Came across this and wanted to put it here as a corollary to my previous post.
Kate Mulgrew on being Captain Janeway
Transcript of the relevant piece of the video above. She says some other great stuff too that you might want to watch!
At first I was absolutely – and this is a Yiddish term – “farmisht“. Do you know what that means? What is the relationship between this astounding fanbase and Star Trek (let alone the first female captain)? Well all these years later, I can tell you what it is. It’s exalted. It’s dignified. It’s unusual.
When I was doing it initially, I can now confess to you, it was complete nonsense out of my mouth. That technobable… I really… I’d hold my report and think “This is Japanese? What is this? This is Greek! I don’t get it.” For six months, eight months, I had to do it like that. I was working eighteen hours a day. I had to do it. “The nebula! The thingamewawa! The black hole! We’re going to do it!” And I was just praying, ”God, what is that crazy word? What am I saying? Where am I going?” And then I said, “Calm down. when you’re free you’re going to study.” So I started to read the physicists. Physicists that I love. Beginning with Einstein but really concentrating on Richard Feynman who I really think is the greatest modern physicist.*Applause* Look! Case in point! You know who Richard Feynman is, and you love Richard Feynman!
So I understood physics at last. At the ripe old age of 40 I was getting it. And I also understood what Einstein said when he said the theory of relativity is nothing more or less than the leap of imagination combined with the law of the physical world. And I thought, that’s what Janeway is. She’s a scientist, she’s speaking the truth and that’s what they [the fans] know.
And the starship is a metaphor for who we are. Alone, on Earth, with this briefest of windows called life. That small. And that’s what that ship represents. How are you going to live it? In that grain of sand that is all you have to call your own? Well, I say you live it with the terminology that the Okuda brothers and Gene Roddenberry endowed. You live it by the Prime Directive. You live it with great diplomacy of being. Of heart, mind, of morality and courage.
The Prime Directive was not a joke. It was the transcendence of all things. Real and unreal, seen and unseen. Race, gender, discipline, labels. That’s what Starfleet stands for. It stands for life. We all know that oblivion is space and we’re all heading there. From whence we came so shall we return. That is just a fact of life.
And this is why I think this extraordinary relationship developed between starship and this Starfleet and the actors on it. At least that was my experience of it. It’s been deeply personal and almost inexpressibly gratifying. You [fans] are… intelligent in a way I love. You read, you think and you know this much: It might be called “science fiction”, it might be a television show, but it’s probably true. Because the essence of life is mysterious and space is infinite and of infinite possibility.
I was about 14 when it happened. It came at me completely without warning. At the time I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me. I scrawled wildly in my diary, trying to understand what had happened.
It had started so randomly. I’d been eating dinner one night and this show had come on.
It had featured a woman with a nice voice and facial ridges. She had said things like, “The Borg shields are offline. I’ve got a lock on Captain Janeway.”
To which a human guy had replied things like, “Get her out of there! Break us free of the cube!”
This had made absolutely no sense to me. I have no idea, even now, why I continued to watch. One of the crew was in this “cube” which seemed to be full of technologically superior cybernetic beings. Before this point, I’d had no interest at all in science fiction, so that was not a particular draw card. There was lots of other technobabble, and then there was some scary alien creature communicating with a beautiful woman with blonde hair in her mind. And then the woman in the cube was injured and taken to a kind of hospital, where the guy who’d been shouting orders before came and spoke to her gently.
“Well, I’ve made my decision,” he said quietly as she lay unconscious beside him, “If it was only a case of going against the orders of my superior officer…” and he leaned in closer. “You’re more than just my captain… you’re my friend. I hope you’ll understand.”
And that might have been when it happened. It may have been the strong human element that hooked me. That’s usually the case with me, I’ve since realised. At any rate, I thought nothing of it at the time.
A few days later I was at the library. Since I’d finished the third Harry Potter book, nothing had particularly grabbed me. I’d just finished Lord of the Rings. The sequel, which is what I’d been hoping to take home with me, had been booked out. I idly perused the other books in the section and, lo and behold, came across a cover with that woman on – the one with the ridges and the voice. I decided to take it out.
I read the first story – the one featuring her – and I loved it so much that I read it again straight away. Imagine my surprise when that Friday night the episode – the exact TV version of the story I’d just read – played while I was eating my supper.
By the time it finished there was no hope left for me. I was a Trekkie.
