Friday, May 25, 2012

Star Trek & Theories of Manipulation

I did not grow up watching Star TrekThree's Company, M*A*S*H, The Golden Girls, and Murder, She Wrote were popular viewing in my childhood home, but Star Trek was not. If you say, "Come and knock on our door," I am likely to respond, "We've been waiting for you." Too many of my father's anecdotes still begin, "Hawkeye was talking to Radar..." Just the other night Amanda introduced a story with, "Picture it..." and in our minds' eyes we both saw Sophia Petrillo sitting around the kitchen table with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and a half-eaten cheesecake. Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher was a retired English teacher who went on to write mystery novels. As a teacher with a borderline unhealthy addiction to crime television series and an idea for a novel based on a mysterious event from my childhood, those Sunday evenings spent eating dinner at a card table in front of the TV so as not to miss the latest Cabot Cove whodunit may have had more than a little influence on the trajectory of my life.

Until a couple of years ago, however, I could not have told you anything about the Borg. I was not a science fiction fan. My favorite ten year old is. Because of him, I am now well-versed in the worlds of George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry. On Wednesday, he introduced me to Star Trek: Voyager, after having told me for months that I would like it because the captain is a woman.

Here's a screenshot of my tweet when we began the first episode:


He wasn't wrong.

After we watched the first episode of the series ("Caretaker"), we skipped forward to season four, episode two ("The Gift"). During this episode, one of the crew members (Kes) uses a hyper-mental ability to help Seven of Nine (a Borg drone) return to her natural human state. Upon witnessing this feat, another crew member labels Kes's power "psychokinesis." This struck me because a couple of weeks ago Bea Dazzler sent me the following insert:

"How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand."

My initial response was that she won the award for oddest (not-a-)fortune ever. At the time, I was unsure how psychokinesis was different from telekinesis, though I didn't research it. When I watched Voyager, I thought maybe the difference was that psychokinesis referred to the ability to manipulate others' body parts and telekinesis referred to the ability to manipulate inanimate objects. I told Bea Dazzler my theory and we agreed that either power would be cool. I have since done some (admittedly hurried) research and it appears there is little difference between the two. So much for theories. (But come on, doesn't her not-a-fortune make more sense with my theory? SAY YES.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You Can't Force the Fortune

I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat for dinner tonight but I was hungry enough to know that I needed to make a decision quickly. Instinctively, my mind scrolled through the Chinese restaurants I would pass on my way home from work. Not craving a particular meal but knowing that my usual order at any of the three convenient places I identified would satisfy me, I went in search of a fortune cookie.

I imagined myself digging into a bowl of fortune cookies, selecting the perfect one, unwrapping it, and cracking open the cookie to reveal an insert whose message I would interpret as meaningful to my unique situation or circumstance. At about the same time I had that daydream I also had an intense craving for a baked potato. I skipped the Chinese food and, therefore, the fortune cookie. I couldn't force it. 

My abandoned search for a fortune cookie reminded me of this year's Chinese New Year, which was in January, and which Myrtle and I celebrated, but about which I never blogged.

We went to one of our favorite Austin Chinese restaurants, Chinatown on Mopac, determined to mark the occasion. It's been so long now that I can't be certain about our entrees but I think she ordered the duck. (I recall a conversation about whether or not this was in keeping with the New Year celebration.) After dinner, we opened our cookies.


Myrtle's insert:
"Listen carefully. An upcoming important message may be subtle."

My insert:
That's correct. My fortune cookie had no insert. A not-a-fortune indeed.

When the server returned, I asked him for another cookie. He brought over the entire tub of cookies:

I selected a new cookie.

That's right. No insert in that one, either, at which point Myrtle placed the cookie tub on our table.

I tried one last time:
"Listen carefully. An upcoming important message may be subtle."

If you think this is a second photograph of Myrtle's cookie insert, you are incorrect. It is my third attempt at a fortune. Myrtle and I received identical inserts. (And, not for nothing, but I think that decreases the subtlety of the message.)

You can't force the fortune, people.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tell Me a Story

Do you have a favorite word or phrase? Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn't. But I spent some time with Emily, who will be four years old next month, and that changed. My new favorite phrase is, "Aunt Allison," said in her sweet, questioning voice. If you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for a good story. One of my favorite requests is for someone to "tell me a story," especially at bedtime or when I'm bored. 

Soon after my arrival in SoCal, it was time for Emily to eat dinner. While she ate, I entertained her with stories of my puppies (per her request).

(Giant princess helium balloon- and stories- courtesy of yours truly. Feelings of happiness courtesy of Em. Photo courtesy of her mother.)

Emily asked me to repeat the same three or four stories over and over (and over and over and over). Her mom said this was so she could memorize them and retell them after I left. I think it was because I'm such a great storyteller, but we can agree to disagree. At her mom's urging, I changed some key details in order to see how closely she was paying attention. Let me tell you, nothing gets past that girl. 

[In case you're interested, you can read more about my visit here, here, here, and here.]

One night after Emily and her little brother Everett had gone to bed, her parents and I had Chinese takeout.


Her father received this not-a-fortune, which I read as sarcastic:
"Lucky you. Get out your party clothes."

I mean, really? What's with the periods instead of exclamation points? That insert is just taunting him.

And then there was my cookie insert:
"Cleaning up the past will always clear up the future!"

Obviously, the exclamation point in our batch of fortune cookies was misplaced. 

Nonetheless, it was a timely insert, coming at the very end of my last semester of graduate school. 

Fast forward a week: today I filed my doctoral dissertation, "clearing" the path for my "future" (quotation marks intended to refer to the cookie insert). I had Chinese food tonight as well (if you can't guess what my go-to celebration meal is, you haven't been following this blog long enough or closely enough), and this was my insert:
It's half of an insert, clearly. I'm sure it says something about how an apple a day will keep the doctor away, and "So will an onion." But you know what? It says doctor. And I choose to see that as significant. 

I could have selected the fortune cookie that held this gem (which Amanda got instead, since I chose first):
"Borrow money from pessimists - they don't expect it back."

That might be good advice, but it's not as applicable to my particular situation. 

I've been reflecting on my time with Emily, her younger brother Everett, and her parents (previously featured on the blog herehere, and here). I was only able to spend just over forty-eight hours with them, but we did so many of my (our) favorite things in that time. We spent a day at the beach, ate a lot of hummus, and visited a bookstore/coffeeshop (even if the primary intent was to get coffee, I - or my bank account - deserve a medal for escaping without a new library after the number of times Emily said, "Aunt Allison, I need a new book."). We even survived our first earthquake! And we visited the Newport Pier, as we did on my first trip out to see them soon after their relocation to California almost two years ago.

And I told a lot of stories. I repeated the puppy stories, telling Emily how Penny lost her name tag, what costumes she and The Nickel wear at Halloween and how they act when trick-or-treaters come to the door, and describing all of their various tricks. The night before I left, I read Emily her bedtime story.

Maybe fortune cookie inserts offer us the opportunity to create stories out of future possibilities. Sure, sometimes they're ridiculous and impossible to reconcile with reality, but sometimes - sometimes - they allow us to ponder possibility. In the end, this is the fun of fortune cookie inserts. It's what brings us back to the cookies time and time again, even though we know those little pieces of paper don't hold the answers. They hold the questions, the foundations of any good story.