When I was nineteen, I never expected I’d ever live in China. The thought didn’t even cross my mind when I set foot on the plane to Beijing — I was just going for a 5-week study abroad trip, that was all. Three months later, when I was happily settled into a Chinese apartment and teaching English, I never expected I’d ever live anywhere other than China. Another month later, I was back in the U.S.

I dream dreams, I set goals, I make plans, I form expectations, and I get attached to them. Then time moves forward, things happen that I can’t control, and the scene changes. I blink, bug-eyed incredulous that this is my life, and then I shake out the cobwebs and go back to the whiteboard: dream new dreams, set new goals, make new plans, form new expectations, and get attached to them all over again.

The dreams, the goals, and the plans are important — even if they change, they still guide my decisions. (“If you’re not working toward your own goals, you’re working toward somebody else’s.”)

But the expectations lead to mistakes, and the attachments cause pain. And the most I can do is get used to those changing and relax when they make me uncertain — they’re not gonna go away.

Tonight I am sitting down with a blank canvas, trying to carve out my dreams again, and it’s hard work. It’s a process of finding the intersections between “What do I love?” and “What do I want?” and neither of those questions are easy to answer when I’m asking myself to be specific. I look for the shortcuts to these answers, thinking back to last time, to past dreams, to the constant threads in my life, the themes, the values, the ideals. If I can keep the big picture abstract, it starts to forms a story that make sense.

Everything is a project — it’s all about being able to make the projects happen.

It’s all about the words.

It’s all about creativity, creating, and creating opportunities so that others to create.

It’s all about the people.

But if I get any more specific than that, the details become almost arbitrary — a list of ideas that are taken seriously. A painting that will never be real. An exercise in belief and impermanence. A direction to look when I wake up in the morning, because I’d rather walk toward a mirage than stay in bed.

It’s not about obtaining what I’m looking at.

Building a life for myself in China was the best thing I could have done that summer — I needed the freedom, the responsibility, the home, and the perspective shift. I needed to believe I would be there for the rest of my life. The fact that I left in October didn’t negate the importance of that intention — it just prompted a new phase for the dream. And I got everything that I needed.

Dreams don’t get met. They get honored.

I came back from four days of data-fasting to find a very entertaining lil’ webtoy…

Bullshitr: The Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator

See, you just press a button and…

bullshitr - web2.0 bullshit generator

Hmmm… AJAX-enabled podcasts… Would that be like a drag-and-drop interface for creating audio mashups from a library of creative commons user-generated music and interviews? HMMM…..

(Thanks to Doc Searls for the link.)

I also went looking for interesting tech news today, only to find tools, tools, and more tools. There are a heckuvalot of tools out there! And we’re still excited about making new ones.

Want to keep track of your expenses on the go? Use Buxfer. Want to do it through Twitter? Use Xpenser. Want to be coached while you do it? Use Banzai. Don’t like any of those? Keep looking, there’s more.

And I think it’s wonderful. The web-based tools market has reached the point of genuine competition. Most of the slots for “First Web-Based Tool to Handle ____ for You” are taken, and now it’s a matter of who has the best interface, who’s making the customer feel most comfortable, and who’s keeping their promises.

We’re past the point of announcement marketing — web surfers have all heard the rhetoric. They roll their eyes and groan now when they hear the phrase “Web 2.0” — we can AJAXify it, incentivize it, and podcast it all we want. And no amount of Trebuchet MS font, pastel colors, or block-style design is going to convince them to give us their email address and favorite password before we prove our value. They’re past that.

This is where it gets interesting. This is where the winners become the ones who listen.

Even if our tools are free to use, our users are still our customers. They have a limited quantity of time to spend, and if we want that time spent with us, we have to prove our value. These customers want the same thing customers have always wanted — to be heard, to be helped, and to be treated like human beings. They’re not interested in “beta-tested rss-capable value*.”

There’s a lot of bullshitting going on out there. Don’t be that guy. Be the one who still remembers how to speak in plain English and address real needs.

*this phrase also courtesy of Bullshitr.

Don’t try to defend it. It deserves this. All of its waving and screaming and nagging and gossiping and babbling was getting way out of line. The Internet has been sent to detention, and it will be there till Thursday.

In the meantime, I will be at a hot springs campground, resting in an establishment that openly discriminates against the Internet. It is not allowed to follow me there. I will be safe.

Don’t worry — the Internet and I are still in love. No, really. That’s not changing.

But sometimes even the most passionate lovers need space from one another. And the Internet is one of those folks who tends to get particularly clingy — to the point where it may require a crowbar to escape from it. You’re close to it, too. You understand.

It’s all for the best.

