Alan Turing, Hedy Lamarr, George Washington Carver, Percy Julian .... thinking about what my own personal hall of fame looks like....
Alan Turing, Hedy Lamarr, George Washington Carver, Percy Julian .... thinking about what my own personal hall of fame looks like....
Feminist fans at WisCon are hungry for these kinds of resources, and with some additional funding, the Ada Initiative can run a train-the-trainers session at WisCon next year, so people can learn how to run it and take it back to their schools, workplaces, and communities. At this writing, Ada Initiative needs about USD$6,000 more in the next day and a half in order to make this session possible. I hope you will donate towards that goal.
(And if this gets funded, it greatly increases the chances I'll come to WisCon next year!)
"we can be pretty sure that Edward Snowden was not the first person to leak massive amounts of NSA information. He was just the first person to leak it to _us_. Remember the acronym for why people become intelligence agents: MICE. Money, Ideology, Conscience, Ego. Snowden was C – but it is a tremendous leap of faith that NSA has had no one before or since who, instead of being C and leaking to everyone, was M, I or E and leaked only to a grateful and rewarding customer in another country."
It might be good for the world, though temporarily stressful for one's marriage, to edit an anthology together, as Leonard and I discovered when we created and published our speculative fiction anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments together in 2009.* Despite the risks, maybe you should become an editor. "Reader" and "writer" and "editor" are tags, not categories. If you love a subject, and you have some money and some time, you can haul under-appreciated work into wider discourse, curate it, and help it sing.
You can do this with lots of subjects,** of course, but doesn't it especially suit science fiction and fantasy? We love thought experiments. We love imagining how things could be different, with different constraints. I love enlarging the scope of the possible, and both the content and the production of Thoughtcrime Experiments did that. Neither of us had professionally edited science fiction before, we released it under a Creative Commons license,*** and we wrote a "How to Do This and Why" appendix encouraging more people to follow in our footsteps.
Every story needs an editor to champion it. One thing we conclude from this experiment is that there aren't enough editors. We were able to temporarily become editors and scoop a lot of great stories out of the slush pile....
It's well known that there's an oversupply of stories relative to readers. That's why rates are so low. Our experiment shows that there's an oversupply of stories relative to editors. By picking up this anthology you've done what you can to change the balance of readers to stories. I wrote this appendix to show that you've also got the power to change the balance of editors to stories.
Another way to enlarge the scope of the possible is to seek out, publish, and publicize the work of diverse authors.***** But if you don't explicitly say you're looking for diverse content and diverse authors, and make the effort to seek them out, you will fall into the defaults. I ran into this; I did not try hard enough to solicit demographically diverse submissions, and as a result, got far more submissions from whites and men than from nonwhites and nonmen. However our final table of contents was gender-balanced, and at least two of the nine authors were people of color.
And if you do not explicitly mark characters as being in marginalized demographics, the reader will read them as the unmarked state. Here I think we did a bit better. And our selections caused at least one conversation about colonialism, and really what more can you ask?
(To the right: E. J. Fischer's photo of me with Mary Anne Mohanraj at WisCon in 2009.) It turns out that Thoughtcrime Experiments made a lot more things possible. For example, we published "Jump Space" by Mary Anne Mohanraj, a story that stars a South Asian diaspora woman. I remember sitting in my brown overstuffed chair in my apartment, reading Mohanraj's submission, completely immersed in the story. As I emerged at the end, I had two simultaneous thoughts and feelings:
- This is the first time in a whole life of reading scifi that the protagonist has looked like me. This feels like a first breath after a lifetime in vacuum.
- Why is this the first time?
Mohanraj, encouraged by the response to "Jump Space", wrote a book in that universe, and may write more. The summary starts: "On a South Asian-settled university planet" and already my heart is expanding.
And then there's Ken Liu.
It turns out Thoughtcrime Experiments restarted Ken Liu's career. Yes, Ken Liu, the prolific author and translator whose "The Paper Menagerie" was the first piece of fiction to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award, and who's been doing incredible work bridging the Anglophone and Chinese-speaking scifi worlds. You have us to thank for him. As he told Strange Horizons last year:
I wrote this one story that I really loved, but no one would buy it. Instead of writing more stories and subbing them, as those wiser than I was would have told me, I obsessively revised it and sent it back out, over and over, until I eventually gave up, concluding that I was never going to be published again.