I didn’t know it at the time. I couldn’t. I didn’t have access to a vast community that shared my passion. I couldn’t even watch the episodes of the original series. But I could read. I read all the books the library had and made it my personal mission in life to buy all the second-hand Star Trek books I could get (yes, I do still have a bookshelf dedicated to them). I discovered that a boy in my class also liked the show and he gave me the most amazing treasure ever in a pre- home Internet time: the Official Star Trek Encyclopedia CD ROM. I became familiar with every custom, series, character, episode. I knew what Vulcans like to eat (Plomeek soup, obvs), how to insult a Klingon (question their honour, but be prepared to die if you do so), the general principles behind the technology (holodecks use a combination of forcefields and replicators to create matter that one can touch and feel). I became an expert. I became… a Fan.
Fourteen-year-old Tallulah was the epitome of the obsessive Fan. I had a file of Voyager quotes. I found some fanfic that placed all the characters in fairy tales and I rewrote the stories. By hand. I had my own concept spin off book series idea. It was called Starfleet Civilian and it featured stories about normal people living in the Star Trek universe (no, they weren’t all Mary Sues! They had run-ins with the Orion Syndicate and Space Pirates and had to do jobs that weren’t military-related or glamorous and ended up in the firing line regardless and some of them were spies… and maybe a part of me still kind of wants to write this… *ahem*).
Anyway, I had it bad. It took up every second of my day that I wasn’t at school and my entire nights during weekends and over holidays. Fandom completely stole my life.
But here’s what I gained in return:
- I taught myself HTML so I could create a fan site.
- I joined play-by-email role-playing games where I met a bunch of awesome people, some of whom I still talk to now.
- The PBEM games made me practice my writing every day for years. NanoWrimo has nothing on the USS Liberty in terms of writing volume, I can assure you.
- The RPGs also assisted with my learning touch-typing. First time I ever typed while not looking at the keyboard was during a particularly harrowing ordeal for my character, Sarah Crighton.
- I took science and maths in highschool. I was inspired by Janeway to learn about physics. Ok, I sucked at it and eventually quit but I still got a year more of science education than I would have otherwise.
- Star Trek gave me role models. Women who were in the thick of the action, who brandished their brains as weapons (in the figurative sense!) and were not afraid of anything. Who would die for what they believed in. And what they believed in was always, in the end, human (or alien) rights.
- Star Trek completely shifted my paradigm with regards to technology. It moved it away from the realms of streams of confusing, meaningless, code and into a critical part of what it means to be human in the current era.
- I learned about working in a hierarchy and negotiating. I learned diplomacy.
- I learned the meaning of words like diplomacy. And hundreds of others. My vocabulary expanded immensely.
- It gave me a creative outlet – I learned a bunch about sewing, drawing, writing (as already mentioned), website design and, most importantly of all, taught myself Corel PhotoPaint, which I use almost daily now.
- It opened my eyes to geekdom in general, enabling me to find my niche in the world.
I think it’s safe to say that if I hadn’t happened to be so intrigued by B’Elanna Torres that one night back in 2000, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. My fandom played a huge part in shaping who I am and getting me to where I am now. The career I’m in now, the company that I’m working for and the people who I choose to surround myself with are all an indirect result of a teenage obsession.
Recently I’ve gone back to Star Trek. I’ve re-watched the old episodes and I’ve laughed at how utterly terrible some of them are (anyone remember the Voyager episode with the Macro Virus? Lol). Distance (and age) brings perspective. I can see the flaws. But distance (and perhaps age) also makes the heart grow fonder. Now I realise how lucky I was that I happened to be exposed to this particular universe and these particular ideas, at the precise age when one is crafting one’s identity.
The Star Trek universe reached out to me at the very moment when I was mentally stitching together the tapestry of who Tallulah was. A part of that tapestry was formed by Jean Luc Picard, who’d put everything on the line to save a single person if he could. About human rights, he’d say: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”
A part of that tapestry was formed by Kathryn Janeway, who’d handle the tensest situation with grace and who would strand herself on the other side of the galaxy rather than risk innocents being harmed. “Fear exists for one purpose: to be conquered,” she’d say, alongside statements like, “A stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet.”
B’Elanna and Worf, the two Klingons, taught me about accepting who you are – the good alongside the bad. Through Seven of Nine, Data and Spock’s explorations of what it meant to be human, I came to appreciate my own humanity. The emphasis on intelligence and “being the best and the brightest” reinforced the goals I’d already inherited from Hermione. I stopped assuming there were limits to what I could be.
