Tag Archives: nerdom


16 Aug


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.



6 Feb

Something kinda strange happened to me last night. It was the culmination of a couple of weeks’ worth of stress, lack of sleep, and full immersion in the fictional place from which I was grabbing snatches of mental respite.

I don’t know if it will translate into words. I don’t know how I can possibly articulate the complexity of the all-encompassing sense of truth, immensity and ordinariness of the internal process that took place. I had been rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before I went to sleep. I was about two thirds of the way through, and for those of you who have read it you’ll know that after the half way point there is no opportune point to put the book down – the narrative becomes relentless as events take place one after another without any emotional reprieve.

I had that lovely struggle where your body wants sleep but your mind needs to continue the story. But I knew I had uni the next day, so around 12:30 I finally relinquished the book and settled reluctantly into sleep. The next thing I remember was being surrounded by music and singing; phoenix song that was very obviously signalling that Ravenclaw’s Diadem, the final Horcrux, had been destroyed. And instinctively, though I knew The Dark Lord was furious beyond belief, the time had come to face him and defeat him. It was time to fight. I sat up in my bed shivering with adrenaline and fear, knowing what I was about to walk into but couldn’t avoid. The phoenix’s song was still vibrating in the air all around me. I reached for my watch – I needed my watch – my watch was important – but I had trouble getting it on with my slightly shaky hands. But I was resigned to my fate, a calm-ish numbness had joined the internal procession taking place inside of me making it possible for me to move.

I continued to struggle with my watch as I walked up the stairs to join the battle. While I slowly ascended the stairs I thought about how I might best approach it. I needed to check the living room to see if my sisters were still up. They needed to be kept safe. As I reached the top of the stairs I came alongside the study. I saw light coming out from underneath the door and music from within. My brother was still up then. I poked my head around the door and whispered “Are you ok?”. He turned and looked at me with this expression of confusion and annoyance.

And then, it was as though someone was softly peeling dot-points off me one by one; it didn’t happen all at once, it was slow.

  • My brother is listening to music.
  • The music is not from a phoenix.
  • The music is my brother’s.
  • The Horcrux hasn’t been destroyed.
  • There is no Horcrux.
  • There is no battle.
  • We’re all safe.
  • What’s my brother watching?
  • Oh, a song from a cartoon!
  • Cool.
  • I should go back to bed.

I had obviously been verbalising these thoughts to some extent because my brother went from looking annoyed to smiling pityingly at me. I have a track record of sleep walking and sleep talking. I can’t remember ever being this conscious during an episode though…

I remember trying to cover my tracks by saying something about the cartoon he was watching, “Oh, I’m pleased you like this show. It makes me proud that you watch this. I like this song. Well. Good night” [“Proud”!? What the frak insane sleepy Rae!?? My sleep-walker self is patronising apparently].

And I checked to see if my sisters were still in the living room. They were. And I went back down to my room, deliberately avoiding looking into the dark passage that led to the dungeon/laundry in case I caught a glimpse of the Grey Lady.

It probably goes without saying that Harry Potter has been a dominant feature of my last two weeks. And there’s a reason for that.

When I first started my PhD the university put on a workshop about how to be a successful PhD student. It was great. Really helpful. Really inspiring. I remember sitting there thinking: I’m going to be SO organised and SO effective, and SO mentally healthy over the next three years. I was super excited about my topic. How could it ever not be awesome!? While I took note of what we were being taught by the people running the workshop – that at some point in our candidature we wouldn’t like it anymore, that at some point our thesis would probably be hard and painful – I couldn’t feel the truth of what they were saying. I wasn’t in that place so it didn’t really resonate. They showed us a picture of a roller-coaster with stages we could expect to experience over the next three years or so. High points. Low points. Crashes. But I was at the high point, so the other stages didn’t really worry me.

But I’ve been at a low point lately. I’ve been that little guy dangling off the edge of the track, holding on for dear life with one hand. I’ve been researching things that are difficult to understand and that I don’t enjoy. I’ve reached the bits that have to be done whether I like them or not. I have to articulate and organise and make coherent that which is not any of these things – fraking culture! It is almost physically impossible to write. I don’t like my thesis anymore… at least not at the moment. And it’s stressful. It’s stressful trying to hold on AND be effective AND coherent all at once. But that’s the gig.  I keep telling myself this is a stage that can be expected. But it still feels like the dementors have descended and I’m about to lose my soul.

