Recently I had tea with some friends who live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but are in the States on a visit.
As is usually the case with the people I know, the conversation turned to Marvel movies. Pretty soon we were off on a discussion of various subjects: Comic-Con; Joss Whedon; Firefly; Harry Potter (books and movies); Lord of the Rings (books and movies); The Hobbit (book/movies); Hunger Games (books and movies); X-Men movies; Doctor Who (and the various actors who have played the Doctor); Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series; anime in general; Wujiang (where one of the friends and I taught English years ago); Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki films—you name it. All in the space of 75 minutes.
A guy sitting at a nearby table stared, then shook his head in an amused way as he listened to our conversation. Perhaps it sounded weird to him. Or, perhaps he could relate to it.
That same day, I had dinner with another group of friends. We talked about linear algebra (don’t worry—I didn’t have much to say on that subject), physics, Half-price Bookstore, videogames, the gathering and dissemination of information; middle grade and young adult books; graphic novels; writing science fiction and fantasy; grad school programs; indie publishing; and other subjects.
By now, you might be thinking, So what. Why are you telling me this? Well, let me take you back to my high school years, where bullying took place inside and outside the school walls. Just the mention of any of the above subjects would have earned me the label of geek—not exactly a plus back then. You see, being called a geek was the first step to being bullied. So like other people who tried to fit in and avoid being bullied, I learned to downplay “geek speak” and bring up subjects that the cool people spoke about. Yet trying to blend in could not exempt me from being bullied.
In college, to fit in, my geek speak turned to Greek speak. The cool people pledged fraternities and sororities. Once again, to fit in—to gain those three Greek letters—I pledged a sorority. But I was miserable. I had yet to realize that the advice my parents gave me—“Be yourself”—was actually good advice.
These days, I celebrate conversations like those mentioned above as the gifts they are. I can do that because I lived through that experience and was able to move on. But some who have been bullied in high school aren’t alive to celebrate their freedom to be who they are. It grieves me to think of the countless teens who dread each day thanks to those who make life miserable for them. They live under the weight of labels and other hurtful words. Some don’t see any way to escape the pain other than to end their lives. I wish they knew the truth the bullies would deny them: that they are precious.
So yeah. I speak geek. And I’m glad to do so.
Today, what, if anything, can you celebrate about yourself? What would you say to someone who is afraid to be who he/she is because of the harsh opinions of others?
I named this photo “Bee Content” to remind me of more good advice: be content to be myself.
Chiang Mai map from wildabouttravel.boardingarea.com. Sigma from prestochangodecor.com. Hello Kitty/Jordie photo and bee photo by L. Marie.
From some of the stories my partner told me when he was a teacher, I live in hope that young kids are embracing geekdom more and more, and that bullying on the basis of geekiness will become a thing of the past. Doctor Who and Harry Potter were the only particularly geeky things I was into at school, but I did also prefer BBC period dramas to soap operas and that sort of thing, so I was never in a particularly cool group. Luckily, I had a few good friends who were also into that so I wasn’t entirely alone.
I definitely celebrate it now. I don’t know whether it’s just the type of person I hang out with – university educated public servants – or what, but everybody seems to have their geek or nerd streak and no one’s embarrassed by it anymore, which is good to see.
Glad to hear that, Emily. When I started watching Doctor Who, it still had “cult” status. I’d mention the show and receive a glassy eyed look from people, except for people in my physics class. They also read The Hobbit. 🙂
Haha, yes, I got into DW in 2001, so way before it was cool again. The NBC over here did rerun the entire classic series from about 2003, so I managed to persuade some friends to join in watching.
Wow. I could only convince one person to watch two DVDs worth of episodes from the Tom Baker era. That’s all he wanted to see.
I have to admit said friends were not as committed as I was, but they tuned in now and again.
Mine too. 🙂
That was supposed to say ABC. We don’t have an NBC.
It’s not a new thing, people tried to bully me at school, and eventually I was forced into actions not natural to me – I beat them all up. But I would not become like them and used my ‘hard’ status to protect those weaker than myself, including the disabled kids who, as being part of an integration programme, were bullied relentlessly. It still sickens me to this day. I recently bumped into a classmate who has cerebral palsy. The bullies used to kick him or throw things at him to make him spasm, sometimes so much he’d fall from his wheelchair. (great sport, eh.) He remembered me as the ONLY ONE in school who was kind to him! (Out of a whole school, that’s piss poor). He said it took him years to get over what he endured, but he eventually prospered. What a great guy. (I used to make him cassette tapes of his favourite punk songs, because his mum wouldn’t let him listen to ‘satan’s music’.)
Fast forward to the recent past and my own children suffered horrendous bullying, because they have Aspergers Syndrome. My son was kicked repeatedly until his shins were black and blue (and this was in primary school!). My daughter was beaten up by a gang outside of school, organised by ‘the popular girls’ she’d stood up to, because they were bullying her friend.
