At some point, I suppose, it is impossible to disentangle lyricism from embarrassment. That jejune insight brought to you by a recent return to a particular adolescent habit, which I have made partly consciously and partly compulsively over the last few weeks. (Is such an arrangement even possible? Is any intention vitiated the moment a compulsive logic takes over? Is the awkward purity of a compulsion brought to heel when yoked to a driving ego?) The embarrassment is all the more vital for being connected not to shame or to anything subversive - but to a quiet, detailed, hopelessly liberal utopia of interminable democratic imperialism: Star Trek: The Next Generation. Werethere anything in fact abominable about “TNG,” as I am going to force myself to call it for purely masochistic reasons, there might perhaps be some glamour to be derived from retrieving it from one’s past. But no, like a baby picture that serves proof that even the most dignified of individuals was once a whimpering, incontinent doll of chubby flesh, whose only wish was for a maternal breast, TNG reminds me that I was once an unattractive and lonely teenager, obsessive in collecting facts and figures about Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his intrepid band of space adventurers.
How exquisitely humiliating it is to know as much about that group as I do. And not merely the main ones, like the bearded and randy sidekick, or the poignant, creepy, tender robot. No: my sentimental attachment plumbs deeper waters, and encompass the mysterious traveler upon whose fate the boy-pilot’s faith is fixed, and who returns as a mysterious Native stereotype named “Lakanta.” It lights upon the beloved protégée, whose very commitment to the democratic values of the United Federation of Planets eventually moves her to betray it, breaking the artificial heart of her shiny-pated, bergamot-quaffing patron. Upon the sad and bottomy lone clone Hugh, tragically only partially detached from the robot hive mind that promised him (as Communism promised us) that the sublimity of pure function will adequately compensate for the loss of subjective agency, in the act of mechanical brainwashing. These figures and dozens more populate my heart, and rest somewhere near to the positronic matrix of a former Secretary of a school’s Star Trek Appreciation Society.
They have recently returned to me on the basis of a decision, perhaps a rash one, to re-initiate my childhood passion for collecting trading cards associated with TNG. Back in the day, a pack of fifteen cost £2; now, a box of 32 packs costs about $20. Which rather gives the lie to the implied claim that the cards would increase in value, but I never fully believed that anyway - and the financial motives might have quelled an anxiety or two for a minute but, after all, the quest to collect the cards did not derive from commercial motives. There was a romance to it - a lyricism, even. The sense that one could populate one’s deck (one’s binders, one’s drawer, one’s space) with the same mixture of valuable skills and pardonable weaknesses as a Starship Enterprise D. To be able to summon the neurotic but dogged brilliance of a Reg at one moment, and then retire it in favor of the lovable milfiness of a naked Lwaxana in the next moment. (True story: as a teenager I didn’t realize that Dwight Schultz was a different person to Chevy Chase, so similar they looked to my British eye.) I suppose there is something specifically valuable about learning that some personality defects do not render a personnel member entirely use - that depreciated cunning, for example, may be compensated by brute strength; that even Treachery can be used to complete some missions - at the moment in one’s life when one can no longer pretend to be whole, oneself. Or, I couldn’t. I could no longer pretend to be whole.
A few days ago, I realized that by bulk-buying the boxes of packs, I had achieved what my 15 year old self barely dared to dream: I had acquired a complete set of trading cards. There are no more left for me to get. I have duplicates and even triplicates - three Picards, four Deanna Trois, and somehow a total of six cards depicting William T. Riker, the series’ proof that extended the bounds of Western democracy across the stars will not purge us of sexually-predatory middle managers. I want to give these away, but to whom? Surely anyone who cares at all about this dumb card game - and even the company that made the cards disowned the idea some years ago - has gotten Picard by now. There’d be some real poignancy in caring about Star Trek cards for twenty years but never stumping up the (if I remember rightly) $7.50 that a near-mint Picard will set you back on eBay. Anyway if someone is in that position, I’ve got one going spare and you only need to write.
