The Things We Don’t Know

I saw this video a little while ago, and assuming it’s not totally faked, I was completely baffled by it.

It’s a video of a woman who claims to be psychic, who can outdo trained professionals and, in one case, a sniffer dog in how fast she can find a person hiding in the wilderness. Obviously, her explanation is that she uses her psychic powers. My explanation is – well, I don’t have one. I have no idea how she did that, but I am intrigued by the whole thing.

I found the comments on the video fairly disheartening.

this is absolute bullshit

I’ve seen this woman myself, Diane Lazarus, and i have another reading with her next month. If you ever want proof, go for a personal reading with a well known psychic. You’ll be blown away

Why wasnt this test a double blind, where neither party knew where the kid was. She could easy be reading his facial expressions, or other bodily hints hes not even aware hes giving off… the explinations outside of psychic abilites are far more convincing for me than she used esp. And why do they keep saying pschics and yet theres only one shown? Did all the others epic fail? Or is she more than one person (i know shes not but u know my point)… Point is its probably faked, nothing more

Basically, the comments seemed to fall into two camps. “This is wrong, clearly she – read their facial expressions/the reactions were fake/etc.” or “I’ve always known psychics were real, and this proves it!” (I’d like to note, there were many more in camp “this is fake” rather than camp “psychics are real.”)

And, here’s the thing – yes, the video could easily be fake. I have no idea who these people are, and they could have just *told* her where the kid was, then made a video about it. That is the most obvious possibility. That said, I read a lot of science that could easily be fake. Many studies I read about new drugs coming out that could improve Alzheimer’s, or cure cancer, or whatever have turned out to be fake because the scientists researching the data over-optimistically interpreted their results because they *wanted* to find drugs that cured cancer, or Alzheimer’s or whatever.

However, it’s still useful to keep up on these things, because every now and then something works, and then you may want to go get yourself and HPV vaccine, or update your AIDS anti-virals instead of just calling everything bullshit. But, you don’t want to take your open mindedness too far, or else you end up pulling a Steve Jobs and fail to meditate away your curable pancreatic cancer.

The one thing that really struck me about these comments was a complete lack of curiosity, on both sides. Nearly everyone came in with a preconceived notion of what they believed to be true, and then interpreted the video to suit their original viewpoint. That claim that new age hippies make, that science has become the new religion rings true, not because everyone believes in science now, but because people will abuse science to back up the beliefs they already have. The same way people in the middle ages ignored the “love thy neighbor” part of the bible to start the Crusades.

When it comes to that supposed psychic woman – assuming the test isn’t *totally* fake (i.e. they didn’t just tell her where the people were hidden) I still want to know how she does what she does. She can read the subconscious cues on people’s faces so accurately that she can find a child faster than a sniffer dog? That sounds like some talent, I wouldn’t mind having a bit of that next time I go into negotiate my salary.

Underlying the comments, there seemed to be fear on both sides. Fear that psychics were real, or fear that they were not. And, that’s a shame, because the fear blocked exploration and it blocked learning.

Even if this video is fake, I believe there are things in the universe that will blow your fucking mind. I believe humans will discover things so amazing, and remarkable it will cause our entire race to shift how we think about the universe. It’s already happened, the discovery of special relativity and with the discovery of quantum mechanics are the two most obvious examples that come to mind. But, there are so many unknowns – so many ways our story of the universe doesn’t quite stitch together, that it seems to me to be bound to happen again.

And, I hope if I ever see such a thing, I’m able to recognize it for what it is. I hope I don’t end up being one of those buffoons in the corner yelling “fake!”

Physics and Ignorance

Physics! And science, and consciousness! All up and about, getting in each other’s business.

In the words of Wesley Crusher, “Space, and time, and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be.” Whenever we stop to think about things, we have this sense that it doesn’t all add up, somehow – and many people from many different directions are coming up with possible answers.

Quantum mechanics points to some explanations of previously inexplicable phenomena, but in some ways it rips open more questions than answers. To top it off, most people – including myself – do not have an understanding of even basic level quantum mechanics. This leads to the desire to abuse it, to use it to explain things it cannot explain, by relying on ignorance of the underlying theories.

For instance, the idea that “the act of observation will change what is being observed” to many people has deeper implications that may not actually apply. There could be a temptation to apply it to consciousness, that somehow if we look at something our conscious mind may change what is happening. However, all it might be saying, is phenomena on the quantum level are so small, we can not observe them if they do not interact with something else in the environment. Hence, we can never see anything in its “natural” state, we can only see things once they’ve interacted with something else – perhaps “interfering with what we want to observe is necessary to observe it.”

