On being a closeted geek

Based on a prompt from Plinky: What geeky or unusual hobby do you have that coworkers do not know about?

Over the years, and yes I know I’m generalizing, I have noticed that nerds often tend to fall in to one of two categories: those who are perfectly able to walk among “normals” and those who are not.  I am one of those who can.

And really, it isn’t by choice.  The friendships I have offline are mostly with people I’ve known since I was a little kid (preschool in some cases), and our relationships are primarily based on shared experiences than they are on shared interests.  Sure, my friends and I do have the odd thing in common — most of us are in to music and books — but that is generally where the similarities end.  I don’t run marathons (though I do work out), I don’t hike, I don’t really like craft beer, I rarely do yoga (though I’m thinking about trying it out a little more), and I’m not really interested in talking about babies or how great kale is for you (don’t we already know?).  These are the things my friends are interested in.  They’re mostly athletic and outdoorsy, and a lot more social than I am.

I like staying home.  I love taking my dog for long walks and exercising inside with a DVD.  I like relaxing on weekends and playing video games or reading comics or writing.  I like Japanese things and fan fiction and chatting with people I’ve never met online who like the same things I do.

Regardless of these differences, I love my friends.  We’ve been through a lot together over the years, but it can be difficult to be the one person in your group who operates outside their social norms.  When my friends talk to me about their interests, I listen to what they have to say because I love them and I know that what they’re saying must be important to them.  I am not often awarded the same courtesy.  There can be a fair amount of teasing, or subtle eye-rolls, and a lot of 1000 yard stares.  So, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.  Not necessarily to censor myself, but to definitely be a little more general about my interests.  Some are more accepting than others, so I’ve learned who I can go in to more detail with and who I might want to just keep out of the loop on certain topics entirely.  I have to admit that I do find this to be frustrating at times, but I also know that you have to learn to pick your battles, and so I try my best to keep most of my discussions about my hobbies online.

J (I won’t user her full name), the team lead I had at the job I worked in Alberta, is a huge, totally unashamed, geek.  To be honest, I’ve never really met anyone like her in person.  Her main interest is Harry Potter and she is the type of geek who literally makes me cringe on a fairly regular basis.  She’s an avid cosplayer, goes to loads of Harry Potter conventions (and a lot of other conventions in general), and plays Quiddich.  Yes, people actually do play some weird, modified version of Quiddich.  She’s even organized a league in Central Alberta.  Not only has she done all of these things, but she will tell anyone about them: her boss at work, all of her coworkers, random people she meets on the street.  Anyone.

I am fairly certain that J has led a totally different kind of social life than the one I have.  She has been lucky enough, or maybe unlucky really, to have had an insulated nerd life.  One where most of her friends have probably had the same, or at least similar, interests to hers and she has never really had to defend her hobbies all that much.  In some ways, I’m a little envious of her.  Just a little.  It can be difficult to go it alone, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, when you tell people you’re interested in comics or video games or whatever, they look at you differently.  It sucks, but people often fear things that they don’t know about or understand.

Coworkers would often question or criticize J’s interests behind her back due to both their impressions of what she was doing and her habit of over-sharing.  Many believed that her talking about conventions and Harry Potter stuff was unprofessional.  It leads me to wonder about whether J’s over-sharing would have been excused if she was talking about something “normal” like cooking or running, or reading books.  I think not.

I also told my coworkers about my interests, but I’m pretty sure that I was never ridiculed.  As I said earlier in this post, I don’t like to censor myself, but I do like to be careful.  Everyone I meet doesn’t need to know everything about me, and there is a lot more to me, my personality, and my life than liking some geeky things.  We all need to make social compromises from time to time and we all need to learn what parts of ourselves to make public and which parts we should keep private.

On shopping and the end of the year in video games

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Describe your most recent shopping splurge.

