by Captain Future
Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 12:32:23 AM EST
When I chose the Internet ID of Captain Future, I didn't realize that right wing bloggers often used "captain" in their names. I was paying playful homage to heroes of my childhood who often seemed to have that rank and title, like Captain Video, Captain Midnight and of course Captain Kirk (though I tended to identify more with Mr. Spock), and the captain who brought these figures and what they represented into the adult world: Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
These childhood heroes--which also included Superman, Robin Hood, Lancelot, the Cisco Kid and the Lone Ranger, as well as Saturday morning space opera commanders---championed the weak against the tyranny of the strong. They stood for social justice as well as the rule of law, and personal qualities of integrity, honesty, intelligence, courage and loyalty.
I've been re-evaluating my own identity, on the net and otherwise, politically and otherwise, as I passed a personal milestone--one that the Boomer generation faces, ready or not. Some words about my journey, which may have something to do with yours, if you make the jump.
Cross-posted at Captain Future's Dreaming Up Daily (the illustrated version) and eventually elsewhere.
Those early TV heroes (partly in response to public pressure) kept violence to a minimum. They never killed even the worst villains--- Captain Video didn't even used the word "kill." They tried peaceful solutions first. They stood for tolerance and friendship across boundaries, opposing tyranny but honoring peace. (To my benefit, some socially conscious blacklisted American writers found employment writing for kids' adventures in England, like the Robin Hood series.)
I've been astonished recently to see that right wingers are trying to co-opt Star Trek to support their ideology. It doesn't, and it was in many ways the adult version of those Saturday space operas. Episodes f Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger dealt with the dangers of radiation, and these series (as well as "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet") often promoted peaceful solutions and disarmament. After Buzz Corey, the hero of Space Patrol encountered a planet that had destroyed itself through hatred, he returned to earth determined to see that it didn't happen there.
Space Patrol was the police arm of the otherwise peaceful federation of interstellar governments, United Planets. The others were similar. Like Star Trek, they saw human institutions evolve and correct past patterns of prejudice and conquest. Starfleet, like Space Patrol, combined military discipline and organization with peaceful and principled purposes: universal rights, respect and communication, exploration without exploitation. Having diligently erased poverty and disease, Star Trek's Earth is united. People work not for money but to "better themselves and the rest of humanity."
"Recent science fiction must be accorded high credit for being one of the most active forces in support of equal opportunities, goodwill, and cooperation among all human beings, regardless of their racial and national origins," said Dr. Hermann J. Muller, discoverer of the genetic effects of radiation, a few decades ago. "Its writers have been practically unanimous in their adherence to the ideal of 'one free world."
Space opera from Flash Gordon to Doctor Who is a wonderful combination of myth, adventure, philosophy and science fiction. Although I didn't know this when I thought of using the name, the original Captain Future was a pulp magazine hero in the 1940s. An orphan raised by a disembodied brain, a robot and an android, he is a brilliant scientist and athlete, with "a strong sense of responsibility" and desire to help others, who offers his services to the President of the Solar System. I've never read any of the stories, though the covers suggest it was a pulpy but imaginative amalgamation of elements familiar from the likes of Batman and Superman to Buckaroo Banzai. (Captain Future was resurrected in a Japanese anime series, apparently remembered in France and Germany for its music, and as the subject of Allen Steele's 1996 Hugo-winning novel.)
I chose the name because the future has become a major personal and professional preoccupation. Looking back, I can see some of the connections from childhood to now: including my political coming of age in the Kennedy administration and the late 1960s rebellions and visionary quests, my 1970s interest in Buckminster Fuller and the fledgling futurist/futures studies movements, my book on the shopping mall as the embodiment of postwar America and its vision of the future, and so on.
Back From the Future
But a recent personal milestone caused me to reevaluate what I'm doing here: writing and posting on the Internet for free, under a name both comic and pretentious. Just days before George W. Bush and a few weeks before Bill Clinton, along with the first of our fellow Baby Boomers, I turned 60.
