Geek Culture

Like many people of my generation, I am surprised to find what was out is in. I was always the type to like what I liked, no matter who said what about it. This has always been obvious in my clothing choices, but it is not the only thing.

My personal geek has always been history. When I graduated from college with a B.A. in History I decided I could stop calling myself an ‘history nut’ to calling myself an ‘Historian’. I have never made the change.

But there is also books. I love to escape into a great story. My teachers used to have to slow me down. I was told that I would not have time to read all of Little Women in time to finish my fourth grade book report. In fact sometimes it is a book that gets me into history. Reading a book about King Tutankhamun’s tomb is what got me into studying Egypt for several years.

And then there is the clothes. Historical clothes, fantasy clothes, elegant clothes, funky clothes, kids dressed like grown-ups, grown-ups dressed like kids. Most anything that was not the norm was fair game. (That said, more recently there have been a lot of people pushing that same box in places I won’t even go.

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Like this rendition of a bubble dress)

When I was young I resisted a lot of ‘geek’ things. I had a personal ban on sci-fi, was wary of fantasy, knew nothing of Anime, and rejected Video Games. But I always felt a kinship with this type of geek. We were all outcasts, we knew what it was to be left out of the clique. But somewhere we had a feeling that some people, maybe even the ones who hassled us the most, did it because they were afraid to let anyone know they were like us.

Later on, with the re-birth of Goth, I found the first outcast clique I felt like I could fit in with. The fun clothes were just up my alley, and I did not keep to the ‘all black’ rule, as my Morticia Morticia dress might show. I remember one day I was wearing a lime green floor length dress that I had made with black lipstick and some friends started to debate whether people who saw me would assume I was a Goth or a Raver. I had a lot of fun with the fact that I could find makeup in totally wild colors, and I would spend the hour and a half morning bus ride designing elaborate Venetian style masks out of eyeliner.

By this point Lord of the Rings was out, and I was a big fan. I still had not seen Star Wars, but I was beginning to be exposed to Anime somewhat, and I was more computer savvy than most people my age, although by no means a computer geek. Compared to them I live in the stone ages. (And might prefer that). I was already in the SCA and was finally feeling like there were people with whom I could fit in, something that, outside of Madrid, I thought was impossible in elementary school.

It was not until an awesome college professor who specialized in Shakespeare had us analyze A New Hope that I finally got over my ‘no sci-fi’ rule, although I do still find a lot of it not to my taste. I still have trouble getting into video games just because they have a tenancy to eat so much time. That said, I have my weaknesses. I play Sims, Tetris, Bloons and Civilization far more than I should, and I play Minecraft (much to the amazement of my students when I was substitute teaching) on occasion. I love going to cons, of any sort. It is another place where I feel at home in my crazy costumes.

These days, with the popularity of geek I find that I feel almost disappointed, now that the people who would have been my bullies behave like they are my pals, I get a bit put off sometimes. As many people know it is easy to tell a true fan from those who embrace the geek because of the popularity. And sometimes, because I am a late-comer to some of the geek myself, I feel like I am either placed in that category or I am being deceptive to people who think I have been a lifelong fan. On the other hand, there are so many things that do play into my lifelong geeks, that I feel like finally the fad has joined me.

Steampunk is a perfect example. It is technology, albeit fictional, that I can understand on some level, it is history, sort-of, and it is clothes! Victorian is one of my favorite periods, and recently it has shown up in several places. In my own mind I make a distinction between

vic
true Victorian
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the idea of Victorian   (Dracula, Melodrama, etc.)

as well as

 

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Goth Victorian

and

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Steampunk

But I like all of them and I think that it is awesome that something so different from modern fashion is having its own ‘retro’.

 

Growing up where I did I have not really had much opportunity to go to conventions, but where I am living now is part of the nerve center for some of it, and I really want to go explore it more.

Religion

I consider myself to be an Eclectic Atheistic Agnostic Pagan. What the heck does that mean?

It means that I don’t really know what is going on out there, but I do not believe that any one entity is in charge, but rather that we are all connected. I take little bits from lots of different religions and sciences and put them into my beliefs together. I know a lot of people think that religions are not compatible with one another, but I find that most religions, regardless of the details, had one point in common; Be nice to one another.

