Writing: Pride and Insecurity

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In place of a normal post today, I’m going to share something of a short story, for lack of a better name, that I wrote for myself a while back. I had been writing about some of my weaknesses and flaws, trying to introspect and see what aspects of myself and my life I could improve the most, and found myself writing something of a fable instead. So without further ado, an untitled work on the symbiotic relationship between pride and insecurity:

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Insecurity was a shadowy, many-legged creature. He scuttled around, frightening people, occasionally barring doorways in an attempt to disrupt people’s lives by keeping them from crossing. He fed on fear, failure, distress of all kinds – nearly the whole range of negative human emotions. But Insecurity, for as large and dark and frightening as he appeared, did not have teeth. He operated in the shadows, preying on people who were too afraid to just ignore or step past him. He relied on the naïve, who did not yet know that he could not bit or claw them, and the phobic, who knew what he was but still could not keep the panic from risking at the sight of him. And so he lived, scurrying from under beds for a meal of startled fear and lingering in doorways to drink in the dread, the frustration, the failed bravery. He lived well enough, but never quite felt satisfied – his diet sustained him, but there was one feeling he could not elicit, and so could not taste: he craved the rich flavor of pain, which his grand but toothless appearance could not provide.

Until one day, Pride arrived in town. Now Pride looked nothing like Insecurity. He was barely the size of your average housecat, and walked on just four stately legs. His size belied his strength, but his strong muscles were hidden under a layer of bright red and orange fuzz. Pride did not live in the shadows, as Insecurity did. He was not large or frightening enough to fill his belly on quick startles, or to keep people from crossing their doorways past him. But Pride had something that Insecurity lacked – Pride had teeth. He rarely managed to partake of the visceral fear and dread that sustained Insecurity, so instead he dined on pain. A quick nip would get him through the day in a pinch, and when he was starving or gluttonous, a hard chomp could usually satiate him. Mostly.

But Pride too was tired of his uniform diet. He enjoyed the rich taste of pain, but even the most delicious of meals becomes unappealing after a time of eating nothing else. On a good day, the result of a bite might have gotten him pain seasoned with startled fear, but none of the subtle flavoring of dread, frustration, or the gut terror of seeing a great shadowy beast. And so, after yet another bland meal, Pride payed a visit to Insecurity.

Insecurity received him in his favorite shadowy corner.

“I come with a proposal for you, Insecurity,” said Pride.

“A proposal?”

“A mutually beneficial business arrangement,” Pride affirmed. Insecurity stared silently.

“These humans have such an abundance of delicious emotions, my friend,” Pride continued after a pause. “Why should you have to live on the scraps of dread and startle, always hoping that you won’t go hungry because you misjudged the bravery of your victim? Why should I have to subsist on nothing but hard-earned pain, day in and day out? I long for the flavors of dread, of the paralyzing terror which you instill, and I can see in your eyes that you too are unsatisfied with you meagre options. We can help each other. I offer you my teeth and the rich taste of pain, and all I ask in return is that I may share in the fear, dread, and frustration that you are so accustomed to.”

Insecurity was silent for a moment longer as he mulled over the creature’s proposal. He had worked and lived alone for a long time, but he saw the wisdom in Pride’s offer. Together they would not only enjoy rich new flavors, but also never again feel powerless against the increasing number of humans who no longer feared him.

“I am hungry,” he said in response. “Let us begin our relationship with a meal.”

And so they did. The feasted daily on fear, pain, dread, and the confusion of the humans who had previously believed Insecurity to be harmless. Those who used to march past him through their doorways and into the world soon grew wary and fearful once more, knowing that the shadowy presence could now hurt them. In this manner, Pride and Insecurity terrorized the town. Many people gave up, refusing to even attempt to cross their doorways. But Pride and Insecurity always found a way in, to feed on their fear and on their failure. They never went hungry, growing only larger and stronger, and tasting more and more flavors as the humans’ frustration evolved into despair and self-hatred, knowing that the whole world awaited them on the other side of a doorway, which they could not bring themselves to cross.

