Why I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate The Geek

This is another very personal article. Like The Monkey Chased The Weasel. It is the article that I alluded to last week, which has literally shut down my article writing efforts for many weeks. I have started to encapsulate this thought more than a dozen times in more than a dozen different ways and failed until today.

I am not sure that this is all that I have to say on this subject, but it is all that I have to say right now. Hopefully, having gotten this off of my chest, you and I can all move on to better things. Or not. You never know.

I hope you enjoy.





I have a picture taken at the middle school Valentine's Day Dance, when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. In it, I am posing with my "date" Margaret. We are holding hands.

Margaret is wearing a white, satin-like formal dress. It clings to her developing frame well enough to reveal a slight pudginess, and the beginnings of what would become an incredible bosom. Her massive curls glow and she is standing with her back straight and she is smiling.

Beside her, I look like a lout. I am slouching and smirking. My hair has not been cut in months, my taupe trousers are wrinkled and my lavender (yes, lavender) polo shirt looks like it hasn't been washed in   ever. The coup de grace, however, is my jacket. It is a red windbreaker with black sleeves. It is a couple of sizes too large for me and does not match the rest of my outfit even remotely.

At first glance, one would think that Margaret and I had no business whatsoever going to a dance together, much less posing for a picture and holding hands. Yet a closer look reveals the truth. We are both wearing the largest spectacles ever seen on the faces of adolescents anywhere, ever. It's as if we'd shopped together at the Yoko Ono rack at Eyemasters and bought matching frames.

Our eyes look too large to fit inside of our heads, our noses are pinched and straining under the weight of our glass lenses and our cheeks, chins and ears look as if they'd grown over and around our spectacles the way a tree will sometimes absorb a chain fence.

In short, the main reason that she is smiling and I am smirking is that neither one of us had to this day ever imagined that we'd be holding hands with a member of the opposite sex. In fact, if you look real close, the smiles reveal a hint of disbelief at the barriers we've crossed thus far and perhaps terror at the thought of further hand holding or â€" god forbid â€" kissing. We are, in fact, geeks, and are at this dance together because neither one of us had anyone else with whom to go.

I remember very little about that dance, other than the taking of that picture. I do remember dancing with Margaret and being very aware of keeping a minimum of six inches between our bodies. This had less to do with the faculty chaperones' wishes than with my extreme awareness of the erection that was tenting my taupe trousers, and my belief that revealing this biological betrayal to Margaret would somehow bring about the ruin of us all.

Margaret and I were in the G/T (gifted/talented) program together and, like our fellow brainiacs, paired up because it was suggested that we do so. No one in our class had any notions of having a real relationship, nor any idea what would be involved should we desire to do so. My friends and I occasionally huddled over porn mags stolen from under our fathers' beds, and therefore had a pretty clear idea about what Slot A and Tab B were really for. Yet there was some kind of block preventing us from equating that carnal knowledge to the bodies of the girls with whom we ate lunch, studied and watched movies over the weekends. Perhaps we were too terrified of the possibilities to broach the subject.

I do not remember if Margaret and I ever kissed that night, nor even how the evening ended. Chances are that our dancing occupied a small portion of the evening and that the remainder involved sitting at a table on the periphery of the cafetorium floor and watching the far more interesting people do far more interesting things.

Like Betty and Bonnie. They fought tooth and nail for five full minutes over someone's suggestion that George, Bonnie's boyfriend, was boning Betty on the side. Hair was mussed, blood was drawn and dresses were torn, allowing a boob or two to swing free in the breeze before the math teacher, Mr. Schaffer (whom we called "Disco Dave" in honor of his polyester shirts with the massive, pointed collars) braved a flurry of Lee Press-On nails to separate the two contenders. That the G/T crowd talked about this fight for days reveals a great deal about how few events of interest involved any of us.

Something happened after that night. A lever had been moved and some kind of machine was gearing up, building momentum, for a dramatic shift in my attitude towards myself and the space I occupied. The dance was just one catalyst. My encounter with George himself was another.

