pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Patton Oswalt wrote a blog post on joke stealing, heckling, and rape jokes, and he makes amazing points on each of them. But what I want to talk about is a little incidental line:
In the exact moment after I’d realized that what Blaine said was true, that I’d cribbed a laugh from someone else’s creativity and inspiration, my ego kicked in. And, I mean, my real ego. Not ego’s sociopathic cousin, hubris, which would have made me defensive, aggressive and ultimately rationalize the theft. No, the good kind of ego, the kind that wanted success and fame and praise on my own merits, no matter how long it took.

About a month ago, I missed a social cue while out with a friend. If he had said "how did you miss something so obvious?", I would have responded "fuck you, I'm amazing. You're stupid and this is all your fault because reasons" (hubris). What he actually said was "it's okay, lot's of normal people don't get that.", and my immediate thought was "fuck you, I'm amazing, I can totally learn to do that." (ego).

In writing this, I realized his statement looks a tiny big neg-y. It didn't feel that way to me at the time, and he's never negged me before or since, so I don't think that's what's going on. But I do think the power of good-ego might be what pick up artists are tapping into with negs: the desire to be our best self and have that self be seen.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I'm hitting the limits of the English language pretty regularly. Currently I compensate by spending five minutes talking around a concept in the hopes that I can transmit it to the other person's brain, but that's costly, and only works when I have a good idea of the concept already. There are probably millions of times English has limited my thought process that I'm not aware of.

Obvious solution is to learn another language. Difficulty: I'm not naturally good at languages. They were probably my worst subject in school. I don't know how much of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy/a remnant of the fact that I wasn't allowed to be bad in other subjects (I had a terrible relationship with gym in school, and look at me now), and how much of it is genuine difficulty, but I don't think it matters. Doing something that won't pay off until you're good at it is a fool's errand no matter what your talent level. Plus, ease of learning is probably negatively correlated with letting me think things I can't think right now. I have a vague hope that now that I'm going in with the attitude of "show me how you're different" and not "fuck you for not being English", I will get more out of each thing I learn and also learn more things faster, but I really can't count on that.

I'm also very convinced I need to take an actual class, and not just self study. Languages are for communicating with other people and I should learn them in that context. Also, attempts to study German on my own have fallen completely flat, and I went farther in German than I went in anything. German is not on the list for this project because it is pretty much the least useful language for not thinking like English you could ask for.

One intriguing possibility is sign language. The spatial grammar means it will use different paths than English immediately, and I already find Deaf culture fascinating. The lack of writing means I won't be able to game the system the way I usually do, and forces the in-person interaction I think is critical to this.

But before I commit to that, I wanted to open the floor to other suggestions. There's a community college nearby, with classes starting in a month, so most of the standard options should be available to me.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Something I meant to get to when talking about Chasing Amy but got distracted while trying to dump hump it was a curiosity of human relationships, in which "I've only ever done this with you." is somehow viewed as a greater compliment than "I've done this with five people, and like it best with you." It's not just sex either: (500) Days of Summer has an excellent example of how powerful the words "I've never told anyone this" can be.

This is so illogical on the face of it that I want to just dismiss it, but anything that strong has a reason. So here's what I've come up with for logically consistent reasons to prefer a small N. If we were only talking about sex, disease could be a possibility, but the phenomenon is bigger that that. One possibility is a healthy regard for the power of infatuation hormones, but that should attenuate as a relationship moves past that stage, which is not the case in the observed data.

There are also a few non-creepy ways to appreciate novelty: it's fun to introduce your partner to something new that they enjoy, and it's healthy to want them to be willing to try new things and take (appropriate) risks for/with you.

But the more interesting explanation is the decision to participate in act X with your partner (which, reminder, can be anything from a novel sex act to meeting your children) is not happening in a vacuum, it's based on your behavior up to that point. Being the first boyfriend worthy of accompanying your girlfriend to her favorite bar could be a sign that, based on all the data she already has, she thinks you're going to be together for a while. Viewed that way, there's at least some logic to it. However, I think this grossly overestimates human predictive capabilities. To prove this, I offer an example of rather obvious lessons I have witnessed be learned only after an intensive course at the school of hard knocks:

  • if a man offers you prescription pain killers on the first date, do not take them.
  • If someone says he is not good enough for you, believe him.
  • White knighting- bad idea.*
  • If they'll cheat with you, they'll cheat on you.
  • If they cheated on you eight times, they will probably cheat on you nine times.
  • Loud and vehement hatred of drama is not a shield against messy emotional problems.
  • Readers are invited to add their own in the comments.

