On Growing Up A Nerd

While heading home from a Superbowl party last night, I became engaged in a heady discussion with my soon-to-be nine year old about the size of our galaxy relative to the rest of the universe. This is the same eight year old who recently brought up the subject of reincarnation out of the blue at a wedding reception. He didn’t know what it was called, but he knew what it involved. I didn’t start either of these conversations, for the record.

It seems he’s headed down Nerd Alley, just like his Dad. He receives the same amount of picking on by kids at school, thinks about things I don’t expect him to, likes playing with Legos more than with other kids, and can’t catch a ball worth beans. His favorite activities involve computers, and he has a frightening capacity for forgiveness and compassion — frightening only because he doesn’t even think of protecting himself from outside hurt. I am loathe to admit it, but protecting oneself mentally, emotionally and physically is more important now than it ever was when I was his age.

When I was a kid, I lived just outside of a small, relatively safe town. I spent more time in my room reading than outside playing, and when I was outside I was on a bike. I didn’t have a lot of friends at that age, mostly because other grade school kids thought it great fun to make fun of my feminine name. My son doesn’t have a lot of friends in our apartment complex, partly because he comes across as “wussy” and feminine. One difference is that he craves friends more than I ever did at that age. I had one good friend in the trailer park I lived in and a couple of friends from Cub Scouts, and that was more than enough for me. This continued, and though I gained more friends, we were all pretty tightly bound into the “Brain” clique. This brought more taunting from more kids, teaching me more and more how good it was NOT to be like them. I continued hanging with the Brains and refusing to learn how to deal with social situations outside my clique.

There are obvious pitfalls to this, and I had to learn to vault them later in life, but I think this was one of the best things I could have done. In addition to keeping my brain exercised, I learned independence from the masses at an early age. This translates to one very important lesson: I didn’t have much of a problem dealing with peer pressure. The dangers of alcohol, drugs and trouble did not present much of a challenge to me because I didn’t need the acceptance of the people who were offering these vices to me.

In a way, I hope my son continues on the nerd path. It will teach him how to say “no” to peer pressure and will increase his self-confidence as long as he doesn’t wallow in the lonliness — that is a real danger for him. With the gang violence and drug problem in the schools now, these skills will be more important to him than they were to me. It is vital that he know when to say “no” and when to let his compassion pour forth. The more he exercises his mind, the better equipped he will be to handle that. I don’t mean that I want to make my son socially inept (as many of us nerds were,) but given the alternatives, I would rather see him grow up to be capable and careful than gullible and people-pleasing.

Denver Broncos

Hanging in the hallway of my apartment is a piece of … well, history. It’s orange and tattered and just about the right size to fit (tightly, perhaps) on a small 12 year old. I remember wearing it, watching the Broncos fight all the way to the Superbowl under command of Craig Morton, aided by Haven Moses, Lyle Alzado, Randy Gradishar, Rick Upchurch, Rob Lytle and the incredible #57, Tom Jackson.

I used to sit on the edge of the couch, hunched forward (especially during the 4th quarter) with my elbows on my knees, right knee determinedly bouncing about once a second. You see, I used to be able to influence the outcome of Bronco games — or so I told myself. I just knew that if I stared enough energy into the screen they would win. And sometimes, they would make incredible plays and support my conviction. The times that they didn’t, I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

I’ve changed some since then. For one thing, I don’t follow football nearly as closely as I used to. And I don’t put quite as much stock in my abilities to influence John Elway’s arm through the television. But I’ve never forsaken my Broncos. I’ve never been a fair-weather fan. Even when they had “poor” seasons, they were still my favorite NFL team. When I was living in Phoenix, I rooted for the Broncos whenever they came to town against the Cardinals. (Of course, most of Phoenix did …)

Another thing I’ve never changed is my respect for John Elway. When he first came into the league, refusing to play for the Colts when they drafted him, he caught a lot of negative press, even from Bronco fans. I think a lot of people felt he would only be here a short time and then go after the highest bidder. After all, he was just a cocky hot-shot, right? I didn’t have this feeling about him. I liked him from the start, and was determined to enjoy his play no matter what the people around me were saying (yes, you Dad!) Fortunately, John did not come here to give up.

