Miguel De Unamuno, a person whom I know absolutely nothing about, is quoted as saying, “Consciousness is a disease.” This is a theme that I have always found, though seldom stated explicitly, in some of my favorite authors. The disease of consciousness can be found everywhere in books by Dostoyevsky and Albert Camus. As a existentialism junky, I have consumed a steady diet of this theme, and I have recently come to the conclusion that consciousness is only the start of my sickness.
If consciousness is a disease, than being a nerd is a terminal disease. There is no cure for the chronic obsessiveness that plagues us nerds. Every aspect of my life is consumed with some element of obsession. I have always lived by the credo that, “Anything worth being interested in is worth being too interested in.” My nerdism has manifested itself in numerous ways over the years, ranging from the classic examples of nerd culture, such as Star Trek or The Lord of the Rings, to things that are more culturally universal, such as music and sports. Once I hit legal drinking age (of course it didn’t happen before it was legal), I added beer and eventually wine to my list of obsessions.
Most nerds don’t even realize that they really are nerds. Those of us who have spent countless hours discussing Battlestar Galactica and Comic Books have always been aware of, and been constantly reminded of, our nerdom. The truth is that our entire culture has slowly and covertly become a nerd culture. The millions of people in America who play fantasy football are clearly nerds, despite the “jock” nature of their nerdiness. The surge in popularity of films featuring comic book heroes and science fiction or fantasy themes has even pushed traditional nerd culture into the societal norm. Even the rabid fandom that follows reality television shows like American Idol and Survivor are indicative of classic nerd behavior. Within the wine community there is also a large contingent of nerds, people whose livelihood in no way requires that they know what malolactic fermentation is, but who still study the geekier elements of the winemaking process. Nerds.
Add to this nerd disease a web of nerdy codependency, and the affliction becomes completely incurable. I have a group of friends who all work in the Washington wine industry, people who I will do the service of not sharing their names in case they have not fully outed themselves as nerds. We got together for a beer (or three) recently, and the entire evening was like one big orgy of nerdiness. We started out talking about wine and local wineries that we have visited recently, got into the crazy people that we know in the wine industry, moved on to discussing the Walking Dead, kept right on trucking to the topic of comic books, and finally finished the evening on a debate of the merits of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG for us nerds) vs. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). This, my droogies (random literary reference), is what heaven looks like for the versatile nerd.
In my own case, my wine nerdism is just another manifestation of a pattern of obsession that has plagued me since I was a child. Some people are able to isolate their nerd tendencies a bit more than I do. I am a lost cause, but some of you have a chance to live a fairly normal life. Being a wine nerd can be a valuable disease to have. You will probably be asked often for wine and food pairing advice or for recommendations about local wineries to visit. People will depend on you to explain what a “Meritage” is, and you will be able to first correct their pronunciation and then proceed to inform them about what it is. If you are a skilled nerd, you will start to understand when people really want to talk about wine and when they wish for nothing more than for you to shut up about it. All of these social boons can be yours if you learn to control your disease.
Despite the many downsides to consciousness, most people would admit that they think that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I feel the same way about nerdiness. Sure, my obsessive nature can get the best of me sometimes, but I also get more joy out of my interests than I would if my interest were more casual. I sometimes enter an ecstatic state just enjoying the nose on a wine, something that can lead me to spend ten minutes just sniffing a glass without so much as sipping the wine. These moments make all of the downsides to my obsession seem insignificant, and it is in them that I find myself thinking, “Damn, it feels good to be a nerd.”