I’ve heard people describe me many ways, but I think this article is the first to describe me as a “proud girl geek.”
Clearly I’m both a girl and a geek, and I suppose I’m kind of proud of both, but I wouldn’t have thought to string all those concepts into a single phrase. Still, it’s interesting to know how other people see me. (Or at least, how one journalist does.)
I find it fun to talk to journalists. Only later do I worry about how my words are going to read in an article. In this case, Bill Loeffler quoted me terribly nicely and I think I don’t sound completely lame, which I often seem to when anyone writes down my actual spoken words.
This article is extra special for me, what with me appearing in a photo. The print version of the article includes many photos of geeky types, including Steve Carrell and that Napoleon Dynamite dude in their respective movie roles, plus I think Bill Gates and some others. I am the only female pictured. But after all, what female “celebrity” geek could they have used? It shouldn’t be at all surprising that they sent a photographer all the way to Butler to take a picture: I’m practically a rare species.
When he interviewd me for the article, Mr. Loeffler asked when I first noticed that geeks had become acceptable, and I said I didn’t particularly remember ever feeling not acceptable. I thought about my answer later and realized that’s not strictly true. On one hand I’ve never felt odd about being geeky, maybe because it’s sort of amusing. I mean, I didn’t just attend computer camp: I taught there for two summers. That’s just funny.
But for a very long time I did feel perhaps too smart for regular society. I brought it on myself partly, by correcting people’s grammar for example. I finally got over that, but the damage had been done. Even my family nicknamed me the Walking Encyclopedia.
Later, while I was in college I used to avoid telling people where I went to school because I found it was a conversation killer. Someone would say, “Wow. You must be smart.” And what could I say back? “I’m just good at taking tests.” It was very awkward for me. Plus I hated small talk, the simple things people say when they’re trying to meet each other and find common ground. Why did people waste time saying meaningless stuff? I came to believe that I didn’t like “ordinary” people.
Meanwhile, at MIT I was nowhere near the smartest person. I failed a course, gained a healthy measure of humility, and got some perspective. Once I finished school and started working at high tech companies, the problem of feeling out of place disappeared, because of course everyone was smart, everyone had gone to name brand schools, everyone deserved to be there. Eventually I grew to be a better conversationalist so that I could smooth over awkward pauses, and I forgot about feeling so out of place.
As the article suggests, it’s also possible that geeky people are more accepted these days. Everyone feels out of place at least some of the time, maybe most of the time. In a society that prizes beauty and coolness, geeks are natural underdogs — and who doesn’t like to root for the underdog?
Side note: Here’s a little slice of life in a small town.
My mom wanted to buy extra copies of today’s paper, so she could send the article to relatives and so on. She stepped up to the counter of a drugstore in town with two copies, and the clerk said, “You’ve got two copies of the paper here. You want to put one back?”
Mom said, “No, I meant to buy two. My daughter’s photo is in the paper.”
And they proceeded to look for the article, standing right there in line.
When she saw the picture, the clerk said, “That’s Cummings Coffee Shop! I used to go there on dates. That must have been seventeen years ago.”
And the two of them — keep in mind they’ve never met before — talked for a minute about Cummings, how it used to be the town soda fountain and a big hot spot and now it’s still got ice cream but also serves espresso and cappucino, and why I was in the paper and how long we’ve lived in Butler. And eventually they finished and Mom paid for the two papers and left.