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When did being nerdy become cool?

In Children and Family, Economy, Education, Opinion, sociology, Technology, Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm

DIH LOGOAm I to understand that, largely because of a television situation comedy, it is now cool to be awkward, socially inept, and very smart, all while being considered – dare I use the word – “nerdy?” When did this happen? In my day, we nerds were cast out from all the best tables in the school lunchroom or forced to get bad grades to avoid being picked on because we were smart  – that never worked, by the way. It’s just not fair that today’s geeks get a pass! But, it’s about time!

Yes, I was a nerd, of the ultimate type, though I never made much of an effort to show my smarts on my report card; the dreaded “permanent record.” Best part is, I’m still pretty nerdy, if not more so, except now, people think it’s much cooler. Ok, maybe not so much when you’re nearly 50 years old, but still, it’s better than the reverse.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the power struggle of lunchroom hierarchy has changed too much. Although I have learned that there are now “smart kid cliques,” like a “herd of nerd.” These gaggles of bespectacled hackers, techies, science geeks and math whizzes won’t let the cool kids – jocks, cheerleaders, etc. – sit at their tables. Oh my, how the lunch tables have turned! So what, exactly happened to cause this mirror universe effect (there’s a Star Trek reference for anyone who’s paying attention)?

GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing managing copywriter Gery L. Deer at his Jamestown office.

GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing managing copywriter Gery L. Deer at his Jamestown office. Nerd is in!

Were our Heisenberg compensators out of calibration? Was there a paradoxical overlap in the delicate fabric of space and time? Perhaps J.J. Abrams decided to re-imagine nerddom in his own image? However interesting these explanations may sound, the popularity shift albeit a smaller one than you might think has more to do with money than anything else, on several levels.

In the 1990s, the nerds of the 80s were rolling in the cash as the tech boom swept across the nation and rapidly spread worldwide. Billions of dollars were going into research and development as the Internet expanded and commerce took notice.

Suddenly, everyone was a hacker or web developer. Countless tech startups swamped Silicon Valley and the rest of the country as everybody with a modem tried to cash in on the boom.  In short, the nerds of yesterday are the successful business tycoons of today, at least some of the time.

Next, it would be hard to talk about this subject without at least a hat-tip to the TV nerds of CBS’s hit comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.” The quirky, discomfited antics of Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard have become a sensation. The show seems to be broadcast every hour of the evening, primetime or in syndication. Watching people who seem far more awkward and unsure than ourselves has always been a pastime, but this is somehow even more engaging.

Most of us who have worked in the engineering or technical fields knew or knows someone like each of these guys, but with nowhere near the personality or likability of the four fictional personas. Speaking of real life, I’m fortunate that I don’t carry a grudge for all the harassment I endured growing up.

If anything, it’s been a source of great resolve and I’ve have written many times on the subjects of bullying, mean-spirited teasing and the like. Unfortunately, there are some of my nerd kin out there who just can’t let it go or, if they’re still in school, carry a sharp chip on their shoulders because they aren’t part even of the herd of nerd that as claimed a spot at one of the cool tables.

There is every possibility that the reason someone doesn’t socially advance has as much to do with the person than the environment. A bad attitude goes both ways. No one will be popular if he or she is always pointing out the mistakes of others, belittling someone’s intelligence or carries that chip on the shoulder that keeps others at bay.

I learned to embrace my inner (and outer) geek and like whom I’ve become. In the end, it’s far better to be smart and socially functional, than sit alone in the cafeteria.

 

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and contributor to WDTN-TV2’s program, Living Dayton. More at gerydeer.com.

Music shines light through darkness of dementia

In Health, Local News, Opinion, Senior Lifestyle, Technology, Uncategorized on August 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm

DIH LOGOAccording to statistics, one in three senior Americans now suffers from some type of dementia. My mother, Lois Deer, was one of those unfortunate millions who had an advanced type of Alzheimer’s disease. As it progressed, she lost the ability to communicate on anything more than a passive level, responding to very little, short of a head nod or facial response here and there. When she spoke, it was in whispers and then only gibberish.

