No Country for Geek Girls

All right.  I’m putting on my feminist hat for this one.  Haters to the left.  Actually, in this case, would it be “haters to the right”? 


I digress. 


Those of you who know me should at least suspect that I am a strong proponent of changing the way women are presented in the media and – as a result – perceived by popular culture.  I used to skirt around the issue, not wanting to be labeled, laughed at, or written off, but I really don’t find that necessary anymore.  Maybe I’m older and wiser, but this is doubtful.  More likely, I see that keeping silent on issues that make my life less than it could be does nobody any good.  Therefore, as a woman and as a geek, I have to ask: what is up with the way geek culture treats women?


I’ve already briefly addressed this topic in a blog post I wrote for skirt! magazine last week, but I felt it deserved a more in-depth treatment. Also, I am still a wee bit annoyed.  Actually, I am perpetually annoyed at being treated differently by comic book store owners, at seeing strong female characters reduced to sex objects, and at the whole concept of the “fake geek girl.” 


The pinnacle of my annoyance is the hoopla over the “fake geek girl,” a character I have never met, but who is apparently a clear and present danger to all I hold dear.  A little background: in 2012, Forbes contributor Tara Tiger Brown wrote an article titled, “Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away.” In it, she decries what she sees as the dilution of geek culture as the internet makes once-obscure interests easy to access for just about anyone.  She points to a growing group of people who claim to be interested in geeky things – gaming, scifi, etc – to get attention.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with disliking inauthentic people.  I’m not a fan of shameless attention-seekers, although that is mainly because I like to be the only one in the room.  However, Brown’s argument isn’t about inauthentic people in general: she targets women and girls as the main culprits in the disintegration of geek culture as she knew it.  How dare these women assume geek status just to get attention from males?  She assumes that these women – whoever they are – did not go through the same bumpy childhood and adolescence that is typical of geek culture.  Therefore, they should be exposed as frauds, so we can “protect” the sanctity of geek culture.  Sheesh.  We’re scifi nerds, not the Order of the Phoenix.


Also in 2012, CNN contributor Joe Peacock wrote “Booth Babes Need Not Apply,”  an article where he trashes women who (apparently) only go to conventions to feel better about their appearance by “infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys [they] wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.” He claims that he knows women who are both very attractive and “true geeks,” but the posers, he writes, are numerous.  I wonder how one could tell the difference between an attractive woman who is also “legit,” and one who is clearly just there to torment the poor geek males by…I don’t know…being attractive around them?  To be fair, at many cons, there are what we call “booth babes,” who are models – often scantily-clad – who are there to sell merchandise. Sex sells. We know that.  Some conventions have banned the use of booth babes to sell merchandise, because it can create an environment that is uncomfortable for both male and female con-goers.  There is a big difference, though, between objecting to a commercial policy and assuming a woman is ‘selling’ herself simply because of the way she looks.  Trust me: if an attractive woman wants to feel good about herself by garnering male attention, there are easier and cheaper ways to do it than paying $50 or more for a day-pass to a convention and waiting in line for hours.  Bars exist. 


It’s not just civilian geeks who are targeted by this assumption.  After a journalist accused geek heroine Felicia Day of being a “fake,” her fans across the internet rose up in arms.  Day is a writer, first and foremost, and the notion that she doesn’t belong because she also happens to be a pretty woman was not well-received.  However, part of Day’s appeal is her association with Joss Whedon, the granddaddy of geekdom (or at least its weird uncle).  Being associated with Whedon gives her a level of security; after all, he gave the world Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, and Firefly, series rife with attractive, kick-ass women.  So she’s safe, more or less, from the brunt of these attacks.  Less safe is Olivia Munn, who rose to stardom as the host of G4’s Attack of the Show!, a series focused on tech reviews, pop culture news, and other minutiae from a geek perspective.  She went on to work with The Daily Show.  Munn has come under criticism from Peacock and his ilk, who lump her together with booth babes as an attempt by commercial interests to pander to geek males, who are apparently incapable of resisting attractive women.  Peacock refers to “these Olivia Munn types” as a big problem in geek culture.  Why target Munn?  Because she’s sexy.  She’s conventionally attractive, and thus she cannot know what it’s like to feel out of place, and thus she cannot be a geek. That’s the logic there.


What a load of nonsense.  Geek culture began as a way of escaping the mundane, of finding a place for those who don’t fit into the mainstream world…and women aren’t welcome because they’re sexy?  A brief glance at comic book covers or game release promotional material would suggest that geek culture doesn’t actually mind sexualized women.  Gaming and comic heroines are more than likely to be portrayed in a highly-sexualized manner.  With a few notable exceptions, women in comic books and games have Barbie-like proportions and apparently can’t buy pants.  Don’t believe me?  Tumblr’s Escher Girls finds comic book depictions of women that defy the laws of the human body, usually due to the famous “boobs and butt pose.” The Hawkeye Initiative shows how ridiculous the sexualization of female heroines is by redrawing female superhero poses, using the male hero Hawkeye.  As a female comic book fan, it’s always bothered me that the women can’t seem to keep their clothing on.  Or that nobody thinks pants are important when saving the world.  Or that four-inch stilettos are absolutely necessary for flight. If I were a heroine, I’d want pants.  And supportive shoes.  And a little bit more breathing room in that jumpsuit. And don’t even get me started on how strong, single heroines usually get their series axed.  Oh, Manhunter, we barely knew ye. Women in comics are totally sexualized, so why object to sexy women in real life? 


