Psychologist, pianist, essayist, author and advocate for the oft-maligned braniacs in society, David Anderegg, Ph.D., has authored two books that call for a common-sense, compassionate approach to modern life and those who populate it. His latest, Nerds: How Dorks, Dweebs, Techies, and Trekkies Can Save America (Tarcher / Penguin, now in paperback) calls for embracing the socially awkward yet intellectually gifted among us, as their ability to apply cool reason and intellectualism to modern day problems may be the very thing that saves us from our hot-tempered, culture-clashing selves.
Anderegg shares with PopMatters 20 Questions some surprising advice for the cool-tempered braniac currently sitting in the Oval Office.
Nerds: How Dorks, Dweebs, Techies, and Trekkies Can Save America
(Penguin; US: Mar 2011)
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
The last movie that made me cry was Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, which I saw in college (not, happily, on its first release). I don’t cry at movies. Music makes me cry all the time: I’ll cry when I hear Scott McKenzie singing “San Francisco” and when I hear Maria Callas singing “Vissi d’arte”.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Paul Pennyfeather in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall: hapless, naive, idealistic, hoping for the best, and hoodwinked into one ridiculous situation after another… which he always greets with befuddlement. And he never learns not to get hoodwinked again.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Ever, ever? Maybe Aretha Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin ’ Who? (By the way, I also cry when I hear her sing “Sweet Bitter Love”. When I was in psychoanalysis, I made my analyst listen to it but he didn’t get why I was crying.)
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars by a mile. It’s earnest, and, especially in the earlier movies, demands to be taken seriously. Star Trek is too wink-wink for me.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Bach. Keyboard suites, cantatas, fugues, anything by Bach. Bach is so brainy and watching him work out something in counterpoint is like watching a great mind literally at work, like seeing the process unfold in real time. Bach is always surprising, and inspires one to be surprising.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m proud of writing a book that makes people think and makes them laugh, as well. I’m proud of writing a book about nerds that has actually been called a “nerdy” book. I’m proud of writing a book that, people tell me, gives them encouragement and pride of their own.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
I want to be remembered for making people feel things. (I guess I want to be Scott McKenzie.) I sing in an a cappella group, and when we sing something straight-ahead, flat-out heartbreaking, I want people to see I’m not afraid to do that. I’d like to be remembered for moving other people to tears, with the books I write (maybe), the music I write (a little more likely) or my singing (not likely, but I can dream…)
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Sigmund Freud. Benjamin Franklin. Mozart. And Evelyn Waugh. What a crew, right? I wonder if they’d get along? I think I’d get along with all of them, but if they were all at my house for dinner, one or more might leave the table.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The Bacchae by Euripides. I know it’s dark, but it’s also funny, and modern, and a deeply horrifying cautionary tale about the perils of trying to control everything. It’s anarchy at its best and worst.
Worried All the Time: Rediscovering the Joy in Parenthood in an Age of Anxiety
(Simon & Schuster; US: Jul 2004)
10. Your hidden talents…?
I make a mean lemon poppy seed cake. I can actually draw, but I don’t. I’m very good at trivia: I’m the guy always yelling at the guys on TV who don’t know the answers on Jeopardy.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
I have almost never asked for advice, and almost never followed it. By the time I was 12, I had a deep distrust of adults, which lasted way too far into adult life. But I did ask my father for any advice he could give me when I got married, and he told me “Always treat her like she’s your best girl.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but I have always tried to follow it. It seems obvious at first (I mean, you wouldn’t treat your wife like she was your second-best girl) but it really helped. I think what he meant was, “It’s not enough that she knows she’s your best girl, you have to show her.”
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I borrowed my father’s gambling vest: shiny red satin brocade with big rhinestone buttons. I used it to intimidate people at the poker table, and it always did.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ... ?
Armani, sure, when it’s on sale. But I always feel great in great shoes. I recently bought a pair of silver snakeskin shoes, scandalously expensive even though purchased at 60 percent off, and when I wear them I feel great even though my friends think they’re over the top.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Right now, I’d invite Elvis Costello and Diana Krall. I don’t know if he’s a great conversationalist—sometimes musicians aren’t, but I’d love to hear him think out loud. Or sing, if he felt so inclined. And Diana, well, maybe she would sing when we got tired of talking.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I’d like to go back to Massachusetts around 1400 or so; I’d like to see what native American culture was really like before the pilgrims came. Was it really as great—as peaceful, harmonious, meaningful—as people now imagine? Probably not, but it would be lovely to find out, and I like venison so that part would be fine, too.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
White sand, blue water. No surfboards or boats… or clothes. Just warm sun, white sand and blue water. Varadero, Cuba, is just fine—but you have to wear clothes.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Coffee, coffee, and coffee. Also champagne, but I could live without champagne if I had to. But a day without coffee is like a day without oxygen.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I live in the countryside… not deep country, but semi-rural New England. This is where I would choose to be, although I could stand to have a few more acres. If not here, semi-rural New Mexico would be my next choice.
Photo (partial) by © Sandy McNay
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Civility is admirable, but sometimes you do actually need to raise your voice. Your political foes aren’t going to lower theirs.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I just finished a novel, which I’m trying to get into print. I’m finishing a libretto for a short opera. And I’m thinking about a book about metaphoric language, but that one’s just in the thinking stage.