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What Is A Geek?

by misuba

(originally appeared online at Justin Hall's bud.com)

1. Defining our terms

The best synthesis I've yet heard of all the meanings of the word "geek" in America today came in the form of a posting to a semi-private Web discussion board, written by a successful Internet professional who requested anonymity:

Yes, geeks are performers (generally carny or sideshow, not circus) who do vile, disgusting things that most humans would never consider - biting the heads off chickens, eating worms, drinking vomit, and any number of other revolting acts. It sells tickets because people can't believe anyone would do such things, and will pay money to see it for themselves.

It has little to do with machismo and daring - most carny geeks are hopeless alcoholics, sunk so low that they can't possibly hold any real job, willing to do anything to assure themselves a steady supply of booze and a warm place to sleep.

Even within the highly supportive, extended-family environment of a travelling carnival, they are social outcasts. The other denizens of the freak show generally regard them with disgust and loathing.

I suspect that it's growing up back when "geek" was simply a vicious insult used by schoolchildren fully aware of the word's sideshow origins (long before computers gave "geekiness" a certain hip patina), that combines with my short stint as a roustabout and pitch-penny frontman in a travelling carnival, to make me a bit uncomfortable about being called a "geek."

Yes, I realize that most people mean no real harm by it, and that a great many young technophiles apply the term to themselves. Nevertheless, I find myself in the same position as an older generation of African-Americans who find themselves uncomfortable when the young men casually address one another as "nigger." It brings back memories of things I'd just as soon forget.

What is a geek? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary offers the original definition of "a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake," as well the more modern, slangier meaning, "a person often of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of." (No dictionary that I've yet consulted - not even the relatively "hep" American Heritage College Dictionary - mentions the current computer-affiliated sense of "geek".)

I must admit, though, that I didn't even check the dictionary entry for "nerd" in most cases. Before I began researching this article in earnest, it seemed to me that "geek" was simply replacing "nerd" in contemporary parlance, on a one-for-one basis. However, many people I've talked to claim that they've always used "nerd" to refer to socially challenged individuals, and "geek" to refer to anyone with a pronounced fascination or intellectual interest in something. I've decided to settle on these definitions, despite the fact that the word "nerd" just sounds stupid and ugly to me. (No reason; it just turns me off, in the visceral way that people are turned off by random words: "splendid," "burlesque," "meaty.")

Pop-theory novelist Douglas Coupland posits this difference in meaning between the two terms in his book Microserfs: "It's subtle. Instinctual. I think geek implies hireability, whereas nerd doesn't necessarily mean your skills are 100 percent sellable. Geek implies wealth." The "instinctual" distinction that Coupland was looking for was not actually wealth, but social acceptability - the geek privilege of being involved in cultures or activities invented by nerds, but being accepted anyway, for other reasons.

But, to complicate matters further, most of Coupland's book defines the term "geek" as "young, often affluent, but certainly in some sense attractive, techie or Internet worker." This new definition is the chief reason the word "geek" has been in the news lately, as Web hype has swept the country. The sudden demand in 1995-or-so for young workers knowledgeable in HTML, the web's lingua franca, combined with the fact that HTML is not especially hard to learn, created a work-trend big enough to leave a mark on a generation. The dollars suddenly flowing toward Internet businesses, and trickling out from there to fuel an explosion in the growth of the whole tech industry, transformed the nation's mental image of information workers from one of bespectacled losers to one of young, hip millionaires-of-tomorrow. Don't underestimate the power of this geek myth. Derek Powazek, an early staffer at HotWired who went on to found the influential not-for-profit webzine The Fray, wrote of his first weeks in the field: "...for the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time. I missed the sixties. I missed punk. But, goddamnit, I was not going to miss this." This feeling was apparently not uncommon, although maybe not always as pronounced, in the college graduates who headed for San Francisco and New York to get web work. For a while there was even a web-serial called GeekCereal - a sort of web version of "The Real World," in which seven SF-based tech workers posted diary entries to a public web site once a week - which took the tech-worker lifestyle and directly posited it as popular entertainment for web-wannabes.

As a result of all this, there seem to be a lot of people out there who think the word "geek" simply means "tech industry worker." Rest assured, though, that when GAZEBO says "geek," it does not mean Yuppies Version 2.0.

