month I attended a tech conference in Wisconsin called Madison Ruby.
Now before I talk Madison Ruby it's vital to at least acknowledge the nature of my relationship with technology.
consider myself to have low tech literacy (relative to my age group &
global location). I've only been actively computing for 7 years &
I've only recently escaped the notion that I am “one of those
people” who just breaks tech devices when I come into contact with
them. (I'm further alienated from tech than most of my peers, so why
not make up a fantastical story about it). My partner is a former
tech writer recently self-taught web developer. For the past year he
has been constantly challenging the iterations of “I can't” that
circle through my brain and stumble out my mouth when I talk about
interacting with tech. Often I still think “I'm not smart/good
enough to use x piece of technology”.
partner and I had talked about whether it would be a good idea for me
to accompany him on the 7hr drive to Madison and hang out while he
was at the conference. But beyond a strong interest to meet some of
his colleagues and internet friends (who sounded cool from the
internet!) I thought the trip wouldn't be worth it. I'd have to find
some place to be and mill about Madison while he attended the
hours before my partner was
going to jump into the car and start driving, wile I was making my
now-famous cheddar apple baconscones, one of our friends and an organizer of the conference tweeted
: “ have one ticket to @MadisonRuby
giveaway. Tell me why you deserve it and I'll select the most
I bribed my way in with bacon and baked goods.
conference itself was warm and welcoming. When I saw that one of the
first panels was called “Anti-oppression 101” I knew that this
would be an okay place for me to be, even as an outsider. I did
struggle to keep up with some of the acronyms and terms in both conversations and panels. I decided to allow myself to skip a few
panels here and there and repeatedly told myself, “it's okay to not
get this and be completely confused”. I took a workshop the day
before the conference proper started and learned a few basics about
Rails (the framework for Ruby). But really this was all the
tech-context I had for Madison Ruby.
were two main reason I would duck out of a panel & hide behind a
book of poems or a freewrite. One was a feeling of being overwhelmed
with the unknown. It tooks lots of my energy to follow the threads of
certain panels. I like spending my energy in this way, but if
something is way outside my context it can be tiring.
other reason was about jobs and finance. Many topics were presented
jovially and lovingly at this conference. Chief among them was an
assurance that Ruby programmers will have enough occupational and
financial security to “Quit your job” because you know that “all
of Chicago is hiring” or that they have skill sets which which are
highly valued in our current economy. I am currently and indefinitely
being financially supported by my partner. It gave me pangs of
jealousy to hear folks speak so easily about earning enough money in
the field they chose to consider taking the risk of quitting. I assume that what was
meant by all this sort of talk was to assure folks that they should
pursue work they believe is most important (regardless of pay)
BECAUSE the field they are working in is stable and generous enough
to support such risks. There is something beautiful about this.
However, I have no real world access to such occupational stability
and sometimes had trouble connecting with these conversations on that
the final afternoon of the conference (Saturday) I was ducking out of
one of the more technical panels. There was an audio hookup from the
auditorium into the rotunda studio were I was hanging out. I was
half-listening & freewriting about jobs and tech when the raffle
(because of course there is always a raffle!) was drawn. Now to win
the prize for this raffle you had to be present (the rotunda studio
was about 200 ft from the auditorium). One name was chosen. The
recipient was not present. Again someone was drawn and they were not
present. And then. They called MY NAME.
bolted up from the table yelling “WAAAAIT” as I ran. I felt my
lungs empty in doubletime from the running and the yelling. There was
a light emptiness in my chest I'd not felt since grade school. They
were just about to choose another name when I bust into the
auditorium and ran on stage.
had won a $250 gift certificate from the most fancy cheese shop I
have ever seen! Buying this cheese delayed partner's & my exit time
the next day, but the 8.75lbs of luxurious cheese was totally worth
it. For a full account of this I have created a cheese tumblr.
sunday afternoon (after the cheese spree) as the car whizzed along
Hwy 94 & out of Madison's city limits I started crying
uncontrollably. Mostly quiet tears with a couple big ol' sobs.
Luckily I managed to tell my partner (who was driving) something to
the effect of: “I'm feeling sad and I'm just gonna need to be that
way for a while, nothing is wrong and I don't need anything, just to
was sad for lots of reason. Not the least of which was fatigue (the
conference was wonderful but socially exhausting). Mixed in there
were two clearly identifiable tragedies.
was leaving a community that I felt had so fully embraced me and my
voice, though I came to it as a complete and even skeptical
outsider. (happy tears!)
have never before experienced a career-/skills-based community so
well aligned with my love of imagination creativity and critical
thinking. More painfully, I don't expect to find such beautifully
supportive infrastructures in any of my chosen fields of work
(writing & activism).
of the things the conference told me, in practice and in words, was
my ideas and my story matter. The questions people asked and they way
they listened told me this.
due to the awesomeness of my experience at Madison Ruby I finally
want to learn to code. I am no longer afraid of picking it up. But
not because it represents any great passion for me. Mostly I want to
learn tech skills to gain greater access to an dynamic, intelligent,
creative community that is doing a ton of work that sounds cool but a
little out of my league (for now). I want to be able to participate
in more conversations next year at Madison Ruby.
invited to participate in this community event was such a privilege.
So many of the panels specifically sought to create more inclusive
spaces. Often citing that such diversity would be a boon to the
coding fields resources (not just a token). I was inspired. And quite
frankly, jealous. I know that this conference was definitely showing
off the best parts of the coding world but hot damn! I wish
communities for beginning writers were half as enthusiastic about
encouraging beginners. The camaraderie and colleagueship of this
community was so loving and I wish I could have kept some of it. I'd like to bring that into my own work.
invited to visit this community was an immense gift. It has given me
so much hope. It has also given me a sharper eye toward the massive
deficits of colleagueship every other career I have considered
suffers from. Madison Ruby and the Ruby community seem special.
They're special because they do a whole bunch of fresh and creative
culture-making. But they are also special in that our culture
currently rewards their work of culture making with financial and
ruby community is a privileged one. When I say privilege I don't mean
to accuse the ruby community of wrongdoing what I mean to say is that
Rubyists are often lucky enough to have financial and subsistence
concerns be less urgent in their lives and less deterrent from their
involvement & enjoyment in their work. This is a priviledge I envy.
year I came in to Madison Ruby a little bit nervous and afraid to
approach the experts with “dumb” questions. I was afraid that my
small knowledge base about tech would shine through as low status at
this conference. I was so afraid of this that I let my partner lead
more interactions. None of these fears were founded. Despite my large
gaps in understanding I never felt anything but welcomed and
supported Madison Ruby. I was occasionally confused by things, and a
little ashamed of my confusion, but nobody but myself sought to make
me feel shamed or less-than because of how much or little I knew. I
didn't need to be as afraid or nervous as I'd prepared myself to be.
have to come back to Madison Ruby because I want to get over my fear
of approaching, my fear of looking stupid. I need to come back to
Madison Ruby because the community is insightful. It's asking
constantly for relevant feedback. This is exciting it has the
potential to even be inspiring. And since I am in constant search of
inspiration the Ruby community seems like a place I want to be.