Author Archives: SoapboxForNerds

True Nerd, True North

Because the bus I am on doesn’t have working power outlets to charge my laptop, I am writing the first draft of this piece by hand. Now, that may not seem incredibly revolutionary, but if you’ve ever seen me in front of a keyboard, you would know what a handicap it is for me to hand-write anything.

I’m an incredibly fast typist. In college, I had the digital note-taking skills of a court stenographer, transcribing verbatim every word that left my professors’ mouths. My typing talent enabled me to collect so much information that I could probably teach the coursework myself using only my class notes as a guide.

Sure, in my years of typing, I’d let my handwriting deteriorate into a mess of jagged, unreadable squiggles. But what did it matter? In truth, my laptop was the only way I’d embraced the technological revolution. I still frequented the stacks of libraries on a regular basis. I sent physical cards in the mail for birthdays and holidays. I gave away my eReader after immediately regretting the purchase. And hey, at least I wasn’t one of those smartphone addicts.

I prided myself on the idea that I wasn’t glued to my smartphone. Yes, I used it for texting, podcasts, Google Maps, and basic functions, but when someone would give me directions or information, I’d whip out my oh-so-nerdy little Moleskine notebook and jot their words down with a fine-tipped black pen I’d paid too much for at a stationery shop in Park Slope. I stood behind my antiquated practices when it came to handheld gadgetry, proud of my ignorance of what an “S-Beam” or “Smart Stay” was. I may have had a deep love of Microsoft Word, but I was still a true nerd with a true appreciation for the art of a hand-bound book or a snail-mailed letter. I felt, dare I say, even a little superior to the rest of my generation, who were connected to Facebook or Instagram every second of the day via their smartphones.

That is, until I met my boyfriend, Eric. When we got out our phones to exchange numbers, I had to ask, “Really? That’s the phone you use?”

Eric’s cell was—and still is, even a year and a half later—a flip phone. It’s at least six years old. He used a landline, he told me, until the middle of his undergraduate education, when he finally gave up and got a cell. He’s had it ever since.

But it gets worse. His phone has no 3G or 4G capability, no access to music or video, and he often uses a connected handheld receiver to make calls.

“It’s more ergonomic,” he insists.

“Fine,” I reply, “but why don’t you at least use word prediction when you text?”

“I don’t like it,” he tells me. “It’s too presumptuous.”

Refusing to embrace the full potential of your smartphone so as not to get sucked into the virtual world is one thing. Refusing to even have remote access to information, directions, and train schedules is another. So when it came time to upgrade my phone, I offered Eric my old device.

“It’s practical to have one,” I told him.

He inspected the thing, skeptical, as always. “I hate touchscreens,” he complained. “They get fingerprints all over them.”

“Then Windex it,” I retorted, rolling my eyes. “Come on. It’s fine. Don’t you at least think it’s useful to have access to Google maps?”

Eric went silent, giving my offer a moment of consideration. I did it, I thought. I’d won him over.

And at last, he gave me my answer.

“I’ll get a compass.”

So he did. I spent the next several months mocking him for it, as girls do when they secretly think something their boyfriend does is cute. Although it was frustrating trying to get even a single text message out of him, I found his Luddism charming. Instead of texts, I started sending him handwritten notes on letterpress cards. In a way, his lack of a smartphone didn’t keep us apart at all; it helped bring us closer together.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t tease him for it every chance I got. Every time I watched him ignore a text message because it was too long or pull his compass out of his bag to navigate the grid of Manhattan, I couldn’t help but make some remark about what a nerdy old man he was. At least, right up until my phone got pickpocketed on the subway.

“Are you sure it’s gone?” Eric asked me as we stood lost somewhere in the middle of an unfamiliar neighborhood in Bushwick. I’d searched through my purse five times and hadn’t found it.

“It’s practically the size of a television,” I snapped. “I think I’d notice if it were there.”

“Well, relax,” he said. “Let’s just get back to the apartment and we can work out what to do about it then.”

“Yeah,” I told him, “but the directions were in my Google Maps. Without my phone, I don’t know how to get us back there.”

