Whales and Pearls

recently, i became fortunate enough to write a weekly blog for the Stanford Alumni Association..aptly named “My Life as a Geek”…here’s my first installment..I hope you like it…

me in 7th grade

Whales & Pearls

When I was in the seventh grade, I wore a white turtleneck with navy blue whales on it to school. Now, mind you, I loved that turtleneck. Who could blame me? It had whales on it for goodness sake. And if ever a girl felt glamorous, it was I. I breezed into homeroom, waved to Mr. McGregor (the cute teacher), plopped down my enormous backpack and began to read Catcher in the Rye for the eleventh time.


I turned and looked up. And there, before me, were the three coolest girls in the entire school. Bangs perfectly sprayed into a crashing wave of Aqua Net. Jeans perfectly pegged. Pale pink Contempo sweatshirts tied around their diminutive waists. They just stood there – eyeing me until the ring-leader, let’s call her Erika J. (for that was her name after all) took a quick glance at my whales. Smirking to the rest of the gaggle, she rolled her eyes, put her hands on her hips and said, “No one wears whales, Katie. What a geek.”

And with that, they were off, most likely to go torment the girl on the other side of the room with the braces and rubber bands that connected her top and lower incisors.

I am 36 years old. I went to Stanford. I’m married. I have two beautiful sons. I have a successful art business. And yet, despite my blessings in life, this moment stays with me. Always has. I can remember it, and Erika J’s overindulgence of Giorgio perfume, like it was yesterday. Mostly, I remember her use of the word “geek” which marked the first time I had ever been called that particular word. At the time, it seemed like a castigation. A dismissal. A scarlet letter of utter social ineptitude.

Now, I understand that geeks get a bad rap. Geeks and all their iterations: nerds, dweebs, doofuses, brain-iacs, mental giants, really super cool smart people…“Revenge of the Nerds” didn’t help with Robert Carradine’s inhalation laugh and all those taped-together glasses. It’s the geek who’s always stuffed into a garbage can or folded into his locker by some big cool kid in movies. But, let’s take a moment to deconstruct what exactly a “geek” is. First of all, geeks tend to be really smart. Sounds good to me. Second, they tend to have really awesome interests and can do all sorts of cool stuff that other people can’t do. Pretty neat, too. Third, geeks usually go on to become the most successful people in the world. Wow, that’s really awful. Who would want to be one of those?

Which brings me to my main point. Now that I’m older…wiser…and really could care less what the Erika J’s of the world have to say, I’ve made a very important revelation. I am a geek. And I love it. When I first came to Stanford, I felt like, for the first time in my life, I fit in. I was suddenly surrounded by a whole cacophony of individuals who seemed just like me, if not totally smarter. Quickly and without warning, all of the things that I and others like me, were mocked for were totally and amazingly cool. On the third floor of Branner every night, someone played the theme song from “Sanford & Son” really loud out their window and it was AWESOME. My next door neighbor could quote entire scenes from “Monty Python’s Holy Grail” and everyone LAUGHED. We stayed up late eating too much pizza talking about everything from the crushes we had to the difference between Rochester and Heathcliff and I realized that I was just fine and that whales could, in fact, be cool in this new world of mine.

So, now I’m a big grown-up with a house and a mortgage and a husband and two beautiful children and I’m completely at peace with my geekdom. And I realize that my geekiness may not be someone else’s. That we are all allowed our own version of it. My love of PBS Masterpiece Mystery may be someone else’s collection of vintage Mexican movie posters. And that’s just fine. No matter what anyone says, we all have a little geek in us. And I say, let your geek flag fly. Life’s too short not to embrace who you are and share it with the world.

Now, with two sons of my own, I am hoping to help them embrace their inner geeks. My son, at the age of four, wore a string of pearls to an Easter egg hunt because it was, as he put it, “a big, fancy party.” And even though several of the guests stared at my son as if he had just landed from some faraway (albeit fashionable) planet, and, in turn, looked at me as if I had completely lost my marbles, he wore those pearls with pride. And, upon returning home, when he asked me if I thought the pearls were a good idea, I answered with a resounding “yes.” For the best thing we can do for ourselves and our children is protect and share that little light inside that makes us who we are. I wore whales and my son wore pearls and isn’t that grand?

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