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The Stigma of Geekdom

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

From the time we are very small, we are trained by our peers and our culture at large that certain things are undesirable, unbecoming and downright unacceptable in all aspects of our lives from the way we (or our parents) dress (us), the people we know, our interests/passions and our hobbies. Some of these are rendered morally taboo, others just aesthetically unpleasing or so unusual as to cause discomfort in others and bear the label of “weird.” We’re taught that fitting in and being “normal” is the only way to survive the complicated social structure, even if sublimating our interests makes us miserable in the process. We’re taught that being “happy” means fitting in and doing and having what everyone else our age has.

No wonder the pharmaceutical industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and doctors dispense antidepressants like M&M’s.

I’m not saying that everyone buys into the bullshit, or even those who are indoctrinated continue to follow the dogma. There are many who break free, at least in part, but those who do often find themselves under scrutiny, or even censure. Although recent trends are equating geek with chic, there’s still pretty significant stigma around being geeky, or having geeky interests or pursuits. While there are those who pay it little attention, there are those who have been so maligned because of their interests during more formative years that the scars are still raw even into adulthood.

As a case in point, I have a friend who adamantly refused to watch the TV show “The Big Bang Theory” because of the way Sheldon was portrayed in the teaser campaign. Since he’d been fighting the stereotype of “geek=socially maladjusted and awkward” from a young age, he didn’t want to participate in the perpetuation of the image by watching the show. Now Sheldon and the other characters aren’t the typically socially marginalized geeks, although they do have their moments. In fact, it seems to me that Sheldon seems to have a case of Asperger’s syndrome or another form of autism that renders social interactions mystifying and difficult to navigate without external guidance. My friend did finally relent and give the show a try, but his reluctance is indicative of the damage social stigma can leave on a person.

Other examples of the continuation aren’t rooted in malevolence, but in a lack of understanding. When I “out” myself as a geek to people I’ve met and interacted with in other ways, I’m often the subject of good-natured teasing. I’m the first resource some of my friends call upon when their computers go wonky, or when they’re desperately hunting some little nugget of information floating around the internet. The first time I walked into work with my messenger bag embroidered with polyhedral dice and labeled “Bag of Holding,” after I explained what it meant, I got ribbed about playing D&D, which I did quite regularly at the time. When I decline plans on Friday night in lieu of going out and gaming with the boys, I often get the strangest of looks, especially when I explain that I’m playing Magic: The Gathering at a local comic book shop. There are two things most people automatically assume when they hear that last sentence. First, that the guys I’m hanging out with are socially inept and second that they’re playing games because we have nothing better to do than sit in their parents’ basement and avoid growing up.

Neither of these things are true. I will admit, the caveat is that there are SOME players I’ve encountered over the years of playing that could be classified as socially awkward basement dwellers, but the majority of them are probably more well-adjusted than the “normals” I know. The guys I game with are (for the most part) a highly intelligent group on par with chess players, or even beyond. There’s an element of randomness to playing a card game that’s unmatched by a static game like chess. With chess, there are a finite number of moves that can be made. With Magic, and the number of cards available at any given time, while the combinations are still finite, there are exponentially more possibilities to plan for and play against. The group of regulars has its own social order where the sometimes obnoxious habits of the vocal minority are tempered and changed by the social pressure of the others, but the majority of the players are just a group of nice guys. Shy and reserved, perhaps, but just genuinely nice guys. Even the ones occasionally blighted by obnoxious outbursts are charming and endearing in their own way, at least once in a while.

Second, Magic is not a cheap habit, so the people who are there are either financially stable enough to indulge their habit, or creative and inventive enough to find ways of making their efforts lucrative. It’s possible to make money playing that one can re-invest in playing. Some of the best players I know do exactly that and build from there. Intelligence and creativity are admirable qualities not only in a friend, but in a potential partner. The passion that some of the guys have for a game that continues to kick them in the teeth on a regular basis is pretty remarkable, especially because they’re tenacious and keep trying, keep re-inventing the decks they play, and keep coming back believing that this time, THIS time they’ll win.

I am fortunate enough to have a little insight on the game and the players I’ve come to know, including a National Champion of the game. Given what I know and my experience, even though some of it is relatively peripheral (because I’m not into going to the major tournaments and I’m happy to just keep playing in the comic store instead of trying my hand at larger venues), I was disgusted by the blog entry that surfaced on Gizmodo by Alyssa Bereznak entitled “My Brief OkCupid Affair with a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player.”

