An Interesting Choice of Words

Let’s talk about nerds. Specifically, let’s talk about nerdiness as it applies to the new generation. What does it mean to be a nerd in the year 2013? It used to mean something entirely different–you know, guys in glasses with suspenders and pocket protectors getting pushed into lockers. But these days, everyone wants to be a nerd. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, although it is helpful to remember that if a term becomes too broad, it loses its meaning. We nerds (and I’m going to use “nerd” and “geek” interchangeably here, even though they are not, strictly speaking, the same thing) should be inclusive, but not to the point that we forget who we are. If you enjoyed the original Star Wars trilogy but didn’t care for the prequels, that doesn’t make you a nerd, it makes you human. If you can give me a blow-by-blow account of everything that happens in the extended universe (full disclosure: I can’t do that), then maybe. There is no threshold to clear, exactly; nerdiness is just a point of view. There is a definite sexism amongst nerds who exclude girls because they don’t get it, and there are slutty women who pretend to be nerds just because they get easy attention from guys who have never touched boobies before. I don’t want to generalize about nerds, as the majority of them do not mistake having strong opinions for being right, have good hygiene, and know perfectly well how to behave around the opposite sex. At the same time, I have met one or two nerds who were socially awkward to the point of being rude and obnoxious. Those guys might as well have just worn signs saying “VIRGIN” around their necks, because stereotypes, sadly, sometimes have a basis in truth.

I hate people who say, “It’ll all work out in the end.” What end is that, the apocalypse? I know what they’re saying–that if you wait long enough, you can get what you want. But what platitudes like that really say to me is that you just have to give it all you’ve got, and I find that you usually have to give it just a little bit more. It never ceases to amaze me how many fights I get into with “nice” people. Nice people seem to think that because they are friendly, they must be better than grumpy old Robot King. That’s not how it works. If all you have to say to me is that you’re offended by something I said, go eat a bag of dicks. Seriously. I can’t give up this safe space–which, in case it’s not obvious, is exactly what this blog is–for anyone, not even close friends and family. My sanity is, I am sorry to say, more important than any of that. What this has to do with nerdiness is simply that nerd conventions and other such gatherings are, for a lot of guys, that safe space. They view anyone who they don’t immediately recognize as one of their own as a threat. I’m not saying that’s right, just that that’s how it works. It doesn’t have to stay that way, though.

Some people believe life is about the journey rather than the destination. I say they can go fuck themselves because, as I’ve just said, I hate feel-good inspirational bullshit. At the same time, lots of people read stories just to get to the end. They follow Lost for six seasons and then, when the ending fails to answer all their questions (or most of them, really), they say that all the time they spent enjoying it was a waste. That’s not how it works. Time spent enjoying yourself is time spent enjoying yourself, although there is a definite tendency on the part of some storytellers to get lost in their own creation. Stephen King even breaks the fourth wall just before the conclusion of his Dark Tower series just to warn the reader that they might not like what’s coming up. I did, but I also found the last three books to have a tossed-off quality. Had Stephen King put as much care into them as he did into the first four (he suffered a near-fatal car accident between the fourth and fifth books, which might have had something to do with it), the series would be, as he claims it is, his magnum opus, and one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. As it is, it’s interesting mostly as something that peters out midway through before concluding in a way that at first seems disappointing, but in reality makes perfect sense.

Men are an insecure bunch. We don’t have to deal with the same pressures about having slender figures and perfect skin that women do, but we have to put up with the knowledge that every failure on our part will provoke questions of whether women would do better if they ran the world. My guess is no. I know it’s fiction and not a scientific experiment, but the comics series Y: The Last Man–which is about a plague that, without warning, wipes out every man on Earth except one–is a terrific examination of the ways in which women can be every bit as power-hungry and petty as men can, given the chance. I know women who have committed themselves to losing weight (some men, too, but mostly women), and the funny thing is that it never occurred to me that any of them needed it. Not that they weren’t plus-size, mind you, just that I assumed that they were okay with it. So [insert name here] likes desserts. What of it?

Pictured: awesomeness.

Pictured: awesomeness.

