Thursday, September 1, 2011

Claiming the Nerdery

I played with Barbies for far too long. First, as a little girl, I played with friends - groups or just me and another friend (usually La, my co-Barbie Queen). But then when it became apparent that I was "too old" for Barbies (I don't know, 11 or 12?), I started playing just by myself in my room, secretly. Sometimes it was just the usual Barbie storylines revolving around clothing, jobs, issues with friends. Sometimes it was exploring sexuality by way of Matel. I firmly believe that playing with dolls and playing make believe is a great way to sort out the issues that young kids face - especially during those rocky pre-teen hormonal times.

I was in no way a cool kid, but oh! How I wanted to be cool. I quit Girl Scouts in 6th grade, even though I enjoyed it, because only the "lame" kids (with whom I was friends, let's not kid ourselves) were still in Girl Scouts. But still, I played with Barbies. Because the Barbies could be cool and I could project myself onto whichever blonde bombshell I decided was my avatar that day and imagine myself a million years in the future, gorgeous and self-possessed with a great job, being so much cooler than all of the cool kids of the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.

Actually, I didn't favor a blonde Barbie at all. Dana (of the Rockers) was my favorite because she had dark hair and was the raddest of the rockers.

See? Sooo cool.

Playing Barbie for too long wasn't my only uncool thing. I wrote poetry and plays during recess, under a giant tree. Other girls walked around the playground in pairs, gossiping. The boys played basketball. Sometimes there was running around or whatever, but I just wanted to write. As you may have guessed, that was not really cool at the time. In high school I tried in vain to start a poetry club, maybe also slightly uncool. I ended up minoring in creative writing, but having a strong disdain for my poetry professor who seemed to only give top marks to my prettier classmates who wrote explicit poems about sex. I wrote about the birds in Trafalgar Square and the strange dichotomy of hating them and missing them following my semester in London. He encouraged me to write something more personal. I supposed that meant that I should write sexier poems not about birds. What the hell did I know about sex? Nothing! So I made it up. Something about "washing my hair in his rain" - I don't know, I tried to make it sound as gross and ridiculous as possible. I got an A+ on that poem. Seriously. And then he told me the bird poem was good. Both poems were lost long ago when my circa-1998 laptop finally bit it, taking everything I wrote in college along with it.

This is a long and rambling intro to the main point. Starting around age 25, I noticed a push amongst my peers to use nerdery past in an effort to be cool now. All of a sudden everyone loved Star Trek and actually liked algebra. It wasn't such a bad thing to admit you looked forward to watching Square One or Carmen Sandiego, the same shows that we rolled our eyes over in 6th grade. You were in the National Spelling Bee? Hello, sailor! Your mom used to sew all of your clothes for you? Please make out with me! You beat all of the Mario games without cheat codes? Marry me!

I'm recognizing (in myself as well) a kind of nerd competition, and I don't think it's just my little pocket of humanity. Generation after generation, we are learning that all of the things we felt passionately about but passionately attempted to hide in order to be accepted in the social caste of middle and high school all of a sudden are beyond acceptable, encouraged even. You can sort of find these things as you make your adult friends. At the time I wouldn't dare talk about Labyrinth outside of the select group of childhood friends who also loved the Muppets like I did* and thought that David Bowie, while TOTALLY WEIRD was TOTALLY HOT. Now, I can't turn around without finding someone who loooooooooves Labyrinth. All of a sudden half the men I know were Eagle Scouts. I didn't know any Eagle Scouts when I was 17! Our passions make us cool; I suppose we just had to figure that out.

So go forth and spread the gospel of GenCon and comic books and Magic the Gathering and Little House on the Prairie and learning how to drop spindle and sitting next to your purple boom box for 6 hours trying to learn all of the words to It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) so you could impress everyone at school. The world is better for our nerdery.

*My relationship with the Muppets is somewhat fraught because I love them and find them hilarious, but they used to really scare me. Well, Animal really scared me. I suppose I still harbor that little nugget of fear in my belly where I'm afraid I'll be watching the Muppets and then all of a sudden be terrified. Silly, huh?


  1. Somewhere along the line in the past few years, being a geek became cool. I'm not complaining.

    PS - LOVE the GenCon shout-out.

  2. I heart all of your nerdery...

  3. Dana's eye shadow WINS!! And David Bowie's tight pants made me realize it was totally okay to lust after boys who like boys and girls. And then Tim Curry's Frankenfurter ... uuf. My nerd claim to fame: running around my neighborhood on my bike, with a notebook and a broken stick shaped vaguely like a gun in my little bike basket, pretending to be a spy. I'd sneak through my neighbor's yards and hide in their bushes. Okay, that's not nerdy, that's creepy. Nevermind. (And who was your poetry professor????)