The Age of the Nerd

I was the most uncool kid in my school growing up. Don’t even get me started. It even took me a while to find a niche at Wellesley College, which is a haven for self-proclaimed nerds and geeks alike. My then boyfriend, (now husband) Andrew, and I once exited the student lounge at MIT where we overheard a conversation about Kirk and Picard. Andrew commented on how nerdy the conversation was, and I, too embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of these mathematicians, declined to comment. That’s right. I was so uncool I didn’t even watch much TV or know basic Star Trek characters. It wasn’t until grad school at UCLA that I started to break out of the imprisoned person I was and start freely becoming the person I am today. This is due to some really good friends I made there (friends so dear they met me for coffee and dinner in the one location on the only day I was available two years ago) and probably due to some acting exploration I did. California will do that to you. Once on a drive around Pasadena, Andrew and I witnessed two Klingons sauntering around. It wasn’t Halloween. It was just normal.  Like the sun in California. Whoever you are, it’s normal in LA. You can be yourself there. Crazy or sane, whatever label you want, you can be that person.

And be cool.

Or maybe, as someone once told me, there are those who are too awesome to be cool. I don’t know what this means. But I take it that perhaps authenticity is a currency more valuable than being cool.

I am finding a little bit of that freedom in Winnipeg as well without feeling a compulsion to conform to a mold. I don’t have to shape myself into an expected conventional norm of physicist, writer, musician, or actress. I can be myself. Whoever that is.

I was an extra in Boston Public in LA. It was just for one day, but what a memorable day. I obtained the high school experience that I was deprived years earlier. Actually, acting school and assistant stage managing at The Actors Studio was like that. Boston Public, in particular, was all these twenty somethings on a set with lockers and hallways, and we were jovial and connected with a sense of camaraderie. Acting is in some ways like transference therapy. You can create improved conditions in which to heal from ancient wounds.

I think the last time I dressed up for Halloween except briefly at home was at age 13, but today, many years later, I unabashedly wore an elf costume to Comic Con in Winnipeg. And a young woman, who seemed quite shy, asked to take my picture and told me how beautiful my costume was. Yes, someone asked me for my picture at Comic Con! Usually I hate being photographed, but was so flattered and so eager to please, the experience was painless. Yesterday when I wore my normal clothes (black jeans, bomber jacket, and tall brown boots) with a bird and arrow necklace, I was complimented on my outfit as well. Me. The girl whose skirt got lifted in junior high. The girl who wore ties to school because in her imagination she attended a private school as opposed to a public one. The girl who no one would talk to, like ever, in high school with the exception of perhaps one mathlete friend and another friend who used to hide with me in the library during lunch.

I believe we might be living in a new age. An age where the hit TV show of the day is about characters with advanced degrees in physics, microbiology, engineering, and neuroscience. A day when cartoon and stuffed kitties wear glasses. A day where those of us who never fit in can find a place, not to hide in a corner of the library, but in public. We do live in an age of celebrities and reality TV, but we also live in an age where actresses like Gates McFadden are raising money for collaborative theatre projects. Not to gain more celebrity. Not to increase wealth. Not to be a popular kid. But to create art, to advance the creative frontiers of humanity.

I mentioned an acting teacher I had had in LA to Gates McFadden, of whom she had heard, and she asked me if I am an actor. I said I am a physicist. Funny, I suppose I am. I just completed the n-th draft of my novel (still one final draft to go) and am an editor for Wellesley Underground. I haven’t published a physics paper in about a year.  I am working toward music exams. I always wonder about my evolving identity, but at its core I am a physicist. I realized this yesterday. No matter what other adventures on which I embark, no matter all the other roles I inhabit, I will always be a physicist first, which had been my lifelong dream. I will always call McGill, where I completed my doctoral work, home. It’s a peculiar feeling when we finally unveil who we really are to ourselves, even if it might be obvious to those around us. And we realize it is who we always wanted to be. I said I found acting to be fascinating and to balance out physics, a means to explore human motivation and psychology (though I was ever so slightly more incoherent). Gates then discussed her theatre projects which seem profoundly important along the same lines as the significance of understanding the cosmological constant, the effect responsible for our universe’s accelerated expansion. In her theatre projects, I have the impression she explores important aspects of the human and social condition. In some ways, theatre and physics are not so dissimilar. We progress toward the boundaries, we are creative in our process, we play, and we aim to make and communicate our discoveries, about the universe and about humanity. We passionately create. We stimulate curiosity and questions. And on a good day, both the arts and science inspire.

We might be inspired by a brilliant doctor on Star Trek, but I find the artist behind the doctor to be more of an inspiration. And at the end of the day, imagine the worlds you can explore under the influence of inspiration. It is more powerful than any medication the doctor might prescribe.

What inspires you? Who will you be inspired to grow into? And more importantly, how will you inspire others today?

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