This post spent more time in the works than normal. There is a lot cluttering my head. And I’m not quite as prolific as I used to be. I’m kind of tired of watching my life improve without actually getting good. Everybody says that I should be patient, but I’m getting older, and the things that I really want to change never do. I’m not the overachiever I used to be. Much of my stress of the last six or seven months has come with being asked to do things that I’ve either never done before, or have actively avoided doing in recent years. Some people have more experience in this field than I do. Some have more life experience than I do, period. It’s stupid to compare yourself to others, but easy, when you find yourself with nothing better to do. It has been my experience that the people who wonder if they belong are often more useful than they realize, but that is impossible to confirm, and has to be taken on faith. What is more important to me is the belief that real change takes time, and requires not just patience but understanding. So much can turn on a bizarre choice of words. I’ve written whole essays about exactly that. Nerds have to know what defines them, or they’ll become an exclusive club, like the country club that told Groucho Marx that they didn’t allow Jews, but would make an exception for him provided that he didn’t use the pool. (His response: “My daughter’s half-Jewish. Can she wade in up to her knees?”) Sooner or later, people will realize that it ain’t blood, it’s just the goddamn river.

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Balance

New York is cold, but I’ve been through worse. It’s not something you can’t get used to. Speaking of getting used to things…

I used to be able to get eight hours of sleep every night without fail. That changed very suddenly late in my undergraduate career, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since. A few years ago, I made the mistake of thinking that since I was, at the time, averaging between seven and seven-and-a-half hours every night, all I had to do was close that small gap and I’d be fine. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Problem-solving is never so linear, at least not for me. I have to sort of scramble around for a while, then lie around consumed by indecision and self-doubt, and attempt a bunch of things only to suffer a series of humiliating defeats before I actually get anywhere. That’s my experience, anyway. And today, I find myself in an eerily similar place to that of a couple years prior. I generally get enough sleep, but wake up very early in the morning and spend the next couple hours tossing and turning. Frequently, it takes me nine hours or more to get enough rest. That is a problem, but I’m not sure what’s causing it.

Part of the issue might stem from a combination of lethargy and anxiety. In just under four months, I will (hopefully) graduate from this program with a masters degree. I don’t know what I’ll be doing then, but I’d better figure it out soon, as I have to start paying some of these debts off immediately after graduation. I’ve just been put on a sort of academic probation, and after meeting with an administrator whose title I can’t remember and my adviser, I see that they are quite confident that I’ll graduate. (I’m only, like, 0.07 points below the required G.P.A., anyway.) I don’t entirely disagree with them, but I can’t help but feel like the next few months will just have me going through the motions. I’ll try to find a part-time job just to give myself something to do and make a little money, get my grades up, and commit myself full-force to my career search. It all seems so simple, doesn’t it? I am reminded of my last semester as an undergrad, during which I spent all of my time watching movies, reading, and doing just great in all of my classes. It was too fucking easy, and if you think that I’m needlessly whining, consider that the summer and fall that followed were way rougher than the spring that preceded them. I don’t want a repeat of that. I don’t like repeating myself in general.

We have workshop assignments this semester. What that entails is essentially doing a group project with about ten or eleven other students with a faculty adviser to guide us. In the summer and fall, we took one piece of proposed legislation and examined it from just about every possible angle. Now, we are doing unpaid consulting work for a real-life client. The stakes and workload have greatly increased, yet everyone seems confident that we can all pull through. That’s what’s bugging me. Our team manager is a woman who I’ve talked about on this blog before. She rubs me the wrong way, but isn’t exactly a bitch, just a bit narcissistic. I don’t even dislike her, necessarily; I just think that she has a bit of a need to be the center of attention. When I found out that she would be managing my group, I was annoyed, as I prefer my authority figures to be a little less eager to be in control. She was in my group for the last two semesters, has many of the same friends I do, and generally spends a lot of time in my proximity. It feels as if somebody (the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I suppose?) is trying to force us to work out our differences together, which I wouldn’t mind doing, but would rather do it on my own time. Yet I know better than to go against the Monster. I almost feel nostalgic for my summer semester managers, whom I butt heads with, but who, in retrospect, aren’t so bad.

Oh, fuck off.

Oh, fuck off.

There are people I know with keen, innovative minds, people who, when I argue with them, have me using up every tool in my arsenal just to hold my ground. The aforementioned female is not one of them. I used to be one of the “gifted kids”. I was never arrogant enough to think that I could naturally rise above everyone everywhere I went, but now that I’m at an Ivy League school, I feel like I’ve gone almost too far in the opposite direction. Now, I’m having to strain just to pass my classes. If that has happened to me in high school, I would have shot myself. I’m not the overachiever that I used to be, but I definitely think I can achieve more than this. I’m still single, a fact that I bring up incessantly because it’s never stopped being true.

