Just Shelley

A song on my 49th birthday

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I turned 49 today. Or, more precisely, I turned 49 this morning at 7:02am. I’ve reached the age where I’ve lived too long to die and leave a beautiful corpse. The the only other option open to me now is to live long enough to become a burden on society.

In one more year I’ll reach the age of 50, and then all the rules will have changed. I’m heading into a time when chest pain is cause for concern rather than a move to loosen my bra. Gone are the years where I was asked if I had any kids – now the questions drift more towards grandkids then not. I never thought I would miss the good old days when I’d have to to fend off issues of choosing not to have children (“Well, you still have time to change your mind”).

The middle years of twixt and tween, of being over 50 but before being old – dying before now is a tragedy but after is a blessing. If I were to die now, I would just die, with nothing much more than: “Well, it’s sad, true, but we all have to go sometime.”

And where is the taut, smooth flesh of yesteryear? Who snuck in and left this old, well, older woman?

I turned 49 today and in exactly one year I’ll turn 50. I will kill the first person to give me a black balloon and consider the time spent in prison worth it.

I woke up with visions of black clouds vaguely resembling balloons and I didn’t _quite_ kick the cat, and I didn’t _quite_ slit my wrists. In fact, my coffee tasted remarkably good this morning as I looked out at the clouds lightening to that silver grey, thinking how lovely they are. I’m not one to look on the down side for long, a trait that I seem to grow into more each year. Yes in a year I’ll turn 50, but what can happen in that year?

I’ll write a million or so words and from these a few will come together that I’ll read again and again and I’ll feel that deep satisfaction a writer gets when they know, regardless of what anyone says, they’re good.

I’ll have more chances to take the kind of photographs that when I look at them later, I break into a smile and I holler out loud regardless of who is around: Look! Look what I have created!

I will have another year to try foods that I’ve turned my nose up at in the past. It may even be raw octopus with suckers still fresh enough to grip the insides of my cheeks. I may not like it – I may absolutely hate it – but I’ll have tried it. There won’t be a moment before the end when I’ll think to myself, “I wish I had tried raw octopus.”

In the next 12 months, I may meet one or two people who will end up being a close friend for the rest of my life – or I may realize that I’ve already met the person and have just not experienced the epiphany of the act. We may be sharing a coffee or a beer and I’ll look at the person and think how lucky I am, how much richer my life is because I had a chance to get to know them.

Within these 52 weeks, I may meet someone who I become fond of, or even fall in love with. We could be sharing a laugh, and I’ll know at the moment when my mouth widens into a smile why the other is laughing, and this knowledge becomes an act of immense sensuality. Or perhaps we’ll be on a couch together, me in his arms, or him in mine, or even just sitting beside each other, watching an old movie and the very air will crack with eroticism more intense than anything generated from a strip tease or edible panties.

Or maybe I’ll watch that movie alone and still feel the sensuality of the moment; and experience the arousal that a good film, or book, or song, can generate when it touches you.

In 365 days, I can redefine who I am in 365 ways.

In 8760 hours, a lot can happen. And if in all those hours and days and weeks and months my dreams have not been met, and I’m lucky to reach 50, then I know I’ll continue to have time to meet them, or to dream new dreams.



Last night a massive late fall storm hit our area, causing flooding and even generating funnel clouds not far from where we live. Today the trees are stripped bare for the most part, leaves littering the ground like summer’s last soldiers felled honorably on the field of battle.

Except for one tree. One tree on the corner stands out for its stubborness and refusal to change, only just now starting to show rust among its leaves. I have a perfect view of it, framed within my office/bedroom window, and I watch it through the seasons, as it is the last to change for fall and the first to sprout new growth in the spring. I call it my Bird Tree because every bird in the neighborhood eventually spends time there. The predator birds seem to know this and many a time I’ve watched a hawk, perched on the roof nearest it, eyeing it intently, but too big to crawl within the tree’s dense growth. During these times the tree, normally a cacophony of sound, is blazingly quiet, as the other birds become aware of the intruder in their midst.

She who dares sings now does not live to pass her exuberance and spirit on to her offsping, and each new generation becomes more silent in the face of adversity.

