June 25, 2014

Horseshoe crab hunt

Posted in City life tagged , , , , , at 1:00 am by chavisory

A coworker of mine leads nature walks to remote corners of the city once a month just to make sure that we all see something other than the inside of a dark theater once in a while.  A couple of weekends ago, we went to Plum Beach in Brooklyn to see the horseshoe crabs come up on the high tide to mate and lay eggs.

marine parkway bridge

It was chilly for mid-June.  Rainclouds meant we didn’t get to see the full moon rising, sadly, but there are still some beautiful views of the Rockaways and Breezy Point.

deceased horseshoe crab

Deceased horseshoe crab.  One of the things we learned is that they tend to get flipped upside down on their backs in the tide.  Because they have a segmented shell, unlike turtles, they have some ability to right themselves…but if they don’t succeed and morning comes, they get eaten by seagulls.  So if you come across one upside down, you can help it out by using your foot to nudge it back right side up.  I got to rescue 3 or 4 crabs on this night.  They’re heavier than they look.

windy trees

And cuter, once you get to know them.

tagged horseshoe crab

Found one tagged by the Fish and Wildlife Service!

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July 28, 2013

In defense of Amy Pond and other impossible stories

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 8:30 pm by chavisory

-or-

I do not think that Amy Pond is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that you think she is.

~

I’ve been seeing this column linked, quoted, and excerpted pretty much all over the internet in the past couple weeks.  And I wish I were having as positive a reaction to it as, apparently, basically every other woman on the internet is.  But I’m not.

I was never a manic pixie dream girl.  Though it wasn’t for the lack of a couple of people’s trying to make me theirs.  Who decided everything about who I was, tried to treat me like I was that person, and then were continually confused and disappointed when I wasn’t.  In fact, that’s true of a lot of people in my life, in various contexts, and not just romantically.

It’s the kind of thing I can see happening to Amy a lot, too.  Not just guys with romantic intent, but people, deciding based on her looks and demeanor what’s behind her eyes.

And then it isn’t.

And so not many people stay close.

It’s not that she’s vacant or empty—it’s that so much has happened to her that has no possibility of being put into words that anyone else would either understand or believe.  That has no analog or describeability at all within what most people in her world know and accept as the boundaries of reality.

She’s tried.  And look what happened for her trouble.  Four psychiatrists; being told all her life that she was making it up, or delusional, that what she knows to be true couldn’t possibly be.

Believe me about the wear and tear that exerts on a person’s psyche.  (And I didn’t even have a Time Lord fall out of the sky into my backyard in a police box after my entire family had been disappeared by a crack in the universe.)

(Um, not exactly, anyway.)

Is it any wonder she doesn’t let much of her interiority slip anymore?

I have always, always experienced Amy as the protagonist of that entire story arc of Doctor Who, not as a function of what she was to the Doctor.  Far from being “somehow immortally fixed at the physical and mental age of nineteen-and-a-half,” she always struck me as much older and sadder than she was supposed to be, perhaps even by her writer.  She was always the point-of-view character to me.  We saw her, and the world from her perspective, first and last in that story.

And finally, it was a world that I recognized.

That doesn’t mean that the framing of the story, and Steven Moffat’s (and therefore the Doctor’s) treatment of her aren’t sometimes often inexcusably patronizing or sexist.  Particularly the ways in which people try to protect her by hiding knowledge or information about herself from her, in an inadvertent continuation of the way she had her very existential integrity violated by the effects of the crack in her bedroom wall.

Lots of people try to take Amy away from herself, with good intent or bad—Moffat, and the Doctor, her aunt and her psychiatrists, the Silence and Madame Kovarian.  But she ultimately chooses the framing of her story that gets told to her younger self.  She ultimately makes the decisions that take her away from the Doctor.  The fact that she is put at the mercy of forces much larger than herself, that people who care about her respond rather imperfectly, that she does the best she can—with a stunning degree of endurance and courage if you really stop to think about it—under deeply irrational and frightening circumstances…I am unclear on how that makes her “the ultimate in lazy sexist tropification.”

