The Sword of Truth

When I first came to philosophy, I viewed it as a battle. The philosopher was trying to make me believe something false, and it was my responsibility to stop him. I saw myself as a knight–locked in an epic battle with a dragon. Only one of us could walk away from this fight alive.

Fortunately, I was not sent into these battles unprepared. My philosophy classes gave me the tools I needed to emerge victorious. I had been armed with logic–the sword of truth–and the more dragons I slayed the more proficient I became in its use. I, like so many undergraduates, believed I was one of the chosen ones–engaged in dismantling the many-headed hydra of bad argument and unclear definitions. A single flick of my pen could send a famed philosopher to his knees, begging for mercy. But what place has mercy in the fight for truth?

So I defeated dragon after dragon, book after book, and each school vacation, I polished my sword, swore to destroy fallacies, and pledged to bring the light of logic back to the world. I was happy in my mission. I thought, perhaps, this was all there was.

Somehow I missed the giant, gleaming pile of gold.

By this time, I had become an excellent swordswoman. I could anticipate the philosopher’s every move and take advantage of his smallest misstep. But I was so focused on slaying the dragon, that I failed to notice my surroundings. I defeated my enemy and closed the book, leaving behind his treasure-filled cave.

I had become mesmerized by my own sword strokes, and I forgot that logic is only one tool in my arsenal. Yes, the arguments of many great philosophers are imperfect. Descartes’ ontology argument can be easily dismantled by a beginner. Well and good. Excellent swordplay. But if your next step is to close the cover, leave the cave, and dismiss the Meditations as a foolish book–then you’ve missed out on a valuable experience. Instead of learning anything or growing as a person, you’ll become more and more entrenched in a certain set of beliefs: worshipping logic, the way of the sword.

But there is another way. Before you strike, pause for just a moment and think–perhaps this book, for all its flaws, still has something to teach me. Perhaps there is a reason this book is still read, still discussed, and still studied all these centuries later. Perhaps that reason is not that every philosopher and thinker before you is a stupid idiot incapable of wielding a sword…

Engage in this sort of thinking, and you might begin to see little glimmers of treasure, even in the most frustratingly illogical arguments. Descartes paves the way for Einstein’s thought experiments. Schopenhauer realized that as embodied creature we might have a special sort of access to the material world. Derrida points out that the language we use to communicate with each other is an imperfect tool; what I mean may not be what you hear. If any of these insights seem obvious to you, consider the possibility that they are only obvious because these thinkers influenced our society. They changed the intellectual landscape. Maybe, just maybe, there remains something worthwhile in their books…

So, dear younger self, don’t just slay the dragon. After you’ve practiced your swordplay, stay and look over the gold he’s been hoarding. Take the best bits with you.

And maybe, just maybe, consider talking to the dragon before you slay him. Perhaps he could tell you which bits of treasure are cursed…

But that is a quest for another day.

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Lacuna: Searching for the Words We Need

“There is a gap in my knowledge.”

“I know there’s a word for this, but I’m not sure what it is.”

“Is there even a word for this?”

If you’re like me, you have this conversation rather often. There’s a word you’re looking for. You know precisely what you need it to mean, and you’re certain that it must exist somewhere–but you haven’t got the foggiest notion of what the word is, or even how to find it!

Oh, you’ll google phrases of what it might be. You’ll scroll through loose synonyms in the desperate hope that something will strike a chord. Yet, deep down, the fear keeps growing within you that this is a word you’ll just have to live without…


I’m starting this post series in the hopes that we internet-folk can band together to find the words we’re looking for.

To start us off, here’s a word some of you may need–the title of this post:

lacuna, pl lacunae or lacunas

a blank space or a missing part: gap (“The evident lacunae in his story”–Shirley Hazzard); also : deficiency (“Despite all these lacunae, those reforms were a vast improvement.”–New Republic)

<http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lacuna&gt;

And a word I’m searching for:

What is called when you see a word for the first time, look it up, and then suddenly see it everywhere? (Or when you learn about something and then see examples of it all over the place?) It’s a little like synchronicity and a little like serendipity. I could just call it coincidence, but I swear there’s got to be a better word.

I have no earthly clue where to look for this word… but I’m sure once I find it, I’ll see it everywhere!

Help me internet, you’re my only hope!

