Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

16 Nov 2014, 17:36 p.m.

Shelter and Memory

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 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 So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it!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.

Mary Schmich wrote in that 1997 "wear sunscreen" advicedump, which has stuck with me and overall proven a good guide for adult Sumana:

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

This weekend I hung out with a couple of Wikimedia engineers I'd known for a while -- heck, I'd helped one of them move. One of them mentioned, "I was looking at the Wikipedia article for Team America: World Police --"

And I joked something like, "Oh, because it was interfering with the Education Program's Team America namespace?"

And he laughed at my joke, because he remembered that two years ago, we tried to help out professors by introducing a Course namespace (basically wiki pages starting with "Course:"), but that this caused a conflict with the article about the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Course: Oblivion". Such an obscure joke.

That's the time and the place for the coziness of an inside joke -- among friends, the ones who've helped you shape your identity, so the homosocial bonding doesn't exclude newbies and imply to them that if they don't get the joke then they don't belong. I wonder what idiom speakers of other languages use; the phrase "inside joke" carries these connotations of shelter and interiority to me.

There's a saying that you know you're a New Yorker when you point to a storefront and say "I remember when that was [something different]." I've been here going on nine years, longer than I have ever lived in any other city, and I can imagine visual diffs for scores of blocks. It makes me feel rooted, like a tree. I can sense -- and sometimes give in to -- the temptation to assume that the change began when I arrived and began to observe it, as though the only important change is the change I witnessed.

My family moved over and over when I was a child, and I was poor at socializing as a teen, and I've only retained a handful of college friendships. Today I'm doing a big inbox scouring, and this musing reminds me to prioritize replying to the old pals, the ones who knew a Sumana I can barely remember.