So Say We All: Finding Our Way as Geek Parents

One of the many things that overwhelmed me as a new mother was trying to figure out where I fell on the spectrum of parenting philosophies: Attachment parent? Tiger mom? Ferberization fan? Dr. Sears subscriber? Bringing Up Bébé believer Not to mention a chorus of friends and family with their own sets of best practices. There were so many voices to sort through…from my mother to Mister Rogers to Super Nanny to Dr. Spock, and so many questions: Will you let your baby cry? Does she sleep in bed with you? How long do you plan to nurse? Will you do sleep training? Will you speak to her in different languages? Each question carried its own opinion and the answers seemed to place a parent in some camp or another.

I cannot speak for all new parents, but I certainly felt nervous and tentative. I was trying to do my best and secretly hoping I might find the “magic combination of rocking, swaddling, and shushing” that would help my baby (and me!)  to sleep better, or overcome whatever the next challenge was to come along

I felt like I should “belong” in some camp or another, because how I identified seemed to be important in helping me to figure out what I should do. So I did what I do in most unfamiliar situations–I read everything I could get my hands on and then considered the advice of people I respected. Mark and I tried a few different strategies (some worked, most didn’t), and we eventually fumbled our way into what worked for us: trusting our intuition.

We came to realize that when you’re sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, mentally-drained, and trying to care for your family, it’s really not the time to try on new philosophies or adopt a new world view. Not only did it feel unnatural, but it didn’t stick. Sure, there were things that could be learned, and there was value in educating one’s self about developmental milestones and needs; but we came to feel quite strongly that we needed to trust our instincts–drawing from our inherent strengths, gratefully leaning on the people who offered support, and being humble enough to ask for help when it was needed.

The thing we didn’t realize at the time was that we already did belong to a group, one that was built upon decades of wisdom that we had already integrated into our core being…We were “geek parents.”

We may not have specifically called ourselves by that title at the time, but we did discuss and draw from a common frame of reference that was shaped for years by a steady stream of sci-fi’s pseudo-familial starship crews, comic book examples of courage and persistence, and beloved fantasy characters full of compassion and integrity. Everything we had read and watched and loved had become a part of us and ultimately helped us to be better parents.

Children learn from the world around them, but their first and most important teachers are their parents. They are always watching us, and we teach them with our countless mundane, everyday examples. So in many ways, the path of trying to be a good parent was a continuation of the path of trying to be a good person.

Geek CoverWhen Stephen and I started working on the book Geek Parenting (What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family (Quirk Books), our idea was never to create a definitive book on parenting or a revolutionary approach toward raising children. Geek Parenting does not claim that any one philosophy should be adopted when making choices about development or discipline. On our pages, there are dozens of parenting gems from a wide range of sources from a diversity of voices, because at its core, that is what it means to be a geek parent.

Every geek parent is made up of a unique patchwork of geek ideas and ideals shaped by their own particular interests and fandoms. Very few are strictly “one kind of geek.” We may have started with Superman or Star Wars, but those led to other characters, other stories, other worlds.

In his “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman wrote some of my favorite oft-quoted lines:

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

Of course Whitman was not talking about geeks. Of course we all contain multitudes. But geeks contain particular combinations of multitudes not often found in others: it may be fairy tales and robotics, or gothic architecture and zombies, or steampunk crafting and Slavic mythology. These highly speculative and imaginative stories show us different ways of envisioning the future, revising the past, and relating to all manner of humans, aliens, gods, creatures.

Geek Parenting celebrates those multitudes. It highlights just a fraction of the hundreds of relationships that have made an impact on geek culture and have provided geek parents with tools and examples for how to cope, how to heal, how to teach, how to forgive.

Geek Parenting is not a book that someone can read to understand the secret to being a good parent. Because there is no secret. There is no one path, no one-size-fits-all philosophy that works. Truly, it goes against the imaginative geek spirit to assert that there can only one way to do…anything.

As part of the promotion for Geek Parenting, we’ve launched a website (www.geekparentingbook.com) that will feature, among other things: quote cards from the book, reblogged parenting or geek material that seems pertinent, Geek Parenting memes, and real-life geek family portraits..

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This last part is the most exciting to us because it brings Geek Parenting to life. The portraits will show the beautiful diversity of geek families and the range of geek wisdom that has influenced them.

Geek parents have been outsiders and underdogs, lonely and misunderstood; geek parents have also been heroes and leaders, happy and victorious. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We are scientists, gardeners, teachers, programmers, baristas, firemen, writers, and electricians…Geeks are everywhere, and in many ways our numbers are growing. That gives me hope.

In his now famous TED talk (that has been seen by more than 37 million people), Sir Ken Robinson discusses at length his concern that the schools are educating our children out of their creativity. He argues that the future is going to need creative thinkers more than ever before. “You can’t just give someone a creativity injection,” Robinson said, “You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.”

I would argue that geek parents are especially good at cultivating environments for curiosity. The multitudes that many of us contain are by their very nature visionary. Whether in life, on the screen, or on the pages of our beloved stories, geek parents have experienced a wide range of what is means to be human, and we have seen countless examples of different possibilities for our future.

