#NerdCulture

Sorry, Mom…not my f-bomb, but still my amen to Mr. Kennedy’s sentiment.

It’s no secret: my apartment is a structural testament to a deep love of books. I have multiple bookcases, one of them taller than I am, and multiple prints from the designer at Ideal Bookshelf, artwork of differing genres all over the apartment, even on the bathroom walls and over the kitchen sink. I have a pin-up calendar in the kitchen of Hot Dudes Reading, because I think the sexiest thing a man can do is read. (The other stuff a man can do is nice, too, but kind of down the list after reading, writing, cooking, and playing a musical instrument.)

This love of books has gained me some grief in my time…painted me as a hermit, a snob, and a…nerd. The last distinction was the easiest to take (hermit is a struggle because reading is often mistaken to be exclusively solitary an activity, and snob is hard to take because I like literary fiction but the super-pretentious stuff I cannot handle well), after all I have “my books and my poetry to protect me,” to start with from Simon & Garfunkel. The definition of nerd-dom from my past experience (whether with books, in high school band, or in my choice of PBS) has usually involved some kind of social banishment. Sometimes there would be other nerds, a breakfast club of us playing all the tubas and bullied by the football players.

It seems, though, as Dan has so eloquently stated above, that nerd culture has kicked out some of its base. In some cases, some of us have to apologize for liking Coldplay, the planet formerly known as Pluto, The Big Bang Theory, or (gasp) Shakespeare. Can’t I just like the sonnets and be done? But there’s proof now he didn’t write them. So Pluto and Shakespeare can go the way of symbols, like Prince or Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.

Look, newcomers to my lifetime of separation from society…if you find my eyeglasses and my Bradbury suddenly so very fascinating, can you…let me have my Richard Bach and my Woody Allen and my Hemingway anyway? I promise to love the rest of your hipster crossover and borrowing, and let you continue to pretend that you have the same awkward default as Issa Rae. I’ll look the other way at your new-found love of Trapper Keepers if you don’t say that my definition of nerd, lived so long, isn’t enough. 🤓

*****

The past couple of weeks in my world have been a bit hairy at work, for reasons it’s best to keep confidential at the moment, so here’s how I’ve been medicating lately…

Reading, lately: A lot of chef, food critic, and restaurateur memoirs for some reason…but I am trying to give up a lot of meat, dairy, and eggs and therefore my excitement about food is a bit diminished, so I’m hoping to gain some food love back, somewhere.

Listening, lately: nothing in particular and everything in small doses…from Jidenna to Marcus Mumford covering Dylan to James Bay like an old blanket to Ahi to…Springsteen, always. Repeat gets abused.

Watching, lately: HBO’s Insecure, because, well, she IS a nerd, ain’t no hiding. A lot of baseball because the MLB put a For Sale sign on the rest of the season and instead of $25 a month, the rest of the year is $10. Not sure how much of that applies to post-season, but I guess I’ll find out, right? With the current work situation I watch a lot of dumb comedies, like Disjointed on Netflix and Never Stop Never Stopping on HBO, sometimes on repeat like the music.

All of this, and it’s still hot and sticky in San Diego. I still run air conditioning. This forgotten corner of the world is always sunny and festering like a Petri dish. I’m looking forward to autumn, well, someday. 🍁🍂

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#TheyShouldHaveSentAPoet

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One of my favorite movies (and, knowing the latest trend of presenting decades-delayed critical reviews of movies, one that the intellectual community probably hates) is “Contact.”  When the protagonist of the movie, Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, realizes her dream journey of traveling in space to “meet” another celestial civilization, she pauses at one point, staring out into a collection of celestial planets and satellites, and says, overwhelmed: “They should have sent a poet.”  Ellie readily admits, “No words, no words.”  

I’ve always chewed on that monologue with some flip-flopping of agreement and disagreement with Ellie.  You want to capture the whole experience, you send a poet.  You want the scientific data you’re looking for, you’re probably going to send Ellie.  The poet won’t know what to look for, thank God, and the scientist will miss a lot in watching what they’re looking for, thank God.  So there’s a gap to mind.  A BIG one.