I do not understand how people have begun associating so many negative things with religions. Bad people will do bad things. They will find an excuse anywhere. There are passages in religious texts that, taken out of context give fuel to people’s hates. This is not to say that religious texts teach hate, because they, as far as I have seen, do not.

In America right now I hear a lot about two religions in particular, Islam and Christianity. The story about Islam from one side is ‘They are out to get us” and the other side says, “we just want to live our lives, we hate the nut jobs who attacked just as much as you do”. The story about Christianity also has two sides, one says “Poor me, I am being attacked!” and the other says “You are the one in power, all anyone asks is to be on par with you.”

Islam is actually very similar to Christianity. In fact the books are so similar that people can’t tell them apart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnWw_lH4tQ

I have gotten into multiple discussions with people where they argue that there is no way that Islam has roots in Christianity (some even claim that Islam is older than Christianity). People talk about how if they are not all out to get us, why are they not standing up to defend their religion? Now I see all over facebook, ‘Blaming all Muslims for ISIS is like blaming all Christians for KKK’ and this is a much more succinct way of saying it, but I would talk about how most people just want to live their lives in peace. Today, in the face of all of this hatred toward Muslims, many are standing up for themselves. I stopped watching the mainstream media long ago, but I doubt that they are covering any of that, since they are guilty of perpetuating the myth.

This is not the only religion that is being marginalized, with all of the hatred coming from Donald Trump, many non-Christians are fearing the worst, like the holocaust kind of worst. But somehow the other big religious battle getting any media coverage right now is the ‘War on Christmas’. I know it is all over the place online right now, but I am going to say it too. There is no war on Christmas. You are allowed to celebrate it all you want. We may get annoyed with the holiday starting two months early, but we can deal with that, and I don’t think that is what they mean.

When I was little I thought “Happy Holidays” referred to ‘holiday season’, or Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I was pretty clueless about non-Christian anything, so I made it fit with what I knew. As far as I remember, growing up ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ were used pretty much interchangeably. (I grew up in New Mexico). I think that if that one store had just quietly switched to ‘Happy Holidays’ no-one would have really noticed. While I whole-heartedly approved of the announcement that it was done with the intention of being more inclusive, and still do, I believe that the announcement itself is what kicked off the whole thing.

I understand that part of the history of Christianity involves persecution, but I also recognize that since the conversion of Constantine, they have largely had the upper hand. Yes, some places not so much, but overall, after that Christian influence has flourished around the world. Aside from some small countries in some parts of the world and a few radicalized individuals, no-one really wants to kill Christians just because they are Christian. The ‘War on Christmas’ in America is really just a bunch of over-entitled people who have been told their whole lives that they are victims (because persecution is still taught like it’s a current issue) throwing a pity party because their entitlement is waning.

All anyone ever wanted out of ‘Happy Holidays’ or making a cup red is making people who celebrate other holidays around the same time feel more accepted. All we want is equality. We are not trying to take away your right to celebrate, we are not trying to minimize your holiday or religion, we just want to be able to celebrate ours with the same freedom.

So this Yule I want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Peace to the World.

Strengths & Weaknesses

I was in the Gifted Program in school, I was lucky. My mother was a teacher and advocated for me. What this meant was that I was able to receive extra instruction. In elementary school this might mean an art, Spanish or guitar class during a time that my class was reviewing things I already knew. In third grade I spent one hour a week in a sixth grade class while they did science. I was also permitted to get ahead of the other kids in my class. I remember in first grade practicing counting money on my own (including dollars) while the class was still learning what each coin stood for. In fourth, fifth, and sixth grade I was in a pair of classes that worked together. One teacher taught language arts, while the other taught math. This allowed the students to divide up by ability level instead of grade level. But by sixth grade I had covered the main math information that they taught to the rest of the classes, so I spent the year doing more self-directed studies.

I am very thankful that I was able to do things like this. It allowed me to not be super bored in my classes and move at my own pace to a certain extent. However there are many problems with this system.