I am so happy that the end of this challenge is finally in sight.  I have most of my posts for this week started (a couple nearly finished), which is great.  I don’t think I’ve ever been this ready for something to end, aside from uncomfortable visits to the emergency room.  This will probably be my last spontaneous post of NaBloPoMo.  I saw this prompt and thought it would be good for discussing some of my thoughts on the new console launches and the end of the year in video games.

2013 has been a good year for video games.  There have, for me, been enough interesting titles to keep me from kicking much from my backlog, but the backlog hasn’t been growing either, so that’s definitely a plus.  2014 looks equally, if not more, promising with some pretty awesome titles to look forward to:

  • Layton vs. Ace Attorney
  • Dreamfall: Chapters
  • Transistor
  • Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
  • Tales of Xillia 2
  • The Witness
  • Broken Age
  • Child of Light
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Bravely Default
  • Danganronpa
  • Persona Q (if it gets a North American release in 2014)
  • Persona 5 (also if it gets a North American release in 2014)

These are a lot of great things to be excited about.  I’m also hoping to get a PlayStation 4 for my birthday in February, but we’ll see.  Most of the home console games I’m looking forward to are either generation 7 exclusive or coming out for all the systems — I think right now the only exception to that is The Witness.  That said, I can see myself wanting to play those systems on the new gen consoles over PS3 or X360.

So, this fall instead of buying a new console, I decided to buy a newer PlayStation 3 model, which is my most recent shopping splurge.  I had an 80 gig system and it was becoming a huge hassle for a number of reasons.  Finding an entertainment unit that it could fit in to easily when I moved to Alberta was a challenge, and I’ll likely buy another new entertainment unit when I move again — the smaller console is just so much easier to work with.  Also, I’ve been downloading a lot of the PlayStation+ free games and micromanaging the hard drive has been a tremendous pain in the ass.  I was thinking about just upgrading the hard drive, but I figured I may as well get the bonus of a much smaller and quieter system at the same time.  I traded in my old system and the copy of GTA V, so I wound up not paying that much out of pocket for it.  It’s a much nicer design than the original enormous PS3.  If the PS4 had had backwards compatibility out of the box, I would have just upgraded, but I couldn’t justify the price tag right now when there’s nothing on it that I’m interested in playing.  Zeitgeist be damned.

All that’s really left to do for now is finish up the last few games I want to play before compiling my top 5 list.  I generally work with a top 5 because most years there are just slightly too few games for me to make a top 10 without stretching, and coming up with a top 5 is quite a challenge, which I think is best.  A game of the year list wouldn’t be all that significant if you didn’t have to make some tough decisions here and there.  I do have most of my list planned at the moment, but there are a few titles I need to play before I make my final cut.  Here’s what I’m looking to play before the end of the year:

  • Papers Please
  • Thomas was Alone
  • The Legend of Zelda: a Link Between Worlds
  • Turnabout Reclaimed (Dual Destinies DLC case)
  • Tearaway

I’m not sure I’ll play Tearaway because while I think Media Molecule always has interesting ideas, I am not generally that interested in platformers and Thomas Was Alone is also a platformer and far more appealing to me.  Not sure I have it in me to play two platformers by the end of this year.  Also, I’ve read that that game can tend to be a bit short on content, so I’m not sure I want to pay full price for it.  We’ll see how the Christmas budget winds up shaking out — if I can afford to buy it, I’ll probably try to pick it up.

On cooking (and baking)

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Can you cook?

I have never been very interested in cooking.  I come from a family of very good cooks who have always taken their roles quite seriously and, thus, never really had the opportunity or motivation to learn.  Of course, I could make simple things, like bacon and eggs, hamburgers.  I could do most things that didn’t require more than mixing one or two things together and throwing them in to a frying pan.  This served me reasonably well, even when I was living away in Alberta.  Cooking for just one person is never all that much fun, and I wasn’t willing to invest much in developing my skills when I could cook very simple things that I was pretty happy with.