I meet people all the time who scoff at fandom and laugh at the idea of fanfic. I remember reading an academic article by one of the many academics called Thompson a few years ago. He spoke of fandom as a one-sided love affair. That’s not a terrible way to describe it.
But it is inaccurate.
When one is so deeply embroiled in a fandom the way I was, it is in no way one-sided. You get back so much more than you put in.
A year or so after my initial panicked scrawlings I added another note in my diary, answering past me (I’m an only child, I talk to myself a lot):
If fandom is a “desease”, I wish it upon everyone. Or, to put it another way: I wouldn’t wish a lack of fandom on my worst enemy.
*please note, I couldn’t spell disease but even I could tell the difference between your and you’re!
Edit: here are some words from Mulgrew (aka Janeway) that emphasize what I mean.
When I stumbled out of bed yesterday and looked at myself in the mirror, I looked angry. My brow was furrowed, my hair was sticking out at all angles and my roots were showing.
“You look like an angry feminist,” came the thought, unbidden, into my brain.
It was followed very shortly by an admission. The kind of admission that can only come when one is still foggy from sleep and pissed about waking up late.
“Yes,” I told my reflection. “That’s exactly what I am.”
Why was this an admission? Why is it not a proud declaration? Because the word “feminist” has been corrupted.
All words cause feelings, but some are more emotive than others. The word “massacre” for example, will probably have a greater effect on you than the word “at”.
With “feminist” these feelings seem to be largely negative.
Feelings of guilt and inadequacy have always been the main feelings for me. Guilt for still liking baking and knitting, for harbouring fantasies of one day being a stay-at-home mom, being cared for by a strong man, for shaving my legs and wearing makeup. Inadequacy for not being brave enough to take to the streets with posters, for not learning the statistics by rote and confronting people who offend me with them.
There are other feelings that the word “feminist” evokes in other people. I’ve seen it. Some see feminists as trolls, taking any news story or issue and warping it into something that’s about women’s rights. Taking things one might enjoy, like games, movies and sport, and making one feel guilty for enjoying those things without being disgusted that they are not gender-neutral.
Impatience is another feeling the word can evoke because sometimes when someone steps into a conversation waving that word around, what they actually want is to re-route the conversation to be all about them and their concerns.
Feminists in popular culture are villains who look and smell bad, who are selfish, loud and conceited, throwing big words like “patriarchy” and “homogenous” around to show that they’re cleverer than whoever they’re with and that they care more. If you don’t care as much as they do you’re a bad person.
This antagonism doesn’t only put people on the defensive, it also makes those of us who agree with the issues, who want to be part of the cause, shy away from it. “You can call me an advocate for women’s rights, but please don’t call me a feminist”.
Over the past year or so – due in part to my activity on Twitter, due in part to in depth discussions with friends and colleagues – I have come to look upon the word differently. I’ve come to realise that I need feminism because I will never be a good 50s housewife. I need that f-word because I want to live in a world where I can play computer games instead of playing house, because I dream of a world where I can walk around in the streets without fear. Perhaps some who call themselves feminists come across as harsh, can be interpreted as bullies. I never want to be a bully. But I do want the world to wake up, I do want to take up the baton of the suffragettes and argue for an equal world where little girls are not just expected to play with dolls while little boys are exposed to important, exciting, things like science and engineering.
So for lack of a better term I am a feminist.
And I am angry.
My reflection yesterday didn’t know what had happened to Reeva Steenkamp yet. We still don’t know whether she was a victim of domestic violence. Some people theorise that she was – Oscar Pistorious has a temper, we all saw it during the Olympics. Apparently there had been reports of domestic disturbances at the house previously. Regardless, the media’s attention was focused squarely on Pistorious from the first moment. Yes, he’s the star, but it was Reeva who had been murdered – in the week of One Billion Rising no less – and her name and tragedy hardly came up at all at first. And she’s not exactly a nobody either. She was a rising star herself as a model. The Sun did give her the cover image… one of her in a bikini – perfecting what someone on Twitter dubbed “Necromisogyny“.
That makes me angry.
A few weeks ago it was Anene, whose name still echoes in my mind, who was brutally raped and murdered. The country reacted with slogans of StopRape, but still the question was asked – what was she doing out so late, at a bar, alone? And when people likened her story to that of the girl who was gang-raped, filmed and whose ordeal was plastered across the Internet, people had to stretch their memories back to recall her at all.
