage gets made” is another way of saying that you’re solidly “in on the joke.”
In San Francisco, there are a huge number of artists are who in on the joke. They get it. Doing something spectacular and complicated on a large scale isn’t intimidating. It is just what they do, and they are good at it.
So when I offered to help my friend Paige with her crazy idea to outfit twelve girls in stylized ant costumes to serve as passport agents for the All World’s Fair, I thought I knew what I was getting into.
You guys- I was terribly, terribly wrong.
Over the course of a few weeks, I went from helping buy fabric to sewing some pieces of our costumes to running errands to painting set pieces to stage managing a group of completely stellar performance artists who put on a highly coordinated and whimsical act. The whole time, I thought I was in on the joke. The whole time, I was thinking that I knew how it worked, and knew what I was getting into. Costumes. Performance. Set fabrication. Audience interaction. I have done these things before, and I thought I had a pretty good idea what the result would be. I’m willing to bet a fair number of the audience thought they were in on the joke too.
You guys- we were all so terribly, gloriously wrong.
What we ended up creating was something so thoroughly, profoundly magical that no one (audience member or performer) could have known what they were getting into. We created something so massive and multifaceted that I don’t think anyone could have seen the whole picture from one vantage point. We made something so unique and on such an unprecedented scale that no one, not even the ones in charge, could have possibly been in on the joke.
There were a few really special moments for me that I feel the need to record for posterity, even if they reveal a tiny bit about how this sausage got made.
- One of the few things that actually went wrong before the event was a can of paint that got spilled in the green room, effectively blocking the path that the passport laides had planned to walk out. People were freaking out, when someone (Sly?) came up with the idea of leading the ant ladies out the back loading dock door and entering from behind the line of audience members waiting to get in. The effect was so great that it turned into a part of our performance for the rest of the fair.
- Twice, we managed to get dangerously low on the nonsensical immigration forms that we were handing out. The first night we were saved by Simon, who showed up to the green room toting a stack. The second night we were saved by friend and roommate Reed, who showed up with an office box of forms he printed out minutes before. Both times, the group of passport ants descended upon them in joyous celebration, screaming “FORMS! YAY FORMS! GOOD FORMS” in a completely unplanned and spontaneous in-character display.
- After the passport ants sent the last group of ticket-holders inside, we were done and got the chance to explore the rest of the fair. Getting to interact with the other artists while still in character was a lot of fun, but what made it really special was when the invitation to “fall asleep” with the rest of the basement actors during the “ascension” phase was extended to us. I remember laying down in the hallway and one of the audience members coming up to me to “see if I was OK.” She poked me and I got to sleepily mutter something along the lines “Good forms… dreaming of good forms…”
So, thank you. To everyone. To Paige: thank you for being such an amazing creative force, and thank you for letting me collaborate on this with you. To all the organizers, docents, and crew who kept us on track and cared for. To Tatiana: thank you for being a true professional stage manager. To Rubin and Sly: thank you being our timekeepers and sanity-preservers. To the dudes on the Arbollax crew: thank you for helping us assemble our passport desks and signs. Thanks to every single traveller who loved or hated our heroic dose of bureaucracy, with special thanks to those who made a special effort to fill out their forms in creative and entertaining ways (though most of them got ripped up, your collective wit did not go unnoticed). Here’s a whole list of credits- every single person on that list deserves props and a personal cake delivered via unicorn.
Thank you. Thank you all for making something that made me question how in on the joke I was.
I’m really into documenting the living history of this neighborhood, and the alley I live on is a great example of that.
If you walk down Washburn Street not knowing what to look for, the alley looks like any other in SOMA. But just like LA has its Fashion District, SoMa has a fashion alley and this is it.
Let’s start at the top of the alley.
As you turn the corner onto Washburn from Mission Street, there’s a three-story building on the corner that is painted close to fluorescent yellow. The first story is plastered with a gigantic mural that has against all odds survived without being majorly tagged. This building is home to Native Graphix, a screen printing shop that is staffed by volunteers from the at-risk youth program it shares a floor with. They will print anything for a fee. Come in with your design and a week later you’ll have a stack of freshly printed shirts.
