Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shatner's World: "Tomorrow I am going to begin to do everything!"

Shatner's World

This past Wednesday night, Mz took me to see "Shatner's World," for my birthday.

Interestingly, the crowd was dressed for the theater, not a con, with barely a Star Trek insignia in sight.

I probably wouldn't have paid to go see Shatner, as I've never been sure I liked the man himself; I just liked that he portrayed Kirk.
In fact, I was mostly just hoping that I wouldn't like him LESS in person...
I went because Mz loves him, and also it seemed crazy to miss the opportunity to see some shadow of Kirk. 
(Bill wasn't at the Las Vegas con in 2008, which I attended. Sulking about not being in the movie reboot?)

I'd worried that he'd be frenetic, shielded in self-defense, and over-the-top hammy.
And sure enough––after being greeted with cheers and a standing ovation––he started the show by attacking George Takei (a stupid mistake, in my opinion--it made him seem petty) and cracking some bad puns; but soon he was showing a more thoughtful and well-rounded side of his personality.

As it turned out, I liked him. A lot.
Shatner didn't even talk about Star Trek much:
the show was mostly a surprisingly real and rather moving review of a life in acting, from his first success on stage at six years old, in a summer camp play.

"I can make that work."

Shatner's life-force is strong, at almost-81.
He's physically slowed, of course, but his repeated refrain throughout the evening was, "I can make that work," and the show itself was a masterpiece of working around limitations.
It was ordered so that Shatner could perform for the whole 100 minutes without an intermission:
He is backed by a huge screen showing a scene of outer space (the galaxy?), and intermittently brief clips from his life and work are projected on the screen.

[We fans have seen most of them on youTube, of course: a horse-riding scene from "Alexander the Great"; Kirk's "risk is our business" speech; Shatner's appearance at a tribute to George Lucas, etc.]

I noticed that he takes those moments in the dark to sit down... and catch his breath? take a drink of water from the pitchers on either side of the stage?

A rolling desk chair ('my co-chair" ---groan) is his only stage prop, which serves as well as a physical support: he leans on it to dance a little soft-shoe shuffle; and reclines in it as he demonstrates how in 1969 he, a divorced man living in a camper, lay watching the first Moon landing on a 4-inch TV perched on his chest. ("The irony was not lost on me.")

My Father Is Going to Be Dead for Eternity

The chair played a role in the best part of the show, I thought:
Shatner's retelling of his father's death.
[He doesn't mention––but fans know––that his father died during the filming of Star Trek's "Devil in the Dark" episode, which is why we see a stand-in's back in some of the pizza-creature scenes.]

Shatner is talking about choosing his father's coffin at the mortuary. They ranged from a plain pine box to a sliver-embossed, lead-lined one, guaranteed to keep out water for a year and a half.

"My father's going to be dead for eternity," he recalls saying to the funeral director. "What's a year and a half?"

Then Shatner takes off his suit coat, (revealing a Kirk-gold–backed waistcoat), and starts to fold it.

"My father taught me how to fold a man's jacket," he says.
"You fold the shoulders together..." and he deftly demonstrates what his clothing-manufacturer father taught him a lifetime ago.
"Think of all the hands that went into making this, from making the fabric to stitching it, handling it... I heard my father say, 'Spend the money on the living.'"

He chose the pine coffin, "and we laid my father in it," he said, gently laying the folded jacket across the seat of the chair.

Rolling the chair across the stage, he says, "We rolled him into the funeral, and I went and sat by my sister Joy. 'Our father would be proud," I told her. 'I got a good deal on the coffin.'

"'Why?' she replied, 'Was it used?'"

An Old Vaudevillian

Guy's an old vaudevillian.
I'd never put that together before.

He told about sneaking in to see the famous burlesque stripper Lily St. Cyr, as a teenager in 1940s Montreal.

LEFT: Lili St. Cyr held the title as the most famous woman in Montreal throughout the late 1940s into the 1950s.

No wonder Shatner felt at home with "girls with green paint and tiny bikinis -- everything I'm interested in."

He fell not just for her but for the comic acts. Comedians who knew the importance of timing, 
 ..."like Dick Shawn."

Dick Shawn's death became a vehicle for Shatner to talk about his own death:
the comic died on stage (in 1987, aged 63).

He collapsed during a comic routine about surviving nuclear war and the audience thought it was part of his act and didn't leave, even when a doctor in the audience told them to!
He'd had a heart attack and died right there on stage.

Shatner'd like to go that way, he said. 
"But not tonight!"