Most debates that I have are over false equivalencies. By this, I mean that I am tired of balance for the sake of balance, of the notion that no matter what the facts, both sides must be a little bit right and a little bit wrong. I’m right most of the time, and when I point that out, people tell me I’m wrong. See the irony? Yes, I make mistakes, but they’re rarely, if ever, the mistakes others accuse me of making. In other words, I would like to decide for myself when I am right and when I am wrong. It seems like the least I can do.

This video is funny.

The Little Things

The funny thing about hypochondria is that, in my experience, it has less to do with a fear of getting sick than a fear of going to the doctor. I scraped my hand on a rusty nail a couple of months ago and debated with myself over whether to go in for a tetanus shot. It’s been at least ten years or so since I last had one, and they can wear off in eight or nine anyway. At the same time, the scrape was so tiny that I had a hard time imagining any infection entering it, tetanus or otherwise. So I decided not to. It just didn’t seem fair that I should have to give up, I don’t know, an hour or a couple for something so innocuous. I turned out to be right. The scratch healed in no more than a couple days, and I never suffered any adverse symptoms. If I’d stepped on the nail, I would have dropped everything and rushed to the emergency room, and maybe it would have been a good idea to see a doctor even with a small scrape. I can’t speak for anyone except myself, but what mainly bugs me about the prospect of getting really sick or needing surgery is the inconvenience. In his movie, Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen plays a chronic hypochondriac whose greatest wish seems to be that he actually will get sick for a change. It’s one of his best films, and part of what makes the character so interesting is that what he is really afraid of is uncertainty. If he knows he’s going to die, then he has nothing to worry about. Taking it on faith that you’re going to be alright is really difficult, and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

The problem, I think, it’s that any rational person understand that nothing lives forever, but they want to know how long they’ve got. Sure, 70-80 years might seem like a long time, but when you spend an entire afternoon lounging around without accomplishing anything, it’s easy to wonder if you’re wasting your time. I always hate it when people talk about how fast these last few years have flown by, because I actually find that time moves slower the more fun I’m having. I can’t remember if I’ve posted this song before, but here’s David Byrne saying basically what I’ve been trying to put into words for a while.

I feel the need to see some good live theater again. Living in New York, I have plenty to choose from, and I’m dying to see Once. One of the people in my program was trying to organize a group to see a show, and while I was pressing for Once (or The Lion King, which I’ve seen already but wouldn’t mind revisiting), a plurality wanted to see Wicked, a decent show that I saw once and don’t need to see again. Darn. I want to scream, “What is wrong with you people? Why see something as big and glitzy as Wicked when you can have something as sweet and intimate as Once?!?!?!” I guess some people just like spectacle. When my cousin, who is an actor, asked me if I preferred plays or musicals, I answered plays. “Everyone says musicals,” he responded. Perhaps the showy nature of musical theater makes for a better tourist attraction. All I know is that I have always found plays to be a more powerful and direct art form than musicals. Of course, we probably would have seen The Book of Mormon if tickets weren’t prohibitively expensive and probably still really, really hard to get.

Part of the fun of theater is the knowledge that what you are seeing cannot be replicated. Any actor will tell you that the difference between the best and worst performances is barely perceptible to most audiences, but I like the knowledge that what I am experiencing will exist only right here and right now, with no recording to preserve it for posterity. Sometimes people slip recording devices into plays anyway. That happened with one show that I was in a few years ago, although the person who recorded it either stopped after three scenes or decided to post only those three on YouTube. I’m not sure why they did it. It seems odd to do such a thing when you could just enjoy the show. I’ve made it my mission to see at least a couple of my favorite film and TV actors onstage, if I ever get the chance. Philip Seymour Hoffman does a lot of Broadway acting, and Christopher Eccleston–still one of my favorite Doctors–has said that he prefers stage acting because it gives the actors rather than the director final say over what the audience sees. I know talented theater actors who have no desire whatsoever to set foot in front of a camera, and while I’ve done only a little bit of screen acting myself, I know a few people who might be better suited to that than stage acting. They’re different beasts, certainly, and if I had a time machine, I would probably spend the first few months of it traveling back to see Orson Welles and John Gielgud onstage, along with the original cast of 1776. (That last one is of interest largely because I’m tired of people mythologizing historical figures, and approve of anything that shows them to be the flawed, backstabbing, sometimes petty people that they were.)

