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shweta_narayan
01 January 2020 @ 12:00 am
Hi!
I write stuff. And here, I mostly write about writing stuff and about writing-related issues. I've been posting poems, lately, and am likely to keep doing so.

Do feel free to friend me -- I shall be thrilled*. And do feel free to unfriend me -- I shall not be hurt. Though, if you are a real-life friend I'd like to know why -- because if I hurt your feelings I'd like to mend that, and if I didn't I'd like not to have to fret :)

I'd also love it to pieces if you tell me a bit about yourself, if I'm unlikely to know you from your lj name (my lj powers are weak). At some point when I'm finding it a bit less overwhelming, I'll be friending people back; I just haven't the focus to figure it all out just now.

I think that's everything for now :)

* ETA: Though, please read this before deciding if you want to friend me, because I am not necessarily going to make you comfortable, and I am entirely out of patience with so-called allies who only want validation & cookies.
 
 
shweta_narayan
This has been a v long-brewing post; I've been meaning to make it, or something like it, since 2009. Many thanks to rose_lemberg, Arachne Jericho, sovay, and elsmi for helping me finally get it together in a coherent fashion. Any errors or problems are my doing, not theirs.

Editing to add: reblogging this/sharing it on any forum is totally okay!

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We tend to have this idea that categories, like "bird" or "food" (or like "human" or "white", which is what this is all really about) are like solid boxes. Entities are either in them or out of them, with a clear and unchanging boundary, and everything inside is an unsorted & equal jumble, and everything outside ditto.

This notion gets strongly underscored by our cultures, so it can be hard to ... er... unpack. But the fact is, cognitive categories aren't actually like boxes. They have internal structure, and fuzzy boundaries (which people can draw in different places, and move depending on context), and these things matter hugely in how we think about and deal with oppression.

I'm going to start by talking about research on the category "bird", because there's been a lot of it (c.f. Eleanor Rosch's work in the 70s and early 80s, which kicked it off), and it's pretty neutral so it'll be easier/less triggery for people to think about the category structure.

So! The "bird" category has (somewhat culture specific) internal structure. For example, most Americans will agree that a robin is a better example of a bird than an albatross, and an albatross is a better bird than an ostrich. (And while bats are not birds, they are better birds than horses are, and horses are better birds than refrigerators are; so the gradations continue to some extent outside the category boundary).

This internal category structure has a number of cognitive effects/characteristics:

1) If you ask people to just write down as many birds as they can, they'll list the more prototypical (category-central) ones first. More peripheral members of the category do not come to mind at first.

2) In reaction time tasks where people are asked to respond yes or no depending on whether or not a presented item is a bird, people will press yes faster, with fewer errors, for prototypical birds.

3) The structure that emerges from these two experimental measures matches the structure that emerges if you just ask people to rank birds in order of which ones are the "best" birds. Once you ask people to structure their categories they have really strong, consistent, and replicable intuitions about that structure.

4) People's idea of similarity is asymmetric: they will, for example, say that albatrosses are more like robins than robins are like albatrosses.

5) People reason from the prototype to the whole category, but not the other way around. So, for example (according to experimental results), people reason that if all the robins on an island caught a disease, the ducks would catch it too; but not vice versa.

6) People's use of linguistic hedges (really, sort of, technically, etc) is based on prototypicality too. So you can say an emu is technically a bird, but you can't say a robin is technically a bird.

7) Over time, some characteristics can become more prototypical. Others can't. The US adoption of the eagle as a standard animal has made it a more prototypical bird; and the hooked beak has become a more prototypical characteristic than it used to be. But yeah, eagles can still fly. An emu is never going to be a prototypical bird.

This is all pretty innocent when it comes to birds! But there is evidence that this sort of category structure is everywhere in human cognition (e.g. people will say 4 is a better even number than 1374.) Now, robins excluding emus from the bird-category, or claiming to understand how emu-ness works because of their experience as robins, might sound like the stuff comic strips are made of; the human dynamics are less funny, and far more harmful to their targets.

So, moving domains to socially relevant categories:

1) Able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian men are considered to be prototypical humans (prototype here = privileged default). So. If you ask people to think of famous people, they will think first of famous able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian men. And their exceptions will normally fall outside this prototype in only one or two ways.

This is how a lot of casual erasure happens. (btw it's also what's happening when editors "just happened to think of" a lot of poets/writers/artists who aren't marginalized, and when poets/writers/artists "just happened to think of" prototypical characteristics to portray.)

2) If someone is not an able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian man, it will generally take people longer to categorize them as human. And the further they are from this prototype the longer it will take to make the judgment. Now, if people take that extra time, we're probably good; but do they? When they sort resumes / run job interviews, when they're trigger-happy cops, etc?