As you continue down the alley, you’ll hit Kryolan. Kryolan is a makeup company based out of Germany, but they have a small storefront and production center on Washburn Street. You would be hard pressed to find a drag queen in San Francisco who doesn’t have at least a few jars of Kryolan’s beard-covering wax in their kits. A lifetime supply of Kryolan makeup was even provided as a grand prize for the televised drag queen competition “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” A large chunk of that makeup probably came out of this behemoth white and blue warehouse.
Right after the halfway home on the middle of the block you’ll find the crown jewel of fashion alley. If the big warehouse roll up door is shut you would probably walk right past it. The only clue about what is inside is a faded stencil on the door that reads “SAN FRANCISCO OPERA COSTUME SHOP.” This is where the ornate costumes for the San Francisco Opera are born. Yards of silk and bags of sequins enter this industrial looking shop and emerge as glittering pieces of art. If you’re lucky you can catch the crew on days when they’re loading out for a new production. It isn’t often you get to see a rack of period costumes rolling across the sidewalk that is usually strewn with broken glass and discarded syringes.
The last part of the tour isn’t especially remarkable, however it is an oddly appropriate contrast to the opulence of the costume shop. Located directly across the street from the gems and flash of the opera costumes is a drab looking warehouse. The front of the building is a sewing machine repair shop, and then the warehouse in the back is what I lovingly refer to as the sweatshop. When the roll up door is open you can see why. Rolls of cheap fabric stacked four high often fall out the door when one of the workers emerges for a cigarette. Tiny asian women hover over rows of sewing machines as shirtless men walk across work tables cutting parachutes of fabric down to manageable sizes. The racks towards the front of the shop reveal that what they’re making isn’t destined for the runways of Parisian fashion houses. These are the types of garments destined for the dollar store. Cheap, utilitarian, simple. They also seem to do a good business doing outsourced sewing for local designers, judging from the stylish women that occasionally swing by to pick up big bundles of dresses and coats.
So, now you know a little more about my alley. I’m hoping to do a few more entries like this in the future. Also now when I start to go on about the hidden identity of my alley, you can tell me to shut it because you’ve already read about it here. Hooray!
This is a repost of a short blog entry I contributed to the fine folks who run The Edwardian Ball, a yearly event that describes itself as an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author Edward Gorey. You can find the original post here.
This year I’ll be wearing black to the Edwardian Ball.
Now, this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. Anyone who has taken a cursory look through my wardrobe can tell you that I make my way through life clad in varying shades of black and ash. Every once in a while I get really crazy and throw a streak of crimson into the mix. This has led to an occasional, incredibly specific sort of cat call when I’m out in public. “Hey babe,” I’ll hear someone shout on the street corner. “You going to a funeral or what?”
Well, if anyone asks me that while I make my way to the Edwardian Ball, I can confidently reply that I am. Why? Because for me, the Edwardian Ball is my own personal funeral for Boring.
There is no other city on earth and no other community I can imagine as vivacious and creative as what I’ve found in San Francisco. The Edwardian Ball serves as a perfect stage of all the whimsy, decadence, and playfulness I’ve come to love about living here. I can’t think of another event or another place on earth that has done such a thorough job of banishing boring from its boundaries.
For me, boring died years ago when I decided that I wanted to live in a city full of weirdos, artists, game changers, and troublemakers. Boring really needed to die. Boring brought complacency and blandness to my life. If I had kept boring alive for much longer I might have stayed in my sleepy hometown. If I had kept boring alive I probably would have scoffed and rolled my eyes if someone described an event like the Edwardian Ball to me.
This year’s Edwardian Ball is an especially important funeral for me. Over 2012 I lost a lot of things. Relationships, family members, and friendships died both literally and metaphorically. I’ve recently found myself wishing I could resurrect boring and go back to another place and time where things were calmer.
Then I thought about it and realized that dancing until dawn surrounded by circus performers, ballroom dancing, and ladies clad in corsets sounds like a much better time.
don’t mean for this funeral to be a somber affair. Quite the opposite, actually. This funeral is far less of the lily-scented, sobbing-into-a-tissue event and more of a raucous, joyful, sazerac-soaked jazz funeral celebration of a life without boring. The Edwardian Ball is where freaks of all flavors come out to shove boring across the river Styx. This is where we come to put on our dancing shoes and ring boring out from our lives with dancing, singing, laughing, and aerial-silk-swinging.
You don’t have to dress in your finest to attend this funeral. You don’t even have to wear black. Your attendance and participation is your way of paying your last respects to boring. By attending, you are also solidifying your place in a community so vibrant and rich that there is no chance of boring ever rising from its grave.