Part of me wishes I could have retracted what I’d said. I knew now that I would have to soon stop all the ridiculing, all the gloating about how it was much better to have a smartphone just to be prepared for things. Until that moment, I was the one who always had all the information conveniently stored in front of her like some kind of super-secretary, with everything just a couple of keystrokes away. But here my borderline superpower was revealed to be scarcely more than a façade made possible by my keyboard and electronic gadgets. I was the Batman of note-takers, the Wizard of Oz of writers, totally inhibited without my technology.

And so, like some sort of antiquated, nerdy superhero, it was Eric’s turn to step forward and save the day. He produced from his pocket the only gadget he would ever need, presenting the compass out on a level palm, letting it show us, sans 4G data connection, how to safely make our way back to the subway station and all the way home.

Ana currently resides in Brooklyn in an apartment she can only locate by using her smartphone. As an English nerd and a pedant, she would like to note that she realizes compasses point magnetic north, which is not the same thing as true north, but was unable to resist the opportunity for the parallel syntax in the title of this piece.

Advertisements

Muslima Nerd Life

Note: Muslima is the female form of Muslim, meaning someone who practices Islam.

I was born in a Chicago suburb to extremely nerdy parents. At <2 years old, I moved to Saudi Arabia.

I’ve told my story many times (tedious for me and others who have heard it sooooo many times). I’ve lived mostly in the Middle East and Mauritius, only recently coming to live in the United States. Most people who know me are aware of my travelling past and I forgive them every time they slip up when recounting it*. Everyone who knows me is damn aware that I am a huge nerd. However, my Western friends – they get confused. It’s like they see me as a nerd, but never seem to realize that I’ve been nerdy all my life. Yes, even during my childhood in such “terrible”** places as Saudi Arabia!

“How did you get to play games in Saudi?” one has asked. I imagine some dark underworld, unlabeled crates containing old NES cartridges, shifty men opening their coats. It wasn’t like that, oh please. Playing games in Saudi was just like playing games here. Sometimes, stores have low stock, and there are raids, but you can always find a game***. And movies? Pssh. NO problem. Sometimes censored, but sometimes not.

I guess it’s difficult to think of Middle Eastern countries as having awesome things because of how the media portrays them. The trepidation is reserved for Islamic countries especially, since the Western world finds Muslims terrifying. Saudi Arabia looks like Hell to the outsider when a landscape is painted with women unable to drive, movie theaters banned, and Shari’ah law. When I think of what Westerners think Arabs/Muslims are actually like, I imagine a bearded, turbaned brown man in a thobe**** wagging his finger on one hand saying “no fun allowed!” while bombing America with the other. Because of this, I can understand why my American friends, lovely as they are, are surprised that my nerdiness bloomed in Oman, Qatar, and yeah, even Saudi Arabia before I got here.

Another thing that some have found curious is that I am a passionate nerdette while still being a practicing Muslim. With that image of the restrictively-ruled Saudi Arabia in their minds, I know why Islam looks forbidding. After all, the Kingdom is home to Islam’s most holiest sites – one of which I used to visit just about every week. And here I am, missing that holy city of Makkah every day when I think about it – even while trying***** to get one stupid-ass headshot with my Psycho character in Borderlands 2. Ya Allah, just give me one headshot Insha’Allah!******

Being a Muslim nerd in a Muslim country is like being a nerd anywhere else.  I cannot tell you how it’s different being a Muslim nerd when, uh, I don’t know anything else. The sad thing is how I’m alienated by so much of the content in nerdy art forms, like video games, books, and movies, because there is nothing about someone remotely like me.That’s how many Muslims and Middle Easterners feel – the characters who could be like us are enemies, not protagonists. We’re caricatures, not people. And if we are people, we are whitewashed. Just look at the Prince of Persia series, movie or game. Even Assassin’s Creed, which is on the road to something better – Islam is hardly mentioned, if at all, although it was a huge reason that Saladin was who he was!

It’s not unbelievable that I played Fallout 2 while living in Oman, or Diablo in Saudi Arabia. It’s unbelievable that I still haven’t been able to play a game with a Muslim protagonist yet. I know Westerners are scared of fatwas on their heads, but maybe one day a Muslim will rise in the ranks of a company and make a decision to represent a Muslim or a Middle Eastener respectfully. From one Muslim to you, it is possible – but Allah, when?!