**

This piece may seem odd to most – but if you’re like me, you may understand. Pride and insecurity seem, on the surface, to be opposites. But they’re two vices that can combine in the worst of unions: when your insecurities are fortified by pride, it can become impossible to listen to the criticism of others, to introspect honestly, and to admit your faults in order to improve them. On the other hand, when pride is fortified by insecurity, you can be overly competitive and sensitive, taking offense to criticism and becoming something of a bad sport. The combination of my insecurities over my abilities and intelligence, especially those insecurities regarding how others perceive me, in combination with my pride can make even a friendly game of Scrabble a cause for distress.

This story may mean little to you, and that’s okay. But I’m proud (in the non-vicious way) that I have been able to introspect at least this much, and come to see the manner in which my flaws interact and damage my relationships, my life, and my well-being.

Playing Tourist at Home and Abroad

Growing up, I always wanted to be one of those free spirits, traveling the world and finding fulfillment in the incomparable experience of contact with new people and cultures. Travel is a wonderful thing – it opens your mind, it forces you out of your comfort zone, and it enables you to learn and grow in the most enjoyable way.

I have been doing quite a bit of traveling recently. I’ve gone far out of my comfort zone, learning new customs and languages and seeing sites I couldn’t even dream of before seeing more of the world. The United States can claim some of the most beautiful nature and interesting culture, and I am proud to be an American. But even so, I had never seen anything that compares to the Sierra Nevadas of Andalusia. I have seen some lovely churches in the states, some quaint and some spectacular, and yet I must say that nearly every city and town in France boasts a cathedral more spectacular than any you can find in the much-younger Americas.

Not to mention these incredible castles – it’s no wonder that Disney based some of their castles on these French sites – like the island-surrounded-by-quicksand Mont Saint-Michel:

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It is humbling to realize how little of the world I had seen before, and how little I have seen even yet. It has reinvigorated my desire to travel, to experience, to learn and grow.

But travel can also be scary.

You can find plenty of people that speak english in most countries nowadays, but the language barrier can be daunting nonetheless. You feel stupid. You often get odd looks from people, and if you’re a bit anxious like me, that can convince you that everyone knows that you have no idea what you’re doing. It can feel like you don’t belong, and for most of us, belonging is one of the most important feelings.

Besides language, even the most similar cultures have drastic differences in lifestyle and attitude. You’re never going to visit a new country, or even a new part of a country, without having to adapt to a new schedule, a new palette, a new everything. And when you inevitably demonstrate your unfamiliarity, you will often out of place again. That said, these looks you get, these anxieties you have, are rarely if ever as bad as you think: people might notice that you’re not from there, but rarely will they genuinely be judging you so harshly – even if you are a loud, uncultured American like myself.

So it has always been hard for me to accept being a tourist. Like all of us, I want to belong – I want to be a part of the place I’m in, regardless of where I’m from. Foreign visitors are usually noticeable – you see them in your hometown (if you live somewhere touristy, as I did for a number of years) with their fanny-packs and their cameras, walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk and giggling…a part of you knows that they’re having so much fun, that this memorable experience will stay with them, but at least for me, I have to squash down a feeling of superiority. This is my place – look at you, so excited about the path I walk to class every day. Look at you, not belonging. It’s a terrible way to think of people, but I think we all do it at times.

Nevertheless, I have to accept being the tourist. Even playing tourist in my own town – how many years did I live in Washington, DC, and yet only ever visited the Smithsonian a handful of times? There’s so much to see. When you live in a place that people travel great distances to visit, you have an obligation to take advantage of those things. Your hometown can easily become absorbed by your day-to-day: this is where I work, this is where I go to school, where I eat lunch and brush my teeth. This isn’t where I go out and learn and enjoy.

But shouldn’t you be learning and enjoying the most in the place where you’re most comfortable, in the place where you spend the most time? I guarantee you, however long you’ve lived in your current city or your hometown, you do not know everything there is to know. You have not visited every interesting site, restaurant, or brewery.

