Am I Not a Geek? (Musings on Pop Culture’s Place in Nerd Life)

photo credit: Christopher Jones December 2015

Life is unpredictable.

Even when making deliberate decisions, the side effects cannot be predicted. Few things I’ve ever done have been more deliberate than the decision Chris and I made both individually and together to undertake the drastic dietary changes we embarked on in early September 2016. I have one other example of a deliberate choice big enough to truly change my life, but that’s a post for another time…

It’s no secret at this point, both of us have lost a bunch of weight, these physical changes have been the tip of the iceberg. I have questioned myself at a fundamental level when it comes to who I am and what I’m about as a result.  It has not always been easy to stay on track and to make the sacrifices of discomfort and hunger. I was often tired. I was sometimes emotionally overwhelmed, but pushed through because nothing gentle had yielded results in the past and my long term health was at risk.

I had no idea as the pounds came off, my intellectual appetite would change as well.

I cannot speak for Chris’ experience of this except for what he shared with me. He expressed some concern about loosing some of the geek identity that is so much a part of our lives, both individually and as a couple. We had a Klingon wedding – twice – for crying out loud. Our walls are covered with geeky artwork and autographs from sci-fi and cartoon greats. We have geek cred like crazy.

By the time Chris had mentioned the issue, I had already thought about how difficult it was for me to get interested in watching television and pondered the implications. For both Chris and I, keeping up with or watching new shows or even old favorites became less important. I didn’t care what was going on in the DC television universe or that it’s no longer possible to watch weekly on Hulu as we have in previous seasons, figuring I’ll eventually see it on my own schedule. We have even stopped watching the wonderfully done Victoria on a weekly basis on PBS.

We saw the important geek movies released during the time period. Doctor Strange (twice), Fantastical Beasts & Where to Find Them, Rouge One, Lego Batman. Enjoyable entertainment, for sure, but not the intense experiences I’ve had with other films in the last few years with Deadpool being the most extreme example of anticipating a film being a major part of my life. I will always look back fondly at what reading Deadpool comics prior to the release date and the film’s brilliant marketing for giving me something both fun and irreverent to look forward to over the winter of 2016/2017 when I needed that exact thing. As thrilled as I was to get the Batman movie we deserve this winter, the experience wasn’t the same and likely never will be. Deadpool was the perfect anti-hero to show up at an imperfect time.

It’s not as if I’ve turned my back on my love for spaceships, dragons, and heroes in capes. I’m still inspired by the stories and I still think in pop culture references. In times of crisis, I’m going to read A Wrinkle in Time or watch Indiana Jones movies because they remind me of who I am and what I believe. Fiction, especially fantasy and it’s modern descendant science fiction, made me who I am. But at least for now, I don’t need my precious fictional universes front and center to mask what I was missing from real life action – primarily me driving the narrative. Those worlds are my heart’s home but I don’t have to spend all my free time there.

With my attention split between figuring out what to eat within the strict guidelines of our diet and strengthening myself mentally with mindful meditation and earnest study of stoic philosophy to help me bear the stain I was putting myself under, I didn’t have room for much else.

With the extra time gained by not spending nights and weekends binge watching old shows and movies for hours upon hours, together or separately, Chris and I listened to audiobooks and podcasts, the vast majority of them in the realm of self-improvement, efficiency, and other similar topics. (Special shout out to Tim Ferriss for being our Oparh.) I read more non-fiction than fiction, including thousands of recipes which either fit our limits or could be modified. I worked in a few memoirs, notably Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and Debbie Reynold’s Unsinkable. Real life examples resonated with me, especially those ladies who accomplished much in the face of so many challenges.

What I began leaning on primarily for mental and emotional support was both mindful meditation and stoic philosophy. I discovered meditation originally in early 2014, learning from the book Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Sometime later that same year, I heard about stoic philosophy on an episode of Dr. Drew’s podcast with author Ryan Holiday. I listened to the episode twice back-to-back and read Ryan’s book The Obstacle is the Way immediately. I so identified with stoic ideals. I love, too, that it is a philosophy and not a religion. It is important to me to live in a way which is no less ethical regardless religious or supernatural truth as I may see it as all mankind should live to the same moral standards.

