On Coping Mechanisms, or Reflections on My First Auto Repair Job, Week 2

I posted this on Facebook last week, but forgot to post it here. So here it is; sorry for the delay!

 

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Lesser known fact: I’ve been writing characters with PTSD since before I knew what PTSD was.

I’ve just always had one or two characters running around in my novels (which I started writing in 5th grade) with some disastrous tragic past, who are now navigating a world where this is mostly not relevant to their everyday life, but just because it’s not relevant doesn’t mean it’s not always there, capable of snapping to the forefront if they see something, smell something, hear something, taste something. This just seemed to me like a perfectly logical way for a mind to cope with unthinkable amounts of stress and trauma while remaining functional that I had no idea that it was a diagnosable condition, and that some people don’t understand or even believe in things like triggers.

Of course, once I was a worldly 8th or 9th grader, I at some point learned of the existence of PTSD and did some research in the hope of writing my PTSD-afflicted characters in more authentic and realistic ways. But pretty much everything I found aligned just fine with the ways I was already writing the characters, based on the logic of how I perceived a person’s psyche would react to their sorts of situations. I had essentially deduced PTSD and some of the various manifestations of it: triggers, flashbacks, emotional outbursts, self-imposed isolation, frustration and self-loathing at the betrayal of one’s own body and mind, insomnia, insecurity over being perceived as weak because of it, undercurrents of anxiety at being unsure when/how bad the next attack could be, health issues outside of attacks (like high blood pressure), and coping mechanisms.

Lots and lots of coping mechanisms.

I personally did not begin to have anxiety issues until the past few years, and the outright panic attacks didn’t start until a couple of years ago. (I actually have a Facebook note — and post here — about when the first one happened and why, because of course I do.)

 

 

I usually don’t think about my own life in terms of coping mechanisms, because I don’t have PTSD/a diagnosed condition, and my anxiety attacks are usually so sporadic that I almost totally forget about them in between. This is not super great, because then when they hit me, every time, it feels like they’ve just come out of nowhere and that I don’t have the tools to deal with them, because I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis.

But after last week’s spate of repeated attacks with barely any respite between them, I couldn’t afford not to develop some tools for myself. Or at least to hone the ones that have lain dormant in the back of my brain. I mean, I think I do use these all the time, but unconsciously, automatically, and I think I need to start employing them in a more deliberate, methodical way, instead of just relying on my brain to kick in with them when I need it to, because clearly my brain is tired of being taken for granted and would appreciate a little jump start (#carjoke).

Years of writing PTSD-riddled characters has left me with a wealth of underutilized coping mechanisms just hanging around back there. I haven’t technically written any fiction in over a year, but over the past decade and a half, I’ve spent countless hours inside the heads of these characters, a headspace where coping mechanisms are second-nature; I’m sure they won’t mind if I borrow a few.

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So the idea behind the rest of this post is to compile some kind of list and explanations of various coping mechanisms that I’ve been using since my last panic attack. (It’s been a week and a half, for those keeping score at home; it’s been a fantastic week and a half, actually.) The list is by no means definitive or comprehensive, and of course not every technique is right for every situation. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of flexibility here. Stress and anxiety are many-headed and adaptable monsters, and trying to counter with exclusively the same move over and over again is rarely going to stay effective. You have to set your phaser to a rotating frequency (#StarTrekjoke).

Exposure Therapy

Again, a technical term I only learned about wayyyyy after I’d been utilizing it for years. Basically, the way I cope with my fears is to bulldoze right through them.

I remember during my gap year in Israel before college, one of my classmates had one of those bags with so-called inspirational phrases slathered all over it, but the only phrase I remember was: “Do one thing a day that scares you.” And I started doing that, maybe not once a day, but once in a while, and I learned to think in terms of what scares me, which at that point in time was a lot of things. Like, talking to that teacher. Or approaching that classmate. Or asking that family if they could host me for a meal. Or going into the Chabad house to see what it was like. Scary stuff. Or at least, scary until you’ve done it once or twice. Then it’s easy.

I gradually graduated from tiny little fears to bigger and bigger ones. Distilled thought process: “This scares me. Why does it scare me? Do the reasons include ‘likely to cause bodily harm, financial disaster, or extensive emotional damage’? No? Then DO IT.”

Afraid to tell that really cute guy he’s cute? TELL HIM. Afraid to write that really personal essay? WRITE IT. Afraid to post it online? POST IT. Afraid to tell that guy you really want to date that you really want to date him? TELL HIM. Afraid to let those people see you without makeup? LET THEM. Afraid to perform at that Open Mic? PERFORM AT IT. Afraid to go to that party where you might not know anyone? GO TO IT. Afraid to start a conversation with a stranger on a train? START IT. Afraid to hang out with that person from the internet that you barely know? HANG OUT WITH THEM. Afraid to travel alone and go hostel hopping for two weeks? DO IT. Afraid to let your new boyfriend see your vulnerabilities? LET HIM. Afraid to say hi to Kevin Bacon when you practically bump into him on the street? SAY HI TO KEVIN BACON; IT’S FRIKKING KEVIN BACON.

 

HI KEVIN BACON!!
HI KEVIN BACON!!

 

All of these things — the more you do them, the less scary they become. At least for me. (Kevin Bacon is super nice, tbh.) I can’t tell you that the fear always goes away entirely, because in certain areas, it definitely does not. But if you know you’ve faced a fear in the past and lived, it’s easier to face it again in the present.
People I know have at times referred to me as “fearless.” That is categorically false, of course. I just have a compulsive need to face my fears, conquer them, beat them into submission. Sometimes this is a bad strategy and results in me damaging my mental health by forcing myself into situations that I ought to have walked away from rather than trying to beat. As I’ve noted in the past, a tactical retreat is not cowardice. But it runs counter to my need not to be controlled by my fears, so sometimes I err on the side of recklessness.

But essentially what I’m saying here is that when that horrible empty feeling and subsequent panic attacks made me afraid to go back to work, I instinctively felt that the only viable path open to me was to GO BACK TO WORK.

 

Identification and Verbal Acknowledgement

One of my greatest talents is my ability to wordify my thoughts. Sometimes this is easier than other times, because honestly sometimes I don’t have thoughts; I just have feelings. Sometimes a feeling will put the whammy on me in the span of a split second — between one bite of my meal and another, I can go from ravenously hungry to losing my appetite completely. It happened a lot last week. I would feel fine and then BAM. The cliched description of it is “that sinking feeling” in your gut, but it’s really more like “that sudden sheer drop off the Cliffs of Insanity feeling” (#PrincessBrideJoke) (#whyamihashtaggingallmyreferences #idontknow #cantstopwontstop)

And because that kind of dramatic loss of appetite and sheer drop feeling is often a precursor to an anxiety attack for me, my immediate reaction when I’m caught unawares is, “Oh god oh god it’s happening again oh god I don’t know what to do what do I do what do I do whatdoIdoWHATDOIDO????” And of course a thought process like THAT is just magnifying the unknowns in the situation, rather than focusing on what I do know. Known quantities are inherently more calming than unknowns. In the opening of the most recent Hunger Games movie, the heroine Katniss Everdeen is shown rocking back and forth, whispering, “Start with what you know. My name is Katniss Everdeen. I survived the Hunger Games,” etc. This is not just handy exposition but a very real way of coping with PTSD, from which Katniss most certainly suffers.

I’ve found it helpful to verbally identify the known factors as specifically as possible. I’ve obviously done this a lot through my writing, but writing is for when I have a chance to sit down and compose eloquent paragraphs of thoughts after having had some time to reflect and ponder and ruminate, which is not the case most of the time. In the moment, my thoughts are scrambled and fragmented, and I need to grasp at all the straws and pull as many of them together as I can. And it helps to whisper it to myself, to say it aloud. For instance:

“I just lost my appetite. I don’t know exactly why. I’m feeling anxious. I’m feeling anxious because I lost my appetite and I don’t know why. And my throat is closing up and it’s getting harder to breathe and swallowing is making me nauseous and I don’t know if I’m going to throw up. But feeling anxious made me lose my appetite in the first place. So all this other stuff is definitely adding to the anxiety, but I’m anxious about something else too.”

