Life as an Extreme Sport

Living in Shatner’s World

I grew up in an ecumenical household. There was no battle between the Stars – Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. As long as it was space opera, it was welcome, and this was the influence of my father. I don’t have any memories of this starting, because it always was.

What I do remember, however, is my first.

Oh, you typically hear of “the first” – genre-wise – with regards to Doctor Who; who was your first Doctor? And while I certainly have a first Doctor (Nine, thankyouverymuch), it doesn’t have the same hold on me as my first captain.

Oh captain, my captain – Captain Kirk.

Yes, Sir Patrick Stewart was wonderful as Captain Picard, and I suspect you can trace much, if not all, of my interest in philosophy and history and most importantly, ethics, to Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his thoughtful troubleshooting and conflict resolution. I will happily debate episodes, quote Darmok to you (and Jalad, at Tanagra), and discuss all the ways in which John de Lancie was a fantastic foil to Picard.

But it’s William Shatner that is my captain. Every afternoon, Dad would make sure he was home in time to watch Star Trek with me (in reruns, obviously). We watched Kung Fu, also, but it just wasn’t the same. There was something about Star Trek. Maybe it was because I had been raised on science fiction, Dad choosing to read me scifi novels instead of children’s books. Maybe it was because of NASA and the shuttle and the sense of the potential out there – space, that final frontier. Maybe it’s because as they’ve aged, William Shatner and my father have become similar, in posture and appearance and voice. Maybe it’s a little of it all, bound together with those afternoons watching the TV, rapt, with Dad.

It’s that ephemeral thing that makes something yours, and that fondness hasn’t faded over the years, even if I haven’t always followed Shatner’s career closely.

So it was with some apprehension I looked at the Philadelphia ticket sales for Shatner’s World, William Shatner’s one-man play. While I came of age after that particular incident that was so soundly mocked on SNL, I was a con-goer when I was young, and I’d heard the stories, and I was wary. I have these wonderful memories and an enduring warmth for Shatner; did I want to risk it on a play that might snuff that out and, for lack of less poetic a term, shatter illusions?

I did what any girl in my position would do: I called my father and asked him what he would do. Was it my only chance, he asked me. I confirmed that it was, and Dad held the beat for just long enough before asking, nicely, if maybe I was a little wrong in the head.

William Shatner. When would I ever have the chance again? Sure, he’s going to be here for a comics convention in May, but that’s crowded and… different. Perhaps it’s my con-going youth, but crowds of people paying large amounts of money for a signature and perhaps a photo is just not what a con should be, and not how meeting someone you admire should be. You can call me old-fashioned, I’ll do the yelling to get off my lawn.

So I shrugged and I bought a ticket. The play, after all, had been getting wonderful reviews – at worst, I would lose a few more of the illusions that I had clung to into adulthood. At this point, there aren’t too many left, so they’d be in good company if they did go away.

But oh, oh, they didn’t. I came out of the theatre more starry-eyed and head-in-clouds than before, and so did everyone else. I have never left a show where everyone is talking about the same thing: how amazingly profound what they just saw was, and yet, that’s exactly what happened.

Shatner’s World is a retrospective of William Shatner’s life. It’s a narrative, so while it starts with him as a young man, the stories are what link the show together, rather than strictly linear narration. Shatner’s. Famed. Delivery. is not on hand here, save for casual mocking – instead, it was more like listening to a good friend tell a story – a long, engrossing story that you don’t want to end. This play wasn’t polished; he stuttered and stammered, he got lost in his story, he slipped up and misspoke and corrected and laughed – or then again, maybe the play was just that polished, that these slip-ups that felt natural were worked in to feel natural.

That, right there, is the genius of the experience – while clearly being rehearsed, it felt not-rehearsed-at-all. And Shatner is fast on his feet; he had quippy remarks for the crowd, especially as they reacted to young and shirtless images of him, and the poor person handling the spotlight had a rough time of it when his (or her) aim was off, and Shatner started deviating from his story to give staging directions.

Or was that scripted, too? I couldn’t tell you.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been a fan for my entire life, so I know these stories. I know about his horses, I know about the tragic death of his beloved Nerine and how he found love again. I know the Star Trek saga inside and out, the rivalries and friendships. I know the jokes about him doing anything for money, about the CDs and Priceline and on and on…

And yet I sat, rapt. I was leaning forward on the edge of my (very nice, thank you again lovely usher who moved me to a plush box seat with generous leg room) seat, absorbed in everything Shatner said. And I wasn’t the only one. When I did pull my eyes off the stage to see how the crowd was reacting, rather than just hearing the sighs and laughter, it was hard to miss the fact that almost everyone else was leaning forward, too. Drawn in, and to, attention.

