In conversation with Marina Sirtis, of ST:TNG fame

Anyone born after 1985 should stop reading here and click through to the next article. This won’t interest you. From 1987-1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) was seminal sci-fi TV viewing. Other than Dr. Who and Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series, science didn’t have much of a place on the boob-tube back then. TNG was kind of a big deal — giving hope to our planet through their visions of a united humankind — this space soap opera kicked hedonistic competitors like Dallas and Dynasty to the curb, with holodecks, lasers, hyper-spatial voyage and alien race relations.

Twenty-seven years after the show first aired, Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Michael Dorn (Worf), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Brent Spiner (Data), Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), and John DeLancie (Q), together comprising the main crew of the USS Enterprise (specifically the *ahem* NCC-1701-D) plus their biggest adversary (Q) will appear on stage together as part of this year’s Montreal ComicCon. I had the opportunity to speak with the charming and outspoken Marina Sirtis about haters, sci-fi and being true to yourself.


For the giant nerds, here is the raw audio interview, where you can hear me being nervous, trying to make lame jokes and getting called “Natasha.” Edited text of the interview is below.

How you feel as a woman in the sci-fi world, specifically cast as one of the essential crew members of the USS Enterprise?

Bear in mind that sci-fi, at the end of the day, is action/adventure, so by its very nature it’s more skewed toward boys than girls. After saying that, however, Star Trek has always been at the forefront of [equality]. Nichelle Nicholls from The Original Series, not only was that groundbreaking because she was a woman, and she was on the bridge as a regular character, but she was a black woman, on the bridge, as a regular character in a sci-fi show. [TNG] started in ‘87 and went through to ‘94, and although we were doing a show about the 24th century, the show was actually written by 20th century men. Gates [McFadden] and I were in the caring professions — she was a doctor and I was a psychologist — so it made me sad when Denise [Crosby] quit the show, because she was security chief, and it would have been really cool to have a female security chief. But as the series went on women got more and more important, and in Voyageur we have a female captain. People sometimes forget that because the show is set in the future, they think they are written by future people, but they’re not written by future people, they’re written by people now, with all their hang-ups and all their bigotries and, you know, all the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.

And written for an audience that has all those characteristics as well…

Our geeks are really forward thinking generally. That’s the good thing about the technological age, is that the people who are at the forefront of it are very modern people, and so that’s wonderful.

Let’s talk about the Internet and the Haters. I saw that you’re on Twitter (@marina_sirtis) and you very readily engage with anyone who has something to say.

I find a lot of people in my profession don’t express their opinions about things because they want to be liked; they don’t want to ruffle any feathers. I have never cared about that, to be honest, I’ve never cared what people thought of me. I know who I am, I know what I stand for. And the people who hate me or the people who disagree with me or the people who write vile things to me on Twitter: it makes me laugh. Because I don’t care: these aren’t my friends, these aren’t my family, these aren’t people that I’m going to hang out with. And at the end of the day, I’m with Voltaire: I may not agree with your opinion but I will defend to the death your right to express it, so, um, knock yourself out, really.

I read a story of you breaking the news to your parents that you wanted to become an actress, and your mother, especially, not being supportive.

When I said “actress,” she heard “prostitute.”

That’s very old school.

Yeah, well, she was an old Greek woman.

That said, how important is determination in a young person’s life?

One of the things I do when I meet young people at conventions — I’m not shy about giving advice to total strangers…ever — but I do say, especially to young teens: What job are you going to do when you grow up? and at least 75% don’t know. I feel so lucky that I knew from the age of 3 what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, because no one in my neighbourhood had ever become an actress; I come from a blue collar neighbourhood in North London, where, if you were successful you were a secretary. And, fortunately, as often happens, there was one teacher — one teacher — who said: OK, how are you going to do this? And she guided me, and believed in me, she was the only one. And it only takes one person.

How do you know when not to give up?

You have Coronation Street in Canada, right? When I was a kid watching Coronation Street — this is way before your time, when the show was in black and white — there were these three old ladies who sat in the Rovers Return, Minnie Caldwell and Ena Sharples [and Martha Longhurst], and they were in their 60s and 70s. I always said: Look at them — they didn’t make it until they were 60 or 70, you know? It takes one [acting] job, and that one job might come when you’re in your 20s or it might come when you’re in your 60s. I mean, I’ve done other jobs, I’ve worked in factories, I’ve served food to people, I’ve worked retail; I think I’m the only actress who’s never been a waitress, mind you, but I’ve done every other job. But you do those jobs to eat, and you just keep following your dream.

