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.

Facebook — To delete or not to delete

Erica's Facebook

I think a lot about deleting my Facebook. I don’t use it for networking; that’s why I have LinkedIn. I don’t use it to contact my close circle of friends. We have face-to-face visits, phones, e-mail, and other methods of communication.

Part of met thinks that I haven’t hammered out how I’m going to use it just yet. Is it networking, keeping track of life lived a long time ago, or connecting with friends? I think this when I get connection requests from co-workers that I don’t like all that much. (Obviously, this does not apply to all, and probably doesn’t apply to you when you think it does.) Or when yesterday, I received and accepted a request from a woman I went to 2nd grade with. And since I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, I don’t really mind those requests. I don’t put overly personal things on it, and since I’m not into partying and one beer at dinner is my limit, I’m not going get caught in some saucy photography.

Mostly I think about getting rid of it due to the voyeur factor. Facebook gives you just enough information to stalk someone, but not enough information to really know them. I suppose that you’re suppose to message people or write on their walls or compare your movie capability. But those still seem like only surface connections.

Sometimes my reactions to Facebook remind me of when my mom was going to attend her 20th high school reunion. Her friend Carol was over and my mom pulled out her old high school yearbook. Carol and myself stood around as my mom started going through her memories and looking at the pictures of the people she used to know. Her high school years, like my own, were not her shining glories. She was an average student and not popular or overly involved.

After we giggled at my mom and my uncle’s ’70s hair, my mom started recounting the people she hung out with. But then it got to the people she hated. The ones that stole her boyfriends or snubbed her friendship. The ones she hoped she looked younger than. The ones she guessed had gotten fat and ugly with age. Or the ones she thought deserved to have landed themselves in jail by now, based on her judgments of them for what they did 20 years ago. She was so bitter. So full of ill wishes and mockery.

Facebook sometimes turns into that for me. I see people I used to know and some of them aren’t people that I like very much. Some of them hurt me and some of them were assholes. Facebook becomes my yearbook, only updated every moment of every day. Unlike my mother, who can leave her yearbook the shelves, I can access Facebook any time of the day, from anywhere. That is why I think about deleting my Facebook account and putting the past on the shelf.

I’m Still as Pretty as a Turtle

Erica as a babySaturday is my 25th birthday. I’ll be a quarter of a century. Wow. (Yes, this picture is of me when I was a baby.)

My mom is here visiting with my fake!daddy in tow. This time, she let him get his own seat on the plane instead of packing him in her makeup bag. (For I have successfully taught my mom about men-in-jars — the ancient art of shrinking a man down, storing him in a jar, and pulling him out at full-size to use when needed.)

I love birthdays. They are awesome. To celebrate on Saturday, I am having a girls’ day at the spa and treating myself to a massage. (There are many ways that I am treating myself like a lady of luxury.)

While there are unsettled things in my life, I do think that at 25, I am pretty happy. I also think about different my life is than the other women in my family as they turned 25.

My mother was either engaged or almost engaged to my father when she turned 25. She married him shortly after she turned 26 and had me several months after she was 27. This turn in her life made her move to a smaller town, drive in the snow, and become a housewife. (Seriously, my dad took pictures of the hospital grounds the day I was born and there was snow everywhere. See why I live in Seattle now?) At 25, all my mom wanted to do was get married and be a mommy.

My maternal grandma had two small children and another on the way. She lived on a farm in rural South Dakota. She and my grandpa eventually moved to Oregon. It might’ve been when she was 25. But I am not sure of this. (Grandma, any help?) She likes to tell us stories about getting up every morning and butchering 25 chickens to take to market. To think that I don’t even have to grow my own tofu. Can you imagine how everyone would’ve laughed at a vegetarian then? The relatives already think that I’m weird enough.

At almost 25, all I want to do is read comics and hang out with my boyfriend and my totally awesome friends. I mean, we have important debates to consider — like who would win She-Hulk or Wonder Woman? Or maybe I want to ramble all over the interwebs and have conversations with with friends in other cities that I miss so much. Then I’m going to have a spiritual crisis as I drive by a beggar on my way home from my web design job.

I am amazed at just how different my life is. I couldn’t imagine being married or having children. I feel like such a young person myself, and right now, I don’t think I’d trade that feeling for anything.

I Do Dream of Electric Bunnies

I’ve been thinking about solace, and the times I had solace. Solace is something that I want in my life. I want a “happy place” to go to.

When I was growing up, I largely did two things for solace — read books and raise rabbits.

Himalayan rabbitsI didn’t have a few rabbits. No, I had anywhere from 10 to 80. While my peers were moving from sleepovers to dates, I was busy every weekend showing my rabbits all over Oregon state. My rabbits were award-winners as I never like to do anything halfway. I was cleaning cages and trimming toenails. I’d get up earlier than anyone who knows me might believe to feed them every morning.