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An Open Letter to Fantasy Writers

tomeSomeday I would like to teach a course on writing fantasy.

We wouldn’t talk that much about writing–any creative writing course could teach my students those skills. No, our focus would be on worldbuilding. Specifically, my course would teach my students how to avoid the classic pitfalls of fantasy. So many books take place in a badly researched medieval Europe. So many more feature systematic oppression of women, institutionalized racism, and a severe underrepresentation of minorities of all sorts. Worse still, these oppressive tendencies in fantasy worldbuilding are so much the default that no explanation is given for these aspects of the world. This is a problem that I will train my students to avoid.

I expect my students will protest. They will say, “This is a story I thought of that just happens to be racist/heteronormative/sexist. That wasn’t my intent. I’m not ablist/ageist/bigoted.  But it’s my world and I shouldn’t have to change it.”

To them, I will respond, “You don’t have to, but you should.”

You see, these imaginary students of mine didn’t “just happen” to think of such a world. They thought of such a world because it is the world in which they live–drawn on a grander scale. My students don’t see many women in positions of power. They don’t learn from many scholars of minority races. They don’t talk to many senior citizens or elementary school students. They see gender and sexuality as too political of issues to deal with in their fantasy writing. They don’t have friends with mental or physical handicaps.

These are the reasons why my students “just happen” to think of world where these people are not represented. These are the reasons why these people aren’t real enough to my students for them to become characters. These are the reasons why my students can imagine a world with magic or trolls or dragons–but not a world with equality.

My course will be constructed to fix these problem. Each of my students will be forced to interview people of other genders–and write a story from their perspective. Then, they will be forced to interview people of other races and cultures–and write a story from their perspective. Together, we will travel to a senior citizen center and an elementary school. During class, we will have panels of speakers on the GLBTQ spectrum and panels of speakers with special needs. After each of these events, my students will be forced to write stories from these alternate perspectives.

Then, when the time comes for their final project, if one of my student chooses to write a story exclusively about white, cis-male, able-bodied, twenty-somethings living in a badly researched medieval European setting–then that student will fail, and the more of those tropes my students avoid, the better they will do.

Because, in the end, it does matter what you say–even in fantasy books, and if your words contribute to an oppressive discourse that injures myself and my friends, then I will hold you accountable for that–whether you signed up for my course or not.

So, dear readers, let me leave you with an assignment. I can think of professional fantasy writers who would pass my course, but I can’t think of anyone who would get an A. Can you? If you write fantasy, do your stories pass?

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Poser Geek Boys

If you’re in the geek community, you’ve probably seen the controversy surrounding the fake geek girl. She’s just looking for attention. She hasn’t even seen the first 30 years of Doctor Who. She only likes comics for the pretty pictures.

Frankly, I find this controversy ridiculous. Not because women are perfectly capable of enjoy all these things. Not because there’s more than one way to like something. Not because geeks of all people should understand what it’s like to be excluded from something. No. None of that. My reason for laughing at the controversy is simple:

Women were the original geeks.

Don’t believe me? I can prove it.

Imagine, if you will, an early geek. Having trouble? These are some pretty common ideas:

Programming

Classic early geek activity–nerding the f*** out over computers, creating new languages, and leaping tall programming challenges in a single line!The beloved shelves filled with action, adventure, and scantily clad females... excuse me, I need a minute.The beloved shelves filled with action, adventure, and scantily clad females… excuse me, I need a minute.Tiny figures, painstakingly painted. Who's an adorable little skeleton monkey? You are!Tiny figures, painstakingly painted. Who’s an adorable little skeleton monkey? You are!Knowledge of episodes aired 50 years ago; ; complicated theories explaining continuity errors; minute detailsof fictional characters's many regenerations and companions-- All this and more could be yours!Knowledge of episodes aired 50 years ago; ; complicated theories explaining continuity errors; minute details of fictional characters’ many regenerations and companions–All this and more could be yours!Pwnd! Suck it noob!Pwnd! Suck it n00b!

In short, you’re probably imagining something like this:

Poser Geek Boy

Geek boy, ensconced in his natural habitat: the Fortress of Solitude

—-WRONG. ALL WRONG.—-

You see, my friends, the all of the above choices are examples of modern geeks, or as I like the call them, posers. These poser geek boys are degenerate, cave-dwelling copies of the original geek girls: Victorian Women.

