Why We Need Stories Like Star Trek: Not Really a Review of Star Trek: Beyond

Uhura, Sulu, and other Enterprise crew members trapped together
The crew of the Star Trek: Beyond works together to solve problems.
The future is what we can see. The future is what we dream of. The future is the future we write about in our stories, whether they’re film, books, comics, or another medium. We don’t have to look further than our smartphones, tablets, or heck, automatic sliding doors to see the impact of what Star Trek dreamed up, and we said, you know what, that is a good idea. It wasn’t just tech. The utopia of the Federation put on screen by Gene Roddenberry showed a future about the good and possibilities of humanity when we work together. On Star Trek and in the Federation, there was peace among far reaching cultures and types of lifeforms. There wasn’t poverty, hunger, homelessness, abject hate, or many of the other social ills which plague our world today. Roddenberry and the hundreds of other creators who’ve helmed Star Trek have never explained how this vision of the future eliminated and solved those problems, but the vision is there.

When watching Star Trek: Beyond, I couldn’t help but think of our world right now and how we need this type of story. Beyond’s two predecessor films never felt like Star Trek films because they never layered in the pieces of utopia. (Among other flaws.) Popular culture, right now, is full of stories about the one special hero and the dystopian reality. No wonder we’ve found solace in those types of tales. Continue reading “Why We Need Stories Like Star Trek: Not Really a Review of Star Trek: Beyond”

Parents-Children: Into My Frozen Heart

Frozen waterfall
Photo by Gilad Rom
A 7am flight out of Boston equals torture for this West Coast night owl who hasn’t been there long enough to adjust to the time zone. (Which is approximately a week for the East Coast and about three days for the UK.) As I’m digging for my book, a young girl with a huge scowl on her face sits down across from me. Instantly, I see myself — particularly my younger self, though in many cases my current self — reflected in her. She has glasses and a mop of long blonde hair looped in a messy bun. She immediately sticks her nose in a young adult book about ghosts. I have the same shoes she’s wearing, only in black and hot pink, instead of gray and hot pink. We’re both wearing bright patterned leggings. She takes a Purell wipe from her bag and cleans down her seat and tray table. When the dudebro behind her neglects to cover his cough, we both give him death glares. She sees me doing this, and I smile at her when our eyes meet for a brief second.

I start to think about how I’m old enough to be her mother — though her parents appear about a decade older than me — and how perhaps I shall steal this one mostly-formed child. Clearly, we could save some money by sharing clothing. She’s at what Sandra Tsing Loh described as the perfect moment in girlhood: strong, confident, prepubescent.

I also obverse her family, noticing how they are focused on entertainment and what to order from the on-flight menus. In my own childhood, no one understood why I love to read more than most things. Why I preferred to write or tell myself stories, playing with dolls or action figures. The girl takes out a journal and a pile of embroidery thread; no doubt, she’s going to make friendship bracelets. And I am uniquely satisfied that the art of friendships bracelets hasn’t been lost only to Christian camps sequestered from cell towers.

For a million reasons, I do not want to be a mother. Continue reading “Parents-Children: Into My Frozen Heart”

Only Icebergs Know Their Depths

For a year I wrote obituaries for my hometown newspaper. There I learned one thing: if someone lives a great long life, don’t just remember their last few years, remember their entire life. Not just the times where they were ill, had lots of wrinkles, maybe watched too much Wheel of Fortune, or did the sanctioned things we allow our elderly to do. Don’t list their past times based on only classes they signed up for at the senior center.

Me and my Grandma
Grandma and me about 10 years ago at my cousin’s wedding.
My paternal grandma, Evelyn, passed away in the early am this Christmas at age 87. She’d received a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year, and after spending the year before battling breast cancer, she decided to enjoy her final days instead of going for a treatment that wasn’t likely to succeed. Grandma was able to live her final moments as she wanted: in her home and with her family. And I can’t help but wonder what the family will list as her hobbies and interests.

I hope they write about my Grandma’s travels. How age and the dreams of the travelers, who crashed at the bed and breakfast she and my Grandfather started after they retired, propelled her across the world. How she went to Scotland to seek out genealogy and relatives. How she discovered that there are 22 different spellings of our shared last name. How she saw castles while the rest of us stayed safely within the confines of Oregon.

When I was 12, my Grandmother took myself and my two cousins, Sean and Kristen, to Alaska. While it was the second time I’d flown, it was the first time I remembered being on a plane. My cousins and I looked out windows for mountain peaks and entertained ourselves by reading magazines. My Grandmother remained calm and nonplussed as we pinned flying wings on our lapels and met the pilot. When I travel for business, I imitate my Grandmother’s attitude about being on a plane and being on airports. It helps with the stories in my head.