It’s important to travel. New places will force you to have new experiences, and those experiences will often be much more different from any you could have at home. But it’s equally important to truly understand and experience your own culture – because it is so comfortable and familiar, you probably take it for granted. There may be aspects of it that you’ve never experienced or considered, and even those aspects you are most familiar with, you may never have truly contemplated the nature of it, the way in which it shapes you and those around you.

So I encourage you to travel. I encourage you to experience. And above all, I encourage you to approach every place and culture with that discerning eye, to look for and consider what makes this place unique, what makes it the way it is.

Gratitude for the Parents that Prepare their Kids for Life

I am so grateful to have been raised in the home I grew up in. Our parents, our early home lives, shape us more than anything else. They are the single most significant factor in who we become, and the lives we live – whether we like it or not.

I’m not saying we’re all just the result of our childhood environment. There are just about no aspects of psychology or sociology that don’t boil down to a combination of nature and nurture. It’s rarely the dichotomy people make it out to be, and two people with the exact same upbringing may end up leading vastly different lives. Even completely opposite lives. But they are both still, in many ways, the product of that upbringing.

I didn’t turn out exactly how my parents intended. Not that they had extremely strict plans for who their children would be – above all, they just wanted us to be happy, healthy, and safe. But they also have their own ideas about what that means, as all parents – and people – do. I don’t share many of their values anymore. In my adulthood, I’ve departed drastically from the lifestyle they believe is best, and I know in their ideal world, I would do things a little differently. Go to church. Wait til marriage. Have some kind of plan for my future by now. But they always valued independence in their children, and taught us to think for ourselves and forge our own paths. That’s an amazing thing.

So here’s a shoutout to all the parents who give their kids structure and guidance, but let them become themselves. It’s a difficult thing. While I never had a true teenage rebellion – in the sense that I hid any deviance from them very well, and maintained a pretty healthy relationship – I do regret the time I spent resenting our differences. Resenting the things I didn’t agree with or understand about them. As similar as you may be to your family, there will always be extreme differences to navigate, and my parents did a great job. Better than I could do, for sure.

My sisters and I had rules. Lots of them. More than any of my friends, in fact, which I certainly resented. I was the last to be allowed to watch PG-13 or R rated movies, I was the last to get a cell phone, I had the earliest curfew…but they also had reasons for those rules. While I didn’t and don’t agree with all of them, being able to understand why a rule was in place made me a lot more inclined to follow it. And a lot less inclined to feel guilty when I chose not to (sorry Mom).

But my greatest gratitude is for the rules and structures they put in place that prepared me for adulthood. Some are simple and seemingly obvious, like doing laundry. My mom didn’t make us to our own laundry as kids (although I would understand if she had), but she did make sure I knew how to use a washing machine, and what colors not to mix, and when to use cold or hot water or fast or slow cycles. I remember my first semester in college, actually having to teach other 18-year-olds how to even operate the machines.

The other incredibly important thing that my mom taught me was budgeting. She didn’t just sit me down and explain not to blow all your money – we get enough “frivolity is a vice” lessons through school and media. Instead, she gave me a system to exercise my freedom and practice handling my money in the day-to-day: a set allowance. Now, most kids have an allowance. Many of them, like me, were given that allowance on a weekly or monthly basis, and would be refused if we went asking for more. That’s all well and good, but all it really teaches is that you can only buy so many super-cute shirts with $30.

What my parents did instead was give me, from the age of 13 or so, total buying power for myself. My allowance was adjusted up accordingly, but I was in charge of buying all of my necessities (excepting food and board, of course). I chose and bought my shampoo and conditioner, my lotions and moisturizers and beauty products, my underwear and my vitamins. It gave me the freedom to buy a nicer, more expensive face wash if I wanted – and to have less money as a result for clothes, or for going to the movies with my friends. I learned how to manage money on a small, safe scale – no fear of starving or getting evicted – and was thus much more prepared in early adulthood to manage my money.

At the end of the day, most parents want to help their kids grow up happily, securely, and into capable, well-adjusted adults. But I am incredibly grateful to my own parents for encouraging and helping me above all to be independent, to be prepared for the real world.

