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I remember the moment when I held a book by Neil Gaiman in my hand for the first time, it was in the early 90’s and it was “Preludes and Nocturnes”, the first Sandman album, and while you sometimes have no idea that a book or set of stories will change your life, sometimes you can feel a tingle deep within signalling that things will never be the same. This was such a moment. Oddly, it wasn’t any of my nerdy friends who got me into Sandman, but rather a very odd (even by geek standards) girl I took a class with in college. She always behaved like the biggest introvert in the world, and when there was a concert by a band she liked (unfailingly something deeply subcultural and undergroundsy) she would insist on going alone, so she could experience it to the fullest. For some reason she sometimes came and talked to me about art and gave me book and music recommendations though, and for that I will always be grateful, because she told me about Neil Gaiman and Sandman. Coming to think of it…this girl, with her abrupt ways and intent stare, would herself have been an excellent and very interesting character in a book by Gaiman.

The ten Sandman books along with the ones about Death and The Books of Magic will always be up there on my 100-list of most important books in my life. That’s a big percentage that Mr. Gaiman influences my reading life with as a writer.

After that came his novels and he became more and more famous, and suddenly in the later half of the 90’s his name started to travel outside of geek culture, and film adaptations of Coraline and Stardust helped all of that along. I saw Gaiman in London back all those lives ago, and it was such a small crowd in comparison to the 1000 people who gathered at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver yesterday. I have a feeling that if Mr. Gaiman could clone himself and sign more, or if the bookstore held more people, they could have easily sold several thousand tickets. The event yesterday was the end of an era, as Gaiman said himself. This is the last book tour he takes where he visits bookstores. He will in the future do talks/reads in theaters and bigger auditoriums, and maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought I heard a hint of regret in his voice when he said that. On the one hand I’m sure it’s great to be a writer-rockstar of sorts, but on the other, I do remember him as a nerdy younger man, talking about comic books at the Forbidden Planet in London. That person is still there, Gaiman is pretty much the same when it comes to genuine passion and an unfeigned drive to share that passion with others.

Me and my friends were lucky, because we belonged to the 300 guests who could be in the room with the author when he talked, the rest of the ticketed fans had to wait outside and watch the event on tv monitors. Later though, the author would faithfully and with great stamina sign books for everybody. It had undoubtedly been an intense tour so far, as he referenced back to his book signing in Dallas recently, where he was still going at it at 2 a.m. telling people that “there is no wrong reason for being at an event like this, except maybe for author murder”.

Gaiman talked about how he had started writing his most recent book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” because he missed his wife (Amanda Palmer) so much, and how the raw text was done in about 4 months because of the isolation and drive he felt. And then he spoke more on the writing process and how it differs much depending on “how long the piece of string of the story is”, and also depending on what state of mind your life circumstances leave you in. When his father had passed away, Gaiman wrote the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife” frantically during one single plane trip, and didn’t remember much of the process afterward.

The writer also touched, with great humor, on the difference in how media approaches him today compared to how they used to. For years, there was a deafening silence (except from the usual fan base) whenever a book of his came out, and even as recent as with the Graveyard Book, The New York Times didn’t review it until after they realized that it had won the Newbery Medal. …On the other hand, nowadays the writer gets such odd questions from media as: “Who are your favorite designers?” At that point in the story Gaiman smirked a bit and mumbled to us “If I knew who designed the black leather jacket, I’d put a shrine up for them”.

Mr. Gaiman also took some questions, some of the most amusing answers were:

“Having a hobby that could kill you” (on what is the best thing about keeping bees – apart from the honey)

” In adult fiction you can leave the boring bits in” (on the difference between writing YA fiction and adult fiction)

I also realized that I need to re-read the Graveyard book, because it has a great great great..etc. grand niece of Lettie Hempstock’s in it, and I remember a quote from Gaiman’s newest book, where one of the Hemstock women tells the protagonist that there are several descendants of the three originals out wandering the world, and that they are pretty phenomenal women in their own right. I am also looking forward to a story of Gaiman’s called “How the Marquis got his coat back” that will be published next year in an anthology. To everybody who’ve read and liked Neverwhere, this is exciting news.

