Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I'm a nerd and I'm okay if you are, too.

I am a geek. I am a nerd. I have been a geek/nerd for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series with my family and enjoying it. One of my favorite films at a very young age was Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Henry V and I memorized the St. Crispin's day speech from that play when I was 8 years old because I thought it was moving and awesome, because I wanted to impress my parents, and because I was showing off. I watched Star Trek, TNG religiously, wrote awful fan fiction about it, and spent hours drawing what my quarters would look like with my best friends at the time. I am forever grateful that I had enthusiastic collaborators in weirdness. I have always loved science fiction and fantasy novels and films and enjoy board games and video games.

Despite what so many films made during the late 80's and 90's sought to portray, I never wanted to be part of the "popular" crowd. I thought they were all jerks and befriending them would have been self-sabotage. Looking back, it almost seems as though I went out of my way to keep being an outcast. I didn't, though. I was just awkward. I was painfully shy, I wore my grandmothers' hand-me-downs, I developed a liking for button-down silk shirts and men's ties. I started wearing gloves in class because I hated the way my fingers felt when they were pressed together in order to hold a pencil. (Incidentally, the glove thing also brought about the first time I ever heard someone use "faggoty" as a descriptor. Can you blame me for not wanting to be friends with these schmucks?) I swear to you, I was afraid of Jupiter. That planet SCARED me. My brother had this awesome book about all the planets in our solar system (including Pluto, damnit) and I remember he showed me a picture of Jupiter and pointed to that perpetual storm - the Great Red Spot - and told me that it alone could swallow several Earths. I apparently interpreted that to mean that it wanted to swallow the Earth.

I credit my family for my geeky qualities. My parents are both nerds and I say that with great affection and admiration. My brother is probably the nerdiest of us all and even though I didn't appreciate that for many years, I love the living daylights out that fact (and him) now. I was taught to enjoy learning and exploration. I was shown that scientists and writers and scholars and mathematicians are the real freaking rock stars in life. To my continuing shame, I still freeze up in the face of math and end up spewing random numbers until someone intervenes out of embarrassment and sympathy. That being said, I have a lot of respect for people who can make numbers dance and sing.

I'm not writing this to be a douchebag and be all, "I was a nerd BEFORE it was cool!" I want to be clear about what nerdiness/geekiness means to me because I know that my definition of those terms is somewhat more generous than how other self-proclaimed nerds/geeks define them. Patton Oswalt (a person I respect and admire) wrote an article for Wired Magazine in 2010 where he laments the death of nerd culture because it's lost its elitism, its street cred. More and more people are calling themselves nerds, even if it's just because they played Skyrim for an hour that one time. While I do agree that many so-called "nerds" are not deserving of the title, I don't share Oswalt's despair. I don't think that nerd culture is being destroyed as it's being embraced. New artists continue to pop up. Thinkers and dreamers keep tumbling out of the womb. We're not running out of drive and inspiration. The more people in the world who are thirsty for knowledge and enjoy experimenting and creating and tripping and falling and getting back up to do it all over again, the better.

I get cranky when my nerdiness is called into question. Saying I'm not a nerd because I don't have a giant comic book collection or because I suck at math or because I can't recite Boba Fett's origin story is a bunch of crap. I don't have to have read every comic book to be able to appreciate comic books. I don't have to be able to do calculations in my sleep in order to feel sufficient awe and respect for mathematics. You know what? I think Boba Fett is overrated, even WITHOUT the crappy Star Wars prequels sullying his character. As Nicola Foti would say, "Sahrry." I'm not going to take away your nerd hat if you disagree with me. I think the spirit of being a nerd/geek is pursuing knowledge, creating, inventing, not being ashamed of your love for anime/Star Trek/board games/science fiction/D&D/calculus/Shakespeare, etc., and letting yourself get lost in excitement and squeal-filled glee when you participate in the things that get your mental gears turning.

Putting things more succinctly and eloquently than I can is John Green, YA author and 1/2 of the Vlogbrothers: "Saying, I notice you're a nerd is like saying Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?"

(And how on Earth could it be bad if more people felt that way?)

Now put on a fez, roll a d6, and contemplate the vastness of the universe.

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