And then, in 2009, Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson bought that story, "Single-Bit Error," for their anthology, Thoughtcrime Experiments (http://thoughtcrime.crummy.com/2009/). The premise of the anthology was, in the editors' words, "to find mind-breakingly good science fiction/fantasy stories that other editors had rejected, and release them into the commons for readers to enjoy."
I can't tell you how much that sale meant to me. The fact that someone liked that story after years of rejections made me realize that I just had to find the one editor, the one reader who got my story, and it was enough. Instead of trying to divine what some mythical ur-editor or "the market" wanted, I felt free, after that experience, to just try to tell stories that I wanted to see told and not worry so much about selling or not selling. I got back into writing -- and amazingly, my stories began to sell.
There is no ur-editor. It's us.
And there is no ur-geek, no ur-fan. No one gets to tell you you're not a fan, or to stop writing fanwork because it's not to their taste, or that you need to disregard that a work is insulting you when you judge its merits.*****
The Ada Initiative's work in creating and publicizing codes of conduct for conventions, in creating and running Ally Skills and Impostor Syndrome workshops, and in generally fighting -isms in open culture, helps more people participate in speculative fiction. TAI's work is even more openly licensed than Thoughtcrime Experiments was, so you can easily translate it, record it, and reuse it to make our world more like the world we want. For everyone. Please donate now, joining me, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Annalee Flower Horne, Leonard Richardson, and many more. You can help us change the constraints -- help us edit the world.
I'm gonna close out with one of my favorite fanvids, an ode to fandom. This is a different kind of love song / dedicated to everyone.
* Some couples can basically collaborate on anything together. Leonard and I, it turns out, can get grumpy with each other when our tastes conflict. Just last night he pointed out that the multi-square-feet poster I presented at PyCon (mentorship lessons I learned from Hacker School) barely fits on the wall in our flat, anywhere, and will be the largest single item of decor we have. My "it would fit on the ceiling" well-actually gained me no ground. I pointed out that it would easily fit over the head of our bed, and mentioned that after all, some couples do put religious iconography there. I backpedaled off this in the face of his utter unconvincedness, and suggested that we *try* it above the TV. It now watches over us, slightly overwhelming. He might be right.
** Maybe you heard about The Aims Vid Album, encouraging and gathering fanvids to the tune of Vienna Teng's Aims? Which is FANTASTIC AND AMAZING and omg have you seen raven's "Landsailor" vid?? I have all the feels about that vid.
*** Although not as free a license as we sort of wished. In retrospect I wish we'd gone for an opendefinition.org license so we didn't have niggling questions about whether our sales counted as commerce, etc.
***** I particularly like Patrick Nielsen Hayden's formulation:
I think it's fine to ignore and not read something because the author has called for harm to you or to people you care about. Art and politics can't ever be completely separated. As a general rule of thumb, when we think our approach to something is politics-free, that generally means the politics are so normative as to be invisible.
(I'm not on Facebook so I look up people from my past occasionally, e.g., today when I made a joke about physics majors, and am always surprised.)
I wonder whether a guy like 2014 him would get along with a person like 2014 me, now, if we met fresh. It's not out of the question that we'll run into each other someday professionally.
I suppose deciding to leave Wikimedia is making me think about breakups more generally, and about the closing off of possibilities. I won't know WMF's textures as closely after I leave it behind. They have a future without me and I won't even know about the internal arguments, much less take part in them. It's a strange thing, a parting -- not that it is unusual, but that it estranges you from a part of yourself.
Signs of progress: we've fixed this bug: "Vector: Default icon for "profile" in personal tools should be gender neutral and fit with other site icons look & feel". And someone I know helped add a code of conduct to a "Foo Cafe" meetup.
Mindy Preston & Lita Cho both attended Hacker School and then did Outreach Program for Women internships, and wrote up interesting wrapup posts. I'm noodling around thinking about the confluence of Hacker School and OPW. I think it's clear that women who do both are much more likely to get programming jobs than are women who just do one. Together they constitute a 6-month apprenticeship, half face-to-face and pretty unstructured (often working on lots of small projects), half remote and preplanned (usually working on one 3-month project). I think this is complementary in the end, but people going from one to the other get disoriented I think.
I have been getting stellar performance reviews at work and they're really sad to see me go. I'm genuinely choosing to leave. But of course some people will squint at my statement, practice their Kremlinology, and wrongly presume that I'm being pushed out. I think I'm sending pretty strong "this is my choice" signals but I have to be ready for people to doubt that.