Love you, mom and dad.

Review: Uni-ball Pens and Structured Motivation

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I’m very picky about my pens. So picky, in fact, that I can safely say that I’ve spent most of my academic and adult life (post-pencil years of middle school and prior) in constant search of good pens.

I want an even, dark line. I want to be able to write on both sides of a page without bleed-through. I want to be able to close my notebook or journal when I’m done, and not smear ink all over my precious words.

The wrong pen makes writing a chore. It makes it difficult. It makes it ugly. It takes away that smooth satisfaction of writing by handBut the right pens are hard to find – for the last five years or so, every time I’ve run out of pens, I’ve tried out a new kind. A new brand, a new style, a new size. Over the years I have found a few that worked well enough for me, but rarely any that I truly loved. None that I stuck with. Not until about a year ago.

Our love story starts in the 4rd-floor study room of my University’s library. I usually preferred the 5th floor stacks, but that day fate sent me elsewhere.

It was sitting on the floor, under the chalkboard and amongst a rather foul mixture of dustballs, candy wrappers, chewed up gum and other equally unpleasant debris. I don’t exactly make a habit of grabbing abandoned pens out of corners that haven’t been cleaned in what looked like decades, but I had been using a horrendous freebie pen from some fundraiser or bank ever since my last extra fine-point Pilot Precise V5 had exploded on an airplane (yeah, that was a mess). I had been lethargic about getting new pens, since the Pilots had been far too inky and the task of choosing and trying yet another kind gave me a frustration headache. So when I saw this big, honking silver pen, cover in lint and frighteningly close to a wad of dried up chewing gum, I figured it was better than what I had and pulled out some hand sanitizer. And I fell in love.

Now this pen was so old that most of the markings had been worn off. I could make out something like U**Ba** and maybe a t or an l. I checked every store I went to, trying to find it by simple recognition. I scoured Amazon, Google, pen reviews, Staples…if I put as much work into my writing or school as I put into that search, I’d probably be a wildly rich and successful author by now. Well, maybe.

But I couldn’t find it. Despite my desperate search, knowing my beloved pen would soon reach the end of its days, I never found another of its kind. To this day I have no idea if they even make it anymore. When it finally ran out of ink, I was at a loss. I would borrow pens from the boyfriend or my friends or my classrooms, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back to the hunt, not for a while. I needed to get over this pen before I could be ready for a new one. Delete its number. Eat some ice cream. Burn the notebooks we made together.

Or something.

But eventually, as with all things, I was ready to try again. Refreshed and hopeful. Plus, I knew something now – Uni-Ball. Maybe I couldn’t find the exact pen, but surely the company made something similar, right? So I put on my most daring lipstick (alright, I was probably wearing sweatpants and hadn’t brushed my hair in a week, but I like the relationship analogy) and marched confidently into my local Office Depot.

I found the writing supply aisle. I found the pens. The Uni-Ball section.

I have a few criteria when it comes to pens: black ink, rollerball, preferably 0.5mm if not smaller. That usually narrows it down to just about nothing in your average CVS. In this Office Depot, sticking to the Uni-Ball section, there were maybe two options. I read the boxes. One of them sold me with some nice key phrases like “bleed-proof”, “consistent smoothness”, “thin, neat lines”. I took a leap of faith. I bought a 12-pack.

And boy oh boy am I glad. I just plain enjoy using these pens. It’s easy, it’s smooth, it’s satisfying. Writing in a journal with that even, neat ink flow is up there with a glass of wine in the bathtub or a nice foot massage. It just feels good.

And what feels good, we want to do. I started writing a lot more by hand. I started thinking of writing as a leisure activity on top of part of my work. And it gave me the extra push I needed to get my shit organized.

