Episode 18: Hellboy

ReNerding Assignment Guide: Hellboy

What the Hell(boy) is up, ReNerders?! In this episode, we discuss Mike Mignola, his universe, and the first two graphic novels of the Hellboy saga. We delve deep into monsters, demons, Nazi occultism, and Victorian spiritualism, just in time for Halloween. Rip off your demon horns, jam in your earbuds, and get a-listenin’!

Support Us

If you enjoy what we’re doing, take a second to leave us a review and rating! The better ratings we have, the more visible we become, and the more nerds join in on this movement of rediscovering nerdy joy.

You should check out our Patreon page. We are offering our Patrons some sweet, exclusive treats like a subscription to the ReNerding Patrons Guide and exclusive, Patron-only podcasts. Plus, your support helps us create more things for you to enjoy. Become a Patron today!

Sign up for the ReNerders Mailing List for news and updates for all things ReNerding. Each week, you’ll receive info, insights, and guidance for rediscovering nerdy joy. You’ll also receive a copy of The ReNerding Manifesto! Sign up today!

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Episode 17: It – The Miniseries

Get the ReNerding Assignment Guide to It: The Miniseries!

We are back after a summer hiatus! We spent this time thinking about the best way to serve the Nerddom with the work we do here, and we hope you like the results. We have a lot of fun stuff coming your way, so be sure you stay in the loop!

For the inauguration of ReNerding 2.0, we ReNerded Stephen King’s IT, the two-part mini-series that aired on ABC in 1990. On the day that this episode comes out, the new film adaption of It is hitting theatres. After you’ve been terrified by the new Pennywise (seriously – how creepy is he?!), you can listen to this episode and celebrate this awesomely creepy story!

Matt and I brought on our good friend Josh, the Queen of King, to help fill in the gaps on our King knowledge. As our first Guest Sensei, Josh helped us make sure that we delved correctly into the King of horror himself.

Give it a listen!

 

Support Us

If you enjoy what we’re doing, take a second to leave us a review and rating! The better ratings we have, the more visible we become, and the more nerds join in on this movement of rediscovering nerdy joy.

You should check out our Patreon page. We are offering our Patrons some sweet, exclusive treats like a subscription to the ReNerding Patrons Guide and exclusive, Patron-only podcasts. Plus, your support helps us create more things for you to enjoy. Become a Patron today!

Sign up for the ReNerders Mailing List for news and updates for all things ReNerding. Each week, you’ll receive info, insights, and guidance for rediscovering nerdy joy. You’ll also receive a copy of The ReNerding Manifesto! Sign up today!

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The Secret History

I’m a huge Potterhead.

I read the first book in 7th grade, and it gripped me in a fashion that books hadn’t done in years. The part of the story that resonated most with me was Harry learning about the wizarding world. After Hagrid reveals to him that he’s a wizard and that he’s going to Hogwarts, Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley to purchase a wand, robes, a cauldron, leather bound textbooks. These items were standard, everyday practice for wizard kids — but for Harry (and for us), it was straight up magical.

The secret world is one of my favorite tropes in storytelling. I love when a character learns that underneath the reality of their (often) mundane lives, there exists a completely different society whose rules and norms and mores are different and exciting. When our protagonist is inducted into this world, we are, too, and for the moment we enter the story, we shed our world for this new one. Rowling’s comprehensive ability to shape an engrossing world resulted in a fascination with the series that continues to this day, mainly through adults bemoaning the fact that they never received a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts.

What I love the most about the secret world is its secret history. It’s not enough that Harry discovers a world where magic is real, but that this world has a deep, rich history we only learn in snippets. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry discovers that he is a celebrity in this secret world. The circumstances of his celebrity is precisely what the rest of the series is about. Rowling spends 6.75 books teasing out only a tiny, tiny part of the history of this secret world and Harry’s involvement in it. The history of the wizarding world, like our own, is rooted in the choices and actions of countless of wizards and witches, famous, infamous, or variety-garden. We get a sense throughout the story that even though Harry had a special moment in the history of this world, it is but a drop in the proverbial ocean.

We love secret worlds and their histories because art reflects life because life reflects art. In the same way that Harry discovers the wizarding world, we, too, are constant discoverers of secret worlds with their own histories. Sometimes we realize it, but often, we don’t. The secret history of a world is a mirror to the experience of learning more and more about our world.

Kids experience the regular world as a secret world. My oldest son is three, and he lives with the excitement of being inducted into a secret world with a secret history. The secret world always gives birth to excitement. He asks me to explain the world around him and he is thrilled to gain this information. He loves reading about firetrucks and construction vehicles. The pride he feels is palpable when we drive past construction sites and his tiny voice from the backseat announces, “Look, Daddy! An excavator!” Everything is thrilling to him as he attempts to take in the world and begin to construct a framework for operating within it. He lives with a perpetual sense of wonder.

Wonder is what we and protagonists in stories feel when we enter the secret world. Wonder is the visceral feeling of awe at what is in front us. It feels like we are aligned with the universe. As Harry walks through Hogsmeade for the first time, he learns that the inklings he felt that there was more to the world than what he experienced were true. And we, in turn, learn that those feelings that reside in us as also true.

As we get older and enter into the routines of our life, we often forget what wonder feels it. But here’s the good news: we don’t have to. We can enter the secret world and learn its secret history if we want to. We can experience it as new fans of a film/book/movie/comic series/game we didn’t know about before. This is an endeavor near and dear to my heart, as it forms the basis of the podcast that Matt and I do. I am constantly learning about secret worlds within the Nerddom, learning their secret histories, realizing that the world is much bigger and more beautiful than I assumed.

We love when the protagonist enters the secret world and learns the secret history because it teaches us this is our destiny, too. Part of the work of rediscovering joy is to learn to look at the world slightly askew so we can see it in a whole new way. The secret history reminds us that what we thought we knew about the world was wrong; that, in fact, there is much more going on than we ever imagined.


 

Want more conversations on the quest to rediscover joy? Do you like reading about the Nerddom and philosophy? Want to know about all the amazingly fun stuff we have in the works? Make sure you subscribe to the ReNerders Mailing List! All of that goodness is awaiting you there.

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast! Check out the show notes for the most recent episode to find out the most recent assignment and join in the fun. Also leave us a review wherever you listen. It’s easy karma points for both you and the podcast.

If you enjoy what we’re doing, please consider supporting us. You can do that one of two ways: head over to our Patreon page and choose a regular monthly donation or a one time donation, whatever floats your financial boat!