*I look this way because my mother’s ancestors came from India, not the Middle East. No, I lived in Riyadh, then  Makkah, then Riyadh again. No, I went to school in Jeddah, but lived in Makkah. I know it is confusing. I know…

**ugh, people, please. Saudi’s awesome.

***so, uh, the shifty men? They did exist, but they were chill.

****that white long dress things Arabs wear

*****and absolutely failing

******Oh God, God willing – things Muslims say

Worst. Magician. Ever.

I want magic powers. I bet you immediately thought of wizards and witches and fireballs and, just maybe, nearsighted preteen Brits with weather-related scars. I totally admit that would be awesome — flying on broomsticks, unlocking doors with a few spoken words, and playing with baseball cards that move. The thing is, in all those stories, those magic-doers have to battle evil or some garbage. Screw that, man. If I had magic powers, I wouldn’t fight evil or feel compelled to save the world. Nope, I would end up being one of those people who need a crane to be lifted out of their house. I would use magic to become the laziest person alive. Hey! I wouldn’t even need the crane! I could just levitate myself!

That’s right. Gone would be the days of having to get up and fetch that cake from the fridge. Never again would I have to reach over and pick up a ringing telephone. Say goodbye to needing to pay for heating oil. Instead, that cake would come to me. I would communicate telepathically with whoever called. I’d throw a fireball so hot, it would melt the neighbors’ house. Wait! It would be so hot, it would melt the neighbors! That’s what you get for judging the morbidly obese, Bob. Suck on my mystically enchanted sulfur balls…of flame.

See, the benefit to being a magician is that I could do whatever I want. At the top of the list? Nothing. In fact, please don’t bother me. That’s what I want most of all. I realize I could do amazing things to help the underprivileged. I could eliminate hunger, ease human suffering, and help those less fortunate pick themselves up by their bootstraps. The thing is, what about my bootstraps? Do you honestly expect me to lean over and grab ahold of my shoes when I could just magic them into my hands? Just because the underprivileged can’t manipulate space, matter, and time with a simple thought doesn’t mean it becomes my responsibility. Do you have any idea of the type of focus necessary to guarantee nothing but green lights every time I leave the house?

Shut up, Uncle Ben!

I imagine being the most powerful human being alive would allow a lot of time for little pet projects. Have you ever seen the movie The Rocketeer? I’m pretty sure magic is the only way you don’t become a torso with flaming stumps for legs. What about Star Wars? I would totally call myself a Jedi. Let’s see if Han still thinks “hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a trusty blaster at your side” when I use magic to turn that blaster in a rabid bantha in heat. Also, I would create pretty much anything in Back to the Future II. Hoverboards are freakin’ awesome.

The classic mistake.

There’d be no rules to hold me back.There’d be no one to stop me. No force in the entire world would give me the slightest pause. I realize this sounds like the start of every villain story. At first, his intentions are good. He alone sees the one true path to universal peace. He alone can save the human race, just so long as all power is forfeited to him. I know what you’re thinking. This is exactly what would happen to me. All my good intentions would buckle under the weight of all that power. In no time at all, I would be a despot.

Well, you’re totally wrong. You have wildly overestimated my motivation to do anything except sit on my couch and watch Netflix. I realize I could do all sorts of amazing, powerful, unstoppable things. I just wouldn’t want to. I would, at most, sit around with servants to wait on me hand and foot. I would surround myself with sycophants who inevitably would become my entourage. They’d get me all my food, provide entertainment, and basically run my empire (which would be completely dedicated to making me even more lazy). Basically, I’d be a Jedi version of Jabba the Hutt.

Before you freak out, I already know that Hutts cannot be Force-sensitive. Don’t get your Twi’leks in a bunch.

Maybe this is why there is no magic in the world anymore. (Let’s not quibble over the existence, or the practical realities, of magic. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume magic is real. Don’t be a Bob, okay?) Maybe all the magicians in the world got into a huge war over resources. One especially powerful magician was able to horde all the food and servants, while the other magicians starved to death. Then the reigning magician choked on a mutton sandwich, the food blocking his airway and thus preventing him from being able to call for help. Quite tragically, he forgot he could just magic the food away. It was just too delicious.

Or magic doesn’t exist. Shut up, Bob!

Joe is an amateur magician. So far, his magical abilities consist of waving his hand in front of an automatic door and making it open. He does not have a neighbor named Bob…anymore.

