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Hackathon Virgin

I’m doing my first hackathon on Sunday at the ACT-W Portland event, hosted by Girl Develop It Portland. And true to form, I’m jumping right in and leading a group.

I’ve never done a hackathon, but I’ve hacked together solutions for live websites between 10pm and 4am enough times; I figure that qualifies me for the gig.

Reasons I’m so excited:

  • I rarely get to code with other women, and this is an entire day of women cranking out cool stuff.
  • Usually when I code under pressure, the stakes are really high. Here, the worst case scenario is that you don’t get the coolest prize.
  • The folks running this hackathon are dynamic, smart, and open-hearted.
  • I’ll get to step forward and help other women get interested in tech, and (I hope) help them overcome the intimidation factor.

Watch our event unfold in real-time by following #gdiportlandhack15 on Twitter.

Get a Move On

I’m moving. Next week. To the opposite corner of the country.

So basically right now my mojo is like this:

Beaker Freaking Out

And so far, 2015 has not been the vessel of hope and sanity that I was counting on. Not that I’m complaining; I think there’s good stuff going on, but it’s “good stuff” of this variety:

Guardian Angel

“Good stuff” that involves feeling kicked in the head, gut, or groin, or some combination of the three. Where even the genuinely good stuff feels sorta awful because, “Hey! Look at all these wonderful friends and experiences! I’m going 3,000 miles away now kthxbai.”

Then there’s the fact that I turn 37 this week. Thirty-seven, folks. I’m never one to gripe about getting older; as my buddy Pitbull says, “Any day above ground is a great day.” I remember that. But also:

Age I Am Now


Still, one is always reminded of how fortunate one is, really, and so one squares one’s shoulders and repeats the immortal words of Mindy Kaling:

LipglossSo hey. I’m moving across the country next week and I am super. Psyched.

Pass the berry lipgloss.

Life, Death and Haircuts

Sometimes hair symbolizes life and death. Sometimes it stands in for our hopes and our fears.

Sometimes it’s just hair.

I got my hair cut last Saturday, and the experience has highlighted my three principles of an elegant life, about which I am shortly to pontificate. But first, a comment on the power of writing (in general) and blogging (in particular).

This past summer, a Brad Feld article triggered my blog reboot. I wrote several blog posts, including one announcing my intention to pursue an elegant life, and one post each to outline the three principles I intended to follow. Within two months, I had put in motion a drastic change from my previous plan — instead of moving from Clearwater across the bridge to Tampa, I’m now moving from Clearwater to Portland, Oregon. 25 miles vs. 3,000. The why’s and wherefore’s of Portland shall be discussed in another post, but I credit this shift in no small part to the power of stating my intentions clearly to myself and announcing them boldly to others.

“I write to think,” Brad Feld wrote.

Light bulb. I’ve been writing to think, and damned if it isn’t working.

So. Back to hair. My experience of getting a haircut profoundly changed after I had cancer. I didn’t mind losing my hair because of chemo; quite the opposite. I had always wanted to shave my head, and now cancer had cut through my hesitation. Bzzzzzz. I never wore a wig, and I wore hats more to keep my head warm than to disguise my baldness. But after treatment, once it grew back, I understood that hair is not an inalienable right. Hair is a privilege. A privilege of health.

When my hair first grew back (and it grew back quickly), it was deliciously curly. I loved it.  “Your hair is growing back!” friends would exclaim. “And it’s curly!”

“Most expensive perm ever,” I would joke.

As is so often the case with those post-chemo curly tresses, mine eventually began to grow back in the way it used to: still thick, but almost completely straight. I saw what was happening, but I didn’t want to lose the curly bits, so I just let my hair grow… and grow… and grow…

A year ago, I had it cut to shoulder length. It was lovely, but then a lot of other things happened, and I didn’t bother with my hair for many months. In part, I just didn’t have the energy for it. In part, I didn’t want to put scissors to the symbol of health and life. Lymphoma took my hair once. Lymphoma took my father forever. I had hair. I didn’t have lymphoma. Let the talisman remain untouched.

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
-Mary Oliver

On Saturday, I got my hair cut, by the same wonderful stylist who, four years ago, had shaped my newly grown post-chemo curly hair into the best haircut I’ve ever had in my life. This past Saturday, Bryna looked at the pictures I’d gathered, and worked her magic on my now-very-straight hair, and I was instantly in love with the new style.

The next day I got up and did my normal routine: wash my hair, rub in some product, forget about it. An hour later, I looked in the mirror to check out my amazing new haircut.

I abhorred it.

Awful, awful hair, that made me look like a dweeb and feel like an idiot. I spent the day in a savage mood.

This unexpected outcome of my vanity check brings me back to my three principles of elegant living:

  1. Release obstacles. I’d done this on Saturday by letting go of the old hair, the tired old look I’d defaulted to for the past several months. The security blanket. But I hadn’t yet begun to…
  2. Cultivate attention. My long hair was a hassle: time-consuming to wash, impossible to style well, annoying when I wanted to do yoga. And constantly shedding, so that every day I would have to pluck out one or three or five long hairs, embedded in my clothing, that were tickling and annoying me. No more! I had to give my hair some attention. Monday morning, I broke out the hair dryer and tried reproducing Bryna’s magic from Saturday. It didn’t turn out as well as her handiwork, but it looked good. Very good. Great, in fact. I was in love again.
  3. Reduce debt. As I’ve explained, my understanding of debt is broader than money alone. In this case, I was “saving” money and paying elsewhere: my energy and confidence were sapped by feeling unkempt, sloppy, and unattractive. Better to support a local hair stylist every couple of months and take pride in myself than to save a few dollars and avoid mirrors. (Reducing debt, for me, is all about doing the hard work up front so that you reap more benefits in the long run.)