In Alaska, we met and stayed with distant relatives Grandma had met on her dives into genealogy. We stayed up all night getting to know our relatives, but also unsure what time it was in the constant light of summertime in Alaska. Even our relatives laughed when they realized it was 2am and they still had neighbors over after a Club Scout meeting. Before we headed on in our itinerary, we met more distant family, and I remember the first thing that surprised Grandma about Alaska was finding out we had black relatives.

Grandma navigated our travels in Alaska as if she’d taken the holiday already once herself. She had maps and pre-made plans. This was before GPSs and when only early adopters had cell phones. But we made our way from town-to-town, and Grandma had used her bed and breakfast connections for the rest of our stays. The places were overly frilled with tacky wallpaper and pillowy beds. Pinks and blues and Victorian prints seemed a theme.

Before Alaska, I’d had my hair cut short. I wanted to look like Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but instead I sported the infamous bowl-cuts of the era. My hair matched my brother Jonathan’s and my cousin Sean’s. I was as tall as I am now and as thin as a beanpole. In Alaska, it seemed that girls and non-elderly women all had long hair. They had curves and fat, and I had none of these things. And when one odd, ginger B&B owner told my Grandma that the two twin boys could share the candy caned stripped room, I flushed with embarrassment, but my grandma, not for the first time, correct the man that I was a girl.

We went on a day cruise to see icebergs and whales. As we loaded the bus, it was clear my cousins and myself were the only ones under the age of 60 on the tour. A man started to comment on the twin boys, but then he shouted, “oh, one’s a girl” when he noticed I wore a white jersey dress with pink and blue striping. Though this may have given away my gender, it was not appropriate clothing for the deck of a ship near icebergs. But I didn’t care the moment I saw humpback whales.

My Grandma and I were never close. To say she didn’t get me was an understatement and perhaps I didn’t understand her that well either. She was like the icebergs we watched, barely peeking above the surface with more below we never saw. She seemed accepting of the hand that life dealt her, in a way I don’t think anyone born after World War II is. Practical to a fault. But I imagine there were many things she just chose not to say. My Grandfather may have died when I was four, but I always felt this specter of the patriarch lingering. And it wasn’t the huge portrait of him and my Grandma, in full McGillivray tartan regalia, hanging at the end of the darkened hallway. I often felt like an outsider in this no-nonsense place for boys: my father, three uncles, two brothers, four male cousins, and our grandfatherly ghost.

I visited my Grandma about two days before she died, and she asked me if I remembered playing with paper dolls at the B&B log cabin house. How I’d sit for hours, creating new fashions for the paper dolls of Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae. Dolls my Grandma had kept from her own youth and packed away for decades until her sons gave her five granddaughters. She seemed surprised that I remembered this and eager to connect over this feminine activity. Because even though she rejected it, my practical Grandma never realized just how much we’d both needed feminism and how we were just different failures of stereotypical femininity. I kind of wished we’d talked about Alaska and icebergs instead.

I remember lying in the upstairs loft in the log house, staring back at the heads of moose and deer lining the walls. Looking for hidden specters and creepy monsters, listening to the great clock ticking away all throughout the house. While it felt cabin-like, I’d never describe my Grandma’s log cabin as cozy or warm. There were drafts and the strict tidiness of always having guests. (Even after she sold the B&B, my Grandma’s house remained utilitarian and uncluttered.) Only at Christmas, when 20+ people arrived and my cousins and I tore through our gifts littering the place with wrapping paper and new toys did the log house become warm and full of life. Perhaps that was why Grandma chose Christmas Day to die.

Priority Item: Write

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” – Lawrence Kasdan

In the evenings, my partner Jacob often asks me the question, “Are you done yet?’ Usually, I’m knee-deep in a project, gazing at my true love: my laptop. More often than not that project is my writing. A never-ending project that on good days is a swirl of joy and on bad, a petulant child who won’t stop screaming. Or perhaps won’t start screaming if I’m blocked.

Writing is not my hobby. Photo modified from danoff.
Writing is not a hobby.

My writing is sadly what I save for those stolen moments. When my work inbox nears the mythical zero. When I’ve called my grandma, cleaned the house, made dinner, and finished watching all of Orange is the New Black. (Which is really good, by the way, go watch it.) When I’ve finished with all the other very important things that I also do truly care about.

At first, I thought I’d fallen into the procrastination trap. The I’ll do it later… But I know what that looks like, there’s a failure of launch. My mom is a self-described A+ procrastinator, and my harddrive doesn’t resemble her barely-started project remnants that have a room devoted to them. You procrastinate on your taxes or finally fixing that door that doesn’t shut right, not the thing you crave, the thing you dream about, the thing you roll melodramatically around in bed and tell your partner you’ll die without. You’ll fall over dead if you can’t write. You’ll come down with a cold if you don’t get out of bed right now and write. This is a scientific fact you’ve proven. Proven.