Come with us and dance upon the grave of boring. I’ll be there, wearing black.
San Francisco State University is a fortress of academia painted in grey. Concrete buildings and foggy skies run seamlessly into another. I see the same starkness in the faces of most of the people I pass on the grounds. I often feel overwhelmed. I usually feel like I am swimming alone through an ocean of living granite slabs. They are there, spending their parents’ money on a degree chosen because of its potential to earn a salary. I have chosen an altogether different path. When I decided to pursue a Journalism major, obviously affluence was not a goal. This commitment to a modest income was further confirmed when I chose to round out my education with a minor in Philosophy.
Today I walked back onto this campus. Today was the beginning of the end. Today I started my last semester as an undergraduate.
Today, I wore heels.
These are not “fuck me” heels. If anything, these are my “I am not fucking around” heels.
It may seem like a trivial thing, but choosing to wear heels was a something I put a fair amount of thought into. At least, slightly more thought than I usually put into footwear. When I wear heels, it changes me in a measurable way. I am forced to stand up straighter. I am made to think about how I am placing my feet. I have no choice but to walk with purpose. I am a chronic speedwalker, but heels force me to slow down and compose myself, lest I tumble onto the pavement in front of a crowd.
Though this isn’t the first time I’ve stepped onto the SFSU campus by a long shot, I realize that a new semester affords a certain opportunities to make a good impression. Now, understand that this doesn’t mean I am terribly concerned with what others think of me. Instead, I am more concerned with setting the bar for myself that I will try and meet throughout the rest of the semester. And damn it, if I can drag myself out of bed and trudge all the way to Parkmerced on a Monday morning while wearing heels, I damn well can complete this semester with flying colors.
The only impression I’m concerned about making is the one I make on myself when I look in the mirror in the morning. And when I wear heels, I see someone powerful. I see someone who looks like they are in control. I see someone who looks elegant. I see someone who is determined. After spending about two months being berated on the internet because of my work on confronting harassment at hacker conferences, I don’t feel as powerful or in control as I once did. As I face graduating and the inevitable plunge into a volatile and competitive job market, I feel as it my determination may be wavering. There are other factors that have been slowly eating away at my resolve over the last few months that I don’t feel like talking about on this blog. Suffice to say anything that helps me find a little strength is a welcome thing.
And today? Today that little bit of strength came from a fantastic pair of heels.
So, hello again!
First off, I want to start by thanking every single person who read my last blog entry along with every person who took the time to comment, share it, retweet it, of send me a note of support via twitter or email. Right now it has been viewed over 10,000 times. I’m still having a difficult time parsing that. Considering Defcon was attended by roughly 15,000 people last year, I feel like maybe, just maybe, the people who needed to see it most read it.
The last few days have been incredibly unreal. I’ve been approached at HOPE by people asking me “are you the same girl that wrote the blog about sexism at Defcon?” I’ve had some i ncredible discussions about male privilege and geek social fallacies.
The response has also been overwhelmingly positive. Yes, I have received some disheartening comments. Yes, I have been told that I’m being a bitch. I have been told that I need to grow a thicker skin. I have been told that I’m just trying to ruin everyone’s fun time. And yet for every one of those comments, I have about five coming from women saying thank you. For every comment that tries to devalue the work that I’m doing or the discussion that is happening, there are so many more thanking me for taking this on.
But you know what the coolest response has been so far?
@KdotCdot Don't sweat the price, as long as it is reasonable I will pay for it. Love the idea.—
The Dark Tangent (@thedarktangent) July 13, 2012
When the founder of the conference you are writing about is willing to support your project to address sexism at his con, you know you’ve done something right.
The morning after I also woke up to an email inbox full of financial support. My humble plea for a couple bucks (that, at the most I had expected to amount to about $200) had netted me a whopping $1,000. I am still floored by this. You guys have enabled me to print all the cards that I wanted and more. Expect to see images of this year’s versions in a few days. I am currently brainstorming the best way to spend the money since I estimate there to be a fair chunk left over after printing. Perhaps I will make snarky tee shirts for the ladies of Defcon, as seems to be the style of the times. At the very least I may simply donate what is left over to a worthy cause- if anyone can recommend a good nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in technology or engineering, now would be the perfect time to suggest it!
