12–22–21: Nerdvana

Wearing my father’s number 3, I spent much of my adolescence trying to be the athlete I believed he wanted me to be.

What does it mean to be a nerd?

Not as vividly as today, slipping toward my last month at the age of 60, but in high school I was aware that I existed in different worlds, worlds that really did not overlap.

Those worlds, in fact, were documented in two films of my youth, Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. And the worlds, of course, are the tensions between nerds and jocks in formal schooling.

From about 1975 into the early 1980s, I was a compulsive comic book collector, and throughout junior and senior high school, I was on the schools’ basketball teams; I also was a serious golfer and ran track my senior year.

With 7000+ comic books safely ensconced in my comic book room at my home, where I could control who knew about my mostly closeted life, I graduated 8th in my class and more distraught that I had failed to secure a letterman’s jacket than proud of my academic achievements.

My school had arcane rules for lettering, the jacket only awarded to those who lettered in their junior year, the only year I failed to letter in basketball after lettering my sophomore year and in two sports my senior year. I wore my father’s letterman’s jacket occasionally — him a four-sport letterman and co-captain of the school’s first state championship football team.

I clung to the jock life desperately in high school, but the nerd life was who I was, who I am.

Although I became a serious cyclist a few years after high school, and continue today as a fairly accomplished recreational cyclist, I learned quite quickly that the embarrassment of being an outcast that came with being a nerd in school, suddenly flipped throughout college and into adulthood.

Oddly, to be honest, much of my nerd impulses are satisfied by my adult sports obsession, cycling. The two worlds seamlessly merged, and with little conflict — unlike the satirical clashes in the films of my youth.

From the science fiction obsession I adopted from my mother to the comic book collecting and compulsive efforts to be a comic book artist, I slowly throughout college morphed into being a writer and a teacher, followed by graduate school and the life of a scholar, which pulls everything into one neat and stable nerd pile.

In my 40s, I moved to higher education and found the space to merge all of my nerd life into my career, including doing comic book scholarship and blogging. Over the next two decades, with age, I returned to my nerd center, beginning again to collect comics just as the world has embraced all that nerdom in the form of comic books being adapted to film and series on streaming services.

I grew up with campy Batman (a wonderful work around to shift comic books to live-action), The Green Hornet, The Incredible Hulk, and The Amazing Spider-Man, the latter two a hint of the possibility of comic books as TV series that were far ahead of their time in terms of the technology needed to make that work.

Most of that pop culture/comic book/super hero world was simply only stuff that nerds could appreciate, love. While there was some momentum to these as well as popular success, this was still mostly the nerd world.

Young adulthood, career, graduate school, marriage, and fatherhood pushed my nerd life aside while pop culture continued to tip-toe toward today’s nonstop nerdvana seen in Marvel and Disney+.

I sit here writing on 12–22–21, recognizing that the Pop Culture Gods have blessed us with the last episode of season 1 of Hawkeye, the release of The Matrix Resurrections, and new comic book day (including the release of Moon Knight (v9) 6 amidst the buzz around Moon Knight coming to Disney+) — maybe the peak ever nerdvana.

My 15-year-old rendition of Marvel Spotlight on The Moon Knight 28 (1976)

In 2012, despite being a lifelong SF nerd, I came to the original The Matrix trilogy 13 years late; I found all three films on my cable package, and immediately consumed them with nerd-glee, baffled why and how I had allowed life to distract me from them when they were commanding pop culture.

I soon wrote a poem about this experience, alluding the Revenge of the Nerds and beginning then to think seriously about what it means to be a nerd.

The value and consequences for being a nerd shift throughout childhood and adolescence into adulthood because at its core being a nerd is about being fully human, passionately and nakedly fully human. While we are children, and especially teens, to being transparent is terrifying, and the result is many simply hide their passions, who they are, and resort to shaming and bullying those few among us willing to live the nerd life even as we know it costs during those delicate years of growing up.

Of course, we have always found each other, sought refuge in small gatherings, but I grew up before comic book stores and Dungeons and Dragons, well before gaming really took hold.

Nerdom was isolating for me — until it simply was my life, my passions finding their way into my careers.

I will find ways to bask in 12–22–21, this nerdvana. After I complete this blog post, I can head to my local comic book store, opening at 11 am. I will go cycling this afternoon, and we have committed to watching The Matrix Resurrections tonight. I am fretting over how to fit in Hawkeye, as I also fret over how and when Daredevil comes to the MCU (hints and leaks swirling around me).

Being a nerd is an attempt at being fully human, allowing our souls and our minds to care deeply, to love and embrace these other worlds imagined and brought into our real lives.

12–22–21 is also the first day after the Winter Solstice, daylight once again promising to expand and bring us another spring, hope and sunshine and warmth.

Nerdom is the human heart joining with the human mind and pretending we have souls, souls that can and will occasionally join hands, all creatures good and one.

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P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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