Word Nerd

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In seventh grade, in the back of my parents’ car, on the way home from another disastrous school-wide dance, my friend Rebekah and I lied to each other in the nicest possible way.

“Nerds,” we told ourselves, “Are awesome.”

They were the most misunderstood subgroup in the high school hierarchy. Everyone should want to be one. Those snotty popular girls who had hurled insults down the school hallway toward us that night? They were just jealous. And they were wrong, too, because we were most assuredly not nerds.

Okay, fine, we admitted as the car turned a corner and a street lamp splashed yellow light into the back, highlighting our awkward hair and gawky arms. So what if we sort of were? It might not be permanent. If we could outgrow training bras, dollhouses with hand-painted shutters, and unrequited crushes, we could outgrow this. Nerdhood? Already speeding into the past, baby.

Only, that was a lie. The biggest of all.

Because now, two decades later, I have realized something. Almost every major decision I have made in my life has depended on my latent nerdhood, from my English major to my novel writing. And every purchase backs it up. The deluxe, shiny black Scrabble board on its spinny little stand. The pressed-wood clipboard and cushy mechanical pencil whose sole job is to support our nightly New York Times crossword habit. The books spilling off the bedroom shelves. This laptop, on which I’ve written novels in my free time instead of shopping at the mall, loitering around the bike racks, slipping frogs into the principal’s pillowcase, or whatever it is the cool kids do at age thirty-five.

I am a nerd, a bookworm. Still. Always. Even when I hide it. I have not outgrown it, and I probably never will. And lately I’ve decided I don’t want to. Because the hobbies that earned me taunts when I was twelve make me happy now. I embrace them.

I will always read novels in public, and scribble in notebooks, and continue to not know the rules of football. I will be introverted and sometimes awkward, and see my tendency to lean against walls at parties as character research. I will be bookish. Someday I will probably wear glasses. I will never be graceful. I will never be cool. But I’ll take joy over those things any day. And that’s one thing that has changed.

Because you know what? We were right, that painful, long-ago evening. Nerddom is awesome. So are confidence and joy and doing what you love. The rest really doesn’t matter.

What about you? Are you anything like you were in high school? Most importantly, what kind of nerd are you?

  • Oh, I love this. L-O-V-E.

    I was very much a bookworm in high school – still am, of course – though I must admit, AP English made it challenging to read anything other than the required novels, because there were SO many of them. I always enjoyed analyzing them, though (well, with the exception of WAITING FOR GODOT, which made me want to hurl the book and computer through the window), and I was also the nerd who loved writing papers and taking notes. That’s definitely carried over, too, though now it’s writing novels and outlining/brainstorming in a rainbow of colors instead of filling binders with them.

    You are so right about the joy, passion, and love being most important. As long as we find those, we’re winners no matter what anyone else says! 🙂

  • As a fellow nerd, I can hardly believe it but our time may have come …. Love, love love this blog post, by the way.

  • Can I tell you, I SO was a latent nerd during my adolescent years of life! In fact, it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I even cared to apply myself academically. Aside from the required reading assignments throughout school, I didn’t discover my love for the written word until way into my young adulthood (early twenties-ish). Afterward, I thought my library membership was the best thing in the world to have and I went crazy reading everything I could get my hands on! Scrabble’s another all-time fave in my house hold. Though, I can’t hold a candle to my 16-yr-old’s skills. Latent Nerd 😉

  • @Shari – LOL on Waiting for Godot! I managed to escape it, but have heard horror stories. I have a strong feeling you and I would have been good friends, even back in high school. If we had attended high school at the same time. And in the same place. Which we didn’t. But if we had, oh, imagine what we could have done!

    @Stevie – Thanks! I hope that’s the case. They seem to be more and more popular, so maybe society is finally beginning to accept us. By the way, I wondered how you found me, then I noticed the name of your blog – Word Nerd! Perfect!

    @Tuere – Wow! So glad you finally ended up discovering reading and writing! We’d all be missing out otherwise. And like you, I didn’t exactly apply myself universally when I was in high school. Math class. P.E. English assignments that required reading from books I hated. Yuck.

  • I loved this post! I’m definitely a word nerd, too. 🙂 (And boy did that line about “character research” resonate. 🙂
    I was homeschooled, and thus would have ended up with the nerd label regardless of anything else I did. I mean, hey, I spent TONS of free time at the mall as a kid…granted, our mall had a library and I only left it for sustenance from the food court… 😉

  • I was a book nerd too, and I guess I still am. My daughters are surprised when I describe how shy I was in high school. I’m still shy, but I’ve learned to mask it a lot more. (P.S. I really liked Waiting For Godot!)

  • For all of us nerds, Yay!!! Great post:)

  • Aww, I SO *love* this post!! Here’s to embracing nerdhood!

  • I’m the worst sort of nerd: the type who has never understood what was so “cool” about the “cool crowd”. I also quit worrying about it early on in college, when I found My People. Nerds. Brainiacs. Academics. People who read For Fun. People who write software For Fun. Some of them brilliant. All of them fun to be around–not in the country-clubbing, mall-shopping, spend-more-time-on-hairstyling-in-a-day-than-I-do-in-a-week way. I’m talking about parties where the conversation shifts away from sex toward advanced physics the DRUNKER we get.

    I married a nerd, and we have a pair of nerds-in-training (my 7-year old daughter’s favorite show is Mythbusters and my 5-year old figured out my mom’s tv + DVD/VCR at age 2.5).

    Happily Ever After, indeed 🙂

  • I am a nerd through and through. Yes, I even go to Comic Con and have subscribed to the Star Wars fan club since 1977. The best thing about embracing one’s nerdiness is that you gravitate to fellow nerds who turn out to be kindred spirits and lifelong friends. I married a nerd and we have two fantastic “nose in book” kids.