I’m not going to pretend I’m the neatest, most detailed or scheduled person. I’m not. I tend to be a bit all over the place, if I’m being honest. But I also know myself, and I am not someone who thrives on chaos and spontaneity and constant change. I work best with a routine. I get things done best with a general kind of schedule. So I gave myself some structure: a basic daily routine, including time to write. One chunk of time to type up my next blog post or a short story for editing or submission, and another chunk to sit down with my journal and my (lovely) pen and write whatever I like. Daily thoughts. Insecurities. Lists. Memories. Hopes. Brainstorms. New stories and essays. You know – journal stuff.

The key to being a writer is to write. Everyone says it, all the time: you won’t always have the motivation to write. You won’t always want to. But you have to do it anyway, and that’s where structure comes in. If it’s a habit, when your inspiration passes you’ll still be able to do it, you may even still want to do it. Structured motivation.

So find yourself the right pens, the right tools. Find yourself the right things to do with those tools. And do them – regularly.

And for the record: the pen that currently has my heart is the Uni-Ball Vision Rollerball, micro point (.5mm), available on Amazon and most likely your local office supply store.

Review: Pikolinos and Investing in my Adulthood

As a quickly growing child – in both size and personality – my mother instilled in me a habit of purchasing “temporary” clothing. It made sense: whatever I bought, I would surely outgrow within a year or two, and my sense of style was changing even faster. So I frequented Goodwill and other thrift or consignment stores, and developed a nearly pathological fear of spending more than $10 on any one item. The only new clothes I bought generally came from cheaper, youth-oriented stores such as Forever21 or H&M.

And that’s perfect for a teenager.

But as I entered adulthood (kicking and screaming, but I have no choice), I’ve begun to realize the importance of investing more money for more use.

I started realizing a couple of things recently: first, my clothes fall apart far too quickly. I was constantly shopping, constantly dropping $5-10 on a new basic grey t-shirt or pair of shorts. Second, I was buying things I never wear – of course, that’s going to happen occasionally, we’ve all fallen victim to the power of the fitting room mirror, believing we’ll rock some exciting piece and then finding that we would much rather wear something we’re comfortable in. That’s fine by me, as much as I try to avoid it. But when I was buying $5 shirts I would never wear, and then buying a new shirt because, well, I never wear the ones I had…that was a problem.

So as I’ve settled in to a standard fashion that I love – and that I’m comfortable in – I’ve realized that it’s time to start investing in my wardrobe. When I spend time to find exactly the right piece to fill a role in my wardrobe, and am willing to spend a little more (don’t get me wrong, I’m still cheap), I buy items – and only those items – that I actually wear a lot. And they last.

My most recent obsession are my new Pikolinos:

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They’re damn cute, they don’t hurt my feet (even after hours of walking!), and I wear them almost every day. I can wear them to class, to dinner, even hiking. They’re sturdy, well-made, and fit me perfectly.

I’m still in the process of converting me wardrobe from a mess of things I may or may not wear, that may or may not have holes, into a small collection of staple pieces that I wear regularly. But I can’t stress enough how worth it the process is – I worry less about what I’ll wear, I’m more comfortable in all my clothes, and I already need to replace things much less often.

Sunday Sads: The Anesthetic Effect of Netflix or, How Shitty Internet Changed My Life

Netflix (and its ilk) can have serious detrimental effects to your mental health, especially for those who have pre-existing mental health problems.

I should start by saying I love and use Netflix all the time. And Amazon Prime. And Hulu. And the vast collection of thousands of movies and tv shows that my dad has copied from VHS to DVD over the years (don’t tell the FBI).

This isn’t going to be a lecture about ‘getting outside and living your life’, ‘kids these days are always plugged in’, ‘you need to be falling out of a tree at least once a week’, or whatever else people are saying about young people nowadays. But it is important to be aware of the causes and effects of what I’ll call ‘chronic Netflix binging’. For simplicity’s sake I will generally use ‘Netflix’ to refer to any method of binging content, (yeah, Youtube and Vine (RIP) count too).

Netlix isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful thing: it facilitates social interactions (and no, I’m not just talking about Netflix and chill), helps you unwind after a long day, and provides easy access to the pop culture that a large portion of our daily discussions and references consist in.