The list is funny because it all seems so obvious in retrospect, but when you're in the thick of it- the emotions, the hormones, the allure of wanting something and being wanted- it's easy to think that this time is special and the rules don't apply. And sometimes even very obvious mistakes teach you things. I have a theory that intelligence + will power can make a passable substitute for wisdom for a very long, but will ultimately fail, in part because avoiding problems that way is exhausting in a way genuine maturity is not. Not to brag, but the pain killer one? I would not have done that. But I do think that there is a time and a place and a person for which shared consumption of mind altering substances can be really beautiful. And while I can guarantee I won't do something as stupid as "stranger on a first date", I can't guarantee it will go well either. Or rather, the only way I could guarantee that would be to turn down a bunch of maybes, and quite possibly miss something awesome. The ideal number of false positives is not necessarily 0.

It's worse when you expand it out to non-sex and non-drugs. How do you know if someone is a good person to confide in? Well, after you've confided in several people you'll recognize, if only subconsciously, certain behavior cues. Without that experience, even a very smart person can't do more than screen out the obviously terrible ideas. This brings us back to the theory I stole from a friend that tween girls aren't evil, they're just experimenting with very new, very powerful forces and aren't good at them yet. And when they get good at them, they're much better off for it.

There is not a logical reason why Alyssa from Chasing Amy had to do so many clearly dumb ideas in order to find who she was. But I find it plausible that she did, and plausible that it would give her the certainty her boyfriend lacked. The greatest tragedy of the movie for me was that she had done that work, at considerable cost to herself, only to lose him because he hadn't.

There's an additional step here that's even harder to articulate. It's the emphasis on the first step of a path being the most important, when it should really be the least. This one needs more thought.

*This class is the real money maker for the school of hard knocks. It's always full, and most people repeat it several times before learning the lesson.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I have something like 6 half-written posts on how awesome Captain Awkward is, but I never finish them because I would rather just read more captain awkward. But! now there is something I absolutely must share (also, I finished the entirety of the archives). It is in fact not something said by captain awkward herself, but by a commenter, because Captain Awkward is so amazing she even has a good comments section.

I have to agree with the Captain. Telling her now about things is a bit of a Schwyzer – i.e. “Look, I used to be awful, but now I’m a much better person. Let me tell you in excruciating and self-absorbed detail just how awful I used to be (and also how much I enjoyed it) so you’ll be able to comprehend just how much great a person I am to have changed so much.”

Yes, that.

Blogging is a weird thing and privacy matters and he does talk about current things some times (mostly relating to parenting), and honestly I've been extremely impressed with his "well, this a bunch of new information that I need to spend a long time thinking about" response to uproar, but... this rings extremely true to me. He doesn't glorify his past, but he does romanticize it to an extreme degree.

It's a fine line to tread. I think it is good and beneficial for everyone- and I mean absolutely everyone- to have a culture in which people can talk openly about mistakes they've made. It reduces the stupid things people do for fear of being found out, it helps people who listen avoid that mistake, it helps people who have been victims of someone else's mistake realize it wasn't them. I guess it's kind of like rape in media- I'm glad it's no longer so taboo we can't even talk about it, but I'm not happy with sexualizing it or using it as punishment, and I'm really unhappy with how Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is used to titillate and moralize that those sluts got what they deserved.*

Schwyzer is sort of like that. He has shaped up an incredible amount, but part of him still revels in the thing he's done and is getting its kicks the only way it can.

*In contrast, see: Bones, where murder victims have sex, even kinky sex, and may even be murdered by their kinky sex partners, and the male lead is portrayed as a prude for looking down on them for this.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
When I think of emotional pain, I think of a splinter, or that time my friend's cat had an scratch heal over too soon and turn into an infected cyst. It hurt when it happened. Properly treating it immediately (removing the splinter/cleaning the scratch/feeling the entirely of the trauma) would have hurt more. But if you don't do so, the wound heals over with the problem still inside it.