That is what Stephen and I want to celebrate in Geek Parenting–the creativity, empathy, and innovation that seem to lie at the heart of so much geek wisdom.

If we can use those lessons to love our children and teach them to question and imagine and strive for a better future, perhaps we will give them the tools they need to make it so.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy, 2016.
Photo by Kyle Cassidy, at  Locust Moon Comics, 2016.

 

New Book…GEEK PARENTING!

Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Many of you know I spent much of the spring and summer writing, and it’s finally time to announce why! A new book!!! And it’s coming next Spring!

A few years ago, my writer friend and editor extraordinaire Stephen Segal edited GEEK WISDOM: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture. I loved the book of thoughtful essays reflecting upon well-known quotations, and when Stephen asked me if I would be interested in co-writing with him a follow-up that explored the parenting tips gleaned from geek-culture kids and their families, I was thrilled to be able to bring together some of the most important aspects of my life: being a mom, being a writer, and being a geek.

That book, GEEK PARENTING: What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family  will officially be out on April 5, 2016, by Quirk Books, but ARCS are ready now and being given away free at Book Riot Live 2015 in New York this weekend!

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Stephen and I will be sharing more information as the date gets closer, and there will definitely be Chicago events around the release date, as well as elsewhere. (I believe that the book can already be pre-ordered online.)

I’m proud of GEEK PARENTING. The lessons Stephen and I write about are important truths I try to keep in mind every day as I strive to raise thoughtful, kind, passionate, creative kids. There’s a lot of wisdom in those fantastic books and movies, TV shows and comics that we grew up with and continue to enjoy. Whether you have kids or are a kid at heart, I hope you enjoy it half as much as we loved writing it.

(Behind the scenes, Photo by Kyle Cassidy)
(Behind the scenes, Photo by Kyle Cassidy)

You just might find, you get what you need

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to Neil Gaiman read a story he had begun in 2004 and finished last year, “The Return of the Thin White Duke.” Neil was originally asked by artist Yoshitaka Amano to write a story to accompany Amano’s sketches for a fashion spread featuring David Bowie and Iman, but only the first half was published in 2004. Neil completed the piece for his upcoming short story collection TRIGGER WARNING (to be released in February 2015).

David Bowie, by Yoshitaka Amano
David Bowie, by Yoshitaka Amano

The inaugural reading coincided with the closing of the David Bowie exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I had the opportunity to view the “David Bowie Is” exhibit a few weeks earlier when Brooke Bolander was in town, and it was wonderful–provocative and inspiring.

David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR
David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR

While I have always enjoyed Bowie’s work, I had not previously encountered the full scope of his creative vision. Taken from his personal collection and accompanied by corresponding Bowie songs, the exhibit included storyboards and relics, books and sheet music, videos and photographs, and so many exquisite clothes.

David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR
David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR

All of them came together to create a portrait of a man who seems to delight in creating new experiences for his audience–reinventing himself, challenging expectations and norms, using his persona and music to affect change.

David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR
David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR

Neil’s reading closed out a steady stream of Bowie admirers and cultural icons who have graced the MCA stage over the last four months to celebrate Bowie and his influence.

Neil Gaiman reading from "The Thin White Duke" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, on the closing of the David Bowie Is exhibit.
Neil Gaiman reading from “The Thin White Duke” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, on the closing of the David Bowie Is exhibit.

I adore Neil’s writing, and his short fiction in particular. He is a master storyteller. Whether set in primeval oceans, Elizabethan pubs, wolf-infested walls, or alternate dimensions, the worlds Neil creates are vivid and populated with characters who feel authentic. When Neil reads his work aloud, it all comes crashing into life, words like waves washing over an audience who will raptly follow him anywhere.

During the Q&A, Neil talked about the challenges of writing historical characters that remain “true” to the reality of the person, in particular those who are still alive. In “The Return of the Thin White Duke,” Neil has captured something of the enigmatic yet almost archetypical essence of David Bowie. Rich with the “fantastic,” yet grounded with carefully selected real-world details, “Thin White Duke” feels like something that could easily exist in one of the multiverses of Bowie’s mind, snaking its way into his songs and sketches.

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Neil talked about how when he was young, Bowie’s songs presented him with doorways that in turn, led Neil to new information and ideas, things that inspired him. Interesting that while standing in line and waiting in the auditorium, I heard the same thing said of Neil and his work. So many people talking about the influence that Neil’s fiction and tweets and blog entries and comics have had on their work, their art, their lives. Neil, like Bowie, presents us with doors. It’s a creative continuum: ripples from artist to audience, and artist to artist, and so on.

Sometimes a story provides us with a welcome escape; sometimes it opens the door to a new world; and sometimes a story gives us exactly what we need to hear.

“The Return of the Thin White Duke” is a beautifully crafted Neil Gaiman story inspired by another risk-taking artist who continues to challenge us to “turn and face the strange.”

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say it is a story about transformation and sacrifice, a story about the ways we reinvent ourselves when we try to get back in touch with our heart–and these things at this moment in time resonated with me in a way I did not expect. It was a gift of serendipity, and another kind of door opened.

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need.”

Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want