Prior to the great potato fast of September 2016, I had signed up for the Headspace meditation app in order to renew a daily practice. I was a couple months into the program before the dietary changes – currently 294 days consecutively. As we started the fast, I began reading back through The Obstacle is the Way. As fate would provide, I discovered through a Facebook friend, Stoic Week put on by Modern Stoicism which happened to fall in mid-October. Both the Stoic Week activities and the active Facebook group have been a delightful learning experience. I have studied more about the individual philosophers as well as the practical applications of philosophy. Marcus Aurelius became an early favorite, in part because he wrote reminders to himself on how to behave rather than to teach others. I can imagine this powerful and wise Roman Emperor who was ahead of his time morally if not perfect by modern standards struggling with himself as I struggle each time a passage resonates with me.

It is impossible to say for sure, but I cannot imagine having endured a two week mono-diet of plain potatoes and the following months of saying no to everything about American food culture in favor of whole plants without both mindfulness and philosophy to lessen the misery factor. I know it was a good choice for my long term health, but it was hard.

I had to decide as in the last couple months as the reality of my physical transformation kicked in – around 170 pounds at this writing and 25 pounds from my rather arbitrary scale goal – what else I am. Once I am “done” and have established what food and workouts will be to meet the next challenge of two years maintaining the loss, I will have freed up some of the mental and physical bandwidth I’ve been using on changing my body. I also have a wealth of newfound confidence. To paraphrase one of my long time virtual mentors Adam Carolla, you learn to do things by doing things, sometimes even if they aren’t exactly the same things.

I do want to write more. I don’t know exactly what that will mean and I’m okay with that. My writing has always been wiser than I am. If I sit down to the keyboard on a regular basis, I’ll figure it out.

I proved to myself blogging is something I care about when in January I broke my WordPress installation. I am still in the process of restoring the posts, a few at a time as it is tedious work, but I was not apathetic as my poor posting track record would indicate. I have plans to post about food, because who doesn’t love food? I have so many ideas about how to eat wholesome food without breaking the budget or spending all day in the kitchen.  I always plan on more old fashion analog arts and crafts especially sewing with posts about my projects.  I would like to write thoughtful pieces about the books I read, less review and more discussions like I enjoy reading. I don’t know what else, but as long as it’s something, I’m okay with that.

Part of the reason I dreamed up the name “Nerdbliss” is how flexible it is as a brand. No matter what I do, I do it nerdy because I am passionate, curious, and exuberant. I don’t know how to do things halfway. I love adding to my bank of both experiences and knowledge. At the time, it was more what I hoped my life would be about and now I’m much closer to the ideal.

One of the things that is happening with me and Nerdbliss is a growth into a podcast. Chris wanted to start one and asked if I’d be okay with him using the name. It took me some thinking to decide as long as it was a separate entity from my blog, I was more than okay with it. I have even been roped into participating as on air talent as well as applying my humble WordPress experience. Our first episode is up with a couple more in the can. Feel free to check it out at NerdblissPod.com. We want to cover a broad range of topics both traditionally geeky and passions outside of stereotypical geek culture. I hope, like this blog, not for wild popularity but that it will find it’s audience however small.

So yes, I’m still a geek. I’m growing and incorporating the best ideas I find into who I am. If that isn’t the whole purpose of nerd-life, I don’t know what is. It’s a toss up on wither I’m going to talk your ears off about Seneca or Spock, but rest assured, it’s all the same to me.

Time is What You Make It

The internet is a buzz with hate for 2016. It was a challenging year for our household personally as well as the world at large on the political and cultural fronts. I started early with spending December and January soothing myself with Deadpool comics. I didn’t even bother to add a page on the blog to track my reading for the year that later gets abandoned (Is it laziness or tradition at this point? I don’t know.)