The Cowl or His Face?

My love for Batman began with Batman Returns, Tim Burton’s bizarro-dark take on the Dark Knight. This film resonated deeply with my younger self, laying the foundation for a lot of my interests to this day, including weird cities, skin-tight costumes, and penguins. Between Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin eating a raw fish and his creepy-as-fuck circus-themed gang, the film blew my mind as a child. I had several of the action figures, the junior novelization of the film, and a Batman-themed birthday party the year it came out. What I most remember was Selina Kyle/Catwoman kissing Max Shreck with a taser and it being simultaneously sexy and terrifying.

(This image is way sexier than I recall.)

(The result of that kiss.)

However, my love for Batman hit its tipping point when I first watched Batman:The Animated Series [LINK]. The show’s storytelling didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the Batman mythos, despite being geared towards kids. The brokenness of Gotham and the brokenness of Batman’s rogues gallery was fearlessly portrayed, and it hooked a new generation of Batman fans that would read the comics and buy the merchandise. In addition to its animated beauty, it was well written — go back and watch the Mr. Freeze origin episode, “Heart of Ice”, and try not to cry. There was the episode where the Joker and Harley Quinn (who, let’s not forget, debuted in this episode!) spare the life of an innocent man in a crime in exchange for a favor that the Joker can call upon at any time. The man leaves in terror, he changes his identity, his hair color, he uproots his family, and I remember as a young kid palpably feeling the terror of this poor man, his relief when he thinks he’s safe, and the cortisone-level-explosion of when the Joker finds him for the favor, which is to simply hold open a door while he and his henchmen rob a party. There’s more to the story, but you’ll need to watch it (again) to see what happens.

(So beautiful, so dark, so creepy.)

One of my favorite Bat-themes explored in the series is the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman. I recently rewatched “Perchance to Dream”, an episode which involved Batman being knocked unconscious and waking up in a world where he was not Batman. Alfred had no idea what he was talking about in relationship to the Batcave, and most surprisingly, Martha and Thomas Wayne were still alive. Bruce was engaged to Selina Kyle, but there was still a Batman fighting crime in Gotham. What struck me most about this episode was Bruce Wayne’s inability to truly feel comfortable in this scenario. Part of this was him dealing with the possibility that he’d dreamed his entire Batman experience, but there seemed to lurk underneath that a different sense of uncomfortability — he is supposed to be Batman. I don’t want to give away the ending of the episode, but suffice it to say that the relationship between the Dark Knight and the billionaire playboy is explored quite well here.

The Bruce Wayne/Batman relationship is an oft-cited example of the concept of the alter-ego, specifically for superheroes. Most other superheroes also have a life outside of their hero-ing: Superman is a reporter with a serious girlfriend/wife (depending on the time/continuity), Spider-Man is a scientist and photographer, has a family, Green Lantern is an artist (again, Kyle Rayner > all other Lanterns). But Batman appears to be the most comfortable being Batman. Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy, comes across as being the real alter-ego, mainly because Bruce Wayne’s work and role in the world serve but one purpose: Batman’s mission.

Another way of thinking about this relationship: is he the cowl or his face? Is Bruce Wayne the real person and Batman the alter-ego? Or vice-versa?

It’s hard to imagine Bruce Wayne having a successful romantic relationship, considering that at the peak of his life, he spends the majority of his evenings traipsing across the rooftops of Gotham City dressed as a bat and beating the shit out of criminals. A partner would want him to stay home, cuddle, drink wine, watch Real Housewives of Atlanta. And look — I am no Batman expert. I don’t know the full history of the character backwards and forwards, but I do know that Bruce/Batman’s longest-running relationships are with women like Talia al-Ghul, the assassin daughter of an immortal martial arts master, or the aforementioned Selina Kyle/Catwoman, who, like Bruce, has skills beyond a normal person and also dresses up in an animal-themed costume.

These are not paragons of “normal” relationships.

(And you thought your girlfriend’s dad was rough!)

Part of the reason the question of the cowl or his face has resonated over the decades is because these artists were wrestling with the concept of identity. Don’t forget: art reflects life because life reflects art. It’s awesome to watch Batman easily take out an entire gang of criminals or to have the most incredible technology or use his Sherlock Holmes-style detective abilities, but that’s simply what brings us to the story. The sustained meditation on the struggle and issue of identity is what keeps us hooked. We may not dress up like a bat or be billionaire playboys, but every one of us struggles with the concept of identity.

Identity is important, because it determines how we operate in the world. Identity is how we orient ourselves to ourselves, to others, to the world; it is the means we use to create order from the chaos of simply existing. When we read or watch Bruce Wayne/Batman struggle through his/their fabric of identity, it resonates with us because we struggle with our identity. When we are unsure of who we are, of the ideas and visions and values that undergird who we are as a person, we will struggle to enjoy life. In order for us to embark truly on the quest to rediscover joy, we must determine the nature of our identity.

So here’s the good news: we get to choose our identity. In the amazing book Resilience , Eric Greitens is writing a series of letters to his friend, both of them veteran Navy SEALs. At one point in the book, he explains that when it comes to identity, we culturally arrive at it like this:

Feelings -> Actions -> Identity

He argues that we often let how we feel dictate our actions, then we tie our identity to this action that was completed mindlessly. Here’s an example: I feel like eating an entire chocolate cake by myself, so I eat the chocolate cake, and now my identity is someone who has no self control when it comes to chocolate cake.

We see how this could be dangerous.

Greitens counters this idea with another model that is rooted in wisdom both ancient and modern about identity. Here is the paradigm:

Identity -> Actions -> Feeling

Greitens explains that we can choose who we want to be, then we act accordingly. Instead of letting our feelings dictate who we become, we decide who we want to become, act accordingly, and eventually, our feelings change. So, the same chocolate-cake eating scenario. Before the chocolate cake enters the scene, we decide our identity is someone who eats healthy and only eats a tiny piece of chocolate cake on their birthday. At an office party, someone breaks out the Wal-Mart Bakery chocolate cake. We embrace our identity and we don’t eat the chocolate cake. The more times we do this, the easier it becomes, and eventually, it’s not even a struggle anymore.

Here’s the thing: Bruce knows who he truly is (Batman), and struggles to maintain this identity in the light of other possibilities. He follows this Identity -> Actions -> Feelings idea, and it is why we love him so much. He has every possible way out of being Batman, but he doesn’t take it. As a billionaire, he would not want for anything. He could sit at home, get in a relationship with a normal woman, have children that aren’t psychotic little shits (I’m reading Injustice right now – fuck you, Damian.) But his identity is Batman, it is justice, it is to rise every night and battle the same forces of evil that murdered his parents. He does it even when he doesn’t feel like it.

