magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Sometimes I'm reading along, and I'll hit a word – usually a really common word – that I've never thought of in terms of etymology before (usually because it's a really common word, and thus kinda invisible in my day-to-day goings-about), and encountering it in a new context makes the etymology just... click into place for me, and it's like I've uncovered a new nugget of meaning and a secret pedigree, and it makes me really happy.

Frex: I'm reading the astronomy textbook I got from Launchpad. I come across this passage:

Evidence that asteroids and comets really are leftover planetesimals comes from analysis of meteorites, spacecraft visits to comets and asteroids, and computer simulations of solar system formation. The nebular theory actually predicts he existence of both the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt—a prediction first made in the 1950s. Thus, the discoveries, beginning in the 1990s, of numerous objects orbiting in the Kuiper Belt represent a triumph for the nebular theory.

(Emphasis is the book's.)

My mind caught on the use of that first predicts. Looking at it stylistically, I first thought it should have been predicted, so I started testing my assumptions to see if I still thought they were correct. I thought about the word predates, and how that could be used in present tense and I'd have no issue with it. So, I took a closer look at predict – something I'd never been prompted to break down before.

pre, before. dict, from the same roots as dictate, dictum. I didn't have a Latin dictionary (dictionary!) at hand, so I didn't look up the exact meaning – but I had enough grounding at that point that my concerns were washed away. Dict; an authoritative or forceful assertion. A pre-dictum. The science dictates that it shall be so, and (in this case) it is revealed that it is so. How fabulous. A much more forceful etymology. Gleaming little declarative bones in a soft skin of supposition.

Moments like this make me love linguistics.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

As an exercise, to try to ease my brain up out of its months-long stress-induced no-writing slump, I sat down and copied out the first sentence (or two; the first lines of If The Mountain Comes really don't work if you only take the first sentence) of all the short stories I've had published in various markets, and then grouped them by whether I (personally) thought they were engaging or not.


Read more... )

In any case, it's something I don't think I'd really sat down to examine in any depth before, so now I can say I've done that.  And hopefully have a better sense of how this particular mechanic works in the stories I write in the future.

magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
So... I'm not in a great financial situation, right now. Unemployment that's dragging on longer than I'd like (though, really, any time at all is longer than I'd like), issues with the startup I left never generating revenue enough to pay me some of my wages, living in California, etc. I'm searching for a job, and I'm getting some pretty excellent interviews, but nothing's really taken, yet; I'm also doing freelance work, writing content, and looking into other ways of generating income on my own.

But. All of this takes energy, and motivation, and unemployment seems designed to sap both. So I've developed a framework to help move me through.

Gods made to order, psychological and aspirational trickery, and the point of this post. )

And, for my own reference, an actual list of charities:

We here in Vault City LOVE making lists. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Trauma is a surgical disease. It is cured with bright lights and cold steel.

I can't remember where, when, or how I first came across a series of posts on Making Light called Trauma and You, but I am forever glad I did.

Trauma and You, despite its CYA-ish disclaimer (I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. These posts are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.) does a pretty good job of walking you through a trauma scene – what you're going to see, what's going on behind the scenes (or under the skin), and what you should be doing about it. It provides mnemonics, statistics, and instructions, and if you're the kind of person who likes doing terrible things to your characters and having them patch themselves or each other up, it's a really great reference on how they should be going about that "patching up" thing.

But I think half the reason I keep coming back to it is that, even though some of the medical conditions described are enough to make your skin crawl (there was a meta-blog post elsewhere on the site, wherein one of the posters summed up the author's usual contributions as Long, bloodcurdlingly detailed advice from James D. Macdonald about what to do in event of some dire emergency (heart stops, house floods, leg falls off, children attacked by whale, etc.) Posters stunned into silence. Long, contemplative pause as commenters look thoughtfully at own houses, children, legs, etc. Timid, Piglet-like question. Terrifyingly learned and hope-destroying reply.), the post is often just fun, in a snappy, sardonic, and... occasionally hope-destroying way. Because you get advice like the ever-quotable [...]make sure the scene is safe. There is something over there that munches people. You are a people. Don’t get munched yourself. If you do get munched what you’ve accomplished is this: you’ve incremented the patient count by one and simultaneously you’ve decreased the responder count by one. On a scale from good to bad this is bad. Or the sheer pragmatism of When you’re dealing with trauma, your life is pretty easy. You have 1) Things that’ll kill your patient in the next five minutes, 2) Things that’ll kill your patient in the next hour, 3) Things that’ll kill your patient today, and 4) Things that you don’t really care about.

