On Minnesota Nice

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Minnesota Nice is a thing. It’s a real social phenomenon that happens here in Minnesota and in other places with similar climates. Exactly what it is, however, is up for debate.

On the one side, you have the people who celebrate Minnesota Nice. Look at all those lovely Minnesotans! You’ll never hear a bad word said about a soul. Minnesotans are polite and ready to smile at anyone. There’s no better place in the world to need the help of a stranger, whether it’s directions or a jump start for your car in sub-zero weather.

On the other side, there are the people who insist Minnesota Nice isn’t nice at all. It’s just a euphemism for passive-aggression. Minnesotans look friendly, but they’re as cold as their winters. They already have all the friends they want, thank you very much, and they have since high school. If you don’t, well, you’re on your own. Newbies beware.

Oh, the arguments that happen over which of these is the “real” Minnesota Nice. Are we Minnesotans underrated angels or overhyped demons?

We’re neither, of course, or both, depending on how much you like your hyperbole. But the simple truth of the matter is that Minnesota Nice is all of those things, and they’re not particularly separable from each other. How could they be? They all come from the same place. [Read more…]

Signs You Might Be Constitutionally Unsuited to Running a Kickstarter

Friends of mine run Uncanny Magazine, which raised its first year of operational costs via Kickstarter. Having sold them an essay for the issue that comes out this upcoming Tuesday, I had a chance to preview the whole issue. It’s glorious. You’ll want to read it. It’s full of stories, poems, and essays with what I’ll call, with no cynicism or irony, “heart”.

For all that, the sentiment that resonated with me the most strongly came from the editors themselves. Halfway through their fully funded first year, they used their editorial to talk about funding a second. They offer subscriptions, and they’re looking into other funding methods as well. (Use them if you want to help good people fund good speculative writing and theory.) What they don’t want to do is run a second Kickstarter.

“We would prefer not to run another Kickstarter. Although Caitlin loves dressing up and everybody loves Space Unicorn swag, Kickstarters are exhausting”, they say. Having just finished a Kickstarter last week, I agree with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll probably do another Kickstarter. [Read more…]

On Networking

Hey, everyone. Not dead, just incredibly busy doing things that will come to light next month and dealing with the gross(!) basic unfairness of two colds in one month. Plus holidays. Last night, I took to Facebook to post what I thought would be a random, short observation. It got big. People seem to find it helpful. So I’m sharing it here too. Hope to be back more regularly soon.

Right now, I’m working on two things that are incredibly ambitious. There is a a pretty good chance that I’ll manage to pull them both off, though neither is certain by any means. If I do, I will have succeeded in no small part because I am networked with a ridiculous number of skilled, passionate, and generous people. Chances are good that if you’ve just gotten to know me in the past few years, that network is one of the things you associate with me when you think of me. Chances are also good that you find the idea of networking intimidating, because some very large percentage of people do, and that percentage is higher in introverts, which describes a large chunk of my friend list.

Here’s what you need to know: This feels very foreign to me too. It is not “natural” to me in any way. This isn’t how I think of myself, though I’m trying to change that, because I’d like my self-image to be accurate now and again.
[Read more…]


I’ve known for a long time that I don’t do well with extended aerobic exercise. I get intensely overwarm, to the point of nausea. I get lightheaded and have trouble thinking. I take a long time to recover, and frequently end up with a headache. I cough for hours afterward.

That last one, I knew was exercise-induced asthma. I didn’t know it when it started, in junior high track. I was given to believe I was malingering instead, that the problem was somehow shameful. But I figured it out some years later on my own.

I’ve mentioned it to doctors in intake interviews. None of them ever followed up. There were no questions about managing the condition, no tests to measure how impaired my breathing was, no suggestions even that I should have a rescue inhaler. They probably assumed that it was mild rather than self-diagnosed.

I didn’t have any way to gauge the severity of the problem either. I knew I couldn’t sustain activity that required me to breathe heavily, but I also knew the asthma kept me from training. I knew I coughed afterward, but I’d always done that without my breathing feeling particularly impaired.

Then I started my new job this summer. [Read more…]

TBT: Specialist Envy

This was originally posted in June 2008. I still feel a bit of this, even though my new job is an object lesson in what a good generalist can accomplish. I can’t be the only person who feels this way, can I?

I am not a specialist. I’m a generalist and a good one. My primary skill is learning. I break unfamiliar tasks down quickly and optimize and mechanize processes. I read material aimed beyond my knowledge because I can mostly fill in background from what’s implied as well as what’s stated, and I know how to spot what I’m missing and have to look up. I synthesize and project ridiculously well. Drop me into unfamiliar chaos, and I start tidying, building a coherent whole from the scattered pieces, even while my hindbrain screams in panic that the task is impossible. It’s just what I do.

But oh, I must admit to a bit of the generalist’s envy of specialists. I sit down with someone who knows their field inside and out and I feel like an unschooled child. Following along suddenly seems like faking it. Not having that kind of command of anything, I feel just a wee bit useless.

I could make myself feel better by changing the subject, talking about things I do know, where the specialist would be the one having to follow. I don’t lack options for other topics. But I never do it. The generalist in me can’t let these opportunities pass (knowledge, resources, ooh!), no matter how uncomfortable they are.

I try to tell myself I shouldn’t be uncomfortable. I remind myself, in between moments of paying very close attention, of everything I said above. Under the envy, I do know my strengths and that they’re not inconsiderable and that they’re not really compatible with the dedication being a specialist requires. I know I’m a very good generalist.

But oh, why can’t I be a specialist too?


