THE DIVERSITY OF “WE”

Since the month of May, my son Simon has traveled to the Ecuadorian rain forest and back, scouting possible future locations to bring enthusiastic college science students who want to get a feel for the study of biological systems in situ.

Just a few weeks later, his twin, Jeremy, traveled to Istanbul and then to Varna, Bulgaria, with a mission to inspect huge cargo ships for his employer.

And last but not least, off went their younger brother Christian on July 19th to begin a three-month stay in the northern part of Canada’s Baffin Island—a place just slightly less alien than the surface of Mars.

Welcome to the twenty-first century! When it comes to destinations, ecosystems and cultures, it doesn’t get much more diverse than that.

Of course, their lives aren’t always this nomadic, but Simon, who is perhaps the least likely to travel abroad on a regular basis, has already visited the Americas—North and South—Europe and Australia.

There’s nothing of the retro cool or counter-cultural VW Westphalia quaintness to their adventures. It’s just one dimension of what globalisation means to the generation knocking at the door, poised to take over (probably a step behind Gen X) from my generation, known as the baby boom in the West, that’s fast losing its relevance, anchored as it is to past paradigms that have become cement blocks tied to its leaden feet, and unable to keep up.

Vintage Westphalia camper

Their time can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned. The planet is their oyster, in ways that it can never be for most of their elders. The world came to their neighbourhoods and classrooms. It never did for me. When I was in grade school, the most exotic classmate I had was Kamilla Giedroyc, a sweet girl from Hungary (so unusual was she, that decades later, I still remember her name). But as my sons grew up, here in Montreal, French Canadian names no longer dominated class attendance lists: these were filled instead by the names of children arriving from the Caribbean, China, India, Africa, the Middle East and the rest of Asia, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and Russia and its former republics. The first Omar who appeared in the school yard took a bit of ribbing for his name (the French word, homard, pronounced exactly like Omar, means lobster—the kids couldn’t resist), but within months, there was no such thing as an exotic name to most kids in French language schools.

Hetherington, Iain; Diversified Cultural Worker 3; Arts Council Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/diversified-cultural-worker-3-64366

My sons, even sheltered as they were, here, in the quiet suburbs of a city that can only thrive through immigration, encountered diversity everywhere they went. It’s the best thing that could have happened to them. It peeled away any constricted sense of human identity they might have, and instead nurtured in them the notion that “We humans speak many tongues, come in many shades, pray to many gods, love in many ways, enjoy myriad food smells, textures, colours and tastes, admire different heroes, have different sporting traditions, have varying world views, spiritual practices, political opinions and ways of defining and connecting to gender identity, family and community.

Roberts, William Patrick; The Common Market; Harris Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-common-market-152371

The diversity of “We” in their childhoods was perhaps the most formative lesson they could have learned, once they had absorbed into every one of their brain cells that love, kindness and acceptance of each other matter above everything else.

This is the way of all Life. It was good that my children were able to sense their place in the giant web of all living things so soon. It was good that they lived some of the richness and complexity of the natural world and human societies as preschoolers. It opened them up to the incontrovertible fact that life in all its manifestations is complex, interconnected, interdependent and diverse.

The word diversity is immensely important to me, but of late, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that diversity must include (and often does) fringe, freakish, ugly, violent, bigoted, hate-filled, twisted people in various states of arrested development. They can’t all be written off as stupid or ignorant. They are simply a concomitant of diversity. Zealotry mixed with sociopathy or psychopathy is especially frightening, and I’m sure that’s in the mix of this photo of Charlottesville, posted by a Facebook friend earlier this week. It’s the stuff that nightmares and history are made of. This diversity of vision and values and ideas is always there: these people were always there…But it’s so much easier when they’re hidden away in the cracks and basements and every other tainted place where they gather.

Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, August 2017

All of these youngish white men screaming monstrous things and prepared to do so much harm (but I don’t for a minute doubt that there are lots of equally bent and cruel girlfriends and wives—boyfriends seem less likely among this cabal—egging them on): it is soul crushing. It hurts us all.