Without knowing much about Ms. Bereznak, I can immediately draw a few conclusions. First, she has an utter lack of awareness about her audience. She’s posting on Gizmodo, which caters heavily to the tech set. While it’s true that not every geek is tech savvy, I think it’s pretty safe to say that a majority of them are and while not every geek is a gamer, it’s not unrealistic to say that there are fewer degrees of separation between non-gamer geeks and gamer geeks than between any actor in Hollywood and Kevin Bacon. That being said, if Bereznak thought she could let her drama llama graze in the fertile pastures of the internet with impunity, she was sorely mistaken.

Which brings me to my second conclusion: Ms. Bereznak has obviously not seen the repercussions of pissing off the internet, particularly when dealing with a group of people with international contacts. Geeks don’t take kindly to being attacked, or of one of their own being unjustly maligned…especially when the target is a hero.

Third, Ms. Bereznak is reprehensibly bitchy, shallow (which she admits) and bitter. Her complaint in her blog entry was:

This is what happens, I thought, when you lie in your online profile. I was lured on a date thinking I’d met a normal finance guy, only to realise he was a champion dweeb in hedge funder’s clothing.

She also said:

Just like you’re obligated to mention you’re divorced or have a kid in your online profile, shouldn’t someone also be required to disclose any indisputably geeky world championship titles?

Maybe it’s me, but I fail to understand how not mentioning a “geeky world championship title” is lying, or how it’s akin to marital or breeder status. What is so insidious about having accomplished something difficult and NOT mentioning it? What if he had been a World Champion of poker? Or chess? What about tennis? Was it the title that mattered, or the inherent geekiness of the GAME that made her squirm? And how could she understand the significance if she admittedly “didn’t know shit about the game?” (her words…not mine.) Why should she feel so incensed about his title being posted on his dating profile when she didn’t bother to “Google away” as she suggested to him after giving him her name? It’s not like it’s a secret…

Apparently, something suck in her craw, because Alyssa Bereznak decided to slam out a blog entry about it, bitching about her misfortune the whole wide world. Her original blog entry was modified after it went viral, but you can find the original on the Australian Gizmodo site.

Of course, the internet rallied on the side of the nice guy instead of the bitchy, bitter (and shockingly single) woman. Jon Finkel opened up a thread on reddit about the incident. Here’s the original post on reddit, and for those who don’t have the time or energy to filter through all the questions and comments, here’s a brief synopsis. A great article appeared on Gizmodo Australia from another woman, reminding us that women can be predators on the internet too, and Alyssa Bereznak is a prime example.

Though Jon Finkel is “a little creeped out,” he’s getting lots of support from the internet. There hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz about Ms. Bereznak, but I doubt that this is over for her yet. Since ‘ geek hero she’s targeted, retribution will likely be slow, pervasive and subtle and before it’s over, I’m sure she’ll regret her entry. While it is probably a little late for her, there are lessons to be learned from this, of course:

  1. Dating is hard enough without slamming the people you meet, or being mocked for the things you’ve done with your life.
  2. It’s low class to bitch on the internet about the people you go out with, and doubly so when you call names and start pointing fingers because their geeky accomplishments and interests make them abhorrent to you.
  3. It’s stupid to get pissed off about not knowing something when you didn’t do your research.
  4. The geeky ones with complex interests and deep passions are usually the ones most successful in chasing after dreams, taking risks and accomplishing the things most people yearn for yet are afraid of working towards. Just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them…
  5. Don’t piss off the internet. Ever.

Fear of Being Characterized

August 28, 2011 Leave a comment

So I was out to dinner tonight and, as usual, the random flash of inspiration occurred and I grabbed my little moleskine and had to jot it all down. Fleeting moments of inspiration should be grabbed with both hands, lest they be lost into the aether with no hope of recovery. I know that it’s marginally rude to start scribbling when in the company of others, but as they say “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter,” but the new person among us was somewhat unnerved by the fact that I might be jotting notes about her. I wasn’t, but it brings up the concerns I’ve heard before.