And then I have to be honest with myself about what is scaring me at the moment. It may surprise you to hear me say this, but honesty is hard. But I have to be brutally honest with myself; I can’t pretend to be better than my fears, no matter how much I wish I were, because I can never deal with them if I can’t admit them, and my gut knows when I’m lying (and often when other people are lying) and has a violent aversion to it.

Sample:

“I’m anxious because I don’t feel happy. I don’t know if this job is right for me. Imagining a future of doing this feels suddenly suffocating and I don’t know what I want anymore. And I’m afraid that means that one of my exes was right, that this isn’t for me, and I really really don’t want him to have been right. And I’m afraid that maybe that other friend of mine was right and that the reason I’m unhappy is because I think I’m better than this. And I don’t want to think like that; I don’t want to be that person. I’m afraid that the only jobs that will satisfy me are the really mentally challenging and exhausting and impossible ones, and I’m afraid that I’m scared to try them because I’m afraid to fail. And I’m afraid that succeeding still might not make me happy.”

Admitting that I was unhappy was a hard thing to do, which clearly meant that it was a major key. (Back to exposure therapy: often the more difficult something is, the more you need to face it.) Same thing with acknowledging that walking away might be my best choice, and to forgive myself for it if it was.

“It’s okay to walk away from this. I have a college degree, I have a wide support system, I have money in the bank, I have no debt, I have plenty of time, I have options.”

And what unexpectedly helped me a lot was when I calculated how much I would earn at this job, at this rate of pay and the number of hours I’m willing to work, and it turned out to be only around 11 or 12 thousand dollars a year (post tax), which is clearly not a sustainable rate of pay to cover NYC rent, insurance, cell phone bills, food, potential car payments, retirement funds, etc, and that hammered home for me how very very temporary this is, and how there’s no need to envision a suffocating future when this is obviously not going to be it. So for my first day back at work this week, whenever that chokey sinking feeling started to hit, my mantra was:

“I’m unhappy right now, but that’s okay because this is not forever. I can leave anytime I want.”

(That’s how I tend to get through synagogue services, by the way, by reassuring myself that I can leave whenever I want. And sometimes I do. So far, I haven’t come close to leaving my job early, but knowing that I can makes everything so much easier.)

And that chokey sinking feeling has all but gone away as my mind has begun to internalize how transitory this job is. A fun detour is much more enjoyable than a necessary stepping stone. And maybe eventually I’ll come to enjoy it enough that it will change from a detour back into a stepping stone and I’ll rise through the ranks of this profession. But that’s not something I need to know right now.

Support System

Don’t be afraid to fall on your support system — hard. It’s tough to reach out to people. It’s tough to admit that you need help. But if you have a support system, if you have good friends, if you have family who you’re on decent terms with — utilize them. Talk to them. Open up about what you’re going through, even if you’re still struggling to put it all together to make sense of whatever it is you’re feeling.

For me, a lot of people were asking “HOW IS WORK??” and I couldn’t tell them; I just didn’t know how. There was too much and it was too confusing to explain in conversation. But I told most of them, it’s complicated, I have a lot of thoughts, I need to write a post to figure it all out. And anyone who knows me even a little understands that. And once I got that post up, I could send it to any of my friends who asked, and then they’d have a reference point and we could move forward from there into commiseration, support, brainstorming, etc.

It’s just hard to explain it from scratch every single time, but I wanted to be able to seek support; I didn’t want to isolate myself and sink further and further into the quagmire in my own head, because that would just suck and compound the problem.

If telling people scares you, you know what I’m gonna say: DO IT. EXPOSURE THERAPY, KIDDO. If the friends you tell freak out and reject you, they weren’t your friends. GET NEW FRIENDS.

Also: It’s good to get outside perspectives, but you don’t have to listen to everyone’s advice. Some friends are better at being supportive than others. You probably have a sense of which of your friends are best at that, and it’s probably best to seek the bulk of your support from them. You probably also know some people who are well meaning but frequently give terrible advice, or advice that simply doesn’t apply to you, and it’s fine to ignore those people and not ask for their opinions. And some people who are just plain awful and toxic and you should avoid them at these times at all costs. And some people are wild cards; you don’t know how they’ll react — they might give great advice, or they might have no frakking clue and say all the wrong things, so they probably shouldn’t be your first line of defense. But people can surprise you and sometimes great support can come from places you least expect if you take a chance on it. (Parents are often wild cards, I think. But I was in bad enough shape last week that I actually reached out to them, and it worked out.)

Lastly, cast a wide net for support. Don’t dump everything on one or two people. They can be the best people ever, but you can have the strongest trampoline ever and if the Hulk drops out of the sky in stiletto heels and lands on it at full combat drop speed, it’s gonna puncture.

“For the last time, we did not order a giant trampoline!”
“For the last time, we did not order a giant trampoline!”

 

Spread the weight around if you can. Talk to a core group of people you trust rather than just a couple of individuals. Don’t be so exclusive that the other person feels like they’re your sole source of support and that if they drop the ball, whatever happens to you will be their responsibility. It’ll be better for you and it will be better for them if you have multiple support beams and layers in your trampoline.

Sensory Distractions

When I’m in the midst of a full-on attack, the previous things on this list are not necessarily going to help me. When my body just flat-out decides to rebel with almost no warning, I can’t just think myself out of it; that’s not how it works. I have to find ways to distract myself so that my body can have the time it needs to reboot itself, or at least calm its systems or metabolic rate or whatever it is that’s going haywire.

(By the way, you might not always be able to tell that I’ve had an attack or am fending off another one just by looking at me; I’m pretty good at hiding it when that’s happening, if I want to. Unless I am puking. That’s hard to hide. But like, this picture was taken less than an hour after I threw up and probably at least 12 hours before I was physically able to eat again:

I’m on the right. That’s how pale I always am.
I’m on the right. That’s how pale I always am.

 

So yeah. Just thought I’d mention that.)

I need things to pull me out of my own head when I’m in a bad place, otherwise my thoughts will just burrow further into my brain and spiral down, down, down. I need to find things that stimulate my senses, but without triggering me further — for example, a strong smell is more likely to make me throw up than distract me, but a radio broadcast of a baseball game will form a protective cushion around my brain and stop me from spiralling.

It sometimes helps to leave the lights on at night because in the dark it’s just me and my thoughts. It sometimes helps to walk around outside and look at everything and distract myself with motion and sound. It sometimes helps to stay as still as possible and focus on my breathing. It sometimes helps to watch TV; it sometimes helps to read. It sometimes helps to talk to other people; it sometimes helps to be away from everything and just sleep. It’s extremely variable, and I have to pay attention to my body’s reactions and see what’s working at that moment and what isn’t.

This is very similar to the next item on my list, which is…

 

Positive Triggers (Soothers) (Not to be confused with a particular type of allomancer from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy)

I don’t have a lot of these, unfortunately. Finding them means being on the lookout, paying extremely close attention to anything that calms me, even in the most microscopic ways. I doubt I’ll ever find something that positively triggers me as dramatically as anything that can negatively trigger me, but little pieces of calm in a storm have their uses too.

For example, a kid I babysit for recently gave me yet another Livestrong bracelet. It’s multicolored, and one of the colors is what my brain dubs cyan, because I know obscure colors like that. It’s a kind of pastel turquoise, I guess. And I noticed that for the split second that my eyes glanced over that cyan patch of silicon, sandwiched between the yellow and the fusia on the band, I felt just the tiniest bit calmer, more relaxed. Apparently very small doses of cyan is soothing to me. Large doses seem to lose their impact, but tiny ones, well, they seem to help. It’s the only bracelet I wear at work now, so that in the constant dusty grey of the repair shop I can glance at it for a second for a miniscule pick-me-up.