Trauma and You is broken up into five informative posts, with a couple of Final Exams at the end:

  1. The Basics. So, what’s trauma? It’s the physical world impinging on your tender body. Not to be confused with biology happening (in the form of bugs and germs), or chemicals (poisons, overdoses) happening, or your body breaking down and wearing out and going mysteriously wrong. No, this is more the Force of Gravity sort of stuff.

  2. Shock. Now it’s time to have our little chat about shock. Shock is what kills people. Shock, dear friends, is what will eventually kill you, personally. The only question will be how you got into shock to start with.

  3. Sticks and Stones. You can have a lot of fun memorizing bone names. (For example, the mnemonic for the bones in the wrist is “Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle” for Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetium, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate, Hamate. (You can have even more fun memorizing the names and functions of the twelve cranial nerves, but that’s for another post.)

  4. The Squishy Bits. When crush injuries were first identified (in the trenches of WWI and the London Blitz of WWII) they ran around 90% fatal. Nowadays with fast and efficient EMS they’re down to 50% fatal.

  5. Burns. The amount of smoke inhaled is the number one predictor of mortality in burn injuries, way ahead of the age of the patient or the surface area of the burn. Continue to be suspicious with someone who has escaped from a fire. Sometimes the symptoms of smoke inhalation don’t appear for hours or days.

While I usually have to consult additional resources for various fictional traumas – like this shockingly relevant article on gunshot wounds to the chest, one of my major pieces of research for Misfire – and while I have no illusions that I get everything right when I do write about trauma, the Trauma and You series is almost always my first click, and I know there's a level of verisimilitude in my writing that wouldn't be there without it. Highly recommended.

Also highly recommended: a strong stomach when it comes to various traumatic medical things. Like amputation. And degloving.

Seriously, though, I could have gone my entire life without learning about degloving.

(Crossposted to my fandom journal.)


Oct. 5th, 2011 07:38 am
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know, I'm agnostic-skeptic when it comes to omens and signs. I think most of the weird coincidences we see are just coincidences, and not actually that weird. It's just that we notice them, and the billions of tiny co-occurrences that don't hold any special similarity go unnoticed because there's no reason to give them any attention. "I wrote a blog post about gluten-free desserts, and then I turned on the radio... and there was a story about an embassy bombing!" ...okay? That sort of stuff happens all the time, with overwhelming frequency, yet it's always the "I was thinking about quitting my job, and a copy of the newspaper classifieds blew onto the sidewalk in front of me!" events that get all the attention. "What are the odds!" As it turns out, just what it took for the event to happen, and all the dreg is still there in your peripheral vision.

But, you know, that doesn't stop me from going after the "signs" and "omens" that do crop up in my life. It's a magical-consciousness thing.

By which I mean: in my low-key, homegrown magical practice, a big central philosophy is bricolage: "to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)". So when I write a post about being afraid to move forward and then the next day I wake up to a Live Your Legend mailinglist email about how the biggest threat to your success is quitting, and once you get that under control, all the other risks are small potatoes, I still interpret it as basically a message from $god*.

*Here I'm using the PHP variable syntax – $variable_name – to indicate, basically, "god-of-choice". God is another thing I'm both faithful and agnostic on.