Here, then, are the official definitions that GAZEBO will use. Nerd means socially inept, geek means strangely obsessive. I really do hate the word "nerd," and I object to the theft of the word "geek" by Douglas Coupland characters (and their real-life counterparts) who partake of all kinds of social privilege. So I might sometimes slip and use the terms I came up with earlier in my research: social geek and cultural geek. A social geek is rejected because he acts the wrong way, but a cultural geek is rejected (or questioned, or just chuckled at) because he likes the wrong things.

The only remaining problem of definitions is that of Merriam-Webster's position on "geek," quoted earlier. It doesn't make our distinction between "geek" and "nerd," and in fact considers them basically synonymous, but that isn't the problem. It mentions the "intellectual bent" of geeks. Interestingly, the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary counters this idea with its own definition: "a simpleton, a dupe; a person who is socially inept or boringly conventional or studious". These definitions would seem to be in direct opposition to one another; in fact, they illustrate an important point about nerd hatred in America. While the nerd stereotype carries with it quite a bit of anti-intellectual baggage, to tie the definition of "nerd" or "geek" too closely to IQ is to miss the point entirely. The stereotypical nerd image that people conjure in their minds, of the wormy little guy with glasses and a pocket protector, is not a character people consider smart. True, there's a healthy dollop of simple resentment in the unspoken American belief that people who are too smart, who live in their heads too much, are really dumber than the rest of us. But there's also an instinctual judgment of a person's social aptitude, and of their "normalness," going on at a level beneath language. Ultimately it has nothing to do with the perceived intelligence or superior-ness of the nerd in question. Bookish nerds are rejected for the same reasons that "retards" are. People can simply "smell" their difference. I'll talk more about this reaction later on.

I'm not going to attempt to define "dork" or any other near-synonyms - some territory needs to be left to our reptilian hindbrains. I also don't like the words "nerdism" and "geekism" to refer to nerd- and geek-hatred, respectively, and will try not to use them; we're not here to create more victim demographics.

2. The geek effect

People call themselves geeks these days: 'geek' is now nearly always a self-label. (When I say this, I'm talking about grown-ups; school kids are a different story and always will be.) When people call themselves geeks, they're often making a joke at their own expense on the surface; it often sounds like a confession. For example, when a friend catches herself ranting about minute details of John Woo movies or the Warcraft series of games at the dinner table, she apologizes for "geeking out." Under this thin layer of apology, though, is a kind of pride. Geeks seek to identify themselves as such, in order to find other geeks and simply to express their culture's existence.

The outsider myth, as we know it today, is a relatively new phenomenon in American culture. It's only slightly older than the notion of "teenagers." By the outsider myth, I mean the idea of the nobly suffering soul that just wants to be understood, or in another variation, the cool weirdos who don't get along with the other kids. Marlon Brando and James Dean. The outsider myth in this nation is predominantly one of "cool" - Norman Mailer's famous essay "The White Negro" can back me up on this, as can Colin Wilson's book The Outsider to a lesser degree. Wilson analyses the concept of the Outsider in literature with an early Existentialist example who wanders around Paris ogling every skirt that wafts upwards, then meets a girl and sleeps with her only to be dissatisfied. The literary, European Outsider of Wilson's book is virile, dark-natured, and almost always male. Wilson variously states the "one" essential characteristic of the Outsider as "non-acceptance of life" (not non-understanding of social life), the fact that "his salvation 'lies in extremes,' " and that "the ape and the man exist in one body; and when the ape's desires are about to be fulfilled, he disappears and is succeeded by the man, who is disgusted with the ape's appetites." These attributes all describe the outsider as a romantic, "cool" figure. They also all correlate with alpha-male qualities that have signalled reproductive fitness since the Stone Age. A geek is just an outsider who isn't cool, and cool is still all tied up with fuckability.

Cool is also tied up with apathy; I wish I could remember who first said that for teenagers, the biggest social sin is to get excited about something. Perhaps the real defining characteristic of geeks, from which we can start, is that geeks get unreservedly, unironically excited about things. That isn't cool; or at least, those who wish to be judged "cool" must be careful about what they get excited about. Recall the friend who apologized for "geeking out" in non-geek company. (The compound verb "to geek out" was actually first defined in the famous Jargon File, a computer-geek creation available in print as The New Hacker's Dictionary. It's also worth pointing out that, apparently, the adjective "geeked" enjoyed some popularity in African-American slang for a while; it means "excited.")

