Tag Archives: PhD

Fairy Nerdmother

11 Dec

I wanted to draw pictures to accompany this post. I feel like it needs pictures. I don’t know if words can do justice to The Contact Story: Part 2; I don’t know if words can image-erise a grown man backed into the corner of his quite trendy mannish lounge room, eyes wide with fear and disgust, mouth enveloped by both hands in an attempt to protect the gross concept from entering it; kids leaping around me, screaming with terrified joy…

But there’s no pictures…


I woke up the morning after the most traumatic experience of my young life with BOTH my eyes, I’m pleased to say. Both eyes and a contact lens. Somewhere.

Pony and I had to pick up the kiddlets from their dad’s house (I shall name him Mr Argonaut for the purpose of this blog). According to Pony, Mr Argonaut was WAY experienced with contact lenses and eye-touching – he’d worn contacts for a bazillion years, until he had lasik eye surgery. He was Da MAN! when it came to eye stuff. It was possible that Arggy possessed special skillz re. my predicament. If we weren’t going to get to an optometrist this day, he was our next best bet.

When Pony and I arrived there were nice “hellos” and hugs and “come ins” and “how’s it goings?”

Pony: “Um, actually Arggy, Rae had a little mishap with one of her contact… [Mr A runs to the back corner of the room – see first paragraph] lenses…”

From behind one hand came a muffled “it’s stuck behind your… isn’t it?” the other hand was spared for the important task of indicating to his eye.

I nodded in confirmation.

Cue Sippy and Fil who were suddenly inches from my face; loud expressions of horrified fascination and ecstatic disgust; general flailing and springy room circumnavigation throughout. It was quite an event.

Mr A, after a gentle rebuke from Pony, (“You used to wear contacts ALL THE TIME! You said eyes didn’t worry you!” “MY eyes didn’t worry me!”) made his way towards me to inspect the damage. He very bravely (and I say this most sincerely, if it was me in his situation I would have stayed in the back corner of the room gagging) confronted my eye – “look up, down, to the right…”

No sight of the contact yet, no observable damage. Back to waiting.

The rest of this day’s events took place with that damned contact stuck somewhere in my face: The Amazing Spider-Man; walking around San Diego getting complimented on my Doctor Who/Portal t-shirt (like five separate times, nerdholes!); the Nerdist podcast taping; meeting Jonah Ray (twice); meeting Chris Hardwick and Matt Mira; locking eyes with John Barrowman (BFFs); meeting my Fairy Nerdmother. All of it.

Maybe it was my lucky charm…

While the whole day had been immensely plesant, the first bit of out-of-the-ordinary luck occured while I was waiting to pick up my Nerdist tickets from will call (for Aussies, “will call” basically means picking tickets up at the venue) at the Balboa Theatre. Pony and I were second in line but it was taking AGES to get to the window. The lady at the desk was very emphatically telling the gentleman in front of us that she couldn’t give him his passes until he presented the correct identification. He kept gently yet urgently arguing with the woman, but it wasn’t until he looked at his lady friend with exasperation that I realised it was JONAH RAY!!!!!!!!!! From the Nerdist podcasts. Like, Jonah Ray the guy who was meant to be onstage!!! Jonah Ray who was on the poster above the ticket window for that night’s event!!!!!!!!

Jonah Ray was desperately trying to explain this to the will call lady, but to no avail.

I got the giggles – it was like watching some B-grade farce. Mr Ray turned around to apologise for the delay. I remember saying, “That’s ok, it’s  entertaining” (SMOOTH!), while Pony looked thoroughly confused (this was her initiation into the world of Nerdist, so she had no idea why the whole line by this point was whispering and nudging each other and looking awkward).

The unmovable will call woman eventually asked Mr Ray to stand aside while she dealt with the rest of us. A guy further up the line must have been taking pictures of the happenings during this time because Jonah was all “You know, I’d be happy to take a picture with you, you don’t have to pap me” – the guy took him up on his offer which I thought was pretty courageous because Jonah’s expression suggested he was totally unimpressed with this ticket situation and probably wanted to inflict pain on someone.

Pony and I had a lovely chat to his friend while he generously posed for pictures with people (which still wasn’t enough to convince the will call lady that he was who he said he was, she was determined to get the right identification, dammit!).

I psyched myself up and for the first time in my life asked a human whose name was on a poster if I could get a pic with them. If I couldn’t go to Comic-con, I was fridging-well going to pimp my nerd wherever I got the chance.