That is shit that happens to people.

This is the problem with proclaiming that “the girl who waited” is not a real person.  She is.  I have been the girl who waited.  It’s not a part of my story that I’m particularly enamored with sometimes, but it is intrinsically part of my story.  It’s not flattering, but it’s true, and not because that’s just the way some man wanted it.  I’ve been the girl whose life didn’t make any sense.  I’ve been the girl whose memories didn’t add up.  I’ve felt like the impossible girl.

Those aren’t just the titles of stories that happened to other people because that’s what girls are supposed to be.  Those are stories that happened to me.

I’ve been told so often, in so many ways, that I wasn’t a real person, that I couldn’t exist in the world.

And oh, look, here’s another woman, doing it again.  (It is usually women.)  I guess to some women, being real is only for some women.  And not for those of us whose stories are too inconvenient.

Even Amy isn’t truly a girl I could be, in various ways; it’s just that elements of her story helped me work out a few important things about my own.  I watched “The Pandorica Opens” and could literally feel aspects of how the universe was supposed to work, turning and clicking back into place for me.  (Even as the episode made so little logical sense that in trying, unsuccessfully, to untangle its plausibility in my head one day, I completely spaced out on my subway ride to work and missed my stop.)  I had a Facebook conversation with a friend one night about how, when you’ve spent most of your life deeply disoriented with no clear explanation as to why, to suddenly not be disoriented in that way anymore is its own kind of disorientation.  It’s one of the most deeply weird things I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying something, and I’ve never, not anywhere, seen that experience represented more adeptly than in Amy’s episodes of Doctor Who.  (And I very much think of them as Amy’s episodes.)

You know how people sometimes write letters to their childhood selves?  I could never do that.  I didn’t know what I could possibly say to that little girl.  No words would form around the things I wanted her to know.  I just couldn’t, somehow, connect the world I know, and the world she lived in, and the things she did and didn’t understand at the time.  The truth was just too much, too fractured and incomprehensible a thing to try to figure out how to lay on that girl.  It felt like there was some kind of glitch in my timeline…in my own understanding of how I’d even gotten from there to here.

But when the Doctor closed Melody Malone’s book at the end of Amy’s story in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” I cried and cried for a long time without being able to say exactly why.  And then I did understand, and then I did know what needed saying to that girl.  And I could say it.

Amy means a lot to me precisely because I couldn’t ever be the story that other people wanted.

Neil Gaiman once wrote “…the shape of reality—the way I perceive the world—exists only because of Dr Who,” and while that would be an over-statement in my case, Amy’s story finally reflected to me a lot of the emotional shape of my own world, and some of the joints and hinges that have held it somewhat inexplicably together.

April 8, 2013

Prop closet treasure

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:32 am by chavisory

I was reorganizing a props closet recently when I found this fellow.

Puppet 1

I got all of his strings untangled to try to see how he works; he’s a marionette, but seems to be missing the wooden handhold that would allow a puppeteer to operate his legs independently from his arms and head.

He’s beautiful, and also clearly not a toy or a prop.  He looks like a traditional puppet of some kind.  (In most cultures other than ours, puppet theater is a serious traditional storytelling form for adults as well as children.)  And here’s my real embarrassment:  I wrote my final paper for graduation with honors in college on the religious frameworks underpinning various East Asian puppet theater traditions…and I had no idea what this guy is.

puppet face

He looks Indian or Hindu, perhaps, and preliminary image Googling reveals a resemblance to the string puppets of a tradition called Bommalattam, but those marionettes are described as being about 3 feet tall, and this one is only just over a foot, and also more detailed and ornate.  I dug out a copy of my paper to skim through, but he doesn’t fit the description of anything that I studied.

puppet feet

It’s past my bedtime, but I’m a little obsessed now with figuring out more about him.  I’ll have to resume research in the morning, though if anyone else is geek enough to have any idea, I would be thankful to know.