If that's true, then a geek culture is a culture which a certain kind of person can easily get more excited about than is deemed acceptable. As I wrote last issue, the term "geek culture" often refers to "the set of interlocking subcultures, hobbies and enthusiasms that tend to involve complex created worlds, induce almost obsessive behavior among their fans, and provoke a reaction of amused disgust from those not drawn to them." Science fiction fandom, the computer and video-game worlds, and hobby gaming are the purest examples. But for the purposes of our research in GAZEBO, a geek culture is really just a niche culture that gets laughed at. By saying "niche" culture, in this case, I just mean to require a certain level of specificity. For example, readers of Cat Fancy magazine probably qualify as a geek culture on some level. If you doubt me, conjure a mental image of a Cat Fancy reader and see if the resulting individual could be called "cool." There are exceptions, but the majority of them could not. Automotive enthusiasts often qualify, as talk-radio callers certainly do. (Although these two latter examples cross through the doorway from geek hatred to white-trash classism, a connection which we hope to explore further in future issues. In fact, you might protest that the examples I've just quoted are neither geeky nor cool, but simply "normal"; to which I can only respond, look at the way people who are too normal are punished for it in television, art and films. The media are the arbiters of cool, and they apply all-or-nothing judgment. You're either a star or a zero.)

You could name examples all day, and probably run into lots of disagreements on which specific cultures have "geek nature." What we need is a list of more general, identifying characteristics of a geek subculture. One of these may potentially be found in an article by long-time zinestress and journalist Candi Strecker, called "The Self-Amusing Personality" (not to be confused with the Self-Abusing Personality - you'll have to wait until next issue for a comprehensive report on masturbation). I was most struck by this paragraph:

Most SAPs don't just stop at wry observation. Spotting a beer-can hat for the first time, they wonder: Where did it come from? Who invented it? How did the idea spread? What is a person thinking while wearing one? In how many years will it be thrown away? In working out the answers to such questions, one may see startling connections among the phenomena observed. This is self-amusement at its best. Just as a visual artist might observe how sunlight strikes an apple, and by painting it not only communicate his observation but irreversibly change how others see sunlit apples, a SAP makes fresh observations on human behavior within his or her culture. One might even go so far as to call truly astute SAPs "culture artists."

SAPs really are different. I learned an important lesson about this in the summer of 1997, when I was actively researching East Bay burrito joints. I wanted to find the best possible burrito in my area. I'm not sure where my sudden enthusiasm came from, but I think it had to do with the fact that burritos are all about packaging, something I've always been obsessed with. A taqueria-style burrito, with its steamed tortilla glutenized into a near-hermetic seal, then wrapped in foil, is as much about wrappers as a candy bar, but still seems as natural as a banana. (There was that old Schoolhouse Rock-esque cartoon spot about how fruit was a great snack because it "comes with its own wrapper"... but the whole retro-'80s thing is such a thorny issue with respect to geek culture that I probably shouldn't have brought it up.) Wrapping a thing, or unwrapping it, is an inherent physical pleasure bred into us, like an infant's love of peek-a-boo. Restaurant-style burritos, on the other hand, are unsteamed and frequently open-ended, un-foiled, and served on a plate to be cut up with a knife and fork. Fine if you're into it, but not my definition of the essential burrito. Anyway, the Burrito Incident unfolded when I was chatting with a friend of my brother's who shall remain nameless (we'll call him Charlie). I had just gotten back from trying a new Mexican restaurant down at the foot of Solano Avenue, and I explained to Charlie some of my burrito theory, namely the difference between taqueria and restaurant burritos. It took him not more than a second to put on a smug, judgmental smile and tell me, "You know, I think you need to spend a lot less time thinking about burritos." I stood there for a second, amazed. This perfectly nice, intelligent, funny guy - who, for what it's worth, still plays Dungeons & Dragons with my older brother on a regular basis so who is he to talk? - couldn't see any reason for anyone to think about burritos at all. The punishments for self-amusement can be swift, steep, and almost unconscious.

Now, SAPs are not necessarily geeks. Strecker makes the distinction later in her article, between SAPs and "fans," or members of geek cultures: "Inevitably, SAPs must seek other SAPs, and this search often leads one into fandoms, the subcultures of enthusiasms and collectors. Within a fandom, a SAP may have the pleasure and relief of meeting others like him/herself, others who have passions and theories. ... Thus SAPs meet SAPs and set up networks of SAPs within networks of fans." Not all fans are critical of their own obsessions, connecting their explorations with "fresh observations on human behavior" the way Strecker describes the ideal SAP. But geeks are like SAPs in that they ask questions. They search for their entertainment, because both the search, and the entertainment searched for, are important to them. So, perhaps one of the identifying traits of geek culture is the fact that its participants are active rather than passive.