I had loaned him a cassette tape and a few days later asked for it back. He reached into his locker, pulled out the tape and snapped it in half. George was twice my size, played football and dated girls. I was terrified of him. It showed. He laughed. Like the way Bobby Wade laughed when he leapt over the turnstile in the lunch line and casually kneed me in the groin on his way to grab a cup of french fries. It was a laugh of defiance. Of power. Of intimidation.

I began to realize that I invited these attacks. That my failure to defend myself or show any sign of aggression set me apart from the herd, signaling weakness to predators like Bobby and George. I had seen Karate Kid and I knew that one way to fight this kind tyranny was to literally fight it, but that was not my way. I was weak, and fat. It took me fifteen minutes to run the mile, sucking a Ventolin inhaler the whole way. To fight these boys was to invite pain, and that was just as terrifying to me as their taunting.

So I decided to change. I decided to appear like less of a target. Less of a stand-out. I stopped attending G/T meetings, took up with the headbanger crowd and forced my parents to buy me contact lenses. I managed to remain in the top percentages of my class, but my grades did begin a slow downward slide that continued through high school. One can only concentrate on so many things at once, and trying to look cool (or un-un-cool) is hard work. After a few months of careful attention to my outward appearance and manner, however, I had ceased to draw attention to myself. I became invisible.

What's remarkable is that Margaret and I rarely spoke after the Valentine's Day Dance, yet she had simultaneously undergone a similar transformation. Had we posed for a picture one year later, we'd have appeared like two completely different couples. In one, the class dorks. In the other, two unremarkable, if not slightly fashionable teenagers, trying to look cool. In other words: like normal kids.

We were still anything but. I was routinely diagnosed by my guidance counselor as borderline suicidal, I wrote stories faster than some students read them and amused myself by drawing satanic symbols and pictures of people having sex on the overhead projector when the teacher wasn't looking. Margaret, likewise had her emotional problems, but socially and sexually developed faster than any of the other G/T kids. Myself included. She eventually got into a drug crowd and dropped out of school to move in with a much older man, if I remember correctly. I know nothing about what happened to her after that.

We had both apparently taken a long, hard look at that picture of the two geeks holding hands at the Valentine's Dance and decided that that was not who we wanted to be. And we changed.

In my case, my changes led me to the theater, where my knack for self deception was treated as a gift. That is perhaps what saved me. I found a way to redirect my confusion and hatred of myself. A constructive outlet for my inner turmoil, if you will. I learned to harness the power of my thoughts and emotions to cause others to feel. This was not a small thing, and it led me to the rest of my life.

Yet the confusion and self-hatred never went away. It was diminished by success, by sex with girls and a discovery of self-worth, but the old fear never died. In my mind I was, am, still running away from that teen in the tenting taupe trousers. I am not a geek. I play video games - write about them even - but I am not a geek. I rarely leave the house if I can avoid it, but I am not a geek. More than half of my clothes are black, but I am not a geek. I've played Dungeons & Dragons, recently, on the Internet, but I am not a geek. I've built computers for a living, wrote about them and produced a television show about technology, but I am not a geek. I refuse that label. I must. Because I believe in some part of my mind that I am still, even as a grown man with a beautiful young girlfriend, a massive resume, strong arms, keen reflexes and a truck full of power tools, still a fat, weak, little boy too afraid of his own shadow to stand up for himself and too weak to do anything other than cry.

In other words, a geek. And that thought terrifies me more than anything. Nuclear war, running out of mayonnaise; anything.

Comments

Great read, man. Obviously, a lot of us here can identify with ya.

I agree with Elysium in that the "geek" label really applies to social standing more than hobbies. Video gaming and computer skills are now trendy and popular so the people who engage in those activity are no longer geeks in the traditional term.

Growing-up I had all the interests and hobbies of a geek, but with three major benefits, athleticism, self-confidence and charisma. These allowed me to integrate with the "cool" kids and eventually turn them to my geeky pass-times (notably Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer 40K) thereby actually lending credibility to them. I was home schooled during my high-school age which I think kept me from feeling the massive pressure to CONFORM at that time and also boosted my self-confidence even more since I spent a huge amount of time around adults who treated me as an equal.