Do you think in recent times there’s been a resurgence in interest in science fiction?

I don’t think it’s a resurgence, I think it’s just been growing exponentially since [TNG] was on the air. When we started, sci-fi was alternative entertainment. Now, it’s number one at the box office every week: it’s sci-fi, sci-fi, sci-fi. I’m going to pat ourselves on the back and say that TNG was partly responsible for the surge in interest in sci-fi, because we had people watching our show who never liked sci-fi, they just liked our show. The total atmosphere, the business has changed. Gone are the days of Forrest Gump…Forrest Gump probably wouldn’t even get made if it was taken to a studio today..

It’s true, it would have to be A.I. or something.

It would be Forrest Gump in space.

About the Re-Engaged event, is this something that is on tour or is it exclusive to this edition of the ComicCon?

We did it for the first time, what we call our reunion tour, in Calgary [in 2012] and it was so successful, we said: Well, this is something we should do everywhere, because obviously this is something that the fans want to see. It’s wonderful, [and] the fans love it, they love to see us all together, because they’ve heard for nearly thirty years that we all loved each other and that we all got along, but then we hear that from every actor from every talk show, but when they come to see us on stage all together, and they see it with their own eyes, they believe it. I think we’re pretty much the only show ever in the history of Hollywood that after 27 years are all still best friends. The whole cast. Not a group of two or three there or two or three here. All seven of us love each other to death, look out for each other, and enjoy each other’s company. In fact, generally, we don’t bring our significant others because we don’t want them around. We want to hang out with each other and misbehave.

Note: This is a longer version of an article that originally appeared in CultMTL

Adventure Time Easter Egg: Marina voices “Samantha” in Season 5 episode “The Pit.”

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Flash Fiction 2

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Why Don’t You Vote? An Essay For The #CCL Generation

Maybe I was a bigger nerd than most, but when I turned 18, I was really excited to finally be able to vote. As a teen in Toronto, I went down to the polling stations at the Polish church on Bloor St W, or to the Keele Community Centre, and always voted. Even if I barely knew what I was voting for, I knew it was my duty as a citizen, as a Canadian, to give at least the smallest toss about politics. I also began doing my taxes, which I looked forward to. At the time I liked filling out forms. Today, not so much.

As citizens of the “free world” — North Americans, at least — we have a great power bestowed upon us: the right to vote. Yet this basic right is often taken for granted. Understandably, enacting one’s support for politicians can be frustrating, but fundamentally they are chosen by us to manage our tax dollars. And listen up: you pay taxes. Even if several years delinquent on your income taxes (unlike 18-year-old me), everything you buy has a range of taxes and tariffs included in the price you are paying. Essentially if you don’t vote it’s because you couldn’t care less about, well, anything. You might as well become a feral anarchist. Goodbye. Have fun living alone in the forest. WITH NO INTERNETS (which, incidentally, is taxable).

While some may swirl away in these #YOLO daydreams, a harsh reality reveals itself: Canada has a voter turnout problem. Historically, Canada has an approximate average turnout of 74 %, ranking it 30th among democratic countries worldwide (the highest being Malta at 94 %). In our last federal election turnout was a paltry 61.1 %. No wonder PM Harper is still in there. Canadians couldn’t care less.

When I gather this sentiment from peers and friends — young people, artists, musicians, thinkers — that they didn’t vote, I am endlessly frustrated. What is preventing people from voting? “All the candidates are losers,” they say, or: “I spoiled my ballot,” which at least is closer to the mark than not voting at all.

Having lived in Montreal for nearly two decades, my biggest moment of “Rage Against Apathy” came after the last provincial election — hot on the heels of the Maple Spring, when Montreal’s student and young adult population took to the streets to protest tuition increases. The generally peaceful protests cast a larger shadow, vocalising a general discontent with governmental ways. But the real frustration set in when, after walking the streets of my neighbourhood, talking with protesters, ruining cookware, and listening to their voices THAT MANY OF THESE PEOPLE STILL DID NOT VOTE.

Were the protesters faking it? I lost a little respect for the “red squares” because few stood behind the cause. People cared enough to march around for hours but could not care enough to march for 10 minutes to the polling station around the corner. Granted, overall voter turnout for the post-Casseroles election did increase: youth aged 18 to 35 turned out at an average rate of about 64 % in the 2012 provincial election, compared to about 42 % in the 2008 elections. Overall turnout in 2012 stalled at 74.6%.

The moment Pauline Marois pinned that little felt square onto her lapel, everyone’s hearts melted and suddenly young people thought that she cared. The PQ put a Band-aid on the problem by shutting down the hikes. Which, ironically, would be meaningless in an “independent” Quebec — university tuitions would increase drastically should federal transfer payments to Quebec be discontinued. But I digress.