Other things that soothe me: Petting my giant stuffed tiger or cuddling with it. Being in my own bed. Taking off a layer (or more) of my clothes so that my skin can breathe better. Wrapping myself in a blanket or a towel. Entering the mind of a character during a scene I’ve been writing in my head that constitutes a particularly serene moment for him/her. Writing a post about coping mechanisms.

Stories

I started putting this in the Soothers section but I’m not sure it really fits there so I gave it its own subheader.

See, I think this second week at work made me realize yet again that the crux of what makes life interesting and worthwhile to me are people and their stories. Let’s face it, the main thing I got out of automotive school was not knowledge of cars. Sure, I got that too, but that feels like small potatoes compared to the vast canvas of human experience that I got a chance to see and learn about by being in that environment.

I think that my first week on the job, I was so intent on being a good little worker that I was all business all the time, just going from task to task to task, so that by the end of each day, I had a lot of tasks accomplished, but no stories to tell. And to me that felt like a worthless existence. I mean, I can tell you how I changed oil, but that’s an instruction manual, that’s not a story.

This second week, I chilled out a little, didn’t focus so intently on the work to the exclusion of all else, largely because I was working on telling myself that this is not where I’m going to end up, that this is temporary, that my entire life and future does not hinge on my success at this job, so it’s okay to relax a little. I actually sat down and ate my lunch, for example, instead of just skipping it or devouring it in five seconds and heading back to work. I took things slower, I observed more. I paid more attention to the dynamics of the shop and the workers.

I think that because I slowed down and was also less new, the guys in shop started feeling more comfortable chitchatting with me, asking me questions, but mostly giving me their opinions on how things work around here. Everyone has an opinion on everyone else and their style of work, and they’re all willing to tell me about it, not knowing that everyone they’re talking about has been talking to me about them. This guy thinks everyone else is incompetent and phony. That guy thinks the other techs have no finesse and take no pride in their work. This guy thinks one of the bosses is incredibly patient and has never seen him raise his voice in all the years they’ve worked together. That guy tells me that two of the techs constantly bitch and moan about the smell of the paint fumes from the body shop section, but that they’ve miraculously stopped complaining since I’ve been around, because “they don’t want to seem like a lady in front of a lady.” (Oh, casual misogyny, you make the best stories.)

I think my mind is happiest when I am occupied with day to day work, but at the same time piecing together another canvas that no one knows I’m working on. I wouldn’t want that canvas to be my primary focus; I wouldn’t want to approach it like that was my job, like I’m a journalist, asking questions, interviewing, investigating. I’d hate that. I like learning by osmosis, in bits and pieces, not through the things that people want to tell me, but by the things I figure out from experience and observation.

That’s what makes life feel worthwhile to me by the end of the day.

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There was actually another subheader on this list, but holy hell this is long so I’m gonna cut it short. If you read all the way to the end, I’m very impressed and I appreciate it a ton. I hope you got something out of it.

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Datin’ Without Hatin’ — Edition #2: Full Frontal Nerdity!

Well, last week’s debut of this new column was pretty well-received, so I suppose onward an upward is the way to go from here!

An anonymous person posed a question to me the other day, and in the ensuing back and forth we came to address a more general issue in addition to the specific question asked. Intrigued? Okay, enough with the intro.

At what point do you reveal to a date that you are a raging nerd? (Specifically, if you are female and he is male and as far as you know, not geeky or nerdy in any way.)

I don’t think there is any specific time or way. I mean, as it comes up?

Yeah, but what if it comes up early, like, first-date early? And I am a RAGING nerd, not just a Star Trek fan. An “I hate JJ Abrams” level Star Trek fan, a “let me show you my thesis on the reboot” level Star Trek fan.

I’d say talk about what’s relevant to the conversation – let the guy know what he’s in for. I mean, I’m not saying give him your kindle and be like “LOOK AT THIS METRIC BOATLOAD OF FANFIC I’M READING” but “oh, in case you can’t tell, I’m a huge nerd” seems like a perfectly legit thing to say.

Like if the conversation is about Star Trek, and you start rambling about all your opinions, it’d probably be kind of charmingly self aware to say, “Um, I kinda have VERY STRONG FEELINGS about this.” As a rule, a little self- deprecating humor makes plenty of quirks go down easily.

Which is NOT the same as apologizing – there’s no need to apologize for being a nerd; it’s part of who you are and how you see the world, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If a person is automatically scared off by your niche of interests or passions, chances are they are a pretty boring person.

Boring is not a dealbreaker!

But boring in this case would indicate a certain narrow-mindedness, and THAT is probably a dealbreaker.

True.

But some people seem boring at first and take a while to warm up to people but then they turn out to be amaaaaazing —

And here’s where the conversation morphed into that aforementioned general issue: When dating, how much time do you give a person to establish themselves before you write them off and turn them down?

And the answer is…exactly as long as you are okay with. Yes, that is the same as saying “there is no right answer.” Sorry. But it’s also the same as saying, “there is no wrong answer.” Sure, there are people I’ve thought were boring initially but after a while, a connection was built and we’ve become close friends. But there are also people I’ve thought were awesome who, upon getting to know them better, turned out to be not so awesome.  And boring people who stayed boring. So yeah, it’s always theoretically possible that that ugly duckling fledgling relationship will become a beautiful swan, but it is by no means guaranteed.

You have to make a judgment call, is what it comes down to. There are different things people weigh in order to make that call. Some people prefer to feel an immediate interest in the person from the very first date. For some people, if the person doesn’t interest them, but there is nothing about him/her/xem that actively disinterests them, they’ll give ’em another chance. If there is immediate interest but also factors of disinterest, it’s more complicated and probably worth allowing it to play out a little longer to see if the positives come to definitively outweigh the negatives.

But if there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether or not you are interested in the person you’re dating, at any stage, you are under no obligation to hang in there and wait and wait and wait to see if something blossoms. You can if you want! It may work! But you don’t have to. If you’re sticking it out, make sure you’re doing it for reasons that you are okay with. For instance: If you feel like you owe it to yourself to find out if it can work, or you feel like you will deeply regret ending things with this person at this point, or you feel like your emotions are on a trajectory and are progressing but just aren’t yet where you want them to be — those are probably good reasons to give it a little more time.

I personally would not advise staying in it for reasons such as:

a) fear of having to start over with someone new (because life is not like TV; you don’t have to keep circling back to the same person; there are new ones out there that you can forge something with)

b) Everyone else (friends, family, parents) thinks you guys are great together (because they are outsiders and only you know what you feel)

c) For the sake of the other person and not wanting to hurt their feelings (because believe me, if your heart isn’t in it, sooner or later the other person will notice and they’ll be hurt all the same).

To be clear, all relationships have an element of uncertainty and there’s nothing you can do about that, and it’s not inherently a bad thing, just a fact of life. But you can still be on the lookout for basic red flags that your internal relationship meter is sending you. Like if the uncertainty is causing you excessive stress. Or if you used to feel happy if someone said “oh, I heard you’re dating so-and-so!” and you don’t feel positively about it anymore. Or if the thought of people knowing and associating you with so-and-so has never made you happy. Sometimes your gut knows these things before your head can catch up. Try to be attuned to that.

Well, golly gee, look at the time! I think I’ve blathered long enough. Ciao!

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Agree? Disagree? Like my thinky thoughts? You can commission more of them via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — or subscribe on the sidebar, and thanks for reading! You can also buy me tools from this Wishlist but really I just like money.

