Write On: Embracing Geekhood

(via Judith Browne)

I’m finding new ways to be creative as summer wears on, new ways to keep the wheels turning. Calligraphy and hand lettering are the latest entries on my list, although they’re not quite new–I remember the teeth-chattering, geeky thrill I felt one day in sixth grade, when I walked to my desk and saw a thin black calligraphy pen and blank pad of smooth art paper waiting for me. Mrs. Silva announced that we’d be spending the next few weeks learning to create the angled medieval letters I’d seen in books or on diplomas, and I could not believe my luck. It felt like a very fancy and important skill to have. I was delighted when we had extra calligraphy homework on top of our regular homework, which a) was an enthusiasm my classmates did not share, and b) was and still is extremely on-brand.

Even before that, maybe as early as preschool, I was enthralled by the sight of handwritten words. I remember watching closely when my mom made a grocery list or wrote herself a note, or when I saw my parents’ signatures, mystified by this casual magic. When it was finally my turn to learn, I was obsessed, copying the letter-shapes in my workbook with total devotion until finally I could write my name. Once I had printing down, I immediately became fixated on learning cursive, and eventually, crafting a unique signature of my own (I was heartbroken when I realized there are few opportunities for an 8-year-old girl to sign on the dotted line). I loved creating posters, signs, and science fair displays, which not only gave me a chance to showcase my block printing, but flex my layout skills as well. Any kind of task requiring diligence and precision brings out my inner A student, but when you add elements of art, beauty, and design to the pot, I’m in stone cold heaven.

This most recent foray into the world of word-drawing began just a few days ago, and I can’t remember exactly what prompted it, except it is part of a larger trend of resurging childhood interests. I signed up to audit an online paleontology course last month, which is a sophisticated grownup way of saying I think dinosaurs are really cool again. I’m amassing a pretty impressive pile of graphic novels, which is a sophisticated grownup way of saying I’ve really been enjoying picture books. And I’m pretty sure all the big, themed meals I’ve been cooking (New Mexican night! A journey to Northern Thailand! A classic American barbecue feast!) all harken back to the multicourse Victorian dinner I made for my family as a kid (with a generous amount of help from my mom), following recipes from my American Girl cookbook.

At first I figured I was regressing back to childhood because it’s comforting, my version of the security blanket we’re all looking for right now. But I think it’s also closely related to the reason I refuse to wear pants with a firm waistband or zip closure any more, unless expressly necessary: in the absence of peer pressure, when dire circumstances have made artificiality of any kind feel like an utter waste of time, all I’m left with is the stuff I genuinely like. Underneath all the socially mandated trappings of adulthood, it turns out I’m still that geeky 12-year-old homework enthusiast.

As a kid, I secretly admired the people who owned their geekdom or nerdiness rather than trying to fit in, but I was not one of those people. I lived in fear of being disliked, being made fun of. I desperately wanted to be cool, or at least cooler (which is, obviously, an inherently uncool thing to want), always feeling like I needed to be someone else, like I had to keep making adjustments to stay ahead of the curse of my authentic self. I’d proudly and happily do my calligraphy assignment, and then quietly feel ashamed for liking it; I’d raise my hand in class and be teased for knowing the right answer, spending the rest of the day in embarrassment, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut.

Scraps and shadows of that strategy have managed to follow me even well into adulthood, as I suspect they do for all grownups who were once terrified kids. But lately, for the first time since I sadly recognized that being a teacher’s pet and budding Victorian cuisine (and manners!) buff was not going to win me tons of friends my own age, I feel free to let my geek flag fly at full mast. Let the other kids say what they will. Art geek, writing geek, dinosaur geek, book geek, bird geek, food geek…line up your geek boxes, and I will proudly check them, with a clean, calligraphic flourish. I thought wearing elastic waistbands all the time was liberating, but this is next level.

Tonight, I am proud to announce to the world, I’m going to sit down at my desk, put on a Dungeons and Dragons podcast, and practice my pen strokes: first on graph paper, with a pencil, then with brush pen on smooth printer paper, moving the point silently upwards for thin lines, and pressing the brush firmly downwards with a noisy squeak for thick lines, holding it at just the right angle, over and over until my muscles remember how to draw on their own, and the art made of letters I imagine in my head appears on the paper in front of me. My own personal paradise, a reprieve from the outside world. The wheels are indeed turning, summer is slipping away, and my past is catching up with me just when I need it most.