 RIGHT: Shawn as the spaced-out hippie Lorenzo St. DuBois (L.S.D.) auditioning for "Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers (1968, dir. Mel Brooks) 


All Men Kill the Thing They Love

Many of the stories Shatner told, I'd heard--or ones like them.
One I'd never heard was the story of a horse he called "my Bucephalus," after Alexander the Great's horse.

Shatner had agreed to let this beloved stallion be put to stud, not knowing what it meant: that it would no longer be a pet but would be treated, instead, as a dangerous, wild animal.
Over the ensuing years, each time Bill went back to see the horse, it was restrained in some new way, until finally it was hobbled, muzzled, and lived in "solitary confinement" in an enclosed stall.

We keep waiting to hear how he rescued it.

He never did.

There's a moment of some possible redemption, when the stallion experiences a moment of wild freedom before he is put down. "Perhaps he forgave me," Shatner says, but it's a irredeemably a story of his own moral failure to act.
"All men kill the thing they love," Oscar Wilde says, and this man lets us know he is no exception.

It's a disturbing story, and an odd one, too, because Shatner's sins tend to be sins of commission, not sins of omission.
After all, saying YES is one of his life's tenets. 

I could see Kirk, lying with his head on his desk  [LEFT] in "Requiem for Methusaleh,"
having confessing to Spock that his pride had cost someone he loved her life. 

I've always despised that Spock responds by erasing the memory from Kirk's mind.
Shatner doesn't take that out.

This is a good man, I thought--something I'd never glimpsed before, under all that puffery.

Do Everything!

Toward the end of the show, Shatner talks about the importance of continuing to say Yes as you age, because, he said, "It's so easy to say no, I'd rather stay home..."

And you know what?
That was the one note in the show that struck false: 
I simply did not believe him. I don't think he'd rather stay home.

But, hey--I'm probably wrong---he must get tired and cranky.
After all, as he reminds us by singing "Real" for his final act,
"I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel."

He stayed for a bit of the standing wave of love, and exited, stage left.

Afterward, we were both too energized to go right home, so we went out for a bite at Brit's Pub.
I asked Mz how Shatner had affected her, and she said,
"Tomorrow I am going to begin to do everything!"

Sign me up.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Birthday Brushing with Jim (from bink)

L to R: bink, Jim, Frex (me), Mz on Camino

Photoshop by bink!

The Noise of the Spirit

Today is my birthday, and I'm leaving in a little bit to meet Nisshin Jen, another blog friend, in town from Japan.

Before I go, I wanted to write something more about the shifts I've experienced this past year.

A change I distinctly notice is that I dwell much more on the ground these days. I'm even becoming a nursing assistant---about as grounded, physical work as you can get. (I just started applying for work last week).

Walking Camino de Santiago this past summer, I experienced a shift in where I locate the Spirit. I've usually imagined Spirit as being an silvery slip of wisp; but I heard the Spirit clearly the first night on the road, in the cheese-grater snores of my fellow pilgrims.

Instead of being annoyed at the roncadors (the wonderful Spanish word for "snorers"), as I had when I walked the Camino in 2001, I felt instead such tenderness toward the sweet, vulnerable little creatures we are, asleep, our lives depending on this slipstream of air...
We're all breathing together, sharing the air, walking along the same road for such a short time.

Another night, I lay on the narrow, saggy top bunk-bed in a crowded albergue listening to the in and out breaths of laughter---an old man and two old women from the Netherlands were having giggle fits about something. I fell asleep smiling.

Speaking of the noise of the Spirit, Momo sent me this 40-second video of young rhinos making the most amazing noises!

 Marz calls me Baby Rhino (even before we met in person), so I've been paying more attention to rhinos--I had no idea they are so playful--the young ones scamper like colts. (Like tapirs, they are relatives of horses.) They are the most talkative animals in Africa too!

Here's my alter-ego and me:

Off to catch the bus now!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wrapping Up Fifty

My Year of Fifty

Reflections on the past year, as I turn 51 in two days, on March 5.

Fifty was a big weird––good weird––year: a hinge year that leaves me facing a different direction.
I started out a writer, living alone, and am now a job-searching nursing assistant, living with a best friend I met on the Internet.

Friend Me and Leave Me

Fifty started with me finishing my first stand-alone book for teens (not part of a series). I dedicated it to friends in the blogosphere. (You!)

bink pointed out its major flaw: it's so short, you're left wanting more information.
The space constraint had really pinched me, putting the book together, and decided I didn't want to write for children's book publishers anymore.

Good timing, because due to the economy, the publisher didn't offer me any more work, and I was unemployed most of the year.


Without any work, this past year I spent the last shreds of the almost $40,000 I'd inherited from my mother and an auntie in 2003.

