Archive | August, 2012

The Magical Land of Nerd

24 Aug

Death and Catwoman hit da town – what up Nerrrrds!

I’m going to skip the details of my second day in ‘Murrrrkah! Not that it wasn’t super brilliantly fun, I mean, I woke up to a splendid plate of pancakes and fresh summer fruit, and got my hands on not one, but TWO really good coffees – which immediately exceeded my food expectations for the States. This was most welcome as it made me feel I would be gastronomically safe for at least the next ten days.

The adventures really began on my third day in SoCal. Even though I wasn’t able to go to Comic-Con, San Diego goes ALL OUT during the week of the convention. Lots of smaller nerdy fringe events take place across the city – professional nerds have come from all over the world to appear at SDCC, they’re going to make it worth their while. So I’d managed to get tickets for a couple of “fringe” events. There were also a few smaller sub-cons like Nerd HQ which had its doors open to the public for the duration of the convention.

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be completely excluded from the nerdstivities, my heart broke a *little* when we went into the city for the first time. All the geeks walking around with their human-sized Comic-Con bags and stylish neck tags. Every pop-culture character that ever existed was walking around the streets of San Diego. I could only imagine what it would be like at the hallowed convention centre. I was surprised at my levels of jealousy.  I was like a five year old watching another kid have a birthday.  I had to practice some serious head-talk to stay atop the envy:-)

I was on my way to a swanky comic-book themed party. I was going to a live taping of the Nerdist Podcast with JOHN BARROWMAN as the guest the next night. Life wasn’t too bad.

([the rest of my brain] jealoussssssssssssssssss….)

Pony had discovered that a comic book themed party was taking place at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. Guests were expected to dress as a comic book character. This slightly freaked me out for three reasons.  1. Pony is notoriously amazing when it comes to costumes. This meant I wouldn’t be able to fudge it all last minute-style. 2. The non-fudged costume would have to be transportable from Australia to the States. 3. The costume options for female comic-book characters are fairly limited – lycra, boobalicious, butt-flashy, maybe a tiara.

Not my favourite things to wear.

(except tiaras – yes to tiaras)

After much deliberation and consultation with the siblings I decided to go as Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. She’s a pretty cool, perky goth. Pony had organised a Catwoman costume. Damn those humans who can pull-off Catwoman. They should be pushed to the edge of society and poked repeatedly with a sharp stick.

The party itself was estupendo! (yeah, I’m all over that Spanish now I’ve spent 10 days on the Mexican border. Sadly I was not so bueno at Spanish when I ordered a beef tongue taco. I would have liked knowing that’s what “res lengua” meant before money had been exchanged.) Lots of artsy nerdery took place at the doo. Body painting. Cyborg dancing. Superhero photoshopping. Keith Richards was even there![1]

But I think my favourite parts of the evening were the bookends – the hectic getting ready process/testing out my swanky new camera, and the post-party stalker drinks at the Hilton. It’s really fun putting on goth make-up. Try it some time. It’s also really fun being the only two people in a fancy bar with (presumably) fancy famous nerdy people, sporting an accent that is considered cool (yeah, I was cool for a whole 16 days!) dressed as, well, as Catwoman and Death. I’d recommend doing that sometime too.

By the end of the evening, Catwoman was in desperate need of a wheelchair and my wig was starting to itch. But the most… exciting?… adventure was still to come.

We headed home. I went to take out my contact lenses. I’ve written about my experiences with contact lenses before. I’m still fairly new to them. The thought of wearing them whilst overseas unsettled me because I wouldn’t have my fabulous optometrist safety net in case anything went wrong. I practiced some more head-talk. Told myself to stop being stupid, nothing has gone wrong since I’ve had them. The universe doesn’t think “oooh, she’s away from her safety net, let’s mess with her”. That’s crazy Rae. Crazy.

The universe is a bum-face.

First contact came out like a champ. The second one snapped as I pulled it out and got stuck behind my eye. TERRIFYING! Absolutely TERRIFYING.