Art reflects life because life reflects art.

For those of us who are ReNerding our lives, we must decide what our identity is so we can move forward. Are we going to be cynical assholes because that’s how we feel all the time? Or are we going to decide that life may be meaningless, but it’s worth living? It’s up to us. When we determine who we are, it becomes easier to battle the internal resistance to it. Bruce forsakes the easy route of his life for the struggle of being Batman because he knows who he is. We can and must do the same. Because whether he’d admit it or not, Bruce enjoys being Batman. He likes being the brooding figure, the brain of the DC Universe, the detective extraordinare. Even if his mission is rooted in vengance, it culminates in joy.

So, what is our mission? What is our identity? This, my friends, is what we must wrestle and decide upon. It’s the difference between a boring life and the life we truly want.


 

Want more conversations on the quest to rediscover joy? Do you like reading about the Nerddom and philosophy? Want to know about all the amazingly fun stuff we have in the works? Make sure you subscribe to the ReNerders Mailing List! All of that goodness is awaiting you there.

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast! Check out the show notes for the most recent episode to find out the most recent assignment and join in the fun. Also leave us a review wherever you listen. It’s easy karma points for both you and the podcast.

If you enjoy what we’re doing, please consider supporting us. You can do that one of two ways: head over to our Patreon page and choose a regular monthly donation or a one time donation, whatever floats your financial boat! OR, if you click on any of the above links that take you to Amazon, purchase some movies or comics or books and we get some cash thrown our way. It doesn’t cost you anything but helps us out a lot!

Episode 16: Wonder Woman ’75! Wonder Woman ’11! I Wonder If She Can Cook?

In This Episode!

Matt and Chris celebrate the release of Wonder Woman by discussing the original Wonder Woman TV show from the 1970s and the unaired 2011 pilot! They discuss the attractiveness of Lynda Carter, the ham-fistedness of the 2011 pilot, and laugh at and are uncomfortable with the casual sexism of the 1970s take on the 1940s. Why does Paradise Island not know how to take care of Steve Trevor? If they’re peaceful, why do they have guns? Why is Wonder Woman the owner of a multinational corporation that finances her crime fighting? Why does she need that damn invisible plane? Give us a listen and find out!*

*Not really. We just bring it up. But still, give us a listen.

Some Stuff We Mention!

Twin Peaks, Shade the Changing Man, Peter Milligan, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Jon Hamm, Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner, Kenneth Mars, Young Frankenstein, Malcolm in the Middle, The Burbs, Henry Gibson, Cloris Leachman, American Gods, Hippolyta, “Too Many Cooks”, “This Insane Too Many Cooks Flow Chart Just Might Blow Your Mind”, David E. Kelley, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Big Little Lies, Adrianne Palicki, Agents of SHIELD,GI Joe: Retaliation, Elizabeth Hurley,Austin Powers,Cary Elwes, The Princess Bride, Hot Shots, Etta Candy,Wonder Falls, The Notebook,Supergirl, Maxwell Lord, BJ Britt, Joss Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charisma Carpenter, Edward Hermann

 

Next Assignment!

We’re kicking it Adult Swim old school for our next assignment! We are watching the first seasons of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021! Watch along with us!

Requests!

We are on a mission to help people rediscover their joy! Here’s a few ways you can join us in this cause:

Take a second to leave us a review and rating wherever you listen to us. The better ratings we have, the more visible we become, and the more people can join our community. It’s quick, easy, helpful – what more do you need?!

If you like what we do, join our mission by throwing us some cash over at Patreon. There are different levels that you can give at, and they each come with their own rewards. It costs money to do what we do, and we’d love to do even more! We want to make everything look, sound, and feel better for you, our loyal and lovely listeners. Help some brothers out!

Find out what is going on as we help people rediscover their joy by joining the ReNerders Mailing List. You’ll get the latest updates on ReNerding projects (including Matt and Chris’s individual works), free stuff, and hear even more about what it is to ReNerd. Sign up now!

Say hi to us on the interwebs! You can visit us at www.renerding.com, our centralized hub of goodness; say hello to us on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also say hi to us individually!

Matt is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — come say hello!

Chris is on Twitter and Instagram — he also runs a blog about creativity, entrepreneurship, reading, writing, self-creation, secularism, spirituality, Stoicism, and whatever else interests him called Inter alia — but since it’s a Tumblr, he mainly just reblogs. Come say hi!

Own Your Evolution

If it’s been a minute since biology class, here’s a quick summation of Darwin’s theory: traits that help the species survive are passed to the next generation. Giraffe necks are tall and lion roars are loud and humans enjoy sex because all these traits allowed these species to survive. Traits that don’t help with survival slowly evolve into oblivion; hence why short-necked giraffes and weak lion roars and people who can’t/won’t enjoy sex often don’t pass on their genes.

(Eh, close enough.)

Consciousness is one of these traits. The only reason that homo sapiens, the young, weak, hairless ape, became the dominant species on the planet is because we learned we were going to die and we figured out how to work together to postpone it (for the world’s most amazing book on this topic, you should read Yuval Noah Harrari’s Sapiens . It will blow your mind.) Once we constructed our civilizations, we told stories to cope with the harsh realities of the outer world and the sharp questions of the inner world: how did we get here, how can we change? This was the birth of myth, religion, stories, wisdom itself.

We began to think about not just surviving, but truly living. People like Aristotle, Plato, Lao Tzu spent their lives thinking deeply about how to live well and wholly in their respective contexts. There’s a reason these old texts are enduring: nothing much has changed with our inner world even while the outer world has dramatically changed.

Our hunger for meaning and purpose is one of the traits that has enabled us to survive. We need stories and myths to guide us, to help us figure out the why of bothering to survive. Survival is hard work. We expend so much of our precious time and energy just trying to ensure that we eat food, have a roof over our heads, bring someone in under the roof and have sex with them. We need a story to help us make all of this struggle worth our while. We are storytelling animals, so once we have a story, it assuages our fears and concerns that enable us to press through the struggles.

When we talk about being on the quest to rediscover our joy, we are talking about constructing a story that helps us conquer our struggles and embrace the enjoyable parts of being alive. I have a story that is worth heeding: we own our evolution.

