Have you ever wondered what did a centuries-old math problem have to teach us about a woman’s biological clock and the pressure to marry? What astrophysics can teach us about the dating pool? How can Bayesian reasoning stop us from writing off a potential partner too early or letting a dud stick around too long? The reply on these and many other similar questions can be found in “Full-Frontal Nerdity”, a new book written by K.S. Wiswell, a logic instructor, and a comedy writer. Since long before The Big Bang Theory made science geeks cool, she has been a Sheldon trying to navigate a world of Pennys. So, “Full-Frontal Nerdity” is the collection of her personal essays about applying all that “useless” book learning from school to the more practical pursuits of life, love, and releasing your inner quantum. We talked with the author about her book and here are her thoughts.
BTG: How long did you write your personal essays before you had this book?
K.S. Wiswell: About two years. I started a blog mostly as an exercise, to keep my writing sharp while I waited for a larger project to go forward (which it never did). There were a few short essays I’d written in my journals over the years, so I started by cleaning those up an posting them, then challenged myself to try to write something new once a week for as long as I could. My assumption was that I would make it *maybe* a few months, but I made it a whole year and just kept going!
Eventually, though, it was time to dive back into larger projects, so the blogging stopped.
BTG: When did you decide to write a book?
K.S. Wiswell: After I stopped blogging, it turned out my brain didn’t quite get the message, and it felt weird to just leave all those essays (and all the other ideas in my head) behind. Also, frankly, I’d really surprised myself that I had that much non-fiction writing in me! I started to think about other forms my writing could take besides screenplays, and eventually decided to see if I could find a way to create a collection.
Some of the blog posts had been commentary on the moment, or just personal stories about something or other, and so not very “timeless”, but it was quickly clear I had plenty that fit the theme of applying some academic (or geeky) subject to my dating or professional life. And thus, the idea for a book of “lessons” was born!
BTG: How do you explore the struggle of being a thinking adult in an often- irrational world?
K.S. Wiswell: Most of these essays are rooted in my (often embarrassing) experiences trying to find footing in “the real world” after leaving the more comfortable sphere of academia for life as a comedy writer. Or, in other words, my misadventures in adulting.
The biggest challenge I faced immediately was the sudden lack of goal posts or clear assessments. Math is easy – you’re either right or you’re not – but how do you know if you’re making good decisions in your career or your personal life without any traditional markers of success? It can lead to an existential crisis real quick. Also, people are emotional creatures (especially in Hollywood) and I was struggling to navigate sometimes surprising reactions from others – as well as my own! And, of course, like the true nerd I am, I also wanted to get better at things if I could.
What I found next was that my improv training kicked in and started making odd connections, which made me think about how some principles from statistics could help me could choose better reactions to dating situations, or take inspiration from quantum experiments to view outside judgment in a new way. Mythology (and Lois Lane) helped me gain perspective on things like depression and past relationships, and both music and astrophysics helped me justify my aversion to online dating. Some of the essays are pretty silly too – like when I used my love of Hamlet to debate with myself the merits of being on social media. (“To tweet or not to tweet…”)
The point is, even if you didn’t become an engineer or a calculus teacher, those “useless” things we learned in school are not so useless after all; a little poetry, or the history of pi, can tell us a lot about how our hearts and minds operate – and help us grow.
BTG: Are you a thinker? Or a feeler? How did writing this book change you?
K. S. Wiswell: Well, that’s only the great quandary of my life! I’ve come to terms with being both. Whether it’s a result of nurture – being the child of an English teacher and a math teacher – or nature due to their combined DNA, or more of a random accident, I have always been torn between my emotional side and my logical side. For a long time, the result was that I never felt comfortable or successful in either sphere. Too interested in exploring creativity and emotional work to be as successful as my academic peers, and often too logical and “cold” for my real-world friends.
But in writing this book, I started to look at it from a different perspective, and now I see it as both sides enhancing the other. I can own and justify (and laugh at) my emotions by putting some reasoning and rationale behind them, and I’m far less likely to become a mad scientist because I know how to use and think about feelings! It’s also made me realize that just because a lot of people see me as different, it doesn’t mean they think of me as worse.
BTG: What is the greatest lesson your readers can learn from this book?
K.S. Wiswell: I’d say it’s to embrace your nerdy, geeky passions – whatever they may be – and let them inspire you. The subtitle is written the way it is (“lessons in loving and living with your brain”) because it can be parsed two different ways. Yes, it’s about taking inspiration from academic subjects to inform how we live and love, but it is ALSO about learning to love your brain and accept that nerdiness is a part of who you are. Far too often (and increasingly) in our society, intelligence is seen as a negative character trait, whether it’s in dating or politics or even employment. But we would all be better off if we let our brains take the reigns from our emotions every now and then. So if you’ve got an intellectual curiosity that won’t quit – own it! Be proud of it and share it with the world. Full-Frontal Nerdity; bare your brain.