On #EECI2011

Travel Women in Technology

We are over Deluth. We are leaving the Big Apple behind in sunset lights and long shadows.  I ponder the past few days, how a few days can be such a grand event, how every group of few days provides alternate versions of life. Carrying my camera down the streets of Brooklyn, watching with the eye of an observer, I pictured myself walking to the cafe to meet a friend on this sunny morning. I would know the cafe barista because this is what we do most Saturdays. I’m not sure if I own a dog, a small one, in this alternate life,  but if I do, he walks with me as the kids run ahead. I can see this all through my lens, and my eyes tear up for a brief second with the thought of my children, how wonderfully in love I am with them, how deeply I miss them every single trip, and how desperate I am to show them these lives, even if we do not live them.

Jen L and Me
*I should always wear a Jenn Lukas as an accessory.*

It is not that I have such a wide array of worldly experience that these new places are becoming familiar. No, though I never travelled to Brooklyn or NY City before, there is an air of comfort to it. The subway is a strangely wonderful experience. The buildings are twice as tall as they seem on TV. The shops are so crowded, a way I only experience at holidays, I squeeze and bump body parts with several strangers in a stretch of three minutes. But they speak English, and for some reason this catches me off guard. The city, this experience, the bustle and tousle of humans in small spaces, the colors, the bricks, the small shops with outside seating: these qualities feel so European to me, my only experience in this environment having happened thousands of miles across an ocean or two.

Robert E
*A Robert Eerhart and Louis sandwich, the founders of EECI.

No, I’m not sure if Brooklyn and New York feel familiar because of my traveling experiences or if they feel like home because of the people I see within moments of arriving. There is a band of brothers waiting for me at the nearest pub, ordering beer and waiting up well past the appropriate hour of dinner. There is greeting, smiling, hugging and limbs flying around necks. They are people I know beyond work, they are part of a bigger picture I can not possibly explain without bringing you with me. It is impossible.

Chad Jeremey
*A few of the odd boys

As the MC of the conference, I take stage early on the first speaker day of the conference. I am nervous there, but in the crowd I see familiar faces. I remember something I read from Scott Burken, “Everyone in the audience actually wants you to succeed. They are breathlessly waiting for you to kick ass.” I’m not sure if those are his actual words, but those are the words that repeat in my mind as I introduce myself, welcome the crowd, and kick off the first speaker.

me mc
*Look! That’s me on stage! (I did that a lot)

It is this way for two days. The mic, the speakers, the people. It is a blur of puns and friends taking the stage next to me. We manage to make it to the second day, the very last speaker, a good friend of mine, and wrap up the event. It is a feeling of camaraderie, of faith in a community, of strengthening friendships and working relationships. Few conferences can compete.

*Brits who live in Canada still love to drink beer. This teaches us two things. 1. Brits who live in Canada like to drink beer and 2. So does everyone else.

So it is that I think of them as I fly over Deluth. My European friends. My colleagues on twitter. My peers from states and countries and time zones. We gather once a year, in different cities over the world. But we bring with us a sense of home, a sense of comfort, a sense of family. Because of this I know the next city I go to I will think fondly of taking the wrong subway or ordering the wrong menu item. I will laugh to myself quietly unable to explain an inside joke I share with a community thousands of miles wide. I will struggle to explain this to my children when they ask where I was. “I was at a conference, sweetie,” I will reply, “and I missed you very much.” It is that second part where they will hug me, waiting up past their dinner hour, with arms flying around necks. And I will know I am home again.