3) (horrific examples tw) Consider the structure of the category "American citizen", which often gets treated as either-or. But the prototypical citizen is white, abled, and Christian (at least). Consider who counts: who gets protected under US law. And consider whose ID gets checked, who gets stop & frisked. Whose mass incarceration and state-sanctioned murder is business as usual. Who gets called "an illegal", or told to "go back home", regardless of their actual documentation. Who gets demands for their birth certificate once elected to high office. Whose languages are considered ok if spoken in the US, whose accent if they're speaking English.

(Non-Americans, when we talk about American privilege, we need to understand that it does not apply equally to all people with US citizenship; it applies only to the people who get counted as "proper" Americans, according to this category structure & the context.)

3b) (Horrific example tw) Where you draw the category boundary can be person and culture specific. Which is okay with birds, you'll only annoy scientists if you decide an emu isn't a bird, but what about the category "human". What about the people who decide that if you're Black, or disabled, or a trans woman or all three, then you've fallen outside the human category and your murderer isn't really a murderer? The murderers who call their Black victims “it”? The settler laws about Aboriginal Australian people, that only recently categorized them as human?

3c) This also applies for categories like whiteness. Who counts as white depends on who's drawing the boundary, where, when, for what purposes. I think we do need to talk about which people's whiteness is marginal/conditional and can be revoked by category-central white people. We can't do that, however, without also talking about how people in these groups benefit from conditional/marginal whiteness, by mostly gaining white privilege while denying whiteness whenever questions of race/racism come up. I am suspicious of people who will only talk about how their whiteness is marginal when other people are talking about racism.

3d) Obviously I could go on, but consider also the category of English. Whose English counts as actual English? And within that, whose is proper English?

So yeah (3) tl;dr: This is how a lot of active casual bigotry happens.

4) Am albatross is more like a robin than a robin is like an albatross; a queer WOC is more like a cishet white man than a cishet white man is like a queer WOC. Which characters in stories count as "relatable"?

Everyone is expected to relate to a cis straight white anglophone American man. We're all like them, they're just (default, category-central) people after all! But they're not like us. We're the albatrosses, here. How can the poor robins be expected to relate to us? This is why they think it's so ludicrous that they should be expected to read about marginalized characters (who are nothing like them!!) but think it's normal and fine that marginalized people should be expected to read about category-central characters.

Conversely, it's also why they think they know our experience perfectly well and can talk over us; after all, we're just like them, except in a few (stereotyped) ways. They're default people! Unlike us.

5) (Horrific example tw) While people know perfectly well that diseases will spread from category-central members of humanity to peripheral ones, they often don't realize it goes the other way too. In the 80s, a lot of people thought AIDS was a "gay disease" - it wouldn't hit straight people! (And bi/pan/polysexual people don't exist after all, c.f. the erasure caused by (1)). Sooo yeah, they didn't care, till it did start hitting a lot of straight (white) people.

6) (TERF warning.) Consider how some TERFs say, "Of course I think trans women are women! - Technically. But like, not real women."
So long as they can make that linguistic hedge in some form - so that they're not actually expected to treat trans women as fully women, as fully human - they're fine with it. This is part of how they contradict themselves so blithely without hitting cognitive dissonance.

This is one method of moving the goalposts. Our understanding of categories is fluid and context-dependent, and we shift from thinking about the prototype to the whole category and back more than we normally consciously realize, and we can use the same word, often, to refer to either; and oppressors can use that to pretend they're speaking in good faith and being "reasonable", while in fact they're changing their definitions on the fly to suit their convenience.

7) Consider whiteness again. Within a US context, some groups (e.g. white Jewish Americans) have become more white than they historically were, and benefit from co-signing whiteness. They are still not category-central; their inclusion may still be marginal; but by default, they are now on the inside of the category boundary. Whereas other groups (e.g. South Asian Americans) do not get to cross the line no matter how strongly they buy into whiteness, because Blackness, and therefore darkness, is an exclusionary feature. But what that means, too, is that South Asian Americans do get privileged over other groups, most notably Black Americans, and need to understand that the power dynamics of whiteness do not end at the boundary of whiteness.

For more central but still not default people (both within and outside the category!), aligning with & co-signing the category-center brings clear advantages. That's not true for people who are always, definitionally, excluded.