REVIEW — Babylon 5, Season 1, Episode 10, “Believers”

 

Another long-overdue commissioned review (6th commissioned post out of god knows how many), this time SPOILER FREE and sponsored by an anonymous donor, who, lo those many months ago, wrote:

 

“Review any single episode of one of the following series: Doctor Who, Star Trek (any series, including Enterprise), 24:Live Another Day, Sherlock, Firefly, Babylon 5. I love them all equally, so it doesn’t matter which one you eventually choose. 🙂 .”

 

It was an easy choice as to which show I would pick, not because those others aren’t worthy contenders, but because Babylon 5 has a special place in my heart, and so few people I know have watched it that if anyone by some freak chance gives me the opportunity to review it, I’m taking it. (Caveat: This is not so much a review of this episode as it is a discussion of the experience of revisiting a favorite TV show. I mean, there’s a review in here too, but that’s almost beside the point.)

 

This show owned my soul in 9th grade. I’d never heard of it before then, but early in my freshman year of high school, my brother introduced me to it and told me that I needed to watch the whole thing, that it was one long story arc that had to be watched in order, unlike most other shows I’d watched before (which consisted of mostly Arthur, Sesame Street, and Star Trek: The Next Generation — my parents were a lot stricter about what shows we kids were allowed to watch then than they are now). Babylon 5 was my gateway drug into the world of serialized television, and honestly, my gateway drug into television shows as a whole since up until then, my experience of TV was clearly very limited, and this was before the days of efficient methods of online streaming (I think we still had dial-up internet at the time).

 

So me and my brother bought all 5 seasons of the show on DVD from some Chinese seller on ebay for about $35 a season, which I now look at and think, “holy crap that was expensive” but at the time, believe it or not, that was ridiculously cheap for a season’s worth of DVDs, which, if purchased from respectable American sellers could have cost us $50-$60 a season.

 

This was also before binge-watching had become a socially acceptable thing, and my parents limited me to one episode a day, after I finished all my homework. So my nightly schedule looked like this:

 

5:15 — finish school

6:00 — arrive home

6-9 — homework/dinner/novel writing

9-9:45 — Babylon 5

10:00 — go to bed

 

That was how it was pretty much every night — I mean, come on, it’s not like I had a social life. As I mentioned in a previous post, all my friends were school friends and all my schools were always far away, so friendship and socializing was a school thing, not a home thing. I was also too deeply closeted about my religious views at that time in my life to really attempt to make meaningful connections with anyone, especially not anyone I perceived as much more religious (“how could they ever understand my heresy?”) or less religious (“what if they corrupt me and make me even worse than I already am?”), and most of my classmates fell into those categories. I was lone wolf and a social floater — I could effortlessly sit down and have lunch with any group or clique (the ultimate in social acceptability) and everyone liked me, but nobody knew me. It wasn’t their fault; I just didn’t let anyone in. And I was sick a lot and didn’t have the energy to stay up later than 10:00 most nights (I got sicker between 9th and 10th grades; in 10th grade I could rarely stay awake past 9), and that’s a killer for a social life as well.

 

I also didn’t have my own computer or DVD player, so I couldn’t watch in the comfort of my own bed as I do now like a proper couch potato — I had to watch in my dad’s study on my brother’s computer, a room that no longer exists since we converted it to a bedroom for my grandmother when she lived with us for about six years before she passed away, and renovated the garage into my dad’s new library/study/thing which he actually rarely works in, preferring to do most of his work at the dining room table, which results in massive piles of books from the basement library teetering in stacks on the table and sometimes also the chairs, much to my mother’s chagrin.

 

None of this is relevant to Babylon 5 itself, but my point in including it here is to explain how far back me and B5 go, how deeply rooted and intertwined it is with memories and other bits of my heart and soul, regardless of the content of the show.

 

So, Babylon 5 it was.

 

Then the question became “Which episode?” and that was complicated, but mostly because I unnecessarily complicated it for myself. See, Babylon 5 is highly serialized, and I knew right off that bat that I did not want to do an arc-relevant episode, so that left standalone episodes. And the first one that popped into my head was “Believers,” because even from all those years back, I remembered how self-enclosed the whole story seemed and what a punch in the gut the ending was, but then I thought I should at least consider other options before making a final choice.

 

Fortuitously, I happened to make a new friend around that time who was an even bigger B5 groupie than me, and we started rewatching some of it, and a different B5 fan friend of mine got wind of this through our incessant B5-related posts on facebook and invited me to come rewatch the whole show from start to finish with him (which I’ve never done before), and we’ve been doing that on and off for the past few months. Between our busy schedules, we’ve managed to just finish Season 1.

 

And in a lot of ways, the show is better than I remembered it or expected it to be. Whenever you watch something that you have a nostalgic fondness for, your biggest fear tends to be that in the intervening years, the Suck Fairy may have visited and sprinkled suck dust all over everything, and you’re forced to confront the reality that when the two of you first met, you were simply too young and stupid to recognize bad acting, awkward writing, horrible CGI, or whatever it is that was always there but somehow escaped your notice and actually rendered the entire show/book/movie/thing complete crap.

 

So I was braced for the Suck Fairy, especially when it comes to one of my favorite characters, the central character of “Believers,” Dr Stephen Franklin. In the aforementioned intervening years, I’d heard plenty of people malign the character’s role and Richard Biggs’ acting of it, so I was ready for him to be awful upon revisiting this episode, which I actually thought showed up later in the series, but nope, it’s a Season 1 episode.

 

And then we rewatched this episode, and I was like, “Gosh darn it, I LIKE Franklin, and I LIKE this episode, and I AM going to review it! Take that, haters!”

 

Why do I like Franklin?

 

Well, firstly, I don’t think his acting is bad at all. I was worried that maybe I only thought this because Rick Biggs (may he rest in peace) had an incredibly beautiful face, but upon careful study and analysis of said beautiful face and all the rest, I really do think that his delivery was more natural than a lot of actors that have come and gone on the show, something which is made all the more impressive by the fact that Biggs was nearly deaf and so had to learn all his own lines and everyone else’s and lip-read for his cues. But even without that, I don’t find his acting to be bad or strained or wooden as the haterz would have me believe.

 

And aside from the acting, I like the character. He has a different vibe from all the other main cast members; he’s passionate and fiery. Each character in Babylon 5 brings something different to the table: Sinclair is solemn, Garibaldi is easygoing, Londo is bombastic, G’Kar is conniving, Delenn is dignified, Kosh is cryptic, Vir is bumbling, Lennier is adorably earnest — and Franklin is fiery. The man cares. He cares deeply, and he cares passionately, and it shows. I’ve seen some reviewers accuse him of seeming arrogant and unsympathetic in this episode, but I just don’t see it.

 

In case you don’t know or don’t remember, this episode is the one where Franklin is presented with people whose beliefs are entirely in opposition to his scientific worldview: their son is dying and needs surgery, but they believe that cutting open a body releases a person’s spirit and refuse to allow Franklin to operate.

 

Rather than verbally attacking them for this like his assistant does, he tries his hardest to work with them and be respectful, because he cares about his patients. It’s only as the situation becomes increasingly desperate that he begins to take less respectful and more drastic measures, but again, it’s because he cares so deeply about the life of this patient, Shon, that he simply can’t not do absolutely everything in his power to save his life. I’m not saying that what he does is right or wrong; I’m just saying I don’t see it as being an arrogant or unsympathetic motivation. I understood where he was coming from every step of the way.