The issue, I think, is that there’s a difference between being sexualized and being sexy.  Half-clad superwomen are safe; they can’t talk, they can’t think, and they can’t be real people.  To some extent, booth babes, by their very remoteness, are also safe for geek males to ogle.  When I say geek males, by the way, I am referring to those who buy into the “fake geek girl” myth.  In many ways, geek culture has long cherished the same kind of self-sacrificing “courtly love” that made Crusaders so very tiresome.  Women are some kind of divine, untouchable mystery in this mindset.  Objectified, they’re safe.  When a real, breathing, attractive woman – especially one who knows she’s attractive and enjoys being so – tries to break into the Good Old Boys Club of geekery, she is often met with suspicion.  The Olivia Munns of geekdom, strangely enough, have to overcome being beautiful.  Now, I know what you’re thinking: boo hoo, it must be so sad to be an attractive young woman.  In this context, though, it is. 


It’s similar to slut-shaming, in which women are shamed for their sexuality.  In both cases, a patriarchal system assigns motivations to women based on their physical appearance, gender, and sexual choices.  In slut-shaming, women who do not conform to a specific set of rules about sexuality are shamed.  In the “fake geek girl” culture, attractive women are seen only as sexual objects.  Only in this case, the patriarchal culture imposes a further level of prejudice: because these women are attractive, the culture sees them as “out of the geek guy’s league.”  Because they are deemed unobtainable sexually, they lose all value as human beings.  In fact, they’re demonized because they are accused of dangling sexuality in front of the poor geek guy’s nose like a carrot and then whisking it away.  In slang terms, all pretty women must be teases.  In this faulty line of reasoning, the Olivia Munns of the world are not available sexually to the average geek male, and that is their fault. In standard practice, female geeks too often latch onto the prejudice and add their own levels of hate to it.  Because women (even in this sub-culture) are often told that affirmation comes from male attention, they lash out at women they perceive to be their competitors, or who make them “look bad.” Ironically enough, these women and girls often target “fake geek girls,” accusing them of striving too hard for male attention.


On the other side of the coin, women are torn down for not achieving the standards of beauty that the Olivia Munns of the world are condemned for.  Sasha Trebane, Dr. Who fan, cosplayed (dressed up) as the TARDIS, the Doctor’s police box/mode of transportation through Time and Space.  Her blue ballgown was handpainted on the inside, so that the dress looked “bigger on the inside,” as the TARDIS is supposed to be.  Here, you can see the dress, as well as the unwanted Facebook commentary.  Here, you have a beautiful fan, who has made a fantastic contribution to the fandom, and who clearly has so much passion and imagination that she is modeling a work of art.  And what is the reaction from members of her community?  Harsh critiques of her body.  Because apparently it doesn’t matter what you look like as a woman: you’re either desperate for male attention or you clearly can’t get any.  As women, these standards mean we can’t win. Here’s a heads-up: we’re not here so that judgmental males can have a reaction to us.  We’re here to engage in what we love and to connect with other fans, both male and female, provided they accept us and allow us our subjectivity.  Women, no matter what they look like, are not objects.   


The myth of the “fake geek girl” is all about objectification.  It’s about looking at a woman and imposing false motivations upon her based on the way she looks or dresses.  This myth, the harsh criticism of women who don’t fit these standards, and the general sexualization of women in comic books all stem from objectification.  It’s the need of a patriarchal culture to control female sexuality and to reject women who do not fit into this worldview.  In this culture, women must be incredibly sexualized, but submissive – so submissive that they aren’t even real.  Women who own their own sexuality are feared, while those who do not conform to the physical ideal are mocked mercilessly.  And here’s the kicker: we’re better than this.  We’re geeks.  We made it to the Final Frontier.  We envisioned a thousand worlds where human beings rose above unthinkable odds to liberate themselves.  We can and we must liberate ourselves from a mode of thinking that would keep half of us from being agents of their own fates.  We have the capacity to change the rampant sexism in our culture into acceptance and empowerment.


No personal experience justifies the assumption that a woman – any woman – exists to gain some kind of male attention.  You can be sexy, confident, and geeky at any size and age, and that does not make you worthy of criticism.  I’m no model; however, I’m healthy and I like the way I look.  I’m confident, and I like to express myself through what I wear.  If I wore a Slave Leia cosplay, it would be because I like the way my abs look in it, and also because I think Leia is an awesome character.  If I cosplayed as Cherno Alpha, it would be because big robots are badass and I like the way I feel like a boss in it.  I wear a bikini, and I’m proud of it.  I wear makeup because I like it.  I never go to a con, or a comic book store, or a scifi movie marathon to get male attention.  That’s not to say that I don’t like male attention or feeling attractive. I do.  But it has nothing to do with my geekiness.  I might not be “into” every minute detail of gaming, techy stuff, or other fandoms, but that doesn’t delegitimize me as a member of this community.  More importantly, I shouldn’t have to legitimize myself at all.  Like this fantastic video claims, We Have Nothing to Prove




Don’t worry, loyal readers!  I am back from the Blue Screen of Death.  “Real life” interrupted my blogging when I was on a roll, and I rediscovered a truth about writing:

If you are a writer and you stop writing, it gets progressively harder to re-start.  It’s a curious thing. You find yourself with a head cold, or a paying job, or a contract from ACME, or a bounty placed on your head by space criminal kingpins, and you get distracted.  Once you have the time, though, you don’t pick up the pen again.  You get lazy.  And then you get afraid.  You convince yourself that there is no reason to keep writing, and that you have nothing to say. The only way to get out of a rut is to bite the bullet and go back into it, painful as it may seem.

So, I’m back.  I hope to stay more on track this time.


What is a Geek?

As a part of my blog makeover, I am trying to be more intentional in my writing. It seemed logical, then, to dedicate a post to geekdom.  What is a geek, exactly?  What manner of witchcraft is geekery?  Who is a geek?  Why should anyone want to read about geek life?  Why are you even here?

