When did you first know you were a nerd?

Definitions are funny things. There are endless debates over the difference between nerds and geeks. Personally, I couldn’t care less; whether I say nerd or geek, you know what I mean. Someone linked me to an article from 2010 that asked a question that I just can’t stop contemplating: when did you first know? Whether you prefer to call yourself a nerd or a geek, when did you first know that you consumed media just a little bit differently than the average consumer?

For me, it started with anime. Dubbed stuff like Dragonball Z and Cardcaptors were my gateway drugs into the things I’d really come to love, like Miyazki films, but it all started with the cash cow most nerds remember fondly: Pokemon. It used to come on at 6 am every morning. That was too early for 9 year-old me, and so I learned how to set the VCR to record it every day. Well, one morning it didn’t record. My mother will tell you that I scared the crap out of her that day because I woke her up by kneeling next to her bed and sobbing ‘It didn’t record’ into the bedspread.

After Pokemon and Yugioh and other franchises I spent all of my allowances on came fantasy. I had always been into speculative fiction. I didn’t know there was a name for it, just that I was always more interested in stories that had a little bit more to offer than just reality as we know it – magic, elves, werewolves, robots, the weirder the better. Tolkien changed the game for me, though. I stole my brother’s copy of The Hobbit and by that weekend, I was painstakingly recreating the map of Middle Earth in my journal and writing secret messages in Elvish. If you went to my childhood home, you would find an inscription on the old wooden basement banister that reads “I love Legolas.’ (I’m not even embarrassed. I dare any 12 year-old not to fall for Orlando Bloom being a badass with a bow and arrow. Please.)

I’m not even going to talk about the day I discovered fanfiction.net. Once I knew what fanfiction was, there was no turning back for me. I think that’s what does it, really – makes someone more than a casual viewer. Some people watch stuff on tv or finish the book and that’s that. Maybe they talk about it at work the next day, or list it on their Facebook page as their favorite whatever. But then there are the people who can’t stop thinking about it – and don’t want to. They love the characters and the worlds that those characters live in. They make up theories and write stories of their own about it. They study it to learn all they can because to them, this thing is like a diamond and the more you examine it, the more you turn it this way and that in the light, the more of it’s beauty you can see.

Maybe there’s something to be said about what causes a propensity for nerdiness. Is it genetic? An obsessive nature based down from mom and dad? Or maybe it’s nurture, not nature, and nerdy tendencies form most easily in households that cultivate the type of loneliness that leads to finding comfort in your imagination?

Whatever the root cause may be, I’ve always been the type to fall headfirst into whatever I deemed awesome. I fell in love with book series and fictional worlds the way that the adults around me wished I’d fall for boys, and I don’t wish that I had been different. My best memories growing up are centered around the things I enjoyed – going to my first anime convention, making my first zine (with a Harry Potter cover story), attending my first midnight book release party (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, if you’re wondering), starting bands with my friends (a wizard rock band – can you tell that I was really, really into Harry Potter?).

Some may say it’s too much – the fanfiction, the artwork, the cosplay – but I’ve never understood that viewpoint. What’s wrong with wholeheartedly enjoying something? It makes people happy and it hurts literally no one.

Whether you consider yourself a nerd or a geek, when did you first know? Was it different, growing up a nerd in a black family? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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6 thoughts on “When did you first know you were a nerd?

  1. Been a nerd my whole life. Honestly. My first Hollywood crush was Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher (ST:TNG – Encounter at Farpoint). I was five. Grew up in a black nerd family, so I didn’t know that everyone else wasn’t ‘nerdy’ until I went to school. That’s when I found out that other people didn’t consider it fashionable (it was the 80s). Oh well, more Wesley for me:)

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    1. Wesley Crusher is like the quintessential teenage sci-fi crush. I think some people would be surprised to learn how many people grow up in nerdy black families. Nerdiness is something mainstream society is slow to associate with black people, but I know I grew up with siblings who were into geeky stuff, and parents who at least had geeky hobbies. I think many of us did, but you rarely see that reflected in media.

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  2. I guess nerdiness was a way of life for me from the start. I suppose by definition my parents were nerds, my dad always with a book in hand, tinkering with electronic and computers as a hobby. My mom always watching Sci-fi and horror shows. Reading comics with my older cousins…I didn’t stand a chance. It wasn’t until about third grade that I realized most of the other kids were staying up late to television and not read under the sheets with a flashlight, they didn’t know who “Number One” was or hadn’t seen the Poltergeist.

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  3. Ok first of all, just found your blog via your latest article on blackgirlnerds.com today (btw thank you for that piece) and I’m in love already. Second, no joke, I didn’t honestly consider myself a nerd until about 4-5 years ago despite all the signs being there (I turn 30 early next year). My family wasn’t very geeky but they never begrudged my many fandoms growing up and well into adulthood (especially my exploding love of all things Harry Potter in my late teens). I think I a) bought too heavily into various tropes of who real geeks were, and b) was too isolated with the small group of friends who actually shared my geeky interests. Now though…god help me. My geek flag flies freely and good luck getting me not to make a random Potter/Batman reference at least once a day.

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    1. Hey, thanks for reading! I think it’s easier as black women to think that we somehow don’t count as geeks because that’s what society tells us. We don’t fit the stereotypical mold and rarely do you see black women represented as anything other than stereotypes.

      Fellow Potter nerd here! I have to ask: what house are you? Proud Ravenclaw, myself.

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