Properly removing a splinter or cleaning an infected cyst is (processing a trauma), in the short term, more painful than leaving it lie. You can try to dull this with ice or anesthesia*, but it's imperfect, and once it wears off you will still be left with an increase in pain for a while. You endure this because it's the only way to make the pain every truly go away.

The important insight to me is in the time between the injury and the final fix. It doesn't hurt, much. Maybe it doesn't hurt at all, maybe you're just used to it, and have adjusted your gait so you don't aggravate it. But every time someone touches the skin near it (brings up something that reminds you of the trauma), it hurts. It may make the damage worse long term (as you manipulate the splinter into doing more damage internally), and stands no chance of fixing it. If you know why it hurts, you can at least react sensibly (tell people not to touch that spot before they get there, move the limb, leave a conversation when a triggering topic comes up). If you don't, or are a cat, you'll just get angry and lash out without knowing why. Possibly other people will dismiss you as crazy. Possibly you'll dismiss yourself as crazy. Both of these things will only make you angrier.

Which is why, when I experience an unexpectedly intense emotional response, I start taking notes. Once I can triangulate the location of the splinter, I can remove it. Which is rarely fun, and temporarily reduces my cope to deal with the next unexpected splinter touch, but really works in the long term. The alternative is leaving the wound to fester until it pops on your owner's pants as he is getting ready to leave for the airport for a three week vacation, and he will rush to the vet while smelling of death, and they will have no time to give you any painkillers before irrigating the wound.

*although in the case of the cat cyst, anesthesia is another $500 bucks and even your extremely loving owner will tell them to do it with you awake.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
So I love The Magicians. And I like, and will possibly come to love The Magician King. But I seriously question The Magician King as a sequel to The Magicians

First, a rant: A workplace blogger I usually like complained about The Magicians being derivative of Harry Potter and Narnia. And just... ugh. There is always room for debate on artistic issues, but that one is provably false. It's not derivative of Narnia because it's a deliberate comment on the fan culture around Narnia. QED. And it's no more derivative of Harry Potter than the thousands of other books about children discovering they have magical powers and going to school for them are. Many of these were written before Harry Potter was even published, and one of them was written by me when I was six, which FYI is before I learned to read.

This is a longstanding pet peeve of mind: Harry Potter is a fine series, and it has done no harm and much good for the world. But it owes more of its success to luck than to quality. There are better books in the world, and better books in the subgenre, and it pisses me off when JK Rowling says the books aren't even fantasy.

Anyways, I feel The Magicians is somewhat maligned, and it makes me very protective of it.

My rule of thumb for series is that they can't be just one story taking up three volumes, that's a waste of our time. I want to see serious growth and change in perspective between books that come together in a harmony. See: Lilith's Brood, whose second and third books follow the descendants of the first protagonist.

TMG is really good evidence for this: it's really has two stories. One follows Quintin, the hero of the last book accompanied a physically preset but emotionally and mentally absent Julia, who had minor appearances in The Magicians. This is the big quest storyline. The other follows Julia in the time period covered by the Magicians. That storyline is pure gold, and it's resolution in the quest storyline is perfect. I don't think you could quite get away with cutting out the entire rest of the quest story, but I haven't given up on it as an idea either. Honestly, the quest would be perfectly tolerable just so you can see how Julia is doing, if it weren't so counter to the messages in the last book.

Vague spoilers for Magician King )

I wish I could describe why the Julia thread is so amazing, but I either think that spoilers would weaken it (not an attitude I generally hold), or that it's so delicate I don't want to sully it with my description. Suffice to say that one thing Lev Grossman does really well is show people grow. Quintin's growth in the last book and Julia's in this one generate exactly the harmony I talked about earlier.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I maintain my perverse fascination with Scott Adams, but while he's done some interesting things lately, there was nothing I could wrap up in a lesson. And then, completely out of left field, he comes out with this really mature, nuanced, enlightening post about how you are what you learn. If I didn't recognize the writing style I'd think he'd been hacked.