I remained in a funk for a long time, simply getting myself to the next event to look forward to on the calendar. The Deadpool movie in February, my brother meeting us in Atlanta for Treklanta in April, Kate driving out for a visit before Memorial day and ConCarolinas afterward. One foot in front of the other, because what else do you do?

At some point, I became restless with a steady diet of work, junk food and sofa-sitting until bedtime. I started meditating again over the summer. I also completed a prescribed course of physical therapy for shoulder pain and have used the exercises daily take the edge off a problem which had become increasingly worse.

When Chris decided to give the diet plan Penn Jillette lost 100 pounds in 90 days on as detailed in his book Presto. We started after DragonCon, on September 8th. To date, I’ve lost 52 pounds and Chris has lost 100. We had some planned “off diet” meals over the holidays so the rate of loss had slowed down since Thanksgiving, but we are incredibly motivated by our success.

There is one more leg to the stool I’ve built in the back half of the year.

By happenstance, a Facebook friend who I’ve never met in person, posted about Stoic Week. I’d learned about Stoicism and begun to adopt the thinking as a underlying principle after reading The Obstacle is the Way, but I have recommitted and refocused to practicing stoic living. I am looking forward to starting 2017 with The Daily Stoic as a devotional practice.

I’ve always considered the calendar rather arbitrary, especially deciding something magical happens between 11:59 pm, December 31st and 12:00 am, January 1st. Both stoicism and mindfulness cultivate a focus on the present with stoicism calling for virtuous action and mindfulness proving the peace of mind to carry out that action. Self-determination as well as acceptance of things beyond our control. This is what I wish for myself in 2017 as well as for others.

JOBS AND CAREERS

I started training at a new job on Monday. It’s a call center, not my first one by a long shot. After almost two years working retail, I’m ready to go back to taking calls. Part of me never quite got used to only working part time. Or at least the part about not having anywhere to go hang out with people five days a week.

As is my habit online, I don’t tend to disclose the details of my employment. I can say I’m excited at this opportunity. Unlike my previous call center jobs, this is a small company with plenty of room to grow. A friend who has been there six months loves the company culture.

What I can’t seem to decide for the life of me is wither I’m content in the long run to be an hourly wage cog or if I have the ambition and drive to pursue promotion. I find companies place more focus on people looking to climb the ladder, but a really good employee who wants to stay on the bottom rung, meets goals and has a positive outlook can be just as much an asset.

My thoughts on the matter flip-flop more than I care to admit. Both approaches have appeal. Advancement means greater job satisfaction, closer relationships with colleagues and influence over my work environment. Of course, money has appeal, but not enough for it’s own sake to decide the issue. Staying put and focusing on being the best possible agent, a valuable member of the team and a resource for my teammates, has it’s rewards. It’s less stressful, certainly, and I can leave work at work. Gainful employment for the purpose of making a living is perfectly honorable. I am not lacking in passions outside of my job. My personal life and hobbies overflow with goodness. My identity isn’t based on my career.

Of course, these concerns are merely theoretical seeing it’s my first week in a new job. I cannot help thinking on it as I picture my role as trainee morphing into a care agent and possibly what lays beyond.

Worse still, I have struggled with this dichotomy pretty much since the beginning of my professional life.

I do realize I’m not alone in these distinctly first world problems.

I’ve been blessed with a solid employment record and a personality interviewers like, so I’ve never spent more than a month looking for a job. And, realistically, even if I fell on hard times, I’ve got so many people – first and foremost Chris – who wouldn’t let me go without the basic necessities of life, I don’t worry about keeping body and soul together.

Plenty of humor lives in the idea that only those of us who are sufficiently well-off are able to worry about things like fulfilling potential and aspirations. I’m 98% sure Douglas Adams commented on the irony on a galactic scale, but the details escape me at the moment.

A YEAR IN SOUTH CAROLINA

A year ago today, I set foot in South Carolina for the first time and moved to South Carolina all at the same time. I’d signed a lease by mail and made plans to stay as much as a lifelong nomad such as myself ever makes such plans. A couple suitcases and two months living expenses were all I brought with me.

