Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 3, 2017

Learning to Lead the Starfleet Way

In which I discuss why I am taking this class.


I was always a Mr. Spock kind of girl.


In my usual backwards fashion, the first original series Star Trek I remember being truly compelled by is a scene towards the end of Star Trek VI. In the DVD commentary the mind-meld between Captain Spock and Lieutenant Valeris is described as “erotic.” This is a serious under-description. A mind-meld without permission is akin to rape, and I hesitate to describe such a scenario using any terms that make it sound appealing. However, this is a scene about betrayal and loss in which each character feels bereft and alone despite a profound intimacy which is outside human experience entirely, and is therefore only available in science fiction. Mr. Spock sets aside this deeply personal pain in favor of the many lives that will be preserved because of the knowledge he will gain; he sets aside Valeris’s pain and violation for the same reason. Acting in this scene, Leonard Nimoy and Kim Cattrall convey a remarkable depth of feeling in very few words; even though I was a little girl seeing this scene — Wikipedia tells me the film was released in 1991, and I came across my father watching it on HBO, probably in 1992 or -3, when I was ten or eleven — I was aware that Spock knew how much pain this would cause Valeris, and how he was going to invade her mind anyway, and correspondingly aware that Valeris knew how much pain would be inflicted, and that she was going to deny him the knowledge any other way — that while Spock has no thought of revenge here, Valeris in a sense daring him — I have what you need, how much are you willing to hurt me to get it?.  The violation is not erotic, but the unspoken interplay of self- and other-knowledge, the trade of power, and the mutual resistance and submission has something in common with some BDSM scenes. I sat down and watched the last half hour or so of the movie. I was not ignorant of Star Trek before this; I was raised in a Trekkie household and I knew who these characters were. But I had never paid attention in the same way before. I was hooked.


It was hard for an eleven-year-old girl to get hooked on something like Star Trek in 1992. Of course my family were devotees of TNG, but TOS was very sparse – later in the ‘90s, there was a fan-favorites marathon about once a year, and one summer one of the networks showed episodes on weekday evenings – but this was long before streaming access to episodes. It would be several more years before I got an Internet connection, and while AOL’s Star Trek chat room became my internet home, there was not a lot of opportunity for me to explore that world as fully as I would have liked.


Enter the Trek novel. Our library had several, and I’m fairly certain I read them all. This did not compare to being taken by my grandfather to the Barnes & Noble on Central Ave in Westchester Co., NY. We had nothing like it in my small hometown; to me a bookstore of that size seemed like paradise. I gravitated toward the science fiction section – it would still be years before YA ballooned to its current volume, and by the time I was twelve I was mostly reading in the genres of adult fiction due to paucity of options – and of course, I found the Trek novels. Better still, one of my favorite authors – Diane Duane’s first Young Wizards book was in my library’s juvenile section, her second in the tiny YA area – had written two of them! (She’s still writing these wonderful stories, and I’m still reading them, but I digress.) My grandfather bought them both for me, when I said I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. I still love them both, and I am in fact on my second copy of My Enemy, My Ally, but the one I want to tell you about is The Wounded Sky.


In this novel, a device, developed by alien physicist K’tl’k, that is installed in the Enterprise in order to carry it across the great distances involved in inter-galactic travel. The “creative physics” involved in this form of transport tears a hole in the fabric of space time, and the next-door universe begins leaking in to our own. This new universe lacks entropy, and therefore time, and if the Enterprise can’t repair the damage, everything in both universes will be destroyed. Traveling to the heart of the singularity, the lack of entropy causes the crew to appear to each other as their truest inner selves. Spock is described in terms of curiosity and loyalty, of deep feelings that are mastered relentlessly, of spending his life in the cause of scientific discovery and of giving those discoveries away.


I wanted to be Mr. Spock when I grew up.


Curiosity I was already good at. Mastering one’s emotions? I was told frequently as a child that I was “too sensitive;” mastering that sounded pretty good. And loyalty to a leader and burning oneself up in a cause, especially the cause of science – oh, how I wanted that. In many ways I still do.