On a recent interview on Fresh Air, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (hell, let’s just stay with the space theme for a moment) is asked the question if his approach to science is to “dumb-it down” for the rest of us.  “The audience can tell if you’re dumbing something down,” he replies, and that helps bridge that gap between art and science in an intelligent, respectful way.  “Contact” did that for me; when you hear terms like “SETI” (whose founder, on a side note, just passed away this last week) and “Occam’s razor,” out in the world if you didn’t know them before that movie, you start to see the world in a different application.  The movie’s about science, it’s about rationality, it’s about spiritualism, and then it flips the whole world into that new application, and for the brief length of the film, you question something.  Maybe it’s the motive of the film you’re questioning, maybe the science of it, but you find opportunity in the poetry, you find opportunity in the science.

*****

I work in a call center as a workforce analyst, a position in any company that requires communication skills of the poet and the math skills of a scientist.  The poet often has to explain why a schedule looks the way it does, or why the metrics look the way they do, and the poet has to do this to a diverse audience of managers, executives, and the customer-facing call center agent.  This communication has to occur without a)insulting the intelligence of the other party, and b)talking over the understanding of the other party.  Often, I rely on analogies.  Imagine this scenario you might be familiar with, I say, and you’re close to what’s happened, or what will happen.  I have to know my audience a little…I have to know what is typically understood about the science…and then I have to take the person to the next level.  In “Contact,” the movie accomplishes this by presenting another striving character with a different celestial goal in Palmer Joss.  Both Ellie and Palmer are looking for the same things and insisting their own paths as best–there’s enough devotion to themselves and enough devotion to the discovery that they can meet each other and question each other.

What I often see on LinkedIn and other job boards is that the employer is looking for certain characteristics in an analyst.  Does any of it include poetry?  Any science?

A mathematician is a mathematician.

A poet is a poet.

If they meet in one celestial body…they are an analyst.

Mind the gap.

Under A Gun

How many of us write/paint/compose/record under the threat of interruption? How many of us create under the guise of every second being borrowed time?

This is something that I have often struggled with. When I lived in San Francisco and lead writing groups, there was the constant interruption of latecomers to sessions, regardless of what the instructions were on the Meetup page. One of the other leaders had the right idea; he held his sessions in a limited-access shared office space, and if you didn’t show up on time, you didn’t get in. But mine were all in cafes and libraries, which gave a variety of poor planners that opportunity to get an audience.

The arrangement finally caught up with me in San Diego County, and I stopped hosting meetings. If folks wanted a group, they would have to show initiative, and people who interrupt a whole meeting with excuses often don’t possess that kind of initiative.

With non-writers or non-creatives, it can even stretch into the “real” world. To make up for being an artist (something that I’m often encouraged to apologize for or be shamed by), I try my best to over-compensate in terms of being responsible. Both at home and at work, the domestic work comes first, and then, if I have all of my chores done, then I write. It makes me think of that jazz standard “Robert Frost.”

Bobby don’t you worry about the dishes,
And don’t you even think about those pans,
Bobby you know it’s not good that an artist like yourself
Should be walkin’ around this world with dishpan hands.

Of course, a little housework and tasks unrelated to writing are good for me…they give me a chance to breathe. But expectations are different than that. If I ask for time to write, then the others are resentful that I’m not doing everything I used to do. If I try to make writing work around what everyone needs, the writing is either non-existent, the topic is around all the crap expected from me, or the writing session is short enough to boil an egg by.

What is a writer to do?

Again, I go to the classics…William Carlos Williams depended so much upon his prescription pads for poetry, and so we have a Post-It note on plums. (He wrote great short fiction, too, and I like to imagine that was done in a fit of creative luxury when he knew interruption wasn’t going to happen. But when would that be for a doctor who still made house calls?) The discipline can dictate, but the discipline has to be present from all sides, with initiative from all sides, not letting any excuse stop the writer, not even interruption.

I am writing this post on an iPhone, because I have been expecting interruption this entire time. What rare sweetness to linger with a piece, one playing-card-sized screen at a time, and make it. It’s almost like making it to the next level for a gamer.

Exhibition In Verse

What was the thought process?

Add a descriptor to an event?

Assemble the pieces in various rooms of staggered doors and dimensions?

“African American.” “Jewish.” “Women.”

Plus

“In industry.” “In the Beats.” “In Cooking.”

Isn’t this the same solution to show ideas for Jerry Springer?  But no…

That’s more food on a dare than trying something we knew was there, but never had seen for ourselves.