Why is a Raven…

“We’re all mad here.”

It’s a reference a lot of people get. And a lot of people like Alice in Wonderland in its various forms. But me?

I love it.

And it wasn’t until recently that I thought to wonder why. I am, after all, a huge nerd. I love a lot of things, and I love them all the way. So this wasn’t any different. This was just another fanciful story on my list.

But I was wrong.

Sure, I love Firefly, and Narnia, and Middle Earth, and Wheel of Time and a dozen other worlds. But I don’t go back to them over and over, I don’t analyze them, I don’t look up critical essays, or /write/ critical essays on those worlds. I simply enjoy them for what they are. I escape into them. With Alice, this is not so.

It was, once. Once, back when I was 11, I picked up a book and put it in my bag.

It was take your daughter to work day. And my mother, who worked at a call center for a place that cleaned air vents, graciously allowed me to skip school to go to work with her. Now, I knew she’d be on the phone most of the time, so I packed a bag of things to entertain myself. One was an electronic puzzle game, and the other was a book I had never read – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The puzzle game quickly frustrated me. And so I turned to Alice. I sat on the floor near my mother’s cubicle (because it was more comfortable) and began reading. I started at the beginning and went straight through until I came to the end. Well, I paused in the middle for lunch, but I didn’t want to! I read it as quickly and with as much enthusiasm as I have ever read anything. And for some reason it really stuck there.

Thinking back I think a big part of it might have been my environment at the time. There was just something about reading a book of utter nonsense whilst seated in the midst of a room absolutely /filled/ with adults on phones trying to convince other adults to spend money they didn’t really need to spend. In a room full of the monotony and conniving of the adult world, a room of people who were doing a job they didn’t care about to earn money to buy things they needed. In a room full of adults adulting, there I sat.

A child captured by a book. A book which urged me to stay whimsical. To find the silliness. To celebrate for no reason. To have tea, and make friends. A book that taught me the path doesn’t matter. Right or left, away or home, running fast or standing still. No matter what, we’re all mad here.

All the best people are.

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Be What You’ll Be

There’s a picture most people have in their heads when you say ‘geek’. It depends on the person you ask. Sometimes they think of something as simple and inoffensive as a dude with glasses and a computer and sometimes it’s an obese basement dweller with no social skills.

I’m going to talk about being a geek. What it’s done for me, personally, and why I feel so strongly about it. There are a lot of other aspects of this I would like to talk about. I would like to talk about ‘types’ of geeks/geekdoms. I would like to talk about how I became a geek. And one day, I’ll get around to those.

But today it’s all about the image. I’ll set it up for you.

I am an overweight woman with glasses. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, or a book. I have a collection of insanely nerdy shirts. My social circle is mostly composed of other geeks. And I re-vamp the word geek to fit my needs: geekout, geek-gasam, geek-rage, geek-a-thon, etc.

I am also a very active person. I have two degrees, one certification, and I am working on a third degree. This degree-in-progress is in a field that demands a great deal of social grace and a person who is relatively extroverted. My field will require me to meet a great many new people and to make weird faces and hand gestures at countless strangers. I’m training to be an American Sign Language interpreter.

And I owe my ability to perform in that field to being a geek.

When I was in the 7th and 8th grades I was really shy. Like, cripplingly shy. It was partially thanks to that, partially thanks to the horribleness of middle-school-aged children, that I was picked on relentlessly. I would sit and blush and take the abuse and eventually I would explode, screaming really unflatteringly, at the person who had been bothering me. Even so, I never really got in trouble. I was an average student.

High school changed things. Not a whole lot. I was still shy and introverted and embarrassed of speaking in front of a group or meeting new people or talking on the phone, /but/ there was some kind of asshole switch that flipped to off when the previously high and mighty 8th graders ended up at the bottom of the food chain once more. So at least I wasn’t getting harassed quite as much.

In 9th grade I met someone who pretty much changed the course of my entire life. We were in the same German class. She approached me. We became friends. For years I said she changed me, she ‘made’ me less shy. And a few years ago she contested that. I was happy she did. It made me explain what I meant more precisely. Because I met her it became necessary for me to come out of my shell a bit. While I still wasn’t confident and outgoing I at least knew how to fake it, and that got me somewhere.

But I still felt like I was on the outside looking in. Other people seemed confident and happy. I’m not saying they /were/ but they seemed to be. I felt isolated. I lacked a community and the support, comfort, and confidence that came with one. I could fake it all I wanted but I wasn’t really a theatre nerd, or a bible thumper, or any of the other things I tried to latch onto.

I liked fantasy novels, and complex board games, and writing, and musicals. And as I got older the list grew to include anime, various TV and movie fandoms, comic books, academic literature, science, miniatures, tech, videogames, and more.

I won’t go into the complex story of how I became a geek, not in this post, but I will say this: I was one before I was 20 and I am now a bigger geek than I have ever been.  And I’m happier than I have ever been.