 

And I also understood where Commander Sinclair is coming from, when he refuses to grant Franklin’s request for an executive order to override the parents’ wishes and operate on Shon. Being an orthodox Jew, I can tell you from personal experience that it is sometimes really nervewracking to see your religious practices come up for legal debate, to see people legislating things that they don’t understand and therefore deem “primitive” or dangerous. For instance, the process of kosher (and halal) animal slaughter has come up for debate in many countries and has recently been banned in Denmark, in a move that many have pointed out is pretty hypocritical, given the inhumane ways that animals are raised and killed in Denmark that have not been banned. I’m not trying to get political here, but my point is that there are all sorts of religious rituals, and a lot of them make people uncomfortable out of ignorance or knee-jerk reaction of “this is harmful,” and once you start legislating what religious rituals are harmful in accordance with your particular worldview, things can get very dicey and disruptive and alienating to a lot of people whose worldviews are different from yours.

 

So Sinclair’s choice to stay uninvolved even though he knows this may be condemning a child to death struck me as a profoundly humble one, a decision that recognizes the limitations of one’s own moral code in order to make room for one that one does not understand and to avoid setting a precedent that could later be abused. Again, I don’t know if I think he was right or wrong, but I respect his decision.

 

Another thing I really liked about this episode and what makes it so quintessentially Babylon 5 is how Shon’s parents approach several alien ambassadors to ask for help, and they each respond in such different ways that all make sense according to the internal logic of each society as we’ve seen so far. Babylon 5’s development of very distinct major alien cultures and attitudes is one of its greatest strengths.

 

I’m not going to discuss the ending because this is a spoiler free review, but yeah, it packs a punch, and I remember being shocked that the show went that far. A writing teacher of mine liked to quote someone else who said that the best endings are “surprising but inevitable,” and this one definitely felt that way.

 

So yay! A positive review! Let’s say 3 out of 4 stars? That sounds about right. Definite deduction for the unmemorable B-plot which involved Ivanova and some space raiders. But the A-plot, as discussed, resonated for me and picks up some of the slack.

 

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#ThrowbackThursday — “Wow Factor”

I was already planning to post this today as my Throwback Thursday piece because it’s one of the few things I could remember having posted in a previous November (although it was written well before that, as explained below), and then today I found myself in a conversation where a friend was asking my advice regarding things “wow” related, and I was like, “Okay, DEFINITELY gotta post this piece today.” Not all of it applies in exactly the same way it used to, because it is a five-year-old piece and I’ve evolved as a human in the past 5 years, but the gist remains true.

Original post was a from November 29th 2012, but it’s a throwback to a throwback, to before Throwback Thursday even existed. Yes, back in the Stone Age.

 

*    *    *
Found this piece I wrote in [during] class in my first semester of college, three years ago [EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: that means 2009]. Been thinking a lot along these lines lately, for various reasons.

 

Wow Factor

 

I worry about my emotional health. Not often, but when I do happen to think of it, it worries me. I have so many barriers between what I know and what I feel that I’m sure I must be part Vulcan.

 

For one thing, it is so hard for me to tell if I like something. I’ll see something, and my reactions are usually just . . .  bland. It takes a lot to make me go “wow!” My sister will ask me to read something of hers and tell her what I think. Invariably, I’ll hand it back to her with a lackluster, “Yeah. Was good.” In my head, I’m saying, “It was okay.” Just “okay”? Why just “okay”? What makes something more than just okay? I have no idea. One of my English teachers had “wow factor” as an element on her grading rubric, and I could never understand that. None of my essays wowed me, but apparently they wowed her frequently.

 

This isn’t modesty or immodesty. This is just a confession regarding how incapable I am of judging things.

 

It’s worse when it comes to people. I can’t judge, so I can’t label. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’ll meet someone and we’ll part and I’ll have no idea what to make of him/her, but a friend of mine who meets the same person for the same amount of time will walk away having neatly categorized him/her in five different ways and will know exactly how to relate to this person in the future. I won’t even know if I like the person. The most I can usually know after meeting someone is whether or not they interest me. Yeah, how’s that for a great pickup line? “Hi, I think you’re . . . interesting.” Isn’t that what you say when someone cooks something you never want to eat again but you can’t be so impolite as to say so? All right, nix the “interesting.” How’s this: “You intrigue me.” Oh, worse: “You fascinate me.” See? Part Vulcan, no question.

 

There are of course a few things I have liked right off the bat, and these are things that I tend to grab tightly with both hands and refuse to let go of no matter what. A brilliantly worded sentence. A fresh, intelligent point of view. A color-coordinated outfit. Baseball. Movies. The subway. The Yankees. New York.

 

I can’t tell you why I love these things, just that I do. Maybe that’s just the way it is with me — that something either strikes a chord or it doesn’t.

 

I wish more things would strike chords, but you can’t hurry love.

 

(http://santarosaredwhiteandboom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/fireworks.jpg)

 

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#ThrowbackThursday — “How to Make Friends*”

I’m coming in just under the wire for Throwback Thursday so I don’t have time to write a witty intro. Although I do want to note that I test more in the spectrum range of “ambivert” than “introvert” these days. But I drift.

Original post is from March 20th 2013.

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I came across one of my old handwritten journals from my year in Israel, and thought this entry was EXTREMELY interesting, because some of it is so far from who I am now that I barely recognize myself. It sounds like some people I know, but not like me anymore.

“October 27th 2008 (Chaya Solomon’s b-day)

 

“ ‘I can’t’ usually means ‘I won’t’ — but aren’t there times when ‘I won’t’ isn’t such a bad thing? And some things aren’t just a matter of your will; you need the cooperation of others.

“What I want more than anything this year is to make friends. Good friends. If it’s girls or boys, I don’t really care. But whenever I try to go out and ‘be social,’ meet new people, I always find myself fading into the background while other people do all the talking, make all the jokes. So I just stand around half the time, being weirdly silent, and I end up no better off than before. I suck at group dynamics. One on one, I’m fine. How in the world am I supposed to change that? But maybe more important than that: Why SHOULD I change that? Why should I try to turn myself into the life of the party, talk when I have nothing to say, pretend to be an extrovert? I’m an introvert. It’s not a condition — it’s a fact. And I want to find someone I connect with on that level, not by pretending to be someone I’m not. Duh. Doing it any other way would be counterproductive. But what’s the point of going out to these social gatherings? The kinds of people I’m looking for will not be in those groups; they’ll be back where I want to be, in their rooms, reading, writing, or on the computer.

“It’s paradoxical. I’m intensely introverted and the only people I can meet when I go out are more extroverted than I am, and therefore I don’t get noticed or appreciated by anyone there. I just come across as dull and boring and I’d be kidding myself if I said that isn’t pretty crushing to my self-esteem.

“So, should I change? Is it my fault? If so, how would I change? Read books about taking control of social situations? Ask therapists? Do anything and everything to change my introverted nature, to put on a mask and compromise my self, this major part of my personality?

“Or is this a case of drawing a line, an ‘I won’t’? How far am I supposed to compromise, fake my way through in order to get a friend? Personally, I think I’m looking in the completely wrong place.

“But the other introverts . . . I don’t know. The few that I’ve met seem worse than me, more determined than I am to shut everyone out. They’ve got their own tight circle of friends, here or back home, and they don’t seem interested in letting me in.”

*

The biggest, most obvious question that gripped me while reading this is, of course: What changed?!

I’m still a reclusive introvert who rarely leaves her room during the week, but if you’ve met me in a group setting, you know how I am there — I’m not “the life of the party” necessarily, but I do that thing that actors with screen presence do: I pull focus. I’m brash and unapologetic, I crack jokes, I say outrageously honest things, I hold my own in almost any conversation. One of my friends, who I met this year at a New Year’s Eve party, told me, “I bet no one who meets you ever forgets you,” and while I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far, I will admit that I’m probably the furthest thing from “dull and boring.”

Usually.

But there are times where I can feel the remnants of the things mentioned in that journal entry.

I do have days, or even random minutes or hours here and there, where something just switches off, and I’ll go silent or monosyllabic, and I’ll be that boring girl who sits on the couch and reads or sleeps while everyone else carries on just fine without me, or I’ll sit in the thick of it and tune you all out like so much white noise.

