A reindeer sausage was exactly what I needed.

Portland is a weird town, slapped together from recycled materials, hovered-over by a helicopter whine as funk and blues and rock and jazz and tinny radios from food trucks spill over tent cities and 24-hour neon donut signs. Gleaming trains. A city block that's all-bookstore, sprawled mazes of shelves. A skinny red-haired guy dancing his heart out, sleeveless and barefoot, on a stage; a Chinese bistro with giant loops of handmade paper swooping from the ceiling, and a spicy sausage smearing through the foil in my hand, cold rain dripping into my collar. It's a city that's eclectic in its pride.

Spent the morning with Terri Oda (who took the first good picture I've ever seen of me speaking) and others hacking on UI improvement specs for Mailman, a popular email list management software. This was part of Open Source Day, which in turn was the tail end of GHC, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

During GHC, I kept looping back to the Hasso Plattner Institut table, peppering the grad students there with questions. Really? You're an Olin-sized institution right outside Berlin focused on real working computing systems (as opposed to theory) and Stanford d-school style design and a group working on the impact of the internet on education and you're looking for summer graduate researchers and postdocs? And you think my background is interesting? Well. Hallo there. I guess I'll have to send some emails. Probably not this summer (although... I don't know!) but possibly a semester or a school year sometime in the future, depending on how my research direction pans out.

GHC itself was... wow. I kept on going around thinking wait, it's a tech conference! and wait, we're all female! which - okay, yes, expected for a Women in Computing conference, but I've never before felt so safe and welcome and relaxed at a conference, and I hardly knew anyone there... even at conferences where I know a large proportion of attendees, even at conferences I've organized, I've never felt this way.

Holy crap. Conversations were easy to slide into. Connections were so easy to make. I'm shy! I don't go to the conference party and let loose on the middle of the dance floor! I don't strike up conversations with strangers in the hall, at the back of a session, waiting for the train... but I did. I didn't have to prove or defend myself. Feeling that safe felt... strange. And I think it was the combination of that net of safety in a strange city with new people that finally led me to take some bigger steps I've been afraid of for a while.

It's still travel, though. It's still lonely. But sometimes you need the lonely. Sometimes you need to sit in the discomfort. I think that's why long walks like the Coast-To-Coast and El Camino de Santiago appeal to me, why I like long roadtrips on dark nights. It's forced reflection. Packing light allows one to afford improvisation (hat-tip to Sumana for the link). I'm definitely eyeing this 18" luggage because my battered yellow carry-on (purchased for supercheap when I started working for Red Hat and therefore traveling a lot) is literally falling apart; I also somewhat covet Tom Bihn bags. I should figure out my use case, write specs from that, make a purchasing decision, then save for it and get it once my yellow luggage finishes ripping to pieces - which means that I should plan out the trips I want to take. Hm.

"It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations." -- Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

I'm exhausted. I'm behind on a lot of things. I'm scattered, anxious, and a little lonely. But I'm okay. I'm here and present in the world, and I'm... alive. It's good to be like that. It's good to know you're doing the best you can, even if that's nowhere near perfect or even sometimes nowhere near good. Plateaus are okay, but they're scary right before you leap, when you don't know what's going to take shape yet. So it's all right, and it'll work out.

Must remember hat.

Must go to sleep now. I've got a long flight and a long drive and a long night installing my art project tomorrow.