I debated for days what to write my last Speak Out with your Geek Out post about, and it seemed like there were still too many important topics to reconcile. But it hit me yesterday: really, they’re all one topic. I’m a World Geek.
Not a geek about other worlds, just this one, the big blue marble. After a week with so much glorification of the realms of fantasy and fiction, creativity and imagination, I know this sounds like cheating, but bear with me — this really does cover so much about me and all the things that make have made my gears tick faster, my whole life through.
I was never destined to be much of a homebody. I come from a traveling family: every three-day weekend, spring break, teachers’ convention, and summer vacation, we were on the road, in station wagon and pop-up camper with my grandparents, or RV with my stepdad. I was one of those kids you used to see in the backseat sometimes, lying down with legs up the backseat, reading a thick book (iron stomachs, all of us, I tell you). By the time I’d graduated from high school, I’d been to all 48 contiguous states, all the provinces of Canada, and even dipped into Mexico; we did the “it’s Thursday, it must be Belgium” 22-day trip to Europe the following summer. Living in France for a year as part of my degree program only seemed logical, and I was on the train every time we had a break, dashing off to the corners of the continent least likely to be explored by any of the other American students I knew.
And I was generally enraptured with ancient and foreign cultures from an early age. I collected dolls, and my favorites were the ones in ethnic and period costumes. I pored over Peter Spier’s fabulous book People, and my collection of 1880’s Harper’s Bazaar fashionplates. I had a Hollie Hobbie dress for the Bicentennial that I wore long past both the event and the day I outgrew it. In the mobcap and hornbook I got at a Colonial War encampment, I spent hours as Dollie Madison, eventually deciding that the Wisconsin state capital was named for her (what did James ever do, really?). The more I learned, the more it wound the clock back and broadened the map, until the limitations of the American timeline and continent became too restrictive, and I drifted back into the ancient and medieval histories of Europe and even Asia.
My love affair with languages started early, too. My mom says that I would babble polysyllabic nonsense around age 2 or 3, and when told to speak clearly, I would sigh condescendingly and inform the adult, “I’m speaking French.” She says she wishes she’d known someone whom she could ask if I really was, because I took to the language like a duck to water when I started it in junior high. Once I’d unlocked the mechanisms of learning language, I got greedy in my acquisitions and spoiled by the access to primary sources it granted me. I went after them like Pokemon: Old Irish, Welsh, Latin, German, Anglo-Saxon … gotta catch ’em all! I’m still enchanted by the look and sound of other languages, and I’m in the market for a new one to study, but as always, it’s so hard to choose. I can’t be the only one with both a list of languages I should learn for my studies, and ones I’d like to learn just for fun.
(And don’t get me started on the wonderful nexus of my two loves, history and language: the etymological dictionary. Very shortly after Cam arrived in the U.S. to marry me, we were sitting around after a family dinner, and everyone was talking about how we liked to keep reading other entries in the dictionary after we’d found the one we’d gone in for. Yes, that’s the kind of family I’m from. I mentioned that my very favorite dictionary to read for fun was the etymological kind. Cam said that was his favorite kind of dictionary too! We got all swoony, and made googly eyes at each other for a while. Mom decided that we were, in fact, made for each other, and that this crazy Internet marriage thing would probably work just fine.)
Mustn’t forget the food, either. While the American versions of ethnic food don’t usually have much to recommend them, I was as adventurous as possible, right from the start. I loved enchiladas, lasagna, chow mein, venison stroganoff, pirogis, and rinderrouladen. And Milwaukee was a great place to grow up steeped in real ethnic food, although back in the ’70s and ’80s, that was mostly just every variety of white people the Old World had to offer. Still, not many towns that size give you your choice of Serbian restaurants, and I consider myself to have been spoiled. As I grew, both my tastes and my willingness to experiment in the kitchen expanded, especially as I encountered my true loves, Mediterranean and Indian foods. Tabouli and gyros and dal, oh my!
Now, with kids of my own, practical considerations take hold, and we haven’t done as much traveling for the sake of travel as I would’ve liked to. My kids will probably get excited when they see Mount Rushmore because they’ll know it from North by Northwest, instead of the other way around, like it was for me. But my kids know the cooking smells of a dozen different cuisines, and the feel of falling asleep with lullabies of a dozen languages in their ears.
But can a subject as literally global as this really count as geekiness? Well, let’s see. Relentless pursuit of (some may say, nearly useless) knowledge, in an increasingly broad array of minute specializations? Check. Uncontrollable urge to share this knowledge, both practical and trivial, with those who show the slightest bit of interest? I think a career in teaching (not to mention the recent urge to blog) is a fair indication of that. Not to mention the practice of parenting, which is one long exercise in imposing my interests on those too young to fight me off effectively yet. Flights of wild delight at new discoveries of related tangents and others’ creative contributions? On a daily basis; those who know me at all (and probably, by now, those who’ve ready any of my blog posts) are familiar with my regular paroxysms of joy over new words, cultural workarounds, historical facts, research revelations, and gustatory novelties.
This place isn’t perfect, and like most intelligent people, there are days when I’m about ready to give up on the whole muddy ball and every so-called higher species on it. But for the most part, the marvel of diversity is my ultimate geek. What gets me most? The same things that bring people to their favorite TV shows, movies, sci-fi/fantasy, and comics. It’s the richness of the stories, and the unexpected twists and turns as they weave together in a greater tapestry. It’s the infinte complexity of detail: the patterns, colors, flavors, spices, textures. It’s the constellation of decision points on a thousand moral continuums, each branching into so many possibilities for beauty and cruelty and creation and destruction.
The best art imitates life. But I guess, for me, the best life is as good as the best art, and I can’t help but be a world-class geek about it all.