Now, in his 15th year with the league, John Elway is still piloting the high-flying Broncos, and better than ever. He has a formidable group of guys behind him in Terrell Davis, Tyrone Braxton, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe, Bill Romanowski, Ray Crockett and the incredible Denver front line. The country is behind him, knowing that he has to be close to the end of his career — even someone as tough as John can only take about 20 years of this stuff! Much of America wants to see John Elway win a Superbowl, and I believe that he and the rest of the Broncos can pull it off if they can tap into that positive energy.

Besides, they have to win. I’ll have my tattered 20-year-old Bronco shirt with me on Game Day!


We detest it in our politicians. We expose it in our enemies. We scorn religious leaders because of it. And yet, we deny that it exists within ourselves.

The common definition of hypocrisy is “saying one thing and doing another.” The American Heritage Dictionary states that it is “the professing of beliefs or virtues one does not possess.” Whether we like it or not, I believe most of us are hypocritical occasionally, often without realizing it. How many of us have talked about helping the homeless and then lied about having spare change when approached on the street? I know I have, but rationalization comes to my rescue: “Another buck toward the price of a bottle. That’s not helping him.” There may or may not be truth to that rationalization; I never take the time to find out. This is not the right thing to do, but I have done it anyway. There have been times I have given change, as well.

Are all my hypocritical acts wrong? Frankly, I think it depends on the mood I am in, and I suspect mood and circumstances have more to do with hypocrisy than we might think. It is possible to make a statement or commitment with all good intentions, then later say something entirely different due to a change in the situation or mood. For example, when I was still in secondary school, my best friend and I promised that we would always seek each other’s advice when we were in a bind. This continued without fail for years, until I found a woman that I decided I was going to marry. I started confiding in her more than my friend, and when he confronted me about it, I explained that I would be spending the rest of my life with this woman (or so I thought) and that I felt I obligated to share the most important things in my life with her first. My statement was the beginning of several years’ stress and distance in our friendship.

Were my actions hypocritical? Strictly speaking, yes. Were they understandable? Again, yes, but not necessarily from the viewpoint of the person hurt by them. My situation had changed since we had made those childhood promises and my responsibilities changed with it, so I had to do what I thought was right, despite the pain I knew it would cause. Sometimes, it is necessary to reverse position and risk hypocrisy in order to maintain your own integrity!

This does not mean that hypocrisy should be used as a weapon. It may result from a decision, but should not be the force behind it. When it is, rationalizations or excuses are almost sure to be present. “I said this, but it does not apply to me for X reason” is a dangerous statement to make, and the motives behind it must be carefully scrutinized before we make it. One method I use for determining whether my rationalization has gotten out of control is to pretend that I am someone else watching me make this statement. Does it fit with the person I want to be known as? Are the reasons compelling to someone outside my position, or do they look like justifications for other action? Do my actions seem childish? By separating myself from the situation for a moment, I gain some distance and get a better perspective so I can decide whether to go ahead with a seemingly hypocritical decision. I try to remember that reason is an ally, but rationalizations can lead to grave mistakes.

Of course, I may just be trying to convince myself of all this ….

(I am happy to report that my friend and I finally put the distance behind us and are now as close as ever, despite the fact that our primary confidants are now our spouses.)

The Zone

Athletes speak of it often. Musicians claim they are inspired by it. Writers claim their works write themselves from within it. Mystics have prophetic visions while bathed in its light. Martial artists draw unforseen strength and prowess from it.

Somewhere deep inside the mind is a doorway to a place where time does not exist, where actions flow without the burden of thought. The body becomes a conduit for energy that seemingly comes from nowhere and translates into beauty, strength, grace and intracacy. This place is called The Zone.