LARP: Putting the IRL in RPG

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barend_van_Orley_-_Sharing_Out_the_Game_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Sharing Out the Game, Barend van Orley

Come, my friends, and let me bring you to a magical world where your physical limitations will not prevent you from kicking ass, and your imagination defines reality. Put your PSP down, log out of League of Legends for a while, and don your least era-specific boots. There are player characters to whomp, and it might get muddy. We’re going LARPing.

But first, some history.

Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, defines the activity thusly:

LARPs are all about 24/7 immersive role-play. They take the fantasy a step beyond. You create a character, invent a backstory, put on makeup, dress the part, and physically wander around a real setting, interacting with other players and making up the banter as you go along. And occasionally you beat the crap out of them.

You may have been introduced to the subcultre when LARPing gained some mainstream notoriety from the 2008 buddy comedy, Role Models.

http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/role-models/

Word on the street is that the irl LAIRE was shocked by the dramatized version of their game that director David Wain brought to the silver screen. (The guy in maroon, on the left, is going in for a super illegal head-swing.)

LARPs have their own universes, including game rules, dress code, participation, and combat system. The intention of the group is to tell a story rather than to recreate one that happened. The storyteller (or plot member) creates a module (or scene) and expresses to the non-player-characters (NPCs, the regenerating horde of monsters) what dialogue must get through to the players in each specific adventure. The improvisation comes into play when free-thinking gamers choose to interact with their opposition.

Each group/faire/event/game is different from its neighbor. There is no rigid how-to guide that umbrellas all of the producing organizations. All games create individual silhouettes and moods. LARPing necessitates believing in what is possible rather than believing that it is real while dressing up to play “make-believe”.

http://caitlinchan.wordpress.com/

Not a beanbag arsenal. Magic.

LARPers get a bad rap. It takes a lot of chutzpah to fully commit to an imaginary character. To let that made-up person’s wants and needs envelop your own. Like protagonist, Kvothe, in The Name of the Wind, a LARPer must create two separate thinking minds — your character loses her puppet strings, and your puppet master ignores OOG (out of game) information that might sway her decision making. I know that stepping on that doggy toy springs a trap, but my character doesn’t have the skill ‘trap-finding’…guess I’m walking through this maze without looking down, so to keep myself honest. Squeak. Boom. 5 Normal Damage!

But isn’t total immersion what we’re looking for in our over-saturated-short-attention-span filled lives? We’ve learned to divide our attention so to avoid boring our big brains. We’re in constant communication through social media and text messages. Movie-going is a time-honored passive activity that grabs our attention, but not enough to warrant the unnecessity of high-budget PLEASE DON’T TEXT IN THE THEATER pleas from our sponsors before the show. LARPing is a perfect solution.

I’ll set the scene for you.

It’s late Saturday night. You’re exhausted from having spent the entire day on your feet, running about the woods, ducking branches, and parrying blows. At your side is a band of your closest pals. You might live states apart from each other, as a good LARP is worth the travel. You’re not reminiscing about a night at the bar, but you are gambling in the Tavern. That greedy halfling swindled you out of your coin last month, and you want to show him a lesson this time.

But suddenly, every head in the Tavern turns to the door: a scream starts and is quickly muffled from the center of town. One of the newest players has been captured. On cue, your noble friends and heroic townpeople hustle to regroup. Someone casts light, someone offers their silver weapons, someone begins to track. A band of fighters and casters gather, huddling in woolen cloaks accepting buffs, preparing for an altercation.

Without fail, the tracks lead you to a dark narrow path. There could be anything in that darkness. Confident fighters send shields to the front and the back of the group. People huddle for protection, tripping on each other’s robes, fumbling quiet apologies. Commotion erupts at the back of the line: from the darkness, a claw has reached out to grab a healer! And soon, persistent ghoulish undead things are slashing at you from all sides. You block the blows you can see while ticking down your health until they no longer resurrect.

Fear has a hold of a few of you, who would consider heading back to town, but there is safety in numbers. And who knows how many more waves of swords and spells you’ll face before reaching the Big Bad and helping your comrade to further solve the riddle that obfuscates his past.