As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, there is an almost one-to-one correspondence between these two groups:

fake geek blog_Page_1

It’s like looking into a mirror!

But just in case you missed it, please allow me to spell it out:

Stitching Patterns

Classic early geek activity–nerding the f*** out over clothes, creating new dress patterns, and leaping tall stitching challenges in a single thread!

The beloved shelves filled with action, adventure, and scantily clad males... excuse me, I need a minute.

The beloved shelves filled with action, adventure, and scantily clad males… excuse me, I need a minute.

Tiny figures, painstakingly painted. Who's an adorable terrifying, soulless dolly? You are!

Tiny figures, painstakingly painted. Who’s an adorable terrifying, soulless dolly? You are!

Minute details of neighbor's lives and choice of companions; complicated theories of who is flirting with whom; knowledge of families extending back eleven generations-- All this and more could be yours!

Minute details of neighbor’s lives and choice of companions; complicated theories of who is flirting with whom; knowledge of families extending back eleven generations–
All this and more could be yours!

Pwnd! Suck it n00b!

Pwnd! Suck it n00b!

So when you think of geeks, think of this:

The Victorian Geek Girl

And if you think girl geeks are posers, think again!

Bonus points: Want to see how much true geek cred you have? Pull out your copies of Pride and Prejudice ladies! Back in the day, “geek cred” was called “being an accomplished young lady.” Go check it out!

(Men need not apply. Sorry boys!)

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The Importance of Preparation

You know how sometimes you dream and dream and dream but everything seems impossible?

You know how othertimes you wake up and suddenly everything is easy?

Here’s something you may not yet have realized: both of these are lies.

Let me tell you a story you probably already know. Odds are that there’s some person in your life who is hiding from something. You know the one I mean–that guy you knew in high school who daydrinks at the local bar, that friend who does nothing but bingewatch Netflix, that grieving old catlady who never leaves her house, or maybe it’s you–surfing the internet instead of doing whatever it is you wish you had the gumption to do. No shame in this; I’m not blaming you. We’ve all been there.

But then one day it stops. The drunk goes to rehab–and it takes; the friend turns off the television–and calls you. The catlady joins a bookgroup; you do the thing you’ve been dreaming of all these years. When this breakthrough finally happens, it feels like a miracle. It feels like a sudden, inexplicable change that has nothing to do with you. All you did was wake up this morning. The fact that you feel okay again, the new ability you’ve acquired to live the life you’ve always dreamed–these are just things that have happened to you. You’ve wasted so much time, but now you can finally get off the internet and get back to the business of living. You try not to question your good fortune. Thank God that’s over, you say, and shrug it off.

Lies. All lies. Your shift in perspective is not something that just happened to you; it’s something you worked for. The time you spent in front of the television or the computer, staring at the bottom of a glass, buying another cat–that time wasn’t worthless. The seeming miracle is actually the payoff of all your effort. You weren’t wasting time. You were preparing.

Each day you were waking up a little bit closer to today, the day it finally happens. The impossible of three years ago and the impossible of yesterday may feel equally insurmountable at the time, but in reality, the impossible of yesterday is emotional-eons closer to the possible of today. You may not have known it yesterday, but you were almost here.

Maybe that sounds crazy. Maybe it is, but having come to this belief myself, I can now feel myself preparing for something. I can’t yet do all the things I dream of. I can’t yet finish that post I’ve been planning. I can’t yet overcome my fear of change. I can’t yet be okay with the people I’ve lost or the possibility of soon losing more. These things still make me hide in my room, waste time on Facebook, drink away my feelings.

But today I’m closer.

And tomorrow may be the day it pays off.

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Introducing: Defense of a Millennial Lifestyle

I wrote Saturday’s post on a whim, but it actually segues quite nicely into a series of posts I’ve been planning to write: Defense of a Millennial Lifestyle.

Honestly, I feel a bit silly doing this. I’ve seen 10 times more articles defending Millennials against the stereotype of laziness than articles daring to suggest that Millennials might be the tiniest bit lazy. There’s some selection bias here, of course. My generation owns the internet. Facebook is one of the things we get accused of wasting all our time on, and I’m not friends with too many curmudgeonly old fogies . Still, a simple google search reveals “lazy” Millennials have plenty of people rushing to their defense.