And that's because I've taught myself to glean meaning and inspiration from things. Meaning, motivation, inspiration, and direction are things I need in my life, and I know that I sometimes have to be creative in fulfilling those needs. So when I see a coincidence that I can use to feed into my motivation – in this case, it's a "sign from the universe not to give up" – the framework of my thinking goes something like this:

Something called itself to my attention. => Is there meaning I can ascribe to this? => Is the potential meaning helpful or harmful? Can I interpret it in a way that makes it helpful? => If it's helpful, DUDE! It's an OMEN! If it's harmful, whoo, look at that, it's another wacky coincidence, and I go on my way.

This is a pretty blatant logical fallacy, of course – it's the same sort of thinking that contextualizes a misfortune that happens to someone of $x_particular_faith as a "test of faith" and an identical misfortune that happens to anyone else as a sign of $god's displeasure. But I'd rather look at it as a mindhack. Yeah, it's spurious and completely arbitrary, but I'm aware of it and can watchdog it so its net effect on my life is positive and it doesn't harm anyone else. I can glean a spot of inspiration from my own coincidences, and if I ever come across an arrangement of rocks in a stream that seems to spell out KILL THEM ALL, I'll take a picture and share it on Twitter with a note about how wacky patterns in nature can be.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
...and obviously rather old, judging by the date on the Scalzi post. Still, worth sharing.

John Scalzi has written an eloquent, elegant, and brilliant post up on Whatever: Things I Don't Have To Think About Today.

[...] Today I don’t have to think about the people who’d consider torching my house of prayer a patriotic act.

Today I don’t have to think about a pharmacist telling me his conscience keeps him from filling my prescription.

Today I don’t have to think about being asked if I’m bleeding when I’m just having a bad day.

Today I don’t have to think about whether the one drug that lets me live my life will be taken off the market.

Today I don’t have to think about the odds of getting jumped at the bar I like to go to.

Today I don’t have to think about “vote fraud” theater showing up at my poll station.

Today I don’t have to think about turning on the news to see people planning to burn my holy book.

Today I don’t have to think about others demanding I apologize for hateful people who have nothing to do with me.

Today I don’t have to think about my child being seen as a detriment to my career. [...]

And Patrick Nielsen Hayden sums it all up:

Spot on. The essence of privilege isn’t wearing a top hat and cackling yar har har while lighting expensive cigars with $100 bills. The essence of privilege is not having to worry about the crap that the unprivileged do.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
This was hard to write, and even harder to post. Harder still to post publicly. Still, here it is – after having sat in my drafts folder for about four months, but thrown to the world at last.


In an effort to help people understand privilege, its forms and complexities, I'm going to use myself as a case study. I'm going to examine a lot of the ways privilege affects my life, positively and negatively. So, while I will be pointing out ways in which I'm disadvantaged, I'm also going to try to own up to a lot of my own privilege, because it's really not a simple thing. You can be privileged in one way and disprivileged in another.

This isn't meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. It's meant to provide a few glimpses into things people might not otherwise think about, especially with regards to the difference between who and what you are and what privilege you are accorded. It's beginning to unpack the invisible knapsack, but it's not finishing it.

It's a starting point, which will hopefully get people thinking.

So let's start.

Privilege I have

Read more... )

Privilege I sometimes have

Read more... )

Privilege I don't have

Read more... )

Special notes

Privilege is not universally desirable. One of the things that seems to tag along with male privilege is the privilege to be intimidating. While this is useful in warding off some types of harassment, it can be very unsettling when invoked accidentally. When I used to walk home alone while my city was having its big, well-reported problem with people being sexually assaulted walking around after dark, I'd occasionally find myself walking down the same stretch of road, presenting as male, to all appearances following a solitary female pedestrian. As someone who doesn't want to come across as threatening to innocents, this was not a comfortable space to be in.

Privilege is not universally bad. In a lot of cases, the effects of privilege aren't things people should feel guilty for experiencing. The problem arises when they're privileges and not rights - the privilege to escape harassment, for example, is a privilege because it's a right which is denied to people like women, transgendered persons, poor persons. etc. The privilege to be taken seriously by doctors is a right which is often denied to fat people and people of color.