My brother, however, went back to high school after being out of the school system for a while and got some flack from his peers for it... but he shed some weight and kicked some asses and that cleared up right quick.

Best. Article. Ever.

From some of my interests to my excellent academic results I guess I've always been a little geeky but I never "looked" like one and I couldn't stand them either. Ely nailed it right, it's not really the hobbies, it's the social disasters that most of them are that always made me want to kick their asses and yell "wake up for /$%'s sake!". I prefered hanging with the bullies without beeing too much of an asshole myself, except for that one fat kid that insisted to be my friend that I kept making fun of and even punched a few times. Maybe I should call him someday to appologize because who knows, if he ever makes "The List", I'm sure I'll be right on top.

After that, later in my teenage days, life was oh so good. I started to realize that girls kinda digged me, I started playing keyboards/guitars, joined a band and man... I wouldn't mind re-living my 15-22 days on a loop for eternity.

Oh that's not to say that I'm unhappy with the way I turned out though. I'm living with the most beautiful and smart woman on planet earth and I have a very successful career that permits me to enjoy my geek hobies to the fullest!
[/brag]

Be a geek, not a dork!

What a wonderful, thought-provoking, memory-invoking article. Fletcher, is this what comes of playing Psychonauts?

Like everyone else who has responded, I can't help but engage in little self-indulgent reflection. Up until about age 13 I was so wrapped up in geekdom I didn't even know I was a geek. I lived in my imagination, essentially, and couldn't be bothered by the external world. The fact that I occupied an undesirable place in the social hierarchy of my peers didn't even register. It probably wasn't until I developed a sincere, earnest desire for the attention of the opposite sex that I realized (painfully) how much of an outsider I was, and decided that it was perhaps in my best interests to redesign my public image.

What followed were a series of experiments in belonging, where myself and my fellow geek friends attempted to cultivate and radiate coolness in one form or another. These experiments were initially met with a certain degree of ridicule, but by the time I graduated from high school, I had pretty much established myself as a member of the juvenile hipster intelligentsia, and discovered there was infinitely more meaning in the world of the arts than the world of high-school sports and pep rallies.

I took my carefully crafted persona with me into college, where it served me well for a couple of years. I became increasingly jaded with the whole hipster social scene, though. It became apparent that the cliquish coolness I had embraced was simply too much work. Listening to the right music, reading the right books, displaying the correct attitude and outlook on various subjects, etc. were all prerequisites for legitimacy and respect within the peer group I inhabited. It wasn't any different than seventh grade, really.

My marriage and my career were the kiss of death to my brief experiment in coolness. The immediacy and intimacy of marriage, with all of its thrills and challenges, brought the superficiality of my other social relationships into sharp focus. I lost all interest in keeping up with the scene, and grew distant from many of my high-school friends. As I graduated from college, I quite by accident fell into a career in law-enforcement - specifically, as a parole officer. It was a decidedly uncool profession from my friends' point of view, and they gradually faded out of my life.

So I fell from grace, and since then I have descended back into the world of geekdom to some extent. The powerlessness and isolation I experienced as a youth have given way to a certain amount of confidence, and a busy and rewarding family life, so I suppose I've overcome the truly negative aspects of geekiness - those inward aspects, as Elysium noted, of vulnerability and awkwardness. My love of imaginary worlds has returned full-force, however, assisted in large part by a rediscovery of computer and video games a few years ago - an avocation that is still undeniably geeky, and that I embrace wholeheartedly.

Oh, how those early adolescent years were painful, though. I'm still haunted by memories of my social incompetence. I beat them back by destroying heavily armored vehicles in Battlefield 2.

Good stuff, reminds me of my struggle between being a cool kid and a band geek. I played in the jazz band in middle school and then in HS. Our junior year we were forced to also be in the marching band if we wanted to continue to play in the jazz ensemble. I couldn't take it and dropped out of both before my senior year. I was more concerned with being the cool skater punk and horrified about being labelled a band geek, even though music was my calling (at that time.) Stupid labels and high school cliques.

Thanks for that trip down memory lane.