I love this picture because Jonah looks really disgruntled and I look like I’m about to drop my carefully constructed pile of handbagless handbag contents (ahh, carry-on baggage restrictions). Special moment.  But seriously, what a champ*.

I encountered Lady Fortune again that night as she escorted Pony and myself to our seats. Front row…ish!!!!!

There’s nothing like eye contact to turn famous-foreign-media-mediated-images into actual humans – although, I desperately tried to avoid eye contact during the Quemment session. I mean, listen to this and you’ll know what I mean (nsfw). Still, John Barrowman and I are like *this* now [insert picture of fingers crossed to indicate tight, personal closeness].  Within the first few minutes of the show the final traces of my no-Comic-Con jealousy had well and truly disappeared. I don’t think I would ever have experienced such coolness from such a prime position at the convention centre.

It’s not in the recording of the podcast, but during the first ten minutes of the show, without knowing it, I saw my Fairy Nerdmother.

Chris Hardwick had come on stage to introduce the show. He noticed that the entire front row was empty and began riffing about why this might be the case.  A few minutes in  – and after John Barrowman had thrown a garbage bin across the stage, I can’t remember why – a few people filed into the auditorium down to the front. Chris launched into a very entertaining interrogation of these poor people, who it turns out were late because they had decided to pick up dinner on the way or something like that (whatever it was, it was a fairly lame excuse that provided a nice bit of comedic fodder for the Nerdists). The riffing continued and started revolving around the last remaining empty seat at the front – the hypotheses for what might have detained this last person got progressivly more ridiculous.

The door to the auditorium opened. Down to the front rolled a young man in a wheelchair**.

The guy who came in late was good humoured, and like a pro, Chris Hardwick converted the awkwardness to hilarity. And so began the official show which you can listen to in the link above.

I met Lady Fortune for a third time that evening (someone’s totally crushing. I’m just sayin’) whilst standing in line, a VERY long line, in desperate need of a loo, feeling all eye-twitchy, and hoping to scab a signature from le Nerdists in my copy of The Nerdist Way by Mr Chris Hardwick (it’s one of the texts I use regularly in my research, so it was full of sticky-tabs. I was pleased I had tangible proof that I’d read it – as though everyone else who wanted their copy signed was totally faking their audienceship 🙂 ). I noticed that the guy next to us was the guy in the wheelchair who’d come in late. He’d also contributed a quemment to the Quemment session. I caught his eye and complimented him on his quemmenting.

So began The Chat.

He inquired after our accents. Asked where were we from. What do we do? Was I there for Comic-Con? I told him my sad story about missing out on tickets.

“I can get you in.”

Let that sink in for a second. “I can get you in” – to COMIC-CON!!!!!!

I can’t describe to you all the thoughts my brain thought during the milliseconds after this comment. Part of me immediately thought the guy was bluffing. Part of me didn’t want to come across as needy and all taking-advantagey. Part of me thought I’d miss-heard what he said. Part of me had decided he was talking to someone else and I was ashamed I’d been so presumptuous as to assume he was talking to me. Part of me was ridiculously excited. All I managed in reply was “Comic-Con? Oh, yeah, nah, um, that’s cool…”

Thank goodness Pony was with me. “Really!? Are you serious? That would be awesome! Rae would love that!  Wouldn’t you, Rae!?”

“Um… yeah, but… um? Really?” (cool, Rae, really cool)

The guy  nodded in confirmation, “Yep, I have a spare ticket. I can get you in.”

Numbers were swapped (again, thank goodness Pony was there, I would not have had the presence of mind to get his number). I was going to Comic-Con!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And that’s how I met my Fairy Nerdmother.

The cherry on the top of what had already been one of the most brilliant ice-creamy nights of my life was getting to briefly talk to Mr Nerdists. It’s weird reflecting on these moments; these sorts of meetings are simultaneously artificial/manufactured/shallow (you’re just one of hundreds requesting a slither of a moment of a famous person’s attentions) and super affecting (I was shakingly, on-the-edge-of-anxiety-attack excited that I was about to come into contact with people who were constantly present in my lived experiences, people who without knowing it have shaped my work and, therefore (or because of) and necessarily, my world view). I’m pleased to say the sticky-tabs instigated a quick convo with Chris, which was really nice. It feels good being able to tell someone that you liked the thing they made enough to use it in your research. It feels really nice to have that person seem interested and surprised that you use the thing they made in your PhD. Lots of really nice feels.