First and foremost: Not every child has access to it. This type of program is not set up in every state, those that do have it vary widely in implementation, even between districts. Within a district some schools support it, some do not, just like any special education program. The middle school that I went to did not have a gifted program, but I went there because that is where my mother taught. Because she knew the teachers, she was able to get me in the best classes for me, even though I had to go outside the established ‘team’ structure the school used at the time.

Even if a child is lucky enough to live in the right place to be able to take advantage of the system, their parents might not know to get them involved, and their teachers might not advise them to do so.

Secondly: Tailored education for all. I do not write this post to tell you how smart I am. I used to think that I was better than other, normal, people and I apologize for that.  I now know that everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses. Because my family was full of teachers, and traditional education was such a focus of my upbringing, I thought that it was the most important thing, and that since I was good at that, I was some kind of super-genius.

I now do not support the use of the IQ test. I do not support a system that puts a single set of abilities over another. I believe that it is very damaging. The first thing you may think of when I say that is the people who are told that they are not smart by such a system, and that is a huge part of what I mean. But because that is so obvious, I am not going to go into it. I will tell you why it is not good for the above average kids as well.

As I grew up and I saw the strengths of my friends, I thought that because I was ‘Gifted’ that I should be better at everything than people who did not receive the same label. This is probably part of why I have dabbled in so many different things. It’s not just that I get bored with it, or that I like to be a Jack-of-all-Trades, but that I felt the requirement to beat others at their own strengths. Obviously this is an unrealistic expectation. Through a long and arduous journey I have discovered a long list of things that I am not very good at. And every time that I try these things again, I find the realization again. And every time I have to get over the disappointment again. I have to fail over and over again, and waste my time repeatedly just to re-learn the same lesson I did not learn when I was young. No-one is good at everything.

For a long time I assumed that the people that I made friends with were also in the Gifted Program, because they were smart. I would later find out that most were not. Some were actually in the lower levels of Special Education. Some had failed grades in school. This surprised me. Yes, if a child has dyslexia, that needs to be addressed, but they should also be addressing the things they are good at.

I believe everyone should be allowed to pursue the things that they excel at. This does not mean they should ignore the things they struggle in. Everyone needs to understand trying to learn something outside of their strength. I do believe that there are some skills that should be universal, but these are extremely basic compared to the requirements for school today. (I also understand that these concepts are outside the realm of possibility for some people.) People do not all think in the same way, and as a society we should use each-other’s strengths to grow, rather than requiring everyone to maintain roughly the same experience from which to grow.

Third: Labels. The Gifted Program is part of the Special Education program. As we all know, there is a stigma that goes along with being a Special Ed kid. (When I first got into the program, I did not know that and bragged about being special ed. I was very confused as to why people were not in awe of my awesomeness.)

Referring to my previous point, everyone should be able to get the tailored education that the gifted program is supposed to provide. There should not be a need to label someone as unusual in any way in order to give them what they need. We all are different, we cannot expect everyone to be good at the same things or to learn at the same pace.

In my time in school, the Gifted program offered me the opportunity to explore many things. But unfortunately I found that the extra classes that I was able to take did not make sense for me. These were the first classes I ever struggled in. Because school was so easy for me I expected everything to come just as easily. I know that these classes were supposed to challenge me. I understand that intention now, but at the time, it just seemed too hard. During my time as a substitute teacher, I saw students struggling with the core concepts of math so much they cried. This gave me an insight as to how much strength and weakness really affect our learning. (As well as the problems with expecting too much of students too soon.) I gave up many of these extra classes before trying very hard. This means that from my experience in school I have no way of knowing if I could have been good at them if I gave them a chance. Having tried again later more doggedly I have come to the conclusion that these were not my strengths. It seems odd that because I was good at one thing, I should be given the opportunity to pursue things that I was not good at, while other students were denied the opportunity to pursue something that they might have excelled at because they struggled with something completely unrelated.

Chapter 14 (WIP) – Worlds Collide

Rodney listened intently as Jessica explained how the capitalist economy that she grew up with worked. All the while she wondered why someone in her head would need so much explanation. As Rodney asked questions she decided that it was so that she could make sense of it herself. 

“Wow, how much do you work?” Rodney was shocked when Jessica told him that in order to get necessities like food and housing you have to work for money. 