But it’s also an anesthetic.

Many of you probably already know what I’m talking about. When I’m down in the dumps, there are tons of things that could make me feel better, both during and after: reading, writing, crafts, (sometimes) socializing, actually doing the work that’s causing me anxiety…but those things are difficult. Watching a 22-episode season in one sitting might sound difficult, but it’s mindless. It lets you shut off, and when your mind is anxious or upset, that’s exactly what you want. It’s the path of least resistance.

I sometimes sit down with the intention of opening up a book to relax – because reading is relaxing, and healing, and pretty much any positive adjective I could think of – but find myself opening up my computer instead. Now, sometimes shutting off really is what you need – after a long day of classes or work, when your mind is tired, a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is just the thing. But when you open up Netflix to escape your negative thoughts, your fears and anxieties and deadlines, you are only hurting yourself.

You are hurting yourself because it works. It numbs you. It makes it all go away – while you’re watching. But when you’re done, or even in the 15-second countdown between episodes, it comes back. And it comes back worse. Your brain says “what are you doing? I’m telling you something is wrong. I’m telling you you need to fix me. Why aren’t you listening?”

Sometimes that voice in my head just perpetuates the cycle. Rather than dealing with my anxieties, whether by taking care of the cause or doing something that genuinely relaxes me, I say “no, brain. Quiet now. I’m pretending you don’t exist.” And I watch another episode to avoid the guilt. And then I feel worse, so I watch another episode to avoid dealing with that.

It got so bad for me a few years back that there were periods during which I slept only every third night or so. Not because I was out all night, not because I was going wild or having a psychotic episode, but because I could only let myself put away the numbing agents when I was sure that I would fall asleep immediately. I was stuck in this vicious, life-ruining cycle of needing to turn myself off.

It’s a strange sort of cognitive dissonance, knowing full well that reading even a light, fun fantasy novel would relax me and make me feel better, and still choosing the option that would leave me tired but wired, and even more anxious than before. It was the path – or rather, the cycle – of least resistance, and it took an incredible amount of self-control to form the habits to break it. To turn my computer off an hour before bed. To log out of Netflix until the paper was done. To take my journal outside where there’s no wifi, or to a different room with no computer.

But with some work, and admittedly the help of internet so shitty it was impossible to watch anything at home, I’ve found ways to genuinely help myself feel better. Not just to turn off the bad feelings for 42 minutes.

Now maybe you’re reading this and thinking “Jesus, do people really have that unhealthy a relationship with Netflix?” Maybe you’ve only ever used Netflix to take a quick break, to unwind a little, to hang out with friends or lovers. If so, good on you. But I encourage you to think about – maybe even make a list of – the things that leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, that help you meet your goals and boost your motivation, that make you feel good about yourself. Then make a list of the things that drain your energy, that leave you with regret, that waste your time. Where does Netflix really fall for you?

I’m not saying delete your account. I’m not even saying don’t watch Netflix every day. I’m just saying that there are good reasons and bad reasons for watching Netflix, good times and bad times to do it. If you’re aware of those, if you can structure your life so that Netflix is just an aid in your enjoyment rather than a crutch to stop yourself from needing to think or feel, then carry on. If not, if you’re like me, I encourage you to make a few changes.

Don’t stop watching. Just think before you watch.

 

 

The Appeal and Importance of Science Fiction

Science fiction has always played a crucial – and often overlooked – role in our society. Flying cars, aliens, space travel and new technology… it’s appealing. It’s fun. But it’s also important.

First of all, science fiction is about new ideas. It’s about hope and belief in the future. In 1889, Jules Vern wrote a story entitled “In the Year 2889”, which describes an incredible futuristic technology: the phonotelephote. What the phonotelephote does is quite simple: it’s a telephone, with an additional ability that allows you to actually see the other person, no matter how far away. Jules Vern believed we were almost a thousand years away from realizing that kind of technology. And now, more than eight centuries earlier than Jules Vern predicted, Facetime and Skype are not only a reality, but rapidly taking the place of standard old phone calls.

