food for thought monsters


An all-you-can-process scrapbook of the internetly things I like best. +
Someday I will write Park City stories and Marauder fic again.
.skrittimhit~ my GW2/games blog
Asked Anonymous


I think this is a deeply flawed way of looking at the world.

Now, I have talked about Ferguson, and I’ve talked about Gaza. (In fact, I’ve been writing and talking about Israel and Palestine for more than a decade.) But there are many important problems facing the world that I haven’t talked about: I haven’t talked much about the civil war in South Sudan, or the epidemic of suicide among American military personnel, or the persecution of Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Is that okay? Is it okay for me to talk about, say, racism in football and lowering infant mortality in Ethiopia? Or must we all agree to discuss only  whatever is currently the ascendant news story? Is it disrespectful to Ferguson protesters to talk about continued political oppression in Egypt now that we are no longer reblogging images of the protests in Tahrir Square? I think this is a false choice: If you are talking about Ferguson and I am talking about Ethiopian health care, neither of us is hurting the other.

I think the challenge for activists and philanthropists online is in paying sustained attention, not over days or weeks but over years and decades. And I worry that when we turn our attention constantly from one outrage to another we end up not investing the time and work to facilitate actual change. We say “THE WORLD IS WATCHING,” and it is…until it isn’t. We’ve seen this again and again in Gaza and the West Bank. We’re seeing it in Iran. We’re seeing it in South Sudan. And we’re seeing it in the U.S., from net neutrality to Katrina recovery.

The truth is, these problems are complicated, and when the outrage passes we’re left with big and tangled and nuanced problems. I feel that too often that’s when we stop paying attention, because it gets really hard and there’s always a shiny new problem somewhere else that’s merely outrageous. I hope you’re paying attention to Ferguson in five years, anon, and I hope I am, too. I also hope I’m paying attention to child death in Ethiopia. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.

I really don’t want to minimize the effectiveness of online activism, because I know that it works: To use a personal example, I’ve learned a TON from the LGBT+ and sexual assault survivor communities in recent years online. People on tumblr make fun of me for apologizing all the time, but I apologize all the time because I am learning all the time, and every day I’m like, “Oh, man, Current Me has realized that Previous Me was so wrong about this!”

But we can only learn when we can listen. And when you call me a hypocrite for talking about X instead of talking about Y, it makes it really hard to listen.

At times, online discourse to me feels like we just sit in a circle screaming at each other until people get their feelings hurt and withdraw from the conversation, which leaves us with ever-smaller echo chambers, until finally we’re left only with those who entirely agree with us. I don’t think that’s how the overall worldwide level of suck gets decreased.

I might be wrong, of course. I often am. But I think we have to find ways to embrace nuance and complexity online. It’s hard—very, very hard—to make the most generous, most accepting, most forgiving assumptions about others. But I also really do think it’s the best way forward.

"Why I Love Makeup" by John Green

I love vlog brothers. I know it’s fun to poke fun at John Green, but he and his brother Hank are some of my favorite people in the world. His musings on makeup here and his shout out to Hank wearing makeup in high school in particular are perfect things.

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I mean, that scene is word-for-word from the book, so don’t blame the movie! :) Yes, Gus is super pretentious at the start of the story. it’s a character flaw.

Gus wants to have a big and important and remembered life, and so he acts like he imagines people who have such lives act. So he’s, like, says-soliloquy-when-he-means-monologue pretentious, which is the most pretentious variety of pretension in all the world.

And then his performative, over-the-top, hyper-self-aware pretentiousness must fall away for him to really connect to Hazel, just as her fear of being a grenade must fall away. That’s what the novel is about. That is its plot.

Gus must make the opposite of the traditional heroic journey—he must start out strong and end up weak in order to reimagine what constitutes a rich and well-lived life.

Basically, a 20-second clip from the first five minutes of a movie is not the movie.

(Standard acknowledgement here that I might be wrong, that I am inevitably defensive of TFIOS, that it has many flaws, that there’s nothing wrong with critical discussion, and that a strong case could be made that I should not insert myself into these conversations at all.)

Show me a person who is not pretentious about something at some point in their lives and I will show you the world: shining, shimmering, splendid.


John Green - (from the introduction of “This Star Won’t Go Out” by Esther Earl)


(via fishingboatproceeds)

I love you guys.


You will at some point become aware that you are unworthy of the great things* happening in your life, and more generally that you are unworthy of a universe that would organize itself to allow a creature like you to marvel at, for instance, the canals of Amsterdam or the sound of rain on a windowpane**.

I hope you have many of these days, and soon.

* This is also true of terrible things, I think.

