Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy... Something

A few years ago, my friends made these Data valentines, using quotes from the show, and I've been thinking about them ever since, wishing I had a full set to frame and hang up.

Hand-printed, stamped and glittered by Ampersand Dagger,
a collaboration by Serenity Ibsen and Dominic De Venuta.

I don't really like adult Valentine's Day, because someone always seems to feel bad about it - being single when all of your friends are paired off; being alone because your sweetheart has died or divorced you, or you've recently broken up; being upset because you went to a lot of trouble to show someone you care about them, and your partner shrugged and did nothing, or just plain forgot.

The version of this holiday that I do like is the one that takes place around second-grade (age 8 or thereabouts). You make little mailboxes out of shoe boxes and construction paper, and all lessons are suspended for the afternoon so your class can have a party. Somebody's mother brings punch and cupcakes. And everybody passes out cheap cardboard "cards" with their favorite cartoon characters on them. Remember how exciting it was when they came in those little envelopes and they were lumpy, so you knew that they contained a few of those little Conversation Hearts? They didn't taste very good, but you were stoked all the same.

Today's valentines are a bit more savvy. They're designed to come with a bonus prize (often a lollipop of some kind), and come in little kits so you can put them together easily. I've seen ones with pencils as well, and yesterday I spotted a set that came with sticky window clings in the shapes of bugs. (For the record, I like to give stickers, because nobody has has a food allergy to those, and they don't have to be carefully rationed to diabetic kids.) The thing is, even though the valentines themselves have changed slightly, the idea remains the same: everybody is included. Yes, you have to give a valentine to that kid that you don't like, because his name is on the class list. But that's not the only reason why. You don't know that kid, frankly. Maybe he appears to have tons of friends and you think he has it all together, but he secretly doesn't. Maybe he has no friends. maybe his home life sucks. Maybe those goofy little cards really mean something to him, and the fact that he got one from every kid in the class makes him feel good.

I'm going to tell you a story about a time that Lady Archon failed hard at Valentine's Day. It was the sixth grade, and we would all be going to junior high the next year, so you know that Second-Grade Valentine's Day was going to vanish with the wind that next year. This would be our last with the tiny cards and the punch and cupcakes and valentine mailboxes. The party was going about as you'd expect, with the cupcakes and everybody opening valentines and collecting those little heart candies. A kid was walking around with a waste-paper basket, collecting the discarded envelopes, and while I typically change names to protect people, I don't mind telling you that this kid's name was Brad. I did not like Brad, and he did not appear to like me. I tried to stay away from him, because this kid was a grade-A dick. He had something nasty to say to everybody. I wasn't really paying attention to who was holding the trash can, and I made this terrible executive decision: I tossed a valentine in the trash.
I had been going back and forth about doing it, and finally made the decision as Brad stood next to my desk with that trash can. The valentine was from a ginger kid that I had grown up with, and was friendly with, but we were not necessarily friends. The valentines he had selected that year were from a television show that I didn't care about, and in the part of my brain where logic should not triumph, logic triumphed, I justified my action with a Spock-like excuse: all of these valentines would be going into the trash over the next few days, anyway, so why not start culling now? But here's why my decision was a crappy one - I only tossed the ginger kid's valentine. No one else's card met the same fate. I was a bad friend. 
Guess who was paying attention? That dick Brad. He'd watched what I'd done, and secretly removed the card from the trash so that when he made it across the room to what I can only describe as his Dick Clique, he was able to show them what happened, and then yell loud enough for the whole room to hear, "Lady Archon, how come your valentine from Ginger Kid is in the trash?"
I stumbled across the room to take it back, loudly saying something to the effect of, "Oh? How did that get in there?" and being really angry with Brad. I mean, he could have come to me and told me to my face that I was doing this douchey thing, but no. He decided to make it into an event, and embarrass me.

But as crappy as his actions were, mine were worse. I had excluded Ginger Kid from Second-Grade Valentine's Day, the last we would get, and that was inexcusable.
Why had I done it?
Was it because his valentines featured a show I didn't care about?
My best friend's valentines probably featured a show I didn't care about, either.
Was it because he wasn't well-liked, due to his being socially awkward?
I was socially awkward. Hell, at twelve, we were all socially awkward.
Was his valentine worth less than the other kids' in my class? Certainly I appreciated the valentine from my BFF more, because he was my BFF. But what about the ones from the popular girls, whose confidence I secretly admired, but whose attitudes I despised? Their offerings did not go into the trash on Day One, like Ginger Kid's.
And while I was embarrassed and angry at what Brad the Dick had done, and I felt bad about what I had done, notice who I wasn't thinking about? Ginger Kid. To this day, I have no idea what his reaction to the situation was. I have no idea if he even took notice. He might have been looking at his valentines or enjoying that cupcake, engrossed in his activities and not paying attention to my plight. Because, after all, this was about twelve-year-old me and my problems. Me, me, me.