I don’t know that I expected to laugh, but I hoped, and I did – hard and often. What I didn’t expect was to tear up, which I also did at several points, and where I also know I wasn’t the only one, because you could hear the sniffles traveling through the crowd. And it wasn’t at the necessarily expected points, either – it was in moments like hearing his sorrow over his horse, his acceptance at being Captain Kirk, his pride at the house his kidney stone bought, in his first trip to NASA and his final recording for Discovery.

It was in the tender, and the funny – and he was able to turn a story from one to another in the span of a few steps across the sparse stage.

Shatner gets mocked a lot for saying yes – he’s known for doing almost anything put in front of him. But he explained this philosophy in his show, and it makes sense: it’s easy to say no. It’s easy to stay inside, away from the world, disengaged. But one of the hardest things you can do is say yes. Yes to opportunity, yes to life, yes to potentially making a fool of yourself, yes to wonder and awe – yes to love.

Is it Shatner’s World? It is while he’s on the stage, and I’m lucky enough that – even in such a culturally distant way, he’s so central to mine. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I think the ultimate answer to that question, is yes.

semiotics on flesh

I am a study in signs right now. (Well, not right now – right now I’m a study in “oh fucking hell it’s too late in the year to be this muggy and hot!”) Everything I put on seems to have meaning, of some sort or another. Rubber bracelet with pithy slogan, stamped and brushed silver bracelet, ring, mala, pendant, locket – even earrings. Small bits of meaning woven into each, almost charmlike. The impulses to wear give some insight into the idea that having something that belonged to another gives you some power, over event, item, person. Tangible connections, ties that bind.


It has come to my attention that some people think I am, perhaps, upset, frustrated, and/or otherwise angry and disappointed with/at them. Some people should stop being stupid. Or come talk to me. Actually, both would be best.

I will be the first to stand up and admit I have issues with trusting. Take those issues, add in the utter fear of vulnerability which stems directly from having issues with trust, and you get – well, me. Someone who has a very hard time putting herself in issues she perceives will make her vulnerable – where vulnerable can be read as “hurt by other’s actions.” It also gets you someone who talks about herself in third person, apparently,…

I was talking to one of my sanity points this morning, and admitted that it’s much easier to be angry at people than it is to be angry at something as intangible and insubstantial as cancer. There’s the perception that people have choices, could have done something differently, made other decisions – easier to be wronged by people than impotent in the face of the cancer taking my mother from me.

I need people, but I need my mother more. And there’s nothing anyone can do about the latter, nothing anger will do anything about or for. So I got angry at other people instead. Because it was easier to say “you didn’t do X, Y, Z, you don’t give a damn” and fall back into bad habits about trust and vulnerability and that secret conviction that I’m going to spin around to find everyone stabbing me in the back all at once, rather than see the empathy and care that was being offered.

I have every right to be frustrated and angry – but the frustration and anger were directed at the wrong sources. And if you were one of those people who got whalloped with my rage, I apologize. And we should probably talk, and smooth things over.

you can generate warmth in multiple ways

I’m sitting outside right now, taking advantage of the last days of autumn, before it becomes too brisk, cold, and wet to do this. I’ve found an open access point at the park, and am hiding under the shade at a picnic bench. It’ll be the perfect place to take a conference call.

I’m going to have to figure out a more permanent and stable arrangement for internet access before the wet weather sets in, though – this on again, off again internet at home isn’t working for me. (Which makes me suspect I need to switch from cable internet to DSL, a thought which pains. But when the cable is as flaky as it is, no matter whose internet connection it is, then there is a greater problem. The last time I spoke with the company about it, they told me the area I live in is old, and has a lot of above ground cable connections that go out easily. Which, okay fine… but I can’t do most of what needs doing from such spotty access!)

Beyond that, life is as it is. I have, for the most part, moved beyond asking why me – although I have some interesting variances. Which suggests I’m not really beyond it, I’m just generating a subtle distinctions that come across as meaningful when it means I’m really running from the greater picture. Which is all lovely and vague, and all you’re going to get.

kill the buddha outside you

I was chatting with an academic colleague of mine about the recent attack in Pakistan on a large, carved Buddha, and actually impressed myself with my own serenity and acceptance. Quite the different response from my reaction to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas (outrage, anger, despair).

But as I told him, it is only rock, and only appears indestructable to use because we move at different time than rock. To focus so much on the image is in fact to do exactly what the Islamic militants fear – idolize the image, instead of revere the message.

Ultimately, what I feel is more sorrow and sadness, not for the destruction of the carved art and stone, but for the people who are so ruled by fear, who are so threatened by something as simple as carved rock. How sad and small their lives must be, and what beauty and wonder in the world they are missing.