The point is, science fiction asks us an important question: What If? What if we could talk face-to-face from thousands of miles away? What if we could explore planets in other galaxies? What if we could re-purpose carbon monoxide and other pollutants into a safe energy source? Science fiction can direct our attention to the possibilities of the future that we ought to look into. It can predict what is possible, long before our science non-fiction arrives there on its own. And it can give us the hope to pursue those things, or the fear to need to.

But science fiction has an even more important social role. It’s a medium through which we can send powerful, even blatant messages without bringing the hammer down on ourselves. In the ’60s, race relations were tense, and a show outright condemning the racist attitudes of so many at that time would never have gotten airtime. So what did Star Trek do? Oh so many things.

First, it featured a diverse crew in its advanced society – a black woman and an asian man played two of the most prominent leadership roles aboard the ship. Nichelle Nichols herself has recounted her memory of when Martin Luther King Jr. himself told her how important her role was. She was not just a tiny step fueled by the civil rights movement – she represented the civil rights movement, and gave so many African-Americans hope for their futures. Nichols also participated in the very first interracial kiss ever aired on television in the United States – with, of course, William Shatner. The episode was nearly banned and rewritten with a hug, but in the end they succeeded.

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Beyond the subversive casting, Star Trek also wrote a number of episodes and story lines that dealt directly with racism, without bringing down the wrath of the networks and the people (especially the south at this time). Spock’s half-human, half-Vulcan status provided an easy medium for social commentary. Spock was often treated or viewed as a heartless monster by humans, and as a weak, over-emotional head-case by Vulcans. In one episode, he was accused of being a devil (because of his pointy ears) and an “inferior being” (because of his large forehead), harkening to the pseudo-scientific studies of the skulls of various races, which were often used to claim that the white race was intellectually and morally superior. But of course, the viewers know for certain that Spock is infinitely more intelligent than the blundering man claiming his inferiority. They also know that Spock is an alien – this is just science fiction.

So Star Trek delivered the message to those who maintained their belief that they were superior on the basis of race: you’re an idiot. Look how dumb you look. Look how wrong you are. And yet, no one was offended – what would have been banned before even reaching the filming stage should they have used a black man in the US instead of an alien to send the same message, was aired and celebrated. It can make its statement and its change, and no one is going to stop it. It’s just science fiction.

Of course, Star Trek could also beat you over the head with their anti-racism message. The episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was a ham-fisted exercise in racism. Its message screams “racism bad! racism stupid!” But again, they don’t talk about black people and white people and asian people – it’s science fiction. They have much larger tools in their toolbox. So they simplify it: one people have black on the right side of their face and white on the left, the other people have black on the left of their face and white on the right. The right-black race ruled over the left-black race, believing themselves superior, until the left-black race rose up against them.

racism

Now they are at war, destroying themselves over which side of their face is darker. Now the conflict looks even more ridiculous than our own ridiculous skin-color-based racism – these people look exactly the same. The difference is obscure and irrelevant – we know that, the crew knows that, everyone knows that except the people fighting. It’s a metaphor, of course, but it’s also a satire. It’s not just “racism bad”. It’s “racism absurd“. It’s “look at yourselves – look how insane you are”. You could never have said that on mainstream television to the entire United States in the 1960s, but Star Trek did – because they were just aliens. It’s just science fiction.

Now, Star Trek is just an easy example. But all science fiction has the same power – you can create whatever you want. Aliens can look and talk and act however you want, to send whatever message you want. Technology can be as advanced as you want. Science fiction is a realm in which ideas have power, immense power: only with science fiction can you channel all of your hope and frustration and anger and excitement and fear and everything you’ve ever felt and above all, still entertain. It’s “just science fiction”. The message has power, but it’s neat. It’s new. It’s something else.

I think above all, that’s why science fiction appeals to so many of us. It’s not just geek-culture and every kid’s desire to visit space. It’s about the things that matter most to us, that we could drive ourselves crazy thinking about day in and day out, but with an added dash of hope. And usually, an added dash of fun as well.