Thursday, May 27, 2010


All the cool kids keep enthusiasm rationed
Right down to the last explosive ounce
But I'd rather indulge my many passions
Even if my squaritude's a little too pronounced
--"Nerd Anthem," Marian Call

So, the recent Geek Pride Day has gotten me thinking. (That's right, the li'l woman's gonna HOLD FORTH! Run for your lives!)

like to tweak recipes. I'll fiddle with ingredients, substituting a food I have on hand for something similar in the original, or change the method of preparation, trying to come up with ways to shorten prep time, improve nutrition, enhance or alter textures and flavors. It's not that the original recipe was bad; far from it. It's just that I view most recipes as a jumping-off point for creativity, and over time I'm going to find alterations that better suit my own tastes.

Likewise, my opinions are a continual work in progress. Today I may espouse a concept I perceive as good, but in future if I come across another idea that seems more true or right than my current understanding, I'm likely to exchange the old idea for the new one -- or to pour them together and watch the ensuing fireworks.

What do these things have to do with passions? Well, in both examples -- recipes and ideas -- if I'm going to change something, I'm always looking to trade up. I wouldn't keep a recipe change that ended up making the dish more bland, and I wouldn't trade a positive worldview for a philosophy that made my outlook a little more gray. Yet this is exactly what so many people seem to settle for when it comes to their personal interests -- the things they get passionate about, the things they really love.

Our society, starting at least in junior high school and possibly earlier, frowns on public display of too much exuberance -- and "too much" is a fluctuating quantifier. Peers teach by example that it isn't cool to express too much of a keen interest in anything. Fashion magazines show exotically-featured, riotously-dressed people in faraway and exciting locales, looking -- you guessed it -- bored. Adults in full handmade costume, waiting for the midnight showing of the latest fantasy/SF movie, are openly mocked on the evening news as embarrassing or immature -- no matter that these folks hold down respectable day jobs, are good neighbors and loyal friends, and can laugh at themselves; their frankly displayed passion for the things they love makes others uncomfortable.

There's even a derisive term for the act of pursuing your passions without concern for societal dictates. It's called "geeking out."

I went through a time in high school where I feared being labeled a geek of any kind. I hid my interest in computers, did not volunteer the information that I loved nearly every reading assignment in English class, and hid in the library to read Zenna Henderson books, cringing at the thought that someone else might catch me reading science fiction. Only my family knew I was a fearsome opponent at Trivial Pursuit. I wrote bits and pieces of stories in my spiral notebook, but I nearly died of embarrassment when I temporarily misplaced it and had it returned to me by someone who had obviously read every page. Yes, I adored writing, but it just wasn't cool, was it?

Things began to change in college, when I started running into and making friends with people who weren't ashamed to own their passions -- passions for things like tabletop gaming, fighting with foam weapons, storytelling, watching Japanese animation, creating their own languages, performing folk songs about Star Trek, making and wearing costumes more than once a year. Even if I didn't share all their passions -- and I didn't -- I began to appreciate their boldness in expressing their interests, their lack of need for outside validation. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And it was fun.

What I eventually discovered is that concealing your passions -- hiding your light under a bushel -- is no way to live. When I do things I really love without worrying too much what others might think of me, life becomes brighter and keener and more interesting; when I try to conform to society's idea of blasé restraint, it takes the light and flavor and gusto out of existence. Why would I trade down for a mode of behavior that's less fulfilling, less conducive to my happiness?

A few weeks ago, during the craft fair, one particular person approached our table and was -- well, the proper word is "overjoyed," really -- at the Star Wars Lego pins we had for sale. She began squeeing with delight, called all her friends over to take a look, summarily purchased a pin and put it on, and was practically dancing with giddiness over what she'd found. Her joy made me smile -- both at the thought that she really wanted something I'd made, and at her complete lack of concern over what people might think of her reaction. To her way of thinking, she had found THE BEST THING EVER and wanted to proclaim it to the world at large. It was awesome.

The Romans had a term for it: de gustibus non est disputandum. Our society seems to understand this maxim when it comes to literal taste, as with food, a pleasure that seems wholly subjective and thus not open to much dispute. But it seems to have a hard time applying the idea to personal interests, subjects we love, things we "geek out" over.

No, William Shatner, geeks don't need to "get a life." They understand what so many others do not: that the whole point of existence is to discover who you are. Among other things, that journey involves discovering and embracing one's individual passions, and ignoring society when it mocks others for the crime of publicly and unabashedly enjoying the things they truly love.

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