Loyalty only works as a life strategy if you find someone or something worth being that loyal to. I failed to find a Captain Kirk; and in the meantime I stayed loyal to an academic advisor – there I went, pursuing science – beyond the point where he, experiencing the onset of dementia, became emotionally abusive. In the process, I neglected my emotional life, eventually needing medication, therapy, and a brief hospitalization, because of the depression that is a not-unpredictable consequence of high stress, social isolation, and emotional abuse. (I am six years out from finishing my PhD, and still healing; I expect to spend ten years fixing the damage that ten years of graduate school did to my psyche, and the rest of my life fixing all the damage that life has inflicted before and since, as ongoing psychological medicine is a much sounder strategy than driving myself into a collapse every decade or so.) Science itself turns out to be a field as touched by politics and money as any other, and I eventually moved out of academic science, though I continued – continue – to admire Mr. Spock and have been known to ask myself, “What would Spock do?” when facing a difficult situation at work.


Then I had a dream.


I perceived myself to be about 17 in this dream; certainly I felt myself to be young and subject to teaching. The teacher in my dream was cast as Patrick Stewart; I suppose you could argue for an X-Men connection, but I don’t have the same emotional connection with X-Men as I do with Star Trek, and anyway, it’s my dream. Also, I had been watching some TNG in the evening, about 20 minutes’ worth.


Dream-Picard was teaching me something. There was a sportive element to it, like open-air swimming in some sort of suspension frame, or aerial Pilates, if there is such a thing. There may be something significant in the fact that I was learning something physical, as such things tend to be difficult for me relative to subjects that can be learned through reading and writing, and with the chronic physical illness that is the other legacy of toxic stress, I find myself missing more sessions than I like of any workouts or personal training I am attempting. In any case, I was honored and anxious by being picked out/accepted to learn this art, and dream-Picard in fact sought out an additional teacher for me. This teacher came in all obsequious and honored, that he was asked to teach by the great dream-Picard, but he was for some reason offended by me, or at the least, disappointed that I was to be his pupil, and not dream-Picard himself. He stormed off, and dream-Picard said, never mind, he would teach me himself.


Two things here seem to resonate with me. The first is disappointment. And I think this will be familiar to many with depression and perhaps other illnesses – I am convinced, or at the least, always suspicious, that I am a disappointment. I expect that I am a disappointment to my parents (who as far as I know have never given me reason to think this; I believe it to be a tendency endogenous to my makeup). I spent about six years convinced, with evidence, that I was a disappointment to my advisor, and as one’s advisor is more or less the sole gatekeeper of one’s academic future, this made me feel like I was a disappointment both to myself and to the entirety of SCIENCE as well. In work situations to this day, I generally worry about disappointing my boss, and can find corrections hard to take if my feelings of disappointing get in front of the need to do the work, and the fact that my boss ultimately bears the responsibility for the work I put out in to the company. (I worry much less about disappointment when I am among equals; it’s almost absent from my relationship with my husband, and he and I have learned to communicate well about what’s left, along with our other foibles.) The thing that is strikingly clear about this dream situation, though, is that while the prospective teacher was disappointed by me, I hadn’t done anything. The disappointment was all his own, and based on his unrealistic expectations of the situation, compounded by his own arrogance.


To put it short, I was not responsible for his disappointment. He was.


The second is that, I think I have something to learn from Captain Picard. Picard is a great leader, and I’ve been thinking more about wanting to learn leadership skills. There’s a certain amount of that curriculum that could have been available to me in various forms at my last job, but the corporate leadership curriculum seems unsatisfying to me. It is by turns too touchy-feely and too coldly corporate; it’s either consoling me for not being a manager yet or assuming that I am one, or at the least, want to be one. But ST:TNG will provide me with seven seasons of leadership lessons, neatly packaged. And it seems to be that what I have been trying to learn from Star Trek, from Mr. Spock, for more than twenty years is how to be a follower. I do that pretty well, when I have someone worth following. But I don’t always have someone worth following, and when it comes to my career, my ambitions are really not defined by the corporate ladder, and when it comes to my personal life, I take a peer-partnership model anyway as it suits me and my husband and my metamour. (Though it occurs to me my husband is one of the very few people I know worthy of loyalty like Mr. Spock’s…)


So I’ve really written three pages to say that I’m going to be embarking on a TNG rewatch specifically looking to learn leadership skills from Captain Picard. You are invited to follow my curriculum. Class is better with classmates, don’t you think?



  1. Well done! Looking forward to it! (Or is that TEN-Forward to it?) 😁

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