Category Archives: meta

2014 in review

It’s been quite a year, and not even for writing!In February, I went to Mannheim, Germany, for a little over 2 weeks for a practicum in my German-teaching-certificate program, then I visited a friend in Stuttgart, and we went to see Hertha play VfB (an… Continue reading

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2014 in review

It’s been quite a year, and not even for writing!In February, I went to Mannheim, Germany, for a little over 2 weeks for a practicum in my German-teaching-certificate program, then I visited a friend in Stuttgart, and we went to see Hertha play VfB (an… Continue reading

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Friday!

I’m back from DragonCon, though I still haven’t caught up on sleep. I had a lot of fun, though I only made it to a couple panels. I saw a lot of costumes, hung out with friends, and bought a Pacific Rim poster signed by Guillermo del Toro. (That was my… Continue reading

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Meta: fannish shibboleths

When I read Making Book, it spurred a lot of thoughts about fandom, fannish culture, inclusion, and modes of exclusion, and how these relate to the “fake geek girl” phenomenon.

A major aspect of fannish culture is the reliance on in-jokes and cultural references: reciting lines from Monty Python, Star Wars, or the Princess Bride, or any number of geek books or media quotables. “It’s only a flesh wound.” “As you wish.” “When 900 years you reach, look so good you will not.” “You remind me of the babe.” “Fear is the mind-killer.” “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Et cetera.

These media references are relatively accessible to all. In some ways, these references act as shibboleths: you are one of us if you know this thing. The fan, hearing quotes from their favorite movie or book, may feel more comfortable, more at home. A new fan might not know where “As you wish” comes from, but they can ask (or google it), and then they can go watch Princess Bride.

It’s part of human nature to want to belong, to fit in. For a lot of people, finding fandom was a revelation: There are more people who like these things. I have a complicated history with my relationship to being a geek, because I wasn’t raised in a household where geekery was understood. I was given books, but they were random books Grandma found at the used book store and in any genre, from Gothic romance to crime. I missed out on a lot of the so-called geek kids’ canon. I wrote a short series on this last year, so I won’t go too far off on that tangent.

But finding fandom, meeting other people who liked weird, geeky things and had read Lord of the Rings a dozen times too, was a turning point in my life. I found people who understood me, if only on a certain level; I found people I could connect with over a mutual love of Legolas and Gimli.

And then I learned that some sections of fandom don’t want to let other people in.

These fannish shibboleths can also be used a gatekeeping tool: to keep out the people who don’t know the reference. This is the “fake geek” (usually “fake geek girl”) phenomenon. Someone (usually a man) decided that unless you (usually a woman) can name every incarnation of the Green Lantern or every captain of the Enterprise or some other equally ridiculous piece of trivia, you’re not a real geek, and you’re only doing it for attention. A lot of other people, like Seanan McGuire and John Scalzi, have discussed this at length, so I won’t rehash it here. My position on the matter is that you’re a geek if you say you are.

Gatekeeping is a tool of exclusion, definitionally. Someone is an arbiter of who is allowed to belong to the group. Some exclusions can be passive, while others are active.

In Making Book, there are a lot of things referred to that aren’t explained in the footnotes. A lot of the material wasn’t for me as a reader, because I wasn’t there for the referent. A lot of the essays were from fanzines, which were circulated among friend groups as a way to keep in touch with each other. (This was before the internet. A lot of the purpose of fanzines has been filled by blogs and livejournal.) I felt excluded from it. It wasn’t her intent in writing it to exclude me-personally or anyone else in particular from the club, but that’s how I felt when I read it. I wasn’t part of the audience of the original fanzines, and that’s fine! I certainly don’t expect anyone I don’t know to read my Dreamwidth journal and have it make sense. It’s passive exclusion, and that’s okay. Not everyone is going to be actively included in everything.

There’s another sort of shibboleth: the shared experience and the in-jokes born from it. Every friend group, every family, has a few. There’s comfort in the sense of belonging that comes from the knowing smile or shared laughter when someone shares a “Do you remember the time when…” story. It could be the time when your cousin spilled wine at your other cousin’s wedding, or the time when you went to Disney World and saw Thumper. Or it could be a shared joke.

As I mentioned, I don’t have a lot of the geek childhood reading canon. I’d never heard of a lot of these books until after college, sometimes years afterward. I don’t share the experience of reading Ender’s Game in seventh grade and finding it utterly transformative (I read it at 25 or so and found it overrated.) But I was picked on in school because I was smart (and overweight and also poor: the trifecta!), so I share that experience.

When it becomes a problem is when these passive exclusions are used to justify active exclusion. If you get married, your family starts teaching your new spouse the in-jokes and references to welcome them in. (Unless you don’t have a good relationship with your family, which changes things.) If you make a new friend, you welcome them into the group by teaching them the references.

But in fandom, there are people who don’t want to welcome new people in or see any changes. So they make up the “Fake geek girl” or decide that only certain methods of fannish expression are valid. I’ll discuss this more in another post. Continue reading

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Trying something new

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not very good at updating. I haven’t finished any books recently, so I don’t have anything to review, and the general details of my life really aren’t that interesting. (And the quick update things are all on my twitter…. Continue reading

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On Saying No

Yesterday on twitter, I came across this article, which purports to be about the pros and cons of “being agreeable and saying yes.” Except there’s just one little paragraph about the perils (being overextended), and the rest of it is about why you shou… Continue reading

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Experiments in outlining

I’m the type of writer who is variously known as a “discovery writer” or a “pantser.” I get an idea, usually a beginning, middle, and end, then start writing.This isn’t necessarily bad for a short story, since it’s much harder to write yourself into a … Continue reading

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The story behind the story: Something There Is

Two and a half years ago, I was sitting on an overnight train from Berlin to Vienna, watching the city I love pass by and fade into the distance.I’d just finished a four-week intensive course at the Goethe-Institut, and I was off to Austria to meet my … Continue reading

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The history behind the story: Something There Is

5 July 1961Mielke sat behind his desk, and a pair of officers stood on either side of it. They couldn’t consider me a threat to the minister, not after leaving me alone with him so far. Could they? I’m not much of an athlete. I get decent marks in … Continue reading

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The story you want to write vs the story you can write

I like space opera. I don’t care if it isn’t fashionable to do so, because it’s not “rigorous” or because it’s all tropey or whatever other reasons people say space opera sucks. (That was the first google hit for that phrase.)I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan… Continue reading

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