For the last couple of months, Star Trek: Picard had been a Friday staple. It was bad to a mediocre first season with only a handful of good bits, but Picard is Picard and Trek is Trek so it does keep one going. Trek and its almost naive utopianism without utopia and the possibility of resistance to the dystopian modes of thinking that condition the everyday life, is like medicine. When one feels like one has nothing, is nothing, and life has no meaning or purpose, the promise of brighter better futures for all (the “all” is more important than the “I”) gets one over those foggy times when one can’t be sure of those possibilities.
Last time, when I hit a similar kind of a dystopian phase personally, I binged all seasons of TNG and DS9. It was also during the experience of a similar kind of a “lockdown” but it was back in the US. I didn’t go out for almost a month as well. It didn’t help that I was living in a big, empty, and atmospheric house on which memories, sadness, and mental illness hung in the air like a cloud. The landlord, who lived on the premises downstairs, had left the place to spend the season with his friends and family back in China. Everywhere in the house, amidst the general state of neglect and chaos, were memories of the landlord’s ex-wife, divorced many years ago. Wedding photos and smiling photos of her and them as a couple – even a photo and wedding card as a fridge magnet, her books and papers (he never said her name, but mentioned more than once that she was Chomsky’s student), food in the freezer that was from a different era but wasn’t eaten or thrown out because it belonged to her, and broken machines from a broken marriage. The best memories of his were 20 years old, though he was but in his 50s. He looked much older though as he was also a recovering paralytic, and spoke haltingly. Obsessiveness with the past is deadly both to oneself and those around, and it blocks you from seeing the future. He was an interesting man for sure, but he wasn’t a nice man. When I left the place, right after he returned from his vacation, we parted on bitter terms.
And then there was the emptiness all around. All the company I had was just two owls that were up on the roof. And I saw them rarely even if I heard them quite frequently. All the neighbours were absent as well, there was no University office to go to (had no key and no chance of getting one anytime soon), nobody I really knew in town, and in any case, there weren’t that many people. Or maybe they were but elsewhere. Southern California can be hostile if you don’t have a car. Places only become truly empty when you don’t have friends and family around. But I had my laptop and Trek.
I was surviving on a diet of raw ruccola and spinach leaves, orange juice, milk, and the occasionally boiled spaghetti with salt and ketchup. My supplies were left outside the house from day to day. But Trek kept it together. Because Trek, the best of it anyway, does that. So I binged.
I didn’t read or write a single page in that lockdown, even though I realised later my brain was writing volumes, just not on paper. The first time I stepped out of the house was on my birthday when a friend and client of my dad based in Arizona drove five hours to California to take me out. It was a kind act from a kind man. We saw the Watts Towers in LA, forged by one man, Sabato “Simon” Rodia, over 33 years(!). Rodia was a poor immigrant from Italy who had a day job as a construction and tile worker. The work is situated in a kind of an odd location, a place which shows clear signs of impoverishment. It certainly was not a Hollywoodesque dream, and it certainly was not easy to find due to confusing street signs. So when I saw the towers, they caught me off-guard, because I was not prepared to suddenly come face to face with such magnificence. I had only found it on Atlas Obscura looking for oddball things see in LA. Rodia constructed these towers out of bits and pieces of society’s trash: broken glass, throwaway wiring, broken pottery, ceramics, seashells and the like. He was an outsider, as much to society as to art, and the work showed the raw power and majesty of that outsider dream. That work wasn’t rule-bound. The work wasn’t even interested in the rules or trying to break rules. It made its own rules as only an outsider could have dreamt. It was the other side of the decay and chaos of the house I was in. It didn’t bury itself in the past. It turned it into a vision of the future. When I came out of those towers, I knew I had changed. Just on the other side of that month of depression came six ridiculously productive months, good and even great friendships new and old, and a burst of energy. The energy that hasn’t run out even in five years. And I know it won’t now.
Things were bad at a personal level then, which is not the case any more. Yet everything still seems like it’s falling apart. The situation in India, here in Norway, in the US. Situation everywhere. Family, friends. Friends and people everywhere losing jobs. Friends suffering from depression and unable to cope. Worried sleeplessness. I know there’s a lot to do, deadlines to meet and whatnot, but that’s not for now. Above everything else, this is a chance to see. To rethink. To become once again an outsider to comfort zones, to challenge thoughts and beliefs. To imagine an us instead of an I, ours instead of mine. Our future. Because keeping faith in the future is a continuing mission. Seeking out strange new worlds. Going where no one has gone before.