The thing is, it's not about me, me, me. Valentines come in a little box, and they all come with one theme, so there really is no way to customize those cards to the recipient's taste, unless you buy a box for each individual, and who is going to do that? No, the cards a person buys reflects their own preferences. Whether you think so or not, a valentine given to someone else by you is representative of yourself. "Here is something to say that I care about you, and you should think about me when you open it." Each time you sit and leaf through a pile of small flimsy valentines, it's like looking at a bit of each person who gifted them to you.

Fast forward decades later, and I'm attending Prestigious Art School in Beautiful Downtown [City]. Every day, I go across the street to [Large Chain Grocery Store] to buy my snacks for the day, sporting my art school hoodie and my Tom Baker-length Gryffindor scarf. I use the self-checkout most days (the BFF of the introvert). That particular Valentine's Day, I was checking out with my string cheese or whatever, and I see the self-checkout attendant approaching me, even though my register thing isn't going full-Landru (as they are wont to do).
"I bought my daughter a box of Harry Potter valentines," she says, "and I see you in here every day in that scarf, and I always look forward to seeing you. I thought you might appreciate this."
And she hands me a Second-Grade valentine with Harry, Ron, and Hermione on it.
I was so stoked to get that valentine. It wasn't filled out or anything, because she didn't know me. I was just some girl in an HP scarf, and she thought I was neat enough to give me a valentine. In turn, that made me feel neat enough to get a valentine.
Did I throw it away on my way out of the store? Nope. Not even the next day. I carried it around in my purse for months until it fell apart. And I felt good every time I saw it in there. Some stranger just decided to give me a valentine to be nice. She got something out of the giving, and I got something out of the receiving. It's a pretty awesome thing.

So what does Second-Grade Valentine's Day have to do with Star Trek?
But also, everything.
Star Trek, like Second-Grade Valentine's Day, is inclusionary. Black, white, Asian, differently-abled - everybody gets to go on the ship and have adventures in space. It's not just for a few select people. Everybody gets to participate and do a job and work together as a team to make everything better for everyone else.
What's more, the stories I included here can be illustrated by two very important Star Trek characters. Spock and Data (as well as Odo and Seven of Nine) are "mirrors of the human condition" and are specifically placed amongst the ranks of the main characters so that we as a species might watch the show and reflect on own thoughts and feelings on the matters discussed, via these people. Each has their own struggle to grapple with week after week in conjunction with their humanity. Spock, as a half-human, must figure out how to integrate his two halves while remaining true to himself as a whole. Data strives to be human despite his limitations of not being able (at first) to process emotions or understand the more irrational parts of human nature.
Twelve-year-old me tried to Spock the hell out of that situation, going so far as to try to legitimize my crappy behavior with logic that didn't add up. I deserve a nasty lecture from Bones, and a Rand Face.

"That was super-shitty of you, Lady Archon."
I agree, Rand. I agree.

In the second story, my benevolent self-checkout girl became the embodiment of Data, willing to give a valentine to a stranger simply because she noticed and appreciated some aspect of that other person. It's that notice and appreciation that does wonders for another human being, even in small amounts. Both Spock and Data might have found this phenomenon worth studying, but for different reason. Spock might ask "why was this done?" while Data would be looking for "how might I achieve this?" At one point in TNG, Leonard Nimoy guest-stars as Spock, and the two characters have an interesting discussion comparing and contrasting their takes on the matter of humans and how to deal with them. It's not only a fascinating discussion between the characters, but a great look at two actors who have clearly studied those characters and determined how they should be best played.

Neither Data nor Spock's reaction is good, bad, or better than the other, and both have their places in the universe, but Data's is more situation-appropriate. For me, at least. My advice to myself? Dial down the Vulcan, and dial up the android. Notice others, but in a less clinical way. Understand how they function in the world, what makes them tick, what characteristics you admire in them. Then let them know.

A few years ago, I decided to emulate Self-Checkout Girl. I decided that I would give Second-Grade Valentines to my adult friends. I never quite thought of it in time, except this year. I put out the call two weeks early: would any of my grown-up friends like a cheap, little kid valentine in the mail? I got a number of responses, and though it might be suspected that I would get more females than males, the opposite was true: twice as many males than females needed to hear that someone cared. Sure, I got some responses along the lines of, "Sounds fun! Send me one!" but I also got a few that said "going through a rough time, could use something nice like that." One recipient was still reeling from a friend's suicide. Another had just lost her long-time companion. The thank-yous have been trickling in as the mail has arrived. A kitten sticker or a Spiderman card cannot mend a broken heart, but for one moment, they each got a small sigh of relief. 
Somebody appreciates that I exist.
Somebody cares.
And it was nice to provide that.
Next year, I will be buying more valentines.
Because on Second-Grade Valentine's Day, everybody gets to participate.

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