Speak Out with your Geek Out: Science and Religion, Love and Zombies
Ah, where to begin? Where to begin?
When I heard about Speak Out with your Geek Out through Facebook friends and acquaintances, I wanted to contribute, but had to think about it for a bit. Should I focus on the details of one or more geeky interests? Or should I discuss the struggles of a young geek in the 70s and 80s? Nah, you’ve all been through your version of that, and have your own interests. I finally decided to write about where being a geek can lead you, and by extension, what my own geeky interests have wrought.
I went through the same kind of early life that most geeks did: monster movies, science fiction and fantasy novels, Dungeons and Dragons and a bazillion other tabletop role playing games. You want to know the strange part? No one ever said anything to me about any of that. Not a word. Maybe they didn’t understand, but I suspect the other kids just didn’t care about those things. But I got plenty of flak. Oh yeah. Plenty. I was the smart kid who didn’t talk much. I wasn’t “cool.” I didn’t care about clothing trends or hair styles or any of that nonsense. All I cared about was knowledge. I read everything I could find. I haunted the local library. Quiet. Alone. They say no man is an island, but I was doing my best to become an intellectual peninsula. And when you’re not one of the crowd, you’re the geek. The target. And the less I cared about being a target, the more it hacked ‘em off. But so what? If I had given in and tried to conform, I would still have been an outsider and reject, a different sort of geek, perhaps, but a geek nevertheless. Small price to pay, I say, for doing what I wanted.
I had a fairly strict religious upbringing that I found deeply unsatisfying for a lot of reasons. Suffice it to say that I have never been one for blind obedience. Maybe there’s a gene that allows folks to believe what they hear without analysis or introspection. If so, I don’t have it. But I had questions, by God, and I wanted answers, not rants and smug assertions about who would or wouldn’t burn in Hell.
By the way: Hell. Wonderful place, that. Hell is the place you go for asking questions. Hell is the place you go if you know too much. Hell is where scientists go. Hell is where movie makers and musicians go. Hell is where you are condemned when you don’t fit in. Hell? Groovy. Sign me up.
Speaking of Hell, I discovered zombies in 1978 when I saw an ad in a newspaper for George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and the famous tag line, “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth!” I was both intrigued and repelled by that creepy bald zombie with really bad skin on the movie posters. Then in 1981 or thereabouts I saw Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” late one night on Public Broadcast television. I was hooked. I was fascinated. The idea of an implacable and unrelenting foe that never stopped, that never ceased, was too cool. Movie theatres always checked IDs for age requirements, but video rental places didn’t, and a week or so later I finally saw Romero’s 1978 “Dawn of the Dead.” Apocalypse. The End of the World. I’d never seen anything like it in scope or concept. These were the first monster movies I saw with no answer for the problem, no solution to the zombies, and no happy endings. Neither science nor faith would save the day. Courage only prolonged the struggle. All knowledge was for naught when the shambling mob seized you with their cold dead hands. But, you know, I think what really got me was that the zombies just didn’t care about what was cool and what wasn’t. They knew everything they needed to know. They had all their answers. Zombies were, in essence, what I wanted to be.
“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” Groovy. Sign me up.
College came next. University libraries. A wealth of diverse thought and debate. A master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis on evolutionary processes. At the same time, I discovered a massive corpus of knowledge that began to answer questions I’d carried for too many years: Esoteric Christianity, Gnosticism, Neo-Platonic philosophy, Theurgy. I continued learning after college. I danced the Samhuinn and Beltaine fires with Wiccans and attended séances with witches while at work I developed cell culture techniques. I delved the dark recesses of the human mind with Thelemites and Luciferians during grad school when I wasn’t excavating late Pleistocene fossil sites. I debated nature of God with Buddhists and Hermeticists when I wasn’t in the lab buried behind thousands of pages of data to review. Perhaps, as some have suggested, like Augustine I walked the streets of Babylon with the basest of companions. I don’t think so. These were some of the finest people I’ve ever met. And you know what? At some point in this process, I came to know myself. And in knowing myself, I began finding the answers I sought.
One might question whether or not science, the occult and religion can coexist peaceably in one brain. I don’t have an answer for that. I just know it doesn’t bother me. Life is only as complicated as you make it. I decided not to let these dichotomies complicate things. Occult studies and theology are my retreat from the rigors of the scientific method and cold hard fact. Or maybe it’s not as clear cut a division as I used to think – I do tend to go about my studies very methodically and my favorite occult writer emphasized the importance of keeping detailed records of one’s work. Perhaps the two lines of thought are not so different.
By the way: When it comes to theology and occult studies, I am fascinated with the dark side of the universe and of human nature. My primary interests are demonology, necromancy, and the Problem of Evil. Does this mean I run around in a black robe sacrificing goats and chickens? Nope. Does it mean I hurl curses at folks who cut me off in traffic or who talk on their cell phones in movie theatres? Well, yes, actually, on those two points. You who have never wanted to do the same may cast the first stone. And at any rate, dear reader, what I believe shouldn’t matter to you. Only what you believe should matter.
But so what? What does being a geek get you? Why not just give in and join the herd and have a normal boring life? Why push yourself to excel in your interests and passions? I’ll tell you why: if you do what you love you can change the world.
As I write this I have, by my decision, ended a very successful career in pharmaceutical research and development to move on to new things. I had the good fortune to be on research teams that developed treatments for a couple of cancers and several genetic diseases. Someone asked the other day if I thought it was worth the stress and long hours and the alienation from friends and family that intense work can bring. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I have a copy of a letter from a child whose life we saved. He’s still in remission from his cancer and, I hope, has a long and fruitful life ahead of him. That is the best thing my geekiness and weird interests have accomplished: saving a life. And adding a life to the world changes it. Maybe not in a big way, but I hope so.
By the way: Nearly twenty years ago the Internet rolled around and I dived right in. Data! Information! Amongst the crap, an infinity of learning and thought. Best of all, discussion and scholarly discourse: BBS, Telenet, Usenet, chat rooms, forums and email lists. One evening I was hanging around a chat room talking about things that most people would find either bizarre or downright disturbing, speaking out with my geek out, as it were. Entirely by accident I made a friend. My friend was almost as much of a geek as me (maybe more so in that she actually had a Starfleet uniform), but most importantly, she’d been on a search so similar to mine it was uncanny. The friendship grew and at some point became something else, something better. Almost fourteen years ago she married me. Life couldn’t be happier. Hell? Not even close. Groovy. Sign me up.
And that, dear reader, is where being a geek can bring you. A happy and fulfilling life without regret where “what might have been” is something other people worry about. Keep learning, keep asking questions, and hold to your interests no matter what anyone else says. It’s worth it.
Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. (William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene 7)
Perhaps a list of my geeky interests is applicable at this point. They include, in no particular order:
Writing tabletop RPG material (www.texaszombie.com)
All things Zombie, particularly indie films and press
Collecting old books and role playing games
Demonology, alchemy, and grimoires
Other occult and theological studies
Classical and modern philosophy
Linguistics, particularly ancient languages
History and literature
Science of all types, along with scientific ethics
Blacksmithing, woodworking and leather craft
Playing bagpipes, tin whistles and bodhrans
Historical re-enactment, including costume making
All things Godzilla
Goth and Dark Metal music
World of Warcraft
All things Dystopian
Bird watching and nature photography