And there are certain crowds where I just don’t feel comfortable and don’t feel like talking.

Secret: Mostly this happens in crowds of Jews. Religious Jews who I don’t know make me more uncomfortable than anyone else, and that includes the horrendously smelly, schizophrenic homeless people I encounter on the subway.

Why is that?

Well, because they remind me of what I’m supposed to be but am not.

I felt this to a crippling degree while socializing during my year in Israel, because Israel was a place you were supposed to go so that you could connect with your religion and connect with God, and I was still laboring under the notion that if I just studied hard enough, and focused myself properly, and found the right teachers, then I could learn to believe the way I was supposed to, the way believers did. And I hadn’t yet come to inhabit the religious identity of “agnostic” — that came much later. At the time, I just (very, very secretly) self-identified as a “bad Jew.”

I still don’t think of myself as a particularly good Jew, in the religious sense of being Jewish. As I’ve written in other pieces, I eventually realized that the only reason I kept trying to believe was because I wanted to please the people around me — parents, teachers, friends, community — not because it mattered to me personally. And at some point, I just got tired of pretending to care and trying to make myself care about religion when I don’t, and was only searching for answers in order to fit in. The simple fact of the matter is: I don’t have answers, and I don’t care that I don’t.

So to me, hanging out with a bunch of religious Jews I don’t know can sometimes feel like hanging out with a bunch of mathematicians — it’s not that I don’t respect them; I just don’t have much to contribute to the conversation. And even if I did, I wouldn’t care about it the way they do, and I wouldn’t want to give them the impression that I do. (I dislike writing about religion for that reason; it makes people think you want to talk about it, when honestly, I really don’t.)

Being uncomfortable because of this is silly, obviously — whether the people are religious Jews or mathematicians, they’ll almost definitely have interests, likes, and dislikes outside of Judaism or math, respectively. Even if people are extremely passionate about one thing (and by no means are all Orthodox Jews passionate about being Orthodox Jews, but even if they were) they seldom obsess over it to the exclusion of all else. I have plenty of religious friends, and we hardly ever talk about religion. So of course I could easily talk to a religious Jewish stranger about Star Trek or baseball or Green Day or how hot Jennifer Lawrence is.

But when you’re insecure about something, you feel transparent except for that one thing. You feel like if you open your mouth or call attention to yourself, everyone will somehow figure it out. And you feel like there’s this huge wall between you and them, because you have this massive secret, and there’s an unbridgeable gap between your understanding of the world and theirs.

I’ve long since parted ways with the shame I used to feel about my faith or lack thereof.

I will drop “agnostic” into conversations with religious Jews I’ve barely met, just to get it out there. I have my religious views of “culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic” visible publicly on my facebook profile page, visible to people who aren’t even my facebook friends. I have no patience for pretending anymore, and no interest in misleading anyone into thinking that just because I wear skirts and sleeves and high necklines and keep shabbos and kosher and just about everything else, that I am religious.

*

That is just one example of a major insecurity that no longer plagues me to the degree that it used to. Others were my weight, my skin, my voice, and the fact that I don’t know what I want out of life. To name a few.

I’ve become a sort of pro at overcoming insecurity, in my old age. It’s become second nature to the point where I often don’t even realize I’m doing it.

It’s a basic two- or maximum three-step regimen.

The first step is recognition. If you don’t recognize the insecurity that is holding you back from feeling comfortable, you have no chance of overcoming it.

The second step is contextualization. How big and bad is this insecurity? What’s the worst it can do to your life, e.g., is that zit really going to make a huge difference, or are you blowing it out of proportion? Is this something that no one has ever overcome before? Do you know people with this exact issue or a similar one or worse, but it doesn’t seem to bother them and you think they’re awesome anyway? If so, what makes them awesome and why should it be any different for you?

Sometimes you can stop after step two, because the answers are obvious enough that the insecurity shrinks away to nothing. Other times, it’s not so simple, and you need to move on to step three:

Honesty. (You knew that was coming, right? I’m super predictable.)

You don’t need to be one thousand percent honest with everyone, about everything, at all times. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. You don’t have to post it on facebook.

But you should try to have various different people in your life that you can be honest with about some things some of the time, and hopefully if you have enough of these people, then [some things] + [some things] + [some things] = Everything. For instance, there are certain things I can’t tell my parents, and there are certain things I don’t put on facebook (le shock!), and there are certain things I can tell some close friends but not others, because of overlapping social circles and violation of other people’s privacy and other sticky circumstances. But I have very few secrets of my own that I keep purely to myself. (I have some, by choice, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either.)

As important as it is to have the courage of your own convictions, it’s also important to have validation from others. Ideally, it shouldn’t be necessary, and you shouldn’t rely on it for all things, but we’re human and we’re wired to want to belong, to be understood and accepted by a community of like-minded people, and we should draw strength from that when we can.

Shame tends to seep in when you feel like there’s something you can’t talk about with anyone, and shame is one of the most corrosive and least productive emotional states in the universe.

Sometimes you really have no choice but to feel like the lone freak because your opinion is so singular or unpopular within your community that no one seems to get it. But those are rare. Most of the time, everyone is struggling or has struggled with the same things you are; they just don’t admit it. Or sometimes don’t realize it.

As a general rule, the more honest you are about who you are and how you think, the more unremarkable it will seem to you and to the people around you. These things just become a part of you that doesn’t scare anyone away any more than any other part of you. If people do get scared away, you can be sure they aren’t the kind of people you want in your life.

To be all clever and clichéd: The more you own your insecurities, the less they’ll own you.

*

But the big question 2008-SM was grappling with remains: How do I find these people I can be honest with? How do I make friends?

I just asked that as if I have the answer, didn’t I? Sorry, my mistake.

I don’t have an answer. There is no blueprint for making friends and I am definitely not an expert in this area.

I can tell you that it’s a numbers game. Pickup artists can tell you that if you go to a bar and set your sights on one specific person, you’re probably heading for disappointment. Not everyone you reach out to is going to reach back. People can be very standoffish and averse to new faces, and something about you may just rub them the wrong way, and these things aren’t necessarily within your control.

(For instance, I find a lot of people to be nice, friendly, upstanding human beings, but they bore me. I swear, that’s all it is. There’s nothing wrong with any of them; we’re just not on the same wavelength and there’s a limit to how close a friendship we can develop when I can’t connect with you. We can be friends, sure, but never close friends. It sounds harsh to say it like that, but everyone gets a lot more out of friendships with people who get them than with people who don’t.)

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out. On the contrary — if you want more friends, you should reach out more. If statistics show that 4 out of 5 people don’t reach back, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that reaching out to 15 people will yield 3 potential friends while reaching out to 5 will yield only 1.

The downside of this is that while the percentage rate of rejection stays the same (4 out of 5, 12 out of 15 = 80% rejection rate), the quantity of rejections goes up (4 rejections from reaching out to 5 people; 12 from reaching out to 15). And that can be exhausting and demoralizing.

And of course, since I just made up these statistics, in real life you don’t have any guarantee that even 1 in 5 will reach back. You might get shut out 15 to 0.

I’ll tell you another secret: I have 1 close friend from high school. There were 70 kids in my grade.

And another: I have 1 close friend from Israel. There were 105 girls in my school.

I have a few reasonably good friends from both those places, a ton of acquaintances who probably think fairly well of me, and I never made any enemies as far as I know, but close friends? The ones you can really get to know and let them get to know you? The ones you tell the things you can’t tell facebook? The ones you’d stay on the phone with for as long as they need you when they’re having a crisis? The ones you go to when you need help?

The odds are not in your favor.

