Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

19 Nov 2010, 13:43 p.m.


Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 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 So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it!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.

The other night I was hanging out with S. I had met her a few months ago, on my last trip to Mysore, when she and her mom and grandma came over to visit my mom. She's lived in the UK and is mature enough to make interesting conversation, and evidently she thinks I'm interesting too, and doesn't mind that I am ancient. I can also ask her questions about stuff I should really already know, like when I asked her to give me the gist on how the British turned the East India Company into the Raj:

Me: So I was wondering if you could help me out by explaining what's the deal with the British --

S.: Which one? They have a lot.

Me: That's true. They are a multi-deal people.

I end up accidentally educating S. just because I talk all highfalutin all the time.* Like when I brought her some Clif Bars, and she thanked me, and I said I had like twenty at my place and was running into decreasing marginal utility, and then explained what that was. Or at dinner, when I said I would pause my eating to give my stomach time to signal when it was full, because the sensation of fullness is a lagging indicator. More explaining! I am like Bill Nye the Social Science Guy. (I also explained to her who Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, and Richard Feynman are/were. Who am I.)

At one point, I told S. about how my mom is protective, just as hers is ("Who is that guy sending you that Facebook request?! How does he know you?" "Mom, I don't even know him, I've already trashed it!"). For example, when I got the call from Rakesh saying the Ethernet cable was ready, Mom heard me saying "sure, I'll be there by six, thanks!" and was like WHO WAS THAT. I joked to S., "maybe she thought I'd joined a cult or gotten a boyfriend." And S. said, "you can't have a boyfriend, you're married!"

She seemed completely serious. And she is fairly smart for thirteen, and well-travelled, and her mom is cool. So I said "well..." and told her that isn't necessarily the case, with the basic explanation "some people do this, and it can get complicated, but as long as everyone's ok with it and no one's hiding anything, it can work out." I mentioned the word "polyamory," which led me to talk about word roots, how "television" also has roots from both Greek and Latin, and some people get bothered by that.

"What kind of people would get bothered by that?" S. asked in confusion. I think I said "pedants like me, basically." Maybe I should point her to the canonical shirt.

I did a way better job succinctly talking about poly than I did describing Star Trek (S.: "What is that? Is it like Star Wars?") and explaining its importance. "You know, the Enterprise? Kirk and Picard? To boldly go where no one has gone before? Live long and prosper?" and then talking about the dates of the series, and how Star Wars is fantasy and Star Trek is scifi, and Archer's speech about the final frontier. But come on, poly is just about relationships, Star Trek is important!

* Example: when I was talking with Nandini a few months back about family visa troubles, some version of the following dialogue ensued:

Me: You know the saying: capital flows across borders but labor doesn't.

N.: That's not a saying.

Me: Come on, sure it is! You've heard it before. People say it.

N.: Yeah, in, like, econ classes. You don't just say that in conversations with your friends.

Me: Maybe not you and your friends --

N.: People don't go around on the street saying it.

Me: Well, people don't go around on the street saying "righty tighty, lefty loosey," but it's a saying! It's a saying applicable to certain situations and discussions.

I do not recall how this ended, but she probably said I was weird. I am, but that was not in dispute.


Thomas Thurman
19 Nov 2010, 9:03 a.m.

I need a name for the apparently nameless common pattern of discovering entire new and previously unsuspected spheres of human behaviour. I remember back when I suddenly discovered the existence of poly, and that it was ordinary life to some people. And the concept of being genderqueer. And hundreds of other things.

(I pointed this out to Will Thompson the other night, and used an example of my recent discovery of the existence of societies whose only purpose is to buy advowsons. So with that explanation and other things recently I've found myself needing a name for needing a name for apparently nameless common patterns. Perhaps I should start numbering them.)

Mel Chua
19 Nov 2010, 16:58 p.m.

One of the greatest gifts that engineering school gave me was a physical environment where I could say things like that all the time as part of normal conversation, and get replied-to with more of the same instead of funny looks.

Sumana, how I wish I'd met you when I was 13. I would have thought you to be the coolest teenager in the universe.