It was a leap of faith at best. At worst, an insane risk doomed to failure. I figured somewhere in the middle to be closest to the truth. Following my gut and my heart (after running ideas past my brain) is usually the way I make the best decisions. My prayer during the planning phase was simple, “If I’m not supposed to do this, throw up roadblocks. If I’m supposed to be there, clear the way.”

My reasons for coming aren’t the same reasons I’m happy to stay, but I’m where I meant to be. Again, saying a lot for someone who has lived as many places as I have. I could easily make this post about my relationship with Chris – we meet the Thursday after Dragon*Con (Labor Day weekend, for the non-geeks) – and other people with whom I cannot imagine my life without as they are central to why I am here. Location has never been as important to me as people. Everywhere I’ve ever lived has it’s good and bad points, but mostly you go about the business of life similarly regardless of where you live.

Still, my new hometown deserves some love. I live in Simpsonville, South Carolina. It’s a good sized berg, home to over 18,000 people. It’s right up against Greenville, the largest city in Upstate South Carolina. Along with Spartanburg, it makes for a pretty impressive metropolitan area. After my last two long term hometowns, Farmington, Missouri and Sheridan, NY, being extremely small and rural, it’s a treat to have a plethora of shopping, dinning and cultural events within twenty minutes of my doorstep.

I have found the area to be less of a culture shock than I anticipated. It is, after all, The South. I have found four years in the rural Midwest to have cushioned the effect. Plus, the area is full of people who came from all over seeking jobs, low taxes and a mild climate. I have learned to call a shopping cart a “buggy” or at least not giggle when other people do. I am fascinated by the wide range of accents I hear from people born and raised here. Those who appear to be without, those who hit certain words and show their roots, and a few people I can hardly understand. People are friendly and polite in a genuine way.

The climate was my biggest worry. I do poorly in the heat. But, you know what? I’m a geek. I stay inside as much as possible anyway. I’ve spent the summer in air conditioning and it’s all good. The pool at our apartment complex is open until 10 pm, so I get my swim in without getting overheated or sunburned. I have enough sense to stay hydrated and I’m perfectly fine. Now, if I was the outdoor type, the transition may have been harder. Winter was a breeze. We had snow on Christmas – just enough to be pretty – and a week of icy, snowy crud in January. If it got colder than 30 or so degrees, I didn’t notice.

So, South Carolina, on this date – our first anniversary – I’ve got to say, I’m liking you a whole lot. Even though I’m heading out the door momentarily for Atlanta, I’ll be home right after Dragon*Con.

CUTTING THE CABLE

I canceled my cable in November.

 

I wasn’t trying to cut back on my television consumption. Nor do I deny the value of the programming available. It’s popular to talk about how bad, shallow and devoid of intellect the old boob tube is. I’ve said for years, it all depends on what you watch. I admit my enjoyment of all sorts of random programs. History Channel or Discovery Health in the middle of the night? Yes, please.

 

Here’s the thing: I moved into my apartment the first of September and started cable service within a week. I opted not to get a DVR since I was living alone and my schedule, at the time, was wide open. I set a reminder on my Blackberry for the two first run shows I cared about seeing. Big Bang Theory, of course, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

 

After watching the first episodes of the new season of SVU, I found I simply didn’t care. It is impossible to say if the change was me or the show. The Law & Order franchises where something I’d always watched with my ex making it a part of a different time in my life. Plus,  I’ve seen so many episodes of the various incarnations the stories had begun to run together.  I’ll always think of myself as an Law & Order person, but it was clear I needed a break.

 

I went along for a while watching Big Bang Theory on Thursday night. It was an event. I’d typically bake off some refrigerated cookie dough and brew tea to enjoy while I watched in bed because I didn’t own living room furniture. Even with all the excitement in my life lately, that half hour was a highlight of my week.

