I am a dork. I always have been and I can’t help it.
Even as a kid this was true. I preferred hanging around adults – asking them questions like “Who are you?” and “What are you doing?” and just play “Why?”
A few of my existential greatest-hits questions as a child were, “Are we real?” followed by “Are you sure?” And, of course, “What if this is all a story and we are the characters?”
Yup. And believe you me these topics of conversation did nothing to endear me to the other 4th graders on the soccer field.
Think 9-year-old. Think Goober. All I was missing were a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. But please do not feel sorry for me. I got those later. At age 13, astigmatism sent me hurtling into pubescent geekdom.
As an adult I have developed a few social skills – at least I’ve tried.
I try to break my old habits. But it’s still tough to skip the small talk at social gatherings and go straight into more pressing conversations about the meaning of life. I try not to blurt existential questions to the unsuspecting cocktail partygoer.
My attempt to save my theories on global social implications of pop-culture limited to my most patient friends. (Those Starbucks baristas and Walgreens checkers are lucky I’m now able to spare them the agony of this annoying customer.)
I’ve found some nice, friendly folks who like me enough to overlook these quirks and respond to various non-sequiturs I send their way.
The other day I asked a friend some geeky existential question. She didn’t hesitate to inform me that it’s good she I asked her, as no one else would care.
“We are the nerds of the world,” she told me.
In my case, I’ve learned to accept the reality of my situation. I’ve always hoped that some day I’d find my people who would embrace the un-hipness — until it actually becomes kind of hip.
Thankfully, my most-respected early teachers didn’t diagnose me as “nerd” in the 1980’s when I was a pimple-faced, four-eyed recluse. It might have killed me!
Instead, my beloved 4th grade teacher Mrs. Flynn, picked up on the slightest hint of potential. She awarded me the official blue ribbon for “most responsible student.”
On the last day of school Mrs. Flynn told me that I was “quirky and a little left of center.” She told me she would miss me when I graduated to 5th grade. Then she hugged me.
I can still smell the scent of her long, blonde hair as she pulled me close on the last day of school. The fragrance was a mixture of Breck shampoo and the validation of who I am and the hope for who I would become. I never forgot her, and learned over time that dorkiness can develop into a one of a fulfilling strength.
Thank you, Mrs. Flynn, for planting the seeds of who I am today. I aspire to be like you — passing that same message to the students who come my way.