Wednesday, December 31, 2014

As The Year Turns

As of right now it is 5:00 p.m. on December 31st, 2014. 2015 is almost upon us (well, me, anyway. You might live in Europe or Oceania or Asia or anywhere else on the globe where the year has become new.)

As the year comes to a close, we often find ourselves faced with the same difficult, important questions we do every year. Mine tend to be along the lines of: How will I change and develop (physically, mentally, &c.) over the year? What will be different?

I also look back on the year. This year was really rather light, as years go. I didn't do anything too big. I didn't explore new places, like when I visited Hawai'i and Mexico for the first time. I didn't experience new, different settings that changed my thinking (like when I entered high school). I learned a lot more about myself and the world I live in, to be sure. (Everyone learns something new-humankind cannot be inactive and dormant, no matter how hard we try.) We always learn something new, our brains bubble and attempt to discover. But overall, I don't feel I changed quite a lot from 12:01 a.m. on January 1st, 2014 to right now.

We've passed halfway through the decade. 2010-2014 have come and gone, and I know a lot has happened. I've passed through middle and most of high school, I've learned so much more and developed many more skills, I've travelled to places I have only dreamed of.

2015 is a median, right in the middle of the decade. It's a magical year - it will only happen once. But think of it as a median for your life. Have you changed considerably since 2010? Have you tried new things, had new experiences? If your life is rather routine, try to change it. Read new books - goodness knows, there's thousands out there. Travel, or if you can't, read extensively about things through the Internet.

A year from now, I'll likely be wondering about the special moments which made 2015 amazing or substandard. A good idea is to keep a journal. I have tried and variously succeeded this year, for the first time since elementary school. But it's become a chore. The trick is to make it different. Write from someone else's personality, for example. Or write a journal entry as a letter. A letter to your future self. Ask them about your goals and whether you've succeeded. If you do, and you read this letter, you will feel endless satisfaction. If not, then you'll be so haunted by the ghosts of your past that you'll try, full of regret. And you will likely succeed. That's how I view it.

Have an excellent 2015, from us here at Wandering in a Blur. To be sure, we'll have much more discussions and conversations to have with you. It will be an amazing year.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Knowing My Audience

Flickr Credit: Neal Fowler

My mom buys an off-brand of band-aids, which is in the bathroom, since that’s a great place to bleed. On it is a group of smiling children.

I don’t know if you have ever needed a band-aid, but I have had paper cuts and scrapes and bike accidents and tears and let me tell you this: when I need a band-aid I am usually not smiling.

I have concluded that perhaps this off-brand needs to reconsider its audience.

All right, I get it. We don’t like buying products that have crying people on them. Boo-hoo, blood and infections and crap. Just perks up your day, I’m sure.

But it’s funny, because I’ve never given a lot of thought to my audience before. It strikes me now that I’m in an actual editing phase of working with a novel; the first draft results in incredibly liberal writing, as perhaps you yourself know. When you write, you write for you and the story and the fifteen minutes you have before Dad insists it’s time to go to bed you have school in the morning.

It’s the later drafts when you realize, “Hey, somebody might read this.”

The band-aid box really isn’t looking for smiling people. The reason that company makes money is because people have accidents and pain in their life. If I’m completely honest, I don’t believe that a simple band-aid does much to create smiles either—what they do is fill a need.

If you have a band-aid, you’re protecting a wound from infection, you’re providing an environment for it to heal, and you’re potentially preventing the spread of disease as bacteria pass from your wound to the environment around you. Also, for some reason band-aids make me feel better. It’s a comfort item.

That is why people buy band-aids.

This begs the question: why would someone read my story?

There’s not as much a need for my story to be told. You will not get an infection if you do not read my book, nor is it likely that its pages will prevent the spread of S. aureus.

Why would someone read my story? And what do I want them to know coming away from it?

I’m not sure I have all the answers right now. I know that I do have a message I’ve been toying with—you can bargain with destiny. It’s not a popular message, either, and probably not a big motivator.

