Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Defining Myself

For her sixteenth birthday, Esther Earl didn’t ask for a car, a phone, or even a cure for the life-threatening thyroid cancer that she’d been diagnosed with four years prior. Instead, she asked youtuber, author, and friend John Green to spread a message through the youtube community. She wanted her birthday not to be a celebration of her, but a day to tell family and friends one simple, meaningful sentence, “I love you.” Just a few weeks after her message was heard, Esther fell silent.

It was only in the past year that I discovered Nerdfighteria, an internet community with which Esther was heavily involved. Nerdfighteria was a place where I finally fit in. A place where it was cool to be a nerd, and thus I became apart of this group, a Nerdfighter.

This remarkable, staggering community was what finally led me to affirm my nerdiness. And instead of the label “nerd” suffocating me, it has instead enlightened and liberated. The term “nerd” is not, in fact, an insult. In the wise words of John Green “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff. Like, jump-up-and-down-in-your-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘You like stuff,’ which is not a good insult at all. Like, ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’” This statement could not be more pertinent. Because, by solidifying my nerdiness, it meant embracing everything I loved.

For me, accepting myself as a nerd, could not have been a more refreshing transition. I’d always been somewhat of a nerd, infatuated with literature and reading every book I could get my hands on. But even last year, I was shy, quiet and reserved. I almost never brought up something I’d seen on the internet, videos I’d enjoyed, or any of my interests. But then, I started following John Green’s videos after hearing about his crazy plan to sign 50,000 pages that would be bound into the first printing of his then upcoming novel. John and his brother Hank, the central figures of Nerdfighteria, were the coolest people. Cool being a relative term, of course. But as I watched and became more active with Youtube, I realized that being a nerd was fun. I grew to accept the label as my own, and I became a more confident, self-aware, open person. I can’t hide myself, and I don’t want to.

By calling myself a nerd, I gave others permission to call me that as well. And I discovered that people simply accepted me for the nerd I am. I found that because I’m labeled a nerd, I am simply expected to do nerdy things. People no longer give me funny looks for being excited about books and science because-- I’m a nerd.

There are many that consider labels to be insulting and an abomination. But they are not always a bad thing. When one accepts an epithet as their own, that term no longer can be used against them. A word only has power in the meaning one gives it. And it only has the power to hurt if you allow it to hold that power. And nerd, over time, has massively grown in meaning. It has become an overarching, all-encompassing term. Even though there are different types of nerds, all nerds are connected through their love. And within that label, I found the power to become everything I could ever want to be. When others call me a nerd, even if they should mean it to be an insult, it can’t be used negatively against me. I like being a nerd. I would rather be intelligent than stupid. I like words. I love “stuff”. That’s what being a nerd is truly about.

And I think Esther knew this. She recognized that being a nerd, at one’s core, is about love. Love of intellectually stimulating conversations, love of books, love in general. But sometimes, we all forget to turn our love outside of ourselves. We forget to spread love and convey our love for others and truly mean it. And she wanted to remind everyone to express that love, because no one knows how much time they have left. Esther understood this better than anyone.

I wrote this a few weeks ago for class. This is the best introduction I could give to the internet, because it, more than anything, is an embodiment of myself. It's who I am. And I don't care who knows it. So, well, hi. I'm Jill Kaplan.

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