All in all, the hour and half blew by, and I was glad that I was at the event with my friends from the Grey Havens. Kelly, Donna, Kim, Kate, Clay, Sarah, Stant and Jessica. We were in the first 15% of the people who got to meet the author for signing, but we had done a lot of waiting to be where we were, and entertaining each other with book recommendations and anecdotes about reading helped making it all special.

When it was my turn to have my books signed by Mr. Gaiman, I gave him my old Sandman album “Season of Mists” (one of my favorites) and told him that I had read him since the Sandman days. We talked for a few moments about Forbidden Planet and those days, and I admit that I was shy and starstruck, thinking that this nice man must be very weary from all the talk with thousands of people already. So I was about to leave, and in answer to his “it was lovely to meet you” I heard myself saying “yes, Neil, it was really so wonderful to meet you too”. I *never* call authors by their first name, unless I know them (at least as in having been properly introduced), or am in some unique interviewing situation. I always felt that the young men who gather around scifi cult authors or comic book writers at cons and chummily call them by first name just because they love their work, were a little embarrassing. But there it was, it slipped out on its own. Neil Gaiman looked at me in a very warm sort of way and held out his hand to me, I took it, and he held it for a moment in both of his. And that was it.

I don’t even feel ashamed for being a little teary while walking away with my friends after this. He is a very nice guy, and he had other warm moments with other fans, but this one will always be mine.

Only a man who has been a great fan of writing himself through all his life has this type of humble warmth, and that is Neil Gaiman. One of the most overlooked and subtle things that Gaiman does constantly, all the time and often, is to read the books and short stories of unknown new writers and say kind things about their stories and promote them. He does it with people that are not know at all, and many many have gotten a boost in those hard initial years because of this generous writer and book lover.

 

ETA: It’s funny how some people will remind us of favorite characters from beloved authors. My friend Kelly, who founded the Grey Havens Group really reminds me of Gaiman’s character “Death” from Sandman. She can pull off looking like her visually, with some hair gel and gothy makeup…but amazingly enough it’s primarily on the inside that the real resemblance is, and not that many can pull that off.

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Every year in the spring, most of Europe goes culturally bonkers, regardless of what else is happening in the world (barring a world war or something equally occupying). It’s like a whole section of the world map is doing a tacky off-off-Broadway musical gala, and a few other sections on the map – like for instance Australia (a country and continent with truly bizarre tastes) are watching, but the rest of the audience is entirely composed of family members and pets..you know, folks that *have* to watch, to show support. It’s the goddamn Eurovision Song Contest again. A spectacle which i used to love when I was a kid, looking at all the tacky glam costumes (Yes, Abba did win this contest back in the day, that’s how they started off their career, and the wardrobe tone has not changed much since), listening to all the toddler-pleasing simple tunes. Once in a blue moon there would be a song that wasn’t horrible, and then everybody and their dog would treat it like a Picasso, talking about how great it was, and what innovation was shown.

For those unfamiliar with the phenomena; ever since the 50’s or something like that, European countries compete against each other in a great big song contest, to show “cultural diversity” and other nonsense which is not really very often what is going on. Most of my friends who actually watch this, do it in a sort of post-post modern laid back way. They usually do their best Oscar Wilde imitation, with a limp hand motion, speaking in a faux gay voice under half closed eyelids about how they watch it and drink and vote on which performance is the most hilariously awful. And then of course we have the whole crowd that hates the spectacle and will tell you so on any given occasion: “The situation in Rwhanda is bloody awful, and those fuckers here at home are watching the F*****G Eurovision Song-CONTEST, grrrr”.

In the age of Facebook and Twitter and other social media, a new wave of this has become very visible, as I’ve noticed. The Eurovision Song Contest is one of those things which everybody and their hamster has to have a reaction to, and let everybody else read about, on facebook. It is literally like you cannot be post modern enough for this drama, and your level of postmodern innovation in one-sentence status updates determines if you are a winner or a loser. In fact, in the age of post modern social media, it will tell more about you than your dating profile on E-Harmony or your credit card statements would! 

For instance, the statement: “I HATE the f****g Eurovision Song Contest!” clearly shows an individual completely out of tune with this day and age. Too much emotion, entirely misdirected, and worst of all, vented in public. Clearly this person will one day in the near future haul out a semi automatic and start shooting people in public places.

“I LOVE Eurovision Song Contest and CANNOT wait for it to start!!”  ….well…people reading this would assume that their friend was probably abducted by organ selling gangsters and lobotomized, and the part of their brain which used to love music and had good taste in clothes is now sold off on the black market.

So people with any sense for the post modern are now trying their damndest to hit the right tone and level of distanced amusement or lack thereof to this clearly very engrossing event, and then post it on social media.

Parents of kids are the ones who have it easiest, they can just imitate a tired sports commentator at the end of a drawn out world cup of some sort, reviewing everything, shielded behind the enthusiasm of their offspring (kids always love this shit for some reason, I did too, back in the day).

If you live in a dorm or some kind of collective, you can safely do the drive-by I’m-on-my-way-somewhere-else, one-liner review. It’s okay, someone else is watching this, I am innocent and just going to the kitchen for some juice, because I got thirsty from reading all that Marcel Proust in my room. And WHAM, there I saw this bizarre singer from Turkey, rapping in a fake gangsta-Turkish accent! It was like an eclipse, I couldn’t look away!

And then of course we have all the straight as well as gay people who sort of do a mini-pride celebration of what they envision is the common conception of mainstream gay culture. They wear tiaras, sit around and get pissed and imitate the performances as best they can while slurring and wearing fake bling. Usually this sort of thing is not very family friendly and ends in loss of both memory and fake jewelry, which is just as well, but probably worth it.

But lately, I’ve noticed a new trend in the post modern review of the Euro Song Con. It’s a sort of post-post Modern reaction to the reactions of the reactions  to the thing. Very complicated, and somewhat exhausting. Sort of: “why do you bother being irritated at people who like singer X from Bosnia. It really tells more about YOU than about singer X, or Bosnia or Lisa Larsson who loves Singer X from Bosnia and the E-song Contest! Were you  bullied in preschool? Is that why you need to come down so hard on Lisa Larsson who likes singer X from Bosnia? And then someone pipes up: Hey, stop griping on Lars, for being irritated on those who write lyrically about Singer X on Facebook! Bosnia is SO much more than Singer X and the damn song contest, and having a reaction to that reaction is a valid reaction!

At this point I’m contemplating taking up Yoga again, that’s how bored I am, and I have no problem at all writing a post-post-post modern rant about reactions to reactions to reactions to…and somewhere at the end here we can finish off with the name of some Balkan country, because lets face it, they always make up the best endings to rants.

[ETA: Sweden won last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, and this year’s drama is hosted in my childhood town of Malmö, so that may be why part of Swedish Facebook has its knickers in a post-modern twist right now]

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I’ve started a hobby research project of sorts, in Geek Sociology and how it interacts with mainstream culture and the job market. I am looking for stories and anecdotes from geeks and nerds out there on how they may have used their subcultural skills and knowledge to land them opportunities and advantages in mainstream society, maybe even landed them a job! Once I’ve gathered enough material I intend to produce a highly anecdotal article on it, as I suspect there could be a hidden well of tricks and references when it comes to the advancement of Geeks and their ability to earn Credits or Platinum, based on some fairly specific traits.

I’ll start with myself as an example, limiting myself to my time in America, which would be the last 6 years of my life.

My first “job” was an internship at [insert big state agency archive], I talked my way into that one, completely without geek references – probably a very good thing at the time, as the former [boss title person in my field and in that state] didn’t seem to have any appreciation for alternative culture. However! When I started working there, I befriended several geeks, one archivist who was a full blown RPG gamer, he became a good friend (and introduced me to the Order of the Stick!), and one tiny birdlike brilliant archivist/historian lady who was a huge Trekkie and Star Wars fan and could swap trivia with the best of them. So, while my geek traits didn’t initially land me a foot in, it certainly led to me having more gigs with [big state agency Archive] over the years, because my friends talked me up with the boss person.

Another job I had alongside other work was for an on line site for educational resources, used by teachers and librarians. I wrote book lesson units on YA books, both modern and classics. This chance was given to me by one of the editors on the site, a wonderful woman whom I got to know on line, on a blog platform, and with whom I definitely shared a nerdy passion for children’s and YA lit. My first job was on Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and it went on to other writers, such as Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket.

A few years later I needed a job while waiting to start Grad school, something temporary but fairly decently paying. There were not that many jobs in this category lying around, as you might imagine. A friend of mine told me that she had faxed a company that was “looking for people exactly like you”. O rly? I said, and you faxed them my contact info?

She had, to a prosperous company called “Renaissance Adventures” in my home town. When I didn’t bother contacting them, the owner called me on the phone himself, that’s how well my friend had pimped me out. And what she had written them to promote me, were things that I hadn’t in my wildest imagination thought would land me a fairly decently payed job ever. It was the fact that I had played D&D, done LARPS, played amateur theater and written fantasy stories.

I met with the owner, who convinced me to attend a School-of-the-Performing-Arts type of audition. There were about 70 people seeking 9 jobs, auditioning for Renaissance Adventures (RA). Most were younger, more athletic and better looking than me, including the guys. We were divided in groups, ten in each group and then a full afternoon of hard core improvisation and roleplaying commenced. Poetry, song, myth, acting and game systems on the fly baby. Not for weaklings, for sure. I thought I saw a lot of talent, there was a big mix of applicants; college students, real actors in need of seasonal work, camp leaders, various types of performers, even some teachers and librarians. But not surprisingly many were professional performers and actors of some kind.

The nine that were picked in the end consisted of 6 guys and 3 gals,  4 actors, 1 camp counselor with a degree in child care, 2 performers with multifaceted skills in juggling/singing and playing instruments, one Library science teacher and…me. Our job would be to lead groups of kids between 7 and 15 on empowering quests where anything could happen. I still am not sure what exactly made them hire me, but I do know that I had rarely been geekier in a job setting than there. I played a troll, a unicorn a dwarf, and many other parts, I improvised bad verse and talked game systems, and then I guess I also hit people with foam swords. Yeah..good times. There was a fairly heavy bureaucratic and pedagogic side to the job too, which I had to embrace later, but I have no doubt in my mind that my geeky traits played a big part in landing me that job.

I went away to grad school that fall, and had a fairly intense couple of years “commuting” between Sweden and the US (writing my thesis about an American subject, but putting it forward in a European University). But when I came back, it was time to look for work again.

My family made me aware of a manager position for an archival agency in my home town, and I laughed at the thought. I have never managed anything in my life, except possibly pets and gamer children. But everybody and their dog says that you should apply for anything in your field, and go to interviews as if there is no tomorrow. So I did.

To my surprise it landed me an interview, and I found myself sitting around a big oval table in a fancy conference room with about ten manager-type individuals taking turns on grilling me.  It was as if something went boink in my head, and I found myself giving off Harry Potter jokes like soda burps (well, they were GOOD HP jokes, pertaining to the old vaults in the old big archive I had worked in, comparing it to Hogwarts). They laughed, as Harry Potter isn’t necessarily only a Geeky cultural phenomena, but also fully belongs to mainstream culture nowadays, and can be seen as one of many gateway drugs into full nerdhood. After an additional Dr. Who reference (about the Tardis and getting things done in time) and a (rather subtle) shooter game reference, I thought I’d bridle myself a bit and the interview was amiably wrapped up.

I did not get the manager position, but they did call me back and gave me a job in the same department, and within my field…so I guess they must have been really into Howarts, Dr. Who or video games, at least they didn’t mind me being into them, which is a small tribute to nerd culture in my book.

 

 

Give me your thoughts and stories, either through the blog platforms or facebook, or if you know me, in more direct ways, I’m eager to hear them!

I’m dipping my foot in the forbidden pool for the first time here, thinking about words and how they define things, whole sets of things actually, and how we decide what they define and through these definitions try to shape reality. The words geek and nerd have become fairly powerful in society since the first time I encountered them, and if you add the word “culture” after these words it opens up a whole world of possibilities for both pleasure and power. In mainstream society, this feels like fairly new ground, the aspect of power in geek culture. There have always been internal dynamics of power in the world of geeks. Geeks who were admired by other geeks, geeks who created, gamed, wrote and socialized more successfully. Geeks who wanted to separate the words “nerd” and “geek” from each other, so as to make the first cooler than the second, to clearer create an elite in a subculture they belonged to (and perhaps were a bit embarrassed by, hence the urge to separate two words meaning virtually the same thing). I think I first encountered this phenomena in Star Trek fandom, which, if I have to be honest I never truly belonged to. I started watching Star Trek fairly late, somewhere in the mid 90’s, and even though I greatly enjoyed it, and can say that I today have great knowledge of the shows and universe, I’ve still never belonged to any passionate group of fans. Back in the 90’s I had an acquaintance  who was (and still is I presume) something of a Star Trek scholar, and she took great pains to explain the difference between a Trekkie and a Trekker, and that the latter was supposed to be representing  “mature” and intellectual Star Trek fans who weren’t embarrassing. So basically Trekkers were supposed to be nerds, as opposed to the geeky Trekkies. Something with these definitions felt like a forced construction to me even back then, but as I was standing and watching the phenomena from the outside, I couldn’t define it very well. I’m still not sure I can, but after more than a decade, I should at least try.