Because I am a fancy person, I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, or the OED, as we sad Englishy types call it. The OED defined “geek”(n., informal) as

  • 1a: an unfashionable or socially inept person
  •  1b: [usually with modifier] a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast: a computer geek
  • 2: a carnival performer who performs wild or disgusting acts.

I included the second definition for grins and giggles – if you fit that definition, I accept and affirm you as a human being, but please do not feel the need to elaborate in the comments section.  Not all sharing is caring, kids, and what happens in the Big Top should stay in the Big Top. 

The first definition (both parts) is fairly standard – it makes me think of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his cohorts on The Big Bang Theory. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past six years, first of all, I want to know how anyone lives under a rock.  Secondly, the show follows Cooper and his scientist friends as they muddle their way through social situations and make Star Trek references.  Hilarity ensues.   


They can build a nuclear reactor; just don’t ask them to fix the elevator that’s been broken for six seasons. Or to go on a normal date.

When people think of geek culture, I imagine this image is one of the first that comes to mind.  Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Big Bang.  I find it a loving tribute to geek culture.  However, I find both it and the OED definition of the word to be lacking – at best, they form a partial image of geekdom that doesn’t quite encompass the true meaning of the word. I consider myself to be a geek, but I know next to nothing about science and math and I consider my social skills to be…passable, at the very least.  The use of the word “obsessive” also bothers me a little bit, if only because it seems kind of…stalkery.  I am passionately interested in BBC costume dramas, but I don’t have a shrine to them.  In fact, I’d say I’m fairly well-adjusted.

Don’t all agree with me right away.

So, where do we go from here?  If we take away the social ineptness and the obsessiveness (which are qualities that a geek may possess, but doesn’t have to), we are left with a word we don’t understand.  This word gets thrown around a lot – you have your car geeks, your lit geeks, your computer geeks.  Is everyone who has an interest a geek?  

Let’s talk etymology. Sexy, I know.  The OED states that the word comes from the “late 19th century: from the related English dialect geck ‘fool’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gek ‘mad, silly.'”

Charming.  Thanks very much for that, OED.  Super-helpful.

Is it possible, though, that being a geek is what’s considered “mad?” That it’s not the geeks themselves who are strange, but the act of unapologetically pursuing an interest, of learning more about a topic than is strictly necessary?  A car geek knows more about cars than he or she needs to in order to drive, and a movie geek knows more about films than is needed to sit in a cinema.  I can tell you more about the history of the Marvel Comic Universe than you probably want to hear.  It’s a question of moreness.  

This moreness is frowned upon, I think.  It’s funny: we live in a world where we are pushed to acquire more and care less.  Apathy and self-consciousness are no longer considered rude – in fact, it’s the social norm.  We thrive on irony, on being “cooler than cool.”  You can blame the beatniks or the corporate mentality or the hipsters, but the fact remains that being passionate about anything is terribly unfashionable. It makes people uncomfortable.   

That’s what a geek is – someone who is brave enough to care more than they need to.  Geeks ask the “What if?” questions, because they have the courage to wonder about the world, the universe, and human beings.  A common phrase in geek culture is “I regret nothing,” usually paired with a gif of a spinning disco chicken.  Which is fantastic.  Geeks make it a policy to avoid regret, to stop castigating themselves for thinking thoughts beyond the mundane.  They really want to know who would win in a fistfight between Abe Lincoln and Ned Stark.  And they want to write about it, or draw it, or put it on a t-shirt, because they want to share that moreness with everyone else.  At the core of fantasy and science fiction and good horror is the moreness – the willingness to ask what more could happen.  

The OED definition of “geek” is too negative, I think.  In its simplest terms, geekhood is a positive quality. It’s not defined by a lack of social skills or a lack of balance – it’s all about how much more we could be.


– katierose

Where’s my makeover montage?

That’s right, loyal readers.  The blog’s getting a facelift. New name, new look, new focus.  Don’t worry; all the geeky goodness you love will still be here in spades.  There will still be more Dalek jokes than you can swing a Sontaran at (though I don’t recommend the experience, as Sontarans object quite ferociously to being swung). If you think I’m going to abandon my fandoms, then you know less than Jon Snow.

Burn.  Freezer-burn.

However, I will be taking it in a new direction.  I’m in a very strange place in my life – 24, single my whole life, newly-graduated with a fancy degree, unemployed, and living in a new town…with my parents.  So, I’ll be taking you all on this adventure as I navigate these murky new waters.   This is real life…for a girl geek who woke up one morning and found out she was a 20-something.

How do I find my tribe?

What’s my purpose in life?

How long will it take me to be able to drive in Atlanta without needing a Valium?

Stay tuned.

KatieBug’s Geekapalooza, Week One: Babylon 5

Welcome to the first weekly installment of my new series, Things Katie Bug Geeks Over (AKA The Geekapalooza, AKA Nerdstock 2013).  It should come as no surprise that the first entry in this series is dedicated to the great love of my life, J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5.  First of all, I’d like to state that this post is not meant to spark a flame war: I love Star Trek, Star Wars (well, apart from the prequels that never happened), Dr. Who, and a whole wide world of geeky goodness. I will discuss these in turn.  They are like my children; I could never choose between them. I’d appreciate if my gentle readers would love them all likewise. See also: Haters gonna hate.

My second point: I will attempt to avoid major spoilers in any way possible, but I make no promises. Hopefully I’ll inspire some new fans, but this is really a love letter to the fandom, because they are lovely people.

