Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


 

Août, my darlings, août! What a busy month it’s been. Three weeks ago, the police paid me a visit to upgrade my ankle monitor, and install some kind of advanced artificial intelligence to extrapolate my movements, or some such nonsense. It seems they weren’t at all pleased with some of my recent adventures, but the joke’s on them: once it became a ‘thinking’ device, I was able to confound it with a paradox and shut it down for a good fourteen hours. Long enough to pop over to Madrid and pick up a few things – just the basics, hair and eyelids, you know.

I mean, honestly. To be labelled a ‘flight risk’ is nothing short of insulting. Penny Grundle is a flight certainty, darling.

And while I have you, mes enfants, do remember that it’s Pride Week at the university later this month! I’m thrilled to report that I myself will be joining the festivities this year, as host of NUPSA’s Pride-themed trivia night. It’s a perfect fit, of course: I adore the queer community, and never attend any function of note without a trio of Adam Lamberts on my person. I have even been mistaken for a drag queen on occasion! Can you believe it? (I suspect it’s the beard. Men are always intimidated by a strong, powerful woman with facial hair.)

So do come along if you can, and say hello. Corresponding through these monthly columns is lovely, of course, but there’s nothing so enchanting as the sight of all your bright, smiling faces, so in awe of me.

 

Dear Penny,

My mother is always asking me how my research is going, but every time I actually talk about it, her eyes start to glaze over. A lot of my friends and family respond the same way, like they don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

I know that the work I’m doing is important, but because it’s in a very specific area, it’s hard to make it interesting in conversation. Do you have any tips for making it more exciting?

Sincerely,

Boring, Apparently

 

Dear Boring,

First of all, my darling, you’re not boring in the slightest. That sort of corrosive self-criticism should be exposed for what it is – unhelpful – then knocked out, rolled up in a carpet and dumped in the river, where it belongs.

The work you do is boring, perhaps, but that’s true of all research. Gone are the days of Blofeld’s doomsday lab or Willa Wonka’s chocolate factory; no one does mad science anymore – the best kind, the fun kind, the kind that results in gunfights and explosions and hijinks, and children being drowned in fudge or accosted by squirrels. No, darling, everything is regulated now, and controlled, and gated behind months of dreary assessment by a university research ethics panel. What a bore, darling. What a terrible bore.

And so I’m delighted you brought me this question. Because the elusive quality you’re searching for is drama, and it’s everything. The pearl in the oyster, the sweet vermouth in the Boulevardier. The soul of it, the spark of life, the cosmic fire that makes it all happen. Some give it other names, of course: the French call it le drame, l’intensité, la scène finale, and the suits of the world (sad, wilted daisies that they are) give it altogether colder labels, like ‘disorderly conduct’ and ‘workplace incident’. (How tawdry.)

But whatever you call it, drama is a kind of magic with which we elevate the mundane – from tax returns to shopping lists to vague auguries of the weather – and render it poetry. It’s how we make people not just think but feel; how we touch their hearts, and capture them, and bind them to our own.

So how does one achieve drama? Though it does have a certain ineffable quality, and some might even consider it a natural gift (especially in observing one Penny Grundle), there are certainly modes and techniques for summoning fine drama, at least to the degree you’re looking for.

Drama is like plutonium: too much of it and you’ll cause a meltdown, but just the right amount, properly handled, can light up a room for hours. Unfortunately, the scientific process is more or less devoid of drama. It’s governed by hypothesis, analysis, observation, isolation, elimination, and all those other icy, metallic words that do nothing to inflame the heart.

Scientific people, however, have drama in their DNA. Academics and researchers are legendarily neurotic: they’re masters of the backhanded compliment (which I discussed in my previous column), the raised eyebrow and passive-aggressive email, and can hold a grudge for years with the same white-knuckled death grip they use to cling to their jobs in an increasingly hostile political climate, as research funding evaporates and their erstwhile colleagues turn to Uber driving and prostitution.

When someone asks you about your research, then, your instinct as a scientist will be to stick to the facts. To what is true, and objective, and academically significant. Resist this urge. This person doesn’t want a fifty-pound dumbbell of science; they want a juicy, moreish slice of drama. With a cherry on top.

Don’t worry about the process. Stick to the people. Who among the team is your arch-nemesis? (And if you don’t have an arch-nemesis yet, for shame! They’re a vital accessory; acquire one immediately.) Are they working in secret to thwart your research, or somehow use it against you? Perhaps not, but they could be, darling, and that’s significant. Analysis is all well and good, but the stronger currency is intrigue.

Brawls and catfights are a must, of course; that goes without saying. Making one up is a tad unscrupulous in my view, so try to actually start one if you can, so your recollection is fresh and authentic. I could give you a thousand tips on proper, industry-level celebrity catfighting, but for now, my advice is to stick to the basics. Dynasty is an excellent place to start – nothing too flashy or distasteful, just good, standard nail-raking and hair-pulling, with an appropriate distribution of pillows and vases. You’ll find this video, in particular, quite instructional. Commit the choreography to memory, and you’re on your way.

Remember: the right amount, properly handled. More than Days of our Lives and less than Passions is the region you’re aiming for. The parlance of science is foreign to most, with all its jargon and riddles, but ‘accidentally’ spilling a glass of Cabernet down the front of someone’s dress? Universal language, darling.

 

Got a question for Penny? Write to us at nupsa@newcastle.edu.au and see it answered!

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