OCTOBER 24th, 2014 — Six years ago today, John Green‘s Paper Towns was newly published and already a bestseller. The first ever Tour de Nerdfighting was uniting Nerdfighters all over the United States. And on this particular day, I chalked my alien avatar throwing the Nerdfighter gang sign above the letters “DFTBA” on the sidewalk of Tacoma’s Frost Park.
It was a simultaneous celebration of Nerdfighteria’s successful push to get Paper Towns onto the New York Times bestseller list, and also a promotion for the Tour de Nerdfighting’s Seattle stop. With the Nerdfighter community and vlogbrothers still being a relatively underground reference, I included the translation (almost unnecessary today) beneath the otherwise mysterious letters: “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.” Those words still resonate in my mind, because what I found through those letters was truly awesome, in the most powerful, breathtaking, inspirational, almost holy way.
The Seattle edition of that first Tour de Nerdfighting is still very special to me. I saw newly-made Nerdfighter friends, I met new friends, and generally had a blast. I met fellow Vlogtag participant James in person after months of forging a friendship online. I still consider him one of my dearest friends. I found out about Molly Lewis, discovered she went to college very close to my home, and began another dear friendship I’m extremely grateful for (psst, go support her Patreon). I’m fairly certain it’s the first time I met John and Hank Green, who have both profoundly affected my life, relationships, and how I think about the world. They continue to do so today. I would also find out, years later, that friends I would make later at other events and through other channels were there in the audience with me at Seattle’s downtown library.
I still have the green DFTBA T-shirt I won at the Tour’s Seattle stop, with the tiny University Bookstore logo on the upper back. This particular shirt really did just stand for “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.” DFTBA Records had not yet officially launched. Since the YouTube-centric record label and merch company hadn’t begun its mighty empire of T-shirts, the bookstore helping sponsor the Seattle stop had produced what few shirts were available. Having a piece of Nerdfighter-oriented clothing felt very special, at this early stage. Moreso, I think, because of that little logo on the upper back of the shirt, which still makes me think of my very first wizard rock show.
It occurred earlier that very year: I had gone to see The Parselmouths perform at The University Bookstore in Seattle’s University District. It was a concert I never would have attended had I not met Kristina and Elle (then Brittany) at a Where The Hell Is Matt? shoot in Gasworks Park. They, along with Kristina’s fellow FiveAwesomeGirls collaborator Kayley, were the first other YouTubers, the first Nerdfighters, I’d ever met in person. They told me about the upcoming wizard rock show, which in turn drew me further into my beloved community of Nerdfighters, which in turn assured that I would be determined to make it to as many such events as possible, from the Northwest YouTube Gathering (the first of which was that same year) to the Tour de Nerdfighting. I carry the memories and the friendships from each one of those events with me every day of my life.
It’s not just Nerdfighteria-related memories that come rushing back as I look at these photos of that primordial chalk piece (taken by the ever-awesome Vince of Darkain Multimedia and now Cospix.net, early in our friendship). I look at my young, undeveloped chalk skills and I’m sucked back into the fond memories of that first year of the Frost Park Chalk-Off. A chaotic assemblage of artists, programmers, bloggers, and more in that tiny little park in Tacoma, meeting every week to save a park on the verge of being fenced off from the public. Meeting regularly with people I grew to love, spending an hour each Friday chatting, chalking, photographing, and video taping (on actual MiniDV tape, still, back then).
It was Frost Park, more than anything, that made me fall in love with Tacoma, its people, and its community. It got me drawing again, slowly developing from childish scrawls until I eventually developed a style of my own. Like the Nerdfighter gatherings and events, I formed bonds and friendships that are special to me beyond description, that I hope and believe will last as long as I live. It was through this little community built in chalk dust that I formed the beginnings of an ecstatic love for an oft-derided city filled with so many amazing, little known or undiscovered joys and experiences.
This was a very special time in my life. It defined a lot of who I would become, the connections I would make, and the values I would take on. I was delving deeper and deeper into an online community of like minds, while simultaneously immersing myself in and falling in love with my new city’s community. I still love Nerdfighteria and Tacoma with all my heart. No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing with my life, these communities will always be a huge part of me.
Whether Nerdfighter or Tacoman, you are the building blocks of my present self. For better or worse, you are part of my soul. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you, all of you, for being so truly, unforgettably, breathtakingly, inspirationally, life-changingly awesome.