A part of what makes geeks geeks is that a series, book, or movie is never just that: there’s always a story behind the association, a starting point.  When I was a child – Babylon 5’s pilot aired in 1993, the year I turned 5 – my dad used to watch the show, but I didn’t rediscover it until I found it on Netflix Instant my junior or senior year of college. I devoured five seasons in about two months.  I don’t remember eating, sleeping, or showering during that period, so I’d like to apologize to my classmates and friends for that period of time. Rather, I would apologize if I regretted any of it, but as you might have guessed, I regret nothing. I’ve rewatched it several times since then – and it’s the one I keep coming back to.

Yes, it’s the black sheep of the space operas.  It doesn’t have the Roddenberry touch; its dialogue isn’t Whedon-snappy; it lacks BSG’s flashy action sequences and gritty style.  There’s that regrettable Spaced scene (and that’s all we shall say about that particular moment). Its set design shows the budget (or lack thereof), and who knew everyone in the future had awesome ’90s hair?  The first season can be difficult to get through, but you have to watch it the whole way through (more on that later). I admit all of this.

So why does this Geek Girl love Babylon 5 so much that she is seriously naming her firstborn child Susan Ivanova?

I could say that it’s for the brilliance of the story arc.  Five seasons, one main plot (well, one-and-a-half, kind of.  Season Five’s debatable).  This series takes continuity to a whole new level of wonderful, with events from the pilot reoccurring as late as the final season.  We geeks love this. I believe it’s because we want to have to work a little bit for our plots.  Intellectual masochism? Maybe.

I could say it’s because of the universe JMS has created.  It’s not a utopia. Nor is it a dystopia.  Rather, it is the future – cosmetic elements aside – of the human race as we are.  Poverty, mental illness, prejudice, and violence still exist, but these do not comprise the core identity of the human race.  We’re a work in progress.  This universe is a little worn around the edges, a little bit raw, but full of potential.  A significant example of this characterization of the future comes from JMS’s inclusion of a variety of human faiths.  I could dedicate a blog post simply to faith in B5 – in fact, I probably will. Suffice it to say, human beings are not universally religious, but neither are they “beyond” faith.  In fact, new faiths have sprung up in response to contact with alien races.  People of faith are neither all bigots nor all saintly and pious.  It’s an evenhanded portrayal that characterizes the universe created in the series.  As a person of faith (and also an unapologetic open-minder), I find this resonant.

I could say it’s because of the number of badass women in the series.  In a world where strong women are almost always portrayed as either repressed hardasses or hypersexualized femme fatales, it’s refreshing to see women presidents, ambassadors, commercial telepaths, resistance leaders, and military personnel.  It’s even more refreshing to see that their strengths are not determined by their sexuality or lack thereof. Again, this is another blog altogether.  I live a B5 appreciation life.

All of these elements are, of course, lovely and wonderful and delicious.  However, that’s not why I keep revisiting this series.  It’s because of its scope, its powerful emotional scope. It’s about the people, whether they have fanlike hair or spots or bonecrests, whether they wear Jedi Ranger robes or hideous Cosby Show sweaters. At the core of Babylon 5 is the belief, stated by Delenn (paraphrasing Carl Sagan), that “we are starstuff. We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out.”  This is, above all, a story about people trying to comprehend their relationship to the unknowable forces governing their lives: destiny, history, love, hate.

It’s because these are people who feel like real people.  They are a dizzying mixture of virtues and vulnerabilities, and we both love and hate them in turn. The goodnatured, easy-going security chief is also a recovering alcoholic.  The bombastic, corrupt Centauri ambassador is an unexpected romantic. The severe, mysterious Vorlon has a hidden sense of humor.  War heroes cope with battle scars, both physical and spiritual.  No character is completely “good” or “evil,” and no one is beyond the power of redemption or sacrifice. We watch as a favorite character sells his soul, and as another one finds his after a lifetime of hatred.  We are troubled by the paths traveled by these people as they struggle to discover their purpose in the universe, how best to serve, and who they can trust.

It’s because of the moments.  As Dr. Franklin states at one point in Season 3, “The moments are all we’ve got.”  It’s because this series is heartbreakingly beautiful in its exploration of betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, and love – love of every kind.  It’s because of those moments when prophecy is revealed and the moments when prophecy is fulfilled in ways no one could have expected.  Yes, the series starts off a little slow, but if you stick it out, you get the most beautiful of stories which, like all beautiful stories, takes a little time to grow.

In the end, it’s because these beautifully flawed people – straight, not-straight, alien, human, progressive, conservative, believers and questioners – all find a place in the wide, frightening universe. They make choices, for better or for worse. They refuse to accept the status quo.  And in the end, it’s not because they are special, but because they’re us.  I can’t say it better than JMS does in the final episode (don’t worry, it’s not too spoilerrific):

“Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future or others will do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another, because if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope, that there can always be new beginnings. Even for people like us.” – Susan Ivanova

That’s why I keep coming back to B5.  Because of the hope.


Mamas, Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Geeks

My eternal apologies to Willie Nelson.

I have a confession to make. I’m a geek. Some of you might know this; some of you may have only suspected. Many of you who know me don’t know the depths of my geekiness.  I’ve been listening to the Babble On Project podcast (plug!), and as a result, I’m coming out of the shadows (if you get the reference, you’re clearly a Fiver, and we’ll get along).  It’s been such a joy, and it’s pushed me to come clean: I’m not a dabbler, nor a lurker; I’m an all-out geek.  I have a comic book collection, and a Tumblr. I know my Trek, and I’ve written fan fiction.  Babylon 5 changed my life, and I push that show on everyone I meet like it’s crystal meth (but crystal meth made with one cohesive, five-season serialized plotline, instead of with stockpiled Sudafed. Seriously. Watch it. All the cool kids are doing it).

I am a geek.  More than that, I am a girl geek.  A female fanboy. A she-nerd.