A scout returns to the group to report that he’s found the Drow Matron’s layer. You start, confident once more and accept some healing potion from your neighbor. He keeps the bottles in a handcrafted leather belt with pouches and snaps. You’re honored that he’s sharing and caught off guard when a monster flies at you from the brambles that have been deceptively quiet and peaceful at your side. You jump back to avoid the blow and two things happen in quick succession: you knock your friend into the bushes and lose your glasses.

TIME OUT!

Laughter boils as skeletons help their fellow gamers to their feet. Plot members and the well prepared shine flashlights on the earth to help you find your glasses.

IS THERE ANY REASON THIS TIME OUT SHOULD CONTINUE?

There are murmurs as people return to positions mid-battle, frozen.

GAME ON!

And thus, your journey continues. When you and your band return to town, victorious, the Tavern fills once more. You dry your grass-stained boots on the stove and sip heated cider to warm your nose and rehydrate. For this is living. This is LARPing.

http://teamdynamite.livejournal.com/47238.html

EEK allegedly plagiarized some of this article from her undergraduate thesis about the sub-genres of Neo-Medieval themed performance, because she is a very, very cool kid.

Writer’s Block is Like…uh…Give Me a Minute…

This may be a writer's block. It is unrelated to this post.

This may be a writer’s block. It is unrelated to this post.

The irony of this post is how long it took me to write it. When trying to pen something on writer’s block, it is fairly predictable that you will suffer from the very affliction about which you are trying to write. Perhaps this is an example of the universe’s obnoxious sense of humor, but I think it is, more likely, something far more practical. I believe the topic (and the attempt to expound on the subject) is akin to the idea of telling someone not think about elephants. As soon as you have the thought of what not to do, your head is riddled with images of Dumbo, dressed as a fairy princess and dancing around the cafeteria of your elementary school. (That last part may be unique to me.)

This is worse than my worse nightmares. Image credit: Blingee

The creative process is an individual thing, as varied as the people doing the creating. For some, there is a need to sit at a computer to get any writing done. Others need their thoughts organized on note cards before stringing together some sentences. Some writing for distraction, some seek distraction to avoid writing. Still others alter their methods each time, hoping a new procedure will be the perfect set of circumstances that allow for the best writing. Personally, I am guilty of all of the methods listed above.  Even this article was written with pen and paper first. My hope was I would be forced to slow down a little and allow for more time to think about what I’m writing. It remains to be seen if my theory is correct.

When I encounter (or, more accurately, read about) professional writers and their methods, I am always intrigued. I’ve heard about people building writing shacks to isolate them from the world as they write. Authors have been known to write entire novels longhand, or on antique typewriters. George R.R. Martin has used the same word processor since the early 1980s. Whatever the method, the fact remains that it needs to work. As an author, you must be happy with the results (or hate the results with a low enough intensity that you begrudgingly allow it to be read by others).

Neil Gaimen’s Writing Shack Image taken from doycetesterman.com

You may be asking by this point, “What does this have to do with nerds?” The answer is fairly obvious: Nerds are some of the best writers out there.I’ve not found very much about the writing methods of Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, or George Lucas. (Steady on, friends. Slow your vitriol for Mr. Lucas. I shall address him and his purported writing crimes in the future.). The reality, at least for me, is these nerds are successful and beloved writers. While they will invariably and inevitably struggle with writer’s block, that is the exception and not the rule.

As consumers of media, we don’t often think of the arduous, almost back-breaking process involved in getting our favorite thing to the screen/bookstore/internet. We focus on the final product, often overlooking the undoubtedly painful decisions to kill a character or alter something from the source material. We, especially in the nerd community, feel incredible ownership over the stories we love. When we disagree with the choices made by the author, we disagree loudly and mercilessly. A writer may struggle with crafting the perfect story, laboring over the most minute of details, all while working under the crushing pressure of a brain that won’t let you put thoughts on the page. The average consumer of the writing doesn’t care. We never for a moment entertain the possibility that George, Joss, and J.J. may have suffered to bring us Luke, Buffy, and Spock, respectively.

I don’t know that I could think of a self-described nerd who isn’t a fan of the good writing. I dare say a prerequisite of nerdom is a love of the written word. When one aspires to create that written word for an audience of nerds, one’s memory is inevitably drawn to the burning effigies of George Lucas and that insufferable bastard Jar-Jar Binks. If Lucas, the man who codified that which became the stereotypes for nerds, couldn’t write well enough for the nerd community, how could I possibly hope to succeed? The simple answer? I can’t. I should have listened to Admiral Ackbar.