That makes me angry.
I responded to the whole StopRape campaign with this Facebook post:
Local radio stations are doing a #stoprape campaign today, playing a beep every 4 min – approximating the frequency of a rape being reported in SA. They’ve opened the lines so that people can talk about rape all day.
It’s a great campaign, makes people sit up and take notice. My question is then what?
“Why are you not cooking fresh veg?” a male voice inquires of his significant other (a woman) as part of a McCain ad. The beep sounds. Do the producers not see the irony?
And later, when they play a Chris Brown song and promote his concert, will they not see the irony then either?
How about the radio stations commit to not playing sexist ads or songs, not endorsing an artist who beat up his girlfriend? How about the radio plays an active role in changing attitudes towards women? How about we start there?
Sure, there are monsters who rape anyone (not just women), but the attitude of many of the rapists in testimonials I’ve heard is that they were somehow entitled to the woman – be it because she was his ex, she was “too educated”, she was wearing a short skirt, she was visiting at his house (or he was visiting hers), she’d gone on a date with him, she was walking down the street alone, she was someone he knew… Until these attitudes change saying #stoprape on the radio isn’t going to do anything.
It started a huge debate in my Facebook feed, the implication being that removing the offensive ads, or refusing to glorify Chris Brown on radio, would be akin to censorship.
That made me angry too.
You see, the scourge of rape isn’t going to be stopped by wearing black or fancy radio campaigns. It’s going to be stopped by educating people, by raising young men to respect women as equals not as property.
Not every young child has two loving parents who will teach them these things. Many children in this poverty-stricken country grow up without parents, or with a single parent who works, or is raised by siblings, or are in households where they are abused. Our education system is fucked up – I wouldn’t usually swear here but there is no equivalent word that expresses the extent of just how messed up it is.
So in a situation where you possibly have no parents and no schools, who teaches our nation’s young?
We need to take responsibility for the small things. We need to stop broadcasting the message that a woman’s place is in the home, removing stains from her hubby’s work clothes. We need to stop glorifying Chris Brown while shaming Kirsten Stewart (who may have had an affair, but it was with her director who was older and in a position of power over her and got off scott free). We need to stop making woman in the kitchen jokes, even if we find them funny. We need to stop putting ideas into little girls’ heads, telling them subliminally that they should be fashion designers rather than app developers, nurses rather than doctors.
And to accomplish these things, we need a movement, we need a banner to fly, we need a word that is our battle-cry.
And if that word, to you, is not “feminism”, then make it something else.
If you don’t want to fly that banner by standing on the streets holding placards, substituting “myn” for “man” in all English words or giving up shaving and make-up then I don’t think you should have to.
I think it’s enough for one to admit to oneself and to the world, “I am this thing, this thing that believes in equality, that doesn’t want to be constrained by unreasonable societal assumptions and roles. I am this thing and I have emotions. I have emotions about what’s happening to our world and in our country. I have emotions because it’s not fair and it’s not right. I am this thing, I have these feelings and I’m not afraid to express them and to stand up for what I believe in.”
I am a feminist, and I am angry.
I grew up in a place called Noordhoek, South Africa.
Cape Townians sometimes refer to it as “the land behind the Lentil Curtain” for the sheer number of hippies per capita. If you love nature, it’s possibly the perfect place to put down roots (pun intended).
Outside of Cape Town it is known for the stretching belt of white sand called Long Beach, a beach so perfect that it’s become a prime location for filming and photographing beach scenes. In the trivia for the 1970 film Ryan’s Daughter on IMDB the beach is said to be easy to identify in the movie because the “sky is particularly bright and clear and the beach sand is exceptionally white and fine”.
We lived on the mountain, my mom and I, in a tiny little open-plan with a gas geyser/stove and a loft bedroom. The shop where she worked was walking distance away, as was the place where I used to take pottery class. Before we moved to that house we had also been walking distance from the sea. The one night, while coming home from an evening picnic on the beach, we happened upon a bush of fairies. They danced around us, tiny sparks of different colours. One of the bigger ones was white and it flew through the weaves in the basket I was carrying.
I don’t know what they really were. Do fireflies come in many colours? My mom still refers to that as the night we found fairies.
