Friday, July 20, 2007

Always A Geek

My good friend and a writer whose work (prose and fiction alike) that I enjoy immensely, Michael O'Connell, created a second blog for himself to cover the geek side of his life (see my Links section for access to his blogs). In his first post on that second blog, he discussed the aspects of being a geek. I thought I'd address that topic myself as well and how it pertains to me.

First, I actually looked up some definitions of geek. Some of them aren't very flattering: "a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is percieved to be overly intellectual" (yeah, I was a smart kid in school, top 5 in my high school graduating class, but I don't think I was ever called dislikable) or "a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken" (who knew Ozzy Osborne could be labelled a geek?). Others seem more in line and closer to describing myself: "a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders)" or " a person with an unusual or odd personality" (okay, perhaps quoting TV shows and movies might be considered 'odd', but I usually only do it with others around who are going to get the references).

When I call myself a geek, I use it in a way that means that I have hobbies and interests that are typically not shared by a majority of the population. These are things like: comic books, computer and video games, role-playing games, fantasy and science fiction novels, animation, writing and drawing, etc. Though, as anyone who has attended the San Diego Comic-Con International can tell you, there seem to be an awful lot of folks with similar interests as my own (last year's attendance for the four day show was over 123,000 - a long way from it's humble beginnings of 300 attendees in 1970). And on our cable system, there are full blown channels devoted to some of this stuff: Cartoon Network, Boomerang, the Sci-Fi Channel, and G4. So maybe I'm not is so much of a minority as first thought.

Given these interests, I guess I've been a geek for as long as I can recall.

I started collecting comic books back in the late 60's and early 70's once I was able to read. I still make a weekly visit to the local comic shop today, despite how expensive it can be to pick up new comics each week (I focus a lot more now on classic reprints than current stuff). I've been into video games since we got our Pong system when those came out in the late 70's, and I've been into computer games since high school and getting my first computer - a Commodore 64. I started getting into formal role-playing games about the same time (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Star Frontiers, Champions, Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes). I started reading fantasy and science fiction novels back in junior high, though I watched a lot of sci-fi reruns long before that (original Star Trek, Lost In Space, Twilight Zone, etc.). As for animation, I was a cartoon fan from the age of three or four (with classic Hanna-Barbera stuff and anything that came on Saturday mornings). That of course led to my liking to doodle and such (I'm not a very good artist - I copy well enough). And regarding writing, I always was one to write stories - from as far back as elementary school. I had my first kid's typewriter when I was ten (it had this plastic blue case that allowed me to take it to wherever I wanted), got my first manual typewriter when I was thirteen (a depreciated office asset from one of my parent's friend's insurance bussiness), and got my first electric typewriter once I took typing during my sophmore year of high school (I could type 40 words a minute at the time). I've always been known to scribble story ideas down on pads or spare scraps of paper; I try never to leave home without a pen and some paper or such.

I guess too the whole aspect of a 'geek' being awkward socially probably applied early on. Sure, I enjoyed playing with the kids in the neighborhood growing up, but I equally enjoyed spending time alone with my interests. I could easily have been considered a quiet child. I really grew into my own socially when I got into high school - when I started going to dances, dating, playing a few sports and joining activity clubs. By the time I got to college, those things just flourished. But, all the while, there was those interests keeping me tethered to others who could also be called 'geeks'. I participated in a weekly AD&D game every Saturday afternoon all through college. I never stopped reading comic books either (and I often drove the rest of the gang each week to Empire Comics, the chain of shops in Rochester NY that are still open to this day).

Getting back to Mike's blog entry, I think he does have a point in that not everyone 'gets' people with these sorts of interests. We're kind of an interesting breed. Are we oddities? I certainly don't think so. I think a lot of people have ecclectic interests and that's what makes everyone fascinating. Heck, I've lived in the middle of ACC tournament and NASCAR country for almost half my life now, and I have barely a passing interest in either of these things. That doesn't mean I look at folks who enjoy this kind of stuff as being odd or anything. Are we folks with strong imaginations? I think so. A lot of these hobbies certainly appeal to a creative asthetic. Many are tied to stories - either written, oral or visual. A lot of times folks who aren't so into sports (due to lack of physical skills, coordination or whatever) tend to be more cerebral. And maybe some conflict arises from that: the whole brain vs. brawn paradigm.

And Mike is correct: there are those who when they find out that the person they just had a date with has different hobby interests will suddenly become very uninterested very fast. Know what? It's those people that have the problem, not us geeks. For whatever reason, they're closed-minded to certain types of people. If a person will shut someone out because they don't care to understand something someone has an interest in, then there really is no point in the two people interacting together for a long term, deep relationship. It's just an incompatibility thing. In the end, one is better off without the person.

I guess I never had to worry about hiding my geek tendencies. My family always knew about my interests, and though they didn't share them they certainly didn't discourage them. Same goes for the folks who I would consider good friends. This really allowed me to grow up being myself, with everything that I embraced. These things are a part of who I am and most likely who I'll be for the rest of my life. When you've stuck with some things for thirty-plus years, they sort of become part of your foundation and core.

And I've been lucky too. When I started dating, most of the women I dated seemed to accept the interests (or, if they didn't accept them they at least did not use them as a reason for our breaking up). Some occasionally even shared one or two similar interests. But sharing the interests wasn't always crucial for me. My wife of seventeen years (and hopefully for the rest of our days) has read Tolkein and Heinlen (two authors I actually haven't read surprisingly). She's never played an RPG or really read a comic book since her childhood. Her preference on video games is Tetris or Bejeweled (though we have gotten her to try other things). And we've learned to find neutral ground in regards to television and movies. So, I'm what Mike calls one of those 'geeks' that can be out because they have a long standing relationship.

Still, I respect my single geek bretheren. I know the rules. No Con badges or talk of geek things when having lunches out. No pulling out the portfolios or hobby related items from the bookbags around strangers or the non-geek. For them I will assume the dual identity, the mask of normality.

My only advice: don't keep it a secret for too long when you find someone you're serious about. Honesty is the foundation of any relationship. If you want the other person to get to know the real you, you have to be willing to wear that real you with some pride. It might mean slowly feeding them the 411 on some of your areas of interests. Who knows, you might be with someone who too is hiding a bit of a geek side themselves.

1 comment:

Jim McClain said...

Hear, hear! Good post, Martin!