About Me

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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why I Love Science Fiction TV

Of all the arts I enjoy, movies and rock music being at the top of that list, I get the most unique and unusual delight from watching science fiction on television. TV sci-fi shows are at the top of my list of things I probably shouldn't be spending so much time on, along with playing on Facebook and eating chocolate chip cookies.

My kids and I polished off the entire 10 year run of Stargate: SG1 on DVD (which we own) last year, and that was on the heals of catching up on all the episodes of Battlestar Galactica (own). Previous years have seen us breezing through the entire seven-year run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (own). Of course, I have seen every episode of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation and many episdodes of the other Trek franchises. My son and I are finishing up the first season of Stargate: Atlantis (own), the subsequent seasons of which I will be Netflixing.

Add to that list the new series, Caprica, which just debuted on the Sci-Fi channel on cable and which brings me to the motivation for this blog entry. While watching Caprica, I have been salivating over the previews and promotions for other Sci-Fi (or SyFy as they now prefer) "original" offerings that are currently on hiatus but will be coming back, specifically Eureka and Warehouse 13. SyFy also runs Doctor Who. And if you have never encountered the Doctor, well, you really do not know what you are missing.

I don't think I'm your typical science fiction fan. I have read a few sci-fi classics (can't recommend "Stranger in a Strange Land" enough). I have read almost everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote and consider him one of my earliest and most important influences, and Michael Crichton is also on my list of best reads ever. I'm no slouch when it comes to sci-fi movies either (you have to see "Brother from Another Planet"). Still, I've never thought of myself as a sci-fi nerd. I totally dig NCIS, for example.

But when I say that the promos for Eureka got my heart racing, I'm not exaggerating.

Which brings me to my point: I love a good dose of "what if" in the stories I read or watch. I also like a good mystery and an upbeat ending (with said mystery solved). Most of my favorite sci-fi stories have involved both. Doctor Who, for example, is always trying to figure something out (and it usually results in saving the known universe). Jean Luc Picard, in stark contrast to his counterpart James T. Kirk, uses the muscles in his brain more than the ones in his arms (yeah, I know, no muscles in the brain, it's a metaphor, get over it).

I also tend to like stories that teach us something, or reinforce something, about human behavior and the importance of doing the right thing. So Captain Kirk will always be a hero, as will Ian in the Jurassic Park franchise ("Life finds a way").

The sci-fi I gravitate towards, then, captures all of these elements. Thus, while I could appreciate Battlestar G, I wouldn't put it at the top of my list. Too dark. Eureka, on the other hand, is pure delight. Lots of really smart, nerdy scientists working on ideas that will probably never come to fruition in my lifetime, but which seem to pretty consistently get their creators in trouble. And who saves them? The dumb sheriff who may not know the difference between string theory and single-stream recycling (they sound alike!!), but he saves their asses every single time, and sometimes he saves the planet from destruction too. And they love him for it. In fact, they depend on him saving them, which leads them to even greater risk-taking. I love the characters (the brave, dumb sheriff; his exuberant, ninja sidekick who is also beautiful; the thoughtful, serious scientist-leader who is also a mom; the list goes on). I also love that their connections to each other is also what saves them.

And I love the gadgets, because that's where the "what if" comes in. As a culture, we Americans love to ask "what if." We love crazy ideas. We love heroes, both the military and the scientific kinds. We love risk-takers, especially when they succeed. We also like to know that the future holds greater promise than the present. Right now, we face an uncertain future, and our leaders keep disappointing us. But in the world of science fiction TV, the leaders get it right, and the heroes are us. What could be more fun to watch.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Parenting Life

As parents, we devote 18 years of our lives to one goal: Getting our child(ren) into college. We work hard at it. We investigate and select the best preschools. We choose a dwelling for our household on the basis of how the neighborhood schools will treat our child (or we live where we want and spend a fortune on private school tuition). We sign them up for soccer and ballet and scouts and then worry if we've over-scheduled them. We fight with teachers. We wrestle with mathematics homework we don't really understand. We miss movies we'd like to see because they need us home with them. We advocate for them. We encourage them. We put their needs above our own.

And then one day we realize the fruits of our labor. They leave home to go to college. And we beg them to come back.

Don't deny it. We all do it. Many years ago, my mother dropped me off at college, helped me move my possessions into my room, and then stood there weeping, annoyed at herself because she'd sworn she wouldn't. She rushed herself and my brothers out of my dorm room, blubbering the whole way, and then waved at me from the truck she'd borrowed from my grandfather, parked in the unloading zone seven floors below, and I waved back, never even beginning to fathom that I would repeat her performance just 30 short years later.

I was the first in my family to go to college, so my mother had no real role models for what she was about to experience. She had no way of knowing that sending me to college and thrusting me into the middle class would create a divide between us that we would spend the rest of her life trying to understand and bridge.

What she did know was that college was my ticket out of poverty and toward independence. So she persevered. She started prepping me for college before I even started kindergarten. We did numbers and letters on a chalk board, and she coached me: "Beth, you are going to college so you will never have to be dependent on a man."

Years later, my middle class existence firmly in place, I realize I have done much the same thing with my own two children, one of whom was successfully admitted to an elite college three years ago and is now a junior at Wesleyan. The other is a high school junior trying to pass AP Gov while figuring out majors and colleges and prepping for college entrance exams and all that jazz. The parent-child divide, however, is no less intense. The older one plans to move to Los Angeles after graduation to make her mark in films, and the younger one just slammed his door at me when I told him he could not go to South America alone over summer break. The words are different, but the tune is the same.

I cried today after I waved goodbye to my daughter, who is driving herself back to school, a two-day drive from St. Louis to Connecticut, during which I will be existing on coffee and nerves. Her college experience is very different from mine. I attended a public university, and she goes to one of the most expensive private schools on the planet. We share a love of movies, which we watch on Netflix with lots of interruptions to discuss acting, dialogue, set design, and whatever. It would drive my mother nuts. Still, her politics are way to the left of mine, which are already fairly left-leaning, and I can hear "you just don't understand me" in her tone when we disagree.

My son is a swimmer and an absent-minded student. I remember the day I realized that he did not share my intellectual curiosity or my love of learning for learning's sake. His motto, "why do I need to learn this - I'm never going to use it," still brings tears of frustration to my eyes. Still, he is good at math and enjoys astronomy, and did I mention he swims miles every day? I could never do that, but I love to watch him do it. Our divide exists, but it is not as deep as our love.

And that is essentially what my mother taught me before she died. We want our children to do better than us, to have better lives. The test of our success is theirs. Sometimes their success takes them away from us for a while, but if we do it right, if they know we love them, they will always come back.