“That depends. Anything you work over 40 hours a week is considered overtime, and they have to pay you extra. Right now I am working 52 hours per week.”

“So that must mean you can buy more than you need, right? Why work so much?”

Jessica smiled at Rodney, he seemed so naive. “Actually I am struggling to get what I need. I work as much as my job needs me, and they don’t like having to pay the extra.”

Rodney thought for a moment. He hesitated for a bit before saying, “Here everything that we need is supplied. Whether you work or not you have a roof over your head, food to eat, clean water, whatever.”

Jessica just sighed.

“People do work, but it is to get better things. If you don’t work, you live in shacks. but the more you work, the more education you have, and the more contributions you make to society, the better your living arrangements and the higher priority for one-of-a-kind things.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well a lot of things are mass-produced, and whoever wants one can have it. But artists work hard, and the things they make are put online where people who want it can put their name on a list. The person who has the highest priority on that list gets the thing.” 

“But wouldn’t that mean that the people on top just get all the cool stuff, and everyone else gets cheap crap?” Jessica paused for a moment. “Well that happens with money too.”

Rodney looked a little cockeyed at her before continuing. “Everyone gets to improve their ranking. It is recalculated every day. The work adds up per year so you get a re-set, the education and contributions are lifetime. To prevent the same people from getting everything, each person has a limit to how many things they can get this way.”

Jessica thought for a minute, “So if you haven’t been working much and something comes up that you really want?” 

“Depending on the time of year, you could work as much as you can to rack up hours. But usually people work so they have it when they want it. Because people save up the few things they can get, they usually don’t even use up their quota by the end of the year.”

“That’s pretty neat actually.” Jessica said, “But I am trying to figure out how people just get what they need. It sounds like magic.”

“Sometimes people spend time working jobs that machines can’t do, but a lot is automated. As long as we keep on it there is plenty of food to go around. And there are plenty of homes for people, so why not use them?  I guess that is why you have to work so much, necessities are scarce?” Rodney asked in the most well-meaning way.

Jessica was a bit taken aback. She paused before speaking “No, not really. There is plenty to go around, but everything has a price. The people who work to produce the food need to get paid, the people who move from the food to where it gets consumed need to get paid, it’s all about supply and demand.” Jessica caught herself using the rhetoric to explain it, but questioned it for the first time.

Rodney tried again to find an answer, “I will have to show you how the machines do things around here. That way you can show people there what to do.”

Jessica was wondering what marvels this place must have in store if everything is done by machine. But she also knew that so little in her world was done by hand, that she had to wonder how different things actually were.

Chapter 15 – Recovery

Chapter 13 (WIP) – Something’s Missing

That night Jessica was discharged from the hospital and was able to enjoy sleeping in her own bed. She was still avoiding being responsible, so she had not called her boss or the bank yet. She had not spoken to the police since they came to interview her in the hospital. She was of course curious about all of those things, but she was enjoying having a great excuse to escape the stress she had been under for so long. She knew it could not last forever and determined that she would resume being responsible in the morning.

In the meantime Jessica curled up on the bed surrounded with every pillow she owned. She felt a bit antsy, even excited, but she couldn’t really tell what it was about. She was enjoying the comfort so much that she was having a hard time sleeping and decided to read a book. She picked up the one on the top of her ‘someday’ stack, Gulliver’s Travels. She had hardly reached Lilliput before her eyelids fell shut.

Soon Jessica was walking behind Rodney as they tried to find something for her to eat. After walking in silence for a few moments, Rodney slowed down and gestured to the right. Here we are. This place should have some ‘cheap’ food for you. When Jessica looked where he indicated, she saw a storefront. Out front were fruits and vegetables of all sorts. The sign over the door just said “GROCERY”. As they walked in Rodney took an apple from the bin and took a bite. Jessica was a little perplexed, but figured he knew the owner or something. Jessica directed herself towards a sign showing “Snacks”.