I have no doubt that such a place exists; I have watched others while immersed in The Zone and seen profound changes in their actions and attitudes. I have even been lucky enough to be there a couple of times. In this essay, I will attempt to describe both what I have observed in others and what I have felt on my own occasions

Several years ago, I went to a late night jam session at a small club in Durango, Colorado. The club was empty but for a few people sitting at the little tables. Because of the low turnout for the jam, the house band spent a lot of time onstage that night. At one point, they launched into a slow, instrumental twelve-bar blues. The guitarist, a quiet Texan named Peter Neds, eased into the solo, playing mainly standard blues licks and runs. Somewhere near the middle of the solo, he slipped into The Zone, and the music began playing him. His solo encompassed every guitar trick I had ever seen and a few more, the entire time conveying a sense of pain and loss that only a slow blues can do. He was not merely stringing together stock phrases; the solo was a living structure, interconnected and sobbing with sorrow. After more than ten minutes, the music began to change back into stock phrases and hooks, spiraling down from the heights it had attained. Peter was coming out of The Zone. To this day, I have never seen anyone short of Stevie Ray Vaughan equal the intensity and emotion of that guitar solo.

I have hoped over the years that I would be able to attain that kind of kinship with my instrument, and have had brief glimpses of it from time to time while I am playing, but never have I been blessed with an experience such as that one.

In an entirely different environment, I have seen a close friend enter The Zone. I went to watch her test for her black belt in Tang Soo Do, a style of Korean karate. The test was grueling, yet she seemed to settle in to it with ease and grace. I realized she was fully in The Zone when she displayed her forms, however. One form in particular showcased the grace and beauty of Tang Soo Do; it was a long, slow form that nearly traversed the length of the dojo, and it seemed to be based very strongly in energy manipulation. As she passed in front of me, I saw the faraway look in her eyes and realized that she was on another level. Her body was responding to the energy so fully that I could almost see the power flow around her, in and out of her lungs and muscles. She was an incredible balance of grace and power, and I gained a great amount of respect for her abilities that afternoon. Of course, she passed the black belt test easily.

The closest I have come to that kind of experience was during a sonic meditation in Phoenix. I went mainly out of curiosity, but left convinced that meditation in general is a strong way to tune in to The Zone. The process involved lying in a darkened room while the facilitator manipulated various sound producing objects, from simple blocks of wood to Tibetan bells to a very large gong. I had no problem relaxing into the meditation and allowing visuals to form in my mind’s eye, but I was not in The Zone at that point. When the Tibetan bells started, I was astounded at the clarity of sound and was unable to focus on anything else. I started letting go of my own perception of reality. Then, the gong started slowly and quietly. The facilitator knew the gong well, and was able to get widely varying sounds by hitting it in different places and different ways, making a gradual crescendo. By the time the gong was sounding at its peak, I literally felt that every wave of sound was a physical medium that rocked my body as if I were in a boat. I had the sensation of floating and, later, flying for an unknown length of time. At some point in my mental journey, the facilitator began the sequence of sounds to bring us back, and when I returned to my body (I can’t describe it in any other way!) it was completely slack and relaxed. Moving my body took several minutes of great effort, starting with clenching and relaxing my fist and working through the rest of my body. I’m not sure where I went, but I know I had the sensation of flying and floating and that I was not aware of the state my physical body was in. It was a bit frightening, but also invigorating for me. I think this was an extreme example of The Zone; perhaps beyond it, because usually being in The Zone requires maintaining some contact with your body in order to channel the energy. All of my energy was directed somewhere other than my body, as evidenced by the extreme relaxed state that it was in when I woke.

It would be nice to be able to enter The Zone whenever I wanted to. I have experimented with various types of meditation and have had limited success, but it has never been reliable for me. I have a theory that it is possible to enter The Zone through any type of disciplined action or practice: sports, martial arts, music, meditation, prayer are all examples of pathways to The Zone. Some people who are extremely good at what they do seem to be able to call it forth on command. I strongly suspect that they are all tapping into the same energy source through different methods. If anyone else has thoughts on this matter, I would be interested to hear your comments. Let me know how you feel on this matter, whether you agree or disagree.