Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I know I’m in California because…

I see green leaves on September 26, green even though it’s been a little cold and rainy. There are geraniums blooming in my yard and doves cooing in the eaves. I catch the eye of the driver across from me at a traffic light, she looks agitated and I beckon to let her precede me. She smiles and waves, then goes ahead.
This morning the doorbell rang at 7 AM. It was the NY Times delivery guy. He was concerned because he had delivered the paper earlier and didn’t see it when he drove by, but we usually aren’t out to get it that early. Did we need another one? No, it’s okay, we just got up early.
I go out barefooted to check on the dog’s water. The lawn chairs are still out and full of books from my husband’s last bout of studying. He must have left them after the rain, I think.
I make myself a cup of chamomile tea and watch a hummingbird on the one tall red rose outside the back window. Suddenly, my chair and I rock to the left and roll to the right. Oops, it’s an earthquake. Not a big one. My husband didn’t even notice it, probably because his chair was differently aligned towards the fault.

To me, the details in this description make it a California description. What kinds of details would say “California” or “Oregon” or wherever you are?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Nerds and Geeks and Nobodies that Count

Benjamin Nugent wrote an article for the July 29, 2007 issue of the New York Times Magazine called, “Who’s a Nerd, Anyway?” The answer is, a white guy. He cites Mary Bucholtz’s analysis suggesting he is hyperwhite. He writes poems to computers and speaks in ultra-precise English. Bucholtz finds that nerds choose Greek or Latin deviative words over Germanic ones, substituting “It is my observation that…” for “I think….” Of course, the scientific sound of the passive verb is part of the shtick also. Makes the nerd sound like an impartial observer.

By the time you finish reading that article, you begin to think the nerd/geek is some kind of a hero. He takes the white language to the maximum, refusing to steal and reuse any of the colorful slang ripped off from black culture. The author points out that TV writers have had fun tweaking the concept of nerd, applying nerdishness to black characters. But he implies that’s very rare in real life. Instead, the nerd tries to critique the mainstream white culture by exaggerating it, according to Nugent. You could see them as rebels, rejecting the tendency of the cool white kids to use ghetto slang. “You might say they know that a culture based on theft is a culture not worth having,” he tells us.

Is there a 'white' culture? One of my students once asked me that and I thought about folk dancing and all the differences that make Ireland and England fight, Serbia and Croatia fight, and said, 'No, there are many." So this nerd/geek deconstruction sounds too simplistic to me. It's very hard to classify people who are sorted into a category because they aren't something else (cool, sophisticated). Doesn't work for me. What do you think?