Recently, I’ve come to the readings of many spiritual thinkers who have taken to studying quantum mechanics. I haven’t read many of their theories on quantum mechanics specifically, although I am interested in looking into it, but I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, the same way scientists were used to be skeptical of the idea of the “birth” of our universe (an idea that was originally officially supported by the Catholic Church.) It actually turned out to be true, most scientists now believe in the big bang, but the Church’s official support of this didn’t lead to a deeper understanding. It just muddied the waters, with them casting their vote on something we don’t get to vote on.

Similarly, I’m skeptical of spiritual people who want to borrow from science to add an authority to their spiritual beliefs. In fact, I’m skeptical of anyone who pretends they know too much. I just saw this beautiful video of Richard Feynman, which seemed to me to be a key to understanding what made him an effective discoverer of physics.

Sure, he probably had a brain full of brains, and good training, and whatever else. But, without this willingness to be open to not knowing, he could easily have squandered it on trying to prove the arbitrary things be believed instead of trying to discover things he didn’t know. There are people out there with higher IQs than Richard Feynman, and Einstein or whoever you want to list, who do not figure out nearly as much as they did. Clearly, people who figure shit out have something we can’t measure going for them – possibly, just luck.

Still, it’s very rare to find someone who admits their ignorance, especially someone high up and fancy like Richard Feynman. Nearly everyone I meet spends a lot of time trying to convince other people “I’m right!” I don’t think you need to be doing physics to benefit from allowing yourself space not to know.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, it’s why I trust science above other forms of discovery. It’s not even the methodology, but the top scientists tend to admit “I don’t know everything,” whereas the top religious figures tend to say “I know the mysteries of the universe.” Unfortunately, they all seem to have different explanations for them.

The Pain of Praise

Sometimes people tell me I’m pretty. Often, I ask for it directly.

How do I look today?

You look fine.

Just fine?

You look great, gorgeous. Absolutely stunning, happy now?

Thank you, baby.

Sometimes, I ask for it indirectly.

God, I feel so fat lately.

You’re not fat.

Ugh, I just like – feel it. I mean, maybe it’s not even true, I just can’t shake it.

You look great! It’s absolutely ridiculous that you’d think you’re fat.

Thanks! You always know the right things to say.

Sometimes I don’t ask for it, and people will tell me unprompted.

Oh hey, new haircut? It looks good.

Oh, yeah! Thanks!

And, sometimes complete strangers will stop me on the street and tell me I look good. Some phrasings are more crude than others, but some people do seem genuinely interested in paying me a compliment. They will stop, look me in the eye, and say “Wow, has anyone ever told you you’re really pretty?”

I smile and say thank you, when the reality is people tell me I’m pretty all the time. Because, one way or another, I *ask* them to tell me I’m pretty all the time.

Thing is, I think this is highly counterproductive for my current personal goals. Every time someone tells me I’m pretty, I don’t leave reassured about my appearance. I leave with the reinforced belief that my appearance matters, which triggers a deeper fear I have. “How long will I be pretty for? How long will this last?” I may start asking my friends to say “Looks don’t matter,” every time I ask them for a compliment.

This doesn’t just apply to appearance, however. Many forms of praise I find counterproductive. For instance, I started this blog intending to write directly what was in my heart and not worry about what other people thought. I showed some of my writing to some of my friends, and some of them really liked it, and now every time I sit down I think “what I’m about to write isn’t going to be very good.”

But, it doesn’t matter if my writing is good. That’s not the point.

Praise feeds the watcher. “You’re doing a good job, keep it up!” she says to me every time I get praise, which feels a lot more enjoyable than when the watcher is critical. “How could you have made that mistake? You are so stupid!” Yet, it is part of the same dichotomy – praise and insult, bring me into a mindset where I am not *doing*, I am watching myself doing. I don’t want to be a writer, I just want to write. I don’t want to be pretty, or ugly – I want to be.

I can’t isolate myself from the praise other people give me. I can ask my friends to tone it down, but I will never be able to escape it. People think they are being kind, they are trying to connect with me. I will need to learn to hear these complements without feeding off them, and I’m not quite sure how to do that. Partly, it is to see that it’s not really about me – it’s about them. When people tell me I’m pretty, they’re not usually describing what they see. They are really saying, “I want you to be happy right now, I am trying to make you happy.” Which raises a bunch of questions, why do they want me to be happy? Why did they pick that particular complement? What is going on for them? I think that will help.