All this, taken together, is the irony of politics. At the end of the day politics is just business and asset management. The frenzied actions of politicos asserting their salaried positions in office. It’s plain to see how this stuff can appear totally boring to young people. Politicians have been suitably branded as “uncool” and therefore not worth it. Blame PM Harper’s normcore hairstyle and his World’s Most Boring News Capsule, 24 Seven. Or that Quebec’s Liberal leader Philippe Couillard reeks of “dad” and PQ’s Pauline Marois is a snore (except in GIF form). And the other two? Bandwagoners.

I decided to call someone who cares. Alison Maynard is part of the Vote It Up campaign, created by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) in association with Quebec’s Chief Electoral Office. Vote It Up is a non-partisan organisation aimed at the specific demographic of 18-35 year old Anglophones in the upcoming provincial election. I asked Alison why young people aren’t voting:

“Accessibility and motivation are the top two reasons why youth are less likely to vote. Generally there is a lack of motivation, in that youth don’t see a significant difference between political parties, and don’t have an enjoyable experience throughout the process of voting.

“According to Elections Canada, youth are more likely to vote when they are contacted directly by a political party. If there is low voter turn-out by youth, political parties are not reaching out enough to this demographic. For the first time, polling stations will be setup in educational institutions across the province, which will hopefully increase youth voter turn-out.”

In an attempt to remedy this, Vote It Up is running a comprehensive social media campaign, as well as offering a rundown of each major party’s platform. The info has been distilled down by issue and is useful even for old farts like myself to get a sense of what each party is on about.

Why the focus on young Anglophones? Alison continues: “English-speaking Quebec is a diverse, confident, recognized and respected national linguistic minority that actively participates in and contributes to the social, economic, cultural and political life of Quebec and Canadian society. English-speaking youth represent 15% of the total youth in Quebec, while the total population of youth (both Francophone and Anglophone) is 2 million, representing 25% of the population of Quebec.”

At the end of the day, electioneering, like the Radiohead song, is a wailing, cowbell-driven, hot mess that often feels as though it is going nowhere. But we can’t leave it at that. We have to own it, own our roles as citizens of Quebec, no matter how “meh” or “un-cool” it may seem. The Casseroles ignited a spark in Montreal’s youth, we have to find a way to keep that burning. Did the Quebec Charter of Values smother or fan that flame? I suppose that on April 7, Quebec will find out.

This blog also appeared on The Huffington Post Canada

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Pretty Amazing

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Apathy vs. Rage: Thoughts for a New Year

Maybe it’s winter, blame Canada, point the finger at the polar vortex: 2014’s malaise has kicked in fast and hard. As I curse the cold, fumbling at child seat buckles with numb fingers, I observe a behavioural trend from within. Something that totters between frustration and rage, these are ugly demons that must be dealt with promptly.

Over the holidays all work stops and my gaze was locked in on the Internet. It was too much. I lost my way, irritated by BuzzFeed‘s jaw-dropping mind-blowing bucket-listing posts, or maddened by the confused philosophies of Jezebel (which I think, like Gawker, is too cynical to keep reading…that bookmark is getting deleted riiiiight…now! *click*). Let’s not mention Facebook. The sad, window into the lost souls of the 21st century. You, FB, are also getting downgraded. *sound of apps being deleted from all devices*

I am optimistic about the future, and despite the paragraph above I am generally a glass half full person. But the unsettled vibes echoing throughout my body straight up suck. Or is it that at all? Is it, simply, the world: the unfairness, inequalities, the music biz, the brutal mirrors…

As mothers, the future bears down on us in an inexplicable way. The weight of the world is heavier than, well, before we were mothers. Lately, overwrought news items about how Stephen Harper is burning books and dismantling the health care system are not sitting well. I wake up with my teeth clenched. I remind myself these are editorials, or in the words of Todd Flanders: “Is your source on this reliable?” Where is everything headed? What about the country, the citizens of the world, global warming, food crises, money, life, death, all these things…

Well? What about them?

Somewhere in this brief yet wandering post I’ve found my resolve. The impetus for 2014: a middle-ground between hashtagging everything #CCL and hot, complaining rants. I must respect the world, love everyone and especially myself. To not resent things beyond my control and to remember what it means to be alive — how organic and fragile that is. It is perspective, simply: life is so simple and oftentimes it seems everything out there aims to knock you off your feet, to cause you to lose balance.

