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The Unapologetic Geek

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10 Things I Learned in 2010

They say you don't stop learning things until the day you die, and that certainly rings true to me. Ironically, though, it seems as though the older you get, the less you think you know. I'm not sure what that says about me, since I used to write in my journal when I was a teenager that I knew I didn't know jack about jack. I'm not sure how I can know less than that (maybe I don't know that I don't know jack about jack?), but I do feel that way. So, with that in mind, here are ten lessons I took from 2010 that have somehow reduced my understanding of the world by another ten degrees. If I keep this up, in a few decades--when I'm trying to compile my list of 55 things I learned in 2055--I won't know a goddamn thing, and maybe then I can stop learning and die without having learned anything. Don't worry; it doesn't make sense to me either.


1.
Babies always hit their heads when they're tired
Creepy art by Nina Levy
This isn't exactly what I'm talking about


I could make a hundred of these lists devoted just to the lessons I've learned about parenting over the last two years, but most of those lessons would be mundane things that other parents already know and non-parents don't want to read about. With that in mind, I'll restrict it to a few nuggets of unexpected wisdom, the first of which is about babies hitting their heads. It's something every parent should be paranoid about, because babies have fragile skulls that are way too big for the rest of their bodies (especially babies cursed with the enormous Magill cranium).

It is some kind of joke of evolution that our brains are at their most vulnerable at the same time that we are learning to walk. As a result, every baby is going to hit his or her head multiple times, and every parent should be aware of this. Since it seems pretty excessive and cruel to force your child to wear a motorcycle helmet everywhere (and because they don't seem to come in infant sizes, for some strange reason), any good parent needs to be familiar with the symptoms of infant head trauma, which mostly consist of sleepiness and crankiness.

None of this was new to me last year, but I did start to notice an infuriating correlation between my child hitting his head and the time of day. I've talked to other parents and they seem to agree that babies always seem to hit their heads at night, when they are already sleepy and cranky. You don't know sleepless nights until you've been up all night, worried that your child is slipping into a coma, and then you have to deal with an excited and happy child the next morning when you haven't slept. Trust me; I experimented with various other types of sleepless nights in college, and they just don't compare.


2.
Don't wear a Penguins jersey in Philadelphia
Pittsburgh Penguin fighting a Philadelphia Flyer
Unless you do this sort of thing for a living, of course


I'm by no means a hardcore hockey fan, and in general, I'm not much of a sports guy either. I know, it's a shock. Still, I do love me some hockey now and then, and I've been a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins since I was little, probably because penguins are just so damn cute. My fandom isn't exclusive; I am a fan of most hockey teams, as long as they play the game and aren't bitches about it.

For geeks and casual fans like myself, the tribal attitudes sports fans display should not be taken lightly. Some of them take this stuff very seriously. People in Philadelphia, for example, don't tend to appreciate Penguins fandom, and they won't be shy about explaining this to you, should you walk through the Reading Terminal Market proudly showing off your Pittsburgh colors. And should a large scowling man walk up to you while you're waiting for your wife and child to get out of the bathroom, it is probably wise to assume a subservient pose, lower your head in shame, and remove the offending jersey before the large scowling man has a chance to engage you in conversation. Call it being pathetic if you want and feel free to insult my fandom, but this advice is intended to help you in the neverending struggle of natural selection.

As a post-script to my own experience, I will say that I've found a unique solution: whenever I am in Philadelphia and feel the need to wear my Penguins jersey, I put a toddler-sized Philadelphia Flyers jersey on my son and carry him along with me. Serious hockey fans are so befuddled by the apparent paradox that they don't approach me.


3.
Life is fragile
Broken egg
Life is like an egg, unless that egg is scrambled and served with cheese and bacon, in which case I would eat life


This is one of those things we all know, but unfortunately have to be reminded of every once in a while. I've been lucky for most of my life in that I haven't been exposed to much in the way of death. I've seen some things that were unpleasant and I've witnessed someone close to me seriously attempt suicide, but death has kept a relatively comfortable distance.

Last year, however, my father, a solid rock of a man, finally lost a valiant battle with cancer. When somebody that close to you dies so unexpectedly, your perspective definitely undergoes a change. For one thing, you become a little more of a hypocondriac; you go out and get a colonoscopy at 31, for example. For another, it makes you re-examine what you're doing with your life. If you died today, would you be satisfied with the way you lived? Is that important? How would you react if somebody else close to you died? Your mother, your sibling, your spouse, your child? You don't like thinking about it, but it could happen, and you can't ignore that anymore.

Like I said, though, this is all stuff you probably already know and thoughts you've probably already had, but they are more persistent when faced with death. I'm glad I haven't had to deal with more than I have, because there are people out there who have seen far more death than I can even imagine. It doesn't change the fact that I know life is fragile. I had to learn it last year, and I hope I don't have to learn it again any time soon.


4.
Being a stay-at-home dad is a (rewarding) full-time job
Stormtrooper and son
TK-421, fired for not being at his post, turned out to be a pretty cool stay-at-home dad


I swear this list isn't going to focus too much on parenting, but I feel I should devote a section to what I've learned as a stay-at-home dad. First of all, I was prepared for a social stigma (parenting books had prepped me for this) that has yet to make itself known. Everywhere I go with my kid, everybody is perfectly accepting of my seemingly reversed gender role, and whenever I tell anyone I'm a stay-at-home dad, they usually congratulate me or tell me how great it is that I decided to do that. I won't lie and say it hasn't crossed my mind that I might feel more secure as a man if I were out in the world building a real career. Still, when my toddler laughs, hugs me, or just starts bouncing up and down on my knee, I know that this is the best job I could have.

Make no mistakes; it is not an easy job. You're on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and your boss (the kid) is irrational, childish, prone to hurting himself, needy, demanding, and disinterested in your problems. It's hard work, and don't think for a minute that it's not. I have a much greater respect for anybody who's able to do this job, and that's speaking as a parent to just one child, one that is incredibly well-behaved. I can't wrap my mind around what it must be like with more than one of these rascals running around.


5.
Some political talking points just won't die
Patchy
Mikhail "Patchy" Bakunin: those of you who don't get the joke need to watch more Lost


Back in August, I posted a blog of 6 political talking points that need to die. On my own website, the blog didn't garner any comments, though I got plenty of positive feedback on Facebook and from those who know me personally. I also post my blogs on Open Salon, which has a readership that tends to proudly lean to the left. Predictably, when my blog made the front page, most of the feedback was glowing concerning talking points that were coming from the right but pretty critical when it came to talking points coming from the left. (There were other types of comments--especially in the beginning, but they weren't in the majority.) I was not surprised by this, and I even engaged people in civil debate for a while.

Alas, as time went by, the comments started repeating themselves, and people started getting pretty vehement and even at times vitriolic in defense of their liberal talking points. They started throwing out the same arguments over and over again, and most of those arguments were the very talking points I was complaining about. For example, one of the talking points I expressed annoyance at was the argument (which comes from both sides of the spectrum) that the media in general is politically biased. Many commenters said they agreed that this was a silly argument, but that if you really looked at it, of course there's a vast right-wing conspiracy to control the news and only an idiot would be unable to see it.

Eventually, I stopped replying to these tiresome arguments. Months passed, and then I stopped reading them. But still, to this very day, people are commenting and repeating the same exhaustingly overtread arguments on my blog, which is a testament to the fact that these talking points simply will not die.



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-e. magill 1/11/2011








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