 

We contain the ability to ensure that our survival is worthwhile. We live in a unique time, especially in the West, where our overarching systems of thought are excellent at providing knowledge about the world, but terrible at helping explain how to live in the world. After the Enlightenment, we decided that religion was a waste of time and that all we needed was reason and logic to reach grand heights. And reason and logic resulted in AMAZING works. But we forgot that humans are not innately rational and logical. The reptile part of our brain, the one that runs on instinct and irrationality, is much older than our reason and logic.

So, as people without a story given to us, the story we adopt is this: we own our evolution. This is the big-scale, 10,000 feet view of why we should even bother with the quest for rediscovering joy: fulfilled people create a fulfilled culture. We have the capacity to pass on to the next generations, either biologically or culturally (we haven’t even touched on the whole meme discussion, and I’m not talking about condescending Willy Wonka or Kermit the Frog), the traits of being joyful by creating their own stories.

Evolution happens at both the macro and the micro level. It requires that individual organisms utilize specific traits that ensure its survival. As a species aware of our evolution, we have the choice to participate in this work. We all have different skin color and hair types and facial constructions and capacities that were given to us without our input. But there are other parts of our existence that we can change and pass on.

Breaking the world into a tribalistic “us and them” mindset is an example of a trait we didn’t ask for. It enabled our ancestors to survive for thousands of generations. However, now our world is too interconnected for us to continue to think in this tribalistic manner. To destroy “them” is to destroy “us.” When we own our evolution, we can change this default setting by doing some work. When we feel that natural inclination of tribalism arise, we can teach our brains that there is no value in thinking like that. If we see someone whose skin color normally bothers us, we teach our brains to not judge them based on a trait they had no control over. Doing this will actually change our brain until it becomes our habit. And if enough of us do this, why couldn’t we override our default tribalism?

Professor X and Magneto from the X-Men Animated Series (not so much the comics — Xavier is such a dick) are perfect examples of people owning their evolution. These two men with their genetic evolution have two different approaches: co-exist (Xavier) or conquer (Magneto.) They have both owned their evolution, but the stakes between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is for the very fate and evolution of humanity itself. Magneto represents the traditional way of handling it — conquer and destroy as superiors. Xavier represents the “own your evolution” way of handling it — co-exist as equals. One of the reasons that the X-Men has endured for so long is because the struggle between Magneto and Xavier is our internal struggles on paper. That, and X-Men is the soap opera of the comic books world.

(Run, Jubilee!)

Rediscovering our joy isn’t just about us — it’s about the future and fate of our species. By reshaping our evolutionary fates, we get a say in what humanity can become. Owning our evolution reminds us that we have a choice to become who we want to become. There is nothing preventing us from taking the next step towards the life we want to live, from becoming the people we’d like to become.

As ReNerders, part of our story is that we are mindfully creating lives of joy. To achieve that, we must own our evolution, to acknowledge that we get a say in how our lives work. We also get to be like X-Men. Who doesn’t want to be an X-Man?

Episode 15: MC Lars! MC Frontalot! 31 Flavors of Strange?

In This Episode!

What’s crackalackin’, ReNerders?! In this episode, Matt and Chris discuss the nerdcore stylings of MC Lars and MC Frontalot, AND delve deeper into the philosophy of nerdcore music in the documentary Nerdcore Rising. They discuss all this, Master P and the No Limit Soldiers, the value (or lack thereof) of grammar rules, and whether or not Bowling for Soup is a good band. They also discover the deliciousness of 31 flavors of strange!

Stuff We Mention!

Articles: “Stanford-educated rapper embraces piracy” (CNN), “RIP Nerdcore (1998-2009)”,

Books: The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost

Games: Dhalsim, Street Fighter, Magic: The Gathering

Ideas: Lit Hop, “The Hip Hop of Shakespeare” (Lars TED-X talk)

Movies: La La Land, Crazy Stupid Love, Lord of the Rings, Neverending Story, Face of a Stranger

Music: “Make ‘Em Say Uhh” (music video), Har Mar Superstar, This Gigantic Robot Kills (album), Minor Threat, Jay-Z, Grandmaster Flash, Wesley Willis, Beastie Boys, The Sounds of Science, Iggy Pop, “The Passenger”, Bowling for Soup, Jonathan Coulton, Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP, Schaffer the Dark Lord- “The Way You Talk”, Prince Paul, D12

People: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Weird Al, Charles Bukowski, Plato, Rene Descartes, John Peel, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Brian Posehn

ReNerding: Episode 4: mc chris! Adam WarRock! Vampyronymphomaniac?

TV:Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (Netflix season), Beakman’s World

Misc:

 

Notes, Thanks, Apologies, Etc.!

Thanks for listening!

Next Assignment!

We’re getting WONDERful! We will be watching Wonder Woman episodes 1-10 from the original 1975 series AND the 2011 pilot episode of a show that didn’t happen. We are doing this to celebrate the release of the new Wonder Woman movie!

 

Requests!

We are on a mission to help nerds rediscover their joy! Here’s a few ways you can join us in this cause:

Take a second to leave us a review and rating wherever you listen to us. The better ratings we have, the more visible we become, and the more people can join our community. It’s quick, easy, helpful – what more do you need?!

If you like what we do, join our mission by throwing us some cash over at Patreon. There are different levels that you can give at, and they each come with their own rewards. It costs money to do what we do, and we’d love to do even more! We want to make everything look, sound, and feel better for you, our loyal and lovely listeners. Help some brothers out!

If you want to buy something we discuss, do us a solid and use one of our Amazon Affiliates link listed above! It throws us a few pennies and costs you nothing! Thanks!

Find out what is going on as we help people rediscover their joy by joining the ReNerders Mailing List. You’ll get the latest updates on ReNerding projects (including Matt and Chris’s individual works), free stuff, and hear even more about what it is to ReNerd. Sign up now!

Say hi to us on the interwebs! You can visit us at www.renerding.com, our centralized hub of goodness; say hello to us on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also say hi to us individually!

Matt is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — come say hello!

Chris is on Twitter and Instagram — he also runs a blog about creativity, entrepreneurship, reading, writing, self-creation, secularism, spirituality, Stoicism, and whatever else interests him called Inter alia — but since it’s a Tumblr, he mainly just reblogs. Come say hi!