But, I also think I just need to learn to not attach to the words.

“You are pretty.”

I am not pretty. I am indescribable, I am beyond words. I am not even “I”- and neither are you.

The Value of Boredom

Sometimes when I meditate, especially if it’s for more than about 20 minutes, my mind starts thinking “oh my god, I am so BORED.”

“bored bored bored BORED bored BORED BoRED BOrED!”

“When is this over?” “This sucks – is it possible to die of being bored? Is something terrible about to happen to me, some horrible boredom induced brain injury?”

I can sit for a while – or walk, or whatever, while just thinking without getting bored. When I daydream, I don’t get bored. When I write, I don’t get bored. But, when I meditate I do. The way I meditate, however, is very similar to daydreaming. The only difference is, instead of attaching to a thought when I have it, I refocus on my breathing. So, internally it sort of goes like this.




“I wonder what we’re having for dinner today”


“I hope it’s not just reheated leftovers from last night, I didn’t really like that meal very much.”


“If it were up to me, we’d go grocery shopping instead of eating that again.”

***Some sort of wordless realization I have been following a train of thought***

***Draw attention back to my breathing***



“I’m hungry”

***Draw attention back to my breathing***




If I were not meditating, I would follow that entire train of thought to some conclusion. Perhaps, I would imagine myself cooking up some fantastic feast, or I would end up daydreaming about the tastiest things I had ever eaten. I don’t find that boring. But, focusing on my breathing?

To be clear, I don’t think the words “inhale” and “exhale.” Well – ok, sometimes I do (or, sometimes I think other words like *accept*, *release*) but sometimes, I’m just focused on the physical sensation of inhaling and exhaling. And it’s then, when my mind has been wordless for a while, that it’ll start going “bored.”

Actually, honestly, I’m sort of scared of that zone. The “bored” zone. I haven’t sat zazen longer than 20 minutes in a while, because I’m scared of it. I should probably go talk to one of the instructors at the zen center about that – I think I will in the New Year. It’s strange, you know – because boredom seems sort of benign, but actually, it’s kind of like a big voice screaming “STOP DOING THIS!”

Other times I get bored are when I’m laying around watching TV, or studying information I’m not interested in. There’s an edge of fear to it, but what is that edge? What am I afraid of when I’m watching TV, or studying, or meditating? Why is my mind telling me to stop? Is its fear justified?

I even feel bored writing this post. Maybe you’re bored reading it?

So…. boring……..


Wicca and Atheism

I’m visiting in my parent’s house for the holidays, and last night I started skimming through one of my old Wicca books. I often pick them up quickly when I visit, but don’t usually read them for very long. For most of my adolescence, I identified as “agnostic,” but for a period (especially when I was younger, like 13 or 14) I thought of myself as a sort of “agnostic Wiccan.” Eventually, I traded this out for just “agnostic,” then “agnostic atheist,” “weak atheist,” and finally just “atheist.” Atheist is still probably the label that fits the best, but some people don’t like that label.

“So, you think there’s no God?”

“I don’t know if there’s a God.”

“Well, you’re not really an atheist then, are you? You’re more of an agnostic.”

Some people get the heebie jeebies around me when I tell them I’m an atheist – I think they imagine that an atheist is the reverse of a religious fundamentalist, or that I’m going to start chastising them for their religious beliefs. However, as Richard Dawkins pointed out, the strongest atheists aren’t usually as attached to their atheism as the strongest religious folk are attached to their theism. Usually, the strongest atheists say “I don’t believe in God, but would be willing to change my mind if I saw evidence suggesting there was one.” The strongest religious people often say “I believe in God, and if I saw conclusive evidence there was not one, I would view this as a test of my faith and still believe in God.”

My own personal atheism is sort of, “I haven’t seen any strong evidence I should be part of any religion, but I’m willing to experiment and try things out, and if other people are religious I am willing to believe they may have had a personal experience that makes their choice reasonable for them.” I have no interest in converting other atheists, but I do like calling *myself* atheist because I think their is significant overlap in my own viewpoint and the viewpoint of many other atheists. Agnostic is a less used label, but if you don’t like atheists, I’ll happily be an agnostic for you. It’s accurate.

