We are nerds, part 3Posted: February 13, 2010
This post follows from the end of We are nerds, part 2, in which you learned about Lily’s affection for the Star Trek: The Next Generation character Counselor Deanna Troi. This is how I managed to get her a pretty nifty present. For any fans of The Big Bang Theory out there, this story is Lily’s and my Leonard Nimoy napkin moment. Or would be, if Penny was even one-hundredth as totally jazzed as Sheldon by the event. 😉 (Yeah, yeah – spoiler. That’s okay, it’s still an interesting story.)
By now you’ve realized that I’m nerd enough to be the kind of person who would go to conventions, or cons. I am, but I had somehow never done it. Probably mostly due to proximity and the fact that I’m introverted enough to shy away from crowds. Anyways. I’m a follower of Wil Wheaton’s blog – he played Wesley Crusher, son of the aforementioned Dr. Beverly Crusher, on TNG. (He was also in Stand By Me, which I’d seen and a lot of people who aren’t Star Trek fans will recognize.) Turned out he was going to be appearing at a con “near” me – about two hours’ drive. I was pretty psyched, because (here is my digression about my own attachments to TNG):
I was a smart kid. I was a bit awkward, too – I got along with other kids okay, I guess, but I felt much more comfortable talking with grownups. Given my then-love of science and growing love of sci-fi, it’s really not much of a surprise that I latched on to TNG. But one of my secret reasons for loving the show was what happened when I watched Wesley Crusher: I got to see a smart kid who talked to grownups – like me! – doing stuff that mattered. I think that’s when I realized that I, too, could do something really mindblowingly cool, like fly the Enterprise. Wesley wasn’t perfect, and sometimes being smart got him in trouble, but that was okay by me, because it was how I was. (I later learned that Wesley irritated many a fan, whom I suspect were mostly adults, probably for a lot of reasons that I found him to be something of a role model.) I know that was an important part of my growth into the scientist I have become.
My fangirliness gets worse, though. *grin* I started reading the blog, as I mentioned, and realized that Mr. Wheaton was a pretty cool person beyond the guy who brought to life a character on one of my favorite shows. So much of what he wrote about resonated with me, because I’m running into some similar emotions in my professional life as he’s discussed in his writings, and I really admired what he said about parenting on Fark.com. (Guilty pleasure of mine, that site, although the community has grown and isn’t as…communal as it once was.) So when I found out that he was going to be so close, I realized it was the perfect time to go to my first con. I found one of his books at a used bookstore and devoured it the same night. (I feel guilty for buying it secondhand and depriving him of that income, but I was a poor grad student and prioritized getting his new book directly from him.) Much more resonance with the challenges of professional life; teaching undergraduates has a lot in common with live comedy and acting, it turns out.
I looked up the program for the con to find out about buying a ticket, and to my astonishment discovered that Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner, the actors who played Deanna and Data, respectively, were also going to be in attendance. My mind immediately wandered to a fantasy of getting Lily the ~1000 miles to where I was to take her to the con, but I knew that couldn’t happen. After a lot of thinking and sighing, I finally realized that I could at least ask the authors if they would record short audio clips for Lily, reasoning that it was an understandable request, given that Lily can’t see and thus couldn’t appreciate a normal autograph.
At this point, I was really uncomfortable, however. It’s hard enough explaining to new friends or bosses who my sister is and what our lives are like, but to explain that in thirty seconds to actors with large fan bases? The thought intimidated me. I decided to email Mr. Wheaton, since he had offered to answer questions to his blog readership, and with his encouragement (or at least reassurance that this wasn’t an infrequent request), I gathered my portable recording device and headed out. And promptly lost my nerve when I saw that the two *other* actors were signing autographs in the morning, but not Mr. Wheaton, whose autograph (and book!) I wanted for myself and who had already given me permission. My friend had to wait in line with me for moral support, but I did it. Brent Spiner was the first person I approached. He was really cool about recording a message, and treated the recorder like Lily was inside it (which made me laugh pretty hard, because Lily doesn’t always know that I’m not inside the phone when I call her).
The next was the most important: I approached Marina Sirtis, picture of Lily in hand. (In that photo, you can see Lily holding her Deanna action figure.) Ms. Sirtis was incredibly gracious – she actually asked me about Lily’s disabilities, and seemed genuinely touched by the effort I was making, and the fact that Lily was such a fan of the show. She talked with me for a minute, and then recorded a really nice message. Sustained by those successful efforts, I felt much more confident in getting a recording from Mr. Wheaton. Of course, I turned into an incoherent, awkward fangirl, and I actually still feel uncomfortable now, a year later, about that. However, I think I managed to communicate to him that I appreciated his work. His recording was really fantastic – classic TNG tech talk, and I loved the new book as much as the older one. (And he signed both! I only wish I’d had more cash so I could have gotten some of his other writing. Yes, yes – fangirl.) Nobody charged me for the recordings, which astounded me; I was overwhelmingly grateful that they were so generous with their voices, which I know are an important part of their livelihood. And it allowed me to buy a Barbie-sized Deanna for Lily, which is now in her regular rotation. (We’ve thankfully got enough so that she can have Deanna at her apartment and at my parents’ house.)
I should note that my recording was digital, on minidisc. I managed to get the file transferred to my computer, where it has sort of languished because I haven’t taken the time to learn how to use the audio editing file I need to use to make it okay for burning to a CD. (Lily has full mastery of playing CDs, except for putting them in correctly – she thinks that, like cassette tapes, they’re double-sided, and able to be handled without great care.) But I mailed the original recording disc home as a birthday gift, since I wasn’t able to be there that year, and Dad played it with his minidisc player.
I was finally able to see her reaction to the recording during my post-defense time at home. Lily was…not in the best mood, and I was frustrated with her. My laptop was sitting next to me, and I suddenly remembered the recording, which I started playing for her. From unruly animation, she became stock-still. (She doesn’t sit still. Like, ever. Okay, maybe when she’s intently focused on food, but she typically has a rocking motion when she sits, if she’s willing to sit even that still. This was really dramatic.) When I asked her, “Who’s that?,” she very quietly breathed out, “Deanna.” (See? Sheldon and Penny moment!) She was a lot calmer after that – still absorbing having heard her name uttered by the voice of her fangirl idol. (She doesn’t understand that the actors are not their characters, with the possible exception of LeVar Burton, because she also watched him on Reading Rainbow. I think she perceived that it was Deanna talking directly to her.)
I think it’s one of the best things I have ever done for her as a person, in a sense, because it was something I could do to satisfy her more abstract world of pleasure, rather than something for her basic health and safety. Largely because of that, I really wish I had a way to thank the actors, and to convey to them the importance of their actions in Lily’s life (and ours, as her family, delighted in her joy). They must have thought I was a super fangirl, the way I thanked them in person, but it really was a huge, huge deal for her, and will be every time she hears the recording. I’ve thought about emailing Mr. Wheaton again, and asking him to pass along my note to the other actors, since he mentions talking to them on his blog, but I feel shy about doing that, and sort of curl up in the warmth of remembering Lily’s reaction. (I do realize that, well, he may get a pingback from the link to his blog and, uh, notice this entry, and if he does – THANK YOU! And if he doesn’t, now you all know how cool he is, because he helped a total stranger do something awesome.)
Of course, I stayed on the mailing list for the con and heard that two other TNG actors will be appearing there this year, and I’m now thousands of miles away and will miss it (I’m not a poor grad student anymore but I ain’t rich). Part of me still dreams about going, though, to get more magic for Lily. Maybe someday…at a con a little closer. 🙂