Then there were the walks up the mountain, that I often undertook alone so I could enjoy my solitude. Sometimes I took my recorder (we were required to learn the recorder at school, it’s unfortunate that I hate the sound of it). I remember the path so well. Down the wooden porch steps, the ones that were slowly rotting away, onto the overgrown grassy patch that was our front garden. In between the long lavender bush with its bees and the swing we’d brought with us from Johannesburg. Up the sandy path to the washing line, where I’d duck under hand-washed clothes and sheets that smelled like soap. Pause at the sun recliner to remove thorns from my shoe and give a stroke to the cat who was curled up asleep. Then up the gravely driveway, careful not to slip, past the tree with crying guinea fowl (“kee-ooow kee ooow”) and past the empty water tank, partly hidden by Milkwood trees. When they patched it up and filled it it become a pond. Then the path grew more wild and suddenly you were working your way through pine trees and over fallen branches. Up, constantly up. Eventually the forest thinned into rolling grasses, and beyond the grasses was a farmhouse. But I would stop when the trees did. Once I’d had the urge to explore further. I’d been emboldened by having my best friend beside me. But then the farm dogs had come after us and we’d run and jumped and tumbled right back to my front door. After that incident I would always stop at the tree line and sit playing with pine cones or my recorder, or I’d lie in the sun and make up stories until I became bored or hungry.
Traveling up the mountain with a neighbor and her dog once, we’d arrived at the best view in the world. The forest had flattened out and become fynbos, and beyond the fynbos had been a dip, and beyond the dip had been the sea. I had it in my head that I wanted to get back there some day, but I never did.
The property was covered in flowers, even the house had them creeping up the walls – roses in the front and Bougainvillea at that back that was wild and curved around the path like a huge, thorny, tunnel. It was a great place for hiding Easter eggs. You had to press yourself against the ground so you didn’t get scraped retrieving them. In spring I’d make posies out of the flowers in the garden and sell them for 50c each at the centre where my mom had her co-op. Once I experimented with making perfume using the petals and water. I was surprised my mom would not wear pulped roses on her wrists.
She probably remembers my childhood differently. We did not have a car – I’d take buses to and from school. There were only four scheduled to come into Noordhoek and if I missed the first one I’d miss school because the next one was only after school had ended. It used to do a turn around in the beach parking lot though, so if you heard it hurtling past the one way there was a chance , if you ran fast enough down to the bus stop, you could catch it going the other way, on its way back.
We also had no TV, except for a brief period when we borrowed one from a friend of hers. I made good use of it while we had it – watching cartoons every morning and staying up all night on weekends catching reruns of the Cosby Show and old cop series. When there was no TV in the house I read, or I climbed into my tree house, or went around the garden collecting snails, or wrote stories about the cat on our old-fashioned type-writer.
In the world on the other side of the lentil curtain, technology advanced. Cellphones came off the cinema screen and into reality, computers moved out of the factories and offices and into houses, and the Internet migrated from the military into use by the civilian population. I would play chess against the computer at school if I was well behaved in chess club and there was this game I loved – something about diamonds – that I could play when they introduced computer class. Other than that, mine was a world without the technology I take for granted now.
The first computer we got was a huge thing with a black screen and bright orange writing and 4 programs. One of them was Quatro Pro – why I remember that I do not know – and one was a typing game that was kind of like Space Invaders but you could stop the words from crushing the buildings by typing them super fast. For me it was a more advanced typewriter for writing stories, not much more. We really loved that typing game though.
Somehow I still ended up a geek. My first computer that was capable of actually doing anything useful came from my dad in 2000 and I used a month’s worth of pay-as-you-go dial up Internet time updating Encarta Encyclopedia on day one. Now you’d have difficulty prying me away from the computer – even during holidays – and I feel hard done by if I can’t access the Internet, at the very least on my phone.
Perhaps a childhood like the one I had is impossible in this day and age due to crime. Perhaps even in a place like Noordhoek where you’d never lock your doors and could take a walk to the beach in the middle of the night in the 90s you’d be crazy to do it now, I don’t know. All I do know is that my little sister, born a decade after I was into a similar financial situation and living in a similar environment (Natal’s South Coast) does not. She had a computer and her dolls were The Sims, her adventures are Left for Dead and other zombie hunting games and her exploration is the Internet. She plays dress up on IMVU and it’s her cellphone, not a recorder or a pad of paper filled with stories, that she takes everywhere with her.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that she’s learned more from The Sims than I ever did through Barbie – Barbie, after all, does not have to manage the finances of a household. I know that social media has given her access to ideas and social circles she’d never have encountered otherwise and has forced her to make decisions about who she is that I only had to make much later in life.