(Weird perspective crouchy photo!)

But this night didn’t just have one cherry. Oh No. It had TWO cherries. A cherry made out of my stalker, Lady Fortune.

In the taxi on the way back to Mr Argonaut’s house I continued my attempts at moving the contact around to the front of my eye (sounds fancy and intricate, but I was basically just rubbing my eye). At some stage it felt like something moved and my sight got extra blurry. My whole brain started screaming. Did I just ruin my eye FOREVER or did the elusive contact just come out from hiding?

Whatever it was, I sure as hell wasn’t going to move my eye until I got to a mirror.

I’d played calm in the taxi, but as soon as we got to Mr A’s he knew something was up. In another moment of courage he took a look at my eye. So did Sippy.

Mr A, very calmly: “Ok, Rae, I’m pretty sure I can see the contact, it’s moved to the front of your eye. If you go into the bathroom now you’ll probably be able to get it ou…”

Sippy (something to the effect of): “OH! MY! GOSHHHHHHH! PUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!! YOU’RE EYE’S ALL PUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARRRRRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Springy leap flail.

I rushed to the bathroom. Mr A was right, the contact was no longer behind my eye. It was back within the potential removal zone. Sippy was (kinda) right too. There was a lot of gunk. Not puss. But definitely eye gunk.

Deep Breaths.

Cotton-bud on a stick.

Ninja spirit summoned.



Adrenaline shakes.

I have very rarely ever felt relief like that before. It also looked impressive, all folded onto itself. When I unfolded it I realised that I had pinched it too hard the night I had first tried to take it out. It had a jagged hole in the middle of it – like a donut. Donut contact. I wanted to keep that contact. We’d been through a lot together. I wanted to thread string through the middle and wear it like a war trophy around my neck. However, I resisted my inner hoarder and deposited donut contact in the bin.

Much to Pony’s dismay, I wasn’t going to be a pirate (she tried to convince me to wear an eye-patch for a while to freak out the family back at home – an amusing but ultimately uncomfortable ruse).

I wasn’t going to be a pirate. But I was going to Comic-Con!

*I did drop the teetering pile not long after the photo was taken.

**psssst – two hours in the future this guy became my Fairy Nerdmother.


Sexing Chickens*

22 Nov

I’ve been trying to refine my definition of ‘nerd’. It’s difficult, but necessary. I’ve discovered that this is what most people are interested in: a definition. In fact, what I think most people are actually interested in is whether or not they are a nerd.

At a family lunch earlier this year my grandad interrogated me about my thesis; what was I doing and why and therefore**. A week later I decided to show him the research proposal I submitted for the scholarship committee.

“I can see why you had trouble explaining it last week!” he commented after he had read it through a couple of times.

However, this didn’t stop him asking again:

“Therefore…? A nerd is…?” He looked at me, “I still think there needs to be a ‘therefore a nerd is’.”

I had endeavoured to capture the sense of nerd identity in the first line of the proposal: The nerd identity encompasses notions of intellectuality, obsessive interests, esoteric knowledge, and social awkwardness.

This was apparently not enough for The Grandfather, who continued to give me the same look he gives Pollock paintings.

I really didn’t want to meet the Blue Poles wrath, so I decided to go down the ‘nerd identity is really hard to pin down because it’s actually quite huge and means different things to different people’*** route of explanation. I explained that a person could be considered a nerd if they tinker with the minutiae of computers, just as a person who dresses up as Darth Vader and attends conventions could be considered a nerd.****

“So, is a scientist a nerd?”

The conversation turned to old scientists and philosophers and whether they were nerds or not. I decided that in retrospect they might be considered nerds. Conversational tangents which touched on cultural expectations, racism and gender took place at a confusing and alarming rate, but somehow, SOMEHOW, this train of conversation lead to a discussion of the computer revolution and how this had a significant impact on cultural valuing of nerds; that through this nerds had became necessary, their interests were practical and in demand.

We were now in a galaxy far, far away from definitions. I liked this. This was safer. This was good…

For the next few minutes we discussed nerds as professionals, nerds as amateurs, and scientist geeks. Participation in the conversation had expanded to include my uber-nerd uncle who works in a chemistry lab, programs computers, builds machines and is WAY into astronomy, music and western philosophy.

Then, while I was in the midst of receiving a history lesson on Henry Ford (go figure: “you can have it in any colour, as long as it’s black”), The Grandfather got to what had been plaguing him all this time:

“I don’t know how I could be put in the same category as him!” He almost exploded.

