Monday, February 06, 2006

Nerds of the World, Unite!

This is a follow up post to "Gettin' My Nerd On," since I'm at present still developing my thoughts on the whole "perestroika" pro-qualitative, anti-quantitative movement revolutionizing my probable intended field of political science. Also, not that many political scientists (any?!) read this blog. So you know, whatever.

Lately, my brain has been too fogged (like I said, I'm getting stupider by the day) to undertake any serious reading. Novels (good ones, even accessible modern ones) sit in stacks, unread. I'm reading chapters of watered down, for public consumption "law" books instead of more complex critical race theory, law review articles, or seriously over-my-head books on Reagonomics. So when I run out of New Yorker articles to read, I re-read (if I really can't handle anything too involved) Calvin and Hobbes comic books, or David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.

Re-reading Sarah Vowell's latest, Assassination Vacation (genius historical essay/travelogue), I realized: man, she has cool friends. She toured Lincoln's tomb with Bennett Miller. E.g., the Oscar-nominated director of Capote. She's toured the house of Dr. Mudd (Lincoln assasination conspirator) with Matthew Klam (who she refers to as "Klam"), and he's a really good NY Times writer. The list of cool friends/traveling companions goes on, seemingly self-referencing back to each other: David Rakoff, David Sedaris, Nick Hornby, Ira Glass, Dave Eggers (though he is so annoying I don't think he's cool). The thing that links them? The ultimate hipster nexuses of This American Life, McSweeneys, New York City. They all seem to know each other from way before when (they got the book deal and got rich). In reality, they are not like say, Julia Roberts big. But they are big to me. I wish I could be friends with them. I have never wanted to be the popular kid or the cool kid or joined that cool circle (I gave up on that at 7), but here's a group I really, really want to join. I too, want to go to cool readings, art exhibits, drink, inhale second-hand smoke (well, not really) and make witty, funny comments to each other. It's self-congratulating, but even better because you are congratulating each other on your supreme nerdiness, making it cool. It's affirmation. We all secretly crave that.

I guess there's always a little bit of an impulse to want to be cool, just different kinds of cool. I want to be nerd cool. I don't want to be frat/sorority cool, rich cool, powerful cool, or whatever kind of cool they elevate on Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County (WTF?!). I want to be cool like my professors, who are so uncool they're cool. Have you ever been a cow-eyed, nubile freshman, who looks at your TA and thinks "Man, you are so cool. You sit around and read and drink coffee and say clever things all day. And you have cool glasses. I want to sleep with/be you one day." Well, I've thought that. I've been that. I have really cool (albeit inexpensive) glasses. If I'm not a cool nerd, at least I have the accessories and hobbies. But I still have secret desires about surrounding myself with a cabal of cool nerd friends.

Actually I'm already there, even if Sarah Vowell won't be my friend. I'm not famous, and they're not famous, (and none of us are best-selling authors or Oscar nominated directors), but we're all cool. College is the great democratizer, bringing together people of different interests, backgrounds, futures into one survey course. Most of my cool friends come from my college days. (of the lawyers, only DC can be truly considered cool). I have a journalist friend. I have a paid screenwriter friend. I have a poet friend. If she had kept in touch, I'd have a novelist friend. I have a kickass best friend who works for the Department of Defense, doing non-evil things. I have a cool feminist sociologist friend. I have a cool schoolteacher friend. And yes, lawyers can be cool, so I have cool lawyer friends.

Isn't it strange how we go through life rejecting one kind of norm, only to be completely sucked into another? It's hard to think about college, an elite place of higher learning, as being a democratic institution. It was a place where I could be myself, seek out other similarly minded people, and make friends that are so vastly different from myself yet similarly fond of saying clever things over coffee.

The internet is another such democratizer. Sarah Vowell calls it "The Nerd Israel." It is. If college is the crucible of nerd love, with nerds tentatively reaching hands across the well-worn copy of No Exit, the internet is where nerds engage in an orgy of nerding out. Witness my new net friends (whom I've never met in real life), Scot Eric Kaufman (nee A. Cephalous, e.g. without a head--but you knew that) and Ancrene Wiseass (so nerdy you have to look up the fact that Ancrene Wisse refers to a hermetically sealed group of nuns back in ye olden days). Where else, but on the internet could an Americanist lit scholar, a medieval lit scholar, and a (what the hell am I?) uh, aspiring law professor (I need to find a name for my niche of research, like "behavioral constitutionalist" or something) from different affiliate institutions find each other and start a dialogue? The Nerd Israel. It's like college. You wouldn't meet these people but for that one survey course or study lounge. The blogosphere is like a giant study lounge (and bitch fest) where we can all shoot the breeze in our fuzzy slippers and congratulate each other for how witty and cool we are. Nerds do it better.

Nerds of the world, unite!


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