The_Fly wrote:

Oh, how those early adolescent years were painful, though. I'm still haunted by memories of my social incompetence. I beat them back by destroying heavily armored vehicles in Battlefield 2.

You too? I thought I was the only one! Funny how blowing stuff up can have such a calming effect.

Nice article Fletch.

Hmm  being a geek, I would of never though of being one in Junior High or being one at all. Have I been picked on, sure, was I picked on because I was a geek  no. I got picked on because I did...
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...it seems like everything in the end turned out to be OK!

I though it might be good just to remove it, besides it was too long

Great article, as usual.

There are some characteristics of geeks that seem ubiquitous...and it always strikes me as amazing at just HOW ubiquitous these characteristics are. The comic book buy on the Simpsons nailed a number of these characteristics. Let me try to list a few:

1. Geeks over-enunciate when they want to emphasize something. They don't get louder or more emphatic, they just over-enunciate.

2. Geeks snort at their own lame jokes and then stare at you waiting (almost pleading) for a reaction. When you can't bring yourself to offer a reaction you don't know whether to feel bad for the person or not.

3. Geeks don't seem to realize - or don't care - that pony-tails don't look that cool when you are a cue-ball on top (sorry guys). Nor do they make you more warrior-like.

4. Geeks don't seem to realize - or don't care - that fanny packs, bowler hats, leather vests, etc. don't give you a certain je ne se geek.

5. Geeks are never ashamed to be geeks, and for this, I envy them.

Anyone else?

Geeks are people who mostly peak socially and physically in college. Its better to try out all things adult in college rather than high school. Think about what will stunt your development the most. Would you rather experiment with sex, drugs, smoking and alcohol in high school like the popular crowd? Or would you rather giggle that you sipped you dad's beer when he was in the kitchen, snuck downstairs to watch late night skinemax, and waited to walk the ganja scented halls of higher education?

What amazes me is parents seem to think athletes have to be molded from the crib. All thats required is regular exposure to sports to cultivate coordination. Genetics, attitude, persistence and diet do the rest.

People always look back, wishing. Yet, the older you get, the smarter you get, the more opportunities you get. 4 years of college is an eternity when the sum of your existence is 18 years (of which you remember 13-14). Months seem to only last a few days now at my ripe old age of 35.

Obviously, having a family of your own limits your options. But geeks are smart about that too. They couldnt have possibly knocked up the prom queen in highschool. And this didnt force fatherhood at 19 being married to the now bon bon, daytime TV addicted queen.

Damn it! All the good comments are taken!

Blah. I'm gonna beat you all up!

"Luckily for me, I was able to like all the 'geek' stuff when younger yet still be liked by most cliques. I didnt have problems with girls and played some sports."

You and Mr.Green. Out of the thread. Go on, shoo!

I've been a sporatic lurker on this page, but I saw this and I wanted to comment. Being a geek doesn't mean that you're automatically a loser. I think that's how you were equating it. I cheerfully call myself a geek, and have since I was a kid. I was in gifted, too. I played sports, did well, and did well in school. I hung with the jocks, the cool kids, and the geeks. It's all about your self-image. If you mutter, don't make eye contact, wear weird cloths, or don't bath (gross), yeah, you look like a geek or more accurately, a loser.

Here's some hints- get off your ass, stop playing EQ, and get outside and exercise. Join a gym. Even those skinny little pale guys work out- I've seen them in my gym. I've watched them transform. Not talking muscle beach here- I'm talking building confidence. Don't care how high a level your character is in WoW, or that you can get the drop on anyone in Halo2. It's no different than knowing every battign average of the Yankee's lineup from the past 20 years. It's ultimately meaningless to most of society.

This is not to say that LIKING those things is bad (unless they rule your life. Anything in excess is bad). To the contrary, I'm 34, and I consider myself a cheery geek. I also work out 4-5 days a week, have a great job, married to a COMPLETE NON-GEEK, have kids, and an active and healthy social life. But I still take pride in that fact that I've seen every episode of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. And that I own every Farscape DVD. And I finished Halo2 (took a couple months, but that's the price you pay for having balance in your life).