 

Power Rangers and Self Compassion

Like so many kids born in the mid-1980s, I was the target demographic for Saban Entertainment when they launched their first entry into the Power Rangers franchise: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. On Saturday, August 28, 1993, I turned on Fox Kids Saturday Morning, and feasted my eyes upon five teenagers with attitude given an ancient power of good to fight an ancient power of evil that had been imprisoned in an intergalactic trash can, robot dinosaurs, martial arts, swords, monsters. When it was all over, the Fox Kids announcer let me know that when I got home from school on Monday, the Power Rangers would be back with an all new adventure. Monday after school, and every day after that, I would come home, grab a snack, and watch the Power Rangers constantly foil Rita’s plans.

(Really, Zordon? A trash can? Borrowed from Comics Alliance, property of Saban Entertainment.)

It didn’t stop there — I had the toys, the plastic weapons, the books. I would play Power Rangers with my friends during recess where we’d take turns being the Power Rangers proper and Rita’s Rangers, a group we created that featured such ass-kicking evil Rangers like the Purple Ranger who controlled a brontosaurus zord.

Eventually, like a lot of things from childhood, I lost interest and stopped watching the show sometime around their Zeo incarnation. Despite randomly watching the show here and there during nostalgic benders in college and after finding out that all of the action sequences were from Super Sentai, my interest and love of the Power Rangers faded with time. And it appeared that the fading love was not unique — the once-cultural phenomenon continued airing episodes, but it was no longer the cultural reference point it had become.

That is until the new Power Rangers movie that came out this year (2017, at the time of writing.) Suddenly, words like “zords”, “Zordon”, and “Rita Repulsa” are being heard on the lips of not just children, but their parents who were the original age demographic.

To prepare for the release of the movie, Matt and I did an episode of ReNerding where we watched the first 21 episodes of the original season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie. I learned something important during this assignment: the show doesn’t stand the test of the time.

To put it another way: the show was fucking terrible.

 

Despite the terrible acting, the horrible sets, the local access television-style special effects, the worst part was the huge gaps of logic in the series. Here are a few I wrote down while preparing for the ReNerding episode:

  • Why would Rita keep attacking the one city where her enemies live with one monster at a time? Why not send multiple monsters to every major city in the world? Or, at least more than five of them.
  • Why do the monsters keep “taking over” the park or some random hill out in the middle of nowhere?
  • Why doesn’t the government step in and try to help the Rangers destroy Rita?
  • If Rita knows the identities of the Rangers, why doesn’t she try to like murder or kidnap their parents/siblings/etc. (and yes, I know Trini’s family, for some reason, keeps getting targeted, but it was always so arbitrary?)
  • Why didn’t Goldar get destroyed like all the other creatures that fought the Rangers?

(THE PARK IS MINE, BITCHES! Also: this monster was voiced by Bryan Cranston. Talk about breaking bad!)

When you look at these questions, there is always one answer that is provided for all of them: it’s a show for kids. Logic isn’t necessary — you just need explosions, cool robots, fight scenes, and occasionally make a monster so powerful that it defeats most of the Rangers, but one of the Rangers learned how to believe in themselves so they show up to rescue the rest and win the day. I get it. Here’s another way of saying “it was a kid’s show”: they were banking on the stupidity of children. They were banking on the fact that children would often forget what happened, that they love structure, stability, repetition, and specifically, kids in the 1990s went apeshit over anything martial arts-related.

So was I stupid? Were we all stupid, all the millions of us who watched the show and bought the action figures and Halloween costumes and who played Rita’s Rangers at recess? Nah. We were young, and our brains were not at the place developmentally that they are now. I can watch the show at 31 and see all of the inconsistencies that I was completely oblivious to at 8 because I have more knowledge now. I understand storytelling, I understand the capitalist underpinnings that would lead a show to decide to sacrifice artistic integrity for a shit ton of money. It has less to do with intelligence and more to do with maturity. We weren’t stupid — we were just less mature.

 

Now that I have matured, I can see how my less mature self would have fallen for theatrics and not cared about substance. It’s part of the growing process. And I like the term “mature” because it has less to do with age and numbers and more to do with a state of mind, more to do with the decisions we make with our lives and the rationales behind them. Because even though I am kind to myself for liking the Power Rangers when I was less mature, there are times when I hate myself for being less mature and not pursuing entrepreneurship when I was young and single instead of now when I try to balance and juggle a full time job, a family, and ReNerding. I spent so much of my 20s dicking around when I could have focused on ventures that would’ve made my 30s way more enjoyable and easy.

But I had to mature to see that.

(Can you blame me for thinking this was amazing?)

Being angry at myself for not being less mature in my 20s is as ridiculous as being angry at myself for liking the Power Rangers. I had to grow up in both respects, and both of these are a part of who I am. As humans, we have a negativity bias; as nerds, we tend to obsess while leaning into that bias. When it comes to dealing with ourselves, we are often the most ruthless. We often succumb to self-loathing, to thinking that we are the worst, to fucking up relationships out of fear that people will hate us once they get to know us (or at least I did.)

When we embark on the quest to rediscover joy, we will have to deal with our self-loathing. We are going to have to make peace with the less mature versions of ourselves, and learn from their mistakes. And we aren’t going to have to do this once — we will have to do it over and over and over again.

An example: a couple of years ago, I changed my eating habits and lost a bunch of weight and was living a healthy life. Then, a shitstorm of stress hit our life, and I succumbed to one of my less mature habits: eating my feelings. I gained the weight back and then some. My weight has been an issue for me for my entire life, and when I finally felt like I’d gotten it under control and was making progress, I slipped. I was so angry at myself for knowing what I needed to do and not doing it that I would then eat those feelings until my default state seemed to be a sugary, carby stupor.

(A short documentary on my eating habits.)

The only way that I’ve been able to get back on track is to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is the antidote to self-loathing; it is also an essential practice if we are going to take the quest for joy seriously. We are going to make progress towards whatever our goals are that bring us joy.

And then we’ll stumble.

If we are operating from our standard, culturally celebrated self-loathing standpoint, we will beat the shit out of ourselves for being less mature. And if you’ve ever been yelled at by a teacher or a boss or a parent, you know that all it does is harden your position. Self-loathing is the equivalent of unproductive screaming — it feels strangely nice, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.

So, all we can do when we fuck up is keep going. We can learn our lessons, but there’s no reason to beat ourselves up. The moment we become aware that we just did something that is incongruous with our values or our goals, we have matured. When we can see where we went wrong, we are already doing better than not seeing it at all.