We girl geeks are everywhere. Sometimes, we’re wearing ComiCon tshirts and Converses. Sometimes, we’re dressed in all black, tatted out. Sometimes, we’ve got our iPods cranked up, blasting Florence + the Machine and thinking that the lyrics must be talking about Character A’s storyarc this season.  Sometimes, we are LARPers (for those not in the know, Google is your friend). And sometimes, we’re the girl in heels and pearls, grabbing a coffee after teaching class and surfing Tumblr in the coffeeshop.  Window seat.  And we’re probably also blasting Florence (seriously, you can’t tell me she’s not a Fiver).

It’s not easy to be both a girl and a geek.  It can be isolating and embarrassing. Teenagers can be cruel.  Being open in your geekiness might cost you homecoming court, or a pageant tiara, or a quarterback boyfriend.  And some days, it’s no easier to fit in at 24 than it was at 14.

Why raise your daughter to be a geek, then?

Raise your daughter to be a geek because geekdom is a beautiful place. In geekdom, it’s okay to be a strong woman, to be a smart woman, to be a funny woman.  It’s great.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she will have amazing role models.  Instead of autotuned pop singers, sexcapader reality “stars,” and tv-drama-heroines with serious attachment issues, she will see starship captains, warrior mothers, female presidents, girl geniuses: all genuine heroines. She’ll see normal girls and women, not Barbie dolls, who really can do anything they set their minds to do.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she will get to see beauty, and bravery, and sacrifice.  Feed her stories about people (of all races, genders, sexual identities, faiths) making difficult choices in the face of daunting odds.   Let her see Buffy give her life for her sister. Let her see the survivors of Flight 815 form a community to stand against evil.  Let her read about the Pevensies growing in faith and bravery. Give her the chance to see these things.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she needs joy and enthusiasm.  Let’s be honest: often, life is less than we deserve, and it is too easy to become tired and jaded.  What makes geekdom so countercultural is not the spaceship saltshakers, the fake Hobbit ears, or the Klingon desk dictionary.  It’s the joy.  We live in a society that encourages constant, empty pursuit and perennial dissatisfaction.  Geeks are joyful. We never worry about keeping our cool because, to be frank, coolness has never been in our possession.  We love what we love and we want to share it with everyone else.  That’s so radical.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she will surround herself with other geeks. Friendship is an oft-neglected relationship in our culture, where girls are pitted against each other in competition and the only legitimate relationship is one defined by the ability to attract boys.  As a result, women make it to their 20s unable to form fast friendships. Don’t do this to your daughter.  Give her the chance to find joyful, awkward, nerdy friends, to surround herself with people who will share in her joys and encourage her via Joss Whedon metaphors (“You know…this situation reminds me of ‘The Zeppo’…”).  Let her form her own Flight 815 (though hopefully with less fuselage damage). What’s more, geek unity is stronger than ever due to the internet. Let her find her own community of people who love what she loves and want to multiply that love.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because you will give her the gift of an unrestrained imagination.  Life without dreaming is gray and tense; teach her whimsy and color and starlight.  One of the most dangerous habits is to think that we know everything, that there’s nothing left to be marveled at.  If being a geek has taught me anything, it’s that the universe is full of wonder and joy and the Great Mystery. And that is worth protecting and passing on.

Not all of you will have daughters. Not all of you will have children.  But some of you will.  And some of you will meet young geeks, both boys and girls.  Encourage them. Give them books about warrior mice in Abbeys, and truly wretched Extended Universe works. Hand them a paintbrush.  Let them tell you all about this classic TV show they’ve just discovered about a girl who kills vampires, or about a space station and a war against Shadow aliens.  And do more than listen.  Share.  If you’re a geek yourself, tell them.  They need to know that it turns out okay for misfits like us.



In celebration of the beauty that is geekiness, I will be dedicating a series of blog posts to the books, tv series, and other works that inspire my geekish joy. My hope is to start a dialogue and maybe to introduce some of you newbie geeks to the great works that have shaped who I am as a writer, a teacher, a counselor, and a geek.  So be on the lookout for my Bug Chronicles weekly posts. There will be squeeing, and you don’t want to miss that.


A Great Big Pile of Words

Some of you l0yal listeners – hey, Mom! – might have noticed that my wee little corner of the web has been sorely neglected over the past few months.  If you were wondering why, I’m here to explain.


Writing and I are on strained terms right now.  If this was Facebook, I’d be “in a relationship and it’s complicated” with writing.  I have a dozen saved drafts on this blog, and by “drafts,” I really mean “three lines that I have deleted and rewritten fifteen times already and am sick of looking at.”  If you’re reading this, it means that this draft won’t be joining the rest of those awkward written wallflowers. If you’re not reading this…does it exist? That’s theory, and I am half-sick of theory (said the grad student of Shalott).


I’m not sure where this is coming from.  I’ve been writing for two decades – it’s always been therapeutic.  Even on the crappiest, most discouraging, sludgiest days, I’ve always been able to look in the mirror and at least know that I’m a writer. And not just that; I actually write.  One of my great fears is becoming one of those writers who don’t actually write.  The last six months have been an uncharacteristic dry spell.  I could probably blame grad school.  That’s my default position, and it usually works (certainly to explain my carpal tunnel and dating life), but I wonder if there’s something else going on here.


When – and why – are we all written out? And how do we recharge?


