Still a strange land, but strangers no more

Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods: Now the word "nerd" feels like an embrace.
Courtesy Haddayr Copley-Woods

Haddayr Copley-Woods is an author and blogger in Minneapolis, as well as a source in the Public Insight Network for MPR News.

I was recently on an elevator with two Enterprise crewmembers, Indiana Jones, an anime character I couldn't identify, and Legolas.

A wide-eyed Delta pilot stepped onto the elevator and asked me — the only person with round ears, wearing street clothes — "What is this?"

"It's a sci-fi/fantasy convention," I said.

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He stared.

"I spend my time," he said, "doing real things."

It was not just his rudeness that left me gawping after his exit. It was my realization that somehow, over the years, I had come to see this motley crew of characters as mine. This was my family he was sneering at! I felt protective.

But all I could manage in their defense came after he got off the elevator. "Real?" I said to the closed door. "Like watching organized sports?"

Everyone laughed.

Indiana Jones said, "I wasn't sure that you were one of us. But the perfect comeback when it's too late? You are definitely a nerd."

I beamed at him.

Many people called me a nerd back in seventh grade, when I played Dungeons and Dragons and got picked last in gym. Now the word feels like an embrace.

It took me a while to get there. Somehow I missed out on conventions. Instead I wandered the cold face of the earth alone, being the weird girl at work, always the odd man out, bewildered.

Then I sold my first short story to a small fantasy magazine in 2003. The editor told me I should "come to a con" — by which he meant a gathering like the CONvergence event last week in Bloomington.

"Isn't a 'con' where people wear Spock ears?" I asked.

He replied, "Trust me."

I did, and made some of the best friends of my life: local people. Friends from far away who stayed true over long distances. Friends who remember what it was like to be outcasts in high school and then to stumble upon an entire hotel of people happy to see them.

You haven't lived until you have earnestly dissected the anthropological approaches of Le Guin vs. Arnason with Black Canary over a drink served by a storm trooper.

There is something about nerds and our glorious, enthusiastic participation in what we enjoy that I cannot resist.

Do you still secretly read your old comic books? Do you spend time thinking about Joss Whedon's take on female sexuality?

Then you should come to a con.

Sometimes, during a deeply intellectual panel on the work of Lloyd Alexander, you might have to raise your voice to compete with the sounds of a boisterous Klingon ritual going on in the courtyard below. But if you're a misfit, it will be worth it. You'll finally be home.