While I had many types of rabbits over the years, I mainly raised Himalayans. Himalayans are smaller rabbits that are white in color with dark points on their noses, feet, tail, and ears. They’re also know to be very docile and go into rabbit trances where their heads move back and forth almost like their meditating.

I always loved them because of those qualities. They were my solace. When I had a bad day due to hormones or an ugly incident at school, I could retreat to the detached garage that housed all my rabbits (and my cats too). We’d just hang out and listen to NPR.

They always had the radio going so they would be used to noise. My mom always joked that my rabbits were very well-informed. But really, we lived so far out in the country that there would be silence. Silence where I could hear my rabbits eating hay or drinking from their dishes. Or hear them bounce around their cages when there was a loud noise. The radio helped them from freaking out too badly.

Now that I live in Seattle, sometimes I miss that silence. Right now, I can hear my upstairs neighbor walking around, a car on the road, a train, and Jason playing a game on the other computer. I didn’t really notice the lack of silence until I visit my mom’s house.

The drive from Seattle to Bend is long, and the last couple times, I’ve arrived just after midnight. No one is out and about in the country, on my mom’s 20 acres. Everyone’s already in bed. (Or my brothers never came home or are at dad’s house.) The dogs might bark, but they soon settle down for more interesting things like sleeping.

Then there’s silence and crisp, dry air and bright stars.

I think Himalayan rabbits are like that — silent and bright. They’re also soft.

The day I broke up with an ex-boyfriend, we went to a Humane Society together. They had one rabbit. (It was a Satin, not a Himalayan.) I held it and touched it. I let it sniff my face with its flat, wide nose and curious whiskers. A worker told me she’d never seen that rabbit be so friendly with anyone. I couldn’t take it with me. I was moving. Logistics and rental agreements. But for one moment, I was there with my bunnies and it didn’t matter that my life was in upheaval.

I keep telling Jason I need a holiday rabbit. Wouldn’t a surprise pet be the best present ever? (I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to not being able to bring home lost and stray animals on a whim.)

I just need a moment to find that solace. The solace in a four pound rabbit that found my painted nails to be the same color as grass.

Five Things to do in Seattle in the Fall

It’s definitely fall. I’ve started wearing a scarf and mittens and my office heater is working away. This was the view from my balcony a few weeks ago when the leaves were just starting to change.

Seattle fall leaves

Five Things to do in Seattle in the Fall

1. Celebrate Halloween

Complete bias in that Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. You’re never too old to dress up, especially since there are many adult (21+) parties you can attend if you’re not already invited to a private party.

One of the most important fall activities is searching for that perfect costume. I’m not a fan of the expensive out-of-the-bag costumes as they aren’t kind to my budget or my skin. Too much polyester. This year, I’ve already hit my favorites, Goodwill (the one on Deerborn is the largest) and Red Light (the one in Capital Hill has the largest assortment of pre-made and accessories costumes I’ve seen). I’m still in need of a skirt…

2. The Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

This festival is currently running. When I’ve gone, I’ve always had a lot of fun. They always host a variety of films from cheesy horror flicks to popular films to documentaries. Everyone goes for a good time, and some have discussions afterward or audience participation. You might even get to meet cast members.

Plus, the movies are always at little art house theaters and it’s a good way to get to know other movie theaters. (Much better than paying $10/person to see commercial “successes” at generic theaters. Am I bitter about paying to see W. last weekend? Just a little bit.)

3. Winterfest at the Seattle Center

Two words: Ice skating. I mean what girl who watched the 1992 Olympics didn’t want to be Kristi Yamaguchi?

Okay, there’s lots of other stuff like jazz and choir performances, Worldfest, Solstice Fires, and more. I imagine that if I had children that some of these could be activities out with children. The Seattle Center is a hoping places and is always conveniently located on a bus route or four since parking isn’t always ideal. Think of it, a whole field trip including learning how to ride public transportation.

(Which I had no clue how to do until I went to Europe when I was 16 and got lost in London. Which was the most awesome part of my vacation even if I was scolded.)

4. Mt. Baker

Ski season is upon us. Or so I’m being constantly told by the outdoor enthusiast graphic artist who’s cube is on the other side of the office from mine. (In fairness, he just received his new skis which he did the design for.)

I’ve heard that Mt. Baker has the best skiing for those living in Seattle. It’s a short drive for a day trip to the mountain.

5. Explore your Seattle Farmer’s Markets

That’s right, in Seattle, farmer’s markets are open in the fall and in the winter. (This varies depending on the neighborhood, so check the schedule to see what’s open when near you.) In addition to fall harvest vegetables, you can also find meats, eggs, and other farm products.

It’s never to early to start practicing making the holiday dinner. Or just making seasonal food. I love pumpkin pie if anyone’s interested. Don’t forget to shop locally just because it’s no longer summertime.