My partronus of choice – Harry Potter!!!!! It had been a while since I’d read any of the Harry Potters. Since I was 12 years old it’s been my go-to world when feeling overwhelmed – it was my escape from the HSC for example (this might be TMI, but I kept copies in the loo and chugged glass after glass of water just so I had a “legitimate” excuse to leave my study and go read). On top of this, many of the people I’d been studying kept mentioning the Harry Potter-verse. My friends had also just organised a trip to the Harry Potter Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney for the end of the month[1]. The universe was telling me it was Harry Potter time.

Immersing myself in something I love connected to my thesis has not necessarily made writing it any easier, but it has helped me remember why I wanted to do it in the first place. It’s been brilliant rediscovering old friends.  But I forgot one important aspect of the books (especially the last couple); while they might provide perfect respite from the dementors of reality, they certainly do not provide emotional respiteJ[2]. As they would say on Tumblr: ALL my feels!!!

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

[2] Cite: uncontrollable weeping. This is not appropriate in a crowded bus.

Holiday Nerdery

9 Jan

Back to work after 17 days off. I’m pretty out of practice with my writing, so doing a blog sounds like a good jumping off point. Also, I haven’t posted anything for months, so it’s about time I get back to it.

As a way to ease myself back into my research I thought I’d go through some of my favourite holiday nerd moments. Because the truth is, while I might be freaking out about how I’ll ever manage to get back into work mode, the reality is, it never really went away.

6. Portal 2. My sisters and brother have been badgering me for months to finish playing Portal 2. I would be watching TV and all of a sudden I’d hear this whisper: “Play Portal….” And then another voice would join in and the chant would begin: “Play Portal. Play Portal. Play Portal”. And then my brother would walk past, my sisters would beckon, he would crouch behind the lounge (think Evil Demon Bob) and join the crescendo-ing chant: “Play Portal. Play Portal. PLAY PORTAL”. I shut them up by saying I’d play it in my Christmas break. Which I did. It’s hard to beat an afternoon involving GLaDOS, chicken Twisties, and the lounge. But turrets*!? What the crap Aperture Science!? I hate you.

5. Contact Lenses. This might sound a little anti-nerd, but I feel it intersects with the realm, so I’m mentioning it in this list. Almost two years ago to the day I went to the optometrist and he said I’d need glasses. All-the-time glasses. It took a while, but I really like my spectacles now. Yet every now and then you get ready to go out, you get your makeup right, or you’re going to a festival or something, and you think it would be really nice not to have to wear glasses. So I went back to the optometrist and asked about contact lenses.

When the lenses came in the optometrist showed me how to use them. I was in there for over an hour and in that time only managed to get one lense in myself. He ended up having to put the other one in, and after lots of fishing around and stressing out and a phone call from my brother saying he was locked out of the house, the optometrist took the lenses out for me. As I was leaving he gave me a pair of practise lenses to try the next day. His parting words were: ‘I’ll stay here until 6 o’clock. If you can’t get them out by 5:30 ring me and I’ll take them out for you.” He’s so nice.

I managed (after about 45 minutes worth of trying and my dad cheering me on) to get them in the next day. I got home from uni at about 4pm. I fished around for about an hour trying to get the damned things out my self. I stopped trying not to cry. I induged myself perhaps a little too much in the crying, partly in the hope that I could maybe cry the lenses out. In the end I rang the optometrist and took him up on his offer.

I walked in all puffy and mascara smeered. He asked if I’d like to give it one last go myself. My hands were amazingly steady as I washed them in preparation. The optometrist turned around to get something behind him. And like a ninja I had my fingers in my eye, the contact pinched, and before I knew what was happening I had got the right one out. I wasn’t very cool in my triumph. There was a lot of cheering and chest puffery. Buoyed with my success the other one came out just as easily. I couldn’t even feel bad that I had wasted the poor guy’s time. I was proud as punch. I went home with another practise pair and bragged to my family about how amazing I was.

The sad thing is, this scenario of tears, time and eventual triumph has been repeated a few times over. But it’s slowly getting better. It only took me ten minutes the last time I wore them to get them out myself. TEN MINUTES NERDS! No tears! Like a winner.

Basically, conquering contacts this holidays was pretty special.