January 30, 2013

Thinking and language

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 4:18 pm by chavisory

A friend sent me a link to this Radiolab episode (“Voices in Your Head”) from a couple years ago in response to a different inquiry altogether (having to do with certain experiences of schizophrenia and auditory hallucinations), but it was startling to me in an unexpected way.

http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/sep/07/voices-in-your-head/

Jad is talking to developmental psychologist Charles Fernyhough about how he believes children learn to think by internalizing external verbal processes:

CF: I don’t think very young children do think.

JE: Like, think, period?

CF: I don’t think they think in the way that I want to call thinking.

JE: What he meant, is that thinking as he defines it, is just words sounding silently in your head, and before you have those words in your head, you can’t think.

Early in the episode, Fernyhough asks us to think of a parent and child solving a jigsaw puzzle together, and the back and forth dialogue between them in which, he posits, a child learns to think.  The “thinking” here, he says, is happening in the interaction between parent and child, and not internal to one or the other at all.  It’s by learning to make this verbal process internal, that we become thinking people, he says.  “If you watch any kid with their parents, anywhere in the world, doing this kind of thing, you’ll see them thinking together,” he tells us.

Immediately I thought, “How insulting to non-speaking or non-verbal people,” or even to people whose primary intelligence is not linguistic, but spatial, movement-oriented, artistic, or musical?

But then I was even more stunned.  Wait, I thought…Is this possibly why so many people cannot imagine that someone who doesn’t talk doesn’t truly think?  Why people are so highly skeptical of the genuine intelligence of someone who can type but not speak?  Because most people do, in fact, learn to think by speaking and can imagine no other way?

I never did engage in the kind of mutual narration described, or individual narration about what I was learning to do; being forced to engage in that kind of communication while trying to understand or carry out a task actually badly impedes my ability to do it.  I have the damnedest time getting people to understand that I’ll be better off if they show me something once or twice and then leave me alone to get comfortable with it, rather than hanging over my shoulder and re-explaining and correcting until I’ve got it perfectly, which will never happen under those circumstances.  It’s also one of the major reasons why I did so badly in cognitive-behavioral therapy:  Because having to speak severely impedes my ability to think.  I speak by translating and selectively externalizing my internal understanding; I don’t think by internalizing what’s external.

Even my memories of learning to write are hardly verbal at all; they’re very experiential, visual, and physical.  I remember the pattern of it becoming intuitive more than the words themselves.

Frequently in my line of work, I find myself defending the intelligence of dancers to other people, explaining that you just can’t expect them to be able to communicate much of their intelligence verbally.  It’s just not how they work best.  It’s not the framework in which they’re approaching the world.

But look at their intuitive grasp of physics, space, movement, group dynamics, and the capabilities of the human body.  That is just as much intelligence as anything you can measure on a standardized test, and it never stops being astonishing to me.

Or, in college I knew an art student who reported that when she’d been painting alone for a long time, she had a really hard time switching back over into speech…like if her roommate came home unexpectedly and said hello.  I have a really hard time buying that in those preceding hours, she wasn’t thinking at all just because she wasn’t doing it in words, but in color, shape, and movement.

It’s incredibly arrogant, too, the presumption that because this is how you, or even most people, learn to think about the world, that that is how it must be done, and if it wasn’t, then those people aren’t really thinking at all…that thought itself cannot occur in a frame of reference radically different from the one that most people take for granted.  Or that nothing of significance could be understood if it can’t easily be translated to speech or verbal language.  And that’s not even taking into account all the conditions by which someone may in fact have a very verbal understanding of the world, but not be able to physically speak for whatever reason (like oral motor apraxia).  The prejudice is to assume that they cannot think or understand, rather than to look for ways that they could make their understanding known.

What I’m starting to think is that it’s not the autistic who have a theory of mind problem.