In my life and work, I produce words.  I spend my days teaching students (verbal eruption, usually, no matter how hard I try), talking to my coworkers, talking online to friends, writing emails, writing texts, writing lesson plans, more chatting with my coworkers. By the time the end of the day rolls around, I’m drowning in words. I feel that the words I produce accomplish less and less the more I pile them on.  It’s as if we spend our days building layer upon layer of words until we end up with a snarled rubber-band-ball of the words we’ve thrown out into the world, trying to prove that we were here.   And isn’t that at least partially why we write?  Let’s be honest: those of us who write for others to read don’t do it because of “the inner self” or something terribly Modernist like that.  We want to be recognized, to leave something in our wake, so we produce more and clutter up the silence with chatter.  I’ve become a chatterer in my life, and all the din is overwhelming the part of me that has something to write about.


I’ve been letting the field lay fallow for a little while because of word-clutter, when what I really should be doing is cleaning out that clutter.  Listening more, and talking less.  Now, to be fair, I have a lot to say.  And usually what I have to say is constructive in some way.  But do I really need to be answering that text message that has nothing to say but “hey”? (Seriously. No punctuation marks, no nothing.  That effort doesn’t deserve rewarding anyway). And do I really need to send out fourteen emails to my students when one will suffice?  There’s nothing I can do about my wordy capstone paper – blame Henry James (blessed be his name forever and ever amen) – but I can at least revise more thoroughly and cut all my fancy “academicky” words, the ones that don’t actually mean anything.


There’s an Eddie Murphy movie (which, I confess, I  have not seen) in which Murphy’s character learns his life will be measured out by a finite number of words. Once he uses them up, that’s the end for him.  While that’s a terrifying fate, can’t we all learn a little bit about saving the words we have?


Well, I’m a work in progress. I’ll keep you all posted.

In Defense of Television, or Don’t Call Me, My Stories are On!

There are a few behaviors that lower a person in my self-esteem almost irreparably.  There are the big ones, like drug dealing, participation in genocide, and doing anything ironically (more on this one at a later date.  Oh my, there is more on this one.)


These are people I simply don’t need in my life.  Along with the drug dealers, genociders, and hipsters, there’s another subset of the human race – closely related to the hipsters, as a matter of fact.


They are the people who don’t watch television.


I should clarify.  The absence of a television in one’s life does not make one a member of this group.  This is a different situation, one that is all too common in the brilliant world of academia.  In casual conversation, these are the people who wait until after you confess that your Friday night ritual involves a self-pedicure, a frozen pizza, and two straight hours of Say Yes to the Dress to inform you, rather smugly, that they don’t watch television. Cue awkward pause.  


Well, la-dee-fricking-DAH.


Because we Humanities students are taught to read between the lines, we recognize what these people are implying:


“While you’re filling your mind with the overprocessed product of the mainstream media, I spend my evenings reading Kafka and listening to my lifepartner play his sitar while we recline in the yurt we built in our backyard last year after our last spiritual retreat in Kazakhstan.  It’s so wonderful to be liberated from the stream of misinformation and mental clutter.  It makes me a better person.”


Better than what, exactly?


I’m not saying that everything on television is great. Heck, I’m not saying that most of what’s on television is great.  However, I will say that TV is not the correct focus for the frustrations of the educated elite.  Instead, it is a vital part of our culture, and can be a unifying force.


I have a confession: I love television. I love it. During the regular season, I follow a half-dozen shows more or less religiously.  I grew up with television characters.  My parents never “let the TV raise their children,” as the saying goes, but we all used to tune in together and enjoy our favorite programs.  We still do.  And I have to say, we all turned out all right.  Even me.


Yes, much of what we find on television is unhealthy. Certainly the rash of crime procedurals feeds our constant sense of mistrust in others (how many serial killers can there be in the city of New York, guys? Really? Because you all find one every three weeks).  The number of “reality” shows following the daily movements of “celebrities” is possibly harmful to young people’s sense of self (what exactly is a Kardashian? Can anyone tell me?).  


That being said, there’s a lot of good happening on both our network and cable TV stations.  How many young people have been helped by the inspirational messages preached by Glee?  I’ve been out of high school for years and I still feel uplifted by the show’s dedication to the joy of figuring out who you are (through song and dance).  Once Upon a Time is a delightful exploration of the myths that have defined Western culture – who can’t relate to a fairy tale?  When I watch Revenge, I know I’m for a lively discussion of the ethics of justice and vengeance (accompanied by ninja fights, dramatic pauses, and truly great hair extensions).  Shows like Supernatural have broken the 4th wall, asking questions about the meaning of fiction and reality, the role of the audience member, and the suspension of disbelief necessary to sustain a life of the imagination (any series where the characters fall into an alternate universe where they must pretend to be the actors playing themselves in a televised version of their lives is going to get my attention).  


Do you see where I’m going here?  We have this assumption that there is “high culture” and “low culture.” Curiously enough, what was once mainstream (i.e. Shakespeare) so often becomes “elite” over time.  Who is to say that the Twilight Zone won’t survive another 500 years of “readership?”  Or that humanities classes in 2061 won’t be watching episodes of LOST?


I’m not saying that we need to replace our literature with television.  What I’m saying is that we don’t need to put ourselves above the “mass media.”  Let’s be real about this: even those people who don’t watch television secretly watch Teen Wolf on hulu when nobody’s watching.  Don’t lie to me.


We should rejoice in a mass media that does provide so many options for engaging in narratives, for asking questions about the universe, for uniting with our neighbors over a shared concern regarding The Good Wife’s romantic future (she really does deserve better, after all).  Maybe it’s time to stop our diatribes against the evils of mass media (which usually sound like “blah blah blah corporate power blah blah blah must liberate from the dominant paradigm blah blah blah” to normal people who don’t read Marx and who don’t find their lives diminished by that lack).  


