Friday, March 18, 2011

On Nerdery

This was very obviously written before it was cool, even desirable, to be a nerd...let alone proudly label yourself one.
* * * * *
13 April 2006

This morning at the gas station I saw someone who caught my eye. It was a young man, very light build, and dressed too conservatively. He had shorter hair and glasses. He was a classic nerd*. And right then I recognized myself, ten, maybe five years ago. And today. I watched him closely, and noticed something very important. It wasn't his appearance that made him so...well, nerdy. It was his awkwardness, his stance, the way he carried himself and looked nervously around, wondering who may be near him, judging. I felt this way only...hell, I still feel this way. But I was also aware of the vast physical difference between myself now and myself then. I am 40 pounds heavier than I was ten years ago (only four inches bigger around the waist), and still considered light/average build. I don't necessarily wear my hair any different, I'm still wearing glasses, and still have no sense of fashion, but I see myself very differently, more confidently, now than I did then. More than that person at the gas station.

* [For the record, I have always hated the word "nerd". I was called that name incessantly from grade 6 on, and vehemently defend anyone else to whom the moniker is assigned. I'm not condoning the use of the word at all, but I have to start with some frame of reference. These thoughts have to come out.]

There have been years of experiences to account for this change of self-opinion. I have earned my place in my self-designed social template. And I know that my own standards for myself are still higher than those around me. So other people like me, think I'm funny, good looking, interesting, even sexy. How did I become this way?

I cannot quantify what the experiences were or did. I know there has been heartbreak, betrayal, denial, sacrifice, and exploration. I know that I have been on my knees begging for understanding and forgiveness. I know that I would never live the last 10 years of my life the same way again, ever. Maybe the gas station guy will go through that, too. The way his eyes searched for approval in the faces of others, the way his half smile waited for a positive response. I know these eyes and that smile. I still cast them around, waiting for others to answer. And I still close up when I perceive that they will not approve. I retract the smile I just offered, wishing I'd never tried. Wishing I could just disappear. Some days, I am still just that nerdy, awkward young man, who does not know how to talk to other humans, how to act in public, how to like himself.

I'm going to ramble now, dear audience, so be prepared.

But I do like myself. That's the bottom line. That's what my dad always says in his three-quarter drunken fits, when he's still barely rational enough to put sentences together and hold his opinion at the same time. "The bottom line is..." and I catch myself using it at select times. Maybe just to prove to myself that something is true. Like because I heard it used in his context, I can justify what I don't quite believe by adding it as a tagline.

But I do like myself. It's not something I don't quite believe, it's a real truth. Of course there are days I don't, but they number few compared to my normal, and what I have believed to be healthy, state of mind. I am worth the effort to get to know. I am worth improving. I deserve the best. I have much to share with this world and my fellow humans, and I regularly try to do so. I am practical and decently intelligent, I'm compassionate and mostly humble. I enjoy the outdoors, fine arts, and a well-crafted wooden thing. I can install junction boxes and change oil, and also map out the rhyme scheme of a poem. I can recite Jabberwocky, Prufrock, and the first lines of Moby Dick and The Hobbit. Children and dogs like me, and I can communicate with both. I take decent care of myself physically. I am a good kisser and a generous lover.

None of these things are invented by me to make myself feel better; they are all truths I'd tell anyone, and verifiable by people I know. Yet why do I constantly shoot myself (my recovery, my success, my education, my productive days, etc) in the foot with doubt and/or self-destructive behavior? What is it that I fear? How can I be so critical of what I am not, when the list of things I am should be enough to make anyone happy?

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