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October 4, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


I still have my dork moments, but I generally think I'm pretty cool. Pretty comfortable with myself, pretty happy with my haircut. Fun friends, interesting plans, spiffy clothes, the occasional cute boy, even. If I were in school right now, I might even be popular.

That's now.

Back in seventh grade, things did not look so promising. Especially not through BG's huge thick heinous glasses.

This week, let's focus clearly on the "P" word. Because more often than not, there's no "u" in

See, I had started a new school that, at first, might as well have been a foreign country where no one spoke my language or looked like -- or at -- me. Nerd Girl so did not belong. I watched in awe as the Popularinas picked up lacrosse sticks and just knew how to play, like in "Fame," where the music starts and everyone in the cafeteria just knows the song. How did they do that? I remember sitting at my desk creating a chart called "Making Friends," with a "+" column and a "-" column. As in "+: talked to Allison Sweeney for five minutes on lunch line," or "- No one is wearing ribbon barrettes anymore!!!"

No wonder I felt like a loser.

Did I like those lacrosse amazons? Not necessarily. Did I want to be like them? Badly. They seemed to have all the power, glamour, and glory (also, coordination). All the Popular Accessories: cool clothes, fab fiestas, dope dudes. (They gabbed all the time about boys they knew, and there weren't even any at our school. How did they do that?). They were never alone in the halls, never bored on the weekends. They were The Establishment. They were never invisible. They belonged.

So believe me, all you Freaks and Geeks and whatever else they call you these days, I know: wanting to be popular can feel like a matter of social-life or death.


If you were Popular, would you be automatically happy? Would your life be totally perfect? Would you be set?

Um, no.

Not even on television.

In the pilot of the new WB series "Popular" (not bad, but it's no Freaks and Geeks!) here's what you hear the school princess (Brooke McQueen) (Brooke McQueen!?) think on her first day of school: "Everything I've worked so hard for is happening. Isn't this the part where I'm supposed to be happy?" As in: she's totally not. Because here's the thing: yes, Brooke -- and her real-life counterparts -- have worked hard. At being popular. Popularity: it's not just an adventure, it's a job. Full-time. Requiring constant maintenance of The Right everything: the fiercest fiestas, the buffest boys (right, gemini wunder?), the coolest clothes, the most excellent extra-curriculars. Result: on the outside, Brooke looks great -- well, okay, she's way too thin -- but on the inside, she feels empty.

You should also check back in with Lonely Lizzy and B -- two brilliant, sympathetic voices behind the Faces in the Clique -- who show you not only that their world is still imperfect, but also that it's not all all Darth Popular: The Dark Side. They remind us that "popular" does not automatically mean calculating, vapid, and evil. (Got that? You guys who give Popular its bad name: quit it.)

There are popular for-the-right-reasons -- small "p" -- people who are genuinely liked and respected (at least by people they like and respect), comfortable with who they are and wherever they are in the teeming, stifling, cruel high-school-as-Calcutta caste system. Not to mention -- labels, schmabels -- there are popular freaks, popular geeks, popular everyones. Which is the middle-hallway I hope Insecure About Something will find a way to walk down. And which is why I bet a lot of you proudly responded to last week's front page quickie quiz -- Which are you? Freak / Geek / Popular" -- twice.

Wait, so how did those -- well, we -- twofers get that way? Somehow we found our niche, moved in, set up shop. Me, I became a chorus and drama geek, which I did not make up just to have a corny metaphor for/embodiment of the notion of "finding my voice." Sat up straighter, breathed deeper -- went to parties both "cast" and "beach."

So what's your Glee Club? You tell BG. Something that will occupy you, give you confidence, make you feel visible, even in small -- but cool -- groups. Something better to do than wishing things were different. Someplace better to belong than some invite-only clique. Even: somehow realizing that your current posse is already good and plenty.

(One Don't: don't just Be Nice and suck up and cross your fingers (a) hoping that They'll like you, and (b) lying that you like Them. Just ask Friend to All.)

Corny as it sounds, developing your Self, not your Status, is what lasts. See, Popular-Bots (big "P") are on auto-pilot. No brain, no gain. But if you're the ringleader of your inner clique of 1, you have got to get a little more creative: explore, challenge, think. Which is great. That's exactly why you always hear about fab celebs who -- much like one lacrosse-challenged geekgirl -- used to feel like rejects from the Cool Factory. (Which, I know, may be about as compelling a point as models swearing they eat three cheeseburgers a day, but still.) That is why I say: sooner or later, you will find your place. And ribbon barrettes will be back.

Just so you know that your letters -- and not just TV -- inspired this ode:



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