Leonard and I have now watched the first half of "British Transport Films Volume Ten: London on the Move". I love old industrial films. And I'm maybe 20% of the way through this His Dark Materials fanfic and a third of the way through "Perfecting Sound Forever".
Time for tea.
I realized that I've had more distinct jobs (even full-time jobs) than romantic relationships, and that this differentiates me from folks who have had more relationship experiences than jobs.
Intense friend-feeling is weird! I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I feel embarrassment when I tell a friend how intensely I care about them, and it's doubly embarrassing in public. The other day, on the Hacker School chat network, Julia Evans thanked me for sharing a useful resource on a topic she had been thinking about, and I burst out, "I could live my whole life just trying to create and curate and give you the resources that you are about to need, like rolling a carpet out in front of you, and that would be a worthwhile life." And then felt really vulnerable. What if people think I am in love with her? I'm not! What if she thinks I feel too strongly and am creepy? (She reacted happily so I do not think she thinks this.) I bet non-English languages are better at this, or maybe English registers or dialects or discourses that I'm not used to.
A friend asked me what is most meaningful to me in art, what it is in art that affects me. I slightly got at this when I wrote about what I like and do not like in fiction, but I also ended up saying: seeing some bit of the human experience, described or shown, that I deeply recognize and/or that I've never seen put that way before. And then, what changes me? Travel and music and sex and meditation, which get past my word-shields, I think.
I feel as though I am the most sentimental person I know, aside from my mother.
A few of us were talking about Seth Schoen, and about open source culture. He was my first open sourcey friend and the guy who got me into All Of This. He is my origin story. And he is a gentle hippie who loves to teach and who exuded calm and kindness whenever I asked a question. So I suppose I thought he was what FLOSSy types are like. And then some of my friends came in a different way, and imprinted on shouty people and rose in hierachies where articulating your anger scored you points, gave you cred, got other people to pay attention to you.
A friend has just made me oatmeal. Post.
The Open Source Bridge schedule is up. About half the speakers are women, and all three keynoters are women, and I haven't counted, but there's at least one hour in the schedule where all six speakers are not cis men.
I'm already seeing some teeth-gnashing conflicts with my own talks, e.g., not being able to see Fureigh's talk about the Drupal Ladders project. Which, of course, is a sign of a great schedule.
OK. We're doing a lot better than the median on gender. Next up: ethnicity and class.
Some get-togethers turn into dominance displays -- participants see each other as someone to defeat. We often see this pattern in technical spaces, such as conferences, mailing lists, programming classes, and code review. Skud's 2009 piece "The community spectrum: caring to combative" mentions a few groups who created caring technical subcommunities in response to a competitive or combative culture. Since 2009 we've seen more such efforts -- more and more tidepools where I feel welcome, where I gather strength between trips into the ocean.
Hacker School recognizes that dominance displays discourage learning. For years, Hacker Schoolers have worked to "remove the ego and fear of embarrassment that so frequently get in the way of education", to replace constant self-consciousness with a spirit of play. (Apply now for summer or fall!) During my batch, my peers and I balanced plain old webdev/mobile/etc. projects with obscure languages, magnificently silly jokey toys, and pure beauty. We made fun in our work instead of making fun of each other.
No one "wins" Hacker School. There is no leaderboard. Whenever possible, Hacker School culture assumes abundance rather than scarcity; attempts to rank projects or people would defile our ecology.
And now we have a conference, !!Con, with that same philosophy. It's by Hacker Schoolers but open to anyone* and encouraging talks by everyone.
I love that the !!Con organizers are designing this conference to inclusively celebrate what excites us about programming. If we learn and enjoy ourselves by writing implausible or derivative or useless or gaudy code, and by sharing it with others, the proper response is to celebrate. By focusing on sharing our personal experiences of joy, we let go of dominance-style objective ranking (which is impossible anyway), and instead celebrate a diverse subjectivity. The organizers' choices (including thorough code of conduct, welcoming call for proposals, and anonymous submission review) reinforce this.
I think about this stuff as a geek with many fandoms: programming, scifi, tax history, feminism, open source, comedy, and more. In the best fannish traditions, we see the Other as someone whose fandom we don't know yet but may soon join. We would rather encourage vulnerability, enthusiasm and play than disrespect anyone; we take very seriously the sin of harshing someone else's squee.