Poor self-image is self-defeating and locks you in a perpetual downward spiral. Your article was titled, among other things, "Hate the geek."

Don't hate the geek. But, don't let the geek rule your life. This may sound trite- but the first key to feeling better about yourself is stopping the video games for a bit. If that's too hard, par it down. go to the gym. Don't say you don't have time. If you game 2 hour sa day, trying gaming 1 hour a day, and then going out and walking for an hour. Or treadmill. Hell, go garden outside.

It goes for kids too. I got involved in activities. I got involved in sports. I got involved in academics. Sometimes it was hard. Kids can be hard- even when you're supposed to be "cool," there's pressure. It's teenage life for crying out loud.

While I think Tom Cruise is batsh*t insane, and scientology is a dangerous cult, I DO think that there is a modicum of truth to the "no pills" idea. While there are certainly some chemical imbalances that need medication, I also feel that kids in particular need structure- structure OUTSIDE of just going to school. Hey, kids don't need to be the next Micheal Jordan or teenage math prodigy. But they need activities to help keep mind, body, and spirit healthy.

OK, I'm digressing. But, at this stage of your life, there's no excuse. Get off your butt, and take control. Embrace the geek, balance your life.

Dreth

Dreth,

Who are you addressing?

Simply put: a great article. I really enjoy your writing.

I managed to fly under the radar in highschool. Very few noticed me and was deemed insignificant by the more "popular" students. Around grade 9 or 10 a large group of my friends started asking who liked who and trying (and for the most part always failed) to get dates. Again, I remained on the outside laughing. The most notable activity I did was organize pseudo-hockey league from halfway through grade 10 until now. By being known as the "hockey guys" we managed to shed some of the geekiness that we had, plus we got to play some damn fun games of hockey. Grade 12 was the only year that I was recognized for anything and actually enjoyed my year. I had a new cast of friends, a great girlfriend, and my marks were some of the best in the school. It has only been a year since I graduated from highschool but it was certainly a great experience. My ability to play games well is no longer a geeky thing but an admired skill (this confuses me but apprently it's true). I'm considered "cool" by my peers. Whenever I go home and see my friends from last year I get a little depressed. They haven't changed since grade 10. They are still trying to get dates and failing. They just have a harder time meeting females.

Thanks for giving me an outlet. Reflecting is fun!

Excellent article Fletch.

It seems to capture the general aspects of the schooling years for many of us.

1Dgaf wrote:

Dreth,

Who are you addressing?

Thought that was self-explanatory. Sorry. I was addressing the author. But, it's a universal 2-cents

Besides- didn't any of you see Revenge of the Nerds? And what was the message at the end....?

I haven't seen revenge of the nerds. Presumably the message at the end says "COming Soon - Revenge of the Nerds 2: More Tits"?

1Dgaf wrote:

I haven't seen revenge of the nerds. Presumably the message at the end says "COming Soon - Revenge of the Nerds 2: More Tits"?

HA! Oh man, that's awesome. Thanks 1Dgaf.

Dreth, why do you pride yourself in marrying a "complete non-geek" ? Does that somehow elevate your wife's desirability ? Value ? Status ?

I am Russian. There's a huge Russian community around here. For me, it would be far easier to find a "typical Russian girl" than a "nerdy Russian girl", yet I keep looking for the latter. My experience with the former proved to be... disappointing.

When I go to a place with Russian people, often some woman in her 50's will start asking me if I have a girlfriend and trying to "sell" me her daughter. Thats because they see me as a "typical safe nice guy who could have a typical nice family with my typical nice daughter". But I am not that. I am weird, and quirky, and I am looking for an oddball. These are much harder to find, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Its easy to find a girl who spends 2 hours putting on makeup and quit watching Star Wars after 15 minutes because "the Tin Man was being too mean to the garbage can".

Finding someone compatible is a whole different story. Someone with whom you get up in the morning, look at her, and the first thing that goes through your mind ISN'T "what am I doing here?".

Great article! My favorite part was the metamorphosis. Fletch woke up one day and realized he's a geek...

