I Am Geek: A Long Overdue Confession
The social paradigm shift that saw geek culture rise to prominence over the last decade has been one of the best things to happen for anyone who grew up playing Magic cards, painting D&D figurines, or dreaming of a life on a renegade smuggler craft exploring the outer reaches of the Alpha Centauri system. I’ve always admired the people I’ve known who let their geek flag fly back when it wasn’t cool. I mean, it’s because of those people that geekdom is enjoying the status it currently does. How can you not admire their dedication to their passions in the face of all pop culture telling them they’re lame and to be made fun of?
I was not so strong. My best childhood friend introduced me to Magic cards and Dungeons & Dragons, but we never really graduated beyond the painting of miniatures in his room while listening to Nine Inch Nails and Alice in Chains. There was an unspoken rule that we didn’t really talk about those things at school or around our other friends. When it was just the two of us, we’d watch Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future VHS tapes while shooting at the screen with the mind-blowingly awesome interactive XT-7 Powerjet gun, but when others were over it usually turned into NES Ice Hockey time.
On my own, I’d abandoned almost all other reading genres for books that involved some combination of swords and wizards. Throughout high school I was reading series like The Sword of Truth, Shannara, Dragonlance, the Drizzt Do’Urden books, the Riftwar Saga, and nearly anything that came in the form of a ridiculously thick tome of epic fantasy.
Around this time, I discovered rock climbing and I realized that it wasn’t so much that I hated sports, but that I hated sports as defined by North American culture. I still don’t like having to throw a ball or hit something with a stick, but the world of adventure sports was a gateway into rewarding and interesting physical activity that made me realize how much I liked belonging to a group of people with a common interest. Putting on a harness and tight rubber shoes definitely wasn’t mainstream cool, but I surrounded myself with people who thought that there wasn’t anything better in life than to go haul yourself up a wall at the indoor climbing gym, or to spend a long weekend at the base of a cliff with a bunch of other similar-minded weirdos. We were sport geeks, only we never stopped to think about ourselves that way.
The thing about climbers is that many of them are attracted to the analytical nature of the sport. Finding the path of least resistance up a wall is a puzzle, and a lot of my climber friends were engineers, chemists, programmers, and doctors. They liked to discuss the efficacy of different brands of shoe rubber, and compare stats on different ropes they’d used. They looked at carabiner weights and geeked out hard on any new piece of natural protection that came onto the market. We were most of us true geeks of our domain, but that was a label that was reserved for Star Trek loving losers. Even though many of the climbers I knew were into traditional geek culture, they kept quiet about it in the sporty environment of the climbing gym.
I’ll own the fact that a lot of my reluctance to be an out and proud geek came from my own insecurities. Some of the climbers I spent time with had all the imagination and personality of a stack of low-grade printer paper, and years of blank stares in response to some of my puns or cultural references trained me to stay quiet in social situations. I didn’t risk being clever or witty, because I didn’t want to be treated like a weirdo. I took it as a flaw in my character instead of in the characters of those around me at the time.
I’ve been privileged to have met some real proud and dedicated geeks over the last couple of years, and I’m ashamed to say that it’s only in the last few months that I’ve realized how much of myself I still hide from people. As little as six months ago, I was sill thinking along the lines of publishing speculative fiction under a pseudonym so I wouldn’t ruin my reputation in case I wanted to write something serious. On the other side of the sporty spectrum are my literary friends who don’t have much use for anything that isn’t a potential Pulitzer, Giller, or Booker prize winner. Some of them have a difficult time believing that any form of genre fiction could have real literary merit, and I felt just as strong a need to close myself off from those people as I did when I was too embarrassed to be seen in school with a copy of one of the Fionavar Tapestry books.
Even still, I feel conflicted about posting certain things to twitter for fear I’ll turn off some of the photographers I admire. I can’t tell who’s presenting an image or who really buys into the hipster creative mentality, and I don’t want to embarrass myself by tweeting about how utterly blown away by The Name of the Wind I was.
How sad is that?
People around the world are fighting against oppression because of their sexuality, their social class, or the colour of their skin; and I’m worried my ski buddies might find out I like wizards, or that that one of my old literary fiction pals will see that I spent eight hours making a map of an imaginary world in which I’m currently writing a new book. I’m even quiet about the fact that I play Call of Duty on the PS3 because it’s too bro for some ‘real geeks.’ It’s a stupid thing that has yielded two decades worth of varying degrees of anxiety and shame, and I’m finally ready to admit to all of it publicly.
I’m only half as hardcore geek as a few of my friends who might read this, and I’m a hundred times more nerdy than some other people in my social circles, but it’s time for me to proceed with the faith that most of those people won’t care one way or the other.
If they do? Fuck ’em. Life is too short and stupid to care what the image-conscious think about the things you’re passionate about. If anyone wants to play a few rounds of Magic: The Gathering, you know where to find me.