Passing is a way of accessing privilege. If I pass for male, I access aspects of male privilege. If someone passes for white, they access aspects of white privilege. This can happen involuntarily as well as voluntarily, and someone can be passed as well as passing. One example of this is a person of color who's granted "honorary whiteness" by their friends - their friends will stop noticing that they're a person of color, even to the point where they'll have a moment of "Huh, they are" when it's brought up. Another example is a person with a mixed ethnic background who appears white enough that people assume they are white.

Privilege is multifaceted. Even at its most simplistic, we can split it into two parts which have to be evaluated separately: the personal, what one experiences, and the social, what one is accorded. This is how someone with severe gender dysphoria who nonetheless passes for their assigned gender can both experience and lose cisgender privilege; feeling comfortable with one's own body and expected social roles is a cisgender privilege which they have lost, while the ability to exist and function in society without being harassed on the basis of their gender is one they maintain.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Years later, I was at a con with Chip when a young man asked him a question. That young man, gay and black, as Chip is, had just attended a writing workshop where he'd found it very difficult to get recognition about why the things he was writing about were important. He asked Chip how a black gay man could find his voice in science fiction. Almost before the words were out of his mouth, a white woman overrode him with, "Well, I just don't see race in my life. I don't make it a problem. I don't see race. It just doesn't exist as an issue."

Very gently, Chip replied, "If you can't see something that threatens my life daily, then you can't help me fight it. You can't be my ally."

–Nalo Hopkinson, Looking for Clues
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know what? I have a headcold right now which is making it difficult to think about anything coherently, let alone put it into words, but it seems to me that the works people turn to in order to laugh, or to cry, or to get inspired by, or to masturbate to, or to fill an otherwise empty time are works which get remembered. If they're not remembered in specific detail, they're still remembered in favorable generalities, or why else would people make a habit of turning to them? The person who reads through en entire shelf of pulp novels, each one pretty much the same to an outside perspective, is getting something from those novels. The novels are filling a need.

And because they fill a need, or just because they comprise a present and recurrent part of the consumer's life, they converse with the consumer's worldview. People get inspired by a football play or moved by an anecdote in Reader's Digest, and those are real effects on real people. If you're good at matching a need to an audience, you can use those vehicles to make real changes.

You can use movies to liberalize attitues toward homosexuality. You can use photo galleries (link NSFW) to alter standards for physical attractiveness. You can use video games to educate children as to how to avoid landmines. You can use moments in softball games to teach lesson abut grace. This is true despite the fact that you'll have no difficulty finding people who will dismiss, out of hand, how seriously film or art or video games or sports should or can be taken.

Intended audiences derive meaning from what's produced to entertain them. By accident or design.

Which is why I balk when people dismiss the impact things like fiction – even fanfiction – can have, or when people say that no one should care what messages are put in movies, because they're just movies, after all. The implication is that things like racism or sexism or ableism or whathaveyou doesn't matter if it's shown in these things, because they matter so terribly little. Because of course the constant omission of the voices of people of color in literature doesn't contribute to the creation of a single story, and the fact that Edward is a vampire and thus clearly fictional means that a generation of young women readers won't grow up to romanticize stalking and other sorts of potentially dangerous behaviour.

Statements like "It's just fandom." "It's just TV." "It's just for fun." assume that people segment their experiences in such a way that those experiences don't ever cross over, ever inform each other. They assume that we gain and learn nothing from those things. And they assume that those things occur in a vacuum, sealed off from the rest of our experiences of the world, whether we're the consumers or the creators.

Human endeavor comes out of human experience and feeds back into human experience, whether or not it's supposed (or assumed) to. In many ways it's completely involuntary, as familiar scents trigger memories or, as Chimamanda Adichie recounted, our opinions of others fill themselves in on a paucity of facts. It's why watching our media, our art and our entertainment, can be such a valuable diagnostic tool as to the lives and opinions of the people – and why working to improve that can feed back and improve society as a whole.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
They laugh now, but within 10 years the city's entire
criminal class will have quit to work on space research.

My adoration for various space programs, and for the larger natural universe, is somewhat hard to define.

I just watched Voyage to the Planets and Beyond for the first time today, and let me tell you, the adoration was there in spades.

