Saturday, June 11, 2011

Battlestar Galactica

Since I sprained my ankle a handful of weeks ago, I've been limited in my usual enjoyment of outdoor activities this time of year. Since I can't climb I almost welcome the heat wave, since it seems here to stay anyway, and can only hope it kills all my grass soon so I don't have to keep mowing it.

To occupy the time in a truly deadbeat and un-productive fashion, I signed up for Netflix--only to discover that the franchise doesn't give a damn about linux users and works pretty terribly on at least one windows machine as well, but did finally get it to work patchily (but not on linux)-- and have spent the past few weeks going through the entire re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, which I'd only caught late Friday-night glimpses of before.  

I am a very picky consumer of television, and a pretty picky consumer of science-fiction as well, yet this is a refreshing dose of my kind of story.  I'm not finished yet, and from what I read of the plot summary it sounds like it does sort of "jump the shark" a bit at the end, but even if it does, the whole effort is still incredible.

The premise comes from the original version of the show with some distinct twists:  robots created by humans have decided that they are in fact far superior to humans and launch a campaign to completely wipe out humanity.  In a strange twist, the robots are religious, believing that it is God who deems them less murderous and more deserving than humans, and has thus tasked them with our destruction.  The robots, called Cylons, almost succeed, using nuclear weapons to destroy most of the human population on twelve colonized planets.  Only a scattered 50,000 humans survive on a fleet of ships that just happened to be in space at the time of the attacks, and that by faster-than-light "jumping" to a pre-arranged new set of coordinates every time the robots come after them.  The only aspect of the human military left is a retired old "battlestar" space ship, similar in function to a modern air-craft carrier, and the only aspect of the pre-existing government is the Secretary of Education who had been 43rd in the line of succession to the Presidency.  The President and the commander of the Battlestar Galactica struggle to defend the survivors and bring them to a home of hope and legend that some don't even believe exists:  Earth.

The first twist comes when we learn that Cylons have been experimenting with biological engineering and have created several models that appear human, even under intense medical examination, and those human-seeming robots are infiltrating the human fleet.  Anyone could turn out to be the enemy.  One of the main characters in fact does, although tragically she has been programmed to think she is just as human as anyone else.

A substantial change in the re-imagined series and that had many fans of the 1970's version fuming is the main thing that makes the show work so well:  two of the all-male-club heroes were written as women this time around, and not just minor characters for the sake of political correctness, either.  As a female sci-fi lover, my response is "about 'fracking' time."  Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica showcases the strength and vulnerability of characters both male and female alike, how men and women work together on strong teams in a truly co-ed culture, that leaves behind all together so many of the typical troupes about women who do masculine things--making them norms, not exceptions, and in the process making  designations like masculine and feminine far less important than simple humanity.    The produces of the show got that interesting drama can take place by virtue of people being people.  There is inter-gender drama and also romance, but it is nuanced and based on the personalities of the characters involved, not on Woman-ness in conflict with Man-ness.  (Yeah, there is that wearying super-sexy Cylon woman hallucinated into being by a disgustingly weak quasi-antagonist main character, but even if that was dreamed up for the visual gratification of male fans, she has a story-central explanation and is herself quite nuanced.) Everyone, even the minor ship-repair-women, ends up being "three-dimensional," and that is so amazingly refreshing. 

Also refreshing is that the show isn't afraid to have an intricate plot.  Plotting like how a novel is plotted, which story arcs that grow and change and involve keeping up with what happened in what order.  That made the show hard to watch while it was airing, because if you missed one show, you were perpetually lost, but makes it as addictive when watching now as reading a good book.

I have my points of criticism:  sometimes individual episodes get a little hokey, as science fiction often does, and the evolving elements of mysticism/prophecy are starting to feel a little bit like cheating narrative ("Who are the Final Five Cylons! Who will be The Chosen One to look upon Their faces!") and it sort of pisses me off that the sniveling, weak, narcissistic hallucinating antagonist I mentioned earlier does seem to be turning out to be the chosen instrument of a some higher power. Also, (minor spoiler alert) it gradually dawns on you that this Earth we are looking so desperately to find is not the original home of humanity that we've been away from so long that we've forgotten about, it is actually supposed to be our own planet some many millennia ago.  That does stay self-consistent throughout the entire plot, and is consistent with some of the central themes ("all this has happened before, and all this will happen again"), but it is a little technically jarring that our supposed ancestors would dress, look, speak, write, and have recognizably identical technology such as telephones and dry erase boards, to modern Americans, the only spoken differences being that some of them have British accents, and they use the swear-word "frack" instead of our own version.

A Place of Better Performance

I'm short.  I'm female.  I am naturally a reserved person and an introvert,  thus to me listening, observing, and thinking about a situation involving other people are important activities to undergo before reacting. 

As someone short and female and also as someone who seems to look younger than I really am, I'm not the first person to receive notice in a group unless I step forward and demand attention. As an introspective and reserved person, stepping forward and demanding attention or taking control of a conversation is not my first inclination.

I have found that I can do it when I choose to; however. I'm not entirely sure what changes, except that I understand my objective and I communicate what I need to clearly, I know how to project my voice so that people hear me without me having to yell.  I even find I react to things differently while in this "zone:"  while my normal inclination would be to ponder and think through the best choice when encountering the unexpected, I find I am reasonably able to make quick decisions. 

The biggest difference though, is that in this zone I feel fully present in the role, and am truly confident.  No background worrying or fretting or considering my performance or my competence or just how I am coming off.  I am evaluating those things for effectiveness in the moment, but not in the apprehensive kind of way that I normally do, and not even particularly consciously at all.

I have learned to do this in situations when I need to command attention, which has mostly been in front of a group, through a combination of theater training, occasionally-brutal summer camp counselor experience, ropes course facilitator experience and my experience giving interpretive programs as a park ranger intern.

Still, all those natural factors make me an absolutely non-ideal candidate for a sales assignment, especially considering I am a young woman selling a product/service in a traditionally "good ole boys'" world, especially considering I am not particular motivated by the prospect of just trying to convince people to give me their money.  I care much more about the theoretical geeky details of the insulation than whether this person buys their insulation from company A or company B but oh wait I work for company A so I'd better represent them.

When I re-cast the experience as a personal challenge:  I know this is not what I care about nor is it my skill set, but I want to do the best I can and learn about how this unfamiliar set of skills is used, then I at least don't mind trying.  Usually afterward I find I did about a zillion things wrong and still came off as someone with little experience, because I am a person with little experience, for now.  I'm getting better about looking at each building like a problem to be solved, trying to provide the best solution based on the needs of the building and on the needs of the customer, and summoning "the zone" to give me the power to go forward and ask questions and command respect through feeling competent. This is not the largest part of my job and it is hopefully not a permanent part, but for now I absorb the experience from an extremely intellectual standpoint, and being able to do that is in some ways a product of being able to make a choice to be in a more confident state.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Effective Communication

Today at work, a small miscommunication was handled by an entire chain of people yelling at people who then went and yelled at someone else, and by the time the "ahh angry" telephone game was done everybody had a slightly different idea of how it was going to be fixed anyway.  Needless to say this was neither intelligent nor productive.