 

One Thursday night in October, I turned on my modestly sized flat screen to the realization it was tuned to CBS. I racked my brain to figure out what I’d been watching when it hit me: Big Bang Theory is the only CBS show I’ve ever watched on a regular basis. I hadn’t so much as turned on the TV in an entire week.

 

It was strange to come to this place from television as my primary source of entertainment for years. Man, I’d loved my DVR.

 

I struggled with the decision to give up Big Bang Theory. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much. But Sheldon’s love for Spock makes my love for Spock seem normal and proportionate.

 

Lucky for me, CBS.com began streaming episodes of Big Bang Theory a few days after airing on the network. Problem solved!

BAZINGA!

PLANS FOR 2011

I have not resolved to reform my procrastination this year, clearly, or I would have written about New Year’s resolutions, plans and goals sometime before the middle of January.

Even now I struggle to explain where I am in relation to where I was a year ago to anyone who hasn’t shared the journey with me. I spent a few minutes reading over what I wrote about plans for 2010 on my old blog. So much has changed. It is disorienting to attempt to see life from through the eyes of the woman I was twelve short months ago. If she only knew what goodness waited for her, maybe the transition wouldn’t have been so hard.

What I planned last year got preempted by life altering events I could not have predicted when I sat down to blog my yearly “looking back” and “looking forward” year end posts. I tend to do similar reflection around my birthday. I wasn’t blogging much when I turned thirty in August, but rest assured by August 2011, I will have much to reflect upon.

I don’t reflect much these days as I am busy living. When I do it is with a thankful heart. I have survived much and have a life I never imagined. It’s not without challenges, but perfection isn’t a requirement for happiness.

Over the last few months of 2010, the puzzle pieces of my life have come together in a shape they will likely hold to through 2011. I spend as much time as possible with my beloved Chris.  I am working two jobs, neither of which I intend to discuss on this blog. I have great friends, some who have been with me for years and some who have joined my life recently. They are invaluable. Life moves on day by day in predictable pattern.

I do have a handful of goals for the year.

First, I’ll be getting my driver’s license as soon as possible. My typical explanation, as with so much in my life, as to why I’ve never had one is “it’s complicated.”

After that, I will be considering the merits of replacing two jobs with one full-time gig. Again, will likely not discuss job situations on the blog. I’ve never had trouble finding work, but I do not know if there is anything I desire for a career beyond working whatever job comes to hand. Unlike last year, when I was determined to go to college at great personal sacrifice, I am unsure if formal education is necessary or practical for me.

My overall goal – the one I would dub a resolution – is to cook actual meals. Wrapped up in cooking is eating healthy stuff in portions appropriate to allow continued progress on the weight loss I managed in 2010. I don’t want to have to “diet” but rather would like to develop healthy eating habits. It’s easier for me to motivate myself to cook for two, so I including feeding Chris in this resolution. It will be easier to accomplish when we are living under the same roof (we’re working on details), but even now I can and do put together meals. I’d like to do some batch cooking with portioned out left overs to avoid the trap of eating out or eating badly when life gets busy. And life is always busy.

So far, I can report some success in the kitchen. I ordered spices online to made Indian food, the followed through and cooked something. I made Chicken Tikka Masala. It was so good. Even better, Chris loved it. I’d never considered myself the domestic type, but given the chance, it appears I am. As I get more confident in the kitchen, I intend to launch my food blog, OgleFood. I’ve owned the domain for, maybe, three years. I love the idea of lots of pictures and a celebration of good food.

While I joke about procrastination, I am working on my time management skills. Blast and darn you interwebs with all your goodness. I can waste infinite amounts of time – the only asset I haven’t found a way to stretch. I have piles of books I want to read, unwritten blog posts, and hundreds of hours in movies and tv shows to watch. If only I could quit sleep. Short of that, I can only do my dead level best to put every minute toward something worthwhile. I expect mixed results. Realistic expectations are a key to happiness, after all.

I learned enough in 2010 to know I can’t plan for everything, so I’m content to otherwise let 2011 happen as it happens. We’ll meet back here in a eleven months to discuss, okay?