During the time they were in the store Jessica felt more relaxed than she normally did while shopping. She could not quite figure out why. Maybe the people around her were calmer. They certainly were, but was that what was making her experience so different? She felt that there was something missing. Something that normally made her a little tense. When she turned down the aisle for the snacks she saw a tremendous variety of beautifully packaged sweets, crackers, and other goodies. She was at a loss of what to choose. Normally she would just by a candy bar and tell Rodney that would be the most help to her blood sugar levels. But here she was not sure what was what. Nothing had the familiar brand names she was used to. It all looked like it was packaged by hand, none of the bright gaudy attention grabbing slogans everywhere. Each wrap was so perfect and so uniform that it had to have been done by machine.

Finally Jessica settled on a bundle of what looked like shortbread cookies with a raspberry cream in the center. They were wrapped in a sheer lavender light plastic like a cheap tablecloth done up with a light blue bow at the top. Once she took it, she told Rodney that was all she needed and looked to find the register.

“Is that all you want?” Rodney asked her.

“Yes, this should be plenty to get me back on track.” Jessica was realizing that she had no idea how much the cookies cost and was considering going back to check when she noticed that nothing on the shelves she was passing had prices. Rodney walked straight out the door, while Jessica hesitated inside. She could not see a cash register anywhere but did not know what the consequences were for stealing in Dallas.

Rodney turned around, “What’s the hold-up?”

Jessica could not think of an answer that did not make her sound like a loon, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the store. She half expected Rodney to start running away from the store as fast as he could, but he just meandered to a bench right outside in the long park they had been walking through. Jessica followed and sat silently on the bench next to him. Jessica was catching on to something, and wanted to contemplate it for a few minutes before saying anything out loud.

After a few minutes of munching on his apple while Jessica nibbled distractedly at her cookies, Rodney said “You know, these apples are not as good as the ones that grow on this tree right here.”

Jessica turned up from staring at her hands and looked at the tree they were sitting underneath. She did not know her botany, but her grandparents had an apple tree when she was younger, and it looked similar. “What you just walk to school and grab a snack right off the tree?”

Rodney looked at her puzzled. “Yeah. Is that odd?”

Jessica turned away from him. “A little.” She paused to take a breath. “I’m not quite sure how to say this.” She slowed as she carefully chose the right words. “This place seems so real, when I am here. But– at home I know,” She paused as she turned to look at Rodney, “that it is all a dream.”

Rodney laughed out loud. Jessica was not sure what she was expecting him to do, but certainly not that. Rodney caught his breath enough to say, “I am glad that you are enjoying your time with me, but I would not think of myself as a dream. I’m normally not a hit with the ladies.”

Jessica went bright red. “No-that’s not what I– I mean you’re nice and all–but—-” Words failed her all at once.

“I knew that couldn’t be what you meant.” Jessica could not help but think he sounded a little disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–” Jessica trailed off a bit. “I mean a real dream, like right now I am lying in bed at home asleep, and this is all going on inside my head.”

Rodney looked her straight in the eyes to figure out if she was serious. “Well that is news to me, I have been living here for years. Is this some sort of brain in a vat philosophy thing?”

“No really, but if you want to think of it that way, okay. In the real world I just got released from the hospital after a traumatizing robbery at the place where I work. I slept for several days because I have been working too much. The time that I met you at the diner was the first time I was ever in this town. Before the episode in the classroom earlier, I had never been there. The real reason I was acting weird and losing consciousness was because the doctors at the hospital were trying to wake me up.”

Rodney stared at Jessica for a moment as she braced herself for his response. “You are not kidding are you?”

“Nope.” I kind of wish I was. This seems like such a nice place.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes. Rodney staring straight ahead from his place on the bench, while Jessica tried to piece together everything that she was feeling.

Finally she broke the silence. “So I guess that explains how you think of money. To me it is the thing that brings the most stress in life. It only makes sense that in my dream world it wouldn’t exist. But just like most things in dreamland, a world without money could not really function.”

Rodney took several moments before he spoke. “I know that you believe this story you are telling me, but I can’t. This is my world. I do not think that I am just a figment of your imagination. I don’t want to tell you that you are crazy, but that’s what it seems like to me.” Jessica’s heart broke. She knew that would be the result when she brought it up. She just thought that since it was just a dream it wouldn’t hurt so much. Rodney went on, “In this world, there is no money, and it does work. I would try to tell you how, but I don’t really understand the point of money, so I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Jessica could see that Rodney was hurt by what she had said. “I wish I could know how you are feeling, I know this must be difficult to accept. Would it help if I told you about my world? If it won’t help I won’t do it. We can just go on like we never had this conversation.”