*** Windowpanes in and of themselves are pretty miraculous when you think about it; I mean, if you read the first sentence of the glass wikipedia entry, you get some sense of how astonishing it is. But anyway, yeah, you are also unworthy of a universe that could allow such a creature as you to exist but not care seemingly at all about your well-being or health or ability to continue to observe the universe. But on the other hand, you only have that awareness because you are for right now at least gifted with awareness and whoa just marvel at it all for a moment.

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Oh. My. Yes.


Oh my god, he even makes a flower reference to lilies.


88,000 notes?!

(By the way, you can follow Sarah on tumblr. Also the President.)

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Yeah, does it need caption? DeviantArt Post 

Sometimes I think posting art of yourself on Tumblr is egotistical…but this is just too well done….



John Green: What To Do With Your Life (x)

always reblog

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Both these comments are rhetoric and not policy, so shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but the underlying ideas here are very important to me. 

When the President says that higher education is an economic necessity, he is absolutely correct. If you look at the industrialized economies that are struggling around the world, they line up very closely with higher education rates. (Look at Portugal, for instance.) 

So, like, “the U.S. experienced a fairly large growth in population from 2000 to 2009. During the period, the population increased 8.68% — the 12th highest among OECD countries. Meanwhile, the rate at which the share of the population with a tertiary [post high school] education is growing has slowed to an annual rate of 1.4% — the lowest among the 34 OECD countries. Just 71% of funding for educational institutions in the country comes from public funds, placing the U.S. sixth-lowest in this measure.” [source]

So we already have one of the lowest rates of public investment in education in the industrialized world, and the lowest rate of growth in post-secondary education.

This is a real long-term and structural problem for the US economy, because the only future growth available to industrialized nations is in jobs that require education. If we only offer higher education to people who can afford it, we will lose to the many nations where university education is more highly subsidized, because they’ll have better educated workforces that will earn more and in turn pay more in taxes, which will allow future generations to be better educated still. 

Both parties would like to take political credit or assign political blame for the unemployment rate and the pace of growth etc. But the truth is, government doesn’t have a lot of say in that stuff (unless of course they screw things up so royally that there’s a debt default or something). A lot of the government’s role in economic growth is much longer term—it’s stuff like infrastructure and long-term political stability and creating a better-educated workforce.

A way more eloquent version of what I tried to say to my father the other night when we discussed how manufacturing jobs will soon be largely robotic.

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This is a photo of me stagediving at LeakyCon. It was taken by the lovely and charming Evanna Lynch. Life is weird/beautiful.

Anyway, while I was crowdsurfing—I was out there for quite a while—I had time to think about some things:

1. The Harry Potter fandom is uniquely wonderful, and the greatest luck of my professional life is probably that so many HP fans became early nerdfighters, because the whole culture of nerdfighteria came not primarily from us but from those early nerdfighters.

2. Although it is hard for me to express it in a meaningful, individual way, I am really grateful to everyone who identifies as a nerdfighter. We’ve done so much amazing stuff together that none of us could ever have done alone.

3. I love being a nerdfighter, and I love being a nerd, and I seeing people be so honestly themselves is such an inspiration to me.

4. How are all these people—many of whom are very small—holding me aloft?

5. The metaphor here is too obvious.

6. There’s probably a better, more interesting metaphor that I’m not thinking of.

7. I guess the real metaphor is not you-can-only-make-stuff-if-people-hold-you-up; the real metaphor here is that together-things-happen-that-can-never-happen-alone, which is a very important thing for an introverted and socially anxious person like me to realize. I guess these days this is a politically charged statement, but it seems to me manifestly true: You make nothing alone. Human beings are not mere competitors, and human life is not merely competition. We are collaborators. To be human is to catch the falling person.


(Since I asked via this blog for this, I thought I’d post it here as well as the Paper Towns Q&A blog. It contains no spoilers. Thanks to Tamar for making it possible for me to post this publicly.)

Where did the strings metaphor inPaper Towns come from?

Someone said it to me once, after a friend had attempted suicide, that “maybe all the strings inside him broke,” and I liked that image a lot because 1. puppets, and 2. We are all aware that there is this emotional/psychological life inside of us, right? But it’s very difficult to talk about, because it doesn’t have a physical location.

When your back hurts, it’s relatively easy to address this problem using language: You say, “My back hurts,” and I can understand what you mean, because I also have a back, and it has hurt before, and I remember that pain, which makes it easier for me to empathize with you.

It is much harder for me to empathize with you if what hurts is abstract. When people are imagining sadness or despair, they often try to render it in terms we find familiar. You often hear, “My heart hurts,” for instance, or “My heart is broken.” This problem, of course, is not actually in the heart.

