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

I've been trying to comment on this thread since I read the article last night, only minutes after Fletcher posted it. I've written post after post, only to reread and delete, I just can't seem to get down to it. Until Lobo spoke up with his insightful take on the crux of the thing, I just couldn't formulate a cohesive post. I'm determined to post this one, no matter how disjointed or off base it may be.

My first thoughts upon finishing the article were, as usual, along the lines of "man, I love to read Fletcher's articles and posts". The funny, the confessional, the apologetic, the accusatory... he just brings something to the table that I can relate to every time. Why am I talking about him like he's not here? *Hi Fletch - loved the article! The back story was engaging to say the least and the revelations profound.*

I couldn't stop thinking about Margaret. Even though I know where she belongs in this story, background, point of reference, etc., I keep wondering about how things are working out for her. I nearly cried when I read that she dropped out of school and moved in with some ole dude. But, that's Margaret's cross to bear. I hope she got her act together and found some creative outlet for her talents, like Fletch did with theater. If not, well, it's just sad. OK, I had to get that off my chest.

Fletch, the geek is part of you that I hope you come to embrace, no need to fear or hate him anymore, I think he's proven how resilient and valuable he really is. I can't help but think that he's the "you" that is the true survivor, he seeks and finds new ways to express himself. Because he's smart, he's strong and he's adaptable. The weakness attributed to him in the past was misplaced. I really hope Margaret has rediscovered her geek, and her strength. There I go again, back to Margaret. (really, I'm not Margaret if that's what you were thinking, although I sure can relate to her)

On the reflecting back to HS side of things, I think my greatest regret is that I abandoned my own geek side way too early to even retrieve it. It's funny, because the question is asked all the time, and I never had an answer till now. What would you change if you had it to all over again? I would have pursued academics more, I would have been the smart outcast, because ya know, no matter what I did, no matter how well I seemed to fit in, I was always an outcast. Too geeky for the cool kids and not near geeky enough for the geeks. I was in a lonely place, even though I had lots of friends in every category. (is this SillyRabbit's cry for help - not exactly - that will look more like - "help meeeee pleeease!" when it comes :wink:) Maybe we can send those extra "e"s to Africa as well.

Seems that even with Lobo's suggestions I can't form a cohesive post to this article, in my mind is a swirl of Fletch, Margaret and me (woohoo - a threesome - but I would have preferred another guy in the mix). Know that I think it was hugely important (the article, not the threesome). Maybe after more reflection I can put my fingers on the right keys to tell you how it impacted me personally and what it may mean for my sense of self. Or maybe not.

One last thought before I post this batsh*t crazy comment: everyone, wrap your arms around yourself and hug the geek, he/she needs love too.

Oh, yet another last thought: shihonage, remember, kinder...gentler

in my mind is a swirl of Fletch, Margaret and me (woohoo - a threesome - but I would have preferred another guy in the mix)

Well, hello there 8D

I addressed Fletch in regards to the last paragraphs of his article.

My message back to him was basically there is no time like the present and you are only getting better. Why be uncomfortable with or frightened by who you are/were/will be?

Yowsa. So much. Lots o' love though, and for that I thank you. Seriously. It's not easy to rip your soul out and show it to people. Sometimes it's rewarding - as in this case - but it's never easy.

Dreth, I appreciate the sentiment, but you're about twenty years too late. I've moved on since the events described in this article. Perhaps not completely, but I have moved on. Your advice is good advice, however, and I will cheerfully pass it along to any fat, WOW-playing geeks I happen to meet.

**EDIT: By the way, your intial post seemed like it could be construed as the kind of I'm-so-hot-to-post-my-thoughts-that-I-can't-be-bothered to-fully-read-and/or-comprehend what-it-is-that-I-am-posting-about post that we don't see much of here. Outside of P&C that is. I'm not saying that I thought it was like that, just that it might be construed that way by others.**

Lobo, dude, get out of my head. No, seriously. Get the f*ck out. That was supposed to be the Easter egg that nobody ever found and there you go ruining everything again, like usual.

Grumps, you're on the right track about the block. I set out just before E3 to write an article about geeks. It turned out to be harder to write than I had thought it would be. I eventually discvovered that this probably had something to do with the fact that I had, to date, never closely examined the reasons why I left a part of myself behind those many years ago. So I decided to do that. It took a while.

Rabbit, thanks for caring. (And when you want to get that threesome rolling, give me a ring. /fingergun *tch tch*)

I can remember my first dance...6th grade maybe...it took me all night to ask the girl I liked and she actually said yes. I was shocked--on cloud nine. Ten seconds into the song she pulls away, turns to the side and gets sick all over the floor. I don't think I even went to another middle school dance lol.

Reading this article, and the comments that come with it, is a lot more satisfying than I hoped it would be. I just got this huge sense of "it's ok...see there's other people who feel like you have, and are willing to say so" that I really didn't expect. I thought I'd come to grips with a lot of things about my past and present that apparently I've just been ignoring instead. But yeah, just like mostly everyone else posting, thanks Fletch, I can relate too.

I never did have a problem with people bigger than me taking advantage of me though, and it didn't happen to people around me either. I don't really have a reason for why, beyond the fact that going to get my face sewn back together is a regular enough occurrence that I can smile and laugh about it while it's happening.

I wasn't the weak fat kid, I was the short, skinny, poor kid. Dressing up to fit in with everyone else wasn't an option. I grew long hair, got into metal, picked up the drums, bass and guitar. In my school this made me a minority of one, but at the same time I learned to act (and eventually feel) like I belonged everywhere, and that's something that rubs off on other people. I stood out and was invisible all at the same time. Sarcasm and self-deprecation were the rule of the day in any conversations I did have, and still are.

College came though, and found out that starting with a completely blank slate and acting the same way as always, I made friends easily. Making other people uncomfortable is still entertaining, but apparently, I'm actually funny.

The long hair's gone, the contacts are gone, but the ability to project "I belong here" is still around. I can still usually walk into or away from a room or conversation without people noticing. I'm still the reclusive skinny little kid, but confident, even if not out going, and generally happy. But still reading all this reminded me that sometimes I'm still scared, scared that everyone's gonna turn around and say "man did we pull one over on you". I know it won't happen, but theres still that fear that knowing can't get rid of, that I don't really belong.

So I got off on a rant there a little bit. Really though, I just wanted to say thanks Fletcher for opening yourself up like that, I'm not sure I could have, and it's given me some thinking to do.

~huok

*sniff* I get no love =P

fangblackbone wrote:
*sniff* I get no love =P

Yeah, me and Fang are kewl. We demand recognition!

Hey guys, post about a threesome - it worked for me Oh, and be a girl when you do it.

If it's any consolation, *big hug* to you both!

Demos, you should have realized that this article was dedicated to you, little bro.

Fang ... um ... I like your avatar.

Actually, I can't relate to the Geeks are Flowers that Open in College crowd because I took a slightly different path But I get the sentiment, and I would have to agree with it. Middle and High school are tremendously difficult places for smart, sensitive people. College seems to even that a out a bit.

Although I have to say that professional theater tips the scales back in the other direction.

This was brilliant Fletch. Thanks for sharing. (And truth be told...I love you for your inner geek. Hee!)

Middle and High school are tremendously difficult places for smart, sensitive people. College seems to even that a out a bit.

Actually, college is mostly the smart, sensitive people. The irony is that they start to make the same societal structures as in highschool. I.E. when geeks amass and are isolated, they seperate themselves into the popular, the jocks and the geeks. They just dont carry the same weight as in HS.

College is a 4+ year idealist vacation from highschool. You can go into academia and try to extend this to 20 or more years but most go back and have to deal with all those losing grip on the HS glory days. I have never had the chance to lead them and I certainly am not enjoying being lead by them.

Although I have to say that professional theater tips the scales back in the other direction.

Meaning its better to be young and naive? People dont develop with age and experience? Or is it that professional theatre reverts to a place for sensitive, smart people?

Um ... yes. Wait, wait! NO! Ooh. Hang on ... Yes! No wait! Sh*t. What was the question again?

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.

shihonage wrote:

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.

I suppose it's easy to "interpret" my response the way you did when you carefully color it to fit your own agenda. Thanks for deliberately taking it out of context, though. Did you even READ what I ORIGINALLY said? I said the Fletcher seemed to be equating "geek" with loser. GO look and READ.

