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Thread: "I Was a Teenaged Nerd"

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    "I Was a Teenaged Nerd"



    “I Was A Teenaged Nerd”

    I can make that confession because the Internet is allegedly “anonymous.” Way, WAY back then there were such things teenaged werewolves--at least in the drive-in movies, which also featured adolescents described by a term we never hear any more: “juvenile delinquents.” There were also plenty of nerds and geeks and dorks then, but those weren't the terms for it. Even “weird” wasn't a catch-all word as it’s used today to describe everything that is slightly bizarre or different. Man, was I “different! ” At least I felt that way-- “out of it,” so I was told ad nauseam.

    In the early to mid 1960s, no school official ever worried about students’ “self-esteem.”If anything, the nuns and priests did their er. . .darnedest to ensure that we didn't commit the “Sin of Pride.” In my freshman homeroom, Sister had hung up above the backboard a huge poster that said “Praising yourself to the skies won't get you there!” No chance of that happening, at least, not by me. If self-effacing humility guaranteed one a spot in Heaven, no doubt the saints were saving a seat for me. (Since then, of course, my admission ticket through the Pearly Gates has undoubtedly been canceled!) Back then, though, it wasn't the life to come that concerned me, it was the one in the here and now – a time of life that struck an hormonally- charged, angst-filled kid with pain as harrowing as any of the merciless tortures of Purgatory. For the emotional perspective of a teenager tends to exaggerate the trivial into the monumental.

    Experts in adolescent psychology often cite the importance that teenagers place upon acceptance by their “peers.” When I was that age, I did have friends, but most were better described as acquaintances. I was the embodiment of a walking, er -- stumbling, cliché – the “misfit.” Most of my friends were at the “boy-crazy” phase, and the others were what used to be called “tomboys.” I didn't quite mesh with the former – though I would have loved to have a boyfriend, I couldn't bring myself to jump through the societal hoops – the flirtatious, girly-girlie wiles that allegedly attracted the opposite sex. Of course, there was the inevitable acne and the gawkiness which would make the Path to Attractiveness a nearly insurmountable route. I liked hanging around the “tomboys” because they weren't afraid to be themselves and felt less inhibited about cracking jokes. But they were also active in athletic pursuits, an area for which I never could qualify, due to an innate lack of physical grace and hand/eye coordination. (It turns out that I had and still have one of those “hidden” neurological disabilities, one that was never really addressed until much later in life when I had children of my own. Had this “primary bilateral dysfunction” been diagnosed back when I was younger, it would simplified a complex sense of inferiority, but, c'est la vie, kids!)

    Anyway, both the girlie-girls and the tomboys unilaterally became swept up by the popular musicians of the day. Our age group was too young for Elvis, but provided the target market for the Beatles and their imitators. Right away, I felt alienated, for I liked Sinatra, Mel Tormé, Dave Brubeck so much better. I had a transistor radio, and I did listen to the Top Forty tunes, and I did agree that the Beatles were “cute,” but becoming a devotee of the cult of this British quartet never occurred to me. I wouldn't be caught dead with a picture of Paul McCartney on my lunch box, and unless I were confronted with an actual werewolf, teenaged or otherwise, I would never SCREAM to save my life!

    I had a taste for other cultural phenomena which didn't gibe with that of my peers. Yes, just like my friends, I watched television, but cable had yet to be invented, and there were only three or four channel choices. Although the some of the rich kids’ families had a “color TV” by then, most of the programming was still in black and white. The shows I liked weren't the same as those of my schoolmates . For instance, I liked the original Dick Van Dyke Show because it was about. . . writers! One character on that show, Sally, was played by Rose Marie, reportedly a former child star. I felt kinship with Sally – she complained about “never having a date,” she tossed out zinging one-liners as swiftly as her male co-workers did, so of course, she was a role model for me. These were days before Women’s Lib -- but the fact that Sally had to do all the typing wasn't lost on me.

