February 2, 2007

There's no shame in accepting nerdiness

The other night when I was on my way out to the Reg to churn out some serious thesis work, the reactions of everyone I bumped into who wasn’t going to the library seemed to be essentially the same: “Aww, I’m sorry.” “The Reg? That sucks.” “Sorry, hon. Good luck.” “Yuck.” “You should sleep more.”

Granted, I probably should sleep more, and I promise I will…a long time from now, when I’m dead. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that way too many people here seem so preoccupied with looking cool, mostly by posting ginormously endless Facebook albums of themselves clubbing it up downtown or making pejorative remarks to anyone who says she has plans to work on a weekend night. I mean, this is the U of C, right? Where have all the nerds gone?

I’m not in the least saying we should all buck up, deny ourselves the Epicurean world, and hibernate in the stacks. There are people who do that—and they scare me. The same goes for pretentious wannabe pseudo-intellectuals, the people who pepper their speech with phrases like, “Indeed, Durkheim was an utter buffoon!,” the wannabe-but-not-genuine-nerds, or what I call “black-market/Dolce & Garbanzo nerds”—not the real thing. Most of those folks haven’t heard of, say, Strangers on a Train, NPR, Katharine Graham, R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet,” or Scooter Libby. This makes them no different from those in the non-nerd-wannabe-socialites-but-really-they’re-just-Facebook-obsessed-and-have-no-life category.

I’ve always been quick to defend the multifaceted nature of U of C students. While some of us are at an extreme of nerdiness, most of us are intellectuals whose academic interests are complimented by eclectic tastes in music, unusual hobbies, witty or quirky senses of humor, and nuanced views of politics. But that’s part of what makes us such great nerds. Unlike mere well-rounded “good students” at places like Northwestern, I think U of C students actually think and care about what they study just as much as they care about favorite bands, sports teams, or downtime with friends. That is, everyone except the econ majors…OK, I’m totally kidding. Some econ majors are actually passionate about economics—and they belong here. It’s the ones who try to turn economics into a business major and actually loathe math who are the square pegs in round holes. And there are sadly and miraculously people like that here. I guess true nerds are as rare as gems, even in the land of nerds.

Dare I say it, going to the Reg to work on my thesis for several hours was actually fun for me. In fact, I love a good, old-fashioned session of kicking any paper in the ass. I guess that makes me a colossal nerd, huh? As much as we all love to complain about our work, I hope we do the work because at least some part of us likes it. But there seems to be this ever-present clique of people here who would never admit to liking any of their work. In all fairness, it’s probably because they don’t. These are the people who came here only because this is a “good school.” And yes, they somehow got through the Uncommon Application—only to find they are uncommon here, but common everywhere else.

There’s this quote that stuck with me years ago: (part of me wants to attribute it to John Cusack, but oh well): “It’s not what you’re like, it’s what you like that counts.” Even if you’re a good student, if you don’t like being a good student or see the coolness in that (i.e. you’re not a nerd), you’re an anomaly here. All I’m saying is, at this school, you should be proud to be a nerd, and when you become an alumnus, you should celebrate your nerdy heritage. After all, it’s only “where fun comes to die” for common folk.