BlogHer Community Keynote – Geeky!

Here’s my post for the BlogHer ’10 Community Keynote. I’m still backstage listening to the other great readings! What a rush to read for over 2000 amazing, writerly, geeky women! I’m all like OMG Double Rainbow It’s So Intense!

What Is Geek?

Today I was washing the flowered handkerchiefs my sister made me . When the hankies got wet in the sink I could feel all kinds of slimy mucus on there. I thought, what makes mucus do that? What’s going on, chemically? Is there a scale of measurement to describe snot’s ability to dry up and re-slime? Must look up viscosity!

Later that day I spent hours reading about soil science. That led me to giant government web sites, maps, explanations of whether the soil in my area was firm enough for tanks to cross, or soft enough for mass burials in pits. I absorbed the beautiful jargon of the taxonomy of soil.

Then I had this weird flash, like time travel, where I was mentally telling all this to this girl Susan I knew in middle school. I could see her very kind but skeptical smile. This imaginary Middle School Susan sighed and said I was SUCH a geek. She said I was “like a boy”.

Another moment popped into my head. At BlogHer 05, when Mena Trott from SixApart stood up and started babbling about knitting blogs. I kind of freaked out.

I was like, OMG, CNN is here! I thought you were going to represent, and be my computer programming coder rock star and instead….you’re talking about knitting! How embarrassing! We were finally getting noticed as women doing stuff on the web not just as blog writers but as deeply technical women and now… knitting?!!!

I tried to suspend my judgement, persuading myself, “Well, women DO knitting and, women talking to each other on the Internet is inherently good, so, I guess it’s good they find each other there and talk about what they like, which is this trivial, stereotypical, embarrassing, girly thing, it might as well be talking about Barbies and painting our nails.”

I could see Mena knew she was being misunderstood and that the media was going to mangle her message. As I thought about this over the years, I understood the dynamic of what was happening. I’m so sorry for my ignorance and my misogyny. I was SO WRONG.

Now I know that knitting a sock is this AMAZING thing — like building a suspension bridge, a feat of engineering, and is like code in that it is … code…. but made out of physical stuff…. Textile geeks have patterns that are code that convey technical information. They reverse engineer and re-invent marvellous things, knitting coral reefs and digestive systems and enormous protein molecules along with socks and sweaters. Now I’m a knitting groupie. I signed up on Ravelry just to swoon over the textile rock stars.

As I washed my snotty handkerchiefs I thought about boys in middle school. While my being a geek made me “like a boy”, being a geek, for boys, meant they were called girly or gay. Being weird meant that gender norms could be used against us. For geeks who were boys and then men, I think this influenced and still influences a defiant need to define geek as male. Geek macho insists on hetronormativity, defines girls as a thing apart, claiming geekiness for manhood.

I’m not a knitter. But I do have SOME skill with string. I can play cat’s cradle and make string figures. Like hand-clapping games and jumprope rhymes, string figures are passed from girl to girl over the years.

It strikes me we could learn something crucial, as geeky feminists, from the pattern of how young girls pass on this knowledge, and how that is presented as gendered knowledge – as something “girls know how to do”.

Single crochet is just making a loop with your fingers and thumb, tying the same sliding knot over and over. It teaches the skill of maintaining tension on a strand. It’s a useful skill to make a weak cord into a stronger, thicker one.

It’s what you pay attention to.
It’s a stance towards knowledge and doing.
It’s about communicating knowledge and process.

I learned everything I knew about string from other little girls. Though I didn’t realize it, that was my introduction into geek sisterhood. Teach your geekiness, and pass it on. It’s what girls know how to do.

(posted originally on Dreamwidth – this is the edited version to fit it in under 4 minutes)

Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.