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Find Your Inner Nerd

August 23rd is Find Your Inner Nerd Day.

If you have never heard of this holiday, it’s understandable, because it didn’t become an “official” holiday until 2022, last year. It was created to remind us that everyone has something that they are passionate and geeky about, whether we care to admit it or not. It’s also a great time to remember that being a nerd is not such a bad thing. If you’ve ever watched Big Bang Theory, you know how incredible nerdiness can be, as in knock-knock “Penny,” knock-knock “Penny,” knock-knock “Penny,” etc.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I was a geeky, dorky girl long before I became the athletic goddess that I am today. I was a nerd long before I was a wimp. At 11 years old I reeked geek. I was tall, had big feet, made good grades, and read a lot of books.

It was the 60s, and since my grandmother owned a beauty shop, she tricked me into getting my hair cut really short like Mary Quant. Only, I was a giant in 6th grade and the haircut only exaggerated my dorkiness. I remember using hair tape at night to “train” the little wisps of hair in front of my ears to curl up like a pig’s tail. Of course, like me, my hair was nerdy and unruly too, I used globs of Dippity-Do hair gel to plaster the curls to my cheeks during the day. It was gross but done on the advice of my mother and grandmother in the name of cuteness.

When I was in third grade I was the first kid in my class to wear glasses. I felt like a lottery winner because I was the first. But by 6th grade, the novelty had worn off, and my brown-rimmed, pointy-cornered glasses made me look even dorkier. I was a mess.

And then, horror of horrors, at age 11, I got my period. With geeky hair, dorky glasses, gangly size, and now pubescent, my mother believed I needed to find my groove, my passion before my childhood was history. So she introduced a lot of things to help me be more well-rounded and not such a freak. I took piano lessons and guitar lessons, but I had no interest in practicing every day. Because I was good at drawing daffodils, she enrolled me in a summer art class. It was fun, and I was good at it, especially when we drew vases of daffodils. I learned to cross-stitch, but when I tried to help my mother with real sewing, as in making dresses and such, I failed miserably. The only thing I really, really, really enjoyed was live theatre. Since I was 5, my grandmother had introduced me to Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, Texas. And, because I had always had a flair for the dramatic, I loved it. The stage beckoned to me.

My mother combed the Dallas Morning News and Carrollton Chronicle for creative ways to realize my dreams of stardom. She finally saw that the Our Little Miss Pageant was coming to our town and asked me if I wanted to enter. Of course, I said yes, being that it involved being on stage. So, she signed me up.

The competition involved three things: evening wear, sportswear, and talent. If it had spelling or reciting American presidents, I might have had a chance, but the competition was not much more than a Miss America pageant for little girls. Regardless, it involved performing on a stage, so I got excited about being in it. My mother, who had a new sewing machine and had just learned to sew would make my outfits for the evening wear and the sportswear categories but we hit a brick wall when it came to the 3-4 minute talent presentation.

My mother and grandmothers had always told me that I was talented, but how on earth was I supposed to prove it? I was not a dancer. I was not a singer. I played the piano, but not all that well. I only knew three chords on the guitar and I doubted that the judges would appreciate watching me draw daffodils for three minutes.

I was ready to forget about the whole thing and get our entry fee money back when my mother suggested that I do a dramatic reading. I hadn’t thought of that. I envisioned myself in a huge ruffled hoop skirt, throwing myself on the ground and with a turnip in my hand looking up and cursing to God that I would never go hungry again. It just might work. My mother had other ideas, and what I ended up doing was a dramatic rendition of a piece called “What is a Square?” It wasn’t about geometry, but rather about old-fashioned values and standing up for them, no matter what people think of you.

Oh my, how I practiced and practiced and practiced. My mother was my drama coach. She found some music to play in the background for my performance. It was something like “God Bless America.” I also had a tall stool that I sat on just like a beatnik in a coffeehouse. It was pretty pathetic, but I put my heart and soul into the preparation.

When the pageant day finally came and I saw the other contestants, I knew I was way out of my league. I kid you not, there were girls there that had their own professional hairdressers and makeup artists. Their dresses looked like they came off the rack at the MGM costume department. For talent they tap danced like Ginger Rogers, twirled fire batons, and played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 29 on the piano, blindfolded. Okay, maybe not blindfolded, but those girls were over-the-top talented. There was not another nerdy girl like me among them.

When it was my turn to prove I had talent, I wanted to hide, go home, pull the covers over my head and pretend I didn’t exist. But then I remembered that I was finally performing, on a stage, with a real, live audience. I took a big gulp, placed my stool, positioned the microphone, and sat, ready to give an Academy Award-winning performance. And I did. I had found my inner nerd.

Of course, I didn’t win. I wasn’t a runner-up. In fact, I was probably dead last on the judge’s scorecards. But, by golly, I did it and no matter how geeky or nerdy others may have considered me, I competed with the big dogs and lived to tell the story.

Geekiness is what makes us all special. Never be embarrassed about it. Never apologize for it. Accept it, embrace it, and own it. Better to be the nerd than one of the herd, right? And never forget that little girl nerds are far more interesting later in life. 

 

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This work by Anel “Pookie” Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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