Nevertheless, here I am, responding to the call.

Why?

To put it simply: I don’t like the way the defense is being framed. The defenses I’ve seen have been of two types: either claiming that the laziness doesn’t exist at all (Look at these twenty-somethings working three jobs and raising children and selflessly volunteering their time…!) or claiming that what looks like laziness is actually something else (Look at these twenty-somethings desperately looking for jobs or enjoying their youth or trying to build a happy life in the future!).

These defenses are all fine. I’m glad my generation isn’t lazy. I’m glad my generation is searching for a better life and trying to improve the world. I’m even glad my generation is taking the time to enjoy their youth and to find the kinds of jobs that will actually make them happy. All this is great.

What’s not great is the implication in these articles that the Millennial Lifestyle is only defensible if it’s either an unjustified stereotype or a misunderstood preparation for greater things. What’s not great is that these articles don’t talk about the people who’ve always lived this lifestyle–not by choice and certainly not out of laziness–but because it was the only lifestyle they could live. I’m speaking of the group that rarely gets spoken about, of the stories that never get told because we’re so focused on defending the poor, not-so-lazy Millennials:

I want to talk about the people who were poor before it was cool.

In this series, I’ll argue that defending Millennials in the ways I’ve outlined above contributes to the silencing and the shaming of this already marginalized group. I know I can’t claim to speak directly for that group. I was born privileged; I had lots of options; I chose to live like I do. I don’t know what it’s like to have a minimum-wage paycheck be an unlooked-for blessing or to have working in food service be the only way to feed my own family. I can’t speak directly for marginalized, lower-class Americans.

However, as a Millennial leading the classic Millennial lifestyle, I can claim to speak for my generation, and I can attempt to construct a defense of the lifestyle I choose to lead without hurting the people who are forced to live this lifestyle.

So that’s what I’ll be trying to do with this post series. Wish me luck?

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10 Clichés for the Lazy Millennial

Last night I had a realization. I am a Millennial. My generation is clearly too lazy to do productive things like boil water, sew our own clothes, or translate Latin phrases, but we’re also too lazy to say original things. What a conundrum!

Fortunately, I found a solution:

Kickin' it old school

What is this even a picture of?

10 Clichés for the Lazy Millennial

1) A watched iPhone never updates.

How much time do we waste watching a webpage load or a computer update? I too feel the fascination of the eternally spinning wheel or the bar creeping slowly into fulness. But we must resist.

2) A click in time wastes nine.

The best procrastination takes planning. If you find yourself on Wikipedia, Facebook, Buzzfeed, or (God forbid) TV Tropes, happy clicking, my friend. Don’t expect to resurface anytime soon.

3) There is much to amend twixt compose and send.

We’ve all had that moment where we finally click send on an email, only to realize that the subject line contained a typo, and we were doomed from the start.

4) The Troll finds work for idle hands to do.

Don’t feed the trolls. In the event that you find yourself fighting with a troll on the internet, step slowly away from the computer. Then run. 

5) To err is human, to render nonsensical is autocorrect.

Bananas.

6) I post therefore I am./Beauty is in the eye of the Instagram.

Pics or it didn’t happen. Always remember to post pictures of your food. Everyone does need to know your every passing thought. That’s what makes Facebook go round.

7) There is no accounting for Tumblr.

Everyone has their own tastes, but fortunately, Tumblr has something for everyone.

8) Twitter is the soul of wit.

I believe Shakespeare’s preferred medium was Twitter. Clearly a superior form of communication, amirite? #Hamlet #2bornot2b #brevity

9) There is more than one way to caption a lolcat.

Human inge-mew-ity is endless. I can has moar choicez plz?

10) Home is where the wireless is.

Many things change throughout our lives, but we all know what loves us most: the internet.

[For the curious, the originals: 1) A watched pot never boils; 2) A stitch in time saves nine; 3) There is many a slip twixt cup and lip; 4) The devil finds work for idle hands to do; 5) To err is human, to forgive is divine; 6) I think therefore I am/Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; 7) There is no accounting for taste; 8) Brevity is the soul of wit; 9) There is more than one way to skin a cat; 10) Home is where the heart is.]

Do you have any updated sayings to share? Tell me in the comments!

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