Truth.

I Reddit, Too!

Without a doubt, we’ll get flamed for using this image.

Many people have at least heard of the complex, soul-sucking addiction that is Reddit. And some have the misfortune of understanding exactly what that entails. Hello, I am Nicole, and I am addicted to a website.

Hi, Nicole.

Unfortunately a Reddit welcome wouldn’t be quite as warm and friendly as a simple ‘hi,’ but I appreciate the gesture nonetheless.

When I went to college, my first introduction to the site was through a friend who was constantly on his computer looking at various subreddits. I never understood the fascination with the site mostly because it confused the hell out of me. What is a subreddit? How do you look at pictures? WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?! I didn’t really feel the need or desire to get involved.

That is, until I graduated and found myself with a lot more free time and the crushing loneliness that one can only get from leaving college.

I guess I can technically refer to myself as a “responsible Redditor” because I waited until after college before spiraling into the depths of the internet. It wasn’t intentional; it actually started because another friend of mine kept sending me pictures of cats (duh.) and telling me she found them on Reddit. This just happened to coincide with me not being in college anymore.

Slowly but surely I became obsessed. I started out in all the beginner subreddits like advice animals, fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu, funny, and pics. But from the point of origin as a doe-eyed novice to now I like to think of as my Reddit maturation period. I went from being a curious lurker without an account to someone whose subs reflect the habits of the true Nicole. Gone are the days where I sat behind my computer screen snickering at rage comics and poorly delivered puns. (I’m just kidding – my inability to create puns is 100% equal to my love for them.)

Apologies if this comic makes you feel “melon”-coly.

I want people to see me for who I am through these upvotes and comments. People should see me as an animal-loving (obsessed?) feminist who is, well, pretty damn funny. Not because this is the way I so desperately desire to be seen, but because these are important values in my life and I would love to connect with others over a similarity. I’ll post a comment here or there and wait for the upvotes to roll in as I pat myself on the back for my clever remark. I’ve done enough lurking of other people’s inputs to understand the sorts of things that get the highest karma. Usually they’re witty or just painfully honest, two things that I am well versed in. So commenting on Reddit should leave me with an intense karmagasm, right?

Fifteen minutes and -45 karma later I’m confused and on the verge of deleting my comment, my self-confidence crying hysterically in a corner. I’ve received PMs telling me to kill myself, asking how big my boobs are, and generally telling me off for being a pathetic loser.  I watch other people soar above me and wonder what I did wrong. Answer: I still don’t know – seriously, what the hell did I do to these people!?

Two years later on Reddit and I still haven’t made it work in my favor. I don’t understand the concept of downvoting people for absolutely no reason, and I really cannot grasp why some are driven by a need for karma. I’m becoming the sort of snob who turns their nose up at reposted content, downvoting all karmawhores and trolls I come across because seriously, name one benefit of being either.

When I hear other people mention that they use the site in real life, I feel an immediate connection with them. ‘You Reddit, too?! Great, we BOTH waste way too much of our time stuck on computers instead of doing something productive! Let’s be friends; I’ll send you my account and you can talk to me through PMs. Because, let’s be honest, we’re not seeing people any time soon.”

Amen.

Mostly I lurk, but I appreciate what I gain from Reddit. I am able to learn a lot about tons of topics that interest me, obsess over adorable animals, and maybe one day I’ll actually say something that fellow users deem worthy of reading.

Nicole is afraid to post a picture of her cat on her second cake day because her cat is perfect, and she doesn’t want to see the inevitable downvotes.

Why I’ll Never Bother Reading Ulysses

          I met a fellow a year ago, a friend’s roommate, who claimed to be a published writer.

          “Oh, yeah?” I said, feigning interest. I, too, wanted to be a published fiction writer, but I’d always had a hard time relating to other writers. I didn’t care what their books were about. I didn’t care where they got their ideas (usually thinly-veiled descriptions of their own lives). I was just jealous that they were published. So, in an attempt to make conversation, I asked the most basic, non-offensive question I could think of: “What would you say your favorite book is?”

          The writer replied, speaking in his elegant, flowing Irish brogue, “Ah, well, that would have to be Ulysses, by James Joyce.”

          I laughed in his face.