    That period was the golden age of late night talk shows, which were quite different then than they are now. When people like Hermione Gingold or Oscar Levant appeared onJack Paar’s show, they weren't plugging a movie or a TV show. They actually “talked.” The level of discourse was sophisticated and witty. Everything I learned from the Art of Conversation I learned from Jack Paar in particular and the talk show in general. I also liked Steve Allen
    (though I knew him from his prime time variety show.) And when the skinny kid from Nebraska took over as host of The Tonight Show, I was his first fan.

    My mother had passed away when I was in sixth grade, and my father, perhaps overwhelmed in his new role as disciplinarian had his hands full tending to my siblings and me, as well as working two jobs. So I was “allowed” to stay up late at night watching television by default, although occasionally my father would wake up and complain that we were the only house in the neighborhood with the lights still on. From my late-night lessons in urbanity, I suffered few no repercussions or consequences at all until high school when the nun who was teaching French would say to me, “Mademoiselle, dormez vous?” She would then say, en anglais, that I would do well to eat breakfast in the morning or at least have coffee. No doubt my little soul thus threatened by the near occasions of sin was among those remembered in Sister’s prayers each night, as she probably thought that my drowsiness in class was the result of “drinking and carousing” the night before. Little did she know that it wasn't beer or boys that had kept me up late at night – it was Johnny Carson.

    But even Johnny was no match for the one thing that allowed me to survive adolescence, the one place where I found salvation -- reading.
    (Part 2 of 2 next time.)

  2. #2
    unidentified hit record blp's Avatar
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    Interesting material and fun to read, but pare it down, Auntie, that's my view. I know that might sting a bit if you've already edited, but I'm still seeing a lot of excess verbiage clogging up the flow. e.g.

    'Experts in adolescent psychology often cite the importance that teenagers place upon acceptance by their “peers.” When I was that age, I did have friends, but most were better described as acquaintances.'
    -Do you need to say 'When I was that age'? Take it out and you still have the sense (and you haven't precisely referred to an age anyway). The first sentence here could also be tighter and less cumbersome, I'd say.

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    I'm back :] LadyW's Avatar
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    Excellent I cannot wait to read the next installation!
    "Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer's day"
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    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blp View Post
    Interesting material and fun to read, but pare it down, Auntie, that's my view. I know that might sting a bit if you've already edited, but I'm still seeing a lot of excess verbiage clogging up the flow. e.g.

    'Experts in adolescent psychology often cite the importance that teenagers place upon acceptance by their “peers.” When I was that age, I did have friends, but most were better described as acquaintances.'
    -Do you need to say 'When I was that age'? Take it out and you still have the sense (and you haven't precisely referred to an age anyway). The first sentence here could also be tighter and less cumbersome, I'd say.
    I thought the story was very well done, and perfectly described the feelings of a teenager blossoming on her own schedule.

    Which first sentence are you talking about when you say it could be tighter? The first sentence in the story has 11 words and can't lose too many of them. The first sentence of the paragraph you cited isn't all that long either.
    Last edited by DickZ; 02-22-2008 at 01:16 PM.

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    Ruadh gu brath ampoule's Avatar
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    Loved it. Is it next time yet?
    I'm in love with The Vinegar Man and Mr. Tanner, but be careful, it could just as easily be you.

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    unidentified hit record blp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DickZ View Post
    I thought the story was very well done, and perfectly described the feelings of a blossoming teenager.

    Which first sentence are you talking about when you say it could be tighter? The first sentence in the story has 11 words and can't lose too many of them. The first sentence of the paragraph you cited isn't all that long either.
    I meant the first sentence of the passage I quoted.

    'Experts in adolescent psychology often cite the importance that teenagers place upon acceptance by their “peers.”'