Why would someone read my story?

And if they would, who would that person be?

Band-aids look to the bleeding to make their money. I have to look to the reading to discover where I might make mine. There is sentiment, and storytelling, lessons learned and passions unexplored. There’s dreams. There’s pain.

But why would someone read my story?

And, if they would, will I ever find them?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Trope of the Geek and Nerd

What is a geek? What is a nerd?

A typical answer can be summed up thus: the lone, obsessive individual, with bad teeth, pale skin, glasses that look suspiciously hipster, who labors day after day, working on some great invention, often based off obscure principles like Feynmanian diagrams of space-time, or else some new way to rewire circuits to get free Wi-Fi. This individual (of course!) must be bullied relentlessly, or ignored, or shunned. His friends (should he be lucky to find any worthy of his interest and time) are the same as he: lone, obsessive individuals. Eventually, twenty years into the future, our hypothetical character creates an amazing invention or website that nets him millions of dollars and a mansion, the girl (there's always a girl somewhere in the story) and the football jock that bullied him and made his life miserable is stuck working for the nerd/geek, as Bill Gates said in his oft-copy and pasted quote:

Be nice to nerds. Chances are, you'll end up working for one.

Behold, the Trope!
Today, we essentially worship the idea of the geek. To many of the common public, he is a god, in a way - someone who is intelligent enough to solve the mysteries of the Universe. (Yet, somehow, he can't find a way to save his lunch money from getting stolen.) Silicon Valley (most notably, Google) works the public's fascination to their advantage! Google offers free lunch to all their employees, because, you know: with all those nerds and geeks walking around, the bullies are sure to steal their lunch money. Shows like The Big Bang Theory play this to their benefit. Many are in love with the idea of the unsung geek or nerd being isolated all his love and somehow creating a great website or something. (Hey, doesn't that sound familiar?) Even all the cool kids and cliques at school are in on the act: wearing suspenders, hipster glasses, and other adornments of the geek/nerd, to seem "smart".

Does this all sound familiar? Yes? Absolutely. I'd be surprised if you didn't. Silicon Valley, the Internet, and our technological revolution has brought the geek and the nerd to hero-status in society. Is there really a difference? Yes, technically, which I will enumerate thus:
A geek is someone who is obsessed with one thing and one thing only: it can be anything. A nerd is a more academic person, who is usually obsessed with science, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, &c. 
(Compare this to TV Tropes' definition: The distinctions between "geek" and "nerd" are many and various - or maybe there aren't any distinctions at all. The meaning of both always depends on who is using the term.)

Is all of this starting to sound a bit cliche? You're right. Because, my dear friends: nerds and geeks are nothing more than tropes. The way we view them are cliched and tired. Are all nerds and geeks obsessed with mathematics and Star Wars and physics?

However, I am here to destroy this idea of the geek and nerd.  

Recently, I was told by someone that I was a geek because "I liked math and hard stuff." Bear in mind, and I mean this in the nicest, least derogatory way, that person was painfully wron. I had to explain to them that I was not a geek because I liked maths. In fact, I don't like maths. Yes, I'm taking calculus, but I don't find it engaging or absorbing. I'd MUCH rather read a sonnet by Shakespeare and analyse it than find the area under a curve. Many, many more people would, too. They are extremely intelligent people. Yet, for some reason, we cannot consider them nerds and geeks, because of peoples' misguided beliefs that math and science are the only things that make nerds and geeks, well, nerds and geeks. And that is the BIGGEST PROBLEM. This is a stereotype, my friends: and stereotypes are never write. Or right. :(

Does he look like a geek to you?
Proto-geek, perhaps.
Credit: Wikipedia
Our world flows in a mathematics-science kind of STEM pattern now. It didn't used to. In the past, as I have regrettably lamented, humanities were king -- indeed, as far back as the Middle Ages, the monks who lived, sheltered in cloisters for eternity, were the only ones who could read and write -- and so were considered educated and wise and all. They were the nerd/geeks of their day. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this remained true as well, as the most educated people - Miltons and Shelleys and Byrons and Murrays were usually literate and intelligent. There were some notable mathematicians, like Newton, Lagrange, and Fermat, but most of them were famous for work in another field. (For example, Fermat was a judge.)

