Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Am Nerd: Nerd Evolution

For anyone who was alive before the nineties, you know that dirtiest of all dirty words to be hurled on the playground, or later at lunch:  NERD!  Unlike the usual four letter words, this could kill your social life and status in a moment.  You were doomed to a world of broken glasses, no social skills, acne, and perhaps getting the shit beat out of you.

I stood at an odd status.  Over the years, the popular kids with their permed hair, blue eyeliner, and fake braces would edge up on me and my friends with singular purpose:  "You guys are such NERDS!"  But then, the killer:  "Not you Betsy."  So I stood on the precipice of acceptance.  All I had to do was turn my back on my shamed friends and join the heckling.  So I stood straight in my answer:  "No.  I'm a nerd, too."

I was.  I am.  I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was six.  I read fantasy.  I got good grades.  I had glasses.  I had my own sense of fashion and it screamed sixties, not eighties.

The thing is, I was myself.  I didn't give a damn.  I was scary enough that no one ever tried to beat me up (though I sort of wanted someone to try).  Most of all, I had eloquence on my side.  I was anything but awkward while speaking, because if my parents taught me anything, they taught me how to speak.  I could launch into a nasty word fight and cut anyone down to size if they messed with my nerd friends.

In short, I became nerd chic.

Nerd chic burst onto the scene in the nineties.  Part of it was the bizarre grunge sensibilities that suddenly claimed how I dressed was cool, and they could talk to me about the Beatles and Frank Zappa like they knew shit about it.  Part of it was the lunge in technology.  It became harder and harder to not admit computers, hackers, the internet, iPods, smart phones were making knowing about tech cool.

At this point I believe the geeks split from the nerds.  We used to interchange, but eventually it became obvious geeks knew how to supe up an IBM.  Nerds used Apples and had all the right comic books.

At this point, a frightening thing happened.  It became hard to tell who the real nerds and geeks were.  When the popular kids who went out for sports and used to spit on you suddenly think you are cool and want to talk about Sandman with you, you get a little leery.  Sure, you might want to bask in your new fame.

But more importantly, you bled to be a nerd.  You were ridiculed.  You had to verbally spar with every idiot at the bus stop.  I fought hard for who I was.  I dug out my father's records.  I wore my dead grandmother's jewelry.  I went to Ann Arbor to shop--where the sixties never die and the stores are all the size of an armpit and smell about the same.  I wore patchouli and sandalwood when kids actually thought I smelled of pot, they were so ignorant.

Now these Nirvana wannabes just wanted to horn in on my world?  Bullshit.  Grunge and all these faux nerds were still the sheep they used to be.

So I belonged nowhere.  In college I made the momentous decision to put away childish things.  All that was left of my nerd personality were my reading habits and the fantasy novel I was currently stuck on.  I became other things.  For a while I was a pothead.  But mostly I just faded away.  I went to grad school. Twice.  And got ridiculed for writing fantasy novels (mostly by those MFA elitists), though at that point I wrote memoir.

I cracked during my thesis.  I had chosen depressing life material, of course, and was struggling through reliving my own hells through each draft.  So I was putting off writing, meandering through my computer, when I clicked on my second novel.  About three in the morning, I stopped reading to go to bed.

But the fact sat there before me.  An expectant, big fat cat stared at me.  It may have grinned, but it certainly didn't go away.  That cat just stared at me, and grinned the whole time I worked on my thesis.  Because that cat knew what I knew, but wouldn't admit.

The day I turned in my thesis, I printed out that second novel, Sheep that Stray.  All the magic filled me again as I edited.

I love that magic.  I write fantasy.  I read fantasy.  I can quote Star Wars (the real ones) and The Princess Bride.  Hell, if I found a good group of people, I'd probably play role playing games.

But I still own a Mac.

So I'm a nerd, loud and proud.  However, I have fashion sense (not the sixties anymore.  Well.  Mostly), and social skills, and a sexy laugh rather than a guffaw

So I'm Nerd Chic:  Sexy, Sarcastic, Creative,  and able to spin a four sided die.

Plus, able to draw blood--verbal or literal--if you hurt my friends or act like you can be a nerd-come-lately.


  1. All my best friends are nerds. We are a rich resource, dammit.

  2. I've been alive since before the ninties and the word in my youth was DORK, the truly ostracized were the dorks.

  3. Using Bets' definition, I guess I have always been a nerd and - following her reasoning I don't give a damn either