Evolution of a Geek-Girl

I saw a video on Facebook today that I immediately identified with. I reposted it, and then started thinking and writing. Here’s the video, and the results of the thinking and writing.

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My first steps toward geekdom were small ones. I grew up in a small Southern town in the 1960’s and 70’s, and there really wasn’t a lot of fodder for geeks there at that time. Comic books, three channels on television (and an early bedtime) and a public library that ran to mainstream fiction were all I had at my disposal. Still, I showed potential early on; I spent weeks being a cat at age two, with a tail safety-pinned onto me (role-playing and cosplay, anyone?) until my dad brought home a kitten for me, and at age four, I had a fairy-tale character as an imaginary friend. (I reluctantly dismissed her when my mother questioned whether or not she was a “good” imaginary friend. Okay, fine, so she was a four-year-old version of Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty, but it was before she became evil, I swear! I just liked the name and the cool clothes she got to wear! I mean, purple and pink robes? Way cool! And well, magic, but like I said, it was totally before she went to the dark side.)

I did have comic books. My grandmother, who was a teacher who understood the value of comic books in getting kids to read for pleasure, had a large stack of them, which eventually filtered down to the vacation cabin on Black River, (where we spent most weekends) for my cousins and me to read on rainy days. I started with Casper and Ritchie Rich and worked my way up through Archie to Superman and finally into the realms of scary comics that told Twilight Zone-type stories. (My mother tried to steer me away from these, telling me they were too scary, but I loved them – partly because they were a semi-forbidden fruit.)

My mother was an early geek. She taught high school math and read what science fiction she could find in our small town. I still recall seeing Isaac Asimov’s books in paperback around the house. She also watched the original seasons of Star Trek. (It was on way past my bedtime, but on a few occasions when I could not sleep, I remember hearing the haunting sounds of the theme music.)

When I was seven, Mom got me seven of the 14 Oz books, by L. Frank Baum, setting my feet firmly on the path of fantasy and geekiness. Several years later, she gave me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which I read over and over again. There wasn’t a lot of fantasy available for kids in the 1960s, so I did not read a lot of it besides Oz, myths and fairy tales. But I was ready and waiting, and read everything else I could get my hands on.

As I reached the middle and high school years, fantasy and science fiction became a little bit more mainstream, and therefore, available. Star Trek was in reruns, and I watched it faithfully. I found a few more books – the Narnia series, Watership Down (which was mainstream enough to appear on the book spinners at the drugstore) and the Asimov anthology Tomorrow’s Children, which the public library, for a wonder, actually had. During that era, Zenna Henderson’s short stories about The People were turned into a TV movie of the same name, and when I watched it, I wanted more. (Imagine my delight when, in college, I found the books this movie was based on!)

I sampled the harder science fiction my mother had around the house, but never found the right book to really draw me in. An aunt (who knew me better than I knew myself) gave me a boxed set of Tolkien one year, but I (stupidly) left it unopened on the shelf until I was in college, when I finally read the books. (I could have kicked myself to the bottom of the mines of Moria for ignoring it all those years. But at least I finally understood the graffiti “Gandalf Lives!” that adorned one of the buildings I saw every day on the way to class!)

I was the loner, the outsider, the girl who wrote poetry and got good grades and read a lot. The one who worked in the school library and took care of her parents. I wasn’t popular unless someone was looking for a person to torment for a while. And since what interested them did not interest me, I really didn’t care, except when they bullied me.

But something was missing. I just didn’t know what it was, yet. Dribs and drabs, drops and hints of what was to come for a lonely geek-girl who didn’t know that she was a geek – I was a butterfly still in the cocoon.

Then I went to college.

The University of Colorado in Boulder, in 1976, was a whole different world from the one I had grown up in.

Culture shock? Maybe a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. I had never even eaten a taco before. I had certainly not lived in a town with a real bookstore, let alone multiple bookstores!

I hadn’t been in the dorms more than a few weeks when someone introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. I was hooked, immediately. Planning adventures with fantasy creatures and treasures, or playing a character who traversed someone else’s creation? Heady, heady stuff. (I still have my first D&D books – the set of three little books in a little white box, plus the first expansions of Greyhawk and Blackmoor.)

I read my Tolkien books, finally, and I found Anne McCaffrey’s first two Dragonrider books on the shelves of the university bookstore. The second semester I met a guy who liked games, science fiction books and comics, and he took me with him down to Mile High Comics and Science Fiction on Pearl Street when he went to get his comics.

Oh myyyy, to quote George Takei.

I was set loose in a veritable feast – at that time, the store had nothing but new and used science fiction and fantasy books and comics. Anything you could want was in there.

I ended up with a part time job there.

And I married the guy who took me there.

Star Wars came out during the first summer I was in college. I will never forget the first time that Imperial Cruiser rumbled overhead on the huge screen, with surround-sound vibrating the theater. Just, wow.

Within a year of leaving that small town I grew up in, wondering what else there was in life, I was set free as a geek and loving it. I had friends, I had hobbies, I had passions. It changed my life.

Geek-girl? From the bottom of my heart, and proud of it.

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6 thoughts on “Evolution of a Geek-Girl

  1. Oh, Jane, THANK YOU for posting this. I think you and I have lived somewhat parallel lives (D’Aulaire and McCaffrey!) I used to have this place out behind our garage where I would sit and read for hours. When I was junior high age, I sat back there and read Micheal Crichton’s Andromeda Strain. I collected all of the James Blish Star Trek adaptations when they first came out. I think I may still have them somewhere. When I was in high school I worked in a hobby shop for a really dreadful person. I remember her smirk when I asked for a day off to go to a convention (and, no, she did not give me the day off). To this day, I love things that women of my age and circle of friends don’t: going science centers, walking through nature gardens and taking in planetarium shows. Oh, and I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is a ROCK STAR! I’m going to watch this video again so I can listen to the lyrics. Totally, totally awesome post. I grok geeks! . And if you know what the work “grok” means and where it comes from, then you are an uber-geek! 🙂

  2. This resonated for me in many ways: you tell it in such a wonderful way with great humor, you use detailed imagery so I can picture your overwhelming delight at seeing the bounty of college, and you remind me of my childhood when I sat in a tiny storage space with the door cover pulled back over the opening located in the eaves of the house. Inside I brought my book and a flashlight so I could read in private (there were 7 of us in the house). Read everything and was buoyed by my reading time alone, even as everyone else sat in the living room and read (I joined them sometimes). Thanks for sharing!

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