Once I got an audience, however, someone to cook for on a regular basis, cooking started to matter much more than it had previously.  In some ways, my mother is both the best and the worst person to cook for.  Her motto is “if someone else makes it, it’s delicious.”  This is great, because I know that she’ll never give me too hard of a time if I make a mistake or two, but also a little difficult because I’ll only improve if I get constructive feedback.  The best thing about cooking for my mother, though, is the fact that she’s not picky.  She will try pretty well anything and doesn’t have any particular aversion to ethnic foods (though she definitely likes European cooking the best).

And in this environment I’m learning a lot.  I’ve made Italian food, Chinese food, several Indian curries and a lot of interesting dishes that I would never have tried if I was just cooking for myself.  While some dinners have turned out better than others, I haven’t had any major disasters.  Initially, I was expecting to have some dishes turn out very badly, but I think this was mostly popular fiction playing with me a little bit.  Though I have to say that I think my basic knowledge of cooking is probably a little higher than most other beginner cooks just due to my growing up in a house where cooking was important.  I’ve been surprised over the years at how little some of my friends know about food, and I think the knowledge I have has definitely helped me achieve these small successes.  I hope to continue learning and developing my skills.

I have had a few minor baking disasters, but these were mostly due to recipes that we just wound up not liking.  The pumpkin pie cupcakes that I had intended to serve for dessert at Thanksgiving (October in Canada) wound up having a wet and squishy texture that my mother and I just couldn’t stand.  There was a terrible banana bread at one point as well, and last week’s dry chocolate cookies.  Despite these mistakes, I think I actually like baking more cooking.

My friends have enjoyed this as well, since they’ve been eating the results.  I think I might be a little addicted — there’s something really amazing about feeding the people you love and seeing them enjoy it.

On comfort fiction

Based on a prompt from Duolit: What is your favourite rainy day movie?

I actually don’t have a favourite rainy day movie.  For quite some time now, I haven’t been all that interested in movies at all, but I do have a pretty significant catalog of what I like to call comfort fiction: fictional media that I go to when times are tough, for whatever reason.  Here’s my top three (in no particular order).

1.  Alias (TV series, 2001-2006)

Alias is one of those TV series that you either love or hate.  Some of us think it’s awesome, and some think it’s totally awful.  For me, the first three seasons are totally worth watching, the fourth season is not so great, and the fifth season is practically un-watchable.  Those first three seasons are always fun for me to watch, and that has made Alias my favourite palate cleansing series.

I often have problems with ending remorse.  I’ve never delayed finishing a fictional work because I don’t want it to end, but after I finish something I’ve really enjoyed, I usually feel a sense of loss.  This sense of loss is often accompanied by a difficulty to start something new.  My mind is often filled with the thing that I’ve enjoyed so much, and I spent more time wondering what I should do with my time now that that thing is over than I probably should.  If I pick up something new when I’m feeling like this, I will almost inevitably drop it, regardless of how good it might be — I just get stuck and can’t move forward.  Alias is usually my best remedy for this problem.  I can pop in the DVDs and just fly through it: I often fast forward through long stretches and only watch my favourite scenes.  I’ve watched the first season so many times now, that I’ve got it mostly memorized anyway.  Sometimes I’ll wind up watching the whole five seasons (though I usually stop midway through season 4) and sometimes I’ll only watch the first few episodes.

I’m not really sure why this works so well for me, but I think that Alias entertains me just enough to take the edge off of my feelings for whatever I just finished; pushes it far enough to the back of my mind that I can move forward and focus on something new.

2.  Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (video game, Playstation 2, 2007 NA)

It’s no great secret that Persona 3 is my favourite video game, period.  There are a lot of different versions of the game, but the one that I’ve played them most often recently is Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port that came out in North America in 2010.  The female character story in P3P is incredible and the writing in her social links far surpasses anything in Persona 3 or Persona 4.  When this version was first released, I loved it so much that I played it twice in a row, and the game takes roughly 80-90 hours on an initial run and about 40-50 on New Game +.