He wasn’t talking about Henry Ford, he was pointing at The Uncle. It seemed to come out of the blue, it took me by surprise, but this was it, this was the heart of the matter for The Grandfather. The week before I had made an off-hand remark calling him a nerd – his voluntary involvement in philosophy classes at his local university campus, his level of engagement with the subject matter, his choir and music obsession, and even his love of cross-words led me to call him a nerd. That I labelled him as such hadn’t been brought up since that conversation. But it had obviously stayed with him.

“Oh, ok. Here I’ve been thinking we’ve been trying to define what constitutes a nerd, but really, you’ve just been trying to work out whether you are a nerd or not! Well, that’s a different matter all together!” said The Uncle smiling. “’I mean, being a nerd is fine, but I just don’t think I am one!’”

It became very silly after this, Seinfeld quotes abounded. But I think it revealed something quite important. Actually, a few things that I think were important. Nerds might be becoming socially acceptable, but they are still not quite – “He was a nerd, not that there’s anything wrong with that”. It also showed that even within one tight-knit family, there are several different understandings of the term.

And perhaps most significantly, I realised that I still wasn’t exactly sure myself what I thought a nerd was. Slowly, as I’ve read more, my ideas of nerdidity have expanded and I’ve neglected to refine as I went along. This lunchtime I realised my definition of nerd was now so broad that its integrity had been severely compromised. It had lost its specialness, and therefore it had lost much of its power.

At the moment, it seems a little like identifying a nerd is like sexing chickens*****. I’m not sure how we do it, but somehow we do.

*Gutter: mind out of!

**”If you’re a carpenter you put up shelves, and you can put things on shelves. What is your thesis for?” Well, you will be able to put things on it…

***woefully imprecise even:-)

*** This example was somewhat ambitious since The Grandfather holds Star Wars in deep contempt. It probably wasn’t the best way to win him on side:-)

***** For more on the exciting world of chicken sexing: http://cogprints.org/3255/1/chicken.pdf

I’m a blogger now. Bloggers are cool

15 Nov

My name is Rae. I’m a PhD student in cultural studies. My thesis is on changing attitudes to nerds/geeks and the implications of this shift on power relations (with a particular focus on gender and ethnicity). New media is a big part of my study, so I thought it was probably time I practiced what I preached (I think new media is pretty cool and important but I’m a bit of a luddite). Ultimately this blog is for a couple of things. 1. It’s for writing about where my life intersects with my research. 2. It’s also for keeping people up to date with my study.

I actually decided to start a blog months ago. I set it up. I made passwords. I wrote stuff. I drew stuff. It was great. But that’s where my blogging ended. I had the space, I had the content, but putting that content on my space was just too scary.

The idea of keeping a kind of public diary freaks me out a bit. Even the idea of ordinary, unpublic diary keeping unsettles me. My paranoid self tells me no matter what precautions I take, someone will find it and read it and that would be, you know, bad.

But that’s my paranoid self. However, my more rational side is slightly unsettled by it too. I was watching the Ken Burns documentary series The Civil War with my dad recently. Diary keeping was huge among the soldiers during this time. The fervency with which these men kept records of their experiences was incredible. One soldier’s bloodstained diary was found at Cold Harbor; he’d spent his last moments writing “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed”. I thought stuff like that only happened in fiction (I always zif* the bit in LOTR where Balin and the Dwarves keep writing when they are about to be attacked by orcs. I mean, put down the frickin’ pen and run!). Yet, apparently it happened.

After seeing this doco on the American Civil War, I found it slightly disconcerting that these people would go to so much trouble and place so much importance on keeping a record of their lives. I found it a bit sad. It’s almost like the record became more important than the life. Sometimes I worry that living takes second place to making sure that people knew you existed.

In a strange way this fear of missing out on living is what has finally compelled me to stick my content on my space. It got to the point with my research that I felt I was just distantly critiquing nerddom and no longer participating in it. I was getting increasingly jealous looking through other people’s blogs, vlogs, and deviantART pages. I missed the fun involved in being a nerd.

This is my space to be a nerd: I’ll write, draw, squee and keep people up to date with my research. And hopefully it will be fun:-)**

* For more on “ziffing” see:  (it’s around the 4 minute mark). Or better still, buy the whole series!:-)

**At least for me… I can’t guarantee this for people reading it.