Part of the fear of the friends and family of a writer is that they’ll end up in print. Most people are familiar with the adage of “write what you know,” and what better way to employ that than to write about the people you interact with every day. But what is it that people are afraid of? Is it seeing their flaws laid out for the world to see? Or is it knowing, in no uncertain terms, how they are perceived by the people around them? Or is it a combination of both?

Though it was said in jest, after she noticed that I was writing furiously, she asked if I was taking notes about her and though I said no, she said “it was nice meeting you,” and more or less said she wouldn’t be able to hang out again. I explained that every person I met was character fodder, though I did my best to only pull elements and make new people from them and that if I were to ever actually use the “whole person,” I’d likely end up slapped with a libel suit. And so would every writer that includes their real-life acquaintances in their work.

So, I’ll leave it up to you lurkers to tell me…what is it that makes you squeamish when writerly types pull out the pen and paper in your presence and start scribbling? What are you afraid of them capturing and putting in to words? What are you concerned about showing up in print?

Let me know your thoughts. I promise, I’m not taking notes. 😉

Categories: Life in General, Writing

The Alchemy of Creating Time

August 24, 2011 1 comment

The number one complaint I hear from every adult I know is “there’s not enough hours in the day,” or “just not enough time” to do the things they really want to do, to balance their lives against their passions and interests. I’m no different. Work is creating massive conflicts with my big, beefy chunks of writing time that I like to carve out of my nights, and…well, let’s face it, adult obligations are a great pain in the ass. But, given all that I have coming up in the roster over the next couple of weeks, I’ve decided that the excuse of not having enough time isn’t going to fly any more.

(Now, to all of you who may hold that last statement against me in a moment of weak-willed whining, remember that I am human and it’s gonna happen. Like I tell the agents at work, “I’m not looking for miracles, but just looking for progress.”)

There are ways of making time throughout the day, and I’m very pleased with some of the changes I’ve implemented to create this extra time. I’ve already talked about audible.com, which is awesome, by the way, but I’ve made another little discovery that helps squeeze in a little more reading during the day.

Dailylit.com is a great website that feeds you short snippets of books in an email or through an RSS feed reader. The sections take about 15 minutes to read (I get a double-size shot) and are delivered at a time of your choosing. It’s a great 15 minute break in the middle of my day and it’s giving me the freedom to add in just a little more reading into an already tight schedule. I highly recommend this service and have already shared it with several people I work with – high accolades from me.

To get a little writing in is harder, but not impossible. I try to dedicate my lunch breaks to scribbling time, even if it means being somewhat anti-social. I keep most of my active writing on dropbox.com, which also has an app for my Blackberry and my iPad, so I can work on my documents from anywhere, even if I can’t sign on to a computer. Having my documents accessible to me at any moment is a great way to break the “oh, but I’d have to sign in to my computer which is all the way over there,” excuse. I also keep a little moleskine notebook in my purse which is great for capturing the random ideas that pop up in equally random places. It certainly came in handy several times this weekend while spending the weekend in Blowing Rock. Even though I can use my phone to tap out and save little notes, sometimes, it’s just faster to write it out by hand instead of fat-fingering my way through a note or email to myself. And sometimes, well…sometimes just writing by hand has it all over using a cold, digital interface.

It’s not going to create hours in my day, but even fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes more than yesterday, and I’ll take it. Now…if I could only figure out a way to compress editing time into the day. 🙂 THAT would be a miracle!

Carrion Birds and the Carcass of Borders

August 22, 2011 2 comments

Like many other book nerds I know, I was lured to my local Borders by the big yellow and red “Going Out of Business” signs in the window promising sweet deals. I’ve spent enough money in that store not to feel like a complete hypocrite, but it wasn’t like any other trip I’d made to the store. Even picking up the first thing that drew my interest and calculated how much it would be after the discount, I felt a little like a vulture picking at the carcass.

Given the widely advertised discounts, I wasn’t the only carrion bird circling and plucking at the tasty morsels still remaining. The birds in this flock were very different than the normal clientele. Normally, the people roaming around my local Borders are a quiet bunch, respectfully going about their business of browsing, searching through the shelves of titles. Others would be happily camped out in the cafe typing away at their computers, marking up text books with highlighters, or leaning over cups of coffee in hushed conversation. It was a peaceful place, even with the occasion giggling pack of mall rats wandering through.

