This spring break I bring a passel of three friends home with me, to see my sights. Even on spring break my friends sit at the breakfast table declining Greek verbs for amusement.
In the afternoons, we read in the local library. They deliberate the ethics of cloning and devise mathematical equations to create spiral graphs in Microsoft Excel.
And what are nerds? Nerds, I don’t mind conjecturing, are people who are unafraid to be curious, to imagine, to tie their enthusiasms to ideas, and to probe ideas out to their edges.
I often think about the most important scene in The Matrix. Or, the most important scene to me. The scene about Tasty Wheat. The scene about nerds, where Keanu Reeves just sat down to a bowl of slimy food. Mouse, the character next to him, says:
“If you close your eyes it almost feels like you’re eating runny eggs. … Do you know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat. Did you ever eat Tasty Wheat? … You have to wonder now. How did the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like, huh? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken for example, maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything—”
And just when things are getting interesting, the guy across the table says, “Shut up, Mouse.”
That scene sticks to me. I remember instances while growing up when I brought an idea forward and my classmates met it with contempt. Times when my “differentness” and fascination with knowledge was an oddity to be poked at, not a journey to be joined. I kept a list of haunting questions in the front pages of the standard-issued eighth grade student planner:
“Is an olive a vegetable?”
“What does a Roman nose look like?”
“What does ‘Auld Lang Syne’mean?”
On the next page I accumulated my list of favorite words:
I had one particular friend who always chuckled at my curiosity. I didn’t know that in failing to share it, she forfeited the good stuff.
In The Matrix, they wanted Mouse to shut up. “Isn’t that how the world works?” I thought. As soon as you seize the tail of something fascinating, someone tells you to be quiet, or silences you with disinterest, or chuckles a little. Because sometimes all you need to get your fun squashed is for someone to chuckle at it. And sometimes in the public school, being curious isn’t cool.
Are you a fun-squasher or are you a Mouse?
I ask the question of myself. Since enrolling in college I have met many insatiably curious students. In selfish moments I sweep away their scholarly curiosity, simply because I have different curiosities than they do.
But, as the African proverb has it, whoever refuses to learn has built himself a house without a door. He has trapped himself inside. He stands alone.
So go forth curious, and don’t squash anybody’s fun. Be a Mouse.