          “What!” I exclaimed. “Come on, no one’s favorite book is Ulysses.”

          In retrospect, maybe I was a little rude. For a while, I stood by what I said. At best, it’s pretentious to have Ulysses as a favorite book. At worst, it’s a downright lie. No one reads that book for any reason but to say they’ve read it. But after a while, I considered that maybe I was wrong. Maybe the rest of the literary world really did appreciate things I didn’t.

          Maybe I was the only one faking it.

          Since I completed my Master’s degree in English, I have been making the same terrible joke to everyone. “Well, it’s confirmed. I’ve officially mastered English.” I get a halfhearted chuckle out of most people, but my playful sarcasm over my newly-acquired Master’s is more revealing than it seems.

          I’m embarrassed because even with a graduate degree in my field, I’ve started to feel as if I haven’t mastered it at all. Who is the main character in For Whom the Bell Tolls? Um, some guy who was in a war, I guess. Can I describe the overall idea behind Nicholas Nickleby? If it’s anything like Dickens’s other novels, it’s social satire told through the life of a main character and his web of interrelationships with dozens of other characters. What happens in Pride and Prejudice? I have no idea, but probably somebody gets married.

          I’ve always figured it’s that sort of guesswork that enables an English major to succeed, and that like me, no one actually reads all of that nonsense. We read what we like (for me: Vladimir Nabokov, Daniel Handler, George Orwell, and David Sedaris, to name a few) and just go on Wikipedia or Sparknotes to confirm that we know the vague concepts behind the works we don’t feel like plodding through.

          Once I got to graduate school, I realized I might be the only one doing that. I met yet another young man who told me his favorite book was Ulysses. This time I replied, “Really?” I was in shock. I’d never touched that book. Never thought about opening it. I hadn’t even considered reading a summary. And here was the second person in the span of a few weeks who’d declared it his favorite.

          “Yeah,” he told me. “I spent months just sitting down and dissecting every word, looking up every reference. It totally changed my life.”

          Was this how every literature nerd did it? Were they all really dedicated enough to embrace each work placed before them, dutifully taking notes in the margins, tracking each allusion, translating every unknown phrase? Did they really read everything their professors assigned, rather than skimming hundreds of pages the night before class the way I did, hoping they wouldn’t get called on to answer any questions about specific details?

          I suddenly felt inadequate even outside of my literary circle. More than ever before, I grew nervous when my friends would expect me to know the plot of a story or the definition of a word.

          “You should know that,” they’d tell me. “You’re an English major.” Half the time I wouldn’t even give an answer for fear of being wrong.

          Was it really my job, as a lover of English, to memorize the whole dictionary and become my friends’ personal card catalog? Would I be scoffed at every time I didn’t know the answer to a book-related question on Jeopardy! or a literary reference in a movie?

          No. As a dear friend of mine declared in her recent Soapbox post, “That Which We Call a Rose,” (a Romeo and Juliet allusion, I assume): “You can’t know it all.” That’s true no matter which nerd culture you embrace. No matter how much you love the topic (and, although my academic peers may weary me, I do love literature), you don’t want to saturate your life with it in the sole interest of becoming a walking encyclopedia. If you did, there would be no time for other valuable activities, such as mocking people for liking Ulysses.

          So, don’t forgive me—professors, students—for all my sins. It’s true; I have not been able to complete many of my readings. I have spent hundreds of dollars on books, some of which I may never get around to finishing, all so I can go into class and nod along as if I, too, know what sound startled Clarissa in chapter whatever of Mrs. Dalloway. I’m no longer ashamed of that. There’s only so much time in a week, and I don’t study literature to fake it. I study it to love it. If I believe I’ll love a work, I will go back and reread anything I missed when I didn’t have time for it during the semester. I will embrace each story for what it is, not for what it means about me as a reader, a writer, or a student.

          People will likely still turn to me to answer questions about words they don’t know or books they haven’t read, and I will continue to use my extensive experience in interpreting context clues to give them the best answers I can. They will be satisfied, and I will remain their resident English nerd. If only they knew how little I knew.

Ana is a self-consciously self-proclaimed English nerd who hasn’t read everything she’s supposed to. She hasn’t even read all the previous posts on this blog, and there really aren’t that many. She double-checked all allusions in this story with Wikipedia.