My inspiration, visually, is BigDog. He gets kicked and shoved around by thin pale robotics engineers ALL THE TIME and still he keeps prancing along. Moving forward. Like BigDog I will learn to trust my inner algorithm.

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Flash Fiction (2) – A Poetry Book & Podcast

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m pleased to announce my participation in the Yellow Bird Project’s “Selected Poems by Indie Rock Stars.”

While I’d hardly call myself a “star,” much less self-identify as an “indie rocker,” the inclusion of a mysterious piece I wrote called “Flash Fiction (2)” is tons of fun. You can sign up to receive a poem a week leading up to the release of the poetry book in January. And if you scroll down and look through the “A Taster” section, you can both read AND listen to my reading of the piece. Anyhow, I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s an honour to be included.

Here’s a very weird illustrated portrait of moi taken from the book:

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I hope everyone out there has a great holidays and happy new year. All my love to you, Natalia.

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Solar Maximum

An active sun during the recent solar eclipse. This image is a composite of several observations from various perspectives. Read more about it at NASA.

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How I Became a Katy Perry Sympathizer

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is this parenting blog post about our responsibility to teach kids about “good music.” Or, as the title states: “How to Talk to Your Kids About Their Shitty Taste in Music.” It’s a weakly argued call to arms in reaction to the whole VMA/Miley Cyrus twerking debacle.

What a load of hipster-douchebag crap. My retort: How on earth did your kids get exposed to this “shitty” music in the first place? Pro tip: don’t leave your kids in front of Disney XD all day, or they will think music is meant to be overly synthesized, un-artistic pop.

I’ll admit, pop music is heavily marketed to our young people. Whether you realise it or not, a lot of money is spent on product awareness — that’s the music biz. What is on the album takes back seat to the mysticism or hype built on what you think is going to be on the album. You already know what to think and feel, before hearing a note. That is marketing.

If done well, the potential audience will be worked into a frenzy. So let’s get accountable for our actions: instead of pointless, complain-ey blog posts, why not get our mom-and-dad brains into the game? The question should be: Are your kids getting caught up in marketing? Do they know what marketing is? Do you know what marketing is? Do you understand the intersection of marketing and the arts?

Few people, including most people who work in the music biz, care to understand this concept. They willfully ignore it, and gleefully get caught up in it. And, so, our kids follow suit. New Arcade Fire anyone? Gawd, white people — adults, even — are SO PUMPED about their new album. It’s exhausting.

So when my 8-year-old daughter decides her favourite singer is Katy Perry, what do I do? Is Ms. Perry a suitable role model, considering the mainstream options? Is anybody? Or is this an opportunity to impose my jaded, post-feminist, post-indie rock opinion?

In my mind, my daughter must make her own decisions. If I listened to my parents, I would only like Kenny Rogers and 80’s Tina Turner. Our kids must create themselves for themselves. Our job is to give them a loose set of rules, parameters inside which to make good and positive decisions. When my kid asks to listen to “the radio” in the car — which inevitably means Top 40 dance pop stuff — I abide. We listen. I tell her to listen for the sidechain compression, the auto-tuned vocals, the recurring use of beats and fills, arrangement structures that are copied form song to song. I want her to listen with her brain, unhindered by any marketing message.

Point being, life is a perpetual learning experience to be enjoyed. This is the main lesson I teach my children, and happens to be my prime directive. Most music, yes, is shit. Katy Perry balances on the razor’s edge of being a mega-YOLO-slut (ever listen to the lyrics to “Last Friday Night“?) and being a young, powerful, inspiring woman with an incredible voice. RAZOR’S EDGE, PEOPLE.

So sure, we’ll watch the “Roar” video on YouTube together. We did that with “Gangnam Style,” too. Trendy music will ebb and flow, but it’s those times when we’re walking home from school and my daughter is humming “Ring My Bell” by Blood Sisters that I feel a tinge of redemption.

This entry also appears on HuffingtonPost.ca

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On Feminism.

* logs in, dusts off blog *

Woah. This is still here? And it’s still on?

After my longest break from blogging I am happy to return with a classic “explaining myself, mostly to myself” post. While I’ve had many ideas for posts, the one-two punch of motherhood and new role of label manager prevents me from actually getting anything down. Not to mention the speculative fiction novel — whose progress has come to a complete and grinding halt. :(

So what brings me back? Grade three has begun for one kid, and a Tempra-induced teething nap consumes the other. Topically, a raging Facebook exchange with some of my dearest friends begs further thought/explanation:

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The discussion continues. Every time I log in, more comments. More discussion. Which is great: it makes Facebook temporarily feel useful.