However, I think there is one big gap in atheism. Confronting the void is fucking terrifying, and the most comfort atheists offer on this point is “isn’t it great being right?”

Sorry, no. If I could pick, I’d like a few lifetimes of reincarnation followed by an eternity of eternal bliss rather than “being right,” mmk? Thx. The problem is, you can’t will yourself to believe the most fun sounding religion. Heaven sounds great, but I don’t have faith in it.

In fact, what I realized after reading my Wicca books, is that I had internalized some of the rituals in them and called on them in my darkest moments. Atheist philosophy provided me nothing in this respect. When I was scared, or lonely, I resorted back to some of the meditative visualizations I had learned when I was 13, and I had no idea where I’d picked them up. In fact, it was sort of unsettling to read one of my favorite Wiccan books last night. I saw instructions from visualizations that are extremely similar to the ones I still use – it was like someone had read my mind and wrote it down, but actually, my mind formed around these teachings years ago. Even now, every night when I fall asleep, I imagine myself laying in a shallow stream of light until all the emotion of the day is washed away and replaced by a sense of calm. This visualization of is the basis of showering ritual I must have learned about 15 years ago.

Atheism, particularly the kind I faced at tech school, often has this sense of bravado about it, “who is the most willing to face the cold truth that when we die our consciousness ends?” But, have you ever tried to imagine that? To feel what it really means to have your consciousness end? It’s hard! I think most atheists haven’t, and instead just don’t think about what it’s going to be like to die very much. Yet, that fact alone makes them a little untrustworthy – I don’t think they’ve faced the truth their own belief system implies. (To be clear, these are just the ones I met – not all atheists.)

The best instruction I’ve personally found for facing the void has come from Zen Buddhism. Basically, you just sit there, with your mind, and just see what’s there. The zen teachings I have read, or seen in Dharma talks admit it can be scary, and difficult, and painful at times – and that’s ok. The zen teachings I have received also claim it is inadvisable to believe anything you haven’t experienced yourself, which I also agree with. The biggest issue I have with Wicca, and why I probably will not adopt it as an adult, is that they talk about things like there being “energy” which you can pull into yourself, or direct. This ideology eventually drifts into spell-casting. The thing is, for me, because I don’t already believe in this energy, it would be like having faith in Heaven. It would require a period of sort of trying to trick myself, or brainwash myself, into believing it before I could work with it. If, somehow, someone already believes or “feels” this energy, and it and this works for them, great! But, I don’t. However, the rituals and the visualizations that don’t require faith from me work pretty well, no matter where they come from.

It’s OK not to believe. It’s OK not to know.


Have you ever been accused of having too much ego, or being too egocentric? I certainly have! Many times.

And, you know, the people who told me that were right in a way. The times I have been the most depressed, for lack of a better word, heavily correlated with the times I spent the most energy introspecting, thinking about myself, and ruminating on everything I did wrong. Unfortunately, after being accused on being egocentric, I simply ruminated too much on how egocentric I was. To try not to be be egocentric starting with the idea “I am egocentric, and this is bad” is, unfortunately, by its very nature deeply egocentric. It is very focused on who “I” am, and who “I” want to be.

Also, accepting someone else’s evaluation of this can be dangerous. Sometimes, when people say “you are being too egocentric” what they actually mean is “you are being too inconvenient.” Often, for instance, oppressed groups of people are encouraged not to feel angry about their oppression. I took a class in non-violent communication with a black woman, who was careful about expressing frustration because she didn’t want to be another “angry black woman.” But, black women in America have plenty to feel angry about! And, it is possible to use pseudo-spiritual language to oppress people even more. “You have too much ego, you care so much for these little slights when clearly someone just made a slip of the tongue when talking to you. You will be happier if you just let go of some of this anger, and don’t stress out about every little comment someone makes.”

(On a side note, I *hate* the idea of “letting go” of anger.)

I disagree that a black woman who represses her anger is letting go of ego, however. I think a black woman who endured a racist remark, and hid her anger, would be embracing her ego. Not that that’s “bad” per se – sometimes it’s necessary – but she would not be expressing what she feels, in the effort to maintain a good image either to herself, or to others. To be or nor to be an “angry black woman” – both paths are full of ego. However, people who don’t like to face the repercussions of their own racism, or sexism, will gladly tell black women not to be “angry,” and if they can clothe it in hippie, new age-y type language to give it more credibility, so much the better.