I’m at my favorite coffee shop again, like I usually am on days when I don’t have to be at work till evening.  Patrons are actually sitting outside this morning, because it’s sunny, calm, and 45 degrees instead of 10.  A woman smoking at the table nearest the door pushes her last fragment of baklava—shimmering with honey—to the edge of the table for the sparrows to share, and as one alights on the edge of the table to seize it, the sun for just a moment shines through its widespread wings, turning both bird and pastry a translucent luminous gold…like the bird was solidified from light itself.

And though I write poetry, there are no words I can find sufficient for the sight…not really.  Even the above paragraph feels and sounds klutzy and contrived compared to what it actually looked and felt like.

If I had even fewer words than this to describe it to you, would that mean that I didn’t truly see or feel or understand that moment?  I don’t think so.

January 23, 2013

Danny Zuko, poetry fan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:15 pm by chavisory

Speaking of characters who everyone gets wrong…

It’s always made me a little sad how few people appreciate that Danny Zuko is a great big poetry nerd.  Specifically, that he’s a huge fan of e.e. cummings…but that, for instance (as far as we know), his English teacher never seemed to notice this, or harness it into keeping him more engaged with his academics.

Don’t believe me?

she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and(having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell)next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good

(it

was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on

the
internalexpanding
&
externalcontracting
brakes Bothatonce and

brought allofher tremB
-ling
to a:dead.

stand-
;Still)

–e.e. cummings

February 29, 2012

If I only had a heart.

Posted in Reflections tagged , , , , , at 3:07 am by chavisory

The whole time I was watching this:


Moriarty: If you don’t stop prying, I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.
Sherlock: I have been reliably informed that I don’t have one.


Moriarty: But we both know that’s not quite true.

…I was thinking of this:


The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.  “You people with hearts,” he said, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart
, and so I must be very careful….”

***

Now would you like to see something incredibly eerie…?


Wizard of Oz: As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart. You don’t know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.


Mycroft Holmes: All lives end.  All hearts are broken.  Caring is not an advantage.

***

How often do the people we say have no hearts, in fact have the greatest ones?

Who are the people who tell us that they’re not worth having?

January 29, 2012

The Darkness of Oz

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:47 pm by chavisory

“Teenagers read millions of books every year. They read for entertainment and for education. They read because of school assignments and pop culture fads.

“And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe despite the callow protestations of certain adults that books–especially the dark and dangerous ones–will save them.” –Sherman Alexie

So I got a Kindle for Christmas.  I hadn’t previously thought that I wanted one, but agreed to give it a whirl…and now that I have it, I really can’t deny its usefulness, even as some features irk me.

I had the prospect of a long bus ride back home in front of me, and had learned the hard way on my trip out to Kansas City that Greyhound’s advertised free wi-fi is actually a deeply unreliable prospect.  A friend had recommended Gregory Maguire’s Out of Oz, the conclusion to the series that began with Wicked.  Though tempted to make that my first download and jump right in, it had been a long time since I’d read Son of a Witch and I barely remembered its plot, I hadn’t even gotten to A Lion Among Men yet, and I was feeling pretty rusty and unmoored in my Oz lore in general, so I figured maybe I’d better start back at the beginning…and read the original, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which, somewhat embarrassingly for a book-loving girl born in Kansas, I never had.

I got the complete original 14-volume Oz series for something like $4.50.   Okay…I started to admit that this Kindle thing could be pretty great.

So, rolling through the desolate wintery hills of Missouri and Indiana, I started reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Baum includes a note at the start of the book:

Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal.  The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.

Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale.  Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.

Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today [“today” being the year 1900].  It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.

My heart sank; I was sure to be in for a fatally boring read, and I had 28 hours ahead of me.  Compelling stories require real threats and real stakes; this was, like, the very first lesson of my college dramatic writing class…in which the movie version of The Wizard of Oz was Exhibit A.

But I was not to be disappointed, because let me just say, for a fairy tale supposedly stripped of nightmare and malice…The Wonderful Wizard of Oz contains a whole lot of death, dismemberment, and treachery.  Most prominent is the origin story of the Tin Woodman, who was once a flesh and blood human being, a poor woodcutter, whose love for a Munchkin girl was resented by the old woman she worked for.  The old woman went to the Wicked Witch of the East, who enchanted the woodman’s axe to kill him off one piece at a time…until having lost all of his original parts and thus lacking a heart, he didn’t die but simply became indifferent to the girl he’d loved.