I got into Star Trek cards around the same time I started wearing make-up, and just before I started drinking and the rest of it. Is there a way to scry with these cards, to derive from them some meaning as I might from the tarot? I remove from the packet all the Rare cards (one per packet) of which have triplicate copies. This is the only way I can think of to get a deck of an appropriate size to be read in such a way. I’ve kept two of each in the piles, because the game itself (there is a game) takes two players, so conceivably two Picard cards could be useful at one time, but never a third. So it is the thirds (and fourths, etc.) that have surplus meaning - and I have about 80 of them, at a guess. I light a candle that smells of wood, that Danny and I bought from some cool older lesbians in San Luis Obispo. And I begin the ten-card Celtic Cross draw.
In the first place (representing myself at the present moment) I draw: Anti-Time Anomaly. A card describing the challenge faced in the final episode of TNG. It will kill everyone unless it is destroyed somehow, and no clue is given as to how it might be destroyed. It is The End, that which summons all our force, and everyone to our side. Strangely high-powered for the position of “the present,” then, but strangely (I swear) I knew it would be this just before I drew it.
In the second place (representing a problem), I draw: Temporal Causality Loop. The anti-time anomaly is being inhibited by a looping time structure. “Looping,” incidentally, is the word I have taken to using to describe the peculiar trans temporality in which the pre-transition past is conscribed to make sense of a post-transition present. It is very odd that the two cards I have drawn first are both challenges concerned with the nature of temporality.
In the third place (representing the past, I draw): William T. Riker. There are many of him, so this is not surprising. The fragile masculinity, armed with a trombone. The pardonable mediocrity. The past, indeed.
In the fourth place (representing the future), I draw: Crystalline Entity. A creature that will kill everyone unless Shields > 6, or Music is aboard. William T. Riker has Music (cf the trombone). Perhaps he can come in useful after all, if we ever break through this time loop.
In the fifth place (representing consciousness), I draw: Richard Galen, a crabby-looking elderly man skilled in the craft of archaeology. He has cunning 9, strength 2; all intellect, no embodiment. Consciousness as concerned with the antique and precious, and - “greatest archaeologist of the 24th century” - with greatness.
In the sixth position (representing the unconscious), I draw: Tox Uthat, an artifact that either enables one to destroy a star, or prevents one’s opponent from doing so. Here the unconscious is ambivalent, destructive and preservative - and it is a precious artifact. Like the first and second cards, it betokens massive destruction and its evasion. And it is an artifact of a kind that an archaeologist like Richard Galen might be especially keen to retrieve.
In the seventh position (representing my intention), I draw: Sarek, the father of Spock. Another wise old man, possessed of Diplomacy x 3, the most diplomatic card in the deck. Am I excessively diplomatic with myself? Sarek has a very high integrity (9) and an even higher cunning (10), but again, is frail (strength 3).
In the eighth place (representing external influence on me), I draw - what the actual fuck - another Temporal Causality Loop. The external influence on me IS the problem; and it IS the looping. If I can find a way out of this particular rhythm, I will be able to break free - but then I might destroy time itself. It’s getting difficult to avoid hyperbole here.
In the ninth place (representing my hopes and fears), I draw: Ancient Computer. This card represents antique technology that requires special skill to decipher and manipulate. I do take a certain pride in the antiquity of my craft, and a fear that my delight in being unfashionable will render my scholarship esoteric. A Casaubon fear.
In the tenth place (representing the outcome) I draw: Jean-Luc Picard. A summa of a certain kind - another old man, possessed of archaeology (like Richard Galen), music (like William T. Riker), and 2 x diplomacy (only one less than Sarek). And now I see the point of the Anti-Time Anomaly. It was not a plot to destroy me, but to call me to avow my becoming-Picardness, as indeed (in “All Good Things”) Q uses the anti-time anomaly himself for just that purpose.
It is impossible to escape the maleness of the draw, and I admit to feeling some regret that the outcome isn’t a becoming-Beverly or a becoming-Vash (who would have kept Richard Galen’s double archaeology, too). So there’s that. Perhaps the lesson is that these dreams and memories, the Riker that was and the Picard that is to come, have not left me yet. And I suppose, in the end, it’s impossible to divest embarrassment of lyricism, too.