I want to repeat this: beating ourselves up over a less mature decision is as ridiculous and lame as beating ourselves up for less mature tastes. I owned a Creed CD when I was 12. I don’t spend hours agonizing over how I could enjoy listening to the second-worst music ever produced (the first going to Nickelback, of course.) I don’t berate the 12 year old me by calling them an idiot or disgusting or a failure who will never become anything. I laugh, I appreciate it as part of my life, and I move on.

So what do I mean when I say we should practice self-compassion. Here are some practical ways:

1) Acknowledge we have a choice. Self-loathing, although it may be our default setting, is a choice. Once we are aware that we are self-loathing, we have a choice to make in that moment — keep going, or practice self-compassion. One of the most liberating truths to acknowledge about life is that we have way more choices than we think.

2) Stop the self-loathing tapes. Our minds constantly run tapes that we repeat to ourselves over and over and over again. If our default tape is “I suck”, then you will believe and act like you suck. So stop this tape, and replace it with “I’m growing”, “I’m OK”, etc. Please understand: the “I suck” or “You’re such an idiot” or my personal default, “I can’t believe you did that” will not die easy. It will pop up and play, and you have a choice to indulge it, or replace it with one that is true. I’ve literally had to tell myself “Let this go.” Don’t forget: you’re the master of your mind, not its slave.

3) Remember we’re always growing. We are going to do and say things that we wish we hadn’t. When we recognize our mistake, we’ve already matured. Celebrate that. The quest for rediscovering joy is all about the tiny successes that make up our lives.

4) Keep track of the ways you’ve moved towards your goals. Our minds like to keep tabs of all the stupid shit we do. Thanks, negativity bias Try writing down the things that you do that move you towards your goals. If the goal is to lose weight, and you ate a healthy lunch, then write it down. If you also ate 18 chocolate chip cookies, too, repeat #2 above and move on.

I haven’t seen the new Power Rangers movie, but I’ve heard it is great. It’s dark, it’s new, but there’s lots of throwbacks for OG fans like myself. I can’t wait to check it out. I’m excited to celebrate something that the less mature version of myself loved and to see what I can get out of it now. And the less mature version of myself got upset at my son for something stupid a couple of days ago. I’ve already apologized to him, and I’m reminding myself that I was less mature in that moment than I am now. And I learned that I don’t want my son to be afraid of making mistakes or think that I don’t like to hear him talk to me.

Self compassion is a choice. It’s one that we have to make over and over again. It may feel strange the first time we tell ourselves that we’re OK. But no one else can give us that peace.

It’s up to us.


Want more conversations on the quest to rediscover joy? Do you like reading about the Nerddom and philosophy? Want to know about all the amazingly fun stuff we have in the works? Make sure you subscribe to the ReNerders Mailing List! All of that goodness is awaiting you there.

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast! Check out the show notes for the most recent episode to find out the most recent assignment and join in the fun. Also leave us a review wherever you listen. It’s easy karma points for both you and the podcast.

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The Both/And

Humans hunger for the world to be black and white. We want easy distinctions between what is right and what is wrong. We want to believe that morality has its roots in the fabric of the universe, and that it is up to us to learn and embrace this morality. We want to believe that the Star Wars Special Edition is 100% terrible and worthy of nothing but disdain. So when we believe that we have found the truth, it becomes easy to chastise others whose views are different from ours. We convince ourselves that our way is the way, to deviate from it leads to death, destruction, hell.

(Check out these sweet VHS collections!)

I call this understanding the either/or. When we approach life with this view, we draw the proverbial line in the sand, point to one side, and say, “This side, the one I’m on, is the right one. If you stand on the other side of the line, then you are damned.”

Either you believe in my version of God or you go to hell.
Either you believe that science is the only way to understand the world or you’re an idiot.
Either you vote Republican, or you hate America.
Either you vote Democrat, or you’re racist and hate minorities and the poor.
Either you love the original version of the Star Wars trilogy or you are an idiot who isn’t a real fan.

Did reading these statements make you bristle a little bit? Did they get under your skin? Being a nerd means that we spend a lot of time thinking about the whole “being alive” experience, and chances are, we intuitively grasp that truth is rarely located in an extreme position. But we forget this, sometimes. As we embark and continue on our quest to rediscover joy, it is worth meditating on this fact.

Sometimes in the Nerddom, it’s easy to decide that our way of understanding our fandoms is the only one. I brought up the Star Wars Special Edition earlier. For those of you who may not consider themselves part of the Star Wars fandom: back in 1997, Lucasfilm re-released the trilogy with the designation of Special Edition. It comprised of the original trilogy with new scenes that Lucas originally wanted to include but didn’t have the technology to do so in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The issue is that most of the changes were terrible, none more so than having Greedo shoot first.

(What an odd source of contention.)

For the record, like most Star Wars fans, I, too, believe Han shot first. But the truth is, not all of these Special Edition changes were terrible. Sure, we had Jabba’s Palace Band play a new song that sucked, but we also had Dash Rendar’s Outrider flying out of Mos Eisley. Is there anything that nerds love more than Easter eggs? My point is this: while there was a lot of the Special Edition that was terrible, there were also new scenes and better looking scenes that made the trilogy more enjoyable.

This is the both/and way of looking at the world.

A both/and perspective acknowledges that people have different views and therefore different truths. Instead of viewing those people as ignorant, this perspective respects those views, so much so, that it is willing to learn from them. I’m not talking about tolerance of differing views — I’m talking about willing to do to the work of discovering what is valuable in these perspectives.

This perspective is invaluable on our quest to rediscover joy. When we can escape from the echo chamber of our own views, we will be surprised to learn about joy from from sources as varied and contradictory as science and religion, philosophy and self-help, communism and libertarianism. To live the both/and life means that you are willing to respect and even learn from places that stand contrary to what you believe.

So:

A person can both believe in God and respect and learn from the findings of science.
A person can both decide that their starting point of understanding the universe is science and can respect and learn from the study of religion as well.
People can both vote Republican and work for the good of the downtrodden.
People can both vote Democrat and be extremely patriotic.
People can both find the Original Trilogy superior and enjoy the Special Edition version, too.

The quest to rediscover joy needs more than ideas — it needs action. Here are some suggestions in how to cultivate the both/and mentality:

Cultivate humility. Look, there is no way that we have all our shit together. Let’s stop acting like we do. Let’s have the humility to admit that life is too complex for black and white; we live in the gray areas. When we acknowledge this reality, the possibilities for us to learn from people and traditions we disagree with widen. Do you think that religion is stupid and completely useless? Read Religion for Atheists and let your lessons in humility begin.