These past few weeks, my attention has been drawn to these people who appear to be so terrified of diversity, so desperate to reduce their world to an impossibly simple, stark, suffocating, stunted, hateful and exclusionary society that they are prepared to tear nature’s matrix to shreds.

It’s impossible, of course. This is simply not life. It is not nature. We are interconnected, interdependent and interwoven. We are multitudes.: heterogeneous, complex, and diverse.

The veneer of American society was very thin. It didn’t take much to expose what lay beneath it. Maybe it’s good that high wattage lamps are now shining on them, because in nature, the things able to grow in the dark are often the most resilient.

Martin, David; Yeni Cami, Istanbul; Maggie’s Fife; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/yeni-cami-istanbul-125104

About this painting: 

A teacher at Leith School of Art, David Martin is originally from Fife. He has travelled extensively and his art reflects his experiences; he is interested in exploring new and varied environments. In this scene of Istanbul, though Yeni Cami is one of the best-known mosques in the city, he chooses to capture a variety of elements which explore the diversity of the city and the people who live there.

GETTING MY GEEK ON AT THE STAR TREK ACADEMY EXPERIENCE

 

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I was a little girl when the first episodes of the original Star Trek series aired.

Sometimes I think that it was a miracle that I ever found it at all on TV because ours, which sat atop the piano (or some other high piece of furniture in the livingroom that forced me to look up, much the way people do now with their big screens mounted on the wall), was strictly controlled by my mum, who at that time was 100% stay-at-home and always vigilant.

But there must have been a day when conditions were right and I managed to watch it.

Like almost everything else about my childhood, I can’t recall any of the details of this exactly. My memories aren’t stored in neat episodes. They’re mostly telescoped inside my mind, and tugging on any one of them pulls several out in one long tangle.

What I’m left with, though, is enough. I remember watching the first season of Star Trek and feeling pure wonder and happiness. Like it was a miracle. Like I had found a place outside of every other part of my life that was populated by people who saw the world a lot like I did—that is, with openness and optimism. I always left the Star Trek universe reluctantly.

ST_TOS_Cast

I think what I had found, really, was the first TV show beyond my favourite children’s programs that conveyed the same essential benevolence and yet was ADULT.

This was perhaps the shocker for me. To discover that there were people like Gene Rodenberry who unabashedly adored life and the human race and refused to succumb to what, eleven years later in another imagined universe, would be described as the dark side. Pessimism, cynicism and disguised despair.

In these memories, it feels like I was watching the show alone, but that’s unlikely because our house was small; my sisters must have been nearby. But I don’t think either of them felt the way I did about Star Trek.

My mum, well, she was listening in from the kitchen.

I remember that she didn’t GET IT. My very bright mother— the product of the post war years in Quebec, which were profoundly traditional and Catholic, and who reached her twenties in 1955—couldn’t help herself; she just felt threatened by the show.

She saw in Star Trek a menace to her faith and thus my faith, and she said this to me in exactly those words. I think it may have been her first serious exposure to science fiction, and it unsettled her. She couldn’t see how something that expanded our view of the universe and our role in it, the way Star Trek did, could be compatible with Catholic cosmology.

My memories of how this made me feel are very clear: I desperately wanted her to see what I saw when I watched Star Trek. Rodenberry’s future contained all of the recognizable evils and suffering I was already aware of: illness, death, poverty, war and destruction. But in this future, the predominance of diversity, inclusion, cooperation, benevolence, sharing, acceptance and understanding were matter-of-fact.

Enlightened, essentially good people would always strive to bring everyone on board. The power-mad and the destructive would be dealt with swiftly and justly.

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What young mind wouldn’t be swept up in a world that presented endless what-ifs and ways of being, and then threw Captain Kirk and his crew into the mix to see how they would all make it through?

Even as a grade schooler, I felt vindicated by the idealism of Star Trek.

