This month I am enjoying experimenting with new writing – part of an exchange my daughter Jessica set up among eight pairs of friends. We are committed to write for at least ten minutes a day in answer to her email prompt and also to giving only positive feedback to our writing partner. For example, on 6 July 2013, Jessica’s prompt was: “What are the women saying to each other? One is wearing cultural dress, another a stove-pipe hat, and the third sunglasses.”
My response was the short story below. Following Mark Twain’s advice to “Write What You Know”, I borrowed the names of some TechWomen friends but this is a work of fiction – not about particular women! Only the conferences and places are real: I have travelled recently to both Portland, Oregon and Amman, Jordan.
Afnan, Noor, and Colleen were shopping in Amman. The three geeks had met at the OpenStack conference in Portland, Oregon, the year before. Professional discussions between technical sessions, about programming and politics, had moved into complaints about guys and how pleasant it was for once not to be the only woman in the room. The usual complaints had become more personal and by the time they went to Powell’s Books and lunch together, the three were friends.
Afnan and Noor were both graduates of Princess Sumaya University, although from different years. Colleen had gone to Cal and was fascinated by the other girls’ stories about Jordan and the developing technical culture of the Middle East – so different from her experiences in the People’s Republic of Bezerkley and California. By the time OpenStack ended, the three were collaborating on an open source project together, firmly connected in Facebook, LinkedIn and all of the other web-based glue of the technical world. When Colleen’s Cal thesis advisor was invited to speak TEDxAmman the following year and offered her a ticket to the big event, she grabbed the chance.
Colleen was a true nerd, wearing what was comfortable and clean, but sometimes adding a bizarre element to keep her all-male co-workers noticing that she was still a girl. Some days it was yellow socks with pink and white nigiri sushi images, today it was a stove-pipe hat. Colleen was a firm believer in the principle that you can be as weird as you are good. She was a very good programmer. At first, that Afnan and Noor wore hijab and more stylish clothes did not concern Colleen. It was their kind of uniform, just as jeans and funny socks or hats were hers. Noor wearing her sunglasses propped on top of her headscarf was kind of like a hat.
Colleen told Noor and Afnan that her professor’s TEDx talk had gone well and that she was meeting amazing new people, men and women whose work had made a difference, who were trying to change the world. But for the first time since High School, Colleen was a little worried about her clothes. Maybe the hat wasn’t right for this high-end crowd. She asked her elegant friends to go shopping, to help her spend some money. Colleen did not want to wear hijab or that western-uniform, the skirted suit, but the long dress and coat that Afnan wore or Noor’s fitted slacks and jackets looked good. Colleen was ready for a change.