I Get Nerd Crushes. A Lot.

I do "celebrity" crushes in my own, slightly nerdier way, in which infatuation is based on words and ideas instead of beauty or fame.
Publish date:
January 11, 2012
nerd crushes, melissa harris lacewell, npr

Move over Baby Blue Ivy, the best news Twitter brought me recently was that Tulane law professor Melissa Harris Perry will to be hosting a weekend show on MSNBC starting next month. I'm being serious.

Don't invite me to any brunch before noon from this point forward. Listening to me scream "YES!!!" in response to Harris Perry's guest political commentary on the Rachel Maddow Show, you'd think I was watching the Redskins play, or a firey televangelist.

I ADORE her. I once bought a $50 ticket to a fundraiser for Melissa's husband's mayoral campaign. I didn't not support Mr. Perry or his plans for New Orleans (whatever they may have been) but I was there for other reasons. To shake MHP's hand (yes, I have a nickname for her) and, later, to be able to say we were in the same room.

For as long as I can remember my interest in "real" celebrities has always been below average. I don't have a favorite actor. In waiting rooms, I'll take a trip down memory lane with "Highlights" before scanning "US Weekly." I just recently learned that Lil Wayne and Weezy are the same person. I didn't even get emotionally invested in Jay-Z and Beyonce's little Blue Ivy until today when I heard "Glory" for the first time and might have teared up just a little bit (I am, after all, human).

But the fact that I don't have TMZ in my browser history doesn’t mean I don't know what it's like to rent out disproportionate chunks of my mental space to lives and work of people I've never met and might never meet. I just do it in my own, slightly nerdier way, in which infatuation is based on words and ideas versus beauty or fame.

Write something moving, say something smart (extra points if it's about race or politics or a beautifully crafted memoir) and be someone to whom I can relate at least a little, and I'm pretty much yours. In these imaginary relationships, I don't adhere to "The Rules" -- I commit immediately. I'm always available to read, re-tweet, and rant to anyone who'll listen about how brilliant you are. Basically I'm the super nerd fan every NPR host wishes they had.

These "relationships" are something like "girl crushes" because they're rooted in admiration versus romance. Except it's not that I want to emulate the objects of my infatuation. I just think it'd be nice to absorb a little of their talent, insight or charisma. And, on an even simpler level, I like that they exist.

It can take as little as one essay. Ava DuVernay gave me chills with the poetry of an essay on "Watch the Throne." Dream Hampton hooked me with a series of thoughtful tweets. Rachel Maddow slowly seduced me with multiple evenings of on-point snark during the run-up to the 2008 election. I was hooked up with The Atlantic's Ta-Nahesi Coates by a friend, on a blind date with his blog, and fell fast. I gave that fling the seal of legitimacy by subscribing.

I like to think this makes me the exact opposite of a hater. Instead of resenting those who currently outpace me in talent or fame or success, I let them give me energy. But it's important to note that I don't like them instead of liking myself. I'm both grateful and excited for the little reminders they offer me about my own potential.

My craving for contact with these writers and thinkers is charged with the same energy that fueled crushes of the middle school variety. Back then, two friends and I were in love with Billy Joe Armstrong, the scrawny lead singer of Green Day. We heard that he'd visited Amoeba Records in Berkeley, so we went in there and touched everything on the theory that he must have touched something, so if we ran our fingers over every single row of records we'd find real intimacy in doing what he'd just done.

In law school, when I first came in contact with a big shot professor whose public profile and books put her at the top of my nerd crush list, I overcame my star-struck nerves and sought her out to become a teaching assistant. Two years later, when she cited a paper I wrote in one of her law review articles, it was like a grown up, academic, record-store-touch.

I doubt I'll ever get to know some of the people on my list personally. Like Joan Didion, or even author Anne Lamott -- who actually lives in my hometown and drives around in a little VW bug. I thought it'd advance our relationship if she noticed me waving out the window that one time I made my mom speed down the road so we could pull up next to her at a red light. It did not. I'll just have to be satisfied with occasional g-chats with a friend who shares my obsession ("Do you think she still gets writer's block, like for real for real? Do you think she's nice?")

More often, these days, the people whose work hooks me are close enough to be accessed through the miracles of the Internet. I knew both Helena and J.F. Mceachin's words before I knew them. Now, I only remember when someone asks that the explanation for "How did you meet?" is "She wrote this thing and, um, I got in touch with her. "

The added bonus of nerd-crushes-turned-friends is they can remove one degree of separation from current nerd crushes.

"Word on the Twitter streets is that you're hanging out with REBECCA WALKER tonight!! Why did I not know this??" I texted Helena last year. I think I got an "LOL, sorry. We're in Baltimore." Progress? Maybe.

According to Feng Shui or Oprah, or some self help book I read, I'm supposed to make a vision board with pictures of all these "helpful people" (or "nerdy stalking targets" – take your pick) and put it in some particular corner of my home, visualizing them offering guidance for my of career and personal development. But, for some reason, that crosses the creepy line for me. And anyway, something tells me they're already "offering guidance."

So what about you guys? Any smarty pants on your Celebs to Make Out With list, which in nerd fan speak translates to something like Celebs to Go Hear Give A Lecture list?