I'm not even going to bother responding to the rest of your post, because you're just trolling. Hey- good luck finding that "right" girl while you disappoint all the "Russian mothers" who are trying to set you up!

I'm not even going to bother responding to the rest of your post, because you're just trolling. Hey- good luck finding that "right" girl while you disappoint all the "Russian mothers" who are trying to set you up!

And he's the one who's trolling. Right.

Wait, really Fletch? Woot! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm joining a lady for ice cream in about an hour, gotta shower up and mix and match my "date clothes" until I find a good combo that matches my hat. Thank you, Fab Five!

Did dsmart come back as Dreth?

fangblackbone wrote:

Although I have to say that professional theater tips the scales back in the other direction.

Meaning its better to be young and naive? People dont develop with age and experience? Or is it that professional theatre reverts to a place for sensitive, smart people?

I think what he meant is that amongst people involved in professional theater its the smart and sensitive ones who get the upper hand.

shihonage wrote:
I think what he meant is that amongst people involved in professional theater its the smart and sensitive ones who get the upper hand.

*ding!* Yeah theater (especially in tech) is geek city. It's like that club that Shihonage was talking about.

Yeah, theater people are a very strange bunch. Somehow they got the crazy idea that all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players...

all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players...

Indeed! Performers and portrayers, each another's audience...

I prefer the label nerd, and my lovely wife has this gorgeous tight shirt that reads "I love Nerds" - fact of the matter, we rock. Accept it, embrace it - learn to love it (and learn to have social skills) - and you will dominate the universe!

woo hoo!

SillyRabbit wrote:
Indeed! Performers and portrayers, each another's audience...

Outside the guilded cage! NUH-nuh-nuh NUH-nuh-nuh NUH, duh duh duh DUH duh...

You who are geeks? Rush fans. And proud of it, baby!

Great article, Fletch. Like most everyone else, I see lots of interesting parallels in my own life...except insert music in place of theater. I have only recently been coming to terms with my own childhood geekdom. [edit: maybe that's why I have this unfortunate knee-jerk tendency to dislike people who remind me too much of myself...?]

Pigpen wrote:
I prefer the label nerd, and my lovely wife has this gorgeous tight shirt that reads "I love Nerds" - fact of the matter, we rock. Accept it, embrace it - learn to love it (and learn to have social skills) - and you will dominate the universe!

woo hoo!

Well you know what the good book says: The Geek shall inherit the Earth.

Living in the limelight.......the universal dream

What? I can't help myself. It's like Pavlov's dog - I hear a Rush lyric and I must complete it....

(Oh I'm so glad I wasn't the first or only person to make a Rush reference here! I love this board :))

I just have a quick question to add to this discussion. Is it possible to be a part of two seemingly exclusive groups such as the "geeks" and the "cool crowd" at the same time. I liken myself to belong to two such disparate (sp?) groups.

I don't hide the fact that I am a comic book geek, used to play tabletop rpgs, and am a cartoonist from anyone IRL and online, yet I am also a firefighter and a bartender. I have been told on several occassions that I seem to have it "together" and before I got married I dated quite a few cool chicks and hung out in live music clubs as well as art galleries.

How many of you are in this chameleon group? I am just curious to see that I am not in such a minority.

cartoonin99 wrote:
I just have a quick question to add to this discussion. Is it possible to be a part of two seemingly exclusive groups such as the "geeks" and the "cool crowd" at the same time. I liken myself to belong to two such disparate (sp?) groups.

I think that lots of us have achieved that balance in adulthood. Walking that line as a teenager...that's a different story.

SillyRabbit wrote:
all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players...

Indeed! Performers and portrayers, each another's audience...

Erving Goffman would be proud.

Wait a second! That was a Rush lyric? Did I just just steal myself some prog rock cred without realizing it?

Nah, I knew you weren't quoting Rush, you literate bastard you.

Damn. I wanted some cred, for once.

Podunk wrote:
cartoonin99 wrote:
I just have a quick question to add to this discussion. Is it possible to be a part of two seemingly exclusive groups such as the "geeks" and the "cool crowd" at the same time. I liken myself to belong to two such disparate (sp?) groups.

I think that lots of us have achieved that balance in adulthood. Walking that line as a teenager...that's a different story.

I would agree.