Finding people who shared these things with me, people who loved the characters I loved like they were real people and not ‘just fiction’, people who understood how a story could traumatize or elate, people who felt a unity with me, made me realize I could be as confident as I wanted. None of the things I loved were wrong or weird. I wasn’t alone. I had people who /understood/ me, more than that I had people who loved me. A big part of that love, but certainly not all, was the shared interest. The shared fandoms.

When I realized there were people out there who would accept me for all the things I was, and even for the things I wasn’t, I realized /I/ could accept me too. I could be confident in myself because I knew I had people to fall back on if I failed, and I did.

Because of this I learned to relax. I learned it was okay if I wasn’t perfect. It was okay if people judged me. Those weren’t the people who cared about me anyway.

Being a geek is a community. You meet someone with the same fandom and you’re instant and, almost, unconditional friends. The geek community rallies against bullies and cruelty even among its own. You meet a geek who has no fandom in common with you but they’re at ComicCon and they like to talk to people and go do things and learn about new fandoms? Friends. Randomly encounter someone on the internet who quotes Harry Potter at you as Severus Snape and you reply as Harry Potter? /Friends/. You see a guy on the internet speaking for all geeks ? The community rallies against him.

Knowing they have my back, knowing that among the bad-seed mouth-runners there are people willing to take a stand, knowing that I can be who I am, is extremely empowering. I feel free. I feel loved. I feel like standing up in front of a bunch of people and making funny faces and waving my hands, effectively making a fool of myself in order to provide another community with accessibility, is not only okay but encouraged.

My geek motto?

Be what you’ll be.

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‘What do /You/ Want to do?’

 

I recently realized something about myself.

For as long as I can remember I have been bad at making decisions. When I was eight I jumped around the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question more than I care to admit. I wanted to be: a painter, an archeologist, a writer, a dancer, and an explorer. I actually came up with some pretty creative ways to mesh several of them together. From then on I managed to be slightly more reasonable, changing future professions only once a year.

Then I graduated high school. I wanted to be a writer. My mother wanted me to get a degree. Any degree. So I went to business school and got one. Done. Then I hung out for a year working as a barista (one of the mandatory professions of a ‘struggling artisit’. Also a hell of a lot of fun). After that I decided, heck, maybe college could help me be a better writer (and I was right but not at all in the ways I thought. More on this another day). So I applied to the University of Pittsburgh and started pursuing a degree in Creative Writing. Which quickly changed into English Literature. Which changed to English Literature with a certification in Secondary Education. Which changed to an American Sign Language Studies certification. And there I graduated.

Then I started an Educational Interpreting program. And that’s what I’ll be doing. The above paragraph covers the span of my entire adult life to date. I have, in nine years, started to do or completed all of those things. I’m in my eighth year of higher education.

This trouble making decisions, however, does not stop at the big questions like career. For most of my life even things like ‘what do you want to do for dinner tonight’ have been nearly impossible for me to answer. It has been a point of contention in many romantic relationships as well as in friendships. I’ve tried to articulate it for as long as I can remember. And the other day, I succeeded.

In the middle of an argument with my husband my indecisiveness came up. It wasn’t the first time, it has been an occasional guest star in more than one fight in the last 5 years, but it was the first time I was able to explain.

I am thinking, all the time, about any number of given things. When faced with the question ‘what do want to do tonight’, even when it is self-imposed, I am thinking of all of them at once. My brain is going, “You have three new books to read. You could write some of the novel. You could write some Fanfiction. You could do laundry. You could practice signing or German. You could revise your short story. You could learn a new recipe. You could go somewhere. You could see a friend. You could make something.” And it never stops. The list goes on and on and on.

It’s not the options that are problematic. It’s that they are all in my head at once. All jumping around from here to there and I don’t know how to make heads or tails of any of them. I can’t think of one because I only see a mass. The forest, not the tress. And so a simple ‘what do you want to do for dinner’ becomes a gridlock of indecision.

Now imagine for a moment that ‘dinner’ is ‘next in this story’.

Yeeeah.

When I wrote the first short I ever decided to submit for publication it started as something totally different than it was when it ended. And it is a different thing now in its ‘semi-final- form’ than it was when I wrote ‘the end’. And it will probably be another thing when the latest revision for publication is done. And this isn’t just the inevitable that happens when you revise a story. This is me looking at all the things it could be and jumping around them. Because I can’t decide.

It has taken me a lot of time to learn that it’s okay to plan the story, loosely, but I need to let it have a life of its own. Sometimes things happen that I never planned, never had as a possibility jumping around in my head.

And that is a tremendously freeing thing to happen.

And, of course, it’s not like the whole thing is going to write itself. I can’t just sit here and have no possibilities jumping around in my head and just let it go. Because, let’s be honest here, that would just be a mess. It might be an intriguing, entertaining, mess but a mess all the same.

There’s something to be said for being able to articulate a long-standing issue, especially one that’s been plaguing you since you were knee-high to some kind of insect. So I didn’t do all the things on my possibilities list this weekend. That’s okay. I made progress as a person.