However, as the liberal arts and social sciences continue to be overlooked in exchange for more modern, futuristic pursuits, this question is likely going to be asked more and more often. Yes, I think math and science are important, but that doesn't mean that I have to like them. (Except chemistry. Chemistry is awesome.)

I identify as both a nerd and geek. I have many academic pursuits. I am singlehandedly obsessed with many different authors (and can quote the entirety of Macbeth, for the most part. LAY ON, MACDUFF!) And I even have hipster trope glasses. (But they are prescribed.) I don't have much of a social life. But, at the same time, I don't know who Captain Kirk is, whose side Boba Fett is on, whether World of Warcraft is better than Dungeons and Dragons, or whatever. And I don't really like math and science. What does that mean, then? To most people, well...

I'd like to point out that I'm generalizing a bit, here. I know not everyone views geeks and nerds as science and math and obscure pop-culture fanatics. But our society and culture in general is perpetuating a trope that, in my eyes, is wrong and accurately misrepresents a portion of individuals who do self-identify as a geek or nerd, such as I. It should not be "wrong" to like literature or any other social science and yet be delegated to some other title, like "history buff", which, for the record, sounds like a shoe polish. The shoe polish that polished Washington or Wellington's floor... (Ha ha ha...That was a terrible joke.) And also, keep in mind that I am not bashing science and math fanatics in any way. They do make our world work, now. And I can respect that. Otherwise, without them, I would not be here, posting on a computer. I just have a different view of the world than them, and I feel that we should all respect these different views and tastes.

So there's my semi-monthly rant. Agree or disagree, I'd love to hear your opinions. Sound off below in the comments.


-R. R. (The nerd and geek!)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

To His Coy Mistress: A Matter of Perspective

Europeana Credit: London Science Museum
This is going to be hard and fast: we just read this poem in English today, and there’s only twenty minutes left before I have to go to lunch.

 The poem’s called “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell, and you should go read it, because it’s funny. It’ll give you context as to what I’m going to talk about, but it’s not actually what I’m going to talk about.

 See, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this poem a few years ago. I remember in my Freshman English class, reading Romeo and Juliet and being—not offended, I think, but kind of peeved that there seemed to be so many references to sex and I didn’t think they were funny or clever or anything.

 It is likely that little Heather who kept the more recent update from expecting to enjoy Othello when she had to read that two months ago.

 But I realized something then, as Othello and Iago and company started dropping their little innuendos.

 It was FUNNY.

 “I’ve been told wrong,” I thought, horrified. “Shakespeare can’t be boring if he’s actually funny.”

 It was a startling realization. But even more startling, as I read this poem and another, comparing their lusty advances on virgins, insisting that, hey, we don’t have all the time in the world so let’s jump to the part about sex—I realized that younger Heather wouldn’t have even given this stuff a chance.

 I don’t think it came from the way I was raised (other realizations about things have come even within my own house) or my lack of a sense of humor: I’m pretty sure it was there. I blame middle school. Sex was something that you whispered about and giggled and lolololol SEX.

 And I’m not saying that we don’t still say those things in English class nowadays, a handful of years later. The difference is: we say it out loud. These two guys, brilliant each in their own right, had very loud interpretations of the coy mistress’s lover, and they were funny.

 The social norm has changed. It’s not bad—literature is pretty much affairs and murder and saying something about the human condition, so we have to be able to talk about it. But it is different.

 While I’m glad I retained some innocence as a Freshman, I also wonder what she would have thought as I hastily scribbled the last part of the assignment on the back of my worksheet: explain what your favorite poem was and why.

 I liked “To His Coy Mistress,” because even though the speaker is a condescending bastard, it’s clever. And I liked the Biblical allusion to describe time.

 I guess, you could say, it’s a matter of perspective.