Another storm also brewed in the dark of night, as I was catching up my reading over at St Louis Bloggers. Arch Pundit referenced an email he received from Earl P Holt III, a past school board member and current local radio personality. In this email, Holt wrote:

Some day, You sanctimonious n****-lovers will either have to live amongst them (“nothing cures an enthusiasm for integration like a good dose of n***s”) or else defend yourselves against them. My guess is that you are such a cowardly and pusillanimous lot of girly-boys, they will kill fuck, kill and eat you just as they do young White males in every prison system in the U.S. That’s right: When defending this savage and brutish lot, you must also consider their natural ( or should I say UN-natural) enthusiasm for buggery!

I was emailing back and forth with Joe Duemer regarding his weblog move and mentioned this letter, which he had heard about. I talked how I’m glad to be living where I am, where change is most needed, rather than in cities like San Francisco. Joe mentioned (and I hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing him here) about increased diversity in bigger cities as compared to smaller communities, because groups have to, perforce, learn how to work and live together because of the more dense environment.

I understand what Joe is saying about cities like Boston and San Francisco and New York – no matter how insular you want to keep your life, you will be exposed to diversity. However, I also believe that though there are commonly shared areas reflecting diversity, city dweller do not necessarily encourage this within those areas closest to home. In fact, cities tend to compartmentalize people into neighborhoods of likeness, from which there is little crossing of implicit barriers.

In Boston, a traditionally liberal city, one can traverse it’s three miles, and cross neighborhoods that encapsulate people based on economics, religion, and race. Run the Boston Marathon and you’ll see much of what I speak.

For instance, sections of Brighton where I lived were exclusive enclaves of the very well to do and rarely is there any color but white spotted among them. Other sections of Brighton are known for large populations of Russian born Jews. My section was split between both, and included funky Harvard students and the upwardly mobile. (Boy, weren’t those the days.)

When I was learning to drive, my black driving instructor tended to take me to a neighborhood he was most comfortable with: Mattapan. If I were an Irish Catholic, I would have been most comfortable in Quincy; as an Italian, in the North End.

True, there are no lines drawn around these areas, and there exists buffers, DMZ if you will, between each where all are welcome. You only have to walk through the Commons to see the rich ethnic diversity of Boston. Still, though, there is that like to like, and suspicion of difference.

(You would think that the online world is different in this regard because we are color blind to each other unless we choose to expose that aspect of ourselves. However, one only has to remember all the fuss and focus on Oliver Willis, the lone black at Bloggercon to realize that hidden from view does not equate to solution arrived at and time to break out the bubbly and congrat ourselves on achieving diversity.)

St. Louis is actually split about equally between black and white and I would have expected to see more diversity among the neighborhoods, but I don’t. In my current neighborhood there are some blacks, but not many. In other parts of the city that I’ve gone to walk, near the Mississippi river, I’ve been the only white among the blacks. I stopped these walks, though, not because I didn’t like the areas or because I felt threatened. On the contrary, I stopped because I felt I was intruding, a danger to the neighborhoods of the worst kind – a lone white woman walking about in a largely black neighborhood. The feel of people trying to be extraordinarily careful around me was oppressive.

Of course, when you read the email sent to the Arch Pundit from a good citizen of the community, or read my story about the confederate flag being proudly flown, we can see why the blacks reacted as they did to my presence – I was in effect, one of the hawks.



Change begins at home

The effects of my gender posts recently are starting to thread their way around, slowly but slow change is usually the most lasting change.

Julia Lerman posts on an article with the deplorable title “Why can’t women keep up with men in high tech”. Julia writes:

t’s more like this – most agree that in our programming world – at work, user groups, etc, there are about 10% women. Go to PDC or TechEd and that percentage of women drops to about 5-7%. Then look at the top layer of our own (conference speakers, authors, etc and that percentage drops to maybe 1-2%. Those are the numbers that are driving the question. Why aren’t there also 10% up there?

I checked the speakers list at ApacheCon being attended by so many faces we know and know and know. Of the 50+ speakers, two are women. Just two. There were a couple of photos of of guys with long hair that got my hopes up a bit, but it was a false alarm. However, I wasn’t surprised by this – women have traditionally steered clear of open source technology.