Because of the amount of cards I am now able to print, along with numerous requests for cards to use outside of Defcon, I’ve also made the decision that this year’s run will be a more generic calling out of sexism (as opposed to last year’s which had Defcon-specific language).
There are also some things that I want to make painfully clear. Mostly because I am seeing them again and again as rebuttals to my project. I am not trying to speak for every woman at Defcon. I am not trying to speak for the behavior of every man at Defcon. I am not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, and I am not interested in ruining anyone’s time at Defcon. I am not a big bad, huffing and puffing feminist. Actually, I have problems identifying as a feminist at all. I am just trying to share an experience I had last year that left me profoundly pissed off. Pissed off because I know we can all do better.
Also, please, PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, stop telling me to simply not go to Defcon if I don’t want to deal with this kind of behavior. That is a cop out of epic proportions. It is an attitude that devalues women in this scene that only serves to keep us invisible. Yes, there are women who chose to not go to Defcon because of the bad behavior of men there. That is a fucking tragedy. When we lose the input and skills of any talented hacker, engineer, maker or programmer, we are all worse off for it.
Finally, because it is so fucking appropriate right now, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite Geek Social Fallacies of Sex from the always on-point Cliff Pervocracy. If you haven’t read the original list of Geek Social Fallacies, now would be a good time to brush up. I can promise that if you are interested in talking about these issues, you will encounter at least a few of them in discussion.
GSFS 3: Cool chicks don’t worry about sexism.
This isn’t exactly a sex thing but God does it plague some geek circles. I know because I’ve been the cool chick. I’ve played the “don’t worry, I’m not like those other girls, I’m not into gossip and drama” card; I’ve played the “well, you have my permission to objectify me, because I take it as a compliment” card; I’ve even played the “that mean lady was such an uptight no-funster for having boundaries” card.
Those cards are the fuck out of my deck now. And I’ve paid the social price for that. There’s definitely some people in my circles who’ve put me in their “uptight no-funster” mental box since then, or who deliberately bait me about “watch out, Holly, I’m going to patriarchally oppress you!” because ahahaha she’s an angry little lady isn’t that cute.
I don’t blame a woman who sees this go on, decides she wants friends more than she wants to start fights about some abstract problem that doesn’t seem to affect her personally, and starts telling her male friends not to worry, they can be sexist around her, she’s cool. The problem isn’t her. The problem is all the people who made it so much easier and more pleasant for her to be a “cool chick” than a woman who gives a damn how people think of her gender.
GSFS 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about.
Drama’s never fun, but it beats the fuck out of suppressing real issues. In my time in geek circles, I’ve seen reports of sexual harassment and even outright assault silenced with “well, I don’t want to make drama” or “but whatever, that’s just drama.” A woman in the group is a sexual predator? Gosh, I don’t spread gossip. A man needs to be disinvited from parties because he’s repeatedly threatened people at them? No, kicking him out would make a scene, it would make drama.
In geek sexual communities, the illusion of smooth functioning and of everyone being bestest friends with everyone can supersede people’s needs for comfort and safety. A lot of this has to do with the “Ostracizers are Evil” non-sex GSF, but it gets worse when you add sex to the mix, because defensiveness about our non-traditional sexuality suppresses important issues even further. Like, if you admit that people violate boundaries in BDSM circles, then you’re admitting that BDSM isn’t a perfect haven of consent and negotiation, and that’s just going to play right into the mainstream idea that BDSM is abusive! So we end up defending abusers to prove BDSM isn’t abusive.
“Drama” is a trivializing word. Let’s try “conflict,” instead. ”I don’t want to treat him any differently just because he gets a little handsy with women, that would cause conflict.” It doesn’t sound so superior and level-headed now, does it?
Stay tuned for more dispatches from the battlefields of male entitlement.
I am currently writing this post from an airplane in the sky. This airplane is hurtling me at hundreds of miles an hour towards New York City, where I am excited to be attending the ninth incarnation of HOPE- Hackers On Planet Earth. This will be my first time attending, as well as the first time I’ll be visiting New York as an adult. This will be the first of two hacker cons I’ll be attending this summer with Defcon being the second in a few weeks.
Because I am a Very Bad Adult, I finished packing my bags at a completely unreasonable hour of the morning last night. While I was deciding what clothes to take with me to New York, something dawned on me; I was already thinking about what clothes I would avoid taking to Las Vegas for Defcon. Short skirts, low cut tops, tight dresses, and anything that might be overtly attention-grabbing have been bumped to second priority on that packing list.