“But we did. I think that it might help me, but you will have to excuse me for thinking of that as your dream world, not this. Maybe we are really living in two separate worlds and when you sleep is when you come to visit.”

Jessica did not really think that was the way it worked, but if that would make Rodney feel better, she would go with it. “That’s okay. I think that in your position I would ask nothing less.” Jessica was a bit confused. From what she had been told about lucid dreaming, once you realized it was a dream, you could control everything in it. But maybe she just had to practice.

Chapter 14 – Worlds Collide

Chapter 12 (WIP) – Castles in Disguise

When Jessica got back to her room, she tried to think of what she should do next. She was wide awake, for the first time in months. Jessica sat thoughtfully looking at the business card that the nurse had given to her. The card had only a phone number. There was no name, no company. Jessica debated between running away from the hospital now to make sure that there were no further bills, or staying there, since at the moment she had nothing better to be doing, and was already in so far over her head. She set the card on the side table. Television did not sound particularly entertaining, but since she had no books, she figured that would be the best thing for her to do.

For several minutes Jessica flipped through the channels. Once she had been through everything three times, she settled on a show about interior design. The ‘experts’ that they interviewed on the show were the overly artsy stereotypical Designers. The things that they were saying were pretty out there, even for a college educated designer. The designers were talking about a historical building that was remodeled in such a way to keep the historical charm. The final product showed nothing of the 1920’s, when the building was made, but had a very modern minimalist 1970’s office theme with all modern stainless steel appliances. Jessica started zoning out when the designers were talking about ‘elevating’ the space, and how having some barely noticeable little accents of history gave the feeling that the space had some history.

Jessica began wondering why, if they wanted a historic feel, they would tear out original solid oak cabinets and replace them with brand new, very expensive, designer plastic ones. When the owner of the space come on screen they kept talking about how much they loved the 1920’s design aesthetic. Jessica wondered if they had seen their house yet. Soon it became clear that despite talk of wanting to live in a historic space preserved like a museum, the owners were thrilled with the new design of their minimalist home.

It occurred to Jessica the damage that could befall a medieval castle if the group on television got a hold of it. Rather than ending as a museum exhibit, the castle would have the stone covered over with an enamel resin and a ‘pop’ of color on an accent wall on each room. There would be some tacky reminder of a stereotypical castle outline echoed in a geometric shape on the new crown molding.

Through her mind Jessica ran images of old castles in picturesque locations around the world. Soon she realized that the only place she could remember many of them from was the classroom in her dream. Jessica had to wonder if any of them were real. She knew that experts say that anyone you see in your dreams you have seen before. While Jessica had a difficult time believing that, she pondered whether that would also apply to places in dreams.

She ran through the dream for a few minutes before determining unequivocally that she had never been in the classroom in her dream before, and therefore the images were likely made up as well. She turned her mind to the people of the strange town, and tried to run through the unending list of people she met at the hotel. It was not even a minute before she gave up. Her mind lingered though on Rodney. He seemed to be such a key figure in the dream, maybe he was based on someone more significant in her life. She turned to the glass separating her room from the hall outside. At that moment her doctor walked by.

Ah-ha! The doctor’s name was Rodney as well! That must be it. But wait- the doctor looked nothing like Rodney from the dream. And Jessica had the dream about the diner before she even met Kenzie.

Jessica tried to figure out what she would do for the Medieval Period class project that would not give away the fact that she did not have any memory of the rest of the course. It was a very engrossing puzzle, since she did not know the parameters of the assignment.

After struggling with this conundrum for several minutes, Jessica laughed out loud. It was a dream. She did not need to do the project. There was no-one to be embarrassed in front of. The whole place and all of the people in it were figments of her own imagination. It was perfectly likely that she would never dream of them again.

Jessica drew her attention again to the television and began flipping through the channels. It was not until she heard the words “Identity Theft” that she remembered she should probably have already cancelled her credit cards. And while she was at it, should see if she still had a job.

Chapter 13 – Something’s Missing