Know what you believe. The both/and doesn’t mean that everything is true or even that everything is equal in terms of value. I personally think consumerism is a scourge on the Earth, and I don’t want ISIS in control of the world. But what it does mean is that most things contain elements of truth that can benefit each us. I don’t believe truth to be a universal reality; I believe it is as constructed as a building. But the power of truth is real and must be respected.

So, what do you believe about life? Are you like me and think it’s meaningless and we bring the meaning to it? This has allowed me to understand that attempting to create meaning is a human endeavor that spans history and viewpoints. I also believe that joy is a choice. I believe everything is transitory, that nothing happens after we die but there’s no proof either way. I believe that since life in general is a fluke of the universe, that life is inherently sacred. And since humans are even more of a fluke than life, I believe that humans are sacred, even the ones I find despicable. Knowing what I believe helps me filter the wisdom and knowledge that I can use from sources who understand things differently.

Read/listen/watch widely. Our culture is focused on the specialist: we encourage people to go to school for a long time (often with a huge debt on their shoulders afterwards) to become a professional or master at one specific idea, trade, etc. But the issue becomes that when people become specialists, all they consume and think about is within their field. There is some either/or-ing going on here. Read/listen/watch from all kinds of places. I used to think that books in the Self Help section of ULUB were ridiculous. Then I read Care of the Soul and my mind was blown. When we’re willing to expand our intake, we will be surprised to find the connections between differing views and parse out how to put them into our lives.

This also applies to embracing new parts of the Nerddom. I knew that Matt would eventually make me watch anime. I had an either/or view of anime — either you watched anime and were a loser or you didn’t watch it and you were a winner. Then, I watched Cowboy Bebop and Spirited Away. I learned the errors of my way. (Subscribe to the podcast, and go back and listen to the episode where we discuss both of these masterpieces!)

Use the either/or in appropriate contexts. Another seemingly contradictory statement, but hear me out. This essay isn’t about the villainization of the either/or. There are times in our lives where the either/or applies. My marriage, for example, is an either/or situation.

Either Ris and I are loyal to the other or our marriage will end.

This is specific to us, mind you — I am not meaning that to say that all marriage should be this way or that they are this way. It is only in the specific context of our lives. And that is the point here: the either/or works best when we apply it to our personal worlds instead of the world at large. Another example of using the either/or:

Either we exercise right now or we remain unhealthy
Either we are at work or we are with our families.

We can use this idea to help keep our focus on what matters most to us in our life. The either/or, when utilized personally, helps us on the quest to rediscover joy. If we decide that we want to spend some time each week working on our novel, we have an either/or situation:

Either I spend Friday night working on my novel or I spend Friday night binge-watching Frasier again (true story.)

(The face you make when you don’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs when they’re calling again.)

The either/or and the both/and are not enemies. They’re complementary: right and left brain, yin and yang, theory and action, Jedi and Sith (YEAH, I WENT THERE!) As we continue on our quests, let’s recall that we don’t have it figured it out. This allows us to be humble to learn from places we didn’t expect. And when we realize what we need to do to help us on our quest, we can utilize the either/or to assist us.

The easy world we desire doesn’t exist. But there is so much freedom that comes with the struggle. Like all quests, rediscovering joy is not easy. We are going to have to be honest with ourselves, face our prejudices, and be willing to become students at the feet of teachers we previously found disdainful. But, don’t forget: only a Sith deals in absolutes. We don’t have to.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it! We’d love to get the word out about ReNerding.

If you want more ReNerding goodness, make sure you subscribe to theReNerders Mailing List. You’ll be up to date with all the projects and whatnot we have going on. 

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast! Check out the show notes for the most recent episode to find out what the most recent assignment is so you can join us.

If you enjoy what we’re doing, please consider supporting us. You can do that one of two ways: head over to our Patreon page and choose a regular monthly donation or a one time donation, whatever floats your financial boat! OR, if you click on any of the above links that take you to Amazon, purchase some movies or comics or books and we get some cash thrown our way. It doesn’t cost you anything but helps us out a lot! Thanks!

The Shape of Existence

On September 5th, 1996, I woke up with the most painful stomachache in the short history of my life. This pain was my alarm that morning, waking me from sleep with sobs of pain. I rose from bed, hunched over and hugged my stomach, and dragged my feet down the hallway from my room to the bathroom. When I began to piss, the pain magnified as it felt like glass was exiting. Shocked at this development, I was even more horrified to see that the piss itself was the dark brown color of strong tea.

My appendix ruptured.

I found out years later that the way it ruptured had somehow kept the toxins contained within a certain part of my body instead of letting them seep everywhere. I ended up having surgery to remove the remaining appendix and to clean out my system. I lived in the hospital for two weeks. When it was time to go, I had a portable IV with me at all time to ensure that my blood was clean and free of the poisons that my body attempted to release.

At some point between the tea-colored piss and the portable IV bag, my aunt sent me a copy of the collected Marvel vs. DC/DC vs. Marvel. Previous to the hospital, I read the first couple of issues of the series, and so when my aunt called me while in the hospital and asked me what comics I wanted to read, I immediately asked for the rest.

(Image borrowed from ComicVine)

This series ended up being the one that that cemented my love of and interest in comic books and comic book culture in the first place. In retrospect, it seems strange that this would my gateway to comics. There are other comic book memories I have: my best friend in fourth grade telling me how blood was often colored black in Punisher comics; the trip to California the summer before to visitt the aforementioned aunt and my cousin having the first issue of Marvels and Kingdom Come . But as amazing as those two series are, it was this huge crossover event that fully inducted me into the Nerddom.

Most people get into comics as a result of an introduction to a specific character by someone important to them. A friend or an older sibling lends them a Batman title or a Spider-Man title, and suddenly, they’re hooked. I, on the other hand, got into comics through a series that was intended for the diehard fans. While there had been Marvel and DC crossovers for years, this time it was different. The battle between the heroes would result in the decimation of the losing universe. But more importantly, comic fans were going to see the battles they’d hungered for for decades:

Superman vs. Hulk!
Quicksilver vs. Flash!
Batman vs. Captain America

Jubilee vs. Robin?

(At least they’re cute! Image borrowed from Low Brow Comics)

And not only were the two powerhouses going to pit their most prized heroes against each other —the fans would be able to vote and decide the fate of their heroes, which is probably why Spider-Man could beat Superboy. I loved reading this series, because even though I was a neophyte to comics, I was familiar with several characters from the Saturday and after school cartoons (X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man) and I had a cursory knowledge of how comic book universes worked. But I experienced that there was something special about comic books. These costumed heroes offered me adventures and explorations into the cosmic realms of existence. They were the myths that a 10 year old boy hungered for in a culture where myths are devalued.