I know way too many people who went from geek to punk like that. It's almost a rite of passage for geeks, to seek a rejection of their geekiness, while at the same time rejecting the mainstream. Which leads them directly to the alternative crowd. (Although myself, I didn't follow that route. Being a queer foreign kid put me on a trajectory all of its own. ;))

And yet, all those alternative kids turned into highly social, perceptive, intelligent adults. Who'd have thought?

Yeah, I'd love a russian geek girl. Or a geek girl at all! Who isn't too ugly, I mean. Man, I'm so superficial :/

Someone with whom you get up in the morning, look at her, and the first thing that goes through your mind ISN'T "what am I doing here?".

I don't think that ever happens.

shihonage wrote:

Dreth, why do you pride yourself in marrying a "complete non-geek" ? Does that somehow elevate your wife's desirability ? Value ? Status ??".

No- you missed the point. The point is- one can be a geek and share their life with someone who is a non-geek. You don't have to feel like you can only be with other geeks.

If you take umbrage with that, than I should take umbrage with the fact that you seem to be belittling people who don't share your geek values?
And I quote:

Its easy to find a girl who spends 2 hours putting on makeup and quit watching Star Wars after 15 minutes because "the Tin Man was being too mean to the garbage can".

And you're better because now you're stereotyping someone who doesn't like the same things that you do?

Can't expect to be accepted for who you are if you don't accept people for who they are.

1Dgaf wrote:

I haven't seen revenge of the nerds. Presumably the message at the end says "COming Soon - Revenge of the Nerds 2: More Tits"?

And you call yourself a geek??

I wonder whether, in general, we have been blind thusfar to the real thrust of Fletcher's article. He spends a lot of time talking about his experiences as a kid in school, and so it's only natural that we react by remembering our own school experiences. But I think the most important part of the article is the concluding two paragraphs, in which Fletcher reveals that he's actually terrified of a part of himself, even to this day.

I'm not shy, but I do not know if I could ever admit something like that in such a public way, all the while exhibiting such remarkable care in choosing my words. With this article, Fletcher has rendered himself completely vulnerable before us. In awe, I stand. In awe.

Dreth wrote:

No- you missed the point. The point is- one can be a geek and share their life with someone who is a non-geek. You don't have to feel like you can only be with other geeks.

What's wrong with finding a circle where you belong, instead of constantly struggling to fit in where you don't ? Stop generalizing, not everyone is like you. And stop equating "geek" with "inferior", thats one line that shines clear through your entire post.

If you take umbrage with that, than I should take umbrage with the fact that you seem to be belittling people who don't share your geek values?

You think that marrying a non-geek is some sort of a special achievement. I am just showing you that your opinion on women isn't as universal as you would like it to be.

And you're better because now you're stereotyping someone who doesn't like the same things that you do?

Can't expect to be accepted for who you are if you don't accept people for who they are.

That is ironic coming from someone who wrote a post which is one, big, ugly, patronizing stereotype.

Lobo, you've finally hit on what I've been thinking.

Fletcher1138 wrote:

It is the article that I alluded to last week, which has literally shut down my article writing efforts for many weeks. I have started to encapsulate this thought more than a dozen times in more than a dozen different ways and failed until today.

Sure, most of the article is about the past but the real point is that he remains affected still today. I was going to ask (specifically, "So what does this have to do with your recent writer's block?") but eventually figured it out for myself. I don't have any outstanding horror stories from high school (I was one of those who traveled amongst and was comfortable in many circles while never being fully subsumed by any one group - and I had my enemies, too) and so didn't see any cause to post until now... but I figured I'd let you know that you're not the only one who came to that possible conclusion.

Edit: For the record, I disagree with Shihonage's interpretation of Dreth's post. Perhaps I missed something but I didn't find it terribly insulting or patronizing.

So, this is Fletcher's sad cry for help?

Well, by Fletcher admitting about his problem... he took a first step to recovery!

Dreth wrote:

Besides- didn't any of you see Revenge of the Nerds? And what was the message at the end....?

The message was that basically everyone is a nerd... and we should listen to "We are the Champions" by Queen.