Category Archives: Ana

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.

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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.