I also had a long and terrific email from a relatively new blogger, Ingrid Jones, who blogs at blogspot under the name, Me and Ophelia. Ingrid pointed out to me a London Times article about the use of rape as a weapon in the Bosnian war:

A week ago this newspaper carried a harrowing account of the children born to the tens of thousands of Bosnian women who were subject to what the United Nations later described as mass genocidal rape by their mainly Serbian captors. The report, in the Magazine, recounted how these women, perhaps numbering as many as 50,000, were held prisoner for months and raped repeatedly, often several times a day. Most, unsurprisingly, suffered permanent psychological scars. When children resulted from these brutal and unholy unions, most were abandoned at birth. They are the permanent legacy of a bloody and vicious civil war. Those guilty of these appalling war crimes, meanwhile, have gone unpunished. Today, some even hold public office.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a paid subscription wall. Does anyone have access to the material for Christine Toomey’s article A Cradle of Humanity that isn’t behind a paywall?

Update: Ingrid sent me a copy of the article in an email, of which I pulled the following excerpt:

“This will do little, however, for women such as Sahela, 46, now so frail she looks more like a woman in her late sixties. In the picture that she treasures of her handsome teenage son slouched smiling beside her on a sofa, she is totally unrecognisable. A few months after the picture was taken in 1992, Sahela’s 15-year-old son was beheaded in front of her as he begged Serb soldiers not to drag his mother away. After ordering Sahela to bury his body on the spot, the soldiers then raped her in her own home and did so again repeatedly after that in a rape camp, where she and other women were kept tied to beds. Sahela recalls how one young woman she describes as a noted beauty managed to break free from her captors and, crying out for her mother, killed herself by hurling herself through a closed upper-floor window to end the continuing torture.”

Finally, Liz at wrote a post clarifying the purpose of the blog in response to several people, including Anne of ‘purse lip square jaw’ who wrote:

Personally, I self-identify as feminist and was most marked by my riot-grrl phase (this also points to my age and girlhood inspirations). But I also like this Rebecca West quote: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” All of which is to say that I am interested in women’s experiences, and am happy to read more women’s voices on technology.

Given my firm conviction that there is no-such-thing as (the essential) WOMAN, I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t recognise myself – and all sorts of other women – in this weblog. What I mean is that, despite the explicit claim to represent many voices, I don’t see much difference on this site. In other words, the site content strikes me as pretty straight, white and upper-middle class.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. I am going to treasure this quote for some time to come.

Among other things, Liz wrote:

At the moment, I think one of the best things we’ve done is collect the list of names “misbehaving elsewhere” in our sidebar. It’s a wonderful retort to the “where are the women?” question. It’s an affirmation of the number of articulate women in the tech sphere. And it’s an incredible jumping-off point for seeing a range of women’s voices.

I wrote in a couple of comments:

As for the blogroll: I would still rather discover women’s voices because people link to their writing, rather than them showing up on a blogroll. There’s no harm in the blogroll – it is a positive thing – but that won’t generate change. As you’ve said, though, that’s not what you’re trying to do with this weblog, and isn’t a task you’ve asked for. You want to highlight women’s contributions, and that’s cool. Perhaps all of us should focus on that.

I agree with both Elizabeth and weez about pointing to the women on the right more and less to major publications and stories. These _are_ the women in technology – most of the other stories are about things and places far too distanct for most of us.

Then, we who read these stories should follow suit. This becomes a spark, a flicker of flame that allows Women’s Writing to grow beyond the shadows cast by far too many men linking in and among themselves.

Doc Searls, in response to the article It’s a little too cozy in the Blogosphere wrote:

This isn’t high school here. We don’t have to suck up to the popular kids, or try to be like them. If we want our blogs valued, if we want Google juice, we only have to try to say something worthwhile – meaning worth a link. It’s not a lot more complicated than that. Just a lot harder to understand than a popularity contest.

It is more complicated than that in this weblogging environment where Women’s Writing is concerned. But I cannot do much about what other people do – I can only control what occurs in this space, and therefore gently point you to these fine folk and write “Listen: they have something to say”.