But this is a textbook case of quality over quantity. I’ve never in my life wanted to be popular. (I didn’t even understand the concept in elementary school; I remember having a conversation with a friend in 6th grade where she explained to me who the popular girls were. “So-and-so, she’s popular.” “She is? But I don’t like her.” “Yeah, but she’s popular.” “Okay. Whatever.”) But I always wanted friends.

*

It’s a slow process. You can’t rush friendship any more than you can hurry love. You will be rejected or ignored with varying degrees of politeness by most of the people you attempt to befriend. You will grow apart from people, and the nature of your friendships with them will change, or they’ll disintegrate entirely, and that will hurt.

But if you keep your eyes open, and you keep making an effort, you’ll find people you want in your life who will want you in theirs. Try not to assume that just because you think someone is awesome, then they must have a ton of friends and no room for little ole you. That might be the case, but if you connect with someone and appreciate them deeply, sometimes that’s because you speak the same psychic language, and that’s a two-way street. People are almost always willing to enrich their lives with other people who speak their language.

I won’t say that conquering your insecurities and cultivating a core group of close friends will turn you into a wise-cracking attention-hog like me, because let’s face it — I’m just naturally charismatic and witty and gorgeous, and ain’t nobody gonna teach you that.

But learning to accept who you are, down to the not-so-shiny nuts and bolts, and having people who accept you as well, can give you that little bit of confidence you need to be just fine with being the boring one, the quiet one, the one who doesn’t need to drink or smoke, or the one who isn’t terrified of splitting off and heading home early.

Because you know you don’t need to impress anyone. You’ve got it made.

 

 

 

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#FlashbackFriday — How To Grow Your Very Own Nerd

Since I skipped yesterday’s #ThrowbackThursday post due to my newly-written post on Derek Jeter, I’m doing this instead this week, in my continued effort to migrate some of my old Facebook writing to this blog. Original post was from February 21st 2010, during my freshman year of college.
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This week’s Creative Writing assignment involved writing a “How-To.” Rules: must be in second person, must include 4 lines of dialogue, must be based on a starter given by the teacher, one of which is “How to grow your own_______.” I think it’s supposed to be in story form, but it’s not. Sue me.

 

 

How to Grow Your Very Own Nerd

 

 

If you are reading this manual, you are almost certainly a nerd, interested in raising a child to be every bit as socially incompetent as yourself — an admirable aspiration. Given this fact, it is probably best to begin, gently, with a caveat that no nerd wants to hear: This is not an exact science. Surely that statement makes you want to tear your nerdy hair out and rant and rave that “Yes, it can be broken down into neat little categories with clever little labels! It can and it must!” But never fear. There are some basics you should follow, and when the going gets tough, just remember: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”

 

That quote actually has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand, but it does tend to sound quite knowing and impressive in almost any situation. Like, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Absolutely useless in normal conversation, but still deliciously quotable. Lines any nerd should know.

 

Which is as good a place as any to start.

 

Tip #1: Show the little guy some movies. Make that, lots and lots of movies. Quote your favorite lines to him until he starts quoting them back or threatens to bash your head in with a rock. Don’t panic that he’s too young for grown-up nerd movie lines — Toy Story’s “YOU are a child’s PLAYTHING!!” and The Lion King’s “They call me MISTER pig!” will suffice until he’s old enough for the real stuff.

 

Tip #2: Get him obsessed with things. True mark of nerdery is obsession. You know exactly what I’m talking about — math nerd, science nerd, movie nerd . . . It doesn’t matter which one, the approach is the same: It’s your field. Know it inside and out. Master it. Get it right.

 

Tip #2 Corollary: Fandom of some kind is, ultimately, negotiable. While some are considered fairly universal—Star Trek and Star Wars, for instance, and don’t mix them up; BIG rookie mistake—none are absolute. It is possible to be a nerd without fandom, because nerdiness at its core is an attitude, a mindset. But if you wish to cultivate a household where the terms “mostly dead” and “flux capaciter” are as familiar as “Mom” and “Dad,” then you should cover your bases. Recommendations: “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Angel,” for starters. Teaching him the axiom “Joss Whedon is the second coming” would be a plus. Also, steer clear of Twilight at all costs. The additional axiom of “Stephenie Meyer sucked all the awesome out of the vampire genre” would not go amiss.

 

Tip #3: Raise him on British humor. For some inexplicable reason, not everyone appreciates it, so best to start young. Recommendations: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and The Princess Bride (honorary British).

 

Tip #4: Make sure the first songs he learns are useful, like the Animaniacs’ Presidents and capital cities songs. No need to pressure him into learning Klingon, but if you’ve got some instructional tapes or CDs lying around, pop ‘em in once in a while. Because, you know, nerds are smart.

 

Tip #5: When it comes time for him to start attending birthday parties, allow him to choose the gift he will give. It’s important for your kid to have an illusion of control. But make sure the wrapping paper he uses is the kind that says on it “Happy Birthday!” in every conceivable language including binary and hexadecimal, and teach him that this is the epitome of cool.

 

Tip #6: Be aware that he may notice that he is not like the other children. Learn to respond to such ridiculous sentiments as: “But everyone else in my nursery school watches Barney!” with a firm, “Yes, but can any of them carry on a conversation about Heisenberg Compensators with a fully-grown adult?”

 

Tip #7: Lastly, it is good for your child to have some intersecting points of interest with non-nerds, i.e. the common folk. It is perfectly all right to introduce the kid to sports, but remember — obsession is key. Before he’s big enough to play anything, be sure that he knows the history, famous players, records, and names of statistics of his chosen sport. Some nerd elitists may scoff, but in my highly informed opinion, “sports nerd” is a worthy subcategory for a nerd in the modern world.

 

Well, there you have it. 7 handy-dandy tips and 1 corollary to get you started on growing your very own nerd who will, if all goes right, be unable to get a date to save his life. Good luck to you. Live long and prosper.

____

 

Like my thinky thoughts? Want more of them? Consider donating and commissioning more, via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — and thanks for reading! And you can keep up with me on Twitter @FloatingSpirals and never miss a post 🙂

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Why Cars?

 

Ah, the question everybody’s been asking ever since I, of all people, announced my intention to become an automotive technician/mechanic.

 

I could give you a lovely, oversimplified answer in the words of Roald Dahl:

 

“A gasoline engine is sheer magic,” he said to me once. “Just imagine being able to take a thousand different bits of metal — and if you fit them all together in a certain way — and then you feed them a little oil and gasoline — and if you press a little switch — suddenly those bits of metal will all come to life — and they will purr and hum and roar — they will make the wheels of a motor car go whizzing around at fantastic speeds . . .”

~ Danny the Champion of the World

 

But let’s be real; that’s not really why I’m doing it.

 

My reasons are far more nefarious, of course.

 

There were two major legs of this journey thus far: (1) deciding that I didn’t want a white collar job, and (2) deciding that out of the various blue collar trades I could choose, I wanted to try auto mechanics.

 

Why not white collar?

 

For years, literally years, possibly a decade or more, when people asked me what I was going to do when I grew up, I’d say, “Well, I write, but that’s not very lucrative, so at some point I’ll have to get a real job.”

 

Same answer from the time I was 14 until now. I probably even used the word “lucrative” in my answer back then too. People interpreted it jokingly (a 14-year-old with that much foresight about the ways of the world is always amusing), and I may have even meant it jokingly at first because I was young and surrounded by people who had no knowledge of what writing for a living actually entailed and so always told me that I could do it because I was talented. As if talent alone buys health insurance.

 

Yup.

 

As the years unfolded, my statement about having to get a real job that did not involve writing stayed the same, and people heard it the same way, as a joke, but I started to mean it more and more seriously. By the time I was in college, even though I had no qualms about majoring in Creative Writing, I knew that I did not want to write for a living, that I did not want to have to write book after book or article after article knowing that if I didn’t, I’d have no money and no food. I wanted writing to be something that I did because I wanted to, not because I had to. And the common supplemental jobs that even successful writers tended to have so that they wouldn’t have to depend solely on their writing for income were things that I had little interest in, like office work and teaching.