It's not that passivity is considered cool. It's just that entertainment, play and ideas are supposed to come second to work, family life, and the pursuit of success or sex. Some geek cultures have successfully taken this point and turned it into a political justification, thereby redeeming themselves somewhat. I'm obviously talking about zines and indie rock, both of which have a large measure of "cool" cachet attached to them. They are considered cool perhaps primarily because of the rebellious, stick-it-to-the-man aspect of their do-it-yourself philosophy. (As the success of the film Revenge of the Nerds indicates, everyone loves an underdog - at least until they actually have to talk to one.)

There are many other problems with, and exceptions to, this active-vs.-passive principle. The major one is that many geek cultures substitute fake, meaningless activity for real creative action: a Babylon 5 fan who thinks his choice of enthusiasm inherently makes him more than just a passive consumer is being a bit silly, considering that his hobby consists of following, awaiting, and arguing about someone else's creation, and purchasing plenty of memorabilia based on it. There's also the problem of sports, and sports fandom: some participants in sports culture, those who actually play a sport with a bunch of friends on the weekends, or in an organized league, are active rather than passive, but are not considered geeky. This is due to the fact that physical activity is involved, a signal of reproductive fitness. Those who don't participate but are merely obsessive fans are, again, just geeks by another name, but this geek culture is perceived as somewhat more manly by association. No doubt there are other holes in the theory, all of which merit scrutiny.

Still, though, the criterion of active cultural participation versus passive following is a useful one. It helps us to distinguish things that are geeky from things which are merely no longer trendy - and, thereby, to lock out the purveyors of knee-jerk retro ironic nostalgia and "geek chic." These unfortunate phenomena are driven in part by the mainstream media's perversion of the outsider myth into a glamorous selling tool for whatever's new. Be dangerous, be misunderstood, be different: be a Pepper.

3. The nerd dilemma

Readers of early drafts of this essay expressed some confusion about whether I thought it was good or bad to be a nerd. I'm a little reluctant to state a position on this, but it turns out that I do have one: it's not good to be a nerd. However, all of us are implicated in the problem, nerds and non-nerds alike. Nerds must take it upon themselves to improve their lot in life, but the rest of us also need to make it more comfortable to be a nerd. It's going to be a tricky balancing act.

Because the fact is, nerds are made as well as born. Current genetic research shows that no gene can express itself unless the environment is right. There is probably some genetic factor involved in people with low social skills (an idea which is interesting in itself; as I briefly wrote last issue, the idea that nerds are born that way brings up civil rights questions when we mistreat them). But upbringing is also responsible, and perhaps the most significant factor in the creation of a nerd is treatment by peers. I'm not really qualified to prove that assertion - socialization is a mysterious process - but for practical purposes, no one becomes a nerd until he is rejected by someone, and the other schoolkids are much more likely to laugh at a backward child than are his parents or teachers. This kind of aggressive rejection reinforces a tendency toward shyness, and can prevent a child from getting enough minute-by-minute practice in the most elemental attitudes and techniques of being social. This process continues as a nerd ages, and each person he or she interacts with decides to help with some small bit of information, or doesn't. Nerds are not only built slowly over the years, but perpetuated each day.

Nerds are a product of the fear of difference. In her book Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich makes a good evolutionary case for her belief that the need of early humans to defend themselves against non-human predators led to their banding together as tribes - tribes that eventually turned against one another, driven not only by the need to maximize resources for survival, but by their need to feel as bad-ass as the wild predators they first joined together to thwart. If Ehrenreich is right, this tribalism lies embedded permanently in our brainstems, and drives everything from nationalism to racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. Nearly all of the above isms can be boiled down to a fear of difference, an instinctual reaction to signs that another person has a fundamentally different set of values. These signs are often comprised of differences in speech or etiquette as well as physical signals: think of racial stereotypes of the thirties and forties in particular, and how incomplete they would be as a whole without their vocal element (jiving Africans, singsongy Asians). In many ways, nerd hatred is the purest example of this tribalism at work; rather than make assumptions based on the correlation of skin color or nationality with cultural mismatch, nerd haters have to watch and see who's a nerd based on purely cultural signals like speech, dress and demeanor - and this process is largely an unconscious one.