This is not procrastination.* Continue reading “Priority Item: Write”

Out Today: Chicks Unravel Time!

Chicks Unravel Time

I’m pleased to announce that Chicks Unravel Time is out today, featuring my essay “How the Cold War Killed the Fifth Doctor.” I’m super excited to be featured in another Mad Norwegian Press book. A big thank you to Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles for their excellent work wrangling all of us authors and editing the book. Chicks Unravel Time features 34 Doctor Who essays spanning from Season One all the way to Matt Smith and his bowtie.

Obviously, you should buy this book. Or buy on Powells since they have it in stock.

And you should like its Facebook page and if you’re in Massachusetts or Chicago, there are signings. (Which this Seattleite is going to have to miss.) Also sign up for the giveaway and read the reviews from SFX and the Examiner. And follow the tag on Tumblr.

My essay features Season 21 and Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor. Before I wrote this essay, I didn’t have a favorite Doctor. In fact, most Doctor Who seasons, both new and old, I’d seen, the Doctor had been my least favorite character. Then I spent my last holiday season jamming with the Fifth Doctor and watching him with his celery stalk. The Fifth Doctor definitely become my favorite as he’s the nicest Doctor around. I also got to talk a little bit about the Cold War, which for many years was another obsession of mine. (Doctor Who‘s just a more fun topic to talk about in public, and you get less made fun of. 😉 )

My copies haven’t arrived in the mail yet. But I’m super excited to dig into them as Mad Norwegian Press books have been super awesome.

Because you’re awesome

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Lis Ferla
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Lis Ferla

I’m having one of those days when I want to grab someone by her shoulders and shake her until she can tell me how awesome she is. But I realize this is counterproductive, and that shouting is sometimes just shouting into a void.

You see, I run a nonprofit for geeky women. We’re doing amazing work; we’re putting on an convention. We’re 100% volunteers. This means we’re absolutely fucking crazy for the work we do.

But every once in a while, one of my staff members gets discouraged. Feels let down. Feels pushed outside. Feels like they want to pack up their X-Men action figures and go home. Some have. While there are some men on the staff, I do think that it’s still the women who doubt their abilities and their belonging. That even in an organization full of and for women, they still carry around the impostor syndrome and don’t let themselves be heard.

I run a tough show and a tight ship. You work and play hard, and you have to find those other things that make success because you’re not getting a paycheck. (Though it’s my belief that even if you were getting a paycheck, you need other reasons to love what you do.) But sometimes work isn’t glorious or full-filling. Sometimes it is shit; and maybe it’s my inner ranch girl, but sometimes you just pick up that shovel and literally shovel that shit.

And when one of my staff starts to doubt herself, I want her to know that she is valued, that she needs to get off the ground because she’s better than this. Because she’s stronger than this. Because this is what we have to do. You have to fight because in a world where nothing truly matters, the only thing that matters is what you do.

So I want you to pick yourself off the floor and dust off. I want you to do what you need to: to shovel the shit and move beyond the shit. Because instead of shaking you, you’re getting support and mercy from your sisters. Because you would not be here if you weren’t awesome and strong and all those other things that you aren’t feeling at the moment. Take a breath of fresh air, sister, and then pick up your shovel.

Serenity near home: Treehouse Point

Sometimes what you need is a little fresh air. Lately, I’ve been pretty stressed out and on-the-go. Plus, I’ve been having health problems of the you-so-don’t-want-to-know variety.

Erica McGillivray at Treehouse Point in a treehouse.
Me at Treehouse Point in a treehouse.

Friday was ExOfficio’s creative launch, and I went with the team to Treehouse Point in Fall City. A little piece of paradise outside with treehouses. Yes, real treehouses which people can rent to stay in. Continue reading “Serenity near home: Treehouse Point”

My Trip to Virginia and Washington D.C.

From October 2nd to the 10th, I was on vacation. (And sadly, I’ve been sick since my trip ended due to flying in a human petri dish.) I pretty much scheduled everything back to back. Thanks again to Jason’s parents, Jason’s grandma and great-aunt, and my friends Leslie and Katie for hosting us. We appreciate it. Since I’d never been to Washington D.C. before and am a huge politics buff and love museums, I was tourist-tourist all the time. I took almost 500 photos.