At one point you get to listen to the radiowaves coming up out of Jupiter's natural processes. You get to listen to planetsong. I came perilously close to getting tears in my eyes.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Hey, college- and grad-school-age friends of mine, which, to be honest, could cover everyone I know who's reading this blog. (Except, perhaps, for those of you who have already obtained your graduate degrees, but one never knows. You might be looking for more.) I want to pose a simple exercise to you:

Let's say that you were scoping out colleges to apply to. Could be for an undergraduate degree, could be for a writing workshop, a Masters program, a PhD program, a few one-off classes in a summer session, whatever. You're shopping around, you're thinking of campus visits, you're calling up admissions offices and asking for pamphlets. It's a good time. Here's the exercise.

I want you to take out a piece of paper, or boot up a copy of TextEdit or NotePad, of just toss some thoughts around in the back of your mind, and answer this: what are the things you look at in deciding where to go?

How about things like cost? Availability of scholarships and student aid is a big thing, availability of student jobs. In-state vs. out-of-state tuition is a deciding factor for a lot of people, I know.

Location? Will it be close enough to visit family? Will it be close enough that they'll expect you home every weekend?

The programs, obviously, should be a major factor. What's the learning environment like? Do they have an engaged faculty in the stuff you want to learn? A complete department, or a few professors teaching classes on it here and there? How does one school's program stack up against the others'?

Hmm. The campus itself should be a concern. Is it walkable? Bikeable? Does it feel like you're going to be living in a bustling downtown, or a manicured garden?

And the city. Are the local politics conservative or liberal? Is it a metropolis or a hamlet? Is there an arts scene? Shopping? Public transportation?

All of the above sounds fairly reasonable, right?

What else do you think about?

Take some time.




How's this: when you're looking through schools and programs, do you stop to think, If I go down here, am I going to be in danger because of the color of my skin? Do you wonder if you'll have to worry about getting profiled or pulled over if you drive somewhere? Do you think, if I get into something and the cops are called, are they going to be biased against me?

Do you wonder if you're going to have to fight a constant battle against people's preconceptions of you – your intelligence, your citizenship, your economic status, your language skills?

Do you wonder if you'll be othered or tokenized, if your race will become a big issue because diversity on campus is low, or if you'll face an expectation to associate with people of your own race or be considered a race traitor? Do you worry that you'll become someone's "black friend" or "Latino friend" or "Asian friend" or any other "attribute friend"?

Do you wonder what percentage of your time is going to be spent educating others about your race, your racial history, or the nation of your perceived origin? Do you wonder which of your actions will be taken as reflecting your race as a whole? Do you wonder if people will expect certain things from you, culturally, interest-wise, background-wise, because of your race?

Do you worry that you'll be forced to mis-represent your race – say, as "black" when you are in fact biracial – when filling out official forms, because no accurate category exists for you?

Do you wonder if exchange programs have provisions for your safety, if you were to go out of the country? If, say, you wanted to study in Moscow, where race crimes sextupled in early 2008, would the program have people who would know how best to protect you? Or would you be allowed to go?

Are these concerns for you?

If these thoughts haven't crossed your mind when looking at those programs, if you've never had (at the bare minimum) a list of options in your life cut apart by these concerns, then you experience a kind of privilege I have never had. And if you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, that I'm being overcautious in worrying about these things, let me tell you a few stories.

My father got into a minor car accident once, and when the police arrived on the scene, they determined that he was at fault. This was either a rear-ending or a sideswiping of his car, mind you. He decided to contest the matter and took it to court; on walking in, his first day, he discovered that the court had assigned him a Spanish translator, despite the fact that he didn't speak Spanish (our surname is recognizable as a Yoruba – that is, Nigerian – name, and resembles a Spanish/Latino surname not at all), and despite the fact that he was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska.