With my ancestors' money in the bank, my forties had been an easy financial time:
The inheritance had allowed me to take my sweet time compiling the geography books I wrote on contract--work so low-paid, most people crank out each book in a few weeks, while I took a few months.

I also gave myself a semi-sabbatical in 2008 (took on only short publishing projects) and spent the year blogging, watching and thinking about Star Trek, and making my first videos;
and I could afford to take most of 2010 to research and write Friend Me! (which only paid a few thousand dollars).

Bloggers on Pilgrimage

Most of the last of the money went toward walking the Camino de Santiago again, this past May and June, to mark 50 as I had marked 40.

It was a bloggy trip, even though I was mostly offline.
To begin with, I could really only afford it because Momo, who lives here but whom I only know because we both blog, gave me a $1,000 airline voucher she'd gotten for giving up her seat home from Europe.

Then, I invited Mz to walk with me and bink. We'd met on the blogosphere a year and a half earlier. (I didn't know it, but she'd first found my blog through a macro of mine reposted on the Shatner site Look at His Butt.)

And in Santiago, we met up with Annika and Eeva, Trek blogfriends from Scandinavia, to walk the last week to the Atlantic coast.
Above, L to R: Annika, me, Mz, Susanna, and Eeva, putting on rain gear.

I've always been impressed to read about bloggers meeting up with one another––so cool! so exotic!––and here I was doing it.
I felt like I was in a story.

I'd thought my sense of outlandishness was because of I'm so old, the Internet in Real Life  still surprises me and feels kind of surreal.
But since then, several young (and old) people have asked me if I wasn't afraid to meet strangers from the Web.
Maybe the leap from electronic friendship to meeting in the flesh is just a weird thing for anyone:

on a primal biological level, it seems to be, as one of Mz's friends said, "Whoa... sketchy."

My Roommate

After the trip, Mz moved here from Oregon and moved in with me.

She is the main thing that's happened in my year of 50. 
Here's an example of how she's changed my life:
For years, I've idly wished I had Photoshop so I could attach pictures to each other. Last night I was complaining to her that I couldn't stick together photos of young Shatner & Stephen Colbert.

She said, "Why don't you put them in a word doc side-by-side and then screencap it?"

So, I did. [post below]
Little, yeah, but the way a kindred brain can make you see patterns differently, show you possibilities and connections you hadn't seen before, is big.

A weightier example:
A while ago, I was fretting over a troubled friend I felt powerless to help, and she said,
"Why don't you let them solve their own puzzles?"

Obvious, yeah, I guess.  But this is one of my big life struggles, and the way she phrased the question was so helpful for me: as a matter of granting autonomy to the friend (not dismissing them), thereby easing an impossible burden I had placed on myself and was resenting more and more.

Freeze Lock

Sometimes our interactions are jerky or paralyzing, like when you wheel a shopping cart beyond the parking lot, causing the wheels to freeze lock.
Figuring out why that happens––what boundary-crossing leads to a breakdown in communication, and why––has been interesting too.

The root of it is, we come from antithetical belief systems. The ramifications of this became clear only recently, after talking in person every day since May 8: ten months!

A key misunderstanding arose because for a while it seemed we had the same dismayed view of humanity.
But underneath similar surfaces run entirely different mechanisms.

I'm dismayed with people because I think we should all be great! and excellent! like our own personal versions of Beethoven or the Dalai Lama.

I stew: Why don't we invest in ourselves more, like NASA in the 1960s? Why don't we seek out for ourselves the best resources and education, so we can explore strange new worlds?  (And, why don't I?)
Natural goodness is good enough to get you to the Moon.

ABOVE: kitchen cupboards

I had written at the end of my post about the gun my mother used to kill herself,
"Sometimes I think I'm just fine after all this time, free and clear, lucky to have such a resilient personality. Sometimes I think I'm not fine at all, I just closed off a room in the house of life, love, and hope and walked away."
In loving someone, I see I may have closed off a room, but I didn't lock the door forever.  Love blithely opened the door, moved in, and is now sleeping on the couch.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Young William Shatner & Stephen Colbert

Smokin' Hot

I've seen photos of Bill smoking, but never one of Captain Kirk smoking before. And signed by Shatner too.
It was on sale here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Stephen Colbert Interviews William Shatner: The Recap

Did I really say I didn't want to go see Bill when he's in town on March 15?

Luckily Marz bought me a ticket anyway, for a birthday present.

As Beth said, when I commented that it's Kirk I love, not Shatner,
"Well, Shatner looks like Kirk, and he talks like Kirk, and he's the closest thing you're going to get to Kirk."

Here's the interview, clipped from the Colbert Report, Feb. 29, 2012.