In fact, I don’t think it is very useful for someone else to tell you you have too much ego, because to attack it directly like that is to play right into the ego. “I don’t want to be an egocentric person,” is a trap from which we cannot escape. The very desire itself stems from ego.

Perhaps a better question is, “What have you wanted to do, but been able to, because you were preoccupied with your self image?”

One answer for me is dance! I love dancing, but I care so much about what other people think of me, I will sometimes not do it. Even when I’m alone in my room, I’ll start to dance, and then sometimes stop because I am ashamed at how “badly” I dance. Even though there is no one else there, to think of myself as a “bad dancer” is so painful I will avoid thinking about it by avoiding dancing.

Another answer is meditate. Often, when I am meditating I get up with thoughts that approach something like “I can see so much!” Sometimes it’s not so much a thought, as a feeling of excitement, that stems from a sense of “this means something about me.” It throws me out of wherever I was, and starts me down a path of thinking about myself.

And, in a way, that’s ok. There is a lot of culture there, that I’m carrying. I exist in this facebook world of self promotion, and I don’t want to just cut it off or cut it out of me. It’s how I relate to my friends, it’s how I connect with the people around me. It’s part of what will enable me to understand pain other people are going through.  It’s important, but it interferes with some things I’m trying to do. I don’t really have a good solution. My current plan is to keep trying to do the things I’m trying to do (to dance, to meditate) with the hope that eventually, I’ll just get bored. I’ll stop being interested in thinking about what this means “about me,” and just do them.

The People who Read my Blog

Originally, I started this blog with the intention of keeping it secret. “It’s going to be about spirituality,” I told one of my friends, “and that’s just way to embarrassing to let be public.”

“But you could tell me!” she said, “I won’t comment on it, or anything!”

Well, OK I decided. I’d tell her, cuz she’s out town anyway. So, I told my one friend.

Then, I wrote an article on my experience with sexism which was a little bit embarrassing, but I sort of wanted people to read that one (especially some of my old coworkers, *cough*) so I shared it on Facebook. And I got like, 100 views, and I was super excited (I’m so fancy! With my 100 views! OH YEAH!) And, I figured some of them would see the embarrassing hippie stuff I write (I mean, the title of this blog is Love and Void) but would overlook and never bring it up, and so it would be fine.

Anyway, today it looked like my traffic had totally flatlined except in the last hour, so I figured ok, cool – back to my embarrassing hippie blog that no one reads and I can be totally open about my thoughts on enlightenment (I’m scared!) and it will be great. Except, it hadn’t flatlined, someone had linked to me, and I’d gotten 2 thousand views in the past hour totally dwarfing all my previous views. That may not be a lot in the “how many views important blogs get” sense, but was a lot in the “more views I’ve ever gotten on any post I’ve written ever” sense.

And it’s sort of funny, because like, 2 years ago, I would have been so psyched. I think I put some of my stuff up on Reddit, I tried to get people to read what I wrote. To no avail! No one cared about my writing when I was like “Please, please, pleeeeeze notice me notice meeee!!!!” And no one did.

I’ve played the “watching traffic” game so many times – at the companies I work at, for my own blogs, for my own web pages. And, it’s such a painful game, because usually you don’t get any. But, when you do, it’s this total flurry of overexcitement “oh my god, how can we *capitalize* on this?”, “how can we USE this,” “wait, what? It’s over? Where is everyone going?”

And, I can sort of feel this in my heard right now. “Ah, yessss – everyone sees how special I am and will be awed by my awesome writing and I can write a book, and everyone will read it, and the world will be healed!” But, I have enough experience to know that this won’t happen. The traffic will leave, and I’ll be here with my blog and this sort of empty sense of “remember that one day I got a whole lot of traffic? That was the day!”

Except! I also got an email today, from one of my brother’s friends who had read Goodbye. She thanked me for writing the post, and said she thought it might help her in the future with her own goodbyes. I think to truly listen to someone is to give them a great gift, and to learn from someone is one of the greatest respects you can pay them.

So now, I’ll have “Remember that day I got a lot of traffic? That was the day Laurie let me know she was really hearing me, what a great day!”



I got a call from a friend’s boyfriend this morning, telling me my friend was having an episode, of the brain variety, and could I come help him talk to her and convince her to go to the hospital? I had never met the boyfriend before. I get the impression he may have been calling random numbers in her phone.

