George Takei had a post the other day showing an illustration of a mom and toddler, and the mom was telling the toddler that "Mommy is a nerd, and someday she'd teach [the toddler] about muggles, the One Ring, and the ways of the Force." George Takei's comment was that Nerd Girls grow up to be great moms.
This put a smile on my face.
See, I've always been a bit of a nerd. And by 'a bit of a nerd,' I mean a really, really big nerd. A nerd with the words, especially. From kind of an early age, I'd read dictionaries. The first time I set out writing and got hold of a thesaurus, the back of my head just about blew off. As I've mentioned before, I wasn't so hot at the math and science, especially starting in the seventh grade, but I was definitely interested in the things that math and science do. For years, I wanted to be an astronaut, and in a pre-Internet world, studied up on all the early astronauts, and what you had to do to become an astronaut. I never left the Wellsville library without an armload of books on whichever topic I happened to be obsessed with at that particular visit.
In short, I always wandered to the beat of my own drum, always in the back of my head knew I was a nerd, but I wasn't entirely at-peace with it. Especially when the girls who weren't nerds, even a little, got asked out by boys, and me, not so much. I can't remember if it ever came out as explicit, or if it was always just an undercurrent, my inherent nerdiness, but in looking over one of my yearbooks, one of my guy-friends wrote "To a cool girl who thinks she's a nerd, but not anymore, really." Apparently that friend noticed the nerd sticking out since first grade, enough to notice that it was a little less obvious by the end of our high school career.
At the time, I remember thinking 'Sheesh, how much of a geeker have I been all along, for him to say something about it, out of the blue, in my senior yearbook?' I wasn't at all mad at him. For a little while, though, I wished he would have taken me aside and told me how nerdy I apparently was, before the tail-end of our senior year. I felt like I'd had the back of my skirt tucked into my tights all that time, a little bit. You know that mortifying feeling? And then you wonder why in the hell none of your friends told you?
But for longer still, that remark in my yearbook has reminded me that I am who I am, and that's pretty all right.
It also serves as proof that not only was I a nerd before nerdiness was "cool," but that by the time I graduated from high school, I'd already established a long history of being a nerd.
I don't even know when it became "okay" to be a nerd. Nerds were persecuted in the 1980s. All you have to do is look at the movies from that era. In the 1990s, we nerds might have fared better in the persecution department than our 1980s kin, but still. We had Screech and Urkel out there in the ether of pop culture. Lovable, yes (from a distance), annoying up close, most especially. Nothing anybody in their right mind would aspire to be, if they had a choice.
Maybe it was the internet that gave rise to the coolness of nerds? Or technology in general? Maybe we don't stick out as much, because a smartphone packing a virtual pocket protector inside looks the same on the outside as the kind of phone the vapid little twits use to text their little friends during dinner.
I don't know when the moment was when being a nerd became cool, but I'm glad it coincided with the time when I grew up enough to stop caring whether or not people thought I was one. And in case there's still any speculation: I'm a nerd. A big one. Besides my friend's documentation of it in my yearbook (besides my appearances in said yearbooks themselves) what's my proof? Well, here's the evidence:
That whole thing with readin' dictionaries and going gaga for thesauruses. I taught myself how to play a bassoon. It's not a sexy instrument like a saxophone or the drums. I minored in Greek and read the Iliad and the Odyssey in the language Homer wrote them. And that Homer bastard just made words up sometimes, so it made reading him in his native language an exercise in hurts-so-good. In grade school, as soon as I figured out how to work the VCR, I'd come home from school and watch Return of the Jedi. In fact, I had a Return of the Jedi lunch pail from kindergarten until it broke when I was in fourth grade, and did I ever wail on that day! I was glued to the original Star Trek series. It used to air on our PBS station. I grew up to like all things Star Trek and have even endeavored to learn Klingon, which I understand makes me geeky even by Trekkie standards.
In college, it really never occurred to me to go party on the weekends. I really preferred to stay in and read something fun or to study, and I don't feel like I missed out. I get nervous and skittish in a lot of social situations. I kind of hate loud bars and the people in them. Not individually, in different circumstances, but as a group. Drunk people are unpredictable, and I don't like unpredictableness. I've tried to be one of the fun drunk people before (actually, I was drinking to quiet an annoying voice outside my head-unfortunately, drinking didn't make that person go away. Crap, crap, and double crap, just like the person from whom that annoying voice spews forth!), and as it turns out, I'm just not cut out for that. I like to keep my wits about me, and a days-long hangover isn't how I want to spend time. So eschewing a party for reading some Homer, or writing something: if that's not nerdish behavior, I don't know what is.
As soon as I got through graduate school and had time to read for fun, I devoured The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, and I even read the Silmarillion. I've been a Battlestar Galactica fan. I read about string theory for fun, because as it turns out, if I want to be, I can be good at math and science... to a point.
My dream job would be to be an agent on Warehouse 13.
I kind of do go back to the other thing that friend of mine wrote: "To a cool girl..." Maybe it's a little pathetic, but even as a card-carrying grown up person, I have my moments when I've nerded myself into a corner. I have my times when the social awkwardness catches up with me. And it's those words from that particular friend that kind of shake me out of it: he said I was a cool girl who thought I was a nerd, but not anymore much, really.
Right. I've done a few cool things in my life. I can fly airplanes. That takes both cool and nerdiness. I've safely landed that airplane with a cylinder separating and most of the power gone and limped it back to the hangar. I've been known to drive a red sports car around (and also an orange Gremlin- a nerdy little car, and yet it radiates a cool all its own). I can operate with confidence a big tractor with a bucket on the front of it, and I can run a chainsaw. I live in a haunted house and have the photographic evidence, and that doesn't bother me (much). I can throw a punch. Blood doesn't bother me. I can name off the top of my head most of the muscles in the body because I lift heavy weights and when a muscle starts burning, I look it up to see what its name is. I collect words like they're money. I also have a potty mouth, but I can defend those "potty mouth" words back to before 1066, before the Normans conquered England and our four-letter bad words were just Anglo-Saxon "words." Not that most people listen to that particular dissertation, because their virgin ears are still stinging from my cloud of blue speech in certain circumstances. But if you DID listen, it's a compelling argument for letting those wonderful, direct, to-the-point Anglo-Saxon words out of the cage they've been in for nearly a thousand years.
I just wish I could go back in time for a minute, meet up with myself, rip off the hornrim glasses I had but didn't need and tell myself to just let that nerd flag fly, that my friends would be okay with me being a nerd, and my nonfriends wouldn't give a rip whether I was cool or nerdy, they'd find something to continue being a nonfriend over. And in 20 years, none of that shite would matter anyhow. The hornrims- I've pretty much had 20-15 vision my whole life, but I insisted that Dr. Stagman prescribe me glasses- what I was doing was trying to hide my nerdiness by dumbing down and then wearing the hornrim glasses to make myself look smarter- kind of a double-agent disguise- I couldn't BE a nerd, because hell, I looked like one, and that's just too obvious, isn't it? At least one of my friends saw straight through that little bit of trickery, though, I guess!
I'm a Nerd Girl. No two ways about it. And that's okay. It's who I am, and I'm cool with that.