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April 29th, 2016

The Life and Death of a Nerd: Chapter 3


Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.

Where we last left our hero, I was couch surfing, trying to figure out how I was going to get into college now that I was 18 with the carpet ripped right out from underneath me. Given that my father was a doctor, FAFSA basically told me I could get no money for school, and I wasn’t even about to ask the man to help me out at this point, so the only way I could really go to school was by taking out a dick ton of loans and paying myself. At this point, full of anger and determined to not be stuck geographically near my dad, I enrolled at the local community college so I could get two years of school out of the way for the least amount of money possible. I’m so glad I did, because little did I know that it was here where the foundations of Chronicles of the Nerds were laid to ground.

I loved college. Where middle school and high school were various levels of hell for numerous reasons, college was where I could really express myself and focus on what I wanted to do. I used every excuse possible to turn a basic assignment into an excuse to apply it to the things I loved. In a literature class I was given an assignment to write about mythology and make a presentation. Of course I applied to it superheros, and it went over so well that I was asked if I wanted to teach a class on it at the age of 19. Most of my classes were spent on communication, creative writing, media, and journalism. Assignment on nonverbal communication? How about the uses of it in V for Vendetta. Metaphor in film? Sure, let’s do the Christ symbolism is Richard Donner’s Superman. I wrote a paper on journalism ethics regarding superhero secret identities. I spent all my free time crafting my own worlds and characters. I was legitimizing everything I was ever made fun of by applying it to academia.

During my second year of college, I discovered a small but energetic music scene in my area. I started going to local rock shows put on by bands from Seaside to Portland for crowds of about 50 kids. The great thing was, some of these bands were pretty damn good. I quickly fell in with a lot of the local bands and people that attended the shows. As a bonus, they were all a bunch of nerds. After high school ended, so did all my roleplaying games. Now I was back in, and learning about all new things like The Wheel of Time, a whole bunch of bands I had never heard of, and I spent every day surrounded by creative people who just wanted to write music and have fun. This was hands down the most pure time of my entire life. I would go to school, work a little, head to band practice where I did my homework, and at night, adventure awaited us. If there was anytime of my life I wish I could go back and relive, this would be it.
It was during this time that I met Dan Jones. For those that follow the history of CotN, Dan and I eventually started the whole thing up. This was still many years later. Funny thing is that we didn’t really like each other when we first met, kind of keeping our distance for many months before finally just accepting we were kind of the same person. We also met Brandon Wolfe at this time, who later helped us launch the site. Brandon would come to the shows, but wasn’t someone we really knew too well at the time.

Eventually bands started breaking up (as they do), and our little scene started losing energy. Other local promoters started putting on shows that were overpriced with very generic bands. In an attempt to not let the scene die out, a few of us created a group called NW Punks. We didn’t care about making money, we just wanted to put on fun shows and give back to the community that helped bring us all together. We put on over a dozen shows, where we donated the proceeds of each to different local charities. We ran food drives, sent kids to the summer camp I worked at, adopted a highway, and volunteered where we could. I became possibly the youngest member of the local Grange Society, which provided us with great places to put on concerts, and we could in turn help them out. It was seriously a magical and fun time.

I continued helping out with NW Punks as I moved to Portland to continue college at Portland State University, until we eventually pulled the plug on it after almost all of us moved away from the hometown. Since most of us moved up to Portland, over the next few years we all ended up either living together, near each other, and saw each other regularly over the next few years. So while we left home behind, we stuck together with regular roleplaying game sessions, watching anime, and just being dorks.

I also fell in love during these years. Hearts, flowers, head over heels, stupid love. She was into my enthusiasm and passion for the things I was into and my goals. I was into her kind heart and book smarts. We made a damn good team by complementing each other in every way. No one understood why an amazingly gorgeous and smart girl like her was with me, the gigantic, nerd, manchild, but we got it. I took away the pressure she had from all areas of her life, and she was the first person that made me comfortable with myself. Stupid, stupid love.