Will you feed it for me while I’m gone?

kthxbai.

Just as mysteriously, my email started working again and all messages from the last day just came through.

Huh.

My primary email address (…@sarahdopp dot com) stopped receiving emails at 4:30pm yesterday for no apparent reason and with no error messages.

If you’ve emailed me anything since yesterday afternoon, I haven’t received it.

I’m working with my provider to (hopefully) resolve this as quickly as possible.

BlogWorld Expo is coming up this week in Las Vegas. Being a blogosphere devotee myself, I’m intrigued by blogging conferences and I like to see what’s going on. So I took a browse through their site and landed on the “sneak preview” speaker list:

BlogWorld Expo Speakers Sample
(Click for full view.)
And without even stopping to read the names, one insulting fact jumped out and slapped me in the face: These are all men! No wait. There’s one woman. Down there in the bottom left hand corner.

Contrast this with the SXSW Interactive flyer I just received in the mail yesterday, which has a very similar tiled-thumbnail promotional sampling of speakers. (Please forgive the crappy Treo650 photo quality…)

photo_110607_001.jpg
(Click for full view.)
Hey, lookie there… Four men and four women. What do you know? One of the most prestigious tech conferences in the country has a completely equal representation of men and women on their conference promotional materials. How fascinating… Maybe they’re trying to reach their audience?

Now, I’m not (yet) accusing BlogWorld Expo of sexist advertising (or even of having a sexist lineup of keynote speakers… which, it appears, is 100% men). I’m all about strategic marketing and accurate representation of demographics, and maybe they have good reason for their choices. Maybe they’re only interested in targeting men.

Because maybe all of the important bloggers out there (who would be interested in a conference) are men.

And maybe, let’s face it, maybe the only good public speakers they could find were men.

Because, really, let’s get to the point here, women have nothing of value to say in this arena.

That’s it. Of course.

I know it doesn’t always travel in writing, so let me make absolutely clear that the above four statements were said with angry sarcasm. Because they’re prominent assumptions in the tech industry, and they’ve all been proven wrong over the last few years by many organizations, not the least has been BlogHer — an annual bloggers’ conference that features only female speakers. And according to June 2007 statistics, it’s the largest bloggers’ conference on earth. Period.

To pre-empt another counterargument, yes, many of those women blog about “serious” issues, like world news, economics, technology, politics, and finance. And some of them have even become absurdly famous through their blogs, bearing a massive fan base asset that would boost ticket sales just as much (if not more) than any man on the lineup.

And to address the matter of public speaker quality… (SXSW, I love you for your flyer and I mean you no harm, so please forgive what I’m about to say…) BlogHer’s panels, on the whole, were far better than those at the much-acclaimed SXSW. They carried a consistent quality that I haven’t seen at any other conference. Every single one was well-curated with tested speakers who gave the audience what they were looking for.

We’re no longer buying the notion that women bloggers don’t have an intelligent voice, a valuable presence, and a hunger for conferences. Not representing them in keynote lineups and conference promotional materials is both irresponsible and insulting.

(Okay, now somebody else please pick up on the fact that all the speakers on that page appear to be white and take it from here…)

It’s a long story, and I won’t get into it now.

It involves all of the plot elements of a good high-budget dramatic movie. I’d like to think that after I finally sell the script to David Lynch, my character will be played by Janeane Garafalo. It will be a romantic comedy, filled with dry wit and poetry, and it will document all of the laughter and tears in the latest chapter of my most tumultuous love affair: my relationship with the tech industry.

The film will end with me sitting at the top of Nob Hill, looking out over a sparkling, thriving city with a shaken longing in my eyes. And after a few minutes of thoughtful silence, I will take a deep breath and say, “Holy crap. I’m unemployed!”

And as the screen fades to black and the credits start to roll, the music will be soft, and a heavy sigh will be heard through the darkness. It will be followed by three words in the same intense voice : “It’s about time.”

Back to reality for a moment. I suddenly have no income. I’ve said goodbye a team that I’ve been calling “family.” I’ve transitioned out of exciting projects with valuable clients that I adored. No, these things do not make me happy.

But there is a relief that comes with change. There is a blank piece of paper in front of me, and I haven’t even picked out my pen yet. There is a time to rest.

And there are also many questions to answer. So let’s get them out of the way now.

The “Sarah is Unemployed” Fall ’07 FAQ

Q: Are you okay?

A: Yes.

Q: What was your job?

A: I was the Project Manager and Technical Writer for a new partnership between two firms, overseeing the production of high-end internal websites for large corporations. In other words, I was the “details person” for a startup.

Q: Were you an employee or a contractor?