I was having a bad week when I first got P3P.  I was unemployed and on the same day I received the game, I had had a pretty disastrous job interview.  A few days after starting, a new exterior paint job was started on our house.  The colour of our original house paint (my mother wanted something very close to the original or the exact same colour if she could get it) had changed a bit over the years, and the job had to be restarted at one point.  The painters were around for well over a week, working long hours.  I was home all day, and it was noisy, and I felt like I had no privacy.  P3P wound up being the best distraction I could have hoped for, and it kept me sane for those few days.

And I’ve continued to use P3P as my go-to distraction since 2010.  Whenever I’m having a bad week at work, or if I get some kind of terrible news that I desperately need a good distraction from, I play P3P.  It never fails to keep me busy when I really need it.

3.  Strobe Edge (manga, 2007-2010 JP)

Strobe Edge is not my all-time favourite manga,  but it’s one of those series that incorporates a lot of genre conventions effectively to make something that’s not particularly exciting, but that’s awesome all the same.  Strobe Edge is my favourite contemporary, slice-of-life shoujo manga that doesn’t lean heavily on one particular character trope.  The heroine isn’t a delinquent or shy and misunderstood by all of her classmates, or gorgeous in public and in sweatpants in private.  She’s just a girl, going to school and figuring out how to have fun and enjoy her life.  Yes, there are definitely some conventions at work in Strobe Edge.  The hero is the most popular boy in school, there’s a love triangle, the heroine is bullied for liking the hero, etc…

But all of these tropes are used in interesting ways.  The hero is actually quite socially awkward, the love triangle is actually pretty touching and more of a rectangle (and I hate this trope but it doesn’t bother me here), and the heroine is bullied only for a chapter or two and for different reasons than you’d expect.  In the world of trope-laden, unoriginal shoujo manga, it is difficult to find series that use these conventions well while making them fresh at the same time.  Strobe Edge does that and more.  The art’s not too shabby either.

I love shoujo manga, but I also hate it.  The genre’s reliance on tropes and conventions, and the sometimes insulting Japanese views on romance and gender can be a turnoff at times.  I also find that shoujo manga can typically be a little too long: romance isn’t exactly the best genre for serialized media, and I often get the sense that mangaka are forced to stretch things if their series are succeeding.  It’s difficult to have these conflicting feelings about something, and I am too often disappointed when I try to read something new.

This is when I turn to Strobe Edge.  It never fails to restore my faith in shoujo manga.  I am always amused by it and don’t ever seem to get sick of the story, characters, or art.  I look forward to the day when it will be usurped by something even better, but for now, Strobe Edge is definitely my go-to romance.

On coming out as an Atheist

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Describe your worst classroom experience.

I was about 18 years old when I was finally ready to admit I was an Atheist.

Religion was always something I struggled with a bit as a kid.  While my parents weren’t fanatically religious, we did attend church from time to time and something about it always felt off for me.  I just never really understood what all the fuss was about, and never felt like I connected with any of it.  I have also had some pretty negative experiences with religious people, including a thieving (and somewhat pervy) Anglican Vicar, and a week spent at a born-again Christian camp that disguised itself as a horseback riding camp.  I won’t get in to those things in detail here, but I’m sure you get the idea.

By the time I was entering university, I had started to come to terms with the fact that I was an Atheist: that I did not feel the presence of any spiritual entities or any belief that they existed and that I was generally okay with the idea that there isn’t an afterlife.  Over the years, I’ve generally categorized myself as a relaxed atheist.  I try to be as accepting and tolerant of different beliefs as I can, I have no desire to debate the existence of God, I’ve never read The God Delusion, I’ve just gone with my gut, in much the same way I feel like many moderately religious people have done.  I just don’t feel it, and I’m okay with that.  I’m not a particularly passionate person, and that goes for my feelings about religion and spirituality, or lack thereof.