This links in with something I saw data for in Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell) and got an anecdotal handle on with Steve Martin's autobiography (Born Standing Up): the way to learn something is to put yourself in a position where you have to do that thing a lot. Steve Martin got good at comedy when he worked in a magic shop and had to patter at customers 8 hours/day. The Beatles got good when they played hours a night in Hamburg. So I think the best way to learn something is to find a low stakes place in which to fail, over and over again.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
People say placebo effect like they mean "it didn't work" or "they made it up"; It puts me in mind of Bill's comment in True Blood: "No offense Sookie, but humans are shockingly susceptible to just about every form of thought manipulation."

The thing is, the placebo effect isn't in our heads. It's chemically measurable- through an increase in dopamine levels when told you were going to get an an analgesic, through an increase in basophil leves when injected with homeopathic (i.e. nonexistent) levels of histamine*, and through a changes in ghrelin levels when given different expectations about the calorie content of a shake**. The original placebo effect- a decrease in pain when told a sugar pill was a pain medication- doesn't work if you introduce an opiate blocker. My psych 101 professor said women could gain about half a cup size over six months through hypnosis. And there's crazy doctor, who has drastically improved my life with the diagnosis and treatment of adrenal fatigue but recently disappointed me with her belief in homeopathy.

Which leads me to conclude that human brain is just an astonishingly powerful device that hasn't yet figured out how to properly harness itself. Yet.

*Extra interesting because most allergy tests use a saline injection as a negative control. Last time I had it done they told me which one was the control. I wonder what happens if they don't.

**Hat tip: [ profile] stolen_tea


Sep. 11th, 2011 12:04 pm
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I first wanted to discuss this after I read Patton Oswald's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, but I just finished Tina Fey's Bossypants and watched this speech by Louis C.K. from a George Carlin tribute, and I think I'm ready to look for patterns.

The problem with describing lightbulb moments is that lightbulbs don't turn out without fixtures, electrical systems, and power plants, but we don't have time to hear about all that stuff. This analogy may not be as obvious I think it is, so to put it another way: there do exist moments where you suddenly understand something you didn't before, and that understanding may have a lot to do with a specific situation or event, but it couldn't happen without groundwork going back years. But it's hard to recognize that groundwork, and there simply isn't time to share all of it. If you want to understand your lightbulb moment, you have to have the self awareness to identify what actually happened, your thought processes, and the factors that made it possible. If you want to share your understanding, you not only have to articulate all of that, but edit it down to a manageable size. This is hard.

Comedians seem pretty good at it, however. Fey and Oswald's books both autobiographical vignettes (C.K.'s speech is just one story). They are, in the best possible sense, a lot like blog posts: here's a thing that happened, with context as appropriate, and it's relevant to later posts in the sense that they're all part of my life, but I'm not going to try to create flow between them. They're all incredibly good at identifying and articulating these important moments and weaving in the context without bogging down the story. Their task is made easier by the fact that they can use humor to hold your interest during parts that are necessary but not inherently entertaining, but I think it's more than that. I think that the skills that make you a good comedian (and I liked all three of these people beforehand, that's why I read their books) overlap a great deal with the parts of emotional IQ that identify emotional growth.

My favorite part of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is Oswald's description of his first time as a headliner. He bombed. The owner yells at him, skips out on paying for his hotel room, and brings in a new comic who just tells jokes the audience can shout the punchline to for nights 2 and 3. You think it's a story of how he gets screwed over and how awful this club owner was, but then he wanders into a mall, watches some people try out for a commercial, and realizes his approach to comedy is completely wrong and he needs to change everything about his act. Louis C.K.'s story is also about realizing that he needed to throw out everything he'd done for the last 15 years and start again. It's an amazing thing to watch.

And even when they're wrong, they're so articulate you still learning something from it. Tina Fey has a section on photoshop, and that she doesn't think it's a problem, because only idiots think that picture of Sarah Palin in an America flag bikini holding a rifle are real. This is technically true, but not a counter argument to the concernthat photoshopping people to an impossible standard of beauty increases the pressure on women to fit an ever narrower standard of beauty (a pressure Fey describes quite accurately in other parts of the book). The more she talks, the clearer it becomes that for her, photoshop means she doesn't have to starve herself quite so much to get on magazine covers. My biggest annoyance watching Fey's semi-autobiographical TV show, 30 Rock, has always been that such an attractive person gets called ugly so often. Putting this chapter and 30 Rock together, you get a picture of a woman who recognizes the beauty standard that's ruining hollywood for women, and really wants to fight it in most places, but would also like to have a career, but doesn't want to compromise her principles, but could spread her principles so much more effectively if she had a bigger stage... etc. It's really interesting. I noticed a similar thing with Joan River's autobiography: the picture you get from it is clearly not the picture she wants you to have, but she's so articulate you get it anyway.