Shout-out to Pony who was amazingly brave during the ordeal. I woke her up with the words “I’m sorry to get you up, but my worst nightmare has just come true”. Eyes are gross. I find my own eyes gross, let alone someone else’s. Pony managed to keep the gagging to a minimum and sat on the edge of the bathtub patting my back as I poked around in my eye for a while.  She did an excellent job comforting in the face of such grossness.

After quite a few calls to Australia to gather advice and comfort from the contact-experienced-father-shaped parent and my optometrist (“Um, hi. It’s Raewyn Campbell. My contact broke and is stuck in my eye and I was wondering what I should do…?” “Come in!” “Well, I’m actually in the States at the moment…”) I felt assured that I had a few days up my sleeve until my future as a pirate was sealed[2].

The plan was to go to an optometrist as soon as we had a spare moment. It wasn’t a complicated plan. It was a good plan. The only problem was that the next day was going to be hella busy with little cousin retrieval, Spiderman, and the Nerdist podcast, so we’d have to aim for Saturday morning. Deep breaths. Pirates get parrots, so, silver-lining.

But kids, there’s a lesson to be learnt from this traumatising event. Eyes are resilient. Eyes can withstand a surprising amount. And you’ll find that out for definite in the next blog post.


[1] By “Keith Richards” I of course mean an old, stoned, leathery man Pony and I had weirdly met only that morning at the coffee place and who had turned up to the comic-book themed party dressed as Keith Richards. As you do.

[2] Just to reassure people who might find all this too disturbing. My dad once had a contact stuck behind his eye for about two weeks and didn’t even realise until it moved itself to the front one day all folded up and easy for the removal. Eyes are hardy. Deep breaths. Everything is ok. Optometrists are super adept at fixing this type of situation as well. I think the opt’s words were “simple procedure”.

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‘Murrrka!

16 Aug

16/7

I’m in the US! I’ve been here for six days and I cannot believe the amount of stuff that has happened since I left Australia on Tuesday. So many adventures that must be chronicled.

But first: BACK STORY.

1. It’s not the most interesting backstory in the world, however backstory is necessary in order to provide context; context which will hopefully enhance feelings of triumph attached to some incredible moments of fortune.

This trip has officially been planned since January but has been in the workings ever since I started my research on nerd identity. I’ve always wanted to take the pilgrimage to Nerd Mecca, Nerdvana – COMIC-CON! Seriously, how can you do a PhD on nerds and not go to Comic-Con!? There is no way that I could experience nerdom on such a massive collective scale in Australia. And in the last few years Comic-Con has become a major port from which nerdom is exported across the world. I’ve been desperate to know whether the nerdom I experience everyday is at all similar to the nerdom I observe – through many layers of mediation – in the States – the place where the nerd label originated. How much negotiating and modification takes place in the exportation of nerd identity from the States to Australia?[1] There’s no way to adequately answer this, but I sure as hell can get closer by going to SDCC. It would be a sort of ethnographic pilgrimage.

So I’ve been saving up for a few years with such a trip in mind. In January one of my close friends (she is Canadian, from here on in she shall be called: The Canadian Friend) called me up and said that she and some of her friends were going to road trip from Toronto to San Diego for Comic-Con (nerds are CRAYYY-ZEE-eee!) and asked if I would like to join them. I said yes.

Now, planning a trip to Comic-Con is hard. Especially if you live in a timezone outside the States. The dates of the event are available quite early in the year, however, very little notice is given for when tickets go on sale. You basically have to stalk the crap out of the SDCC site everyday for months, then when you do find out, the tickets inevitably go on sale at 3 in the morning for Aussies. If you don’t check the website for a week, or set your alarm, you can pretty much guarantee you have missed out on tickets. On top of this, hotels in San Diego are booked out almost a year in advance of the event.  Getting to Comic-Con is a hassle and a half.