There’s also the Wizard’s frankly admitted tyranny over the Emerald City and enslavement of its population, the complicity of the “good” witches with this, their rather transparent use of Dorothy as a pawn to regain the power of the silver shoes from the Witch of the West, that witch’s enslavement and abuse of the Winkies and flying monkeys…the field of poisoned poppies is still there, and some other nasty stuff, too…it’s a dark tale.

Even trying to write a children’s story without menace, morals, or survival lessons (if we believe that that’s what he was sincerely trying to do; I’m not actually sure that I do), Baum couldn’t do it.

It’s as if violence and hidden evil are things that must, one way or another, always be addressed in stories for children.  Because children know they exist even as well-intentioned adults attempt to deny them; they live in constant knowledge of their own vulnerability, and so a children’s story that attempts to deny or obscure their reality will always fall flat.

When we believed, as Baum did in his time, that morals and character were being explicitly and consistently taught to children in school, church, extended families and communities (whether they were or not, or what we might think of what kind of morals were being taught, is another story entirely), did writers for children feel less of a need to write explicitly or realistically about these things?  And now that, I think it’s arguable, we feel a widespread anxiety that these things are not being taught to children very well or consistently or at all, do children’s writers again feel an obligation to address them more openly and honestly, even in ways that are graphically, horribly violent?

Ironically, when our culture and educational system overwhelmingly address youth as shallow, technology-obsessed, and morally ungrounded, more compelling writing for children and teenagers addresses them seriously and respectfully as thinking, competent people, capable of astonishing empathy and courage.  Adults who lack regard for children as whole people who think and suffer and deserve to have their suffering taken seriously, can’t give them what worthwhile literature does:  examples of real strength, intelligence, and hope from characters their age.

I think particularly of the heroes of two series that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to predict will wind up as the defining examples of children’s literature of our time: Harry Potter, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy.

And when I say “teaching morals and character,” I don’t mean talking down to children about these things, but addressing real problems of existence, conflict (including war and murder), conscience, and ethics in the serious way that children actually crave and are capable of handling, which is far greater than we as a society typically give them credit for.

The Wizard of Oz succeeds as children’s literature, not to the extent that it denies or obscures the reality of violence, evil, fear, and loneliness, but to the extent that it utterly fails to.

In her New York Times op-ed from October, “No More Adventures in Wonderland,” Maria Tatar says that we shouldn’t oppose the current dark and serious trajectory of children’s literature, “it is hard not to mourn the decline of the literary tradition invented by Carroll and Barrie….No other writers more fully entered the imaginative worlds of children — where danger is balanced by enchantment — and reproduced their magic on the page. In today’s stories, those safety zones are rapidly vanishing as adult anxieties edge out childhood fantasy.”

But I disagree that there ever was childhood fantasy untainted by adult anxieties.  Enchantment isn’t a balance to danger; it’s bound inextricably with danger.  Great children’s stories are safe zones precisely because they deal with very real adult danger in a safe medium, not because they make it zany or ludicrous.  There is no escapism here.  Good children’s stories are still almost always survival lessons, because there is no need for fantasy or enchantment without the reality of evil and heartache.  Hook may be ultimately contemptible, but he’s not an interesting character unless he’s a truly mortal enemy.

If I look back to the books of my own childhood (rather than the children’s stories I discovered as an adult), of course I’m fond of Goodnight Moon, Make Way for Ducklings, and The Caretakers of Wonder; but the book that hands down meant the most to me then and still does now, is Saint George and the Dragon, Margaret Hodges’ adaptation for children of an episode from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, which spares no gory detail of Saint George’s three battles against a nightmarish dragon terrorizing the medieval English countryside.  It’s an enchanting tale, gorgeously illustrated with watercolors of whimsical fairies and English sunsets.  And everyone involved—George, Una’s people, the dragon—are fighting horrifically for their very lives and there’s no pretending otherwise.  (And I tended to identify with the dragon above either of the human protagonists, but that’s another story entirely.)

