Tuesday, August 23, 2016

nerd's revenge

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.

-- Twelfth Night, II. v. 156-8

They say best men are molded out of faults.

-- Measure for Measure, V. i. 444

A few weeks ago ("one's own," June 26) I warned friends not to take pictures of me because I hate my images. Now I make a different proposal, and for that very reason.

"Greatness" is too great a word for my novella. Obscurity would be a promotion. I light it from the inside, by the light of my obsessions, which may not be visible on the outside. Nevertheless in every line of work, every stage of life, some people are born great, and seem to prosper naturally. They are talented, popular, charismatic. Their achievements seem to come easy. Others come to what they have the hard way, or not yet. There are extra steps for them to every goal. They are awkward, shunned, unattractive, or perhaps just "strange," and must achieve their greatness.

I'm of the latter group. There are many things I wanted to do, that I still can't and will never do; and everything I now can do, I once was terrible at. Everything: from high-level tasks like reading a poem to elemental ones like walking across a room.

The revenge of nerds, or at least of the ones who do well in school, is what they promise you from the beginning: "Don't worry -- when you all grow up, they'll be working for you." A long time to wait for the great transvaluation. Some of us are lost. A long time for marching to distant drummers, not because you want to but because you can't hear the drums in the room with you. A long time for praying god please to make you normal.

In the long wait for their revenge, some nerds develop strange, even prodigious abilities. They memorize epic poems, or compose operas, or build robots, or win six simultaneous games of chess blindfolded. If they find each other, they can form support groups of present losers, future inheritors. But the best advantage of nerdity is that, when you learn things after the natural age of knowing them, you know their value. If you learn too late for popularity how to walk without shambling, too late for making the baseball team how to catch a soft fly ball, or too late for student council how to speak to others without retching, then what you choose to do is who you choose to be. Nerds can reinvent themselves. The only thing they cannot be is normal, not at least for long. The smooth gloss of natural grace and charm are forever lost. In its place might appear a finish more uneven and interesting, the dark luster of wisdom.

I've spent almost seven decades becoming the rough, complicated, crusty and twisted thing I am, molded out of faults. I'm still learning, but the more I learn, the more I succeed. A friend recently said she found me strange but authentic. This might mean I am a nerd surviving into my glory. Congratulations. I am a maturing nerd.

As children we were sorted: a few were cool, many were normal, and the remainder were nerds. Strangeness is a high wall: kids struggling for an image to grow into don't have time for strangeness in themselves, and the sight of it in others raises unbearable questions. Nerds can inherit the earth, but always with the memory of their strangeness: authority is not natural to them. I have learned to be heard, but am always surprised that anyone should listen to me.

It's my nerdly memory of strangeness that makes me hate my pictures. But I'm in need of some images: the one I use is over ten years old, and even if you tell me that I still look the same, it isn't honest to keep using it. So I say now to my friends, give it a try. Sneak a picture, don't give me too much warning. If you like it, show it to me and convince me it's okay. A nerd will always need your discreet reassurance, though he will never let on.

I encourage readers to leave comments by clicking on the word "comment" below.

1 comment:

Danogenes said...

Yup, Do you remember playing chess on a tiny board in the choir loft when we were 12? We talked of books and ideas when the rest were obsessed with sports. Though I never did get your obsession with the NY Giants. That separate time is a quiet load we still drag around with us.