In my opinion, the topic is definitely one to be contested: feminism, like any system of beliefs, must be incremental. Labels and the labelling of oneself is purely a matter of personal choice. If I choose not to identify myself as a feminist, what does that mean? Does it mean I don’t believe in women? That however or wherever you were born you do not deserve to be treated with fairness and respect? To come to that conclusion is closed minded.

I believe in equality. This, I will stand atop a mountain and proclaim loudly. I will stomp on those who think any person is better than any other person based on which category they belong to. Fuck you if you think your “haters gonna hate” is better than my “haters gonna hate” attitude. That’s the point: to identify with any establishment immediately makes one part of the problem. In this classic Noisey/Vice article (classic in that it takes the stance of “If you’re not with us then you’re against us”), the author suggests the following:

“We get so mad when some nitwit says she’s not a feminist. I guess if you’re cool with being raped all the time and having no options in life other than being a baby machine or a prostitute, then yeah, you’re probably not a feminist. But if you enjoy birth-control pills and not being beaten up by your owner—I mean, husband—then you pretty much are one so you may as well stop shaving your legs right now. Just kidding.”

Heh…I like the Just kidding at the end. That’s cute. But putting this in less extreme terms, as an independent, strong woman it is “correct” to be a feminist and “incorrect” to identify oneself otherwise. Any opposing stance is heresy. I must therefore be a witch. Burn me at the stake. Woman-on-woman crime (a.k.a. catfight).

Contrary to what you have just read, I am a woman. Hopefully a positive influence to other women, especially my daughter. Early in my rock-band career (in the 90’s) my role in The Dears was scoffed at. I was often deemed an unnecessary accessory in The Dears: women shouldn’t be in bands, keyboards do not belong in rock. I was (and still am) constantly talked to condescendingly by sound guys about how to plug things in. It’s getting better, but it’s still lame. I am asked on a weekly basis — mostly by other women — why my hair is grey. If I doubted my self for a second, my hair would not be grey. I give a shit about how I look, but I don’t care to “fall in line” with the false ideal of what a woman should be. It’s one of my little protests. The natural you, male or female, is the best you. It’s not a feminist thought. It’s a human one.

And yet, people fear that which they do not understand, that which does not conform. It is human nature. Suggested reading: Heart of Darkness.

Let’s flip the script on this one. Let’s turn the table on my problem with “-isms” and “-ists.” Why are we forced to identify with categories? Why do humans need to starkly label themselves? Why do they second guess themselves about, in essence, who they are? Because at our core, as human beings, we are uncertain. The modern world encourages us to be lost. We are forced to be motivated not by philosophical thought but by material status. Our psychological state, our self-worth, is perpetually undermined. It is instead medicated and suppressed, pushed away and replaced with a litany of hang-ups.

If we truly had equality, if everybody simply believed in equality, feminism would not need to exist. So let’s get real here. I’m not into labels because they segregate. My husband and children are black. You want to talk unfairness, the things you just “can’t say,” the truths others unlike you will never understand? Read this book (trust me, it will be fun!), then get back to me about the whole thing.

But seriously, if you want to identify as a feminist, then by all means. I won’t judge you. Just don’t make me wear the ribbon.

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Morrissey Fan Fiction (or What’s Left of It)

Months ago I proclaimed with all the fanfare my social media network affords that I WOULD BE WRITING MORRISSEY FAN FICTION. And, to my credit, I wrote and even designed cover art for said piece. But I never felt like it was good enough. It lacked substance. Then I took out the fictitious and Morrissey parts and it became a memoir of my university days that I considered shopping as a work of non-fiction. Then I was overly self-conscious, thought it was too personal, and wanted to bury it. Until the other day: when working on “my novel” I exploded that thing that began as a Morrissey fan fiction and re-worked most of it into my opus, leaving only this piece of shrapnel: Flash Fiction (3).

Part inspired by the 90’s era SAAB automobile of Dears bass player Roberto Arquilla — who when asked about the 1989 900s 16 valve (no turbo), affectionately called it a “money pit.” He has since parted ways with the beast. Yet I always admired the shape of that car, though it was perpetually falling apart and smelled of cigarettes. Those were the days, my friend.

The Mozzer illustration is by Joe Ollmann, whose books you should read. In a frenzied enthusiasm about writing my first fan fiction I asked him to render a picture of Morrissey, which he almost immediately sent back to me attached to a self-deprecating email, which I appreciated as much as the drawing itself.

Enjoy this nugget, Flash Fiction (3), or what’s become of my Morrissey Fan Fiction

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