When I was younger, however, I didn’t know how to express these ideas or really understand them myself.  It was all a bit new to me, and so I generally framed these ideas in the contexts I had at my disposal as a university student: science and arm chair logic from my moral philosophy courses.  I thing somehow it wasn’t good enough for me to just believe or not believe, I needed an argument, or a reason.  I just hadn’t yet realized what I do now: that believing in spiritual entities or concepts or not believing in them is completely irrational either way.

And so when discussing religious beliefs in my Sociology 101 tutorial during my first year at university, I felt I had to announce to the class that I required proof that god existed.  I was an atheist after all, and that was what I was supposed to think.  Wasn’t it?  I was so unsure of it all, and I know that I had difficulty articulating exactly what I was trying to get across.  Many of the other students in the class were at least moderately religious, and were far more confident in their beliefs than I was.  Some even commented on how they thought atheism was, at least to some extent, pretty reprehensible.  I felt like I was being attacked, like the entire class had united against me, and I had a pretty significant amount of angst about this encounter for a long time afterward.

Really, it was all just bad timing.  My beliefs weren’t fully formed, and I just wasn’t confident enough in myself to stand up for myself or engage my classmates in a meaningful debate.  I just wasn’t ready yet, and now that I am ready, I have no interest in debating it at all.

On the unexpected in baking

I’ve had a baking disaster today that is going to prevent me from writing as much as I’d like.  I had a post planned and started, but I just won’t have time to finish it given that I need to correct this mistake.

My mother is going to a potluck some friends are having tomorrow night and she asked me to bake something for her contribution, since she’s pretty busy right now.  Of course I agreed, because right now I’m taking advantage of every opportunity to bake something that I can get my flour-covered hands on.  I chose these gorgeous German chocolate thumbprint cookies that I saw in my mum’s favourite cooking and entertaining magazine.  They are supposed to be filled with a white chocolate & pecan ganache.

Pretty awesome, right?  I thought so too, until I actually started making the cookie dough.  There’s just not enough wet ingredients in the recipe and, unfortunately, they’re very dry.  The cookies themselves are delicious, but the texture is just off for me, and the batch was so small that it’s not really appropriate to take to someone’s house.  I decided, in the end, to scrap them and make something that I know will be amazing.  I’m rushing now to finish cooking dinner and get to the grocery store so that I can make this amazing pumpkin spice loaf.  It’s easy, very tasty, and perfect for fall.

On mornings and stimulants

Fluff post today as I’m having a busy week with school work (which I’d previously been taking some time away from), appointments, and baking a few things for something my mum’s doing at work.

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Do you need coffee to wake up in the morning?

Boy, do I ever, but not as much as I used to.

I became a full time smoker when I as about 19 years old.  I’d smoked before that, but at 19 I went from smoking a cigarette here and there with friends to smoking every day.  Not long after that, I became a pretty staunch 1 pack per day kind of person, and I rarely deviated from that over the years.  I would try to quit occasionally and usually smoke a little less for some time after starting up again, but I always returned to one pack per day.  Smoking and drinking coffee started early in my daily routine — just after I’d woken up and gotten ready — as early as I could possibly manage.  For many years, when my schedule allowed, I would just throw on some sweats and immediately grab my coffee and cigarette, before really doing anything else.

I managed to finally quit smoking about 2 and a half years ago (May 1, 2011), using the nicotine patch and a lot of lollipops and hard candies, and that seems to have diminished my reliance on stimulants quite a lot, though I’d say actually getting a proper sleep also helps with that.  I don’t wake up feeling like I won’t be able to do anything at all until I’ve got uppers in my system anymore, and I can go for a few hours even without having my first cup of coffee.

I don’t much like going more than a few hours without coffee, however.  It I don’t get some caffeine in to my system (energy drinks will do the trick, but I far prefer drinking coffee), I will inevitably get one of those awful addict headaches that everyone hates.  I can at least function these days, but I’m better off not waiting too long.  I do, however, consume a lot less coffee than I did when I smoked — I just find that I’m less dependent these days on artificial help when it comes to waking up and starting my day.