I often feel like I have so much to do that I can’t even figure out where to begin. More often, I feel like I have something I have to do that I not only don’t want to do, but don’t even know how to attempt. The worst part is that my first, second, third, and fourth attempts often get me nowhere. So I keep trying because, well, life is short, but not so short that I don’t have time to fail over and over again.

Off-topic: The members of LMFAO have the douchiest sunglasses and most punchable faces I’ve ever seen. If anyone reading this ever gets the chance, please murder them for me, okay? I’ll send you chocolates and roses.

I hope Satan rapes them both while shitting down the necks of their grandparents and tattooing obscene images on their testicles with a broken bottle. That is all.

I hope Satan rapes them both while shitting down the necks of their grandparents and tattooing obscene images on their (LMFAO’s) testicles with a broken bottle. That is all.

Monkeys From Satan’s Asshole

Principal Snyder, er, I mean Quark, was often funny.

Principal Snyder, er, I mean Quark, was often funny.

One of the many, many things that Deep Space Nine does better than any other Star Trek series is comic relief. On Next Generation, the Ferengi were insufferable, and even though Lwaxana Troi was brought back over and over again in the mistaken belief that she was endearing, the only decent episode she ever had on the show was a dramatic one, in which she fell in love with an alien whose culture required him to kill himself at age 60 since growing old and feeble was, to his people, dishonorable. She admitted that she was being selfish in trying to convince him to turn his back on all that, and for a moment, the audience saw the vulnerability and loneliness in this scared old woman. Deep Space Nine handled her fairly well, giving her a deeply moving scene in which she and Odo get stuck in the turbolift and she explains that he doesn’t have to be afraid to revert to his liquid state in front of her because she knows all about being afraid to let anyone see the real her. (Odo is a changeling, a race of people who are naturally fluid and can stay solid only by force of will, FYI.) By the same token, the Ferengi on Deep Space Nine are actually pretty funny, partially because they are three-dimensional characters and not just gag machines. Quark, Rom, and Nog all had both comic and serious moments and for the most part, it worked.

I’m very tired of meetings. Let me explain. I just got an email from one the administrator people at my program saying that I needed to meet with her and my adviser because my G.P.A. has fallen below the level required for graduation. I don’t want to meet with them. I respect that this is a significant problem, but I’m not sure what they want me to say. I busted my balls all last semester and still failed to get the grades I wanted. On my end, that’s basically all there is to it. My elective professor asked me to meet with her after getting a zero on my first quiz, meaning that I literally might as well have not shown up. I studied for that quiz. I studied for all of her quizzes. But even though I answered all her questions, I rarely gave her the answer she wanted, which, to her, was as good as leaving the question blank. So she failed me, but not before giving me a Christmas card inviting me (along with everyone else in the class) to her New Year’s party and telling me what a delight it was to have me in her class. What. A. Fucking. Bitch. Maybe I’m being harsh. Others got along with her better than I did. But to me, she was just a brick wall that I crashed against again and again without ever making the slightest dent. She refused to alter even the tiniest aspect of her teaching to make things a little easier on me, then wondered if there was something she could do. Uh, yeah, how about you give me a half-point on that one quiz just for spelling my name right? It will make me feel like less of a tool, believe me. Add up the points in my economics course, and I got, like, a 25. But the professor gave me a C-minus anyway because hey, I tried. I don’t even like him that much, but I’ll take 100 of him over one of her. Meetings with concerned advisers and shit basically just exist for their benefit. And one day, I just might refuse to even attend. But they’ll have to push me a little farther first.

Getting back to sci-fi/fantasy, I feel that I should talk about Jim C. Hines. I haven’t read any of his books, but he did something lovely on his blog a while ago when he modeled some of the poses that women take on genre book covers. If you’ve ever wanted to see a balding middle-aged man model sexy badass action chick poses (and who hasn’t?), please do yourself a favor and feast your eyes upon this. You’ll get a hearty chuckle. He tried modeling male poses as well, and found that while they were still pretty ridiculous, they weren’t as difficult to twist himself into, and usually put the man in a position of power rather than vulnerability. Food for thought, no?

I guess what really drives me nuts about the whole incident with my electives course is just that my professor acted like she was doing all she could to help when she really wasn’t. All she had to do in order to make my life so much easier was move her middle finger half an inch and type a C into the box or document or whatever that she types grades into. It would not have compromised her integrity as a teacher, and it would have made for a better holiday gift than inviting me to join her on New Year’s. If I were in her position, it’s what I’d do. That’s all I’m saying.