During my senior year of college, I used my persistence to get the internship of my dreams. I had been applying for spot at the Editorial Department at Dark Horse Comics for almost 2 years without a single reply. As my last term approached, I knew it was my last chance. I found out one of the editors taught at Portland Community College, so I found her contact info through the school directory, plead my story and wish to work in comics, she passed it on to her boss, and one Spring Break before entering my last round of classes, I received a phone call while at work that lead to an interview the next day. During the interview I was offered the job. I first called my girlfriend in tears, then drove 2 hours to get back to my hometown. I needed to tell my brother in person that I got the job. He was the one that got me into comics. He was the only person in my family that supported me. He’s the only person I knew that would honestly understand what this meant to me. I still remember his reaction, ringing the bell in the restaurant, buying a round for everyone there. The local regulars that always asked me comic questions cheered for me. I can go back to this moment with perfect recall because it was the first time in my life that I felt like I really accomplished one of my personal goals, and the first time I knew that someone was proud of me. Sure, it was an unpaid internship, but after after 22 years on this planet, 8 of which knowing that comics was all I wanted to do with my life, I had taken my first real step into a larger world.

The next few months were amazing. I was so full of energy. They would give me something to work on that they thought might take a few days, but I would focus and get it done in 1. I got to see projects develop before anyone else that would later be announced and turn into huge hits and award winners (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 and Umbrella Academy). I got to actually work on Usagi Yojimbo, one of the characters I’d been in love with since I first saw him on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid. I saw Star Wars concept art and photos that fans would have killed to just see. I learned so much about the industry, and met some of the greatest folks who really just wanted to give me something I could really chew on there. I finished the internship with a perfect review, and was told to check back regularly because they wanted to find a full time position for me as soon as one opened. I graduated college feeling ready to kick the world straight in the knowing nothing could get in my way. I had my girl, my pride, and the future.

That summer, I worked my last session at the Summer Camp. First thing back to the city was hitting up Dark Horse about a job. The year was 2006, and for those not in the know, from the mid nineties to the end of the 2,000’s, the comics industry wasn’t doing too well. Universally it experienced more loss than it did growth. So, no jobs were available. I was quickly running out of money, so I found stand in work while I waited for my dream to come around. Every few months I checked back. Every few months they said sorry. One horrible corporate job lead to another. My paychecks kept getting bigger, but I was getting sadder. I didn’t bother working on my own comics, convinced that any day now I’d get that call to move on into my own office. That call never came. The soul crushing day jobs continued though. Not realizing the signs of depression, I slipped further and further into a slump. My relationship suffered. My friendships suffered. My health suffered. Before I knew it, my relationship of 4 years ended. I was such a downer that friends didn’t really hang out with me, and I was having regular breakdowns at work, crying at my desk for no reason and struggling to breath.

One birthday, I was invited over to my oldest brother’s place (not the one previously mentioned) to have dinner with his family and my dad. This was of course mixed because of the company, but no else had even called me at that point to wish me happy birthday, so some interaction seemed better than none. Just so you know, that’s not always the case. Being in the same room with my dad just brings up so much anger. My brother, while set with well intention, also was very discouraging. I tried to explain to him what I was going through. How I was sad all the time. How I had no energy. How I was breaking down almost daily. He shrugged it off and just told me to get over it. That night on my drive home, I just kept driving back and forth over a bridge. I was alone. The world wasn’t working out the way I thought it would, and my family was either not understanding me, or flat out making me angry. I had no control over anything. What was the point? I could have just jerked the wheel, and it would all be less than a memory.

I’d like to say I had some epiphany. That a light went off and the world made sense. It didn’t. I was just a coward and couldn’t do it. The next day though I made the best decision of my life. I set an appointment with a therapist. My parents had forced me to go to one as a kid, but I wasn’t the problem then, they were. This time, I was the problem, and I desperately needed help. Over the next few months, I started putting things back together. I moved in with some new people I met off of Craig’s List, went to work without caring about what I was doing, and for the first time in 2 years, I would go home and write again. I started a blog just talking about my top 5 favorite things in a given category. I started writing for an online paper. I started listening to podcasts like Cort & Fatboy and Smodcast. I dived back into the world that saved me back in grade school. Nerd Culture.

To be continued next week…

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