I think my favorite museum was the American Indian Museum, which shows both the history and current lives of American Indians. Don’t miss it if you go to D.C. And this is my favorite photo:

Erica McGillivray on the steps of the Supreme Court.
Me on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Our schedule:

  • 10/2 — Arrive in Virginia Beach, VA at Jason’s parents’ home
  • 10/3 — Breakfast with Jason’s parents, brother, and godparents at yummy Turkish restaurant. Visit Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA. Doug and Carolyn’s wedding and after-party
  • 10/4 — Rest day
  • 10/5 — Visit Brian’s house, Matt’s work, & travel to DC to Leslie and Katie’s home
  • 10/6 — National Mall: Natural History Museum, National Art Gallery, Capital, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court. Delicious dinner at Lebanese restaurant with Leslie and Katie. See monuments at night and FDR Memorial.
  • 10/7 — National Mall: American Indian Museum, African Art Museum, and Sackler and Freer Asian Art Galleries. Drive to Fredericksburg, VA to Jason’s grandma’s house. Dinner with Jason’s entire paternal family, no joke.
  • 10/8 — Breakfast with Jason’s grandma and great-aunt. Drive to Virginia Beach, VA to Jason’s parents’ home. Rehearsal bbq for John and Christine’s wedding.
  • 10/9 — John and Christine’s wedding
  • 10/10 — Fly home to Seattle

Below you can find my other photography. Continue reading “My Trip to Virginia and Washington D.C.”

Adventures in the Windy City

I went to Chicago last weekend. Jason’s cousin Heather was getting married and we took the time to have a mini-family reunion as it’d been a while since we’d seen Jason’s parents and brother. We then took part of Sunday and all of Monday for sight-seeing in Chicago proper. My full photo set.

Here’s some photography I took of Jason and his family. And then, of course, the photos of me were taken by others.

On Sunday, we headed into Chicago and went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Lincoln Park’s a free zoo in the middle of the city. It was packed as the day was hot and everyone was outside. I love looking at animals, but wow, do people need some lessons on biology and not to be rude to animals. Continue reading “Adventures in the Windy City”

Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Recap

The Olympics were awesome.

Jason and I drove up to Vancouver on Monday to my friend Sarah and her sweetie’s home. (Unlike all those suckers who waited in long border crossing lines on the weekend, we breezed through.) They were fabulous hosts and we had a lot of fun with some geeking out. I made these chocolate soufflé cupcakes with mint cream as they are gluten-free for Sarah and the cupcakes were a delicious hit. We went out to awesome Thai food that night and explored some of the highlights of Vancouver Olympic Nightlife. Including standing in a large crowd watching ice dancing and everyone getting emotional. (Jason and Brad were so stoic.)

The next day, we got up early and I was a bad guest who can’t handle the morning and black tea on an empty stomach and got sick. Fail. But I was all better by the time Jason and I trudged off to find the bus to take us to Curling! We just followed the masses to the arena.

And to our complete surprise, we had 1st row tickets! Like you had to be banging a curler or disabled in order to get better seating. We saw Canada vs China (Canada killed them); Norway vs Great Britain (Norway had fabulous pants); Sweden vs Denmark; and Switzerland vs France (they were closest to us). It was awesome and a lot of fun. We drank overly expensive crappy Canadian beer and tried not to yell “Sweep.” (It’s rude to yell while the stones are moving as the players need to hear each other.) I did find it interesting that a lot of non-English speaking teams’ skips mixed their native language and English while making calls.

Some lovely older Canadian women tried to explain curling to us, until we informed them that we knew all about it and had even played it before. They said we could be honorary Canadians for the day. I was also amused by the guy next to me over explaining curling to his 10-year-old daughter when she asked questions. She got on her cell at one point and informed whoever was on the other line that curling “was kind of interesting, but boring.” Adorable.

Then Jason and I went to forage for food near the hockey arena. We ended up eating sushi and watching Canada destroy Russia in hockey. (Poor Ovechkin!) There were a few very loud guys yelling every time Canada scored. We were afraid sushi chefs were going to lose fingers.

We then went to see the Slovakia vs Norway hockey game. It was awesome. Again, I was surprised that we had 5th row tickets. We were to the left of the player’s benches. There were some crazy puck bunnies (hockey fangirls) trying to get the Slovakian players to notice them by throwing themselves as the players during warm-ups.

Only six minutes into the game, one of the Slovakian players was checked to the head and neck and went down. The EMTs came out and hauled him away. And then they cleaned the blood off the ice. It was weird because no one said anything over the announcements the entire time; even after, they only ever announced the penalty the other guy got.

Anyway, the rest of the game was great. It was 3-3 until the 3rd period when Slovakia scored another goal to win it. The crowd was going nuts the entire time. Though it was funny how people cheered for almost everyone or, you know, waved their Canadian flags. Slovakia was definitely the better team, overall. Two or three pucks ended up flying over the glass into our area and then at the end, a player tossed a stick and three rather large men fought over it. The guy who got it’s girlfriend was embarrassed by his behavior.

Oh, hockey, you are awesome sport.

If the photos weren’t enough, there’s video too. Video I took on my phone. Curling is so much easier to video than hockey.

We had a great time, lovely hosts, and everything went pretty smoothly. Winston missed us a lot.