The advice we give our children is to ‘be yourself’. Good sound advice, advice that as we get older we see as paramount. (Well, as a writer, I definitely do.) But for them, at that crucial stage of development, to be themselves is almost certainly going to be an invitation to be picked on, abused and assaulted. (Extrapolate to a wider society and I think we have the answer for why there’s so much violence and war. )
To end this little missive on a positive note, my son took up boxing for while and now has more confidence, and is hyper-aware of the discrimination all ‘minorities’ face, something he does not tolerate. And my daughter went on to study physics and is proud to be a super-geek. She also founded a ‘women in physics’ sorority.
And me, well, how do I fit in now? My daughter had me a tee-shirt made that reads ‘I’m not normal’ in big bold letter. Which I wear with pride. Who wants to be normal?
“Say it loud, I’m a Geek and I’m proud!” or perhaps more poignantly “Je suis Freak! Je suis Geek! Je suis Human!”
Oh John. I’m sorry your kids had to endure that. I’m glad they turned to subjects and activities that bolstered their confidence. Good for your daughter and her women in physics sorority! My older brother taught me boxing, so that really helped in middle school when I got into fights. 🙂
I’m also glad you were a champion for others. Your kids learned that from you, I’m sure.
Abnormal is the new “normal.” 🙂
I was never bullied in school, but I was teased for being shy. As I grew older, people misunderstood my shyness as being stuck-up. The great thing about getting older is realizing you can’t worry about what others think…especially those who don’t know the real you. Embrace your geekness, L. Marie. It’s what makes you so wonderful. xo
Thank you, Jill. And I also had the same issue–people mistaking shyness as being stuck-up. You’re right. People who don’t take the time to get to know the real you can think whatever they want!
I remember those days, but it was rarely for what I said. The quiet, small, shy kid in the corner with a book? Might as well have painted a target on my forehead. It’s funny how often people talk about what outside influences cause a bully to pick a victim. Yet, they always find something, so maybe the real factors that have to be discussed are the inner ones. If not that then trying to figure out why a kid turns bully. I remember a few of mine had situations where family was pushing them to be the best, so this turned into a level of arrogance and anyone that might be a threat was targeted. Anyway, this is probably horribly off topic. Never spoke much geek in school beyond video games between classes.
You’re right. Bullies always find something. I remember in eighth grade a girl was bullied by two other girls because she was pretty and boys liked her–two things over which she had no control.
I was one of the younger kids in my high school class. I also was quiet and usually had a book in front of me. And people wonder why I never go to reunions.
The things beyond our control tend to be the biggest targets. You can’t really deny or ‘defend’ them, so you’re kind of stuck.
Geek equals nerd. I think we are all nerds about something, at least one thing. For myself, I will say Doctor Who, but I just know there are other things that my wife would willingly volunteer for me. I’m not asking her!
For people in school, being different is always difficult. Whether it is looks, nationality, interests. When people stand out from the crowd, the crowd gather to stare. I would like to think, and hope that things become easier in adulthood.
Sometimes they do, Andy. The frontal lobe kicks in and we gain a different perspective. But judging by some of the mean remarks adults make on Twitter and other places, sometimes adulthood is no different from childhood for some. 😦
That is true, unfortunately.
That’s why I don’t post a ton on Twitter.
Having two teen sons, the youngest of who is a Marvel fanatic, I hear far more about Joss Whedon and superheroes than I ever thought possible. Plus, my son does card magic. And yet despite these things–maybe even because of these things–my son is very popular (which is a foreign concept to this introvert who kept to herself in school!). So as you point out, it’s nice to see these tides turning.
How cool that your son does card magic. Did he teach himself that? I’m glad he’s so well received. 🙂 My older brother was very popular in high school. I couldn’t coast on his fame. 🙂
He’s been studying magic since he was eight. Reads the books, watches videos, talks with magicians, goes to conferences. He’s really good and wants to do it professionally. I figure if he hasn’t lost interest by now at the age of 15, he probably won’t.
I was teased and tormented about being Hispanic in a predominately white neighborhood. I never thought of it as bullying but I suppose it was. The kids said some pretty cruel things to me and, one time on mischief night, vandalized our house. I grew past it all, too, L. Marie, and feel like I came out stronger for it. But, I feel so sad for these young people I read about who end their lives as a way out. Hard to imagine when we’re going thru it, but it’s really more about the bully, and their issues, and less about the victim. Would knowing that help? I have no idea. Glad you got your geek on with your friends!
I’m so sorry you went through that. 😦 It’s sad that people feel they have the right to make someone else’s life miserable. They’re just showing their own misery, as you mentioned.