4. Neil Gaiman. I’d bought my sisters and myself tickets to see Neil Gaiman in Sydney. Along with a couple of my Gaiman loving friends we drove up to Newtown (NEWTOWN!! Yep, I drove in the city! Rae: Conquering contact lenses and city roads since 2011!) to see this entertaining and clever man. He was accompanied by a string quartet called FourPlay who were pretty brilliant. We got seats in the second row, so we were close enough for him to spit on us… not that he’d do that, but, you know, if he’d wanted to he could have got us easy.

I think my sister described the night the best: Neil Gaiman last night was amazing – a lot like bedtime stories, a little like a dream. SO good.

3. Avatar: The Last Air Bender. See entry on Portal 2, but insert ‘Avatar’ in place of ‘Portal’.

My siblings love this funny little show. They’ve been wanting me to watch it for a long time. I always come in when they’re half way through a season and they don’t want me to be spoilered, but they also don’t really want to start again from the beginning just so I can see it. Like Portal I said I’d watch it in my break. I’m about 16 episodes in. It’s strangely addictive. What really gets me is the animation, the almost unnoticeable background details, little superlative movements, or facial expressions, or sound effects. They crack me up; like a group of villagers demurely cheering the return of the Avatar while one lone man goes completely hysterical to the point of mouth frothing  **; or Momo (Aang, the Avatar’s pet lemur) constantly stealing people’s food in the background, or Aang crashing into things or fidgeting behind other characters exchanging serious dialogue, or the ‘boing boing’ noise when someone is poked in the head. Watching Aang try and shove Momo into a tiny air vent was also surprisingly hilarious.

2. Doctor Who. This year was the second time since The Lord of the Rings films first came out that I was looking forward to Boxing Day more than Christmas. Because this, like last year, was the day the Doctor Who Christmas special was airing. I had been preparing my extended family for this event for weeks. We were going to my Aunty’s house for second Christmas on Boxing Day. I’d taken to just subtly throwing into conversations about Christmas prep the inevitability of the viewing: “So, I’ll make a trifle. Also, Doctor Who’s on that night, 7:30. We’ll need the telly. And salad? Yep, I’ll remember ”.

To their credit they remembered and generously allowed their geeky kin to withdraw and shed happy tears over their special show. The episode was beautiful; silly, funny, and magical. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is one of my all time favourite books, it gives me tingles. It’s one of those stories that gets closest to feeling tangibly magical. To have this combined with Doctor Who, which also manages this magic thing was super affecting. Hearing the Doctor ask “What do they teach you in school these days!?” was a definite highlight***.

My sister also got series 6 of Doctor Who on DVD, so I spent quite a bit of the holidays re-watching episodes from that. It was also nice going over to my friend’s house on new year’s day to relax and geek out with some Who. What can I say, the show brings people together:-)

1. Everyday Nerdery. I loved the taken for granted nerdy things that just went on in the background every day. Things like over-hearing conversations like this:

Mum to brother who had just got home after spending New Years Eve playing some roll-play game about Cthulhu… probably… I just remember hearing him tell Mum he was going down to Nowra to participate in an “eldritch abomination” to bring in the New Year.

Mum: How was the game?

Brother: It was great! I played this rich guy. Actually, I was kinda a bad ass. (Lots of details about his bad assery and what happened in the game. I think there was a buggy or a carriage or something and maybe explosions…?)

Mum: (doing an admirable job of sounding interested) Cool! Where did you stay the night?

Brother: At my mansion. I had this massive estate that had heaps of rooms for guests (continued to describe his fancy house)

Mum: Oh, um, I mean, in real life…

Brother: Oh. At Grandma’s.


This is what nerdity is all about. Right there. The imaginative becoming the real. It makes me happy.

I also loved consuming an entire season of Community in a day. And losing time on Tumblr. And having my sister ask which shoe I wanted and then telling me it was fighting another shoe that my other sister had chosen to represent and as such we must fight each other to death on behalf of the shoes. And re-realising I love The Cook and the Chef (problematic gendered implications re. the title but they’re both just so darn nice). And having one of my sisters attempt to explain the storyline of the Sandman comic book series by Neil Gaiman before we went to see him. And being jealous of my cousin’s sonic screwdriver screwdriver. And my other sister watching cricket and working out how it worked in terms of how it is like Quidditch and then describing how it should be more like Quidditch. These everyday nerdy things made the Christmas/ New Years break all the more enjoyable. So thanks to everyone who contributed.

As you wish xx