In the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, I found some compelling evidence that fear of difference runs deeply in the structures of our brains - more deeply even than Barbara Ehrenreich's predator-and-prey argument suggests. It has to do with the theory of "attunement" between mothers and their children, first named and researched by Daniel Stern (not the same guy from City Slickers) at Cornell University School of Medicine. An example is given of a mother of infant twins: "...Sarah would often try to catch Fred's gaze, and when he would avert his face, she would try to catch his eye again; Fred would respond by turning away more emphatically. Once she would look away, Fred would look back at her, and the cycle of pursuit and aversion would begin again - often leaving Fred in tears. But with Mark, Sarah virtually never tried to impose eye contact as she did with Fred. Instead Mark could break off eye contact whenever he wanted, and she would not pursue. ... A year later, Fred was noticeably more fearful and dependent than Mark ... Mark, on the other hand, looked people straight in the eye." (99-100) The theory is that babies like it when their mothers show understanding of the baby's emotions. Babies whose mothers will smile back when the baby smiles, show concern when baby furrows its brow, and who generally make some attempt to match their children's emotions, tend to be happier and better adjusted over time. "In one experiment, Stern had mothers deliberately over- or underrespond to their infants ... the infants responded with immediate dismay and distress." (101) When they are as early as eight months old, children are sensitive to whether or not their thoughts, and the thoughts (or the discernible expressions thereof) of the people in their lives are on the same page.

Many people's way of dealing with a nerd, or with any person or discussion that suddenly becomes awkward, is to change the subject or simply withdraw as quickly as possible. This has always seemed irrational to me (by which I only mean that it looked like a failure of a social system that otherwise took care of itself pretty well - not that I expect social interactions to be rational). After all, staying in the conversation and giving the nerd some small piece of advice would go a considerable way toward correcting the problem in the long term. People who choose to withdraw from awkward situations rather than give awkward people any information about what social mistakes are being made only serve to perpetuate the existence of awkward people. But Stern's theory of attunement provides a rational explanation for jumping ship: the mismatched feelings or paradigms provoke in us the misattunement reaction we had as babies, old instincts kick in, and the only response we're capable of is a childlike one - to get comfortable again as quickly as possible, and damn the highminded notions (if any) of helping someone out.

The attunement theory also helps explain another seemingly irrational nerd/geek behavior: that of the perpetual PCs-are-better-than-Macs, or vice-versa, argument. A Windows user who's used to clicking once in the little box in the upper right corner of the window to close a program, and to programs that go away as soon as their last window is closed, will find his most simple efforts towards control confounded when he uses a Macintosh. The computer's equivalent to social and emotional responses are its UI conventions. So, the user feels misattuned, and it's this response that causes a computer user to respond to small interface differences with revulsion - rather than seeing them rationally as cosmetic, superficial differences - and write off the whole OS as inferior. This effect, coupled with obstinancy, hostility, and the desire to exhibit mastery often latent in nerds, produces endless flame-fests in networked discussion groups, and occasional bizarre conversations with coworkers who would never dream of arguing with you over, say, what brand of car you bought.

Many (not all) nerds are also geeks, and we need to deal with the possibility of a causal link one way or the other. The most common argument for a link involves the idea of mastery, and seems to have been posited by MIT professor and Internet researcher Sherry Turkle:

For the developing child, there is a point, usually at the start of the school years, when mastery takes on a priliveged, central role. It becomes the key to autonomy, to the growth of confidence in one's ability to move beyond the world of parents to the world of peers. Later, when adolescence begins, with new sexual pressures and new social demands from peers and parents, mastery can provide respite. The safe microworlds the child master has built - the microworlds of sports, chess, cars, literature, or mathematical expertise - can become places of escape. ... [I]f the sense of self becomes defined in terms of those things over which one can exert perfect control, the world of safe things becomes severely limited - because those things tend to be things, not people.

That last sentence nails nerds right in the heart. Nerds are ultimately afraid of things they can't control, and people are the least controllable things of all. But not all masters - and not all geeks - end up becoming nerds. The tendency to become absorbed in a practice is not the same as the tendency to retreat into it. Also, social mastery is as legitimate a form of mastery as any other.