Nevertheless sometimes I look at the lives of children being born now, into our digital world – the girl who researches her school assignments on Wikipedia, the boy who posts his musical debut on YouTube – and I feel greatly saddened. Gradually we are becoming digital beings who exist only in digital spaces, who rely completely and utterly on that which technology grants us: social media, Wikipedia, word processing. Are we forgetting how to be human?
When I think of my childhood, I think most of the time I spent dreaming. Whether up in a tree, swinging beside the lavender or exploring the tree line looking for the best view in the world. I’m not sure that the kids of the digital age, with so much information and entertainment constantly available and at their fingertips, ever get that chance – the chance to just sit and dream.
I’ve written about my hobbies before. One of them, I said, was art. I recently started taking it a bit more seriously by attending oil painting classes. The teacher, who I’m sure is an extremely talented and qualified artist in her own right, balked when I told her that I’d been trying my hand at digital art.
“Hmm,” she said, “that’s interesting because I don’t consider digital art art at all.”
She then asked the others present – the two women who are taking the class with me – and they agreed.
“Let me put it this way,” the one said. “It’s not something I’d put on my wall.”
Well I’m not entirely sure I would frame some of my favourite digital art pieces either but does that mean they’re not art? I’ll let you decide.
Herewith some brief profiles of some of the digital artists I follow on DeviantArt – because I think they make my point for me and besides, they deserve to be showcased.
Artsangel – sysadmin by day, graphic novel genius by night
I found out about Australian artist Sarah Ellerton when a friend pointed me in the direction of her web graphic novel The Phoenix Requiem. At the time she was publishing a page every Thursday. It soon became the highlight of my week. The novel is since complete but she continues to update her DeviantArt gallery with new pieces.
Axlsalles – Holy batman!
Alexandre SalleS is a Brazillian illustrator. He tends to favour super hero pictures in intricate detail, but his DeviantArt gallery is filled with awesome sci-fi concepts and a variety of commissioned work.
Breathing2004 – Epic WoW art
Chinese Jian Guo loves him some World of Warcraft (WoW). Really loves him some WoW. His DeviantArt gallery is full of fan art – though he also does original fantasy and scifi illustrations. His stain-glass-styled artwork was featured on popular tech blog Geeks Are Sexy and his more detailed artworks gained the attention of Blizzard – the company that makes WoW – and they featured it on their official website.
ChristinZakh – Mostly elves
Christin Zakhozhay is a Russian fantasy author illustrating her own stories. You can read more about her and see her work process on her blog (written in English). Her DeviantArt gallery mostly features fantasy scenes and portraits.
Fdasuarez – Dark and lovely
I was astounded when I learned that Fernanda Suarez from Chile is only 22 years old. Her art is mostly dark, sometimes twisted, but always stunning. Recently she’s taken to drawing some sketches from life, which look like photographs unless you zoom right in. You can find them all in her DeviantArt gallery.
Lasse17 – The most amazing fanart ever
If I was surprised to learn Fernanda was 22, it is nothing compared to my reaction when I found out that Mathias Olsen (from Norway) is only 18. Every time Olsen posts something new I at first mistake it for a photograph. He mostly does fan art at the moment, from a variety of shows. You can see more of his work here.
Perselus – professional artist
Patricia S. Demoraes is a professional artist in the USA. Her DeviantArt gallery is an eclectic collection of what look to be traditional oils (but are done digitally), fan art and some more noticably digital paintings. For her digital seems to be just another medium for expression.
RobertMekis – Places and spaces
I started following Czech artist Robert Mekis because of his beautiful photography. Little did I know he’s an amazing artist too. He mostly paints science fiction and fantasy landscapes (I know, you’re seeing a trend here. I like fantasy and sci-fi art so it’s more a reflection on me than on the general abilities of digital artists.). They may look like manipulated photos, but they’re not. He paints from scratch in photoshop using simple brushes and no reference.
Whenever I’m feeling down or uninspired all I have to do is open DeviantArt and see these amazing artists’ latest contributions, then all is right with the world again. Do I think it’s art? Well I ask this – if not then why not?
