The “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode I reference in this post is “Tapestry,” Season 6 # 15. Many thanks to the wiki Memory Alpha. I get the feeling it will be referenced many more times during the lifetime of this blog.
This is the episode where Captain Picard finds out who he would have become if he’d never been stabbed in the heart. Background: As a young ensign fresh out of Starfleet Academy, Jean-Luc Picard nearly died after a nasty brawl with a Nausicaan, and wound up with an artificial heart.
The omnipotent being Q features prominently in this episode. The story begins with Picard flatlining in sickbay – he and the away team were attacked during a mission. Dr. Crusher can’t seem to save him. Q shows up in Picard’s “afterlife,” and Picard expresses regret over having a fake heart in the first place. That’s all Q needs to hear. In an instant, Picard finds himself back in time, able to make the choice (with the benefit of hindsight) of whether or not to fight the Nausicaan.
Yadda yadda yadda, Picard finds out that if he never had the nearly-fatal brawl as a younger man, he would have never become the distinguished and duty-bound Captain Picard. No, he would have gone on to an uninspiring Starfleet career, a middle-aged junior lieutenant. An assistant astrophysics officer reporting to Worf. In a 24th century equivalent of a 360 review, Counselor Troi and Commander Riker tell him he’s not likely to advance because he “just doesn’t take risks.”
Picard doesn’t like his real-heart fate one bit, and gets Q to restore the timeline.
I’ve been thinking of that middle-aged junior lieutenant a lot lately. I remember how sad that lackluster Picard was. I saw that episode way back when I was in my early twenties. Fresh out of Starfleet myself. (aka The University of Arizona) “That’ll never be me!” I thought then.
Bam. Flash forward to now.
I am the sad Picard. That’s who I’ve become.
Or maybe, who I was in danger of becoming. I am a woman in her mid-forties, who has worked corporate marketing gigs for the past (nearly) 20 years. I possess a fair amount of insight and aptitude, but I’ve leveled out. I could quote Thomas Gray – “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air“ – but I’m way past my blooming stage. Perhaps Gray provides a more apt description for my Tucson years, but that’s a post for another time.
I can’t blame a lack of ambition. Though perhaps some blame could be laid to the iterative, corrosive effects of kowtowing to corporate politics. And unfortunately for me, I don’t have instant access to a member of the Q Continuum to fix it. No – there’s only one being who can stop me from becoming unfulfilled-potential Picard. And I’m that being.
Here’s what happened about five years ago: I had an idea for a story, and I started writing it. It began in fits and starts, and it took a couple of years before I really committed myself to it. The timid Picard is still the wage earner, and the person I have to be most of the time. But when I write, that’s when the Captain comes out.
The fruit of my true-Picard labor is “The Incident Under the Overpass,” a novel I plan to publish next year. I’ve learned a lot through the process. About the focus required to complete a novel. About how difficult it can be to create compelling fiction – to shape something that is inside of you, and make it something outside of you, but not infect it with the hazy ideas and dubious internal monologues that swim continuously in your brain. And about how those moments of clarity – when the focus trumps the hazy dubious soup – about how the clarity can spill over. For those brief moments, life, family, job – the universe and everything – feel a little bit clearer, in unison with whatever story challenge you’ve conquered.
Hopefully, one of the things I’ve learned is how to write something people want to read. But I guess we’ll see after it publishes. I’m not done yet, so if I don’t nail it this time, there’s always stories 2 and 3, and a brand new trilogy beyond that. I can’t not try. Because sad Picard still gnaws in my gut, begging me to break free of Worf’s supervision, and go forth and engage.