Maybe it’s time to embrace our shared cultural treasure.  Yes, television has a great potential for evil. It can desensitize us to violence.  It can make us feel that we don’t matter.  It can isolate us.  But let’s be honest: so can interacting with the wrong people who have the wrong priorities.  Television also has a great potential for the truth, and if we treat it as a part of who we are, rather than as an artifact of the unenlightened masses, then maybe it will live up to that potential.


Edward R. Murrow once said, “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”


So what’s wrong with a little escapism if it brings forth truth?

My Truest Self, or Everything I Need to Know about Life, I Learned at Church Camp

As many of you know, I am busy living the dream as a TA and graduate student at North Carolina State University.  As many of you also know, that is only one-half of my life.  Like Bruce Wayne, I have a secret identity, and when summer starts to show its face through beams of sunlight and a spike in humidity, I dust off my utility belt/Chacos and head down to the Katie-Cave to watch for the signal.

That’s right. By fall-and-spring semesters, I am a mild-mannered (hah! I kid, I kid) graduate student and writing instructor. But by summer, I am…a camp counselor.  And not just any camp counselor.

I counsel church camp.

I repeat, I counsel church camp.  I went to church camp as a camper for nine years.  I worked at church camp during the summers when I was in college and my friends were backpacking through Europe or doing internships or, I don’t know, dating boys.  Heck, I even directed church camp between college and putting off the real world (AKA graduate school).  So there you have it. I am a church camp addict, a church camp freak – a total church camp nerd. I have the staff t-shirts, the bumper stickers, and a decade’s worth of awkward pictures stashed in a box in my closet.

It is sometimes difficult to convey the importance of these weeks to those who are not “in the know,” so to speak. It’s the kind of experience that’s not the easiest to put into words.  However, since I’m an Englishy person who needs to at least try the impossible, here goes:

Church camp has taught me about being a better person. I say “about being” rather than “how to be” because although I’ve learned the following lessons at camp, I won’t claim to follow them all of the time.  I’ve heard it said more than once that it’s easy to be at your best at camp; once you leave, the world steps in and it’s a lot tougher to be that person once the post-camp high wears off.  I’m in a post-camp high right now, as a matter of fact.  I just finished a wonderful week counseling CYF Conference at Camp Caroline in NC last week. Therefore, these truths are burning brightly in my soul right now. I think I’m recording them for posterity, so that in the midst of bleak January, when the paper-work and the mental-work and the money-work piles up so high that the soul-work gets lost in the rubble, I’ll have this to look at to remind me a little bit about being my best person – my truest person.

I think that’s what it is.  Now that I think about it, I don’t think it’s a matter of being your “best” person (because what on Earth does that even mean?).  Camp allows you to be your truest person, the one you are in your soul of souls, by taking away all of the distractions – electronic, job-related, and personal – that get in-between you and your truth.  It’s a safe place to be yourself, the self that God intends for you to be. And that’s a brave thing to do – being that person.  We’re vulnerable when we open ourselves up to others, putting all of our flaws on display – and we’re even more vulnerable when we’re putting our strengths on display, I think.  My friend Allison refers to “spiritual gifts” that we all have, and I think we often keep these gifts hidden (under a bushel, if you want) because we’re afraid.  We’re embarrassed.  Camp has always been a safe place for me to let those gifts out, to be that person that I’m meant to be.

Camp is a microcosm of a life lived to the fullest.  In a week, you can live more than you’ll live for the remaining 51 in the year. Is it any wonder that I’ve learned the biggest truths at camp?  I’d like to share them with you, in hopes of explaining just how great an impact camp has on all who are involved with it.  I’m certain that those of you who are camp-addicts like me have your own truths, but maybe you’ll find something that resonates with you here as well.  If you’re comfortable, I’d love it if you’d add your truths (maybe on the comments page to this blog?) – if only because sharing is caring.

1. Sometimes, you just have to laugh. Or sing. Or dance.  Or cry.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that I learned how to laugh at church camp.  Not the kind of laughter that is spurred on by the Daily Show, or the kind of laughter you let out when you’re embarrassed, or even the laughter you share with friends over a few drinks at trivia night. I mean laughing for sheer joy, laughing because you’re alive and because Creation is a beautiful place and because you’re taking air into your lungs.  That’s what I mean.  This laughter is a prayer in and of itself, a message of praise to the Creator.  Singing and dancing for joy, simply because you can.

And camp has also proved that, in the words of Gandalf, “Not all tears are an evil.”  At camp, we cry together.  We weep for joy, for sadness, for pain and the relief of it.  We cry because we’ve been laughing too hard.  Sometimes, we don’t know why we cry, but we do.  I cried the entire way through Senior Worship at Camp Caroline last week, but not out of sadness. I wept because of the overwhelming grace I saw in the graduating seniors, who have so much potential and spirit and wonder about them. And that was no evil.

Last week at CYF Conference, I don’t think I went ten feet without hearing laughter or singing or shouting for joy.  It was an amazing thing to see. In my daily life, I am not a terribly open person.  I’m sociable, sure,  and I have friends, but I’m kind of closed-off.  It’s a coping mechanism that helps me deal with the stress of my daily life.  Camp teaches me that I have to experience the air I breathe in, and choose whether I want to return that air to God in a huff of stress or in a song of joy and thankfulness.

On that note…

2. You cannot plan everything. Sometimes you have to simply let life happen.

This is possibly the hardest truth for me, and it’s one I have yet to accept fully. I am a worrier.  Seriously.  Not only am I diagnosable, but I have been diagnosed. Chronic stress.  I like things to be planned out and for my time to be regimented. It often comes in handy, in terms of my academic success and the cleanliness of my apartment, but it can choke out other things, like love and life.

When you’re working camp, you learn that a day will rarely turn out how you plan – and that’s not a bad thing.  The most beautiful moments are unscripted, whether it’s a spontaneous singalong or a worship that goes a half-hour over time because everyone is genuinely connected to God and each other.

