I started reading The Secret Loves of Geek Girls on a train to Jersey and finished it only a few hours later. There were times I lifted my eyes from the pages only to startle at my distorted reflection in the glass windows beside me. Because of a glare, my mirrored face was cut-and-pasted over the anthology's illustrations, and the words spread across my jaw. I loved and hated it, like the cliche of seeing myself in the story had been too pathetic.
The Secret Loves of Geek Girls is an anthology of nonfiction stories, essays, and graphic novels about--you guessed it--geek girls falling in love. I guess that's not completely accurate though. Falling in love. Out of it. Navigating its calm tides and hurricanes. Some were about romantic relationships, while others were merely about the possibility of one.
And the geek culture? The fandom? It's not the quirky kind we see popularized on TV nowadays. Not the Big Bang Theory or Marvel movies or CW shows.
These were comic book fans and fantasy lovers and video game makers, sure. All the average signs of nerd that most people are coming to think are pretty cool. But there were also cosplayers and Rocky Horror troops and that bit of self-identity in a 4000 page epic that would raise a few eyebrows. There was even a perfectly cringe-y story on dungeons and dragons innuendos that made me laugh, something I'm not sure Stranger Things fans would get without a crash course on general tabletop RPG. I saw my friends in these stories--the fans who grew up immersed in fictional worlds, who were saved by fictional worlds. I saw who we hoped to become--industry leaders pushing for something new, something better in our storytelling.
And by the way--I'm a geek girl. Through and through. Comics of course, and anime, and 19th century literature. And if you think this post's going to be about a past relationship--an insecure kid with braces falling over herself for some jock that doesn't get it--well...you'd almost be right.
Because yeah, after reading that anthology I want to talk about all those old secret and almost loves and crushes. All of them. The non-relationships of my twenty-three years of life. The kid who painted his nails black and told me it was like I was Donna and he was Eric Foreman from That 70s Show. The snowboarder from New Zealand who listened to my nerdy rambling on the role of fate in ancient literature for an entire evening.
The engineer who called me Wonder Woman and still likes my zombie posts on Facebook.
The compsci guy who ruined Madoka for me.
The anxiety ridden gamer who built spaceships heading for the sun.
And of course, the storyteller from a few years back.
Because yeah, after reading that anthology I want to talk about what it's like to wait for love, to fear a crush, to wonder if sometimes you really are just too different--or worse, too much. That everything you carry only amounts to a knot in your throat and some silly fictional characters and a person whose hand you want in your own but you never even knew if they were real in the first place.
But then I remembered my dignity and just scribbled all those feels in my journal.
My two favorite stories in this anthology had been Cherry by Cherelle Higgins and Mechanism by Meaghan Carter. The first talks about an experience I can never pretend to know. It covers racism and hate, and I cried with the author at the end.
The latter, Meaghan Carter's story, is more lighthearted sure, but something about the mechanism--the defense against love--that the main character had developed struck home. Her mechanism was personified by a red-haired monster with a club and quiet disposition. It fed her all kinds of rules and rationalizations when dates went sour--"kept [her] from getting [her] hopes up."
I never liked him much anyway.
I can only stay for two hours on this date.
He's leaving anyway.
I'm leaving anyway.
This hit home hard enough that, after finishing the humorous four page comic, I had to sit back. Really stare at that annoyingly cliche reflection in the train car window.
If I'd had my laptop with me, I'd have opened up to a folder named after the ocean, and I'd have read the stories I'd written about my mechanism. The muse that I turned to whenever I wanted and didn't want to talk about some pathetic romantic endeavor.
I wondered if maybe that was an essay I'd have asked to be in this anthology. How a writer copes with love, how a writer can't let go of an imaginary friend and calls it a muse.
How that muse is a harsher critic of your love life than your mom. How you heal from a broken heart by writing stories that'll never see the light of day, a conversation between you and your characters.
If it wasn't already obvious, this anthology hit home and I loved it. I want to blabber on about the real nitty-gritty stories and the way they explored not only different media platforms, but the way fandom also opened gateways to the exploration of one's sexuality, to the finding of community, and to the way hobbies or similar interests are far from a match-made-in-heaven. It even talks abuse, and about the way marginalized voices can be fetisized in "geek" culture.
So ends a part reflection, part review. I think I was just dying to gush about this book to someone. Coincidentally, the friends I wanted to share this anthology with are all going through heartbreak. For some, it may be a balm. Others? I think I'll wait a little...