One thing that did seem to register, however, was music. Each Saturday night we would move her wheelchair to the band room at my parents’ farm where our family band, “The Brothers & Co.,” would rehearse. We would feed her dinner – a manual task since she couldn’t do it on her own – and she’d spend most of the rest of the evening listening to us play and sing, surrounded by family in a room she created for us.

Gery Deer discusses Music and Dementia on WDTN-TV2's Living Dayton during a "Deer In Headlines" segment. Click to watch the video clip ...

Gery Deer discusses Music and Dementia on WDTN-TV2’s Living Dayton during a “Deer In Headlines” segment. Click to watch the video clip …

Music was an important part of my mother’s family growing up, with virtually ever member playing some kind of instrument, many of them without the aide of formal lessons. She even sang in an “Andrews Sisters” type quartet with her own sisters in the late 1950s.

By this time, however, Usually, she had a kind of empty, blank expression on her face, a typical Alzheimer’s manifestation. But one evening during our practice, she was sitting near my piano and I caught sight of a slight smile in her eyes and looked down to see her toe tapping on the footrest of her chair.

Since Mom needed 24-hour care, and because we had no intention of leaving her to rot in a nursing home, we cared for her at home and she came along with us to every performance. She had a specially-outfitted seat on our tour bus, complete with an oxygen tank and all of our portable medical supplies. My cousin sat with her in the audience and she would sing, “You are my sunshine,” with us at some point in every show. Music got through, when nothing else would, and I’m relieved to know that I’m not the only one who noticed.

Lois Deer (center) with The Brothers & Co. members Gary Deer Jr., Gery Deer, and husband Gary Deer Sr. at the Jamestown Opera House in 2010

Lois Deer (center) with The Brothers & Co. members Gary Deer Jr., Gery Deer, and husband Gary Deer Sr. at the Jamestown Opera House in 2010

A friend recently told me about a National Public Radio news story related to this phenomenon. The piece focused on a documentary featuring social worker Dan Cohen and his creation of custom music playlists on iPods for elderly dementia patients. Titled, “Alive Inside,” the film explores Cohen’s exploration of the connection between music and long term memory.

“Even though Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia will ravage many parts of the brain, long-term memory of music from when one was young remains very often,” Cohen told NPR’s Melissa Block. “So if you tap that, you really get that kind of awakening response. It’s pretty exciting to see.”

That all makes a lot of sense when you think about the kinds of music my family band plays and the relationship my mother had to it. There’s no question we were reaching an area of her mind that the Alzheimer’s hadn’t yet shorted out.

After I noticed my mother’s reactions, I paid more attention whenever we performed at nursing facilities where a great number of the residents were suffering from similar illnesses. I can’t tell you what a heart-wrenching experience it always is to see these poor people in such a state; doubled over in wheelchairs, closed off, withdrawn into the isolated torment of their own disease-ravaged minds. And then …

And then we start playing and something would happen, a toe would begin to tap here and there, or a silent face would begin to mouth words to a song. Although it might seem like there’s nothing left of the people they once were, here was a sign that they were still in there – somewhere – and we were reaching into that one place the disease couldn’t penetrate.

All I can imagine is that the music we were playing took my mother somewhere else within a mind that’s organization had long since scattered, as if someone rearranged all the drawers in a wardrobe chest.  She was in another place and another time, a better time.

Christina Corallo, North Shore LIJ Orzach Center for Rehabilitation, Valley Stream, N.Y., tells MusicandMemory.org, “Patients with anxiety and depression are less agitated and appear calmer. The music transports them to a happier place in their minds.”

"The Sutton Sisters" singing family, Lois Deer (far right) and her sisters, (from left) Ruth Rowe, Isabel Jones, and Regina Marshall, ca. 1958

“The Sutton Sisters” singing family, Lois Deer (far right) and her sisters, (from left) Ruth Rowe, Isabel Jones, and Regina Marshall, ca. 1958

Cohen’s idea of customized iPod playlists for each patient is still plagued by one major hurtle – money. Nursing care, particularly long-term dementia care, is incredibly expensive and iPods aren’t cheap. It’s the same financial roadblock encountered by virtually every other progressive therapy for dementia ever proposed.