A: I was a contractor. I haven’t been an employee anywhere in about 3 years. My autonomy and flexibility are very important to me. So is my ability to legally work eight hours without a break. :)

A: ::sighs:: You’re giving me that look my mother gives me, aren’t you. Yes, I buy my own health insurance. No, it doesn’t cost that much. And my level of job security is no worse that it would be anywhere else in the tech industry.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m taking a few weeks off to rest, volunteer, write, and reacquaint myself my plans and goals.

Q: Don’t you think you should be looking for work right away?

A: To be honest, work seems to be looking for me. I’ve only been out of work for a week, I haven’t asked for any help, and I’ve already received 10 nudges/leads/offers for new work. This tells me that the tech industry is alive and well, and I don’t have much to worry about.

Q: I know someone who needs a website. I’ll send the request your way, okay?

A: Hold that thought! While I appreciate all leads and adore the spirit of community, I’m not in a position to be building websites right now, and will have to decline the request. I’ll let you know if that changes. I am, however, happy to offer suggestions for where to get assistance with your web needs — especially if you don’t mind me blogging the advice for the general public to see, too.

Q: But isn’t building websites your thing?

A: It used to be, back when simple designs and static page content were considered “high-end websites.” Now there is so much more that can (and should) be done with a website, and I’m far more interested in managing and documenting the vision and process than I am in learning new programming languages. Consider me a Project Manager and Technical Writer now. And while, yes, I could manage and document the details around your web development project, I don’t currently have a team on hand for building that website. If you have that team, we should talk.

sdopplaughing.jpgQ: Are you, um, going to grow your hair out now?

A: Nope.

Q: Okay, I mean, it’s a good look on you. So anyway, what are you looking for right now?

A: Open space. Inspiration. Coffee dates with people who are living lives of their own design. Calls for submissions to publications. A good yoga class. Resources for improving my financial literacy. Lunch dates with people who have outlandish dreams and want to scheme the details. Tech conferences that I can get into for free or cheap. Meetups. The motivation to fix up and reorganize my home office. A renewed connection with the blogosphere. Lots of time and space and focus to write.

There’s more to come, I’m sure.

Dear Dad,

Tonight I’m going to San Francisco’s El Dia de Los Muertos celebration to be in community, and to mourn. You died almost nine years ago and yet, I still can’t seem to get rid of you. You’re in me, despite all my best intentions, and though you’ve backed off nicely, you’re still not going anywhere. I can’t make you go away.

So let’s make peace. Going on nine years later, I’ve grown up, and you’ve grown deader, and it’s time we both learned to get along.

I miss your promises. I miss the lottery, the “We Just Sold a Bridge!” sushi celebrations, the what-if games, the scheming, the adventures. I miss how casual you were when you announced you were taking me out of school for the seventh grade to travel the country. And I miss how hard you fought for it when the rest of us told you: No way. I miss your self-made cliché one-liners: Know your environment, respect your environment, but don’t fear it. I miss watching new doors open just because you knocked on them. I miss your ego, your pride, your disregard for assumptions and expectations, your frankness, your vision, the laws you constructed for the people in your world, your kingdom. You named me princess for a reason, and I always hated that name, but sometimes I do miss our castle.

I think you’d be proud of me. I’m smart like you. I find the holes in the rules and exploit them to my advantage, like you did. I love lots of people, like you did. I learn new technology and I use it, like you did. I make up my own titles and I tell people how I’m valuable, just like you used to. And whenever I’m not sure about where I am, I stop what I’m doing and go on an adventure. Just like that. Just like you.

And I have faith. It’s incredible — watching God dress in drag and quote Pema Chodron at me, bellydancing and holding an earth’s worth of messy people in a steady, loving, flirtatious, and deeply accepting embrace. God and I finally get along.

And I’d like to think that if you’d lived, nine years would have been long enough for you to have broken down and opened up to a few more ways of relating to the world. I’d like to think that I could tell you stories about the life I’ve found, and introduce you to the crazy, beautiful, outlandish people I’ve met. I’d like to think you’d find them just as heart-healingly wonderful as I do.

I’d like to think we’d get along. And we’d scheme more adventures and more ways to be gods among men.

I’d like to think you’d accept me and see me and love me as a human being, separate from you and just as flawed, but just as fierce, and just as fabulous.

And I’d like to think we’re there now — with the you that is in my bones riding my life with joy and appreciation. But maybe nine years of the silent treatment doesn’t end in acceptance. Maybe I need a few more years in San Francisco, marching with thousands more lovers and mourners before I will reach you as I am —

your child.
your adult.
yours, independent from you.

I hear the drums now. Rest well.

Love,
Sarah