The greatest gift my parents gave me was hobbies.
My mother is an actress, but when she had me she stepped off the stage. She didn’t want to raise her daughter in the dressing room, she said. Instead, she started her own business working from home and producing a variety of crafts. In winter she would knit. In summer she would make beaded sunglass straps. In tourist season we’d do markets and stay up late into the night making stock. She was and still is always busy with her hands, always making something. Always creating. My childhood memories are peppered with occasions when she’d come bouncing up to me waving a new knitting pattern or some intricate beaded design that she wanted to make.
It was from her that I received a love of knitting. For years I would watch her needles clicking, wear the jerseys she made me, and get excited about the beautiful things she taught herself to create. I would sit with needles and wool and a scowl on my face and cries of frustration, wishing I could be like her, wishing it could be as easy as she made it seem.
And then all of a sudden it was. I graduated from knitting when I graduated from matric. That study time, in between pouring over history books and screaming at maths sums that refused to make sense, I sat in the lounge making a jersey and watching Dallas re-runs, laughing at shoulder pads and cowboy hats and shakey bottom lips.
Knitting was there for me again when my heart was broken; when my university degree seemed too difficult; when my first year of employment looked like it would end in me being fired; when my application for creative writing masters was rejected. Even when everything in life seemed to be going wrong, even when it seemed I was good at nothing else, I knew that I could do one killer cable stitch.
There’s something incredibly rewarding about pouring yourself into something and having a real tangible item to show at the end – something from nothing; the great alchemy of craft.
It was possibly this that first inspired me to draw, too. Although in that case it was my dad. My dad, with is fantastic imagination and library of art books, who would sit down with me as a very young child and take commissions.
“Draw me a princess!” I’d order.
I’d watch in awe as he sketched a beautiful woman in a shimmering gown upon the blank page. I wanted to be able to do it too. I asked him to teach me and he did. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the grass in front of our house on a hot Joburg summer’s day mixing colours. It was a kind of magic how the yellow and blue became green, how the green and blue became turquoise, how the colours changed as they dried, how the thick paint began to crack on my plastic plate palette as the sun beat down upon it. Even though he later lived far away and I only saw him for the long school holidays, we’d always at some stage sit down at the outside table – whether it be the outside table in Camps Bay or Port Edward or Fish Hoek or Sun City – and create worlds on blank pieces of paper.
For a long time I thought he was an artist. When people at school asked me what he did that’s what I’d say. I didn’t understand what it meant to be a stage manager or lighting technician. Whenever I saw him he was making art – cutting the translucent gels to fit the theatre lights so that colours danced across the stage, painting sets so that sheets of cardboard looked like house interiors. Years later he said to me, “I think you were right all along. I think I am an artist. What is art if not creating an illusion for the pleasure of the viewer? And isn’t that what theatre does?”
Theatre also tells stories. Falling asleep in dad’s lighting box and sitting doing homework in the dressing room when mom went back to the stage, I was shown all the elements that came together for a story. The dialogue of the scripts; the actions dictated by the director; the way that lighting can influence mood; how the way things are said can carry more meaning than the words themselves… and out of that was born my love of writing.
It is my dad’s theory that there was no help for it, considering how many times I saw the words of some of the world’s greatest playwrights come to life. I was doomed to either be an actress or an author (being trained as a journalist, does that mean I became both?). The truth is, however, that my love of story telling came long before the hushed audience and the rising of the velvet curtains. It came from the crib, when he’d weave tales of adventure and triumph for me. It came from those long days up in the tree with him, when a branch became a sailing ship and my teddy bear, a superhero. It came from the songs my mom wrote for me, the way she’d illustrate her domestic adventures, leaving no detail aside, no emotion unexpressed.
My parents could never afford to spoil me with the presents other children of my generation may have received: gaming consoles and computers, fancy rollerblades and eventually motorcars… but they gave me something much better. They gave me sanity and independence wrapped in their love.
For that’s what a good hobby is, really. It’s a safe harbour during life’s storms, an anchor when all around is confusion and doubt. An activity you love will automatically love you back and as long as you’re together, you’ll never ever feel alone.
Over the past few years something has happened. Being a Geek has become… cool. It came out of nowhere – or perhaps out of the Internet. All of a sudden “geek” seems to be a badge of honour rather than an insult.
Like all badges of honour, one has to earn it.
