Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

19 Aug 2010, 13:33 p.m.

Sorry, Yet Not, For The Length

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I closed the lid of my iBook G4 at some point this summer, maybe in June, and didn't open it again till I came back from India, with my Linux laptop unavailable. I'd been timesinking (otherwise known as keeping up with RSS feeds) via NetNewsWire on that 5-year-old Mac, and I suppose I accidentally experimented with simply dropping that part of my life, for a time. Some friends' or writers' blogs, I followed manually, and some I just forgot about;, Twitter, LiveJournal and Dreamwidth fed my pipeline steadily enough; I just stopped trying to follow a lot of the stream.

I supposed I vaguely thought it would build up, the backlog. I'm usually a completist. I get anxious about reading every word, seeing every episode, rewinding if the phone rings and I miss five seconds of dialogue. (I'm an asshole about no talking when we're watching something together. The pause button gets employed a lot.) But today I started up NetNewsWire and there weren't ten thousand new items, there were like 1400. Quirks of settings and configuration, of RSS feeds simply no longer carrying such long-past items, so my reader had never retrieved them -- I have missed a big stripe of the stream.

And that's fine. There is no complete. Some of that stuff I will never know about. Some I'll hear about in other ways. Some might have changed my life. Some might have just amped up my anxiety, added yet more I Shoulds to my dark cloud. I was living a different full life instead, meeting new friends at conferences, whiling away long afternoons in the living room in Mysore while my mom slept, reading poetry aloud into a recorder for a friend on the other side of the globe, frittering away precious irrevocable moments in other ways. Maybe not better, but different, and different is its own kind of better.

Edinburgh for me was always the randomizer, the place I hitched to every year, camped out in, and came out in some other country, six weeks later, with hungover and overdrawn, with a new skill or passion or someone sadder or more famous or just more fuddled and dumber than ever.

I feel like I started traveling this year in April, or January, and never stopped. Traveling, and writing harder, and meeting new people who knock me to pieces, and trying and failing to volunteer better and make things socially. (Try again, fail better, when I have a moment to breathe, in November.)

This post started as a letter to one of those people, so I could talk about how looking at these RSS feeds now, I have a different pruning hand. I'm more prone to cut the Must Keep Up! politics and tech firehoses. And my eye has changed. I catch my breath when I see a gem of prose or thought, especially a phrase of love or anger that punches through. I get overwhelmed with happiness when someone articulates something just so, or when a precise, vivid illustration-in-words works its magic on my mind's eye. Insight and beauty -- did I get inured to them, mixed in with the sod and dross, or was I not noticing them? How much have I changed, my God?

I could hear the lilt and awe in Scott Rosenberg's voice when I read him saying "There's so much that's fun and unexpected in Perfecting Sound Forever:..." and it made me want to collect the pretty marbles as I read instead of just letting them fall to the floor. A stream, caught for once, another form of completism, but maybe less neurotic and more about joyous sharing.

...your books do not love you. They are objects, and not morally superior to any other object in your house. Again, books are not morally superior to any other objects. They are just heavier. all good hells, the eating down the pantry hell is all the worse because it is a hell of your unique making.

The study has its limits, of course; we are strongly multivariate bags of chemicals, after all.

The tie from this book to my own interests should be clear, but if not, I should make them explicit: free and open source software often thinks of itself as being sui generis, but in fact it is part of a history (in this country) of retreat from established economic structures with the intent of creating parallel systems that would eventually compete with or replace those established structures with something simultaneously individually empowering and socially just.

(A laugh-out-loud The Big Caption.)

The argument I have always seen against dropping the use of such words always boils down to "But I'm a word nerd, and I think I should be able to use any word I want. Not using that word cuts a hole in my lexicon, and demonizes it, besides. Also, I like that word."

That's not word-nerdery. That's laziness. That's favoring metaphor over precision, generality over specificity. A real word-nerd would keep searching until they came up with a more correct, more fitting descriptor. If the situation you're involved in actually resembles a death-march? Then by all means, go ahead and use that word. If not? Head back to the well and drop the bucket. Surely you can come up with something better than that.

Finally I suggested that Alex design her own coin. Her first reaction: "But it's against the law!" No, I explained, it's only against the law to make copies of real coins trying to fool people. I drew the circles for her and helped with some of the spelling. Here you have the results: the Alex 1000 dollar coin.

i have been meaning to write an article about the whole experience
for some time now
maybe pitch it to some of those magazines
that run personal-narrative articles

you know the kind of article i'm talking about
they begin in medias personal res
and then gently flesh out a few details
and toward they end they circle some greater truth

like a dog who's worried there's a trap somewhere near the food dish.

I thought about how it is with this kind of high joy, that there has to be a kind of recklessness, a forgetting, in order to fly like that.

