Nerd chic

Sometimes I find it hard to gauge how much nerdiness is cool and how much is just nerdy. In my mind it’s all cool except figurine collecting and cosplay, but I forget that broad consensus on the issue can hardly be assumed. I caught up with a friend for a drink yesterday and brought the conversation round to a couple of our mutual friends with the segue: “Speaking of nerd stuff…” My friend pointed out that this was mean, drawing my attention to one such different of opinion. I hadn’t meant the comment to be disparaging towards our mutual friends. On the contrary, I respect them as pretty much the most hardcore nerds I know. The whole point had come up because I’d brought along to the pub my set of Dominion and its two expansions as I was planning to go around to my brother Tom’s place afterwards to hang out for the evening. Dominion, you ask? I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s basically a board/card game that I got into over Christmas in the Netherlands with my also respectfully nerdy cousin Geert. Try it, it’s great.

And this is hardly my most nerdy indulgence—over the past couple of years I’ve embraced it, and in the last twenty-four hours alone I’ve read X-Men comics, I’ve ventured into a dungeon with my Dark Elf character in the video game Oblivion and I’ve relaxed with a smattering of songs from one of the many Final Fantasy soundtracks I keep tucked away in my music collection, somewhere behind all the cool stuff. Perhaps I should be more concerned about my image, but for the moment I remain convinced that if I stick at it long enough I’ll be able to convince the world that actually nerd stuff has always been cool. And I liked it before you.


I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian for a long time before I finally did when I got back to Australia. A lot of my family and friends are, and I felt so guilty about eating meat that it seemed inevitable. But there are a lot of convenient excuses. Aside from the fact that I really like eating meat, it’s easy to tell yourself that vegetarianism will be difficult when you’re travelling. It’s not. In terms of the everyday, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll reduce your meat consumption, but pretty much everyone who says that they do is lying. I only noticed this after the various friends of mine who get the guilts when I say I’ve become vegetarian protest that they don’t eat a lot of meat, but then have to apologise for the fact that I can’t ever try the food they’ve ordered out or cooked in.

I don’t want to be high-horsey about it and I certainly don’t care about animals. I watched a video of a monkey forcing a frog to give it oral sex on YouTube the other day and found it really funny. Stupid monkey. I am apparently what Wikipedia calls an ‘environmental vegetarian’. But this is kind of off topic. The point is it’s really easy to be vegetarian. So much so that while I still really like meat I don’t really get it. That might sound strange, but since I’ve had to start refusing it I’ve started to think that much of the world is insane. Why does everyone eat meat all the time? Why is it in everything? Why can’t people cook a meal without it? It’s as though the whole world decided one day that food should be eaten with tree bark. Tree bark has to be in everything! It is to be the basis for all meals from now on! I arrived at this conclusion through two vegetarian cookbooks my brother Tom got me for my birthday, when I realised that vegetarian cooking is not about having the meat ‘taken out’ or substituted for something else. That might seem obvious, but if you think about it for a moment that approach is the basis for the majority of vegetarian options in non-vegetarian restaurants.

I didn’t set out for this to become such a rant and I probably should have stopped writing three-hundred words ago. The only reason I’ve been thinking about it is that I finally tried a burger from the fantastically named Lord of the Fries and it was amazing. Until recently I had no idea all of their stuff was vegetarian and much of it vegan. Although I love the idea of drunk bogans unwittingly buying veggie burgers for the taxi ride home, people should know. If I can get so drunk I can barely walk and still buy a greasy, greasy burger from a late-night burger stand I can cope with being a vegetarian.


We are told that Melbourne is in the grip of a mad gunman, a nineteen-year-old who police say is running around on a shotgun-enabled crime spree. We are told not to go into the city or to the so-called ‘sporting district’ where, we are told, entire sporting teams are sitting around indoors waiting for the danger to pass. We are shown photos of police in body armour wandering Melbourne’s city parks armed with rather large guns. Never having lived in fear of a crazed shooter, I’m really not sure what to expect. Of course it’s possible that nothing will happen at all and this city-wide panic will disappear as quietly as it began. But I guess you never know.

I remember being in the city last February on Black Saturday, when the empty streets felt impossibly surreal. The few people who had ventured outside were being blasted with strong winds and forty-seven degree heat and would duck for cover into any shop open for business as though from a hailstorm. It felt wrong.

But this time you wouldn’t know it. With no idea of the apparently omnipresent danger, I traipsed into the city yesterday to indulge myself in lunch with a friend, and a couple of French macarons from a posh little deli I’d read about in a wanky Melbourne food blog. I don’t usually treat myself to these kinds of things, but I was feeling whatever the opposite of homesick is and remembered drunkenly eating macarons in Nice with Gillian before our trip to Monte Carlo. Tiny, and expensive at $2.50 each, but I guess with a gunman on the loose I might as well splurge.


While two Central European winters may have taught me to treat Melbourne’s colder months with nothing but mild disdain, I’ll never get over the preciousness of the daylight hours leading up to winter solstice. This year’s is just two days away, so we can almost count our days in minutes, even so much closer to the equator than anywhere I lived in Europe. I’ve been thinking about it today, after this morning I made a list of all the touristy things I want to do in Melbourne, like go to the drive-in and see elephants at the zoo. The list is something I’ve wanted to do for ages, and having something like that in Prague meant that I got through at least some of everything I wanted to do in the city. But even as I struggle to relax into finally having some free time the hours of daylight are slipping away, and another day passes where nothing gets crossed out.

High school musical

I’ll just put it out there:

I’m going to be in a musical.

A university production of Sweeney Todd, to be precise. Not in any major role, just as ‘ensemble member #9’ or something equally anonymous, but it’s still rather exciting, particularly considering that around six months ago I hated musicals.

