When this website was started, in my arrogance and delusions of grandeur, I felt that I had some sort of important and wise voice to add to the myriad of things in pop culture that so many of us worship as one would a deity. At the time I had collected 27 years of experience on this planet, so obviously I must have been the smartest man alive, what with not having employment or any real career aspirations. All I knew was that I had a mouth that moved a little too fast, and a brain that thought a little too much. So Dan Jones, Brandon Wolfe, Cole Dixon, and myself brought this site and podcast to life. Over the years people left or took breaks, and folks like Allen Bethel, Ibrahim Moustafa, Bobby Roberts, Leia Weathington, and Nate Dickerson all took runs adding to the biggest conversation on the internet. Now, 6 and a half years later, I’m bringing the the whole thing to a close.
We announced on episode 250 that this was all going to end, and since then, I’ve had a lot of questions as to why. Even people I didn’t know listened to the show seemed disappointed in the decision. This honestly means a lot to me, and I’ve appreciated all the support over the years. See, while I know I’m a smart person, and I love to joke around about how I’m always right, like so many of us, I’m incredibly insecure. I fully recognize that at the end of the day, I’m not much more than a self-deprecating narcissist. The idea that someone can like something I’ve done and appreciates my efforts just blows my mind. It doesn’t matter how many interviews I’ve done, how amazing I help make Rose City Comic Con, or how many episodes of a podcast I do, none of it ever makes me feel more accomplished than when someone says they like the show. NOTHING!
So as the show approaches its end, I wanted to write a bit about what the word nerd means to me. I want to talk about my life. I want to talk about my struggles. I want to talk about the things I’ve done. Ultimately though, I want to talk about how I’m done with the word “nerd” and the culture. Not in spiteful way (well not entirely), but more in a where I’ve come from, and where I’m going kind of way.
This will be a multiple part series over the next few weeks, so check back with each of the final episodes for the next chapter in what I call: The Life and Death of a Nerd.
The Life and Death of a Nerd: Chapter 1
On July 29th, 1983, I was born Michael Elessar Neilson in Portland, Oregon at OHSU. My dad was in residence there completing medical school, and my mother was a stay at home mom. I was the youngest of three boys, and all 4 guys in my household growing up were natural alphas. There has never been such a thing as a shy Neilson. From day one, we’ve always been bossy, stubborn assholes, and we were always convinced we were the smartest person in the room, even when nothing could’ve be further from the truth.
My brothers were 5 and 7 years older than me. Because of this, I didn’t end up being one of those kids raised on Sesame Street. Growing up, the only things I remember seeing on TV were episodes of Thundercats, GI Joe, The A-Team, and Transformers. What really hit me more than anything though, and the memories I’ll always cherish, were the days I’d spend with my mom at home watching the 1966 Batman and Green Hornet reruns. My pajamas were hand me down from my brothers Superman duds, complete with a strip of Velcro on the shoulders for a cape. My toys were Transformers and GoBots. The stories read to me were The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (c’mon, my middle name is Elessar). My first exposure to video games was the Atari 2600 complete with The Empire Strikes Back, Asteroids, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and so many more. So, from the moment I was shitting my pants, I was being programmed to be the dork you see today.
When I was 4, we moved to Seaside, Oregon where my dad started up his medical practice. Our family quickly became well off, and soon we had amassed quite the VHS collection. Movies quickly became an integral part of my life. It was then that it happened. At the age of 5 I saw the most beautiful thing in the entire world. My dad brought home the entire Star Wars trilogy. The grey boxed CBS/FOX editions. I could write an entire book on how those movies changed my life, but so can all of us. Shortly after that, we got our first Nintendo Entertainment System with Super Mario Bros and Batman. I’m not going to deny at all that my childhood was full of just about every toy I could have wanted. It did come with quite a price though.
While I recognize my father was an incredibly smart and talented doctor, a man in control of his temper he was not. I won’t make excuses for his actions, but 36 hour ER shifts combined with Mormon patriarchal values, having three rowdy boys that all went our own way led to being yelled at a lot, sometimes it got physical, and we were often ignored. My mother got it the worst, often acting as the buffer. Not surprising, this made me retreat into my own world. Video games didn’t yell at me. Batman and Robin didn’t yell at me. Superman didn’t yell at me. Obviously not the healthiest way to handle things, but when you’re a little kid, you don’t really know any other way to cope with these things. This is where the problems started for me.
When I started Kindergarten, I was already a chubby kid. I was also incredibly difficult. I couldn’t tie my own shoes and refused to learn how. I wouldn’t attempt to do math or reading assignments. My artistic skills were non-existent (and arguably still are), and my handwriting when I would try to write looked like a 6 year old recovering from a stroke. Had this been modern day, I would undoubtedly be placed in special education, but it being the late 80’s in a small town, I was often put in the corner of the school room while a teaching assistant basically watched me all day. I was forced to do Kindergarten a second year because after the first, I made no progress at all. I would sit at school all day doing nothing, and go home to my video games and movies to await being yelled at when my dad got home.
This pattern continued for the next 3 years until I made it to the 4th grade. I say made it because they basically let me through since they couldn’t just keep holding me back. They tried everything with me. Tutors, working with other kids my level (which were all really ahead of me), and giving me special workbooks. At the end of the third grade, I was still roughly at the level of a 1st grader. I was aggressive, loud, and couldn’t focus to save my life. Teachers assumed I had ADHD, and recommended I be on medication. My father being a doctor though insisted I not take anything since he felt I was just some unchallenged kid and there was nothing wrong with me.
4th grade was when things started changing. It started with a great teacher. Mr. Nelson didn’t take any of my shit, and he challenged me. Not by giving me tasks, but asking me what I wanted to do. An approach that would later define the entire direction of my life. At the same time, my brother Darian was getting heavily into comics. I would sneak into his room and take his books without him knowing (at first). I especially liked the ones featuring The X-Men and Daredevil. I would bring these to school where Mr. Nelson would just let me just read. And read. And read. Within a year’s time I was reading my first novels. I had pet turtles, and every night I would stay up late reading after everyone went to bed. My brother, tired of me stealing his comics, got me my first one, X-Men 2099 #1. I started going with him to the comic shop every week where I started picking up Spider-Man books, X-Men books, and anything else my allowance would let me get my hands on. I started winning awards for the first time in my life for meeting all the reading challenges at school. My imagination opened up again like the first time I saw Star Wars. I was in love, and her name was comics, and she saved me from being a dopey kid.
At the beginning of 5th grade, Mr. Nelson called a conference with my parents and myself. He told me that my standardized tests showed that I now had the reading average of a Sophomore in high school. So in one year I went from from a kid who was in every way considered remedial, to being one of the brightest when it came to reading in our school. Comics, kids!
At this time though, my parents were going through a divorce. More stress got piled on, and I was constantly going back and forth between homes. My dad wanted me to start giving up all my childish junk, and my mother just didn’t understand anything I liked. She was also absent most nights trying to start up a career being a police officer. I wasn’t very good at making friends, and my brothers being much older than me were out every night since they had cars and were involved in sports. I spent most nights by myself becoming more and more obsessed with my comics and movies. I also ate nothing but mac and cheese, and burritos. I started packing on more and more weight with nobody around to tell me no. At the same time, I stopped believing in God (although I don’t think I ever believed in the first place), and since people stopped really paying attention to me, I was able to get out of going to church. This basically meant that aside from school, I didn’t really interact with people. Without even knowing the word, I became the stereotypical nerd, obsessed with my comics, movies, and video games, becoming fatter and fatter while spending all my time in the basement. I was alone…until middle school.
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