When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Growing up Geek and Not Knowing It

I never really stopped to consider what it was to be a geek. As a kid I never thought I would associate with geeks, mostly because I did not realize this was a "type" of person. I had a vague notion of what a "nerd" was because there were a few movies showing the stereotypical coke-bottle-glasses-wearing weirdo who was obsessed with computers (or fantasy, or facts, or science, or...) and panties. I knew these individuals were not supposed to be popular, though they were expected to run the world after high school or college and take their revenge on the pretty people. The term "geek" never really made it into my vocabulary until my first DragonCon in 2007. Even back then, I did not really consider myself a geek by the modern, accepted definition of the term. It was when I started talking to the other DragonCon attendees, and sharing my stories of childhood with my daughter, who completely embraced her inherited geekdom instantly, that I realized I had always been a geek deep down inside, I just never knew it. This could also be one of the myriad of reasons why it was so hard for me to find friends among the "normals" until I got to college early through a math & science academy.

It turns out that my parents may have had the seeds of geekery buried within them as well. However, they come from a generation that had no notion of such things. I kind of had a notion that my mom had the potential to be a geek. After all, it was she who had the family sit together on Saturdays to watch Star Trek the Next Generation. It was also my mom who showed us the original Star Wars trilogy so many times I began to think that she would have married Luke Skywalker if my dad hadn't come along first. My mom is not a technical Trek geek. She doesn't nit-pick technical impossibilities or try to figure out the possible (or improbable) science behind alien species. She taught us to look at the human story behind the episodes. She highlighted for us how this science-fiction world actually illustrated real-world issues like acceptance of homosexuality, intolerance of races, prejudice, discrimination, and what it means to be human. Her favorite character is Commander Data, not because he was an android, but because it was through Data that we discovered the essences of what it is to be human. Star Wars was always about the Force and finding the right path to do what was right for the greater good. It was also about finding yourself and coming to terms with all aspects of yourself--the good and the bad. This is what my mom showed me, though it took motherhood and studying psychology for me to realize it.

My father is a little bit of a different story. He was always the practical one (at least, that's how I saw him as I was growing up). He didn't seem to encourage fantasy. He always struck me as someone who preferred to live in reality, except when he was watching cartoons. My dad watched a lot of cartoons, especially old ones like Popeye and Scooby Doo. If it was animated, he would watch it. He started to draw the line, however, when the animation was no longer for kids. He won't watch animated shows that are crass, crude, violently graphic, or "adult" in nature. He has a pure heart in that respect. What really surprised me was when I realized that my dad also liked science fiction. Like my mom, he did not look for the reality in the shows; he did not try to find the plot holes caused by improbabilities. I guess science fiction was his way to express his fantasy without leaving behind reality. I didn't realize he liked science fiction until I started watching Doctor Who with my husband and daughter. I knew of Doctor Who because I remember my dad watching it on PBS. I remember sitting and watching with him, especially the Tom Baker episodes. In fact, the first time I saw another person as The Doctor (when I was a kid) who was not Tom Baker, I thought my dad was watching a completely different show. I was too young to pay attention to the larger story. I was in it just for the episode, so I missed a lot as a kid. I also remember my dad watching Twilight Zone marathons whenever they came on. We didn't have cable for much of my childhood, but when we did, he would watch many marathons of shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Dream of Jeanie, and Outer Limits. It took me so long to realize that my dad may have been a geek, or at least a sci-fi fan, because I didn't know enough to connect the dots.

My mom worked days and my dad worked nights for most of our childhood, so there weren't too many moments we spent as a family. [I have 2 brothers, 1 older and 1 younger than myself.] Also, when my older brother was about 12 or 13, he started to focus more on friends and girlfriends than family, as is the "normal" way for most people, so there was only a relatively small window of time that I can recall as "family" time (I'm not counting family vacations). A couple of the other shows we watched as a family, that I now realize fall under the science-fiction genre, included Air Wolf, Knight Rider, and the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series. I remember sitting down as a family to watch the Superman movies, also.

Thinking back on it, I did get quite a bit of exposure to science fiction. I also got a lot of exposure to fantasy through Disney, which was another thing my mother gave us heavily with our annual trips to Disneyland and watching many Disney shows and movies. I just never realized that this meant I was growing up geek. I did expand into my own geeky interests, mainly in literature, picking up authors like Tolkien and Crichton without any influence from my parents. I spent much of my teen years trying to "find my people," as my mother told me when I went off to college. I couldn't understand why I didn't seem to fit in with the other kids in school or my neighborhood. My older brother had plenty of friends, but the geek influence also bounced off of him--he's a "normal" person and it works for him. I did finally find "my people" among other geeks. We not only had similar experiences, but the people I met in college introduced me to even more geek genres like anime and gaming. I still didn't realize that we were geeks, but I began to feel like I may have stumbled upon like-minded individuals. As I stated earlier, the whole geek thing didn't really hit me until our first DragonCon. Interestingly enough, my little brother seemed to more fully embrace his geekdom (or maybe I just noticed it) after he went to his first DragonCon in 2008. Now I know who I am and I know that I am not alone. My daughter may not fit in with the mainstream "popular" kids, but she's growing up in a world where she knows that she will have a welcome place among like-minded souls. Plus, she has found a couple kid geeks close to her age, so she doesn't have to grow up as alone as I did.

I don't know if the Geek bubble will burst in my life time (i.e. if geeks will no longer have the popular power they enjoy today thanks to true geek celebrities and many wannabe geeks out there). If it does, I at least know where I stand and I won't change it for anything. I'm very grateful to my parents for exposing me to fantasy and science fiction, and for doing it in a way that helped me find the human substance behind all of the flashy effects. It doesn't matter that I did not know I was a geek when I was a kid. It matters that I was, and I still am, a geek at heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment