Areas of expertise
I should add a subtitle to this… ‘real and imagined’.
In my life, I haven’t exactly had a normal single direction. Instead, I’m a generalist in life, but one who applies such inane geekiness to everything that I can present myself as an expert. I know a lot about a lot, and there’s no huge logic to what I know and what I don’t.
Trying to come up with some categories is even difficult. For example, I know a lot about television. Yet I’d only consider myself an expert in some of it. I’m writing a doctoral thesis on post-1990 sitcom, so I’m pretty well-versed in that era. Through that focus, I’m also pretty knowledgable about sitcoms of other eras. I’m patchier, but still good, on the development of cable and satellite channels, and the international exchange of programming (though primarily where US and UK are involved).
That all said, I’m pretty useless when it comes to drama, especially UK drama, and I’m pretty hopeless with film. I’m more likely to know about a film’s advertising campaign, and what commercials ran during prime-time sitcoms.
Art-wise, I’ve got no training. I took AP Art History when I was in high school, so on my university transcripts, it shows credit for that as coursework. I was bored by architecture, but then married an architect and learned a lot about it pretty fast. It also helped that I’d moved from the architecturally barren post-earthquake landscape of Southern California to a place where buildings lasted for more than 40 years. After 9/11, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (along with some other museums) opened with free admission, as a place of quiet refuge and solace in New York’s new reality. They stopped that after about a week or so, but in that time I’d gone a few times and enjoyed it as a place to wander and read and even do a bit of sketching. I paid for a membership, allowing me free entry all year and even VIP entry to a few of the special exhibits.
Since childhood, I’d been an observer of graffiti. Driving through LA County, it’s easy to learn the different styles and meanings. The murals next to the freeways, the tagging of underpasses, it was all just there a part of the landscape. It was far more interesting than the architecture. Moving to New York, the graffiti was still a part of life. Another post-9/11 artwork still sticks with me. Near Prospect Park, there was a big piece put up in vibrant greens the weekend of Thanksgiving. In a small box next to the piece, the artist had put ‘Thanksgiving 2001 Anthrax in y’all turkey!’ It was a political statement, it was art, it was a joke.
I left New York to a place where there was no graffiti. The walls looked blank. So when I moved to the UK, it was lovely to see it again.
Being in a relationship with an artist, my scant knowledge of art was reinforced. I don’t know much in the way of classic art beyond what I knew after that AP test, but I can recognise the various styles and pieces of a load of contemporary artists. More importantly, though, I began to do the purchasing. Need chunky canvases? I know the best places. Need to know which brands of canvas have the most flaws or least flaws? Done. Need to get a contact email address for a supplier of a type of paint? Yeah, one second.
At the same time, though, I’m also that geeky person who can quote Shakespeare (sometimes with act and scene numbers, too), has a favourite line by Milton, can recite poems by Eliot, has read Beckett in English and French, knows Chaucer beyond the Canterbury Tales (and who thinks the ‘translation’ of that book is one of the most ridiculous bits of pandering to readers who don’t want to make the tiniest bit of effort), and is happy to have an in-depth discussion of post-war American literature. Before the art supply purchasing, before the sitcom thesis, I was studying English and American Literature.
Of course, at one point I was technically a pre-med student, too. I was brought up to be an informed patient, and read huge swaths of the Physicians Desk Reference as a child. I’m the obnoxious patient that goes to the doctor having read studies from medical journals rather than entries on WebMD. The book next to my bed is most likely a psychology text. Not something from the self-help section, but one purchased from an academic bookstore.
On top of all of this, I remember more than I should. I sometimes have to pretend I don’t remember people either, just so I don’t seem quite so weird. I make a sat nav almost redundant, with a memory that allows me to almost always know how to get somewhere a second time without directions. I absorb news items, books, passing comments, recipes, technical information, faces and names with more ease than I should.
Oh, and I worked for a political party for a few years. The useful and useless knowledge I picked up from that are a whole other post.
So all this to say I know a lot of things, and can answer the most ridiculous set of questions. I’m pretty good at pub quizzes, and am frequently handy at answering whispered ‘who was that?’ type of questions. If you ask, in passing, where a phrase came from, be ready for an in-depth answer.
If I were somebody else, I’d annoy the fuck out of me. So I understand when I annoy others. I understand why many, many people dislike me. In fact, I could give a long list of reasons for that, too. It’s another area of my expertise.