This is the fun we make. Not booth babes, not out-nitpicking each other, but wonder.
So, I'm submitting talks to !!Con, and I'm going to be there, May 17-18, soaking in this new warm mossy tidepool of love that's appeared right here in New York City. Join me?
* !!Con will be free to attend, but space will, sadly, be limited, as will the number of talks.
I have been sick with a cold for about a week. Fortunately, this year's Yuletide fan fiction harvest brought me tremendous bounty! I now feel the urge to re-watch or re-read Protector of the Small, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Brick, Stranger Than Fiction, Legally Blonde, and World War Z.
My bookmarks include:
- "Brightness all", an adorable puppy-centric Protector of the Small fic that includes a fake-angry letter from Nealan and the soft spot of curmudgeon Wyldon. Also check out the tags on that one.
- "Inexplicably and without method" for curmudgeonly Karen from Stranger Than Fiction reluctantly learning to use a personal computer.
- "wrapped in red" in case you wanted a lot more glamorous Leverage-esque sophistication from Nancy Drew! Reminds me a bit of the parts of Haywire I liked. Reminds me that I should watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith sometime since Mel recommended it!
- "What We May Be" for a short, sweet peek at a Galaxy Quest curmudgeon. (Oh look, Sumana has a trope.)
- Two Breaking Bad stories, both about Marie: "Blood Ties" portrays her changing sisterhood with Skyler, and "Casts & Slings" shows her with "another survivor," as the summary puts it.
- Finally, "One Of Their Better Parties" gets the farcical voice of Arrested Development dialogue just right, including everyone's varieties of self-delusion and a deployment of "I've made a huge mistake."
Do you have any favorites from this year?
That sounds exactly like Hacker School. So I applied for the autumn batch, and I've been accepted. I will therefore be taking an unpaid personal leave of absence from the Wikimedia Foundation via our sabbatical program. My last workday before my leave will be Friday, September 27. I plan to be on leave all of October, November, and December, returning to WMF in January. During my absence, Quim Gil will be the temporary head of the Engineering Community Team. I'll spend much of September turning over responsibilities to him. Over the next month I'll be saying no to a lot of requests so I can ensure I take care of all my commitments by September 27th, when I'll be turning off my wikimedia.org email.
When I'm in the zone, growing my programming skills, time is a blur, I feel powerful, and I am in awe of what we can make. And the more I think about doing Hacker School, having that feeling for weeks at a stretch, the more excited I get. So I'm thrilled that I can take three months off my job to come to Hacker School, so I can make tools to make my life easier, and so I can be a better community manager for MediaWiki (calling out easy bugs for newbies, running stats, packaging and customizing tools, etc.). I want to nurture the programmer side of myself, because programming is heady fun, and because the skillset will supercharge everything else I do. I'll be a more effective citizen, coach, and leader if I increase my fluency in code.
After all, it's going to take a lot of energy and innovation to improve the quality of open source software. We need open source software that ordinary people can use, with documentation in the languages users speak, and whose design addresses the needs of women and men worldwide. Whatever approach I take to that problem -- mentorship, platform-building, recruiting specific demographics, media-making -- I anticipate wanting to hack a lot of dashboards, APIs, courseware, wiki templates, poorly formatted datasets, CRMs, and helpful little scripts along the way.
Thank you, WMF, for the sabbatical program, and thanks to my team (especially Engineering Community Team's Quim Gil, Andre Klapper, Guillaume Paumier, and my boss Rob Lanphier) for supporting me on this; I couldn't do this without you. And thanks to the women-in-open-source community, especially the Ada Initiative, for helping me gain the confidence to take this step. (The Ada Initiative's trying to finish its fundraiser, in case you can help.)
If there's anything else I can do to minimize inconvenience, please let me know. And wish me courage!
Cross-posted to Cogito, Ergo Sumana.
My parents came to the US from Karnataka, in south India, in the 1970s, and they were lonely. They spoke Kannada and English and Farsi and Hindi and Sanskrit, but Kannada was their mother tongue, and they arrived in Oklahoma and found no Kannadiga community to speak of. (Go ahead and groan. My dad passed on his love of terrible puns to me.)