I also had a mad crush on Captain Kirk.

That’s how Star Trek entered my life, sharing space with Batman, Barbie, Willy Wonka and Thierry la Fronde.

I don’t remember how many of my friends were Star Trek groupies, but I do remember ersatz communicators  turning up in our play, sometimes fitting into our improvised Batman-inspired utility belts.

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The Star Trek universe and I grew up together.

A dry spell followed those years of my childhood, and when the next great wave of space adventure hit in 1977, I was just emerging from adolescence. When I exited the cinema after seeing Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time, the only sounds I could muster were: WOW!

WOW.

We forget that these were the VCR years, when Sony Trinitron TVs were considered hot stuff.

No one had ever seen anything like it.

The original Star Wars movie was one of the first things I ever taped on our VCR, in 1986 or ’87, when the twins were 3 or 4 years old. It was a version dubbed in French (it was a great translation!), that they watched over and over and over and over till the cassette wore out (is there a little boy alive who can’t make legit lightsaber sound effects?).

And THAT was the beginning of my sons’ slow indoctrination into Star Trek, Star Wars and everything sci-fi/fantasy/geeky.

I’m the resident sci-fi and fantasy buff in the house. My husband, who was also wowed by Star Wars in 1977, is nevertheless made of different stuff. There isn’t a nerdy or geeky bone in his body and he isn’t prone to even the shortest flights of fancy.

Happily, it fell to me. They’ve taken up the torch with a vengeance, and have outpaced and outstripped me by light years.

USS_Enterprise_(alternate_reality)_at_warp

Cut to last Wednesday, when my son Simon (Twin One) organised our trek to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa with Christian (Son Three) and our friend Cindy, so that we could share The Star Fleet Academy Experience.

 It wasn’t lavish or super-impressive. It was a straightforward interactive experience in a setting designed to be boxed up and moved to a different city every few months and it was a blast.

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Data and Captain Picard on the bridge: Star Trek, Next Generation
Simon and Christian on the bridge
Simon and Christian on the bridge

It featured animations and quizzes and simulations and when I was done, I received an evaluation that was later emailed to me:

Thank you for taking part in the Starfleet Academy Experience at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.


Attached to this email you will find:

  • Your Starfleet Recruitment Certificate
  • Your Starfleet Personnel File
  • Your Species Selfie
  • Your Transporter video

We hope that you enjoyed your visit.
Live long and prosper.

How cool is that?

I wasn’t shocked to read that Star Fleet Academy had accepted me to study in the field of Communications.

Data commands the bridge: Star Trek-Next Generation
Christian commands the bridge

Pumped and in full geek mode, we passed the time during the drive home quizzing each other.

Questions started like this:

Who’s your favourite Star Trek main character? Secondary character?

There was lots of debate: Do you mean just the shows or are the movies included? All of the series?

Answers included Picard and Kirk, of course; Data—well yes (sigh); Ensign Ro, the Traveller, Q and a host of stragglers.

Favourite Star Trek movie?

Wrath of Khan dominated, but emotional responses also supported The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home; and I have a soft spot for Tom Hardy’s stunning performance in the role of Shinzon, going head-to-head with Patrick Stewart in Nemesis.

Then we veered off into the superhero cannon: Captain America or Iron Man?

(is that even debatable? Of course its Captain America; I have reasons coming out my ears!)

Which was worse: The most recent Superman or Batman VS Superman?

I hated the latter and had been warned by my sons not to see the first, but it was the winner of that debate.

We of course veered all over the place, and there were all kinds of leaps from genre to genre and medium to medium (how could any of us forget books, graphic novels and comics?), and the 200 km drive home passed in a flash.

I’m a lucky woman indeed. I can now boldly go where no one has gone before–into the undiscovered country– with a crew that includes family, friends and soon, my grandchildren, Penelope and Graeme, who are gently being brought into the fold.

I hope to live long, and have already prospered beyond my wildest dreams.

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
Gene Roddenberry