I think a lot of female geeks would feel much more welcome in geekdom in they didn’t feel so objectified by the books/comics/games/movies/whatever that they enjoy. After a while, they probably develop thicker skin, but I doubt it ever stops being annoying.

Bad things don’t happen every time we step outside of our comfort zones and try something new. Sometimes, they do, and that sucks. I wish I knew how to tell the outcome before I started, but I don’t. I may be an evil mastermind, but I’m still human.

Stuff

It’s hard for me to do something unless I know why I want to do it. Some people just do whatever enters their heads, then sort out the ramifications afterwards. If I tried that, I would probably end up lying naked in a ditch somewhere. Understandably, I’m a little wary.

I’ve just had a minor epiphany. (That’s a line from Midnight in Paris.) I’ve spent a lot of time whining about how some of my old friends don’t talk to me anymore, and we didn’t have a falling out so much as just drift away. I’m not sure if any of them realized how difficult it was for me, but some might have been more aware of what was going on than others. In the case of one guy, it may have just been that he realized he didn’t like me that much anymore. For years, he’d been a good friend, sometimes a great one. But–and I’m still struggling to pin down exactly when and where it started–there had been a sort of unacknowledged friction developing between us for some time. I could tell that I was rubbing him the wrong way, but couldn’t see how that was my problem, as I was the same person I’d always been. So he turned his back. It was that simple. Ultimately, it’s easier to forgive that than the asshole who pushed me away through sheer rudeness before deactivating his Facebook account and changing his phone number. (Seriously, you’d think he was a goddamn fugitive.) It reminds me of (what else?) my housing situation. People do what people do. At a certain point, contracts and obligations don’t matter. If they don’t like me, they ask me to leave. I’m trying to apply that to my inability to get a date, but my love life (or lack thereof) is so complex (in that it doesn’t exist) that I’m not sure if even my therapist could fully unpack it. It’s not something that makes functioning on a day-to-day basis difficult so much as just something that gnaws away at me. And I don’t have any prospects on the horizon, so from the looks of things, it will be a long time yet before anything happens. Problems like this are not solved overnight. You just chip away at them until you can’t take it any more, and then, if you’re lucky, a crack opens in the dam. If you’re lucky.

Some things seem too easy, whereas others seem too hard. I’m a fan of Paul Krugman, but he embarrassed himself on his blog this week when he called Jon Stewart “lazy” for mocking the idea of a using a trillion dollar coin to solve our national debt crisis. Problem is, Krugman made the same point. He bashes Stewart for not acknowledging that the coin was, at the time it was proposed, the only solution that anyone had put forward that was even legal, let alone plausible. But that’s not Stewart’s job. The non-smartasses of the world have to understand that you don’t have to be a journalist or even a qualified expert in order to talk about serious issues on TV, and yes, saying, “I’m a comedian” is a perfectly acceptable excuse for leaving key facts out or even getting them wrong. Krugman himself admitted that the coin was kind of a silly idea, so basically, he and Stewart are on the same side, but coming at it from different angles. It’s a silly dust-up, but even so, Krugman’s admirers need to understand that Stewart is not thin-skinned for firing back, although K-Thug (gotta love that nickname) revealed himself to be mighty sensitive on this one.

Honestly, is it so hard to understand that this Onion piece, while clearly not journalism by any stretch, does in fact make a relevant point about the entertainment industry while not being entirely mean-spirited? In some ways, mockery is the sincerest form of flattery.

I said back in late August that I could see the skeleton of the life I was trying to build for myself. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think I can see slightly more than that now. It was a hard-fought victory, believe me. In a way, the expression, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn” is terrifying. Since my life continues to find new and improved ways to suck, I haven’t quite reached the darkest part yet, have I? Sure, that dawn is mighty tempting, but what will I have to go through to get there? I guess I’m looking at it the wrong way. The proper outlook, I suppose, is to just enjoy what you have, when you have it. Well, I’ve got a roof over my head (for the time being), am feeling slightly more prepared for the upcoming semester than I did for the last two, and may have even made more than zero friends since moving to New York. I guess that’s something. But I still wake up at four in the morning feeling anxious for no good reason sometimes. The dogs in my head know something is up. And they’re not going to shut up until they’ve found it and, um, chewed on it or something.

I have only a couple hundred dollars to get me through these next few weeks until my loans come through. I could charge things to my credit card (for which my father still foots the bill), but I’m trying to be all financially independent and shit. Wish me luck.

Viggo Mortensen does, anyway.

viggo mortensen