A man isn’t a man until he knows who he really is. I know who I am. I’m a nerd.
Oh, I’m not the classic geeky nerd with a pocket protector (well, not since I was a teenager) and taped eyeglasses but I’ve known for a long time that I’m not one of the cool guys.
As a youngster I read a lot. Sometimes I read stuff I didn’t fully understand and always wanted to learn more. I first learned where babies came from when I was 6-years-old but the details were sketchy and, I discovered, a little less than accurate, Frequently, I tried to find reading material on that topic which wasn’t easy for a grade school child.
As a kid I loved typewriters more than electric trains. I enjoyed reading an encyclopedia more than a comic book. Although a friend and I got kicked out of the drug store one day for reading the more racy “men’s magazines” in the back row of the news rack I enjoyed reading
Popular Science even more.
I was thinking about this the other day and wondered when I first realized that I was a nerd. It was 49 years ago this spring.
My freshman year of high school – 1962-63 – was nerd heaven for me. I was still afraid of girls and afraid of getting my nipples twisted. You see, ours was a newly consolidated high school and we heard that tough kids from one of the other towns would slap you in the groin or twist your nipples. I was led to believe that a guy had to walk down the hall ready to protect both. (Well, actually all three.)
It never happened. Just call me naïve (but safe.)
I read a lot of books that year and was in the library frequently.
Though I had played the sousaphone in junior high I didn’t consider my ability sufficient to play in the high school band. I can’t carry a tune so I couldn’t go out of choir. I applied for the school newspaper staff my freshman year but was not selected.
Sports? I didn’t even try out. Excessive weight, bum knees and lack of coordination prevented any hope of my being a jock. Besides, I am gravity challenged.
But I could read, by golly, and I did – most of my freshman year.
At my high school any student enrolled in a language arts class had to participate in a classroom speech contest. If you did well enough, you moved on to compete in the high school competition and the winners of that contest went on to the district contest. District winners then went to the state contest. Or something like that.
My freshman speech attempt was awful. My knees knocked and my voice cracked. I perspired in places where a guy normally doesn’t sweat. It was terrifying.
I did better in the classroom competition my sophomore year but was still surprised when the high school speech director offered to me prepare for the high school level competition.
“I will help you,” Mrs. Riskedahl offered. “You will do well.”
In fact, Mrs. Riskedahl encouraged me to enter two areas of competition – interpretive prose and interpretive poetry. I did Carl Sandburg’s The Murder of Lidice and The Cremation of Sam McGee by Yukon poet Robert Service.
I surprised myself by winning top ratings for both entries in the state speech contest.
That was it! Nerdhood officially became mine at that state speech contest in Carroll in April 1964.
At that point I had already gained some confidence in writing so now there were two things in which I felt more confident. Self-confidence moved up another notch the next year when I discovered I enjoyed drama, too.
Looking back on nearly five decades of nerdhood, I realize that all of those nerdy things I enjoyed as a kid have contributed to my life as an adult. Reading… writing… speaking… … learning… I don’t regret a moment of nerdhood.
Would it have been nice to have been more successful financially or otherwise? Of course, but I’m happy being a nerd.
It’s like they say, “If you like nerds, raise your hand. If you don’t, raise your standards.”