Monday, May 9, 2011

Geek energy

My mom took me to see Cameron Carpenter, the Bad Boy of pipe organists, at the Disney Hall last night.  I know nothing whatsoever about organ music, but that didn't matter.  Carpenter's command of this crazy instrument is breathtaking, with hands skimming over the four stacked keyboards and hundreds of draw stop controls while his feet dance over dozens of pedal boards.  It was wild, and the sound surging out of the pipes was like an orchestra gone mad.

And then there were Mr. Carpenter's clothes.  He appeared first in a stretchy tight black jacket with sparkles at the hem and collar, skinny acid-washed jeans (or perhaps jeggings), and cuban-heeled, pointy-toed, sparkly... pumps? They surely looked like pumps.  But perhaps they were boots around which he had attached stirrups from his leggings.  Or were they spats?  After the intermission, he strode out to his organ in those same ambiguous shoes, plus sparkly skin-tight black leggings and a low-cut, clingy, drapey black tunic, the shoulders and back of which were entirely sheer, allowing us a vision of the muscles knobbling across his skinny back as he played.  This outfit drew an involuntary susurration of affectionate admiration from the audience, the average age of which must have been about 65.

But what made the biggest impression on me (besides the shoes) was his geekdom.  Yes, he is young and good-looking and refreshingly prone to flamboyant clothing - but his sheer passion for and knowledge of music in general and organ music in particular, plus his need to share it with the world (not just through his playing but in witty, erudite, and extremely geeky little intros to each piece), completely won me over.  How I admire people with a grand passion for something weird, unusual, and super cool.

To bring this back to books - I just finished Jo Walton's Among Others (Tor, 2011).  This is about a 15-year-old Welsh girl who, along with her twin sister, has always been able to see and communicate with fairies.  In fact, because fairies can't directly affect the world, they have sometimes helped the fairies accomplish such things as the closing of a poisonous mine.  But in trying to stop their magical, mad, and wicked mother from accomplishing some diabolical act, the sisters are in a terrible acccident.  One dies, and the other, Morwenna, is left with a painful, crippled leg and is sent to her estranged father and his sisters in England, who promptly send Mor to boarding school.

This book, in the form of Mor's diary entries, takes place a year or so after the accident, while Mor is at boarding school.  Though we learn more about fairies, they remain enigmatic and mysterious, even to Mor.  And the nature of Mor's mother and the terrible thing she tried to do remains unclear, along with some other ambiguous elements (such as Mor's sister), which leads the reader to question what is real and what is not.

For me, though, this book is really about two entertwined things - a girl's strong love for books, especially SF and fantasy, and her gradual journey toward learning how to live the world with other people and maybe even enjoy it.  Mor has plenty of time to read (as she can't do sports at school, and she can't make friends very easily either) and MAN does she read a lot.  She tears through all the greats of SF, from Poul Anderson to Roger Zelazny, and tells us what she likes and doesn't like - and when she joins an SF book club at the library, she really gets her geek on (and worries that she talks too much and too vehemently - but can't stop herself).  What's delightful is that while she is thoughtful and extremely intelligent, she is also a teenaged girl.  The last line of the book?  After a lovely paragraph that reflects a  new openness to life and all it will bring ("Things will happen that I can't imagine.  I'll change and grow into a future that will be unimaginably differet from the past.  I'll be alive.  I'll be me.  I'll be reading my book....I'll learn while I live... That's what life is, and how I intend to live it."), she says "Gate of Ivrel turns out to be really brill."

I haven't read most of the books Mor thinks are "brill," but midway through the book I was so impressed by her insights (which of course are really Jo Walton's insights, a writer who is quite brill herself) that I cursed myself for not writing them all down.  Mor's ueber-geeky passion for her chosen genre thrilled me to the core.  I can't wait to go out and catch up on all that good 60's and 70's SF.

That's the thing about passion.  It's contagious.  It makes one's blood sing.  Thank goodness for geeks.

1 comment:

  1. According to the video clip on his web site, he customizes those glorious shoes by applying Swarowski crystals. What a wonderful wierdo!