Monday, November 14, 2011

Somehow I out-geeked myself in Geekland, U.S.A.

I actually am not really a geek. Or, at least, I have never thought of myself as one until pretty recently.

I wasn't a geek in high school.

WELL, freshman year, I was a theater person and something of what is now called a goth, but I gave that up to become a ''rocker" sophomore year. Rockers are not generally accepted as geeks, I think. Or at least, I don't think we were then. At any rate, I definitely wasn't watching Star Wars over and over again and collecting medieval weaponry. I was traipsing through the drainage system of Marin County with bottles of stolen liquor and hanging out at Day on the Green.

Geeks, I would argue, were smart and got good grades. Rockers wore ripped Megadeth t-shirts and smoked Camel straights in the girls' bathroom instead of going to Biology. Rockers ended up at the continuation high school writing poetry about self-hate and making demon-shaped ashtrays in art class.

O.K. I confess. I'm not really sure how this works. "Geek" was not part of the Redwood High School vernacular. You were a Prep, a Rocker, a Rapper, a Mod, a Hippie, a Poser, a Skater, a Jock or a Loser. Or maybe I just don't know. I spent most of my high school career at Redwood hiding out at a couch in the woods by Heatherwood Park. It is possible I may have missed some important information.

Anyway, the upshot is that somehow I have nevertheless managed to distinguish myself during my thirties as being incredibly geeky, in a community where this should not be remotely possible.

For my readers who don't live in Los Alamos, I will simply provide a simple bulleted list of proofs of the implausible level of gaugeable geekiness my current municipality.

  • There are more PhDs per capita here than in any other city in the U.S.
  • A couple of months ago, my eldest son and I were driving to Smith's when we passed a wizard and two knights having a battle by Ashley Pond. Rowan made me turn back and circle round so he could see it himself, and it wasn't a hallucination. They were really there.
  • There is a pond in Los Alamos named after a man called Ashley Pond. So the full name is Ashley Pond Pond. Really.
  • March 14 is practically a national holiday here. (Pi Day.) All the local schools make a big deal out of it, and everyone posts "Happy Pi Day!' as their Facebook status. (I keep my head down and try to pretend this isn't happening, since I can't figure out how to relate to it meaningfully, which is the same strategy I use for Ash Wednesday and Superbowl Sunday.)
  • There is more than one adult in this town who regularly rides a unicycle to work. One of them also juggles.
  • There is a popular brass band composed of adults who walk in parades with hats shaped like birds and other animals.
  • There is more than one adult man in this town who, at all times, wears a gas mask. One of them also wears underwear while watering his front lawn.

Photo by Bill Bradford

Anyhow, I have been threatening to show up as truly geeky for a while now, somehow, despite all this. I credit this mainly to the fact that I work at a school, which, believe it or not, is not exactly a haven for Geekhood. Teachers, I have concluded, were not the school geeks growing up. Those were the people who went on to become scientists and computer technicians  Teachers were the officious, motherly girls in your class that kept telling you what to do, who got A's and B's and weren't so good at Math. 

So nobody laughs at my Mental Floss t-shirts, and people wonder why I wear knee socks and double pony tails. But whatever. I'm used to being the subject of quiet scorn.

Why? Well, before I became the teenager who your mother wanted you to stay away from, I was that weird girl who sat in the corner of the elementary school class reading and creating elaborate fantasy worlds while I was supposed to be doing a math sheet. So, yeah, I guess I was once a geek. I have a geekish background. 

I submit:
  • I played Dungeons and Dragons with my rocker friends, and I still have an emotional attachment to the elvish character I created during those years.
  • At one point, I had memorized all those things the audience is supposed to shout at live re-enactments of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's still hard to hear "The Time Warp" without breaking into song.
  • As a child, I read the Greek Myths the way other children read comics.
  • These were some of my Halloween costumes: Medusa, a stalk of asparagus, two-headed monster (with friend)...Anyway, I tended to win Most Original.
  • I really like Lewis Carroll.
O.K. This is the problem:

You're saying "WHO?" 

Lewis. Fucking. Carroll.  He wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.  But you never read it. You saw the Disney movie. And last year you saw the Tim Burton version, and you compared that with the Disney version, favorably or unfavorably. You are as interested in this particular item of classic English literature as you are in reading Beowulf, which is not at all. (Confession: I don't want to read Beowulf either. Please don't make me. In college, someone made me read Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock and it almost ruined my life. I'm afraid Beowulf might be really bad, too.)

Anyway, I didn't know all that 'til this Halloween. I read my littlest child, Mikalh, both Alice's Adventures and its sequel Through the Looking Glass this past summer, and, with enormous enthusiasm, he informed me that this Halloween, he would be the Cheshire Cat and I would be Alice. Which sounded really fun to me. Lo and behold, my mother, who loves classic literature, said she would be the Dutchess, and my husband would be the King of Hearts. Then Mike's family, who are the craftiest people alive, got involved, and the project spawned a Mad Hatter, White Rabbit and Queen of Hearts. It was like kismet.

But when, in my increasing glee, I began to tell people about our plans, I got the same kind of reaction you get when you aprise people that you are sending your teenager to Star Fleet Academy for the summer, or maybe, that your family spends Sunday evenings gathered round the television watching the Beverly Hillbillies and eating paste. 

"Ohhhh, I tried to read that once, but it was so WEIRD."

Weird? Right. Monty Python is fine with you. Celebrating Pi Day is fine with you. But Lewis Carroll somehow crosses a line.


I have nothing further to say to you but this:

He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
'At length I realise,' he said,
'The bitterness of Life!'

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
'I'll send for the Police!'

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
'The one thing I regret,' he said,
'Is that it cannot speak!'

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
'If this should stay to dine,' he said,
'There won't be much for us!'

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
'Were I to swallow this,' he said,
'I should be very ill!'

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing!
It's waiting to be fed!'

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage Stamp.
'You'd best be getting home,' he said:
'The nights are very damp!'

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
'And all its mystery,' he said,
'Is clear as day to me!'

He thought he saw a Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
'Extinguishes all hope!'

-The Mad Gardener's Song by Lewis Carroll

If you don't think THAT'S funny,  I guess you'll just have to stick with the SCA. Look, don't be insulted. It's just that I figure if you're reading me, you're :

  1. a family member (I apologize)
  2. a personal friend with possibly normal interests (I really do apologize)
  3. a secret member of the SCA, or at least someone who could compete well in a cut-throat bout of Lord of the Rings trivia
  4. a Star Wars fan
  5. a Trekkie
  6. someone who likes Ninjas and watches Myth Busters
In short, you are my people. I am merely asking you to take a broader view of the Lewis Carroll thing. It's hard to feel so alone.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License