When Tatar writes that “It’s hard to imagine Carroll or Barrie coming up with something like that. They were as passionate about their young readers as they were about the books they wrote. In 1856, Carroll purchased a camera with the hope of freezing time through his portraits of little girls. By capturing them in photographs, he made sure they never grew up,” she reveals that the style of children’s literature she mourns says more about the prejudices towards children of its authors, rather than the actual needs or character of children or anything about their world.

What happens in a book can’t hurt you.  What happens in real life certainly will, if you have no prior example for how to cope with it.  People who actually respect children and teenagers as people, trust them to use books to learn what they need to.  Abuse, sex, violence, alienation, homophobia, hatred, etc., are things that happen to children and teenagers, and the fact that we think they shouldn’t isn’t enough of an excuse to deny them the emotional resources for helping themselves, and letting them do so privately and in their own time.  That is what good stories, especially the darkest stories, provide: precedent in a safe context for dealing with cruelty, the difference of others, and emotional complexity, rage, fear, and confusion.

“Instead of stories about children who will not grow up, we have stories about children who struggle to survive,” Tatar writes of our most successful children’s literature.  But it was never really otherwise, except in the fantasies of adults.

December 23, 2011

Onion-esque, volume 5

Posted in Onion-esque tagged , , , at 12:08 am by chavisory

While I gather my wits for a more substantial post, please enjoy this edition of “Headlines that should be from the Onion, but are not.”

“Despite careful calculations, the world does not end.” –New York Times, 5/21/11

“City strewn with perverts.” –AMNY, 6/15/11  (I know the situation isn’t funny, but the imagery is.)

“Girls Meet Bieber in Meeting Brokered by President Obama.” –gawker.com, 6/27/11

“China admits officials cannot levitate.” –New York Times, 6/30/11

“Cowboy monks quit the cattle business.” –New York Times, 8/14/11

“Bisexual men do exist, study finds.” –New York Times, 8/21/11

“Why do college students love getting wasted?” –Salon.com, 8/29/11

“Do we really need a national weather service?” –foxnews.com, 8/27/11 (i.e., the weekend of Hurricane Irene, which swiped the entire east coast of the United States from the Carolinas to Massachusetts and Vermont.  Yeah.)

“White House Says No Evidence of Extra-Terrestrials.” –AP, 11/7/11

“Rick Perry fails to remember what agency he’d get rid of in GOP debates.” –cbsnews.com, 11/9/11

“Starbucks toilet mutiny exposes reliance.” –New York Times, 11/22/11

December 6, 2011

Nerd fun at the NYPL

Posted in City life tagged , , , , at 11:25 pm by chavisory

I just got home from the New York Public Library, where I went to hear to Josh Ritter, Wesley Stace, and Steve Earle discuss the relationship between music and writing.  All three were lovely and marvelously intelligent, and though I went to hear Josh (of course), I think it was Steve Earle who said the most intriguing thing of the evening:

“What separates us from animals is not opposable thumbs; it’s that only humans make and consume art.  That’s what separates us from the beasts.”

And while I don’t want to denigrate the quality or value of animals’ emotional lives…I suspect he may be right.  I don’t tend to believe that humans are vastly superior to the rest of the animal kingdom in morals or capacity for empathy or emotional complexity…but I cannot think of another species that produces and consumes art for art’s sake.

Discuss?

August 25, 2011

Why nerds matter

Posted in Cool kids, Reflections, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:10 am by chavisory

Last summer, I wrote a post rather emotionally detailing my issues with the thinking behind a new reality show, NERD GIRLS, which was then in the casting process.  That post (Real nerd girls; June 2, 2010) has by far and away generated the most page views to my blog of anything that I’ve written…though not always in the way I might’ve imagined or intended.