Once, when I was riding in a friend's car, she was pulled over for something like a broken taillight. At one point she got out of the car to talk to the officer who had pulled her over, and when she got back in, she told me that the officer had asked her if I spoke English. This happened in Iowa City, which is for the most part a very friendly, liberal town. Bear in mind that when this happened, I was studying at the University – an institution of about 30,000 students in a town of about 67,000 altogether. Bear also in mind that I was born and raised in Nebraska, and English is in fact the only language I fluently speak.

I had a good friend in high school, a fellow member of the Speech & Debate team, who mentioned one day after 9/11 that he'd been accosted in a store by a man who had told him, "We don't want your kind here." He was an Indian Hindu, which didn't seem to matter; he'd been othered because he was nonwhite, lumped into a group he had no relation to, and harassed. In his case it was only verbal, but that's not always true.

Racism is not over, folks. It's become a bit quieter, but it's still virulent. The three stories above all happened to me and people I personally knew, in Lincoln and Iowa City, which are known for being friendly places. That's not even scratching the surface of places where does get loud, where it does get violent, where it's systematized, where it's routine.

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as white privilege. And male privilege, and cisgender privilege, and able-bodied privilege, and heterosexual privilege, and educational privilege, and economic privilege, and national privilege, and thin privilege, and a hell of a lot of other kinds. And if you never have to think about them, that probably means you have them. And you can say that you never have to think about them. But don't you dare try to tell me they don't exist.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Grah, I'm angry today.

I'm angry because insurance companies consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition (and thus ground for exclusion from coverage), I'm angry because privilege is invisible and people have to lie with bigotry from people they like and love.

I'm angry because a popular show I didn't particularly care about sucks balls when it comes to racial issues and a popular show I actually enjoy is unconsciously knee-deep in racial and gender issues.

I'm angry because calling a good female athlete "secretly a man" or a transsexual or a hermaphrodite is perfectly acceptable and grounds for humiliating them or ruining their careers.

I'm angry because we live in a broken society, and the people with the most power and perhaps the most responsibilty to change that society don't see any need to change it.

But most of all, I'm angry because I don't feel able to transmute that anger into something productive, something reformative. I need to teach myself how to write again, without worrying overmuch about the end product before I get to the end. I need to learn how to harness rage in a way which retains its power and gives it direction.

I need to learn how to sing for our lives.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Like several other states, California allows same-sex couples to enter "domestic partnerships", which afford many of the same rights as marriage.

But activists say such partnerships are not equivalent to marriage.

California Ruling on Gay Marriage,

Every time I see this mentioned, I just think: Wait a minute. Didn't we try something like this before? Didn't we decide it wasn't a good idea?

On the rhetoric angle: It seems as though a lot of the furor over same-sex marriage is about sullying the institution of marriage, as though allowing couples a religion doesn't approve of to me married, whether or not that religion has any bearing on the wedding or couple itself, will tear down everything. It's not Christian marriage or Catholic marriage or $religion_of_choice marriage that's in the courts, it's civil marriage, but I can still see the point if I tilt my head. Honestly, I'd be a lot more comfortable if all legal joins of this sort were referred to partnerships because marriage is such a loaded term; same- and different-sex couples would all seek partnerships through civil authorities and marriages through $religious_entity_of_choice. But that's me.

There's an article up on Wired about how a new form of socialism is emerging on the web – not one born out of an ideology or advanced by a political party, but one which emerges naturally out of the ways in which we use the 'net, and the tools and opportunites which the 'net provides. The first page includes this sentiment:

I recognize that the word socialism is bound to make many readers twitch. It carries tremendous cultural baggage, as do the related terms communal, communitarian, and collective. […] Of course, there's rhetorical danger in lumping so many types of organization under such an inflammatory heading. But there are no unsoiled terms available, so we might as well redeem this one.

I have a feeling that a lot of people would take exception to having their marriages "demoted" to partnerships. (Equal in the eyes of the culture, right.) If we're calling it marriage, let's call it marriage. Let's make it truly equal. You can't say "These two things are equal, but." Separation is not equal; maybe in a pure (and therefore necessarily theoretical) ideal society, but separation invites and allows differences in treatment.

C'mon, society, stop making excuses. Or at least know your history.


magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

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