Friday, March 22, 2013

I'm a Nerd Girl, and I'm Cool With That

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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow White's Heart of Darkness

I watch Once Upon a Time on ABC.  If you're not familiar, its premise is that all the characters from the fairy tales we all know wind up in our world, in a town called Storybrooke, Maine.  In the first part of the season, they were all under a curse, and they didn't remember who they really are.  They just lived in this weird little town where time stood still.  And then someone came and broke the curse.  Now, we're dealing with these magical characters living in our world, more or less, but magic has come back to Storybrooke, and they're all trying to deal with it.

Until a very recent episode, there were two main villains on the show: Regina, the Wicked Queen from Snow White fame, and Regina's mother, Cora.  I couldn't stand Cora not because she was evil, but because her teeth bugged the crap out of me.  My husband's a dentist, and every time Cora would appear for the first time in an episode, I'd ask him if there weren't anything any dentist, orthodontist, or plastic surgeon could do to fix Cora's mouth.  She had straight teeth, but evidence of early buck-toothedness and an overbite.  In other words, I'm guessing the actress that played Cora could at one time eat corn off the cob through a chain-link fence.  She could have been a good character, and I would have hated her, just because of the way she held her mouth.

I'm like that.

Anyway, during this whole show, I've been irritated at how stupid the "good guys" are, because in true fairy-tale hero fashion, they insist on maintaining the high road, even if it means letting a really bad baddy go free.  I've used the word "pussy" to describe Prince Charming/David.  I didn't used to like that word.  But the dude's a huge pussy.  The character demonstrated the apex of his testicular fortitude when he was lying in the Storybrooke hospital in a coma.

During the entire run of the show so far, Regina and Cora have, in one way or another, tried to kill off Snow White. Snow White has had many opportunities to get both the baddies, but lets them go because she believes in the goodness in them.  I've thought all along that Snow White's real name ought to be "Stone Dumb" for this.

Finally, Snow White went against Prince Charming's urgings to continue just wimping out (or the way he put it, taking the high road), and tricked Regina into killing her mother Cora.  And then, after that brilliant show of backbone, Snow White went into a depressive molt and went slinking to Regina, begging the Wicked Queen (or in "our" world, the Mayor of Storybrooke) to just kill her already, and get it over with.  Because Regina's main desire in life is to kill Snow White, followed by regaining custody of her adopted son (Snow White's grandson). 

Regina plunges her hand into Snow White's chest and pulls out her glowing fairy-tale-looking heart- on this show, the hearts of fairy tale characters aren't the messy, blood-pumping things we're familiar with. And the characters can live even with their hearts out of their bodies.  But if the heart gets crushed, the character dies.  For real.  So anyway, there Regina has Snow White's heart, and she looks it all over and starts laughing and shows Snow the black spot on her heart, apparently earned by tricking Regina into killing her own mother.  Then Regina plunges the heart back into Snow White's chest and says she's going to let the heart turn all the way black, because once the darkness creeps into a heart, it just spreads until the whole heart is black.  And off goes Snow White, all blubbery because now she has a black spot on her heart.

Okay.  This is what always irritated me about fairy tales.  The good guys were always good, all the time, and the bad guys were always bad with no redeeming qualities.  On this show, they're a little more interesting.  Slightly more interesting.  The bad guys usually show some redeeming quality, some capacity for good, and the good guys--- well, they're still mostly one-dimensional and paralyzed by their fear of doing something even a little bad, even for a good reason.

Take Snow White and Cora.  As it turned out, Cora's been on a vendetta against Snow White since before she was even born.  And Cora didn't hesitate to kill anyone who got in her way.  Or anyone she didn't like that day.  Or just because she was bored.  If Snow White and her band of heroes weren't so lily-livered and squeamish about stooping to conquer, Cora's run on the show would have been two episodes, tops.  And Regina would have been eliminated nearly as quickly, because the bad guys are always giving the good guys opportunities that the good guys are too afraid to take.

Snow White and Prince Pussy need to get a grip about this heart of darkness thing. Everyone has light and dark in them, even they, themselves.  The trick is to acknowledge the darkness and not be afraid of it.  Use it like a tool.  The baddies do the flipside of this.  They use their light as a tool to manipulate the good guys into letting them off again and again and again, in the hopes of redemption. 

I like a good story of redemption as much as the next girl, but let's be honest.  To stem some of the carnage on the show (Disney-fied carnage, but carnage nonetheless), Cora needed to go.  The excuse that she acted the way she did because she took out her own heart years ago isn't reason enough to give her a Prince Charming pardon, and the fact that she seemed so much warmer and friendlier in the seconds after it was put back in and before she died can be called poignant or it can be called justice, since maybe in those moments, her heart made her realize just how much she'd hurt everyone around her.  If she were allowed to die without her heart, and without her conscience, it would have been a death without suffering a little bit for what she'd done.

It's ridiculous that Snow White curled up into a little ball over what she did.  Even in fairy tale terms, she's in the middle of a war.  Cora was pretty unstoppable, what with all the good guys cowering and rolling to her.  In taking her out, Snow White saved many more good characters than the one bad character.  And really, why was she so guilty about taking out that really, really bad character the way she did, when the whole thing that set off Regina against her in the first place was that Regina was in love with a stablehand, but Cora would have nothing to do with it.  Snow knew Regina was looking to run off with the stablehand and Regina warned her not to tell anyone.  Snow turned around and told Cora, because she trusted that Cora wanted Regina to be happy and the stablehand made her happy, and that was a miscalculation that cost the stablehand his life (at Cora's own hand, right in front of Regina).  That was an innocent that lost his life as a direct consequence of Snow White's inability to keep a secret and just let her future stepmother run off.  But Snow bounced back from that one pretty easily.

That's the trouble with fairytale princesses.  They could save themselves, but they're too busy wringing their hands, waiting for someone to come rescue them.  They're waiting for someone else to come do their dirty work for them. For once, one of them took matters into her own hands.  She might be a little less Snow White now, but she became a whole lot more interesting.  Now she just needs to get a grip and maybe slap some of the spinelessness out of Charming.