Fey also talks about fighting homophobes and then realizing that deep in her heart she thought gay sex was icky and her internal debate about whether or not to have a a second child. It's startingly honest. I also scared many fellow cyclists with how hard I was laughing during my commute.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
For the past couple of weeks, there's been a thought bouncing around in my head: There's a remarkable correlation between things I'm bad at as an adult and the things I was allowed to be bad at as a child. But it turns out there's an even better correlation between the things I'm good at as an adult and the things my parents could teach me as a child. My dad even said outright "It would have felt hypocritical to expect you to have good social skills." I'm a pretty big genetic determinist, and there are numerous relevant studies showing that adopted children resemble their birth parents more as they age, but... wait a minute, I just figured something out. But first, the counter-anecdotes.

I have thought of two major talents I had as a child that have gone nowhere in my adulthood: fiction writing, and target shooting. The fiction writing started before I could actually physically write, or read. I dictated stories to my mom. Judging by my teacher's reactions, I was very good at these for my age. I think it was actually a good thing my parents didn't push or formalize my writing, but it meant that it did eventually get more or less dropped in favor of other things. Writing is such a difficult career that I can't say I would have had one, but I definitely would have gone farther with it if I had had someone to teach me writing the way I had my dad to sit over me when I learned algebra. I did eventually reach the point in science where my dad was unable to help me, but that was after years and years of being taught that science was a Thing I Can Do.

I started target shooting was I was 16. Under the theory that it's not bragging because it's relevant to the story but unimportant in real life: I was extremely good at target shooting. I would have had the top honor the junior club gave in a year and a half if mono hadn't eaten up the five months before college (I did get it the next year, but was slowed significantly since I was only shooting when I came home on breaks). Multiple people who had worked with olympic shooters said I had the potential to be one. But the next step would have been attending the empire state games, and the first year the fell on the same day as the SAT IIs, and the next year I had mono and that wasn't happening, and then I was at college. I could take it back up now, but I don't have the time to be as good as I was in high school so what's the point, especially since it's competing for much the same energy as martial arts and I think that's the superior choice. But if I'd been one of those kids whose parents shot, and took them to the range at 6, or even 12, I would have gone pretty far in the sport. I want to give my parents some credit here in that they were incredibly supportive and put a lot of time into taking me to the range so I could practice, but none of us had the time to make up for 8 years of not shooting.

Then we have the one thing I'm good at that my parents never taught me: Computers. Seeing as that's my career, it seems like a pretty big counterargument, but I don't think so. As very young children, computers were my brother's thing. He was a prodigy at manipulating computers' inner workings the same way he was at math. But come 8th grade (homeschooled year) we got a computer, and someone needed to talk to tech support. My dad couldn't do it because he was at work, my mom couldn't do it because she'd get stuck at "go to the start menu", and my brother couldn't do it because it involved talking to people. I wasn't good at it, just the least bad option. But over a few tech support phone calls, computers moved from those things I could play games on if they were working to things that could be learned and controlled. So I'm still left with a pattern of "I'm best at things where someone pushed me over the first hump".

I thought this whole "best at the things I was taught" was going counter to the evidence for genetic determinism, but actually it's not. The specific studies I'm thinking of showed that as adopted children aged, they resembled their adoptive parents less and less and their birth parents more and more- i.e., reflected genetics more than environment. But that's perfectly consistent with what I'm doing- I'm probably getting slightly worse at math ever year, since I never have call to use the last four semesters I took, but I'm consistently getting better at the things my parents couldn't teach me- what we could consider moving towards a truer reflection of my genetic talents.

I'm still working this out, so everyone is encouraged to share their own stories of learning.


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