I said I’d be happy to go talk to her, but I wasn’t sure what would come of it. He said he’d call me back in half an hour, and now an hour has past.

I’m nervous. I’m not quite sure what to do. I found myself looking things up on the internet, looking for some sort of external advice that I could take with me like some sort of magic elixir I could dump on her head to make the situation magically better. But, I’m not even sure how accurate his version of the events even are.

One thing I find it hard to do for an extended period of time is just sit with it. I can do it for ten minutes or so, but after a while I become agitated and desperately want to look up something – anything! – to help me deal with it. I find this type of nervous energy very difficult to sit with – my heart rate speeds up, and all I want to do is move, or think, or mentally churn. And, on some level I know it won’t help, but it’s the habit I’ve always fallen into.

Another part of me is thinking, deep down, “ugh, why me?” In a way, it’s good me. If he was calling random people, he could have called a coworker, or a boss, or someone from whom this information would be best kept private. She may be embarrassed to have this revealed to me, but it’s not part of my philosophy to think less of people when they experience mental turmoil, and I’m not in any way connected to her professional life. But, the selfish part of me is hoping this whole thing blows over by the time I call him back.

Which is now – I’m scared!

Being Female or Being Feminine

My girlfriend works in the call center of a tech company, and was promoted to be a team lead. She just came back from a retreat with the other team leads, and said it was kind of funny that all of the team leads were either male, or lesbian. (Two of the three lesbians, including her, were “masculine of center” or “butch” lesbians.)

I thought that was interesting, because it’s something I’ve sort of heard before. One of my friends did research with one of the few female physics professors at MIT, and my friend pointed out to me “Many people think it’s particularly great that she’s become a professor while being a fairly masculine lesbian, but I wonder if the fact that she was a masculine woman made it easier for her male colleagues to accept her.”

When I started discussing this with my girlfriend last night, I read her reaction as a little defensive – like, maybe she thought I was privilege shaming her for her gender expression? That was not my intention, I have no strong emotional attachment to the sexuality or gender expression of women who enter tech. In fact, I have  no strong attachment to the number of women in tech. Given that I didn’t particularly enjoy my life as a programmer, I’m not inclined to encourage women to live a life they don’t enjoy in an effort to hit an arbitrary metric for the “ideal” number of women.

Yet, I think there’s something *there* – something important drifting around the fact that femininity itself is a marker for “non technical.”

Personally, I think the one true failing of feminism is that traditionally female roles did not gain in prestige after the movement. We freed up women to express masculinity, which was really wonderful for some women, but we did not learn to respect the work women used to do. So now, no one does that work – at least, no one I know. I think I have one friend who stays home to take care of her kids, and I’m nearly 30. This is always a tricky point, because sometimes people will read this as “women should stay home and take care of the kids,” which isn’t want I intend to convey.

I have often wondered is why did women want to take on masculine roles, but why are men so reluctant to take on feminine ones? Is it because it is worse, because raising children is a far more terrible task than being a middle manager? I suspect not.

I think that for many people (dare I say, most people? Myself included) prestige is very important. And, women’s work does not have prestige, but, it’s necessary. Sometimes, I despair because the world seems so cold now. People my age are expected to work these 50, 60, 70 hour weeks, with no concern for our own enjoyment or pleasure in life. And we’ll do it! Why? Why are people my age willing to work so hard to make someone else rich? Why do we put so much effort into producing material goods, and making money?

Do you work more than 40 hours a week? If so, why?

The traditional “feminine” role was a dependent one, dependent on children for fulfillment, on a husband for material support. I’ve heard an accusation that “women act like they don’t need men anymore,” but sometimes, I think the reverse is true. I think men act like they don’t need women. I’ve met so many men in tech willing to sacrifice their personal relationships for their career, to work such long hours they have no time to date. And, even if they are dating, they often view their main contribution to the relationship to be money, not love.

I wish traditionally feminine roles were more valued, not so we could force women to get back in the kitchen, but so that anyone who chose to pursue them – male or female – would not be ashamed of their choice. Men could say, without shame, “My connections with those I love are more important to me than the money I make, and so I will not put the best part of myself into my job. I will save it for my friends, and family, and lovers.”

Traditional femininity (as I understand it) was about nurturing the family, and maintaining social relationships within the community. Traditional masculinity was about making things manifest in the physical world – and it’s no coincidence that as we’ve lost femininity, our consumerism and materialism has skyrocketed. But, how can we start to respect something? How can a culture change its own values?

