I’ve never wanted to be popular.

I’ve wanted to be wanted, included, asked to all the parties other events. I’ve wanted people to like me, even the ones I really never liked.

In grade school we used to play a game called 7-Up. It was the late-1970s, early 1980s version of Mean Girls without the humor. The gist was the nuns at St. Clare’s School–we had some lay teachers but I remember this cruel game being tied with nuns–would pick seven students to go to the head of the class. The rest of the class would put their heads down while the lights were turned off and the chosen seven would each walk around the class and tap one unsuspecting student on the shoulder. Then, the newly-selected students would have to guess which of the seven tapped them. If they guessed correctly then they become the new chosen seven.

The nuns never selected me, and it always seemed the the popular kids were the first seven who always selected their popular friends, and so on. My little group of unpopular girls pretended it was alright. We  invented our own gang–the “PYTs” (thank you Michael Jackson); but, forming your own group doesn’t make you popular. It can make you sensitive to what it feels like to not belong, and help you understand what others feel like to be exceedingly tall, too chubby, wear an eye patch for your ‘lazy eye’, or have greasy skin and hair.

All the free time spent not attending their little social meet ups left  huge gaps for me to daydream, write, and escape into books. My fascination with Science Fiction and Fantasy did nothing to help my popularity. I thought I was the coolest kid at nine for having a genuine Star Wars hovercraft. I lost hours of my day placing tiny, plastic Han Solo into the Millennium Falcon and inventing missions where Princess Leia would boss everyone around.

The late 70s and early 80s were perfect for a nerdy girl like me. Atari gave me Pong (and  repetitive stress wrist injuries); Watership Down made me believe animals might actual have their own world (and problems); Middle Earth seemed like a perfect place to live (I’m short, have bad feet, and any place seemed better than the Bronx); and I was enthralled to follow apes above, around, and beyond the planet. Mr. Spielberg however hit it out of the ballpark each time. He made archeology cool, swimming scary, and outer space and extra-terrestrials feel like they were one of us (or I might be one of them, which would have explained a lot). And one alien in particular, really made me feel ok to not feel like I fit in nor would ever really feel at home, but would hope to find someone to make me feel safe and like it would all be ok. Each time his little heart lit up, so did mine, with hope.

Fans of science fiction and fantasy aren’t always necessarily escaping or out of touch with reality. We do worry about the future of our world, imagine a past made up of strange creatures and terrible wars (from which we learned nothing ), and hope there might be something and some others more spectacular out there. Strangely, my love of sic fi somehow drew me into a world of IT (that’s Information Technology for those of you lucky enough to not know), where I make my living writing about it (at least until my own novels are published and I can have my ‘Office Space’ moment).

Daniel Goleman wrote about emotional intelligence a while back, which seemed to sum up people I liked and hoped to be one of (and not just moody and sensitive). The emotionally intelligent relate to people and their situations around them–the ‘big picture’ so to speak–they tend to bully less, lead better, stay healthy. Critics say EQ confuses moral qualities for actual skills; but, I tend to believe that we are all are supposed to behave civilly to one another, which is sort of a skill and for some, a challenge. Goleman purports EQ weighs more heavily than IQ. I’m not sure about that, though what I’ve learned about the world of IT is that there is little to no emotional intelligence, which makes for a challenging work environment.

“Back in the day” people who were interested in science fiction and fantasy who also worked in the world of computing seemed to have hopes of making it better and making more speculator and cool inventions: Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf (for those of you who enjoy the Internet), David Korn (for you old-fashioned types), Jay Milner (for brining me Pong), etc.  These people with their creativity and curiosity also seemed to know people. They understood how humans worked (well maybe Steve Jobs more than Bill Gates, speaking as someone who has  worked through every iteration of MS-Word) and pondered how computing and technology could make lives better, more interesting.

Now it seems that skills are the only thing that matter. Perhaps I’ve become jaded due to my exposure to the way IT works on Wall Street. I do miss my time in actual software companies where, in all fairness, developers and the like were of a different ilk that reminded me of my Star Wars days. The value now seems to be on whether people can code in a particular computer language, decipher a database, run test scripts, and move triangles around project trackers to make everything complete on time, under budget, and regardless of  peoples’ work-life balance. I’ve found I can sit next to computer developers all day who never speak of anything personal. Small talk is frowned upon unless it sneaks into a conversation accidentally about a project, and while I am a creative writer I find it hard to integrate “How was a your trip to Utah?” into “Are the UAT scripts almost complete?”.  In my workplace my ‘cubicle’ is shared with anyone needing a cold place to code on the days I work from home.  I find that working from home can be lonely, until I accepted conversations with my cat, who still makes a preferable office mate (even when she’s leaning on her haunches cleaning her privates!); and, I find I understand my calico better than coworkers who seem to speak a different language than me (and I don’t mean Java) when they do speak at all.

Lately, the IT work-world, outside of software companies, feels like a grown up game of 7-up without the popular kids. I don’t quite want to be tapped on the shoulder, nor be the one doing the tapping. I just would like to hear the words ‘Good Morning’ as I pass my coworkers in the hallway. I wouldn’t mind the person standing next to me as we microwave our lunches to actually look and smile back as I say “hello” instead of looking at their shoes, pretending I am not standing inches away from their smelly fish dish.

Sic-fi and fantasy and IT could be woven together by the same kinds of people. Creative, hopeful, able to take the inanimate and intangible world of zeros and ones and make it serve people. And thankfully for the most part it does. There are still technologists inventing amazing things, academics encouraging thought mixed with emotional intelligence, and parents trying to make kids a blend of renaissance-thinker-meets-violin-maestro (for better or worse).

I find myself feeling more like the child who invented worlds to feel better about herself not feeling like she belonged to the one she was living in. I recently watched a movie called “Safety Not Guaranteed*” that reminded me that maybe there are more people like me still out there. We believe technology should be fun, love is risky but worth it, and maybe you can move around in time and place and make it up as you go along. So long as you find the right partner.

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