KalamazooX 2013

I struggle to put into words the Kalamazoo X Conference, more commonly known as KalamazooX, a single day, single track non-tech conference for techies. The difficulty is not in describing the talks, the speakers, the venue or the overall experience, describing the conference in such terms is easy; the talks were insightful and inspirational, the speakers were passionate and informative, the venue was accessible and appropriate, and the overall experience was emotionally demanding and entirely worthwhile. To describe what KalamazooX was to me, specifically, to reach deep inside and expose the raw emotions, to be open and honest about me, that is difficult.

It was the simple mantras:

It's not about you.
– Jim Holmes (@aJimHolmes)

Move the elephant. Direct the rider. Shape the path.
– Todd Kaufman (@toddkaufman)

It was the inspirational stories behind Todd Kaufman's talk on enacting change or Mike Wood's (@mikewo) talk on choices of doing the right thing, saving and changing lives, and becoming a better person.

It was the tears that welled in my eyes during Layla Driscoll's (@layladriscoll) talk on being happy, after she encouraged us to sit with our eyes closed and think about who we are. I wrote, "I am sensitive, funny, creative."

It was the encouragement from Leon Gersing (@rubybuddha) and Alan Stevens (@alanstevens) to take time out from time and reality, to meditate, and to find our inner voice.

It was the relief I felt in hearing Alan Stevens say, "you do not require approval from any external source," or Elizabeth Naramore (@ElizabethN) say, "It's okay for it not to be okay."

It was the moment I wrote in my notebook, "I feel less special than others. Is that true? Am I? Or do I need to redress my self image?" I think we both know the answer to that (though some have known a lot longer than others).

It was connecting with others in unexpected, overwhelming and assuring ways.

I do not believe for an instant that I was the only one in attendance that was deeply moved and I suspect that those who were returning attendees already knew about the impact this event can have. What a secret they have kept, hiding the true value of this event behind such dismissive phrases as "My favourite conference of the year!" and "It's a non-tech conference for techies. It's all about soft skills." Such pedestrian phrases pay no due to the experience at all. A more accurate and yet still inadequate phrase was tweeted to me by Michael Letterle (@mletterle) during this years event:

Now, you may think I'm being overly dramatic or reverent and you might be right. I have a tendency toward such things, but rather than assume that be the case, I encourage you to attend next year's KalamazooX and experience it for yourself (or at least look through the #kalx13 tweets). If, having done so, you still feel I have been exaggerating, I will concede and leave you and your cold, black heart to //Build, PyCon or whatever it is that floats your ghost ship (just playing, I'll still love you really).

To close, I thank Michael Eaton (@mjeaton), his team and all the speakers1 for putting on an event so cathartic that even writing about it overwhelms me a little. To uncover a part of oneself is enlightenment, to see that reflected in others is KalamazooX.

  1. Besides those mentioned above Suzan Bond (@suzanbond), Jen Myers (@antiheroine), Brian H Prince (@brianhprince), Jeff Blankenburg (@jeffblankenburg) and Justin Searls (@searls) all gave amazing talks.