I also feel for young people. Cyberbullying is horrible. A teen showed me some nasty comments someone texted her. That’s just lowdown!
The downside of social media and technology!
Amen to that!
A certain amount of “fitting in” when we are “out and about” conserves energy. And learning to interact with others in positive ways helps in every day social interactions.
That said, being around cookie cutter people is BORING! *YAWN*
* He who trims himself to suit everyone else will soon whittle himself away. ~ Raymond Hull
I agree. And what a great quote. I love that!! I’ll have to copy that and stick it on my printer. I usually put quotes there.
I wasn’t the one speaking Geek; oh, no, not me. I was the one speaking Greek. Really. I attended a suburban grade school, which I loved, and then, after school, right across the street I would go. While others were going to Girl Scout meetings, I was learning to speak Greek. Yep. I honestly think that it was because of good teachers and small class sizes that I wasn’t bullied in school. I also had a sense of humor. If anyone bullied me, it was my own sister. 😦 Still, I often felt “out of it”. I was a very shy child, bookish, not the pretty one or the stylish one. I think, for me, it was my sense of humor and ability to poke fun at myself that carried me through.
I worry about children these days. Bullying is more devious. It is not just the kid next door taunting, but, the kid next door taunting on the internet.
Glad you learned to roll with life’s punches through your sense of humor. And siblings can be terrorists at times. 🙂
I also worry about kids. I’ve seen awful comments that total strangers leave on videos where someone is crying out for help. And even after the person has died, people still leave mean comments. It’s rough out there. (That’s why I’m glad there is such a thing as prayer.)
I had a large family of not only my parents, but, my grandmother, and aunt and uncle next door, an older cousin who lent an ear; plenty of adults and role models in my life. I was very fortunate. When our girls were growing up, I worried about them and I tried to be open and supportive, not only to them, but to other kids as well. We had an open door and a no questions asked for them and friends if they found themselves in situations where they needed help, and a few of them did call and off we went, no questions asked. This was such an intuitive blog post. Thank you.
Every kid needs a safe house, especially if that house isn’t one they call home. I’m glad you were that refuge for kids.
Judging by that arbor, I can tell your home is a haven, Penny.
I had my fair share of being made fun of in junior high/high school, but I adapted. Like you, I tried to hide my nerdiness as much as possible (I was one of the kids who would prefer to go home and write programs on the computer instead of hang out with others). I still find it hard to talk about my nerdy interests with people in general, but I let it fly with those I’m comfortable around. I guess it’s one of those things I’ll always struggle with. I think it’s awesome that you have such a great circle of friends you can be open with!
When we get older, we finally realize who our real friends are. My mother tried to tell me that when I was a teen, but I didn’t listen. She was right.
I can’t talk about high fantasy or my obsession with beavers with every single person I know. Um yes, I find beavers fascinating. They are amazing builders.
I would have joined right in with you and had speaks about the Marvel movies. Funnily enough, my good buddy always told me he was a geek. And I was always telling him he wasn’t.
You’re always welcome to join the conversation, Professor!
Any musical conferences or gigs coming up in your life?
Why thank you, Linda! Well, tis hard to say. Things pop out of nowhere, don’t you know. Two jazz gigs this weekend.
Yay! That’s awesome! Break a leg (or whatever the musical performance idiom is)!
Thank you, Linda, for the insightful post and to everyone else for sharing your experiences. I was relentlessly bullied and sometimes fought back. Won a few, lost a few. The problem with bullying online is that targets can’t take boxing classes and you often don’t know who’s doing it because trolls hide behind fake names and anonymity. In high school, I was grateful for the openly nerdy guys, because they were the ones I knew to hang out with.
I recall your saying what happened in high school, Lyn. I’m sorry that happened to you. And you’re right. Online bullies are relentless. It’s hard to fight back. 😦
Okay, you forgot to mention us that hung around the Math Lab in High School…not to mention those of us who were also thespians! HA!
And, in a very real way, us Musicians are the ultimate Geeks…just sayin’ 😉
And, I have to agree, it’s a harder world for kids to navigate these days…even with a supportive family. 😦
Oh, you were there in spirit when I wrote the post. 🙂 I went to a technical high school, which is now a math and science academy. I was not a thespian nor a musician, but I knew plenty of people who were. 🙂
One of my favorite things about being in an MFA program for children’s lit is that we can all geek out about the same things and it is totally normal within the group. So lovely!
Yes! Alison, when I headed to my first residency, I felt like I’d come home. 🙂 My friends and family said I looked radiant when I returned home.
I get so enthusiastic about little things around me, my friends shake their heads and laugh. My kids think I’m weird. Well, guess what? Recognizing that I “find the extraordinary in the ordinary” is now my blog’s tag-line.
And that’s great! You write picture books. I would expect you to have a wide range of interests. 🙂