I don’t know.

Sexism and Tech and Love

Sexism in tech is something I am asked about somewhat frequently, because I am a woman, and because I used to be a programmer in Silicon Valley.

Part of me just doesn’t want to engage with people on this topic because I find it painful to remember. About 9 months ago, I quit my job as one of the first engineers at an early stage start up, and began taking classes to become a massage therapist. One of the things I loved about taking massage classes was interacting with my teachers. My teachers were often women over the age of 40, and they were kind, and loving, and funny, and witty, and were people who just generally seemed to be enjoying their lives. Not only that, however, but there was a respect that both male and female students had for the teachers. I heard male students gush about their one on one time withe a female teacher, and how much they learned. It would not have been embarrassing for them to say something like, “I would really like to be like Julie when I become a massage therapist.”

I think it’s that essence, that essence of men being willing to emulate female role models – or rather, lack of it – that I found very difficult in tech. Being an intern is easy, because usually men are very kind and would like to increase the number of women at their company, and will happily teach women whatever they know. Being an equal on a team I found more difficult, and being a team lead I found the most difficult. The biggest obstacle I faced, I believe, was that many people were more interested in impressing me than learning from me. That’s why I was so moved to see men being willing to learn from their female teachers when I took massage. I realized this is not something about men and women, this is not something about human nature,  this is something about tech.

When writing this post, I burst into tears, remembering what it was like to work in tech. I felt like there were a thousand challenges I had to face alone, that no one else could see. I was usually the only woman where I worked, and I felt so isolated. More than anything else, what I found myself really wanting was for someone to say “I see how difficult it is, and you’re doing a great job. Just keep going.” For instance, once I was accused of being emotionally attached to my code (in front of a client, might I add) – an accusation I didn’t believe anyone would levy at a man.

“Well, were you emotionally attached to your code?” a friend of mine asked when repeating the story. And the truth is, maybe I was, but, nearly everyone is emotionally attached to their code (recognizing this is the first step to behaving rationally about it.) The thing is, even if I was particularly attached, and even if that *was* a comment that was just as likely to be said to a man, I didn’t *believe* it. I believed I had been shamed in front of the client for being female, and I felt resentful about this . And, I had no one to talk to – I thought people would just judge me for not being rational. What I wanted, deep in my heart, was for someone to say, “Yes, I see this is difficult for you – I see hearing that comment was hard for you because you are worried about the sexist implications, and it was a challenge to maintain composure in front of the client.” I don’t mind taking on a difficult task, I just minded having to do it alone and unseen.

I wrote love in the title of this post, intending to somehow circle back and discuss the role love plays in all this, but the anger I still feel about my time in tech is getting in my way. I mean, I suppose that’s the ultimate problem with the whole thing – there is so much anger it impedes movement. Thing is, I think women are unlikely to get empathy for men on their situation if they’re unable to see the forces that are leading men to the behavior they exhibit.

Life is very hard for men in tech as well, a point which I have grown to appreciate over the years. Many of them are single, many of them work 70 hour weeks for years and survive with minimal love and compassion and kindness. They are also unseen. There are not many people, and especially very few women, who can truly appreciate their technical accomplishments. I have watched my coworkers slave away for days on a project, to have someone in the marketing department say “oh, it’s like magic!” when they’re done. It’s not magic. It’s blood, and sweat, and lack of sleep. It’s time, and devotion, a little chunk of their soul, and a very particular kind of love. Our entire modern economy is resting on the toil of these unsung workers, and all flattering lip service doesn’t disguise the fact that most people don’t *get* it.

I’ve struggled with this for over a decade now, coming to terms with the humanity of those I believe oppress me. I can see why they do what they do. I can see that men are sometimes so desperate to be appreciated by me, they try to impress me and this blocks them from learning from me because they will find my criticism very painful. If this happens too many times, I feel angry, because these men “refusing” to learn from me are making it harder for me to improve in my career. So, I begin resenting the people I’m supposed to be teaching – but they feel it, and become even more desperate to impress me, and are able to hear me less. It’s a cycle that can only be broken by – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this – broken by love. When I can make it clear that I care about the people I work with, that I will still care about them if they make a mistake, that I will not think they are stupid for trying something that doesn’t work – that’s when these walls start coming down. But, truthfully, I find it very hard to do when I’m so full of pain myself.