But this trip was very different. It was like being at a wake, but a wake where the mourners were eager, excited participants leaning over the edge of the coffin, reaching in and taking what catches their attention. I’m no stranger to retail therapy in bookstores, and I’m a little ashamed of what I walked out of there carrying.

Everything was different. Just walking in to the store, one can usually catch the faint scent of coffee wafting down from the cafe upstairs, hear the music piping through the speakers and the almost library hum of murmuring voices underneath it, and the low thrum of commerce as the shoppers milled through the stacks, (usually) respectfully excusing themselves when they got in someone else’s way. This time, it was…loud and it was packed. The week-before-Christmas packed, and like the pre-holiday throngs, people were less than discriminating about the things they laid hands on and carelessly laid aside on the top of a shelf, or on an unrelated table. Furthermore, the staircase up to the cafe was roped off, the associates were understandably moody and short-tempered, understaffed and unable to access their computer system to answer the questions being thrown at them right and left about what was in the store or not. The scavenging tourists  It was the most depressing time I’ve ever spent in Borders…aside from the pre-Christmas rush, that is. No one was really in a good mood, and it was probably the most unfulfilling episode of retail therapy I’ve ever indulged in.

It’s sad to see such a giant go. Over the years (and through a few different states), I’ve spent some great times in Borders reading, getting lost in a world of books and book-ish people. I’ve spent some great afternoons in the cafes drinking cup after cup of coffee and writing until my hands ache. I know that it’s a measure of progress, and I know that it was a long chain of poor decisions that led the giant to trip the light fantastic all the way down the beanstalk, but it’s still sad to see it happen.

I try to share the love, but like any other recession-crunched selective spendthrift, I don’t make every purchase locally and I’ve been known to suckle at the massive corporate teat of amazon.com because, damnit, their prices are pretty awesome and free shipping just makes it an even sweeter deal. I feel a little guilty in my part in the demise of this big box bookstore, especially when I look at the massive stack of books I brought home as a result of my last trip, but not guilty enough to commit to a local-purchase-only policy. Perhaps if there was an indy bookstore nearby…but until then…

Google-Fu and the Minor Victories of a Weekend Housework Warrior

August 13, 2011 Leave a comment

One would think that by even associating my blog with the phrase “Weekend Housework Warrior” that I make a concerted effort to taming the specter that taunts me whenever I walk into my room. One would think that I don my magic helmet, shake my spear and begin a humble yet righteous crusade that will lead me to the mystical Valhalla only rumored to exist in the glossy pages of periodicals like Better Homes and Gardens and, god forbid, Martha Stewart Living.

Consider yourself among the deceived. Or at least the willfully misled.

I did say “minor victories,” after all.

Let me backtrack a bit, because my Google-Fu is an inherent part of the story.

For those who aren’t aware, I have amazing Google-Fu. If you’re not aware of what Google-Fu is, it is the ability to wield a search engine with deadly, ninja accuracy, striking at the heart of the query with grace and agility and summoning links that are actually helpful to your search. With just a little information, I can figure out a creative phrasing for my question or search string to find yield results on the first page of suggestions.

Not long ago, as far as all things are relative, I ran across the mention of a story whose premise enchanted me. I tripped across the reference in a book on writing (I think), though I couldn’t remember which. It involved the personification of the months and I remembered October having a prominent role, and April, and there was a mention of a tree or tree stump, of storytelling, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall the name. I thought it was written by Ray Bradbury, but even skimming through the pages of the writing books I’d read, and scouring the index of each didn’t help. So, I did what I know best; I turned to the mystical guardian of all knowledge, both credible and irresponsible and summoned the all-powerful Google to heed my query. I didn’t have a lot to go on, and I’ll admit that it wasn’t the first search string that brought me the answer I’d been hunting for, but it didn’t take long. Maybe an aggregate half-hour or so, spread over a few days in 10 minute chunks. Using the “remembered” details, Google led me to Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, The Halloween Tree and a few others that even at first glance were not what I was looking for. I tweaked the string, removing all by what I knew for certain, and found something that looked promising – an amazon link to Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories, Fragile Things. I dug a little deeper into amazon, looking to see what I could find out about the book, and then found the samples of the 6 part Kindle version. So I downloaded the samples. And I found it. October in the Chair by Neil Gaiman. I think I probably squeaked with delight. Of course, I downloaded the entire collection and while I greedily devoured every word of the story, I have not yet read the entire collection yet. My focus is still on the list of horror stories from the HWA handbook, aka The 25 Book Challenge and although the widget isn’t keeping up with me, I think I’m making pretty good progress. I am roughly halfway through the list and two of them are in progress, so, we’ll see. Even if I don’t complete the list, it’s been a fantastic learning experience. I’ve also discovered that the more I read, the faster I read. In spite of my crazy work schedule, The Stand only took me a few weeks, and I burned through The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and Fear in the same month.