That was before I’d watched Glee. I know, it’s become a bit of a cliché to even talk about the show. It seems to be one of those things that you love…or you just don’t get. I’ve introduced it to numerous people who respond with something along the lines of: “Yeah, it’s pretty funny. I don’t get why they’re singing.” But for me, a frequent and severe victim of pathos, it makes me happy like little else. The only show that’s come even close to leaving me beaming after each episode the way Glee does is The West Wing, in which singing was infrequent.

I’m not really sure why, exactly. I’ve had conversations recently about what I find appealing about teenaged characters (beyond the school uniforms). Depictions of teenagehood as a transitional period into maturity seem to me farcical. Where the characters of our teenage dramas are allowed to express their fears, frustrations and insecurities, the conclusion is inevitable adulthood. But rather than some sense of actual maturity, growing up seems to be about ‘just getting on with it’, even in the face of exactly the same fears, frustrations and insecurities. So to me, teenage angst is a fantastic, socially acceptable outward expression of the same shit we all have to deal with but pretend we don’t.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Glee, with a cast of teenaged characters dealing with the weekly problems of an after school special, is designed from the outset to make us feel all mushy inside. And that’s okay! I don’t know why we don’t seek out those feelings more often. I’ve said before that I respect a person who can be brought to tears by television or a book or a song or whatnot. And there’s singing in Glee! Not serving as a barrier to pathos, but rather as its conduit, abstracting it out so that rather than get caught up in the ridiculousness of some of the plotlines you can just sit back and know that even though you shouldn’t care about whether or not Rachel and Finn end up together, they’re singing about it and it’s just wonderful.

I suppose if that wasn’t the case I might find it hard to relate to the show’s presentation of the same, familiar yet unreal American high school environment that I know I never experienced. Jocks and nerds? Cheerleaders and choir girls? If my country high school was characterised by anything it was apathy. Sure there was some bullying early on—I was too much of a loser to be immune to that—but after a while no one really cared anymore. We didn’t have outlets like school plays or choirs to ‘express ourselves’, but I’d be lying if I said that meant my teenage years were filled with starry eyes and dreams of an imaginary, inaccessible stage. But then, every once in a while I’d look across to the other high school—the one my brother didn’t go to and so seemed out of the question for me—the one with the drama and music programs, and think that maybe I’d be doing something other than drinking and getting stoned most weekends if I’d had the guts to admit that deep down, in the place where we all know that for each of us it’s true, I’m a star.

And so even if Ohio’s William McKinley High School Glee Club is merely a means to expression in the face of the oppression of a fictional high school as far from my teenagehood as the SATs and American football, Glee makes me happy.

Realising this six months ago in midst of a Prague winter, I immediately set to acquiring a selection of musical soundtracks, hoping to find something I would enjoy more than the songs from Mamma Mia!, which became my first experience of musical theatre on a high school excursion when I was sixteen. So, upon the recommendations of my cousins, I armed myself with Sondheim and a newfound conviction that when I got back to Australia I should audition for a musical. I did, and to my surprise, I got in. Although this all seems a bit sudden, and I can hardly say I’m fulfilling some dream I’ve had since I was eight years old, in some way maybe I am. Maybe I’m getting that high school experience after all. Maybe this will be the moment I realise, in the words of The Decemberists, I was meant for the stage.

Excuses, excuses

While being back in Australia has on the whole been a positive experience, not everything has gone quite as I had hoped it might. An account of the few months, even a brief one, may go some way to explaining why I’ve been such an uncommunicative hermit since my return, both to my friends abroad and those who don’t live so far away. What I’m trying to say is: I have excuses!

I’ve never had trouble finding a room in Melbourne before, and despite the fact that I was to arrive in Melbourne just two days before classes began at Melbourne Uni for the semester I was confident that I’d sort something out. But of course that wasn’t the case, and for the first three weeks of semester I slept on the couches and floors of my incredibly hospitable brothers while life went on and I struggled to keep up at uni while still being confused as to why everyone around me was speaking English. After a couple of possible rooms in share houses fell through, I finally found somewhere with friends of friends in Brunswick, my favourite part of town.

Three days after I moved in we got an eviction notice. While frantically looking for another new house, I managed to get about 10,000 words of assessment written and submitted. Finally, a room opened up in my old house at no. 69, the Brothel. Moving house the second time happened over the course of about a month, and involved staying in various rooms while housemates in two houses shuffled around, and trips to Wodonga to retrieve things I packed in boxes before jetting off to Europe the first time, five and a half years ago. So now I’m back in my old room in the former brothel with some old housemates, some new, and fewer holes in my wall since Dad helped me cover them with sticky grey stuff that made my room smell like chemicals for days. As soon as my senses of taste and smell returned I was thrown back into study, and that’s where I find myself now: staring down the barrel of one more 2,000-word essay after submitting about 6,000 words worth yesterday.

But at least I have a bed to sleep in, a desk to write at, and a pizza oven to make dinner time fun. And hopefully even the time to be less of a bad friend, both by distance and not.


Over the past year or so a few of my friends have turned twenty-four. Every time one of these neatly divisible birthdays comes around I write the same thing on their birthday cards next to my poorly-drawn picture of a cactus in a sombrero: the day you turn twenty-four is the halfway point of the prime of your life. Halfway between eighteen and thirty, it’s all downhill from here.

Of course, as everyone I’ve mentioned this to who has already crossed over into the indistinct realms of thirtysomethinghood has vigorously attested, that’s ridiculous. My stepmum Jenny tells me she’s only now in her prime! While this was said in an attempt to reassure us both, now that my Hallmark wisdom has come back to haunt me I can’t help but note this birthday as significant in some way. At the least it brings my mind back to Prague, which I left just three months ago feeling a bit more grown up.

I’m not sure yet how I feel about that.