How Austin helped me become a geek goddess

Tales of the City,Austin American-Statesman, May 20, 2007

It is a local staple of conversation that Austin is an overeducated city, that your waiter or barista might well have a Ph.D., or at the very least, a master's degree. It is also common knowledge among my own generation that Austin's male-to-female ratio favors women.

That was a welcome statistic when I landed in Austin in 2000, 22 and a fresh Duke graduate— educated, but not yet overly so, and ready to explore my romantic options.

I had been late bloomer, slightly uneasy when boys looked my way, too shy to acknowledge them and much more comfortable burying my nose in "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" or "Jane Eyre" or some similarly gothic British classic. When I did speak to members of the opposite sex, I generally found that all but a few men found my passion for language, science and other nerd pursuits (fossil-hunting anyone?) to be, frankly, unsexy.

That all changed when I moved to Austin.

What I found here was a city full of handsome male nerds. Though I had known my share of nerds in college at Duke, Austin attracted a fair number who exulted, as I did, in hiking, running and other outdoor pursuits that this city seems singularly designed to encourage.

I was hopeful about my prospects for the first time in a long while. Of all the cities where I had lived—Dallas, Durham, Washington, D.C.—this was the first place I'd met men I found attractive both intellectually and physically. The only question was, would they like me back?

Reader, I needn't have worried. Here, I discovered that being a nerdy but attractive woman gave me the advantage I had been seeking. In Austin, with that aforementioned gender ratio to help me out, I was a nerd goddess.

To illustrate: I once attended a party at the apartment of a coworker and her boyfriend, an engineer. Almost as soon as I was handed a glass of red wine, I realized the room was filled with his engineer friends, and that I had infiltrated a den of nerd gods, huddled together discussing upcoming explorations of Mars.

When I overheard a tall, lanky engineer pose the question, "What evidence do they have of water?" I simply sidled up to him and announced, "Nothing conclusive, but some of the hematite crystals are like those found in liquid water. So, it's promising, anyway." With that simple statement, I had the attention of seven tall, mostly handsome, generally well-dressed, totally overpaid engineers. And in the months subsequent to that party, three out of the seven nerd gods I talked to that night asked me out. Not a bad ratio!

Finally, I had found a place where I had a chance to be understood. I was in a city with men who might appreciate and even encourage my totally uncool passions, since it was very likely that they would have totally uncool passions of their own.

I admit I went a little crazed with my own power, unable to believe my good luck and the seemingly limitless pool of attractive, geeky guys eager to go out with me. So, for about a year, I had discussions over wine and dessert and on hiking trips and in Zilker Park canoes about Mars, the virtues of Linux and the open-source revolution, the process of creating a new video game, and what effect the Internet would have on traditional publishing. Along the way, the men I dated got to hear about my obsession with the history and evolution of words, my interest in a specific prehistoric hominid, and my ideas on the role fiction plays in developing our sense of empathy.

And then a funny thing happened: I grew tired of dating for dating's sake, having proven to myself all I needed to prove. I started getting choosier, getting more interested in finding the man who would not only share my passion for nerdy passions, but whose passions would best complement my own.

This is the stage I had reached when the bottom suddenly fell out of the dot-com bubble, and my entire company was let go on the same day. Suddenly, the cute, quiet coworker in the graphic design department that I'd talked to once at another coworker's art opening came to mind. I had two thoughts: 1) Hey, he's not my coworker anymore, and 2) What if I never see him again?

In the hustle of having to pack up my cube quickly while hired security guards with guns watched our every move, I took a moment to write down my name and phone number. Finally, all that newfound nerd goddess confidence was coming through at a critical moment. I walked over to his cube, and said, "Here's my number if you ever want to do anything."

He looked up and smiled. "Well, what are you doing this afternoon?"

Ha! The answer was nothing! Neither of us were doing anything, not for the foreseeable future, anyway. We had both just lost our jobs, and unfettered time stretched out before us like an open invitation. So we made plans to meet at a bar where everyone was gathering for a post-layoff drink. Later, we made plans again. And again.

Reader, I married him.

OK, it was after five years of dating, but I married him all the same, just as I intended almost from that first night. Now we discuss his ideas on CSS and web standards, and for my part—now that I've been overeducated with a master's degree in creative writing—what distinguishes a story from an anecdote.

It is often said that story breaks away from anecdote with the introduction of meaning. An anecdote is what happens. A story takes place in the spaces between what happens; it is in those spaces where meaning can arise.

I know that I found meaning in Austin, a city with plenty of space for the late bloomers among us to take root, and thrive.

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About

Hi. I'm Tiffany Hamburger. I'm a full-time freelance writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. I've written and edited professionally for a decade on a wide variety of subjects.

I have an English degree and Biological Anthropology minor from Duke University, and a master's in creative writing from The University of Arizona.

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In my spare time, I like to (surprise!) read and write, teach fiction, travel as much as I can, make messes in the kitchen and run with my dog, who is also my receptionist.

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