Why? Please, I invite you to find any woman who has attended Defcon for the answer. Go ahead. Go ask one. I’ll be here.
Are you back?
For anyone who wasn’t able to immediately find a female Defcon attendee, I will let you in on a not very well kept secret. Defcon is hell for women. Defcon is also many wonderful things. It is a fantastic environment to learn, network, and connect with friends old and new. But I’m not here to talk about that. There are plenty of other people who have been going to Defcon for longer than I, and who have gained more from it, who are infinitely more equipped to speak about it’s strengths as a conference. All I can speak to is my somewhat jarring experience last year, the first time I attended.
Let it be known that I went to Defcon with a reasonable amount of armor on already. I was reasonably aware of the frat party environment I was stepping into. I have many friends who are involved with helping make Defcon roll smoothly each year, from speakers to goons. And still, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of bad behavior I experienced.
Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo. Like the man who grabbed my hips while I was waiting for a drink at the EFF party. Like the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff (I do not have words for how slimy it is that the official security staff were in charge of what was essentially a competition to get women to show their boobs). Or lastly, the man who, without prompting, interrupted my conversation and asked me if I’d like to come back to his room for a “private pillowfight party.” “You know,” he said. “Just a bunch of girls having a pillowfight…. fun!” When I asked him how many men would be standing around in a circle recording this event, he quickly assured me that “no one would be taking video! I swear!” I’m pretty sure this is the point where my lovely partner Morgan asked him if he thought propositions like his had anything to do with contributing to women not feeling welcome at Defcon. This was a very difficult concept for this poor soul to wrap his head around.
After that last interaction, Morgan and I ran into one of his kiwi hacker brethren. In a huff, I told him about Mr. Pillows. Being of the Rugby-watching persuasion, he jokingly mentioned the idea of being able to hand out yellow and red cards to the men of Defcon who crossed boundaries.
So I went back to my hotel room and made these two cards:
They ended up being quite the hit! My tweets with links to the .jpgs went viral on the #defcon hashtag and they apparently got circulated on some internal goon mailing lists. I knew I had done well when a woman who I had just met excitedly told me that there was “some girl who had made these awesome cards to deter creepers.”
I know I’m not alone in being frustrated with the climate at Defcon. Last year at Deepsec in Vienna, I met a fantastically intelligent woman developer who flat out refused to attend Defcon because of interactions like those listed above. I can think of countless other women I know in the tech industry who are regular Defcon participants and speakers who are just as fed up with this crap as me. I wonder why we’ve all been so polite about such an unhealthy atmosphere.
I ended up not being able to do a print run of the cards last year because of time and money constraints. However, this year I am making a new run of actual physical cards! The original ones, while they were great at the time, were thrown together quickly with Gimp. This year I’m going to update them slightly so they look nicer. Mostly, I want something that women will feel eager to hand out should the need arise. I think this is an incredibly playful and relatively non-confrontational way to engage with behavior that women at tech conferences are all to eager to simply shrug off.
That said, I am a poor student. My budget for Defcon did not include setting aside extra funds to print up cards to ward off douchebags. So, as it stands, I might only be able to print up 50 of each color. I estimate this to be roughly enough to sustain myself and one other female friend through a handful of days navigating the waters of poorly socialized nerds. If you are a woman planning to come to Defcon this year and would like a stack of your own, or if you would simply like to support women taking a small stand against the exhaustive sexism at tech conferences, now would be a fantastic time to kick me a few dollars via paypal (my address is [REDACTED]). I am not interested in making money off this. I am just interested in making as many cards as I need to.
Regardless, I am excited about Defcon. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about getting the chance to hand a few of these bad boys out.
Edited to add: There seems to be a bit of confusion on the twitterverse. The images above are low res examples of what I made last year. I am currently working on nicer higher res images for this year’s cards. Keep in mind, when I mocked up last year’s cards they were never going to end up being printed because I didn’t have time or money. You guys have already come through in a big way with donations so you’ve already ensured that what I make will be 100x more badass for this year’s Defcon.
One more edit: Holy shit you guys. There is over 1,000 in my paypal to do this. Overnight. Please don’t send me anymore money! You’ve totally rocked it.
One final edit: Defcon is over, cards were made and distributed, and you can read my final rundown of the project here.