Steady As She Goes

Just like in the photo, we sit, each and every one of us, comfortably cross-legged in the Captain’s Chair, on the bridge of the Starship U.S.S. Whomever You Are, commanding our lives. I clearly ignored the Red Alert that signaled my impending Bad Hair Day, but nonetheless, I belong here.

This whole concept of how I’m Captain Kirking my life never even occurred to me until recently. Physically, my body begins to betray me as it ages. But mentally, time and again, I find I like myself and understand myself with astounding clarity. I am actually growing very okay with how weird I am.

Although it was nothing more than a cheaply constructed TV set, consider how that bridge, the command center of our bodily vessel—right down to the mid-century sound effects—so closely resembles the innards of our very brains, with the cast of characters closely resembling the various innate aspects of our personalities and intuition. This universal similarity is one of the many reasons why, IMHO, an obscure, cancelled-after-three-seasons 1960’s television show defied all odds and became so insanely popular that even non-science-y people like me still wax lovingly about it, like a legendary long-deceased relative, in 2018.

With age comes wisdom and I suppose, as a child of the 1970’s, my own brand of wisdom is rooted in television re-runs and Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. Last year, while visiting Seattle, my family and I decided to spend a rainy afternoon exploring the Museum of Pop Culture, and I was delighted to learn, quite by accident, that such a museum exists. It feels like I ought to care more about art and history, because that all sounds very museum-y and sophisticated, but I really comprehend only six inches of topsoil. But Pop Culture, now there is an arena where I can own the mud pit and wrestle.

I was thrilled to see one of the current exhibits at the Museum of Pop Culture focused on the original television series Star Trek. I was very much a “closet Trekkie” in middle school. By day, I was entirely too preoccupied with futile tasks like trying to convince my mother to spend $35 on a pair of Calvin Klein jeans and devising other superfluous ways a bespectacled, flat-chested and socially awkward only-child could fit in with the cool crowd. After a grueling day at school spent in desperate attempts to keep my precious rung on the social ladder anywhere above rock bottom (I would still be happy today to receive a 9th place ribbon for anything) I retreated to the quiet comforts of home, where I would grab a sugary, highly-processed snack that usually involved ten minutes of warming in a toaster oven and snap on the television, without the inconvenience of having to argue with any sibling over what we would watch. While licking the jelly doughnut off my fingers, I anxiously awaited my blessed escape in those soothing, magical words:  “Space. The Final Frontier.” 

Watching Star Trek, I was transported (pun intended) out of 7th grade, out of Shreveport, Louisiana, out of only-child land, where I was too timid to develop a fashion sense or a music library or to earn too good of grades—I thought ditzy girls were more popular; little did I know, middle school is all about the boobs—and into a world of space exploration and adventure. I watched the episodes so many times I practically knew each and every one of them by heart. I felt unable to “Boldly go where no man has gone before” in my own life, but I could easily allow myself to become swept up in the sci-fi fantasy. I envisioned myself as a standout member of the crew, perhaps First Officer, but never saw myself as the captain.

I was trying to explain this complicated backstory to my 15-year-old daughter as we meandered through the exhibit. She pretended to listen politely, a little bit, but we soon reached Parental Sharing Overload and she began to busy herself with her phone. She’s so different than I was at 15. Maybe I, too, would have had her confidence and determination if I had been the youngest of three sisters. I’m convinced she would have envisioned herself as the captain the moment she developed the capability for cognitive thought.

I think some of my obsessive fascination with Star Trek also presented as new information to my husband. Reverting to middle school insecurities, I most likely didn’t toss back a few margaritas and reveal all of this to him when we were dating. He is twelve years my senior, and as a result we each grew up with totally different after-school television programming. I was just lucky the weather was bad outside, they were pretty much hostage to all of my ramblings that afternoon.

Eventually, they reached capacity and both began shepherding me toward the exit. As I reluctantly left the exhibit, I noticed a staging area set up for photos. Naturally, my daughter refused to pose with me, yet I remained undaunted, eagerly thrusting my phone into my husband’s hands and clamoring up into Kirk’s swivel chair throne. Behind me was a black and white, life-sized panel photograph of the television cast, in uniform, surrounding me like a bad-assed posse of devoted, protective angels. What started as an innocuous, touristy piece of memorabilia has actually served as a profound Spirit Guide of sorts. If anyone wants to build a shrine to me after my death (please know I’m winking here) they should include this photo. A gift from an exasperated universe, guardian angel or deceased parent from the Great Beyond that sighs loudly and says “Okay, dammit, I’m not sure you’ve heard a word I’ve said all these years so I am finally going to HAND YOU A PICTURE.” An unmistakable depiction of me, finally, after 50 years, “in command” of my own life.

