Nerdy Triumph for a High School Introvert

I have some pretty terrible self-awareness. At least, I used to. Not only can I be overly self-conscious, but I am super adept at convincing myself of things that are simply not true — about myself. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I finally understood my body shape. I had been buying jeans 3 sizes too big, shoes 2 sizes too big, and pants that ran “long.” I’m 5’3. But I fully believed those were my sizes. To be fair, I did grow up in the ’90s…. still…

It’s also taken me this long to finally understand what it means to be an introvert. I always wondered why, even though I loved being in a large group of good friends, I always had to slip away, find my own quiet hiding spot. It’s why really loud, energetic people who aim their energy at me really piss me off.

But being introverted was a huge issue all through my education – I just didn’t know it. No one seemed to understand why it was so hard for me to participate in class, why group projects and sitting in a circle caused me to “white-out,” a term I use when I’ve been unexpectedly presented with a draining activity without any chance to prepare. It’s like my brain shuts down everything, diverting all power to getting me through the situation. Because of all this, in high school I was usually described as quiet, weird, snobby, and smart. I guess they weren’t wrong, though I wouldn’t call myself snobby so much as elitist, but minor semantics.

Being introverted and anxious meant I spent a lot of time dwelling over “embarrassing” moments that in reality, most of my classmates probably forgot about 6 minutes later. Like the time in 6th grade I couldn’t pronounce “Knickerbockers.” Or in 7th grade when a homework assignment for English class included guessing a football game score, and I said “2-3.” Or when I cried in front of the class in 1st grade. And 3rd grade. And 5th. And 9th. And freshmen year in college. And my first semester in grad school. And my last semester in grad school.

But it’s also why I remember the little triumphs so well – again, something everyone else most likely forgot in minutes.

It was junior year health class. Yes, health class. It was taught by the football coach, who was a nice enough guy as far as I knew. Gym teachers and coaches were hit or miss with me, but Coach Richards never pushed me too hard or made me feel stupid, so I had no qualms.

This particular day in class was right before a break, because Coach R decided against teaching any new material in favor of a game day. We must have been divided into teams, and the winning team would get bonus points on their test or …. something, I don’t remember. But he was asking trivia questions, going up and down the rows. This was good, since it meant I’d only have to answer 1 or 2 questions at most. It was bad because for those 1 or 2 questions, I’d be put on the spot.

Because he was the football coach, a majority of the questions revolved around sports, of which I knew nothing.  Great. He got to me, and asked a general pop culture question, which I answered correctly, but without much fanfare. He made his way through the room again. I prayed that class would end before he got back to me. It was getting close. My heart was racing, my stomach in knots. Please not another question.

“Miss Pugh,” Coach R started. Damn. He looked at his note cards which contained the trivia questions, and his big eyes got bigger. “Ooooh,” he said, wincing. WINCING. “This is a tough one.” The class, or those on my team, groaned loudly. I sat perfectly still.  He started.

“What movie — ”

A movie question. At least if I got a sports question, there’d be no expectations. Now if I get a movie question wrong, I’m humiliated because I don’t know the answer to what I actually care about.

“What movie is tied with Titanic for the most Emmy wins?”

Wait. Really? I took a moment to process the question in my head. I heard the class groan again, but I knew. Ignoring the fact that Coach R didn’t know the difference between the Emmys and the Oscars, I quietly answered.

“Ben-Hur.”

I could actually hear the confusion from my classmates, like I had just made up words. Coach R, a look of complete shock on his face, nodded. “Yes. Well done.” The class erupted into cheers.

For that moment, I felt vindicated. Like all the time I spent with my dad, Mr. IMDb himself, watching documentaries and awards shows and countdown series paid off. I DID know stuff. Maybe not sports or cool bands, but so what.

It’s hard to be super-obsessed with things that aren’t necessarily popular. Geek is chic at the moment, but it wasn’t always. Even now, at my current job, I get “NERD ALERT”-ed for openly loving theater and old TV and Disney.

And it still stings. But I don’t cry over it anymore.

 

Why Are You the Way That You Are?

A valid question, indeed. After all, when people first discover my extensive knowledge of NBC’s schedule from 1985-1990, my passion for Nickelodeon’s meteoric rise, and my ability to ruin “reality” shows by calling winners based on editing cuts, they seem very, very surprised.

I guess it’s surprising. I’m quiet and have an air of serious intelligence, I make no secret of my high standards.

So… where did this obsession with the god-forsaken entertainment industry come from?

As with most grown-up issues, my childhood home life is to blame. It really started with my dad:

Right around the time I was 2, my dad found a new hobby – recording movies off TV onto VHS tapes. Being the OCD personality he is, he quickly devised the most efficient system, recording 3 full-length features per VHS tape. Each tape was the numbered and tallied into a green binder. This green binder was my dad’s holy grail. He had covered the front of it with those tiny stamps from movie club mailers. Films were broken down by genre, as determined by my father. (Drama encompassed almost everything, but he had a whole section for The Beatles…?) He registered what network he recorded it from (so he knew if it was a desperate move, recording off a broadcast network with…. COMMERCIALS), what year it was made, and what number tape it was on.

Those hundreds of tapes were all over the house – in cubbies under the living room end table, stacked behind the sound system speakers, squirreled away in cabinets in my brother James’s room. It would be a few years before he had massive bookshelves built, which eventually housed most of the collection, albeit temporarily.

While James and I had our own store-bought video collection of Disney movies, in their squeaky plastic cases, most of our favorite movies were found on one of Dad’s tapes.  He made it a point to record great films he thought we should see; he just happened to record them between Dirty Harry and Scarface.  By 6, I was an expert at fast-forwarding  – trucking through one movie to land perfectly on the the middle one, coasting through commercials. Because, of course, we had to stop the tape and fast-forward blindly. “It was better for the tape” than hitting play THEN fast-forward. And it was all about the health of the tape. I also became an expert  at tracking — you know, when you watched a tape too much and it began to get those gray lines. We called it “flippy.” “Daaaaaad, The Wizard of Oz is getting flippy!!!!” I remember sitting in front of the VCR while a movie played, slowly twisting the tiny knob hidden beneath a panel on the front of the VCR, making the flippiness stop as best as I could.

Speaking of lecturing, we were also taught the rules of recording — if the red light was on, we could not use the VCR. Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. Don’t put the silverware in it. (Funny story: James once put a spoon in the VCR. He couldn’t have been more than 3. I’ll never forget my dad, who is not particularly great at taking things apart or putting them together, hovered over the VCR inards, muttering to himself. But James’s reasoning was sound – he wanted to know if whatever you put in the VCR would show up on the TV.)

The whole point is, from birth, I was surrounded by a library of cinematic history. My dad’s collection was the prize of the household. I was 12 when I finally grasped the concept of “renting” movies. It was an additional activity, along with puzzles, coloring, and imaginary games. We watched movies after a day of swimming, on sick days and rainy days, before we went to bed.

I know this isn’t necessarily about TV, but it definitely set the tone for how and why we consumed media. My dad’s hobby, his passion, was instilled into me and my brother. It’s a family thing.