Yesterday, while my chums and I were visiting the lovely lady Lindsie with her birthday presents, there was a moment in our conversation when we were talking about how awesome it was to love nerdy things and about which things that contributed to our geekdom. Or nerdism. I’m fuzzy on which is which, but honestly, the bottom line is that we all love things that some others consider nerdy or geeky. You know, things like Star Wars, the Dark Crystal, Back to the Future, Star Trek , Lord of the Rings and X-Files. We don’t just like them, we love them. These things are what shaped our childhoods and who we are as adults. One said that she wanted to start a blog about being a nerd mom because she was enjoying raising her son as a geek. Nerd. Whatever: She is raising her son to embrace what he loves without fear of mockery and I think that is awesome.
But that got me thinking; what makes me a geek? I came to “mainstream” geekdom relatively late and from a relatively roundabout way. It’s kind of interesting that my early experience with science fiction and even fantasy was quite unlike my friends even though we share a love of many things, from X Files to a shirtless Thor – though that may have a teeny bit to do with Chris Hemsworth’s ridiculous abs. We’ll never tell.
I remember someone asking a four year old me what I wanted to be when grew up. My instant answer was “Tarzan”. (Who wouldn’t want to swing around in the trees and talk to animals?) I had been reading the tattered comics that I had found in the secret storage footstool in my aunt a uncle’s house. By ‘reading’ I mean I had been poring over the pictures of a man in a spotted loincloth swinging through the trees, talking to panthers and other animals and watching the cartoon version that was on on Saturday mornings. I’d go back to those over and over, along with the stories in the old ‘Boy’s Own Annual that were in the stairwell bookshelves featuring Allan Quartermain, the fairy tales from Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and others where girls would cut their fingers off to make rungs for a ladder so they could escape the witches trap, or houses ran about on giant chicken legs.
My mother adored the story of the twelve dancing princesses and there was more than one version of this tale in our house. She read me The Wind in the Willows, Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, anything from the Serendipity series by Cosgrove and James, and Uncle Wiggly. We watched All Creatures Great and Small and Good Neighbours along with Disney specials. We watched Swiss Family Robinson and we read Robinson Crusoe and Crusoe of Lonesome Lake. I read Owls in the Family, the Dog Who Wouldn’t Be and other Farley Mowat Books. I read Bel Ria, The Incredible Journey and Seal Morning among other animal themed tales. I remember one with foxes, but I can never remember what it was called. I watched a cartoon called Belle and Sebastian religiously and Kimba the White Lion whenever we could find it and this was my introduction to anime. When I was 7, I started to read Born Free because it was about lions. It took me a long time, but I finished the whole thing. I devoured all the Black Stallion books and the Silver Brumby series during my ‘horse phase’.
But I came to science fiction relatively late. I recall watching the original Star Wars at a friends sixth birthday. Well, it was on, but we were playing so I only remember a few parts, namely the part where Luke finds out that ‘Ben Kenobi’ is actually Obiwan. But then I stumbled across a book called ‘Enchantress from the Stars’, that flipped my preconceived notions about science fiction on its head. I must have been eight or nine and somehow I had gotten it into my head that science fiction was for boys. But this book was different. Not only was it written by a woman, the main character was female and it tackled subjects that went beyond the mundane that we had been tackling in class by reading Ramona Quimby and the Mouse and the Motorcycle.
I loved it, and I wanted more. Being a solitary kid, books were my best friends and now there was a whole new section at the library available to me. In fact, nothing was off limits, even the Agatha Christie mystery novels my grandmother had stashed in the attic bedroom. I devoured them all. Around this time the terribly drawn Thundercats started airing on TV on Saturday morning, followed by Disney spinoffs. (I became a rabid Thundercats fan, Cheetara was the answer to my earlier Tarzan aspirations it seemed.) I didn’t care what was on, I needed my cartoon fix and this came to include a strange interpretation of Hercules, Darkwing Duck, Transformers, She-Ra and her questionably oriented brother He-Man, The Last Unicorn, Jem and the Misfits, X Men and anything else that the network would air.
Then I discovered the weird and wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy from the UK and Australia. Shows like The Snow Spider, Chocky, The Girl From Tomorrow, Escape from Jupiter and Round the Twist. It was also about this time in my life that Disney produced their Witch Mountain series which was right up my alley.
In junior high I became obsessed with Star Trek in all it’s incarnations and at this point I didn’t care if society called me names for loving a TV show. They just had no idea. I dabbled in Babylon Five, devoured Red Dwarf, X Files, Highlander, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and was introduced to new favourites like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, the Last Starfighter and endless fantasy series starting with Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series, anything by Tanith Lee and Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
In high school, The Fifth Element and Hackers were instant favourites. I loved Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame because of my earlier desire to see a woman do things that Allan Quartermain and Indiana Jones had done before. I played Nintendo, Quake, DnD and American McGee’s Alice. I watched Xena: Warrior Princess and started watching sci-fi classics and B movies. I finally watched Demolition Man, Alien Terminator and Tank Girl. I read Orwell, H.G. Wells and Atwood. I discovered the Matrix.
But it wasn’t until I gained regular access to the internet that I realized just how much awesome I had been missing with only thirteen channels and a limited local library. I had seen a few episodes of the black and white Mystery Science Theatre at a friends house once, but had never seen more than that. I had missed out entirely on Doctor Who, Stargate, the original Battlestar Galactica and a plethora of comics, games, movies and books my little town didn’t stock. At least I hadn’t known where to look. I missed out on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series – namely because at first I wasn’t sure they could top the campy awesomeness that was the movie. The movie which my friend Am could quote from beginning to end.
And all this ANIME!! I had seen the anime that had been available on our local stations; namely Inuyasha and Sailor Moon, as well as a few of a questionable variety including Outlanders (which involved a girl with horns), Urusei Yatsura (which involved a girl in a tiger bikini) and Akira(which involved a lot of blood) at a boyfriend’s house, but I hadn’t realized just how much there was, or how many different sub-genres there were.
So I am now an internet junkie. I game, I watch copious amounts of anime, I watch shows like Vikings, Game of Thrones, Firefly and Castle.* I read novels by Elizabeth Bear, Haruki Murakami, Phillip K Dick, Phillip Jose Farmer, China Mieville, Chuck Wendig and Orhan Pamuk. I read poetry. I read history books, biographies and watch documentaries. I read theory and code and collect words. I read until my eyes dry out. I write until my hands cramp up. My brain is full of thousands of sparkling nuggets of information.
My life is rich. If that is what it means to be a geek, or a nerd, then by all means, so be it.
*My lists are by no means comprehensive because that would be a ridiculously long post.
Reading: Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Listening to: Fly By Night – The Glitch Mob
About to watch: Michael Kohlhaas
Eating: Tuna Salad
Drinking: Raspberry/Cranberry juice
“I had stopped going to confession right after my mother died. Even as a young boy I had performed it grudgingly and with no payoff I was ever aware of. But in writing those words I felt at least an intuition of gracious release. To strip yourself of pretense is to overthrow a hard master, the fear of giving yourself away, and in that one sentence I gave myself away beyond all recall. Now there was nothing to do but go on.”
Thomas Wolff, Old School, 2003