There are certain things expected of your average Geek. If you don’t know, for example, what Linux is and you can’t understand the webcomic XKCD you might just be called a poser.
Another one of those things that is expected of the genuine, qualified, Geek is an affection for Star Wars.
As you probably guessed by the title of this post, that is one Geek qualification I don’t have. I know it equates to sacrilege but I just can’t get into it. It’s not like I haven ‘t tried. I really have. I made the n00b mistake of watching all of them in the wrong order (1 – 6), then watched them again in the right order (4-6, 1-3). I tried to appreciate the insightfulness of the idea of The Force, the coolness of Jedi Mind Tricks. I tried really hard to like Han, to find the Wookie adorable. I loved the Ewoks… but in the animated series no one else seems to remember. I even had a sit-through where I watched ALL of THEM in a row because perhaps you had to see them one after the other to get a feel for it. All I got was bored. During Episode 3 I started making a pot holder out of some twine.
It’s one of those things I don’t speak about often, frightened I might alienate my fellow Geek-kind (my dislike of the sacrosanct Star Wars, not the pot holder although that might do likewise). I have a good laugh at the AT-AT dog suits, and the Wookie Slippers with the best of them, hoping that perhaps one day something might trigger something deep inside me and my inner fan will break free.
A while ago I saw this video on Cracked and it suddenly all became clear to me.
If you don’t want to watch it (it’s a really funny video so I suggest you do) basically what it says is this: girls have no one positive to identify with in Star Wars. This isn’t some kind of feminist campaign, it’s just the honest truth. The only Star Wars woman with any personality at all is Leia and even she ends up putting her hunky man before the Empire and dancing in underwear for a slimey mob boss.
I have nothing in common with her and since I have nothing in common with any of the characters in the plot I find it really difficult to care what happens to any of them.
Instead, my Geeky childhood was filled with Star Trek. And boy, was it filled with it. I loved Voyager from the first episode I saw (Day of Honour for any curious, and yes, I still know that). Now looking at it years later I can see why: Janeway was a strong, female leader filled with class. She was humanitarian and incredibly intelligent – exactly the kind of person I aspired to be. B’Elenna Torres may have had emotional issues, but she was a kick-ass engineer with her own strong moral code. In every Star Trek series there are awesome women I can and want to identify with: Deanna, Beverly, Uhura, Kira, Dax…
Of course I didn’t realise that’s what it was a the time. After watching Star Wars Episode 1 when it first came out, I was convinced that it was to do with the plot: Star Trek’s plots were meaty and filled with cerebral content for my young mind to chew on, Star Wars was “look at my fast car and BIG EXPLOSIONS”.
But now I look at the other sci-fi I enjoy: Firefly (“look at my spaceship and BIG EXPLOSIONS and my gun, I also have a big gun”), Stargate (“We go to alien world where we kick ass”), Buffy (not technically sci fi but bear with me -”We use childish language to express complex issues, have soap opera romances and kill demons”) – they’re not exactly filled with intellectual issue-wrangling are they? (Doctor Who is exempt from this list because it is). Yet all of them have… you guessed it, kick ass women.
Now it’s not the fact that they’re women that’s important in this particular case. It’s not about equal representation – nice as that is it’s a whole other issue. It’s about this:
Science Fiction and Fantasy work as genres because they are escapism – they give you the ability to visit other worlds, to go where no one has gone before. You can do things you’d never do in real life: defend your planet, go through a wormhole, date a vampire *ahem*. But your ability to go up there to the stars with the characters relies on something very specific: your ability to identify with them. You need to, for the duration of that book/movie/series, be able to put yourself in the character’s shoes – not always, mind you, but at least some of the time. It’s why Twilight works. The only reason it does in my view: because girls who read it get the chance to be wanted by supernatural beings.
So where does that put me and Star Wars?
It’s not that Star Wars is bad, it’s not that it’s even committed some crime against my gender. It’s just that everything that could have made it magical from a purely non-participatory standpoint – the secrets, the lies, the surprises – are out there in pop culture already (“Luke, I’m your father” *gasp*). In order to appreciate it, all that’s left is getting into the character’s shoes and going on an adventure with them. And I can’t do that. The shoe doesn’t fit.
So I’ve finally accepted it. I don’t like Star Wars. I never will. I like the culture around it, I like the people who like it, but the beast itself?
Hand me my phaser.
Or if that’s out of reach, a ball of twine will do. I’ll go amuse myself elsewhere.