You have to be open to the unscripted moments.  You can’t be afraid to look silly – chances are, you need to look silly.  The spontaneous moments are God sending you an opportunity to let out the joy, the silliness, or the depth you keep leashed tightly inside the shell of reputation and personality that we all build up. And responding to an unexpected shift can make a huge difference to someone whose needs might just get met by that silly moment, by that affirmation circle, by that group hug or that second Morning Watch.

I’m working on this one – just call me a work in progress.

3. You can never say “I love you” enough.

Once upon a time, a very wise mentor from my camp years said to me, “You are loved. And that’s not a bad thing.”   Can you tell he knows me?

Church camp taught me to be comfortable with those words, to say them when I feel them, and (more importantly) to accept them when they are offered to me.  Because I’m prickly. I hear the word “love,” and I get this “deer-in-headlights” look in my eyes and start seeking the nearest fire exit.  And I don’t think I’m alone here. We live in a world where love is so often tangled up in expectations, pressures, and a host of other nasty, ugly little things that the true meaning of love, of agape, is lost to us.  We’re leery of love, and of people who tell us that they love us, especially if it is a kind of love that doesn’t fit into society’s me-centered definitions of love and affection.  Camp friendships simply don’t fit into any classification – and that’s what makes it so special. I have a hard time explaining the bonds between camp friends to someone who has never experienced them.  We rarely see each other, but we genuinely love one another – and want the best for each other.  We celebrate each others’ joys and weep for each others’ sorrows, even if we’ve all been scattered the world over.

Could it be that we’re all so close because we have seen each other’s truest selves?  We’ve bared our souls, laughed and cried together, broken bread together, lived together.  We become a part of a greater whole, and of each other.  That’s love.  And though I rarely say the words outside of my family (who have gone through the camp experience with me – so they count), I say it all the time to my camp friends.  Because it’s true, and I can’t give these people anything less than my truest self.

4. People grow and change. You have to let them.

This is one that I am learning now.  Sure, it’s a truth that applies to life in general, but I think it becomes so much more evident at camp, where you see people once a year for a decade or more. Sometimes we forget that as we’re growing, so are the people around us.  We want to punish or praise people for who they were, for who they have been, without recognizing that they are, that they are in constant flux, growing and evolving and changing as people.

As a result, we don’t forgive, we don’t forget, and most importantly, we don’t ever correct our misapprehensions about people.  Camp has taught me that I am not always the judge of character that I like to think myself, and that first impressions are rarely correct.  It has taken me a long time to realize that by judging someone for what I used to think about them, I was missing out on the chance to know them as they are.  And that was my fault, and my loss.

On the other hand, camp has given me the opportunity to “start over” with people, as well as the opportunity to let old friendships evolve into new ones – and these friendships have meant the world to me. I mean, I grew up with these people.  The campers and counselors have been a constant in my life through the hardships and the transitions and the bleak times.  Camp is forever, and I am now realizing how lucky I’ve been to have that kind of constant in my life.

5. At some point, you have to forgive yourself for not being someone else.

Forgiveness is a much-underappreciated virtue in our society.  Really, in any society.  It is hard to forgive others – but it’s even harder to forgive ourselves and to accept ourselves.  Camp was a really important part of my journey towards accepting myself because I knew that everyone around me already accepted me, warts and all.

We beat ourselves up for the smallest things, don’t we? Things we should have said, things we shouldn’t have said, things we should have done, things we shouldn’t have done…the list is endless.  Being at camp, whether up on Rocky Knob at Christmount or on the pier at Camp Caroline, teaches me that the things I’m punishing myself for pale in comparison to the grace that created all the beauty around me, the grace that created me. I am good enough for God, so I ought to be good enough for myself, right?

No matter how bleak the night might seem, the sun will rise over the mountains or the water and the day will begin again. And I am good enough for that new day, for this Creation around me, for the laughter and the songs that surround me, for the beauty of the silence and the noise of nature and the love of others.

I am good enough.

And I am not alone.

That’s pretty powerful stuff.


A Christmas tidbit

It’s that time of the year again, folks: it’s Christmas.  For members of my family, the Christmas season begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year.  In the span of roughly one month, we watch Christmas movie marathons of Olympic length, wear truly horrendous sweaters that we should be ashamed of (can you embarass the shameless?), and drink enough eggnog to drown a herd of reindeer (do reindeer travel in herds?  Or is it packs?  Gaggles?).

I am an unapologetic Christmas Freak.  I am that person who sings Christmas songs in the grocery store, the one you want to strangle because they’re going through all fourteen verses of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” while standing in front of the jam selection.  I am that person who really does answer the phone like Buddy the Elf (“What’s your favorite color?”), who walks around in a sort of tinsel-draped haze, spurred on by massive consumption of Christmas goodies and eggnog.  I am every sane person’s worst nightmare during this season, and you know what?

I don’t care.

I would not describe myself as a wide-eyed optimist by any means, but I do believe in the spirit of Christmas.  For thh month of December, my normal pessimism is magically transformed into peppermint-flavored joy.  For the month of December, I DO believe in Santa Claus, thank you very much.  I also believe in goodwill towards men, women, children and various furry creatures.  At the age of 21, I still always believe that I will see a white Christmas – a rare occurance in North Carolina, let me say. 

Now, while I do appreciate the religious holiday, that’s not really the “Christmas” I am speaking of.  The holiday season transcends religious, racial, and cultural institutions, as well as the commercialization of December 25th.  There is something about this season, a sort of crackling in the air, a feeling of possibility in the ringing in of the New Year. 

I believe in Christmas, and the world can’t do nothin’ about it.  So there.