(I do think a lot of people feel emotional pain physically near the solar plexus, but it’s not the physical manifestation of emotional pain that makes it so difficult: It’s the emotional/psychological/spiritual/whatever pain itself, which you can’t describe easily in concrete terms.)

To talk about emotional pain (and lots of other emotional experiences), we are forced to use abstractions. (“My heart is broken,” is a symbolic statement.) And many people feel, in this world driven by data and statistics and concreteness, that abstractions are inherently kind of less valid than concrete observations. But emotional experience is as real and as valid as physical experience. And the fact that we have to use metaphor and symbolism to describe that pain effectively does not make it less real—just as abstract paintings are not inherently inferior to representational paintings.

You often hear in high school English classes, for instance, that thinking about symbols is dumb or useless or “ruining the book.” But underneath it all, this is why we have language in the first place. We don’t really need language to share the news of your back pain: You can point at your back and grimace to tell me that your back hurts, and I can nod sympathetically. 

But to explain to you the nature and nuance of my grief or pain or joy, I need abstractions. I need symbols. And the better our symbols are, the more clearly we’ll be able to communicate with each other, and the more fully we’ll be able to imagine each other’s experience. Good symbolism makes empathy easier.

So why the strings? The strings inside a person breaking struck me as a better and more accurate abstract description of despair than anthropomorphized symbols (broken heart, etc.).

And this is very important to remember when reading or writing or painting or talking or whatever: You are never, ever choosing whether to use symbols. You are choosing which symbols to use.

Those last four paragraphs. Yessss. This is what I want to rub in the face of people who whine about my brand of analysis, since my complaints usually have to do with poor use of imagery/complete lack of awareness of its use.

However, I kind of disagree about physical pain being somehow totally separate (linguistically) from emotional pain. I’ve read a few books on trauma language, and physical + mental/emotional pain share the characteristic of being wholly self-contained and generally unique, in that our attempts to describe both don’t work. A pain can be shooting, but it still doesn’t describe the feeling of the pain, it just describes the motion it moves in, etc.

And just like a back that’s been in pain, when you’ve been in a similar emotional place, you can empathize real easy to the point of reliving the pain in a phantom form. So. I don’t like the inherent mind/body duality this post seems to promote at all. But I love his larger point that internal machinations are the most difficult things to communicate.

I’m asked every day why Hank and I haven’t tried to create a TV show.

We’ve been approached many times to do TV shows, but while we’re happy to listen and discuss ideas with people, we’ve so far turned down these opportunities, even the very tempting and lucrative ones. Here’s why:

1. When you work with a cable channel or production company, you don’t own the show you make or control the manner in which it is distributed.

2. It’s easy—and only getting easier—to watch shows like CrashCourse and SciShow on your TV.

3. We really believe that what is strong and beautiful about nerdfighteria is that we create it—every day—together. All of us. And if we were on TV, I worry we’d lose that sense of connection, which Hank and I have enjoyed so much the last five and a half years. Like, the Sherlock fandom and the Doctor Who fandom are great communities, but they are about Sherlock and Doctor Who. Nerdfighteria isn’t, and never has been, primarily about Hank or me. It’s about celebrating nerdiness and decreasing worldsuck. We really value that and don’t want it to change.

4. On YouTube, we can make exactly the stuff we want for exactly the people we want. Sometimes that means getting lower ratings (for instance, Thoughts from Places videos are consistently our least viewed videos, but we still really like making them and we know that nerdfighteria really enjoys them, too). Television is driven by viewership, and all viewers are treated equally. So you can’t say to a TV network, “I know we get fewer viewers when we make this stuff, but we get BETTER viewers.” They do not understand that idea. That idea, however, is at the very core of our relationship with our community. As Hank has told me, “I don’t care how many views we get. I care how many made-of-awesome views we get.” 

If all we wanted to do was make stuff that lots of people watch, all our videos would be about animal sex. And on some level, if we had a TV show, the emphasis would be on maximizing the number of viewers, not the quality of the community, which is the exact opposite of what we want.

In one conversation with an anonymous cable network, an exec said to us, “Crash Course would be PERFECT if you were a little less nuanced and stuck to topics that interest people. Like, you know, Hitler and sex.” (Direct quote.)

I’ve read tens of thousands of Crash Course comments. No one—NO ONE—has ever asked us to be less nuanced, or to stick to Hitler and sex. That’s what I love about nerdfighteria. Our community is deeply intellectually engaged, even when that means grappling with complexity and ambiguity. 

The great joy of my life is that I get to talk with you on a near-daily basis about a huge variety of things that matter to me, and listen to you discuss what matters to you. Right now, that’s not possible on TV, which is (for better and worse) still a medium where people talk toyou, not with you.