We are nerds, part 2Posted: February 13, 2010
Lily absolutely, positively loves Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which makes a whole lot of sense, actually; Dad was a fan of Star Trek (the original series), and we grew up watching reruns. When I was seven and Lily was four, however, TNG (as we fans affectionately call it) hit the airwaves.
It was a really big deal for me, for no good reason, but I loved it right off the bat. Mom and Dad watched it with me, both times it aired. (This was so long ago that not only were reruns available on television, but sometimes the same show aired twice in the same week). Lily watched it during the earlier showtime, I suppose, until she got older. We continued to watch the show as a family through the seven years it was in production. I never questioned its integral role in my growing up. I was too young to notice that the cast was mostly white and mostly male, but I did notice that the stories tried to work through sexism, racism, hostility among social classes…big issues of how we humans relate to each other, even if we had to use the thought experiment of alien interactions to get perspective. Dad was right there to help me understand those lessons even better. (Thanks, Dad!) Mom watched alongside us and knows the gist of what the show’s about, but I think she was mostly just watching because it meant so much to us. (Thanks, Mom!)
Lily’s connection was, I suspect, a good deal more basic. She liked the dramatic acting and the sound effects. Oh my good lord, she liked the sound effects. We got her a transporter playset – you know, the device that “beams” people and objects from one place to another – and it made the sound from the show as the lights flickered and the optical illusion of appearance and disappearance happened inside. That thing ran on three C batteries, and she always ran the stupid things down inside a week. (Being a child with disabilities and parents who could get you accessible toys in the 1980s meant a whole lot of big batteries.)
Until…until the episode where an alien who wants to experience life as a human, uh, makes itself into a pregnancy for Counselor Deanna Troi (“The Child”). And then Lily’s interest took on a whole new meaning. That’s when she latched on to Counselor Troi’s character. It may sound weird to new people, but Lily was, at the time, interested in the sound of crying. When Deanna cried, Lily’s ears pricked up. Yes, the reenactments started pretty soon after. And escalated after the episode with the music box. But we eventually got Lily evened out, and Deanna turned into a much more nuanced character (as did everyone) as the show developed. She emoted less and interacted more, and Lily followed suit.
My parents bought an action figure of Data for Lily, and the reenactments got funny then. Lily does impersonations, and her female voices vary quite a bit, but all of her “male” voices sound pretty much the same – almost growls. (She used to hold a banana clip to her eyes to impersonate Geordi LaForge with that same voice.) I’m not sure which action figure came next, but soon, Lily became attached to her Deanna doll. So attached, in fact, that she carried her everywhere, and poor Deanna wore out and had to be replaced. We have since stockpiled action figures for such occasions – in several versions. Deanna got to change her outfits a number of times over the years; Lily often places the specific request for “burgundy red Deanna.” Sometimes, it’s okay to have the Deanna in her uniform from the movie First Contact. (We quickly learned that that particular doll was an identical body for Deanna and Dr. Crusher, and that we could move the heads if need be. Don’t ask.) In fact, Lily sometimes will complain if we watch reruns featuring Counselor Troi in the wrong uniform. (Picture a facial expression of mild exasperation here.)
Dr. Beverly Crusher was the other prominent character to whom Lily attached herself. Eventually, Deanna, Beverly, and, to a lesser extent, Data, took on lives of their own. Deanna became Lily’s best friend, someone she could talk to and be wild with. Beverly was always much more sedate, but prone to acting out a mix of TNG plots and Lily’s own extensive experiences with doctors. (Beverly was also acted out as a full costume character, wearing my mom’s old bathrobe as a labcoat. I made Lily a tricorder out of cardboard, and we eventually bought her a cheap stethoscope to add to the general medical outfit.) Curiously, Lily didn’t really like to play with the other action figures as much, although we have a pretty decent collection. (For those Star Trek universe fans reading this, yup, we’ve got Captain Picard, Riker – in small form and a large talking version, Geordi, Worf, Major Kira, Captain Sisko, and Doctor Bashir. I think there are more, too, but they live in a lidded basket, and I haven’t really looked in it in a couple of years.)
In more recent years, Deanna and Beverly have developed into more mature alter egos. Deanna will sit next to Lily on the carpet while we talk after dinner in the library room, for instance, rather than remain clutched in Lily’s hand. When Lily has a headache, sometimes she’ll raise Deanna’s arm and make the doll touch her head, asking, “What’s wrong?” If she’s upset, Lily sometimes has trouble talking to us, but will talk more or less quietly with Deanna, especially alone in her room. In an interesting twist, we can also appeal to Deanna to give Lily directions; I’ve previously asked Deanna to tell her to stop yelling, for instance. It’s always a little weird when Deanna elaborates on these ideas, indicating that Lily really does know that she’s acting out by yelling or throwing things or whatever in part of her mind, even if she doesn’t choose to act accordingly.
As an aside, I will note that the first alter ego that Lily developed was modeled after one of her earliest team members, one of the people who worked with her as a toddler. The voice and persona have remained intact through all of these years, and that character can also be appealed to to restore order. (However, once brought up, she often fails to disappear.) A couple of other characters hang around, too. “Baby” is the character who can enunciate the letter L, brought about in large part by a speech therapist. “Shel” (short for Michelle) sometimes pops up – modeled after a playmate of ours from daycare, I think. But Deanna is definitely the major alternative to Lily herself.
This whole experience is something I find hard to explain to people, because it’s one of the ways in which we both are somewhat different from many people’s expectations. I mean, it’s already interesting to declare myself a fan of TNG, but to explain how my sister and I have built an interaction around the show? That I respond to my sister’s alter ego(s)? It can be pretty uncomfortable, around many people. As I’ve developed my own confidence in being a nerd, it’s gotten easier, and I feel okay talking about this with fellow nerds who get it. That said, I’m not sure some of my close friends (hi, friends reading this!) knew this. Except, of course, those who have witnessed my elation at finding “extra” action figures while shopping. 😉
(To be continued in part 3…)