Geek culture to me, has always been about people with alternative passions and tastes who share them with each other and enrich each others’ lives by making geeky activities creative and social. Even if those activities take place on line or just between a small group. Since geeks often see themselves as outsiders, often misunderstood and neglected by mainstream culture, it can become deeply paradoxical when geek culture at the same time starts to exclude and divide within its own ranks. I would love to be able to say that geek culture is open minded and more progressive than other cultural manifestations, but that would sadly be a lie. There have always been power aspects and elitism in geek culture, like any other segment of society, and perhaps because geek culture is often seen by its members as a fringe group, composed of outsiders, the exclusion of certain parts of the group can seem extra jarring.

As a long time geek female, I have some experience of various aspects and groups of geekhood, and in the groups I have frequented there were always girls and women and they were always a very active part of most happenings. It therefore baffles me whenever I read an article such as tumblr_malemcaqGc1r3r0x4o1_500 this one in The Good Men Project, by Harris O’ Malley. This article talks about Nerds and male privilege, and while it does a decent job of pinpointing some subcultural sexism, it still launches its point of view from a place where there barely are any females at all in geek culture. To a girl who bought comics, gamed, went to conventions and frequented Larps among many other things, with many other females…this article is a bit surreal. Kind of like holding multi-gender art exhibitions most of your life with your group of artist buddies, only to have  several art critics saying that there barely are any female artists out there, and that it is so refreshing that there are at least a few.

How it feels to belong to a culture where you sometimes don’t exist? Any woman will tell you that it feels surreal, probably in the same way (and maybe even less so) than any other minority may feel in a cultural setting that they love, but often are fairly invisible in.

So, I learned that there really are male exclusive gamer/scifi-fandom/larper/comic enthusiast/whathaveyou groups out there, even though I, honest to god, have never encountered them in real life myself. I did however encounter them on the internet, as internet geeks started to have louder voices, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Some male gamers told me that I was one of those “female gamer mascots”, which apparently means a “tolerably good looking” female who uses her femininity to score points with a male gaming group. I was flabbergasted. Not only had I never encountered this phenomena they accused me of, the accusations came from people who had never met me and knew literally nothing about me. (I made the mistake of having an icon with a real picture of myself while discussing gaming on a forum, back in the day) It did not help that I told these guys that I was married and that my husband wasn’t a gamer at all, I was already solidly typecasted by several male gamers on this forum…and I started to look around and noticed that there really weren’t that many other female members in that place.

But just because female geeks are less noticeable in some places, does not mean that they don’t exist. On the contrary, recent research has shown that 50% of all gamers are female. And when you walk around most conventions, these statistics could easily be just as true there. The entire phenomena of fanfiction, which is mostly driven by females, and mostly about shows and films taken from geek culture, is evidence that female geeks are everywhere and have been so for a long time, they have just chosen to keep a low profile in such places where they are an “invisible” and perhaps unwanted group. It is perfectly possible to enjoy and take part in a culture, without being much seen, as history has shown over and over with all kinds of groups.

While mainstream culture adopting and piggybacking upon certain parts of geek culture, making it broader and visible to bigger groups, may be a source of sorrow for the geek (or nerd) hipsters, for women and other even more invisible geek sub-groups, this is mostly a good thing. Broader availability to geek culture makes it less “special” to be a geek. It’s nothing terribly unique to simply play a game or follow various tv shows. It is your passion about it, and the beauty of your attitude which makes you worthy of the title geek. And a passionate geek with a beautiful attitude does not exclude. He or she is not bitter and does not invest their own self worth in a sense of elitism from knowing subcultural facts. On the contrary, they play, they expand, discuss and always try to share and spread the awesomeness.

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