On all sides of the political spectrum of homeschoolers, I tend to see an unrealistically rosy view of families. Parents care more about their kids than anyone else ever could, and parents know what’s best for their kids’ education. Yeah. I know too many parents who use crack to buy into this one; disillusionment about the awesomeness of families is an occupational hazard for me. There will always be parents who are disengaged and/or incompetent and/or malevolent. We will always need a default educational system that is not dependent on parents knowing or caring about what is best for their children, and it needs to be as good as we can make it because those kids are already starting out with two and a half strikes against them, and they deserve a chance.

I was terrified. It may have all been about anticipating the roaches that I suspected were all over our new apartment. It may have been the foreign sturdiness of the word, "wife."

My own guess is that a rule like this breaks one of the important criteria for a rule of justice that are there in some versions of Rawls - that the social decision rule has to be justifiable to everyone in society on their own terms, otherwise it's not really a society. If you have an overarching rule about priorities, it's going to create what Kenneth Arrow calls "positional dictators" - ie people whose position in the current allocation of resources gives them a status such that the social utility function is wholly determined by theirs. More importantly, there are going to be loads of people whose priorities are nowhere near the social priorities and who therefore have no chance whatsoever of seeing their particular hobbyhorse being funded. People like that are eventually going to get pig sick of making their contribution, because they're going to believe (correctly) that the society they're in isn't working for them.

"In this town everyone's rich. So when everyone's equal serendipity becomes a status symbol." ... Maybe telling them "no" trashed their delusion that life should just be one series of effortless moments after another.

"Yeah, they never show you at home what they can do."

We're both fans of public transit, something we discovered the first time we met; we talked about our favorite AC Transit bus line (the 51) the first time we had dinner, and celebrated a subway-accessible wedding a year and a half later.

Subjectivity Isn’t Sustainable... Sometimes it takes extra time and effort to describe and document situations that appear obvious or hard to describe. We should at least try. Failing to do so keeps all the power and decision making with the people who know.

Then, to our utmost surprise, the captain stepped down from the platform and continued: "My wife and I struggled for a long while, and we just adopted a child last year. It is life's greatest gift. And so, it is my pleasure to do this for you. Won't you please give me your hands so that I can fingerprint them?"

I recently told a reader that if forced to choose, I would sacrifice every video game in existence for the works of Shakespeare and not give it a moment's thought. Such mental experiments are folly. It's likely that if we ever do lose the works of Shakespeare it will be at the same instant we lose all the video games and everything else.

I like universal health care not for any moral reason but because it encourages job mobility, enterpreneurship, takes the burden off our manufacturing industries, and leads to cheaper health care costs. I like to spend money on education because it makes our workers competitive in the international market. I want cap and trade because reliable humans tell me that the long-term costs of climate shift will be worse than doing nothing. I want solar power so people with thousand-year-old grudges in countries half a world away stop yanking us around. I want to cut defense spending so we can move it to border control and humint resources. I favor separation of church and state because, like Thomas Jefferson, I don't want people of faith to have other faiths shoved on them by the power of the government.

I'm a goddam 1972 Republican.

As I read these, copy and paste these, sitting for hours on my nice couch in my American apartment -- Philip Glass, Ray Lynch -- all my tactile senses drift away, I live in my mind, and you can tell, because the quotes get less and less sensual and beautiful, more and more cerebral and clever. That former, pain and breathtaking joy, that's what I got some of this summer, by leaving things I knew and breaking my heart open more and losing my mind a little. I don't want to just have had a vacation from this straitlaced intellectual life, one that doesn't stick.

Perhaps this should have been a letter after all, personal and quiet, about sun and grass and ants constantly getting onto my skin, about enthusiasm and the hope in knowing time will pass, I don't know. More like this.

I want my writing to be good enough for you. I want my living to be good enough. I don't know what I'm losing in this change, I just have to do what I can't not do.

The first day we met he informed me that the essence of our work was learning to get out of our own fucking way. I am learning that out here--how to get out of my own fucking way--and really listen to what I care about, what I truly ache to say. ...

It is almost 11. There is nothing out there but the terrible night.

I scramble around for words to shape and convey how I'm feeling and all I have is what already exists. It is a little late in life for me to decide to invent a new language to love the world with -- isn't that sort of conlang pursuit more suited to the 18-25 demographic, or poets? Isn't this sort of rather embarrassing love letter to discovery and change more suited to Dreamwidth?

Screw it. Jim Blandy said, musing to me and Amber Case at the Mozilla table at Open Source Bridge, "every good thing I've ever done has been unauthorized." Post.


19 Aug 2010, 16:46 p.m.

Her books would love her if she loved them enough.