I'm going to start my wrap-up by talking a bit about derailing (getting in before defensive-privileged-commentors do so, haha). Often it works by changing the category under discussion – forcibly redrawing the boundary, and thereby changing the center of the category & what's being talked about. Example that I see all the time: “Trans women are awesome!” gets derailed with “ALL women are awesome!” By making the category “all women”, the derailer does not merely extend the statement to more people. No, by changing the category and evoking the new category's cisnormative prototypes, they change the subject entirely – recentering themselves and pushing trans women off to the margins.

Not All Men” works in sort of the opposite way. By creating this hypothetical subcategory of Not-All-Men and forcing attention to it, it derails discussion away from, & attempts to undermine statements about, the category as a whole.

So! When talking to other people, in fandom and outside it, we need to be aware of category-centrality as well as membership. Especially because categories like whiteness are not boxes, but rather spectrums, with a central core of “real”, unarguable members, and an uneven periphery of conditional members, who can get kicked out by the category center as convenient, but still benefit from some or all of the privilege most of the time. Understanding this helps us understand the mechanics of derailing, and the mechanics of marginalization/exclusion done by not-central members to even-more-non-central members, as well as the mechanics that central members use against us all.

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shweta_narayan
25 July 2014 @ 05:19 pm
Almost everything has been word soup for me with migraine + bug + other pain issues + medication the last 4-5 weeks, which is why we haven't had any progress to report, sorry :/ & I need to give current meds another week ish to see if I adapt or not. But hopefully we can make much progress soon after that! I'm really looking forward to sharing this TOC with everyone :):)
 
 
shweta_narayan
25 July 2014 @ 04:48 pm
I've been saying in comments to the other post that I should post a picture of the designs for the peacock quilt, so here they are! I'm extremely proud of them, but I think it's p obvious how much creative work was still left in figuring out how to turn this into an actual quilt. I really just made a base that my mother build on, and a lot of the details had to change colour before they worked.
I had a fair amount of input, but frankly the final decisions that worked were all hers :D
peacock-base2

peacock-quilting-pattern
 
 
shweta_narayan
24 July 2014 @ 06:52 pm

I know I posted some in progress pics of this gorgeous quilt lo these many years ago - but it's finally done so I MUST SHARE!
Design’s mine, hard work is all my mother, we started it in 2010, it's all hand-quilted, and right now she never wants me to design something for her again :D
I wrote a pome about it, well mostly about it. From back before I even considered co-editing ST :)
 
 
 
shweta_narayan
24 July 2014 @ 04:45 pm
hllo  
I've been away a long time *waves* Health still sucks. Finished a story draft. That's about it from here.

Goin to post a link but wanted to say hi to anyone who's still reading. hiii!
 
 
shweta_narayan
Originally posted by rose_lemberg at ST Body interviews: Lisa M. Bradley, “Teratoma Lullaby”

Originally published at Stone Telling blog. You can comment here or there.

Our interviewee today is Lisa M. Bradley, who contributed to the Body issue with her poem “Teratoma Lullaby“. Lisa’s nonfiction essay “Listening to the Lost, Speaking for the Dead: Speculative Elements in the Poetry of Gabriela Mistral” has appeared in the very first issue of Stone Telling, followed by “Litanies in the Dark: The Poetry of Alfonsina Storni” in the second issue. Lisa also had two other pieces of poetry published by us, Embedded (issue 9) and another poem of epic length, “we come together we fall apart” (ST7: the Queer Issue), which was nominated for the Rhysling award and was reprinted in Here, We Cross.






Lisa M. Bradley



Lisa M. Bradley resides in Iowa with her spouse, child, and two cats. She has poetry forthcoming in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, and In Other Words. The “someone bewitched…more bear than man” in “Teratoma Lullaby” is named Art. Art’s story, “The Pearl in the Oyster and The Oyster Under Glass,” can be found in the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press.


I knew someone bewitched
enchanted, shifted—
more bear than man.
When I told him about my twin
he stroked his paw down my back
so so gently
(lest his invisible claws rip my skin)
and asked if my twin might not be
a sister.

- from Teratoma Lullaby


ST: What inspired this particular poem? What would you like readers to know about your context, and how it relates to your poem? A friend of mine was participating in Haiku Mondays, and one week her prompt was “teratoma.” I’ve been fascinated with the phenomenon of teratomas since I read Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and the topic lent itself to some stylistic experiments I wanted to try, so I started writing  “Teratoma Lullaby.” I’ve felt at war with my body since childhood, and the invisible illnesses I’ve developed over time have amplified my frustrations. The poem began as an intellectual exercise but quickly morphed into a weird rebus for that sense of not cohering within my self, and the perhaps concomitant desire to excise certain memories and emotions.