    It's not necessarily that it's too long, though I think it is (do we need to be told that experts in adolescent psychology are talking about teenagers? It's mildly redundant). I also find it unconvincing. Surely the need for peergroup acceptance is something just about everyone's aware of, not just experts?
    I'm also not sure what the sentence is really doing there. The one that follows doesn't have that much logical connection with it. It's roughly on the same theme, but it doesn't verify or contradict it or in any way specifically pick up the theme of peergroup acceptanc. As such, it's not very clear how they're supposed to be read together.

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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Interesting and captivating. Perhaps you could tighten some of the sentences. My thought as I read is that you could actually have expanded some of the vignettes into a dramatization. A bit of dialogue with a "girlie-girl" or a tomboy. Or something like that. One note. I've never heard of primary bilateral dysfunction, and when I did a quick search all I got was something to do with a lung transplant. I assume that's not what you had.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

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    Registered User Granny5's Avatar
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    Auntie, I love it! It's like reading about my friends and myself when growing up...except the staying up late. I was just too lazy for that. I can't wait for next time.
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    Here's Part 2 of 2

    "I Was a Teenaged Bookworm"
    Part 2 of 2


    There was a child went forth every day,
    And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
    And that object became part of him for the day or a certain
    part of the day,
    Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.


    As a child I really didn't go “forth,” although I was attracted to the romantic notion of wandering throughout the countryside, like a latter day Walt Whitman, a peripatetic preteen hitting the open road with her possessions rolled up in a scarf tied to the end of a stick. Physically
    I stayed put; mentally I traveled far and wide through worlds known and unknown with the only transportation available to me: books. But even that mode of travel was difficult to come by.

    With the Internet these days you can order books online or even download and read them for free, or you can go to one of the chain bookstores in a shopping mall. In the early 1960s though, there was no such thing as a personal computer– - to me, the thought of one day acquiring an “electric typewriter” was the ultimate in high technology. Indoor malls were only beginning in those days; there was a “shopping center” comparable to today’s “strip mall” within walking distance (more or less) of my house. But it was rare to find books, even mass market paperbacks, in any of the stores.

    There was a public library, but it was located mid-town, and I had to take a bus to get there. So even acquiring books was a challenge. At some point in my adolescence I found that I could order books by mail, with a money order. Back then one could purchase new paperback editions of classics for fifty or seventy-five cents a copy. I would send in my order, but the long, long wait would eventually be rewarded. The cardboard package would arrive in the mail, like a long hoped-for Christmas gift. From seventh grade through high school, I had accumulated a eclectic collection of Bantam Books, Vintage Classics, and Signet books from the New American Library. Of course, among that long-lost collection there was the de rigueur copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which if I recall correctly had the original cover with its illustration of Holden Caulfield wearing his Sherlock Holmes cap. (Would that I had kept it through the years! If so, I could have posted it on eBay and been a wealthy woman today.)

    The novels, poetry anthologies, and short story collections were so numerous and varied that after all these decades I can't remember all of the specific titles. But they did include the Good, the Bad, and the Spurious. In that third category fell the works of Ayn Rand, whose hard-line, rugged individualism was tinged with an overly-earnest, humorless idealism --all of which proved irresistible to a rebellious teenager. At age fifteen one would see Ayn Rand’s philosophy as the answer to every problem besetting mankind , but by middle-age would dismiss it as an embarrassing youthful indiscretion.

    I was, however, equally enthusiastic about novelists whose political frame of reference colored the other end of the spectrum: William Saroyan and the stunning sweep of a Steinbeck novel. I remember that after the initial titillating shock of the pivotal scene near the end of The Grapes of Wrath concerning Rose-of-Sharon’s selfless gift, I appreciated the poignancy of her actions and how the utter desperation of the starving migrants had forced her to transcend the usual boundaries of morality – and I wonder now from whence such a thought could have occurred to a twelve-year-old, unless. . .unless I had acquired such a bit of literary sophistication by osmosis, from copious reading. I wasn't known to do much else!