I'm not saying they were the first Kannada speakers in the US. There were definitely already Kannadigas in the US in the 1970s. Indians had been immigrating here for decades.* There were letters and long-distance phone calls and occasional visits, a few families getting together, the adults laughing and swapping tips in Kannada while kids ran around. But the Kannada-speaking diaspora was scattered and had no central place to talk with each other. A bunch of people who shared a characteristic, but not really a community.
So my parents did some community organizing, in their spare time, in between working and raising my sister and me. How did they get Kannada speakers together? They started "Kannada Koota" local organizations (like user groups). "Koota" means "meeting" in Kannada. They basically started a grassroots network of Kannadiga meetups. How did they get these folks talking to each other, all across the country? They started a bimonthly magazine, Amerikannada, and ran it for 7 and a half years, until their money and energy ran out. It had great fiction, and articles from the literary magazines back home. And it included ads for those Kannada Koota meetups, "how I started a Kannada Koota" articles, and tutorial exercises for "how to learn Kannada", for parents to teach their kids. My parents were sharing best practices, talking meta, inspiring people all over.
I didn't really know that, as a kid. As my parents processed subscriptions, recruited articles and ads, wrote, and edited, my sister and I stapled, stamped, glued, and sealed bits of paper in languages we couldn't quite yet read. We had a rubber stamp with the logo: a griffin-like creature, half-lion, half-bald eagle. I gleefully deployed those magical bulk-mail stickers, red and orange and green with single-letter codes, and piled envelopes into burlap sacks and plastic bins for the frequent trips to the post office.
It was always my Dad who took the Amerikannada mail to the post office. He was strong in those days, heaving the great bags of mail like an Indian Santa Claus (mustache yes, beard no) alongside the blue-uniformed workers on the loading dock, the part of the post office most people never use or even see. My sister and I came along, not to help -- how could we? -- but to keep my Dad company.
At home, while toying with BASIC on a PC Jr, I overheard the shouted long-distance phone calls in mixed Kannada and English. Stuff like "Go ahead and give me the directions to the venue, and I'll tell it to Veena." or "Well you know who you should talk to? Raj is going to be over there around then...." Weekend after weekend I spent reading science fiction in some corner at a Kannada Koota.**
The funny thing is that I thought I was rebelling against my parents by taking the path I did. I majored in political science at Berkeley instead of engineering, and fell in with open source hippies. I used AbiWord on Caldera Linux to write papers about nineteenth-century American political theory and naturalization rates among Indians in Silicon Valley. I fell away from coding and saw that other things needed doing more urgently: tech writing, testing, teaching, marketing, management.
And here I am now, a community organizer like them, finally appreciating what they did, what they made, what they gave up. My dad had to work to support us; he couldn't edit Amerikannada full-time, even if that would have been a better use of his talents, and a greater service to the world. My parents couldn't find enough ads and subscribers to pay for the cost of keeping the magazine going. I appreciate WordPress and PayPal all the more because I see that Amerikannada folded (partly) for the lack of them.
What if one of my parents had been able to bring in income from the community we were building? What if it had been sustainable?
Today, the community that I most identify with is that of women in open source and open culture. We've talked to each other in pockets and locally for decades - hats off to LinuxChix and VividCon, for instance - but in the last few years, The Ada Initiative has brought us more resources, a stronger community, and faster progress than ever. And this is possible because the Ada Initiative's staff is full-time.
So, here's the surprise: Leonard and I will match every donation to the Ada Initiative up to a total of USD$10,000 until midnight August 27th PDT, one week from today. Yes, again. And this time, if the community matches the full amount, we'll chip in an extra thousand dollars.
The Ada Initiative's work is useful in our own lives. When I needed an anti-harassment policy for my workplace's technical events, and when Leonard wanted resources to advise his technical communities on diversity, we consulted the Ada Initiative's resources. AdaCamp brings together, teaches, and inspires women from all over, including me. And the network I found via the Ada Initiative helped me write a keynote speech and respond to unwanted touch at a hackathon.
But more than that, we know that we're improving our world and helping science fiction, open source, and Wikipedia live up to our values. We believe in inclusiveness, compassion, empowerment, and equal and fair treatment for all, and the Ada Initiative opens the doors for more women to get to enjoy those values in the places we love.
And my parents taught me that I should give back. It feels so much better to give back than to give up.
* One couple who moved from Gujarat to California in 1958 had a son who's now a Congressman.
** Nowadays I get to be the only Kannadiga at science fiction conventions.