So, because the tickets go on sale so close to the event, if you’re travelling from overseas you need to take a gamble. You need to book airfares and accommodation without knowing whether you’ll actually get to go to SDCC. I took this gamble.

Lady Fortune likes me though. I have family who live in San Diego. So a trip to Comic-Con would not just be a trip to Comic-Con, it would also involve a ridiculously special catch up with my lovely cousins with the bonus of free accommodation.

Having relos in San Diego turned out to be a very good thing, because I did miss out on tickets to Comic-Con, and a few other things I’d applied for fell through (it’s best to spell your name correctly on forms – just a handy hint for people), and The Canadian Friend couldn’t make it to SDCC after all. SO. I was going to be in San Diego at Comic-Con time, but wouldn’t be going to Comic-Con. Bummer.

But HOORAY for family!! And HOORAY for (a kind of) holiday[2]!!

The end of back story: Start of ‘MUrrrrkAH!

It takes a long time getting to LA. Left Wollongong at 5:30am to get to the airport on time. Boarded plane at about 8:30am. Landed in LA at 10am the same day I left but 14 hours later. Very little sleep, probably got about an hour and a half the whole trip. But, on the plus side, I had an isle seat and there was no one sitting next to me which meant I was able to score extra pillows and blankets to form an amazing cocoon-like structure around me, expand myself over a large area, and in the process become one of those horrible passengers that others have to do gymnastics to push past in order to get to the loos. There’s power in being that person.

I’d heard a lot of unsettling stories about getting through American customs, so during the flight I was bracing myself for a bit of hostility and bureaucracy.

Again, loooooong lines waiting for customs (customs officials must get REALLY bored, no wonder they look so uncheerful).

Finally got to the front counter. Passport. Declaration form thingy. Fingerprints. Face scan. Short, disguised interrogation: “What brings you to the US? How long are you here for? What do you do back in Australia?”

“I’m a student”

“Ahh. What do you study?”

“I’m doing my PhD on nerd identity”

“Nerd identity!? You can DO that!?”

Customs Officer launches into a five minute monologue on nerd identity/ culture and the history of changing attitudes towards nerds since a particular American basketball player started wearing thick nerdy glasses about 7 years ago.

Felt sorry for all the people waiting in line behind me. Felt more sorry I didn’t have my Dictaphone at the ready.

Post-Customs Anti-jetlag program initiated .

Turns out the best thing to unfreak someone who is slightly twitchy after navigating a large-busy-unknown-foreign-place-post-14-hour-cramp session is the sight of three screaming family members[3].

Best. Arrival. EVER.

Now, I’m not a screamer. But it’s hard not to get swept up in it when everyone else around you is talking in capslock and exclamation marks. It feels liberatingly deviant.

After we had screamed/hugged/flailed ourselves out, my cuz filled me in on the plans for the day. Her anti-jetlag policy was to keep travellers awake until 10:30pm. On this particular occasion she was taking me and the kids to Universal Studios in order to achieve this.

Best. Intro to America. EVER!

Summer weather, rollercoasters, studio tours, Mexican food, more screaming = no sleep = no jetlag.

Went past the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then stopped at an amazing tiny Manhattan Beach restaurant for dinner on the way back to San Diego (was served an entire chicken). Got a bit delirious during the drive down the coast. There is a point where tiredness is painful and the line between awake and asleep gets seriously blurred.

But the pain was worth it when I met the love of my life: The Princess Bed.

Not a bad first day in The Land of Nerd.


[1] Actually, the question needs to be even more specific than this. Does Comic-Con as an event shape the idea, performance and appearance of nerd identity, and how much of this (if indeed it does) get transported to a small city in Australia such as Wollongong? Basically, does my experience of nerd identity align closely with the experience of others who live more than a 14 hours plane ride away?

[2] Thesis writing needed to continue – there are no breaks from thesis.

[3] I was staying with my Mum’c cousin (here on in: Pony) and her two kids, Sippy and Fil. My Mum used to look after Pony when she was little; Pony looked after me; and I have looked after her kiddies.