There was a time in my life when the most difficult decision I had to make on a Friday evening was if I was going to pretend to be a Vrusk or a Yazirian. What to make for dinner? Should I go out with this person that contacted me online? What birthday party/school social event have I forgotten? Did I pay the electric bill? What am I doing with my life? None of these question pecked at my brain like little birds, trying to eat through my skull. I was just a kid, trying to make the choice between a talking monkey with bad daylight vision, or an ambidextrous preying mantis with extra legs and a language translating device.
I was a nerdy kid with, mostly, nerdy friends. I was pretty unabashed about it too, thinking back. I made socially awkward choices, but I *owned* them damn it! I once wore pipe cleaners on my glasses like antennae. For *WEEKS*. I probably got beat up for that one, but after a while, oddly, my peers just accepted it. I learned early that as long as you own it, your drummer can get away with not only being different, but tone deaf .. playing a tuba .. and people won’t give you a second glance.
Friday night might have found me ‘rolling up’ characters for role playing games, sadly, sometimes not even to *USE* in a game .. sometimes just .. to make them. Uber Nerdy .. I know. Sometimes I might have convinced my best friend Kevin and his older brother to try a new board game I found. Maybe we would play an Atari game, or later in middle school, try to see how far we could travel in Elite on the Commodore 64. Speaking of the Commodore 64, I might also have been phreaking to foreign BBS sites to download zero day games. Yes, 11 year old kids did this back then. Yes, it was *way* more nerdy then.
I dressed weird. I collected weird things. I liked science fiction, and fantasy books, and used to paint miniature wizards and dragons … O.K. maybe some things don’t change. I had countless issues of Dragon Magazine, and later on White Dwarf – hundreds of articles for games that I rarely got a chance to play in my small, working class, childhood town. When I had money, I spent it on rule books, or D&D modules. When I didn’t have money, I pilfered them from the spinner rack in the horrible bookstore in the mall. I rarely had money. Oddly, I treated the books I stole with such reverence – knowing the risks I undertook to obtain them – that they all survived to this day in near immaculate condition.
All of us nerdy kids knew each other. We didn’t always *like* each other, but in a town full of pee-wee football playing kids, you were grateful that SOMEONE knew what a 20 sided dice was .. even if they were just plain obnoxious. I was lucky in the fact that I was a reasonably normal looking kid (who was convinced I was hideous), in decent shape, and was able to communicate well. My social anxiety and introverted nature was more prominent, but even that young I had learned that eating sometimes required ‘pleasant’ interaction with other people; Even when doing so scared the be’jesus out of you.
Not all of my friends could easily switch to ‘normal’, and come middle-school – girls, dances, and the desire to attend both, slowly ‘taught’ me that to be socially successful one needs to be ‘normal’. It was a painful childhood lesson, but one that I learned well. Too well maybe.
As I toed the line, I left many of those early friends ‘behind’, the few that could ‘walk-the-walk’ came with me, and still we eventually drifted apart as ‘real life’ and ‘the future’ forced us to further dissolve the common bond we had shared when younger. Applying the veneer of social acceptability let me be ‘nerdy’ in public without as much ridicule. Instead of being ‘weird’ I was perceived as ‘smart’. In high-school I fell in love with an upperclassman who was not only stunning, but *also* a secret nerd. She hid her ‘geek’ behind good grades, scholarships, and the National Honors Society. When we were alone, we could let our guard slip sometimes, but with High-School watching .. never that far. Kids have long memories.
Seeing how folks were treated as kids made me very conscious of how I presented myself to people. Throughout my adult life I’ve always walked on the ‘normal’ side of the geek line, even if I was looking enviously across it at the green grass. All kids feel isolated as they grow up. Introverts with nerdy proclivities even more so. To try to avoid being ostracized, I let my geek-ish-ness show in ‘acceptable’ ways : I was a computer science major – because it was a lucrative field. I was a business owner running a profitable Hobby Shop – not a geek living the dream. I took a professional job with a 400 pound gorilla in the gaming industry – that way I could explain away my loves as a career move. There was always an excuse that made what I was doing acceptable to the non-geeks in my life.
I’m not sure that trying so hard to be ‘normal’ made me ‘happy’.
I surrounded myself with non-geek people by pretending to be mainstream myself. I lost contact, sometimes ‘shunning’ my like-minded tribe. While I have no cause to complain about my life, there are times I almost feel as if I have betrayed a part of myself in some way; It has taken me years to rebuild some of those relationships and recover that part of my life.
Somewhere along the way I forgot that I simply needed to own it.