See, WordPress has this nifty feature whereby you can see which search engine terms are bringing readers to your blog.  The following are some of the actual phrases that internet surfers have entered into search engines which brought them to my post “Real nerd girls.”

“real nerd girls”  (Okay, fair enough.)
“actual nerdy girls”
“real pretty nerd ladies”
“hot nerd girl not real nerd” (Yeah, well, sorry to disappoint you.)
“sexy girl in renaissance dress fuck”  (I admit to being particularly impressed by this searcher’s ability to spell “renaissance” correctly.)
“hot actual nerd girls?”  (The tone of that question mark is just so forlorn….)
“nerd girls in short skirts”
“live nerd girls looking for me”  (Uh, no.)
“romantic girls girls hot sexy just engineers real”  (Dude… )
“fetish pics from women in waders”  (……. )

But then there was one that actually broke my heart.

“I don’t want to be a nerd anymore.”

I have no way of knowing who the searcher was who made this request, and I rather doubt that he or she is still reading, obviously having not found the solution here.  But, I don’t know, just in case…or in case anyone else comes looking…

***

Dear nerdling,

At risk of sounding patronizing, which is not my intention…I know how hard it is.  I really do.  I won’t try to minimize what you’re going through, because I’m sure you’ve got enough people trying to do that.  I remember only too well what it’s like to feel awkward, ugly, left out, and like no one gives a damn about you.

But I can’t tell you how not to be a nerd, because I don’t know…and I’m not sure I’d tell you even if I knew.  Because here’s what I do know:

High school (or, god forbid, middle school?) is not the best time of your life.  Do not believe anyone who tells you it is, or that it should be.  Life gets far better for nerds after high school in most cases.  The adult world is much, much kinder to nerds than the adolescent world is.

Nerds are not superficial beings.  What makes you a nerd isn’t on the surface, so there’s nothing you can do to yourself cosmetically that will make you not a nerd.  Not makeup or prettier hair.  Not better clothes, cuter shoes, or any amount of waxing or plucking.  Not mani/pedicures, piercings or tattoos.  Some of the most sexy and attractive people I know are still nerds.  If you’re a nerd, you’re a nerd all the way through.

Nerds believe that knowledge matters, that information matters, and that truth matters.  You might manage to hide or suppress that belief for social convenience, for a limited amount of time, but I doubt you can make yourself unbelieve it.

Nerds are passionate.  Nerds are intensely interested in how the world works.  Nerds thrive in places where bottomless passion is valued rather than scorned.  Nerds care about the world around them.

Nerds tend to be very, very good at what they do, and doing something they love, because they do it for its own sake and not for what other people think.  (And we don’t just do science or technology, but also all the arts and humanities, teaching, politics…anything that takes passion and attention to detail.  Don’t let anyone try to push you into science or math just because you’re smart if that’s not what you want.  I know dancers and actors who are Ivy League grads with higher SAT scores than me.  You don’t owe anyone whatever use of your intelligence they happen to want from you.)

Nerds are in touch with their own inner lives.

Nerds never lose the ability to be amazed.

Nerds are genuine.  Nerds aren’t ashamed to be sincere.

Nerds aren’t embarrassed to take things seriously, but also know how not to take themselves too seriously.

Because nerds aren’t addicted to popularity or social approval, they’re better at standing up for what’s right, and standing up for other people, even when it’s unpopular.

And in my experience with people, because nerds remember how hard it was to be young, they make nicer adults.

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So to not be a nerd anymore, you’d have to somehow smother your curiosity, your sense of wonder, your joy for whatever it is that you love, your empathy, sincerity, and inclination to think for yourself.  Now, you MIGHT be able to accomplish that–again, I wouldn’t know how–but my strong suspicion is that, much like the making of a Horcrux, it might seem like a cool idea from the outset, but the actual process would do such violence to the integrity of your soul that it would be soooo not worth it in the end.

Please reconsider?  At least just give it some time.  Because all the happiest people I know are the ones who have figured out how to accept themselves for who they truly are.  And most of the very most wonderful people I know are nerds.

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