Some people were social outcasts growing up because they were nerds. For me, it was the other way around. I became a nerd because I was already an outcast.
You could argue that I was destined to be a nerd from a young age. I've always been a reader, and a writer. I was the kid who teetered away from the counter at the library with a stack of books half my height. I wrote my first fanfiction at age 7 (it was about my then-favorite series, The Boxcar Children). At 10, I captained my school's team to a second-place finish in the district Battle of the Books competition. By that point, I'd already become fairly invested in the three then-released Harry Potter books.
But it wasn't until middle school that I truly became obsessed with the books that I loved. Middle school, the worst years of my life. The years when I was the social pariah of the school. When I sat alone every single day at lunch for the entirety of seventh grade, I read. Every day, when no one talked to me, I had a book ready. I could escape the humiliation, the loneliness, the desire for friends, the sheer embarrassment of existence--I could escape by reading voraciously. And so I did. I'd loved books before. But this was the first time I first became obsessed with something. It was the first time I delved into a story, into a world, and devoured everything in it. Why? Because in those years, I needed to. As a lonely 12-year-old, I needed something more to survive on. I survived on what I read.
At first, it was mostly Redwall books. Brian Jacques' fantasy series with peace-loving mice, squirrels, and badgers going on quests, solving riddles, and fighting the good fight was epic, escapist, and wonderfully predictable. Just what I needed at the time for reassurance. (Later, it would provide me with my first online community and friends.)
And then my mom convinced me to go see this movie that she was so excited about. Something about rings, I think. And a lord. And though I covered my eyes and shrieked in the theater every time a Black Rider appeared (I am horrible with anything scary on a screen), I was hooked. It was winter break, and I came home, found my mom's hardbound second edition of the trilogy, and sat down and read it in two days flat. And before I knew it, I'd surpassed the knowledge my mom had. It was years before I could find someone to talk to who knew as much as I did.
During those years, I lived in those worlds--but I lived in them alone. And this lasted for quite awhile, actually. I've only recently begun to discover the larger geek social community, and it's like coming into the world that I was born to be in. Yet I still wish that I could turn to the stranger on the El or the person on the street corner and ask them what they thought of the last season of Doctor Who, or if they thought Elrond made the right decision when he chose an immortal life.
Which is why I love Stephen Colbert so much. I may know a few sentences in Quenya, may be able to recite a poem about Gandalf, may be able to name two of the Valar. But I do it under my breath, or in small groups. Never in the open, never on national television.
I may not agree with his politics. But that man is the most visible public figure geek in the world. And probably one of the world's top Tolkien nerds. I think I could beat James Franco. But I'd gracefully bow out of a contest with Colbert.
The day when I can be that brazen and awesome... well, that day is yet to come.