    I had discovered poetry on my own – “modern” poems which we never, ever read in grade school, where the safe curricula stuck to the likes of Helen Hunt Jackson, and --God help us-- Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.” Somehow I didn't discover Yeats then, or Eliot, or the Metaphysical Poets; that discovery came later in life, perhaps agreeably so, at a point where I was better able to appreciate them. But as a teenager I read – and most likely didn't completely comprehend –Whitman, Hart Crane, Theodore Roethke, and Robinson Jeffers. Lest we forget, the Poet Laureate of the angst-filled teenager – e e cummings, whose iconoclastic disdain for the rules of capitalization and punctuation naturally appealed -- again-- to the adolescent rebels, who like so many kids do – even today – adopt a small “i” and write their initials in lower case letters. It’s almost a rite of passage, like getting drunk for the first time.

    With independent forays into poetry and-- by high school-- Shakespeare and Latin classes, I fell in love with words, an affair that continues to this day. The reading habit, often threatened by the unavoidable mundane distractions of an adult life, persists like a thirst that is never quite quenched. Every book reminds a reader of something else she hasn't yet read and who will never be satisfied until she does so. Recently I started to read You Can't Go Home Again, and was particularly touched by the chapter titled “The Wounded Faun” in which George Webber examines and re-examines just exactly what he wants to do as a writer. This posthumous novel by Thomas Wolfe has such power over me that I did in a sense “go home again”, back to my teenage years, when reading a book such as Look Homeward, Angel would allow me to “lose myself,” escaping all troubles and self-centered pain, and experience an effusive epiphany of what it means to be alive, indeed how to live. Writers could teach, they could entertain, they could change lives. Good writers had the power to heal; their very words were enough to soften “suffering” – years, even centuries after they were first put down on paper. That was magic, in its truest, finest sense. At some point in that period, I told myself, this is what I want to do. I want to do this for people. I want to be a writer. As one of my early – and later!– idols, Allen Ginsberg said: “We write to ease the pain of life. Everything else is mere dumb show.”

    And that, my friends, is why I write, or attempt to write, and why I have written this.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-23-2008 at 03:42 PM. Reason: Some messy sentences!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    Interesting and captivating. Perhaps you could tighten some of the sentences. My thought as I read is that you could actually have expanded some of the vignettes into a dramatization. A bit of dialogue with a "girlie-girl" or a tomboy. Or something like that. One note. I've never heard of primary bilateral dysfunction, and when I did a quick search all I got was something to do with a lung transplant. I assume that's not what you had.

    That's the term the professional told me back in the early
    1980s. She said that in a way it was like "not knowing
    your right from your left." (Now I know why I always loved that song "Misty") I looked did a web search as well, Virg, and this is what I came up with:
    dysphraxia

    So far the short term memory problems and also the difficulty in reading and writing might not necessarily apply in my case, but maybe it does involve needing to tighten sentences!

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    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    Great job, Aunty, on both parts of your story. You continue to capture the feelings of youth better than anyone I’ve ever seen do it on paper – certainly in this forum – and maybe anywhere.

    It’s too bad you didn’t live in an age when they had bookmobiles. I doubt that they run around anymore in this age of the internet, but they were fantastic machines on four wheels with some kind of mechanized contraption inside that allowed them to maneuver themselves around to the various neighborhoods in a community. Having a few years on you, I was fortunate enough to have a library drive right up to the corner on my street every other week.

    And you reminded me that it took me a long time to even figure out who Rosasharn was named for.
    Last edited by DickZ; 02-22-2008 at 02:19 PM.

  12. #12
    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    .... So far the short term memory problems and also the difficulty in reading and writing might not necessarily apply in my case, but maybe it does involve needing to tighten sentences!
    Maybe you could sell a few of your stories, Aunty, and use the proceeds to buy one of those wrenches for tightening sentences because there's hardly anything worse than a sentence that needs tightening.
    Last edited by DickZ; 02-22-2008 at 02:19 PM.

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    It's nice! You should write more about this!!

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