With that, I am challenging one member of the family of every dementia patient to buy an iPod for their loved one and load it with music from their life. Give them a moment to feel who they once were in the most personal, powerful way possible – through music.

 Learn More About Music and Memory…

Click here for a link to the full NPR story,”For elders with dementia, musical awakenings,” by Melissa Block.

Click here to watch the trailer, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory” featuring Dan Cohen.

Donate to Music & Memory: Monetary or iPods 

 

 

It’s not what you read, but why.

In Books, Children and Family, Literature, Opinion, Senior Lifestyle, Uncategorized on August 11, 2014 at 12:10 pm

DIH LOGOAs a professional writer, and the executive director of the Western Ohio Writers Association, I am often asked what books I read or what I’d recommend to someone. But, over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not so much what you read that’s as important as why you’re reading it. Let me try to explain.

For example, it would be pretty short-sighted to read bestselling novels simply because they made the list, rather than because of their actual content. Just because a book or movie is popular, particularly with critics, by no means guarantees its quality.

The same could be said of reading only one genre or restricting your choices to only a couple of authors. Science fiction buffs, for instance, might really enjoy a good political thriller – I know I do – but rarely does one give the other a chance.

I tend to go take risks on books or lesser known writers. Since I work with so many unknown authors, I have the advantage of being exposed to material you’ll probably never see listed in the New York Times but which is still of outstanding quality and entertainment value.

I tend to ignore online reviews considering, instead, the recommendations of friends or family. A great many reviews today are pretty unreliable since they’re often paid for by the book’s publisher, or even the author, to boost the book’s visibility and increase sales.

"Flights of Fancy" is an anthology of stories set in southwest Ohio by local authors from the Western Ohio Writers Association. It will hit shelves in mid-April 2013 and features local talent and production.

“Flights of Fiction” is an anthology of stories set in southwest Ohio by local authors from the Western Ohio Writers Association. Click the cover art to order!

Local authors are also a favorite of mine and I’m always surprised at how people rarely give them a chance until they’ve hit the big time, as if they’re not good enough yet – nonsense. Remember, talented writing does not require residence in a high-rise loft in Manhattan. Helping a new writer break ground is part of my job, but I also enjoy having a connection with the author. Even if you don’t know the individual, however, chances are you’ll have a greater appreciation for their work if they’re from your hometown.

The format of the book is also less important to me than the content. I like e-readers like Kindle Fire and Nook because they make reading convenient, but I still buy hardbacks when I want to collect a book or have it autographed.

So, having said all of this, I will break my rule and answer those questions for you, starting with my favorite author: Douglas Adams, the British author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” series of novels. I’ve always loved Adams’ satirical style of storytelling and his ability to say precisely what everyone else is thinking but won’t speak aloud. You don’t have to be a science fiction buff or a fan of Monty Python to enjoy his work.

If I had to pick a periodical I read regularly, it’d probably be split between “The Writer,” a magazine for – you guessed it – writers; and “The New York Times.” As a former editor and long-running op-ed writer, I enjoy reading the work of my fellow columnists. It’s interesting to see all of our different approaches to the same subjects.

Lastly, here is a list of books I’d recommend. I won’t say why I’m recommending them, however, because that would spoil the reader’s personal discovery of their value.

In bestselling fiction I can recommend, “Hit Man,” by Lawrence Block, as well as “Camel Club,” “Simple Genius” and “Stone Cold,” all by David Baldacci. If you’re looking for work by local authors, I suggest “Pretty Girl 13,” by Liz Coley, and “Flights of Fiction,” an anthology of stories set in and around the Dayton region by member authors of the Western Ohio Writers Association. For non-fiction I would propose “Lucky Man: A Memoir,” by Michael J. Fox; “I Will Never Forget,” by Elaine C. Pereira, and “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu.

There you have it. My recommendations, at least up to this point. There are others I could suggest but these are the top of the list. So put down the video game, turn off the TV and pick up a good book. See you in the library stacks!

 

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and executive director of the Western Ohio Writers Association. More at westernohiowriters.org.

 

 

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