Early last month I started watching Star Trek.
The Next Generation series to be specific.
It was a Sunday evening and I had recently returned from an urban ministry class in the Mission District of SF. I had discussed enough for the day. Read enough for the day. Listened and pondered and struggled with questions of human poverty and inequality enough for the day. I didn’t feel like critiquing essays or reading memoirs or finishing my own work. I felt like watching TV.
No new episodes of Parenthood. Not feeling much like The Office. Almost finished with my second run of Frasier. Had not yet discovered how to download Downton Abbey. Star Trek had been on the back burner of my mind since last fall when I first dipped my toe into a few episodes of the original series. It was just sitting there, waiting for me to give it a chance. Now, I decided, was the time.
Deciding to start watching a TV series is not usually such a monumental decision for me. (Half of the time it happens by accident.) But Star Trek was different. Star Trek was a way of thinking as much as it was a series of storylines. It has an entire culture and language, a world of worlds and a cult community to rival any series in the history of television. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. I would commit to watching the whole series and its corresponding movies, get caught up in a myth that is older than I am. Eventually I’d go back to the original series, maybe even watch other spinoffs. This wasn’t just a Sunday night distraction. It was a resolution.
My choice of The Next Generation was influenced by a few factors, most recently by a book recommendation I’d received the week prior—a book called “Just a Geek,” authored by Wil Wheaton (i.e. Wesley Crusher). For reasons I won’t discuss here, the book has been an unanticipated blessing (as has the person who suggested it), and it was reason enough for me to join the voyagers of the starship Enterprise that Sunday evening in September.
So far, the journey has been most excellent. In part because I get to share it with someone who is 1500 miles away. In part because it addresses so many of the issues that I write through and ponder on a daily basis. In part because I feel a sense of belonging that is beyond me. And in part because I realize the novelty of discovering Star Trek at this point in history—at a time (and in a place) where the future is becoming a reality; where communicators and tractor beams and phasers really exist; where I communicate with my clients through video conferencing and re-post articles about virtual reality simulation that sounds an awful lot like a modern-day holodeck.
I have held off on blogging about this for weeks. Weeks of built up excitement have been waiting to spill from my mind and pour out onto the keyboard of my MacBook Air. But up until now I have been hesitant to share them—afraid of the teasing, ridicule, and judgment I might face. Not for delving into the world of geekdom, but for being told that I don’t belong. Much like my recent fascination with the tech world (something that started before I moved to the Bay Area and has been fueled ever since), I am out of my element when it comes to Star Trek. I did not watch it as a child or a teenager, not even in reruns. I have, in fact, unintentionally avoided Star Trek for years, despite the fact that it has brought great joy and enlightenment to many of the friends who have come and gone from my life.
As someone whose knowledge of Star Trek had been limited to Frasier’s Noel Shempsky, I didn’t know how I would be received, if I would be welcomed into geekdom as an outside visitor. But the Trekkies in my life (even the ones on the periphery) have been exceedingly kind. A friend I hadn’t talked to since high school posted, “You have no idea how happy this makes me.” My high school youth director was tickled, as proud of me as if I had finished a second master’s degree. One of my Oakland friends regularly stops by to watch episodes with me before I go to bed. And all of this just delights me. Not everyone is so willing to welcome you into their obsessions, their fascinations, their happy places. But these people–these people have been epic.
There is this quote that I pulled from Wil Wheaton’s blog (which has been far more successful and interesting than Wesley Crusher ever was):
“I always tell people that conventions are so wonderful, because you’ll be surrounded by people who love the same things you love, the way you love them. But that’s not entirely correct. You’re also surrounded by people who love things you don’t even know about, but you love your respective things in the same way, so you get to love your thing enthusiastically, completely, unironically, without fear of judgement.”
I think that is a part of what draws me to Star Trek. I am being welcomed into a world where it is okay to be an outsider, where the natives are kind and inviting. Where they only tease me because I’m behind and not because I’m here. For me, Star Trek is not a distraction. It is an education. An adventure that is offered and one that I am excited to be taking.