And that’s always on the to-do list.

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Back on the Wagon

Sometimes life gets busy.

In the last two months I have:

-          Destroyed, re-wired, and re-built a friend’s living room (with a lot of help).

-          Helped two friends, a married couple, move into their first home… and helped destroy, repair, and paint their new home.

-          Moved, with my husband, into the first home we have ever shared alone –we’ve been married five years.

All of those huge, time-consuming things took placing during all our normal duties like, school, and work. I was actually Nannying in the first house while it was in shambles. That took creativity.

During this time I’ve done no writing. I’d like to say ‘little writing’. I’d like to lie to myself and pretend I was doing some of it at least. But I wasn’t. And it’s hard not to be mad at myself about it. My brain knows that I was busy. Really busy. Sometimes those days of working on people’s homes were 18 hours long. But it just rings hollow. I should have done more.

I should have done something.

So I freak-out, berate myself, feel terrible. And then I take a deep breath. And remember something very, very important in all this:

I’m human.

I can only do so many things. Now that those things are normalizing I can get back to some important things that have fallen along the wayside. Like friends, and lawn work, and reading.

And oh yeah, writing.

The whole point of this Blog was to keep me on track, or at least make it hard for me to get totally off the track.

It may be the caboose but at least I’m back on the wagon.

Photo: Canadian Pacific Railway, the O. Lavallee collection

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In Defense of the Local Café

In a time when convenience trumps service and quality, a time when people exclaim the need to support local business as they head to the local chain anyway, there are a few dreamers who still believe in community.

Dormont in the South Hills of Pittsburgh boasts a lot of stores that survive because of the loyalty of the residents and the quality of their service. They learn names, give genuine smiles, and try to accommodate their picky, and sometimes neurotic, clientele. There are several dinners, bars, restaurants, florists, and specialty shops that line Potomac Avenue and make it a delightful strip of entertainment.

Of particular note is a Café all the way up near the T-track. It’s across from a gas station and, if you’re coming from any of the other little shops that line Potomac, up-hill all the way.  Occasionally I have looked up that hill and wondered if it was worth the climb up the slight but expansive incline. Even with my bad knees I’ve never once decided it wasn’t.

When you walk in you notice the cheerful blue-green walls and the black counters and trim that lend it a little sophistication. On the wall to the right, visible through the large bay windows is a mural by local artist Scott Hunter. There an area with couches and a coffee table as well as a more modern table and chair eating and working area.

Their Bake Case is always, reasonably not excessively, stocked with delicious and amazingly beautiful feats of confectionery (often including vegan offerings). Their savory foods, including breakfast and lunch, are made when you order and are brought to your table. For-here coffee is bottomless for a whopping two dollars and their house blend is a delightful roast.

They have events, like the Mother’s Day Brunch, Hangover Brunch, and themed Birthdays. They also make the most gorgeous wedding cakes and cupcakes to order. They frequently communicate with their Facebook followers and post photos of their new creations with the same zeal new parents flaunt their babies.

All of these things brought me to Sugar when I passed by and looked in once upon a time. Why I stayed, why anyone stays with a local business, was because of the people who work there.

The baristas, chefs, and bakers who work at Sugar are more than professional – they are people who truly enjoy what they do. I’ve never received anything but a genuine smile as they take my order, serve my drinks, and bring my food.  When I bring in the little boy I nanny they are delighted and engaging with him and thank us for making the trek, now knowing we walk a mile to be there and a mile back home. When I come with my laptop and sit at the table from breakfast to closing they happily suggest new foods, inform me of their specials, and ask if I want a refill on my Sugar Blend coffee.  I’ve never been asked to leave or to buy more. I’m made welcome.

It pleases me to know Sugar is doing well in a time when people go to a Starbucks because they don’t want to have to think about what they are ordering or try anything new. They turn the coffee drive-by of recent years into an experience for everyone they serve. And they do it with a smile and a cup of amazing latte art.

Bravo, Sugar! Long-live the local café!

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White Rabbits

Once, a long long time ago, I had notions of grandeur. Sure I was a teenager, and that’s just kind of expected, but I was still a little sad when I realized that feeling is gone now.

Things fall behind when real-life sets in. Dreams get put aside because you think “I’ll have time for that later”.

Winter 2012 reminded me we don’t always have later.

A person very special to me, and to many many people, died abruptly at 24. She was an artist, a geek, and above all – a dreamer. And while she managed to do more with those dreams in her 24 years than most people ever do, there were so many things left undone.

And now, here I am. Because of someone who encouraged my dreams, and lead by example. A younger cousin, taken shockingly and abruptly by a genetic disease no one knew she had. If she could live with spirit and joy, if she could fearlessly follow her dreams, then I should too.

Since I’ve had trouble working properly I’m going to use this blog as a place to motivate myself, give praise to others, ponder the ‘important’ questions, and above all – enjoy what time we have.

Dreams are worth working for.

Keep Flying, Mei-mei.

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