 

[I have had enjoyable office work experience, for the record, and if I like my coworkers and I like the atmosphere, I’m sure I could be quite content with it. But it feels like a backup, not a Plan A. As for teaching, being the daughter of two teachers has taught me that it is largely the most thankless job you can have, aside from perhaps umpires and referees, and I respect everyone who goes into the profession, but if I’d had a list of possible jobs, “teaching” would have been the very first one I crossed off.]

 

Early on in college, I also realized that I had zero interest in going to grad school. There was nothing I liked enough to study exclusively for two or three or four or five additional years while paying tons of money for the privilege. Medicine, law, business, philosophy, psychology, education, social work, math, engineering — I’d never even wanted an undergraduate degree in any of those; why would I suddenly want a Masters or a PhD? As for an MFA in Creative Writing . . . I knew I didn’t want to write for a living, or get a Masters degree in order to teach, so spending all that money and all that time held little appeal. It seemed like an obvious, conventional path that didn’t really lead anywhere that I personally wanted to go. (No disrespect meant to anyone who does get an MFA or two — you guys rock!)

 

Jesus approves.

 

I concluded in those early years of college that if I was in fact going to get “a real job,” it would be something that did not center on writing, or editing, or sitting in front of a computer screen, or even words at all. I didn’t want my job to tap into those particular creative juices and sap them, using them for the benefit of some company or corporation or publication, and not for my own.

 

And I also did not feel that doing something like that would be satisfying enough for me to do day in and day out. To sit at a desk, type on a computer, fill out paperwork, or work in a lab. Perfectly worthwhile and necessary occupations, and something I could probably be content with, but again, not something that felt like Plan A. And I didn’t want to do something that required me to be in constant contact with people, either, like a therapist or a social worker or an activist or anything like that. It’s not that I don’t think I have people skills, but I’d rather not have a job where that is 80% of the job description. That’s too emotionally exhausting. My emotional energy, like my word-related creative energy, is something I’d rather reserve for myself.

 

I wanted something totally separate, and very tangible. Something that would be gratifying because the accomplishments were visible and measurable and involved getting my hands dirty. I like working with my hands and fixing things, especially when other people can’t. And to me, that all added up to blue collar.

 

 

Why cars?

 

If you’d asked me two or three years ago, I’d have told you that when I finished with college, I was planning to go to trade school to become an electrician. It was an option arrived at mostly by process of elimination because being a plumber would involve poop and being a construction worker would probably require a lot more heavy lifting than my temperamental back can handle and there weren’t many options for carpentry training. Plus, I like wires, and electricity is pretty exciting.

 

I did a lot of research on electrician training in the New York City area, had a lot of tabs open and a lot of webpages bookmarked, and even decided on a school that I wanted to check out. I even called to find out their tuition and enrollment dates. This was back in the summer of 2013, after my graduation from college in June earlier that year.

 

But then I stalled. I was warned that it takes 8 years to get an electrician license in New York. I was warned that there was a lot of heavy lifting involved in being an electrician, too. But mostly I felt that the lack of specificity of “electrician” didn’t make me feel excited about all the possibilities therein, but rather, frustrated by how broad and unfocused and open-ended it all seemed. I started thinking back to other options I’d considered, like in my Hollywood hostel room on my January 2013 trip to do research for my book, when I’d curled up in bed with my laptop and spent a few hours looking into Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning programs and curriculums. HVAC didn’t really hold much interest for me, and the only local program I could find wouldn’t accept students with above-high-school-level education, but still, I felt a pull to invest in something more specialized.

 

this showed up when I google-image searched for “specific” and who am I to argue with google

 

I decided to put things on hold for a little while. Give myself time to mull it over a bit more. And so I decided to work on my novel for three months, see if I could finish it, see how far I’d get, and put trade school on the back burner.

 

This didn’t go 100% as planned. I kept getting distracted by the constant pressure my mother started putting on me to get a job or decide on trade school, and I spent more time surfing the internet doing research and looking at all my options and bookmarking more sites about electricians, HVAC, plumbers helpers, etc, than I spent writing.

 

My mother had also spoken to our appliance repairman, and he’d suggested looking into the field of home automation because the cables were thinner and lighter and would be less taxing on me physically. So I looked into that, but not with the utmost enthusiasm, because it felt to me like the kind of people who are automating their homes — installing security cameras, motion sensors, remote locking/unlocking systems that can be accessed from your phone — are a very particular niche, and of a fairly high socio-economic class, and I didn’t want my services to be SO specific, limited only to moderately wealthy people who want to protect their stuff. I totally support them wanting to protect said stuff; I’d just rather let someone else do it. I wanted to be specialized, but not that specialized.

 

I can’t really remember at what point in the process did it first hit me that, “You know what’s really cool? AIRPLANES.” I’d always thought airplanes were pretty awesome, but I’d never really considered them a possibility, careerwise. Why? No real reason, honestly. Just that the idea seemed so huge and out there and absurd, even more so than working in other trades, especially for a woman, that my brain didn’t really acknowledge the concept.

 

But apparently I’d reached a point where I said to myself, “Self, just let the ideas run wild. No idea is too stupid, too crazy, too impossible. Don’t dismiss something offhand just because it’s huge or you don’t know anyone else who does it or because everyone’s going to tell you that it’s no place for a tiny little girl. There’s never going to be a better time to try something. Life is only going to get more complicated from here on out, so the time is now.”

 

“The way I figure it, we are all entitled to one really big, incredibly stupid screw-up in our lives. Maybe this is one of those. We’ll see.” ~Michael Garibaldi

 

So I arrived at: “Airplanes are coooooooool.”

 

Then came: “You know what’s cooler than airplanes? FIXING airplanes.”

 

And I looked into training options for that and couldn’t really find anything in my area, although there were a number of posts on job sites for “entry-level mechanics” at the local airports, JFK, Laguardia, and Newark. But they required knowledge of tools and other basic experience, not to mention a driver’s license, so while I considered applying, it didn’t seem like the best idea.

 

Then: “What makes airplanes so cool?”

 

“It’s this big giant machine with a bajillion moving parts that all add up to basically magic.” (This is where that Danny the Champion of the World quote comes back around.)

 

“You know what else are big giant machines with a bajillion moving parts that all add up to basically magic?”

 

“CARS.”

 

So I started looking into that, and lo and behold there were trade schools for it within commuting distance from my house. I researched them online, requested information, talked with them on the phone, arranged campus tours, got free swag, waffled some more (I plan to write a future post about how I chose between the two programs I was looking at), spoke to graduates of the programs (male and female), decided that I wanted to enroll in May, and finally did it, student loan and payment plan and all.
 

*

 

People have told me that they find it inspiring that I’m following my dream. That’s kind of awkward to hear, because I don’t know if cars, and potentially ultimately airplanes, are my dream. I don’t always know why I’m doing this. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it for the same reasons a lot of people go to law school — they don’t what else to do.

 

But I know it’s certainly not anyone else’s dream for me, given the number of people who’ve told me outright or implied that they’re disappointed that I’m not pursuing writing, or radio, or whatever else brilliant college-educated young women are supposed to do. And if it’s not anyone else’s dream, it must be mine, right?

 

All I really know is that 1) it’s the first stage of my education that I have had control over from start to finish, because no one else would ever have chosen this for me, and 2) today I assisted with an oil change and checked a car’s hoses and belts and fluids and got my hands covered with grease and I feel fantastic.

 

I’ll keep you posted.

 

____

 

Like my thinky thoughts? Want more of them? Consider donating and commissioning more, via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — and thanks for reading! And you can keep up with me on Twitter @FloatingSpirals and never miss a post 🙂