("Cool" forms of mastery often require the appearance of complete effortlessness, not just a feeling of "he makes it look easy" but a complete illusion that the act simply does not take work - you're either born good at it or you aren't. I'm thinking particularly of dancing, the freeform kind that goes on in contemporary clubs. In these settings you're supposed to simply "feel the music" and "do what comes naturally" - oh yeah, and hope to God that you don't look silly doing it. This effect may help explain the recent resurgence of swing dancing as not just a retromaniacal trendfest, but a tendency of young people to gravitate towards a mode of dance where there are actual steps, that you can learn, and in which taking lessons is a socially accepted part of the scene.)

All nerds are cut off from the social world to some degree, so if they can't perceive social cues well enough to master them, they master whatever they can. Many fall back on logic, leading to the stereotype of cold, emotionless nerds. It's easy to confuse the geek's love of systems, and of the detail thereof, with the nerd stereotype of actual disinterest in emotion. Geek hatred may be on the wane, but this confusion can make geeks look like nerds whether they are or not, tapping into instinctual nerd hatred. So, geeks can still have some real problems fitting in. It should also be said that in most nerds, some combination of the social and cultural aspects of the problem, of nerds and geeks, are at work. Someone who matches love of sports with social ineptitude is just a nerd by another name; a chess club president and Trekkie who's sufficiently charming and attractive can get away with almost anything. In any case, it's clear that geeks and nerds have no reason to be indifferent to each other's problems.

The main problem still remains: what should we do about nerds? The fact is, trying to overcome your misattunement instinct and give nerds help or advice is not often a good idea, to put it mildly. Correcting other people's social errors without insulting them takes a lot more tact and patience than most people have. A better strategy is empathy - trying to see the world the way a nerd does, just for a moment, will leave you better prepared to respond usefully. It can also provide powerful relief for the nerd's sensation of lacking control of social situations. For the last word, here's a suitably ambivalent quote attributed to Aldous Huxley: "It's rather embarrassing to have spent one's entire lifetime pondering the human condition and to come toward its close and find that I really don't have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, 'Try to be a little kinder.' "

4. What is GAZEBO?

GAZEBO is the Journal of Geek Culture. That means we'll talk some more about what constitutes a geek culture, hopefully through the vehicle of more detailed and interesting ethnographies like the Magic piece from last issue, rather than long-winded manifestoes like this. We'll talk more about nerds and how to face them, through book reviews, first-hand reports, and anything else we can think of. GAZEBO will interview cultural workers and Self-Amusing Personalities who cross the borders of (geek) cultures and come back to tell new tales. We'll also continue to run short stories, articles and comics about plain old ordinary life, because anything that fights mainstream media's picture of a glossy, plastic world is a blow for geek rights.

Most of all, we want to hear from you. Send us stuff. How and why are you a geek? How and why are you a nerd? If you come up with short answers, send those; if you come up with longer answers or essays or stories or comics, send them and we'll be ecstatic. Or just drop a line and tell us what you think of this issue. Email us at gazebo@gibberish.com, or send mail to 2342 Shattuck Ave. #241, Berkeley CA 94704. Note that this is a new address.

A final note: it was the last day of my spring break, and the next morning I'd fly back out to school in Poughkeepsie. Aubie arranged that the two of us go out to Walnut Creek that afternoon and meet Aneesa, whom we knew from a local bulletin board. Meeting people from online holds a special fascination for me and I was eager to make the trip. Aneesa showed us around downtown Walnut Creek and I had a great time, exploring the stores and parks and unseen corners of this town that I had only ever thought about when I was looking at subway maps. Eventually we drifted toward a quiet park in the middle of a curve in a high-speed thoroughfare. In the middle of a park was a low, wide eight-sided gazebo, painted off-white with a little greenish trim. The three of us went in the gazebo and sat down on the low yellowy fencing that separated inside from out. Mostly it was Aubie and Aneesa talking, since they knew each other well, and I often couldn't hear them because of the directions we were facing. I was torn between feeling left out, which is a feeling I'm very vulnerable to, and a calm, detached feeling, where Aubie and Aneesa's voices faded in and out amongst the traffic and wind, and I was free to look around me, out of the gazebo at the surrounding trees, buildings and tennis courts - not fixating on anything and open to everything, a different kind of paying attention. I must confess, though, that naming the zine GAZEBO was actually Aubie's idea.

© copyright 1998 Mike Sugarbaker

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