I’m rambling. This is me, distracted by talk of books. Surprising, I know.

And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

Two years ago, I took my vacation at Oak Island in North Carolina. The week between Christmas and New Year’s was heaven. Quiet. Relaxing. Peaceful. Restorative. When I got back, I thought I’d lost a crystal chakra necklace I adored and I was devastated. It was beautiful and I’d cherished it only to find that it had slipped into the Void of Lost Things. I searched my suitcase, the backpack of books I’d brought, ransacked my room…all to no avail. I gave it up for lost.

A couple of weeks ago, I was attacking my room with the frustrated gusto of someone swimming for the surface in an effort to outrun the shark nipping at their heels and trying to drag them down. I was listening to an audiobook and while I was on my hands and knees trying to reach under a dresser to capture the renegade dust bunnies, my fingers tripped over the cool metal snake of a necklace chain. I pulled it out, and dangling from it on a silver bail was the crystal I’d thought I’d lost years ago. Thrilled, I cleaned off the dust bunny fluff, put it on and have been wearing it frequently ever since. Somehow, the rest of the cleaning I did that day didn’t seem so bad. For a change, it all seemed…worthwhile. I may not have gotten the miracle cleaning job done that I’d wanted that weekend, but I still consider it a fruitful victory and I’ll keep trying to get the rest under control. It may not have been Google-Fu that found the necklace, but I can’t say that it had nothing to do with it. Sometimes, it’s about sticking your hand into the dark to see what you can pull back into the light.

Let’s just hope the shadow monsters aren’t in a biting mood…

A Celebration of Words

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve seen so many mentions of National Book Week that I really am not sure when it’s actually celebrated. There’s lots of conflicting dates, compartmentalization of genre, style and audience like National Children’s Book Week and other, less notable permutations.

But why wait for an “official” day of recognition? Why not just say, “I love words and I choose to celebrate it by grabbing the nearest book, turning to page 56 and copying the fifth sentence on the page!”

…or something like that. It’s a celebration. Get crazy. We do things to celebrate more widely-recognized, “official” holidays (like dipping hardboiled eggs in food coloring, or hiding little plastic ones filled with goodies that were delivered by a bunny. Really. I mean, think about it. Other than symbols of spring and fertility, it’s a pretty random celebration. Why would a RABBIT bring eggs? No wonder the Cadbury bunny is so confused. I don’t really blame him. But I digress…) so why not this to celebrate words.

Let the celebration begin!

 

“Oh, but don’t go away,” they cried. “Do let us see them just once.”

‘The New Mother’ by Lucy Clifford

from The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell

Goodies in the Mailbox!

I was so excited to find an advance copy of Quirk Books newest offering, Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters, in my mail yesterday that I’ve been trying to read my current book as quickly as possible just to get at it.

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The press release is intriguing, especially since I just finished reading Rosemary’s Baby a couple of weeks ago. Here it is, for you curious types:

Alex and Susan Wendt are the perfect couple in search of the perfect brownstone-and they find their dream house in the heart of Brooklyn Heights. Sure, the landlady is a little eccentric, and the handyman drops some cryptic remarks about the previous tenants. But the rent is so low, it’s too good to pass up!

Big mistake: Susan soon discovers that the brownstone is crawling with bedbugs . . . Or is it? She awakens every morning with fresh bites, but neither Alex nor their daughter Emma has a single welt. Exterminators search the property and turn up nothing. Neighbors insist the building is clean. Susan fears that she’s going mad-but as the mysteries deepen, a more sinister explanation presents itself: She may literally be confronting the bedbug problem from hell.

An understated horror story filled with loving references to Rosemary’s Baby and other classic tales of urban paranoia, Bedbugs will keep your skin crawling into the wee hours of the night.

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Stay tuned because I’ll be posting Something Like a Review on this one in the next couple of weeks, just to tease and torment you before the book is released on September 6th.

 

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