I just started my second week at a new job (yes, things have been a bit quiet around here as I’ve been adapting), and the strangest thing has been happening. It’s really a very good thing that I don’t have Excel at home, because I don’t want to stop working at the end of the day. Weird, I know.

What’s going on? I’m coding again. I’m coding for the first time since that Pascal class in college that assumed I had a whole bunch of background knowledge on the structure of programming languages that I didn’t have. Let me just say that any programming course–with no prerequisites–that takes a student who was doing side projects in high school Basic and leaves them wondering what everyone is talking about is poorly designed.

Luckily, programming classes have mostly improved since then. So has my knowledge of programming language structures. I didn’t study it in between. I’ve just been in the middle of enough discussions about bad code to figure out what kind of mistakes people can make. Knowing what can go wrong is a great way of understanding how things should go right.

Still, I was a little worried. I expected more headaches as I moved from heavy Excel use, only sometimes adapting existing macros for my needs, to creating macros from scratch in VBA as a way to automate processes for my new company. [Read more…]

TBT: A Letter to the Kid

Thanks to Elyse and Skepchick for noting that Throwback Thursday doesn’t have to mean just photos. This was a very personal post, but enough people unconnected to the situation said that it meant something to them that I think it’s worth sharing again. It’s been five years. The kid is no longer a kid, and I’m incredibly proud of her and how well she’s doing.

Hey, kiddo.

Yeah, I’m calling you kiddo. I know you’re a little old for that, but that’s part of the problem, you know. Your world has been forcing you to be older than you are, without giving you the tools that adults get for dealing with all that responsibility. That’s nothing like close to fair, so I’m going to call you kiddo to remind us both of that.

You deserve the chance to be a kid, and it’s not your fault you’re not getting it. Parents are supposed to be able to take care of themselves before they produce anybody else who needs taking care of. Yours didn’t do that before you were born, and neither one of them has been able to do that during your lifetime. In fact, they’ve needed you to take care of them. You couldn’t, of course. You were (and are) “only” a kid, and all the adults in your parents’ lives haven’t been able to help them. Asking you to take care of them is only you to do the impossible.

You have every right to be angry with them, but neither of them has been able to deal with your anger. You’ve had to put it away, hide it to keep from hurting them. But doing that only hurts you, because it makes you think there’s something wrong with being angry at them. There isn’t.

Kids aren’t supposed to be responsible for their parents’ feelings. [Read more…]

When Denial Works

We tend to give denial a bad rap. Saying that someone is “in denial” is not a compliment. Telling people that you yourself are in denial is a confession. It isn’t something we brag about.

There are good reasons for this, especially among activists. It’s hard to convince anyone something must change if they’re in denial. Whatever you want to change just isn’t a problem, or maybe it doesn’t even exist. You can’t come up with plans of action that will work if you can’t look at all the moving parts. You can’t sell people on your plan unless you’re willing to accept the ins and outs of their psychology. Denial is a professional hurdle for activists.

On top of that, those of us who are skeptical or atheist activists have a certain vested–if not always properly placed–pride in seeing the world the way it is. Denial is the enemy. It doesn’t just impede our work; fighting it is our work. Sometimes, however, I think we take our antipathy for denial too far. [Read more…]

Short Trip, Long Week

Work is still nuts, I’m still sick, I have a bunch of commitments hanging over my head, and there is now time pressure to turn the construction site that is our house back into someplace that can comfortably hold more than two people for a while. Things may be sparse around here this week.

In the meantime, you can catch up on how the panel in Chicago went at Brute Reason. Ian has his own impressions as well.

It was funny. I had to remind myself that Ian and I hadn’t met before in meatspace. Andrew and Miri and Kate and Chana I’d met and talked to before, and I enjoyed seeing again. Jamie and Lynne and William I’ve interacted only barely with, so it truly felt like meeting someone for the first time. Sikivu and Tony are people whose work I admire and whose scholarship I’m still working to integrate into my own thinking, so it was grand to have a (far too short) opportunity to pick their brains. Ashley and Emmett I mostly saw at too much distance for anything but knowing I need to talk to them again some other time. Debbie and Brianne are old friends by this point.

Ian, though…well, I almost forgot we’d never spent time together. It took standing next to him and realizing I didn’t think he was that tall–or maybe that I was that short–to remind me. Funny.

Then there was the fact that he referred to me as a stealth “intellect” in his write-up. That’s going to take some time to assimilate. When Ian says I don’t advertise myself as an intellect, it’s because I don’t think of myself that way.

Being an intellectual is so far from the world in which I grew up that it just doesn’t compute. I don’t know the shibboleths. I speak the language only as an acquired vocabulary and without the ease that comes from been trained to it by native speakers. When it comes to the cultural trappings, I’m a fraud.

I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that those aren’t the bits that matter.

When Am I Passing?

On my father’s side of the family, there exists an old family bible. It is what genealogy we have for a family that doesn’t talk about itself or its traditions much. It shows that the family was originally French, though the name was changed after being deemed by some unspecified someone to be too hard to spell.

In among the marriage records for a family that seems never to have been very large, there are two that would be surprising to most modern owners of family bibles. They simply say:

On [some date], [one of my multiply great grandfathers] took a wife.

They don’t say this because no one knew who the taken wife was. In each case, she was one of my multiply great grandmothers. In each case, she had a name.

Those names were not recorded in the family bible because two of my multiply great grandmothers were not Christians. Their heathen names could not be allowed to sully such a holy book, possibly because the only person in the area literate enough to record the marriage was the priest. In other words, they were (almost certainly) from a society indigenous to the lands along the Canadian-American border. They were First Nations.

[Read more…]