ST: Is the Body a central theme in your work? If so, what other works of yours deal with it? If not, what called you to it this time? I come to speculative poetry from a horror background, so yes. Horror is obsessed with the Body, which can be a battleground for competing forces (as in my poem “The Haunted Girl”) or a model of systemic failures (as in “In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids”), just to name two modes of body horror. In my work, the Body’s state reflects the Mind’s (“we come together we fall apart”). My characters often inventory the Body out of their desire to impose order (“The Skin-Walker’s Wife” and my Exile novels.)



ST: What else would you like to tell our readers about your poem? My grandmother sang the song in “Teratoma Lullaby” to my little sister, to the tune of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The metaphasis “Buenos nachos” in place of “buenas noches” is a family joke, though I used it to different effect in the poem.



ST: Do you have any upcoming projects you might like to talk about? I had an(other) epic poem appear in Strange Horizons recently: Una Canción de Keys. (I write short poems, too, I really do.) I am also writing a series of blog posts, “Writing Latin@ Characters Well,” that I hope to continue, time and RSI permitting.



ST: Thank you very much, Lisa!


_________


If you enjoyed this poem and the interview, please consider letting the poet know! Also, we now have a Patreon page, and would appreciate your support.

 
 
shweta_narayan
25 April 2014 @ 02:20 pm
I want to note, in public, that the only two of Scalzi's fans to get in touch with me directly were really nice, and wrote to say they appreciated my writing.

I want to acknowledge their kindness in saying so, but ALSO, and I think equally importantly, I want to acknowledge the people who did not contact me directly. I really do appreciate the fact that people who were angry with what I had to say kept it off my space, given that I haven't had the spoons to deal with stuff.

(I am still leaving comments off, though, because I've got to go deal with medical foo.)
 
 
shweta_narayan
Sorry for lack of links to general context, but I think anyone who reads this will know what I'm talking about.

I'd like to reference two blog posts.

  1. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
    Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
    John Scalzi, Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

  2. I’ve seen rumblings of people suggesting they’ll put everyone on the Correia/Day slate below “no award” no matter what, but if you’re doing that, you’re making these fellows’ alleged point for them. Again: Why do that? It’s nearly as easy to read a work (or at least, read as far as can) and decide it’s just not for you. And if it is for you, well. Surprise!
    John Scalzi, No, the Hugo Nominations Were not Rigged

Okay now let's imagine we're all playing a massive roleplaying game called The Real World. There's an area of this game, let's call it the "Speculative Fiction community", that has interesting enough storylines and characters that players keep coming back to it, but it also has a number of nasty monsters. Let's call them... trolls.

Now: here is a secret* about the trolls in this region.  They are ridiculously nerfed on the easy setting. When you're playing the game on hard, or gods forbid on multiple-marginalizations, these trolls do a ton of extra damage, and have endless adds, and an "uncomprehending/dismissive" buff that lets them ignore most anything coming their way.

None of this matters on easy mode, mind. They're annoying, but like most things in the game, pretty easy to take on. You don't have to worry much about strategy or conserving resources when you're on easy mode! You just need to run in and wave your sword around! But those of us playing the game on harder settings, we've figured out strategies, and we've figured out where not to go. We know the best approach is to avoid these monsters entirely, and avoid even indirect contact. We know that any item connected to them could be cursed on hard mode, and do further damage. We've figured this out from painful experience. So, when a couple trolls manage to infiltrate a high-status area of the region, and people comment that they're going to avoid them...

...and in comes someone who is playing the game on the easiest fucking mode there is, right, who has set himself up as so sympathetic to people playing on hard. And he uses this platform to tell us that we're playing the game wrong, we mustn't protect ourselves because it's not sportsmanlike.

This person playing on easy, he tells us that this is about "fair play. Game on." Which is accepting the trolls' framing of the situation, that because they exist we must either fight them or let them win, we can't avoid them and do more worthwhile things with our time. We must risk major damage that past experience tells us they will do, or it's not "fair". To the trolls. And to the game. Never mind what's fair for us.

So. Having decided to play their game, and take them on - and without even acknowledging that they are nerfed on his level of difficulty - this person is telling us we have to, too, and that "It's nearly as easy to fight a troll and decide it's just not for you. And if it is for you, well. Surprise!"

...Yeah, that's when we point out, Mr. Scalzi, that by your own logic you are fucking up.

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* Secret defined here as: people who play the game on hard have been talking about it for ages, but people who play on easy don't bother reading the forums dedicated to hard modes, so they continue to have no clue and won't actually work to get the game balance improved, they'll just pontificate at us.

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EDIT: Second quote source/link fixed, apologies for misattributing to the wrong Scalzi post.

(Comments are closed on this post because I do play on hard mode.)