I visualize myself in Kirk’s chair when I need to make decisions, move forward or simply find a way to have peace. Sometimes these issues are specific and external (Should I take this job? Should we move to Canada? Should we get another cat? Is a certain problem solvable and if so, how would I do it?) and sometimes they are internal (drink less wine and more water, see both sides to every story, write more, give your children space, get over the dismay about your chin waddle) and sometimes—mainly when I’m on a run, as that’s usually when I’m in somewhat of an altered state—I give orders to my own body. (Search and destroy cancer and disease-causing cells, produce the right amount—heck, more than enough of the right amount—of happiness hormones, and, like kindness, “sprinkle that shit everywhere!” slow down the cell mutations that cause wrinkles, grey hair, brittle bones and angry old woman syndrome…just command them to be dormant!)

Who the heck knows if any of this is working or not, but it makes me feel in control. Perhaps slightly crazy, but in control. And just for the record, after losing both of my parents rather unexpectedly, I know better than anyone that you are never 100% “in control.” The universe can yank that cosmic rug out from under your feet faster than a photon torpedo from an Invisible Klingon Warship. But I figure if I can will myself and prepare myself to be mentally and physically healthy, I’ll be strong enough to withstand the torpedos, the Wrath of Kahn, or the latest developments on the evening news.

There are days when you’re engaged in epic battles, there are days when the future is not only uncertain but downright frightening and possibly dangerous, there are days when the enemy lurks within the confines of your own vessel. We must sit confidently in our Captain’s Chair, listen to the advice of our seasoned crew—aspects of our own personality and intuition—and make firm and clear decisions, both for our own selves and for those who need us to decide for them. Sometimes that decision is to tell our Inner Scotty, the first to push the panic button, to shut the hell up and reach for the Chardonnay. It’s not always the wisest or most mature decision, but I’ve still got to own that bitch.

If you can actualize this idea of command for yourself, you will find yourself less swept up in someone else’s shit storm and living your life in a way that feels much more comfortable and satisfying to you. The command is yours for the taking. It is indeed empowering but note I never said it is easy. Life is still life.

By reaching adulthood you have earned your command, but you do not need to shoulder this weight alone. Kirk had his crew. You have your crew. You have your own Inner Spock, loyal to you as the day is long, strong as an ox, full of ancient wisdom and intelligence, who will calmly remind you that you should always consider the logical and scientific approach, combined with what your heart and emotions tell you.

You have your own “Bones” McCoy, quick to raise an eyebrow in cynical suspicion and to call bullshit on timesuckers that ain’t ever gonna fly and you know it. Bones is there to make us feel okay if we don’t immediately embrace every new device or invention, that the “old ways” have merit, too. The good doctor is also ever-present to remind you to check in with yourself about your health, don’t push yourself so hard, rest often and take good care of yourself.

And let us not forget about our inner sex kitten, Uhura. Men, you have her too. Our Inner Uhura reminds us to let the engines roar, but also purr. She’s so balanced, she can be alluring AND she is so damn good at her job. She doesn’t have to think about exuding voluptuousness, it’s just who she is, so she can stay focused on kicking ass professionally as well. We all know she should be the captain, but she’s not angry that she’s not the captain…yet. Right now she’s just a victim of a 1960’s TV script, just as life is full of obstacles, but she’s not angry and making everyone’s life miserable because of it. She’s waiting in the wings, learning as much as she can and gaining knowledge and momentum by the minute. She’s so proficient and proactive at her job that she is 100% indispensable, as we all should strive to be. She’s our reminder to be awesome and the rest will take care of itself.  Be confident and comfortable with who you are, as that in itself is the definition of a sexual magnet, at any age.

And for some reason Scotty didn’t make it into this photo, but I don’t want to overlook him because he is a critical component. Scotty keeps the engines running. He knows his engines and his ship like the back of his hand. We should be equally as in tune with our own minds and bodies. I cannot count the number of times, in exasperation or even just bad traffic, I have wailed the equivalent of Scotty’s famous “She can’t TAKE it anymore, Captain!”

And then there’s Nurse Chapel, beautiful and hopelessly in love with Spock. She may not have Uhura’s hotline to the libido, but she represents innocent love. She is our Inner Dreamer, the part of us that hopes and longs for things that seem impossible: world peace, truth, justice, a healthy planet or sometimes simply for the family to all join hands and kumbaya for a moment or two. She’s a vital part of our internal crew, otherwise, on the minor acts of kindness and charity, we wouldn’t even try.

Sulu and Chekov represent possibly the most critical element of all:  that moment when the rubber hits the road. It’s one thing to act all bad-assed and issue orders, it’s another matter entirely to follow through. As captain I can state, with authority, “I’m going to drink less wine, get more sleep, read the New York Times, curse less and eat more greens.” My inner Sulu and Chekov make certain that my own orders are actually obeyed. And theirs may be the hardest job of all, especially when Moms’ Night Out, chocolate chip cookies and Bay Area traffic are involved.

My favorite parts of the show were often the endings. The battle won, the crisis resolved, the order restored, it signaled the time for the Starship to plunge forward into the deep mystery of space, to meet whatever challenge awaited, much like we do each time we open our eyes to a new morning’s light. Kirk would calmly issue the command “Steady as she goes.”

Steady As She Goes.

Really, what more could we ask of ourselves on this mission we call life?