This is why I entered the Nerddom for the first time.

The heroes aren’t just fighting each other for the hell of it; they are confused because the universes are crashing into each other. Batman is stalking the Lizard through Gotham, Wolverine and Lobo are beating the shit out of each other and crash through a Warner Brothers selling Pinky and the Brain statues, The Daily Planet and The Daily Bugle are merging, and Clark Kent and Peter Parker both have thought bubbles trying to figure out how to leave the scene without raising the suspicion of the other. What we, and everyone in both the universes discover, is this: the Marvel and DC universes are personified as beings who split at the time of creation. They have been unaware of each other for eons, but for some reason, now, they see each other, and they’re pissed. As beings are wont to do for survival, the beings send their heroes and villains to battle each other.

The stakes: THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSES. (What else would it be?) Whichever universe had more heroes that won would survive; the other would be obliterated.

In the midst of all this madness is a guy named Axel Asher who becomes Access. He is the gatekeeper between the universes, and a new one, at that. Also: he’s co-owned by Marvel and DC. He, along with the Living Tribunal and the Spectre (both justice of God in Marvel and DC, respectively) are trying desperately to prevent this obliteration of universes. They figure out a way to do it: they merge the universes. Right smack dab in the middle of this battle-to-end-all-battles, Marvel and DC did something that was totally unexpected (at least to 10 year old me): they created a fictional comic book company called Amalgam Comics.


(Look at all of these amalgams!)

All of the heroes of the DC and Marvel universe were merged into, well, amalgams. The most popular character was probably Dark Claw, the result of the origins of Batman and Wolverine. There was Super Soldier, a Captain America/Superman creature, the JLX, which I’m sure you can guess which two super teams were combined to create. And while this whole endeavor ranged from beautiful and amazing to ridiculous and stupid (Lobo the Duck anyone?), what was even more fascinating to me was that a universe was created. There were notes from editors in the comics that referenced nonexistent older issues of the series; there were even Stan Lee-style soapboxes in the back, complete with letters from fans discussing the fictional history of the universe.

When I reflect back on this series, on Amalgam Comics, and specifically on the fact that this was my induction into the Nerddom in the first place, I realize that these comics significantly shaped my view of reality. The cosmic storytelling of comics appealed to me, the way these stories weren’t just addressing a battle between good and evil — they were telling stories about how we came to exist and why we continued. But in the battle between the universes, their merging together, and their eventual outcome where everything goes back to normal, I realize that what is going on underneath it all taught me (and still teaches me) about the shape of existence.

Specifically: existence is what we want it to be.

In comics, these epic events are a dime a dozen. But they keep happening because we keep coming back to read them. I think part of the reason is they remind us that reality is malleable, that our lives are not constructed in stone, that we can change whatever we want. The issue is that we often forget this. We believe, instead, that life happens to us, not because of us. How often do we feel like we are victims of circumstance?

The cosmic nature of comics storytelling is nothing new, and like many smarter women and men before have pointed out: superheroes are modern gods. We shouldn’t be surprised. But this series in particular, with its stakes involving not one, but two multiverses (the irony!) revealed something else about us: we want to believe that we have control.

The universe feels large, empty, cold, disinterested, mainly because it is. We are these tiny flesh bags who can die with ease. We want to survive, though, as some sort of preprogrammed genetic event that happened millions of years before I wrote this and you’re reading, even though there is no real reason for survival other than survival itself. So, we created these stories to help assuage the frustration of the universe’s lack of meaning. These stories also teach us that we have control over the shape of existence, as long as we’re willing to realize it.

There are two philosophical ideas that permeate our culture and end up in our art, including comic books: Existentialism and nonduality. Existentialism argues that people are the ones who have to define their existence. Jean-Paul Sartre, the great proponent of Existentialism, once wrote “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” Sartre’s argument here is we choose how we think of ourselves. Or, to put it another way: we determine the shape of existence.

(Sartre was often referred to as le googlie l’oeil.)

Nonduality is traditionally found in religions such as Buddhism. The basic premise of the idea is that there is no real separations in reality – these are myths to overcome. This is often discussed in the context of a self, specifically, there isn’t one. The concept of ‘I’ is an illusion. Guatama, the Buddha, argued that believing in the concreteness of the self leads to suffering. When one realizes that there is no self, just awareness having an experience, there is a liberation – nothing is permanent and so we have the capacity to change things. We have to make a choice – to believe the illusion or break from it. Or, to put it another way: we have to shape our existence. (If you’re like me and are interested in these ideas from a secular/neuroscience view, I highly recommend Sam Harris’s Waking Up.)

As nerds on the quest to rediscover joy, we need to realize that we get to decide the shape of our existence. Existentialism tells us we decide our fate – so what kind of fate do we want? Nonduality tells us that our nature isn’t necessarily fixed, so we aren’t bound to our anger or self-loathing or anything else. But we must decide to embrace that reality.

When we decide the shape of existence, we establish the framework for cultivating our joy. Are we going to continue to moan about the life we have or are we going to take steps towards the one we want? Are we going to continue to feel anger or disdain or guilt or shame, or are we going to acknowledge that we can decide the shape of our responses?

Marvel and DC both get to shape the existences of their heroes, and in this series that I devoured while sitting in a hospital bed, the idea of shaping existence was planted in my mind. As I watched the universes merge and separate, and the story end with the two brothers shaking hands and praising the other for the work of the heroes they created, I was experiencing the undercurrent of wisdom: we shape existence.

I think the moral of this tale is clear: give sick kids comics. Without meaning to, the stories will seep into their brains and help them shape their existence.


Do you shape existence or do you let it shape you? Tell us in the comments below!


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it! We’d love to get the word out about ReNerding.

If you want more ReNerding goodness, make sure you subscribe to the ReNerders Mailing List. You’ll be up to date with all the projects and whatnot we have going on. 

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast! Check out the show notes for the most recent episode to find out what the most recent assignment is so you can join us.

If you enjoy what we’re doing, please consider supporting us. You can do that one of two ways: head over to our Patreon page and choose a regular monthly donation or a one time donation, whatever floats your financial boat! OR, if you click on any of the above links that take you to Amazon, purchase some movies or comics or books and we get some cash thrown our way. It doesn’t cost you anything but helps us out a lot! Thanks!