So there you have it. My guiding principles, applied to coiffing. And as merry as that seems, there’s another force at work this week, deeper than these intellectual exercises…


Wednesday would have been my Dad’s 64th birthday.

In February, his hair had begun to grow back in, thick and dark, and the day he died I rubbed his head affectionately. His post-chemo hair was straight, whereas before it had always been curly. His hair cheered me, that day at the hospital, and I thought, surely he’ll get better. For a while. Surely. His hair is so thick.

But sometimes hair is just hair.


That night, again, the sharks that lurked here in deep waters moved under me. Obsidian fins cut pretty wakes into the surface. If I peered over the edge of my houseboat as the waves tossed it, the sharks’ jet bodies passed back and forth.

Storms and summer swells had shaken the paintings off my walls, and I hadn’t been to shore in a long time, so I had no supplies to repair the shattered glass, or fix the frames securely to the walls.

I spent dusk walking a circuit from my dry interior room out to the railings, around the edges, watching the sharks. Fascinated. Terrified.

Did they know I was there? Did they care? Did I want them to?

Clouds hid even starlight, until the world was flat black. I felt my way back inside to my bed. I left a small light burning, a talisman in case sharks were to steal into my room during the night.

I dreamt that night of fireflies, honeysuckle, pebbles gleaming in riverbeds.

Reduce Debt

You can’t always get what you want.
You can’t always get what you want.
You can’t always get what you want…
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find
You get what you need.
– The Rolling Stones

Forget that old-time religion. This Stones song is one of my favorite scriptures ever.


Debt. Financial debt, technical debt, social debt, sleep debt.

The third and final guiding principle that I’ve adopted for this year of pursuing an elegant life is to Reduce Debt:

  1. Debt: “Something that is owed or that one is bound to pay to or perform for another” (via Debt is a very large umbrella. Credit cards live under it; so do social favors, buggy code, unwashed dishes, and parties you promised to go to. Debt is any place you’ve traded something you want today for something you must do tomorrow.
  2. Reduce: I deliberately didn’t say “eliminate.” With a definition as broad as mine, it’s defeating the purpose to try to eliminate debt entirely. Instead, I want to focus on reducing the excess debts I have: financial, yes, and also projects I’m behind schedule on; favors I’ve promised; exercise I’ve skipped; a thousand other ways I’ve pre-allocated my future time and energy.

Finances are the first thing that spring to mind when we say “debt,” but I’m not terribly interested in financial debt at the moment. It was foremost on my mind until I got my finances into better shape; now that my debt reduction plan is on track, I have the energy to look at debt in a broader sense. And I begin to see the more fundamental pattern, which is what led to my financial debt in the first place. I’ll repeat my definition of debt:

Debt is any place you trade something you want today for something you must do tomorrow.

So what does “reducing debt” look like for me this year?

  • Washing my bowl. Yes, it’s a Zen slogan; it’s also quite literally an important habit for a person who loves oatmeal with flax seed for breakfast. Have you ever tried washing a bowl with caked-on oatmeal and flaxseed? This stuff could be used for industrial construction. Wash the damn bowl right away.
  • Making promises judiciously. And by “judiciously,” I mean “not unless it’s life-threateningly necessary.” Making promises is a horrible form of social debt with me. The trade-off: I want a person to like me / respect me / think I’m a good person / think I’m a competent person / just not hate me for dropping the ball on my last promise. So I make a promise. Usually ill-considered. And usually I’ll then drop the ball on that promise, leading to promise inflation. It’s exhausting. I don’t want to do it anymore.

And that’s it. Those are the two focal points. Doing things that need to be done, the moment they need to be done; and ditching the habit of mortgaging my future energies.

Easier said than done, as with most things (with the possible exception of visiting a Welsh village). But I’m counting on cultivation of attention and releasing obstacles as powerful allies in changing those old habits.

The biggest challenge for me is making promises. This is such a sneaky form of debt. “I’ll get that to you by the end of today.” “Sure, I can help you with that.” I want people’s good opinion, or I want to get off the hook of doing something now by promising something bigger later, or I want to avoid the acute discomfort of saying “no.” No I’m not capable, no I don’t want to spend my time on that, no I don’t really want to do that.

As with any debt reduction program, the first step is to stop the bleeding. I’ve already got a pile of things I’ve promised to do and failed to deliver; fine. I can continue working on delivering (late) or renegotiating the agreement. In the meantime, every time I’m tempted to promise something, I stop and ask if the commitment is truly necessary.

Just this morning I wrote an email and was tempted to say I’d send a follow-up report on Monday. Then I realized: that’s not necessary. Either send the follow-up report on Monday, or don’t. But you don’t need to create a debt by promising it. Backspace backspace backspace.


Back to Mick’s sage words: “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes, you just might find… you get what you need.”

That song has always spoken to me at a basic level. Even when it’s incredibly painful to not get what I want, this song reminds me of the cosmic inevitability of disappointment, while carrying a subtext that not getting what you want really isn’t the worst thing in life.

For years, I’ve been trading what I need — my deepest desires — for what I want — the things that feel good (or dull the pain) in the moment.

This year, it’s time to flip the ratio.