A decade ago, I looked forward to my fifties as my decade of fulfillment. I'd had reasonable success in my 20s and 30s: a writer and editor for the Boston Phoenix and a similar paper in Washington; I moved up to feature pieces in national magazines, and after long struggle, I became the author of a book I am still proud of, The Malling of America.
Now famous for its title if nothing else, it has won something like lasting respect across a wide spectrum. A chapter appears in lots of college and high school anthologies, and in the paperback edition I published with Xlibris, it still sells a few score copies a year through the online booksellers. But thanks in part to the non-interest and even hostility of my New York hardback publisher, and to my own inexperience, it got me the reputation as an author who didn't sell. I went back to writing for magazines, and spent my 40s trying to get another book contract. I never did.
But on my 50th birthday I felt wiser in the ways of the world, and at the top of my game as a writer. I was taking a risk by moving west, but I felt ready to get back in the big game, on the big stage. No one gets very far without help and I'd had some in the past. Though I had no mentor or at 50, an agent or publisher who really believed in me, I felt I could earn that attention.
My fifties, I felt, would be the fulfillment, the justification of everything in the past. They would also set the pattern for my future, for my culminating accomplishments and at last my proper place in the world, with access to the means to be creative and productive. My fifties would be my redemption.
That's not how they turned out. I did a lot of work in a lot of forms and areas. Most of it was ignored, including what was closest to my heart. Some of it got interest here and there, agents and publishers and media, and then the interest faded. I managed to get articles assigned and essays published that I felt could have opened doors to bigger opportunities. Nothing happened. And as finances became more of an issue, even my efforts on different career paths went nowhere. Instead of being fulfilling, my fifties were humiliating.
I'm proud of what I did get published, like "The Skills of Peace," and a feature on the commemoration of a massacre that actually had something to do with the city of Eureka, CA deeding back land to the Wiyot tribe, which may be a first.
I did some good work: an article and review on Buddhism, my essay in the SF Chronicle before the bombing of Iraq, on Wells and War of the Worlds, and my piece on Star Trek (behind the pay wall at the New York Times but which can be found on my blog, Soul of Star Trek.) I wrote some good book reviews, which sometimes got at least some attention for deserving books and authors.
I even got a little buzz from time to time when something I imagined presented itself in the real world. A lot of what I advocated in 2002 to make the Climate Crisis a moral issue (including calling it that) is now happening in the wake of Al Gore's movie. During the 2004 Democratic convention, I hit upon what I thought was the perfect slogan for John Kerry--A Fresh Start--and wrote a memo about it that my one Washington Big Player contact sent on to the campaign. I never learned if anyone read it, but I can't tell you how weird it felt to see Kerry speaking with "A Fresh Start for America" on banners behind him that final week of the campaign.
But nothing led to anything else, and that's what I needed to happen.
How I approached 60 was helped specifically and principally by three sources: an article by Michael Ventura (also unfortunately behind a pay wall) and two books which I highly recommend to all Boomers: America the Wise (also called Longevity Generation in paperback) by Theodore Roszak, and The Force of Character by James Hillman.
The Ventura article was a dose of cold, cold water: Sixty is not middle age, he says, it's the beginning of old age, and much of the work of old age is saying goodbye. It took awhile, but I accepted the truth of this. And one of the things I am saying goodbye to is career. Career is movement: forward and up being the desired directions. But the time for that is over. The world says so (as I've learned the hard way, nobody hires anyone over 50 if they can help it) and time says so, as in not enough of it.
But as I soon realized, this is also liberating. It's like losing your hair or turning gray--for years it is a source of anxiety and fear. And then it happens: goodbye. The anxiety is over. Now it's you. The same with career, and measuring success and failure. I'm this much a success, and that much a failure. But really, so what? Goodbye to the anxiety.
Goodbye to trying to make a career by exagerating one part of myself and making the rest of me look as much like everyone else as possible. Goodbye. Goodbye to looking at everything I do as needing to lead to something else. Now everything is what it is.
I have three modest gigs now which make modest demands, with modest challenges and a modest amount of fun, and they may bring in just enough money for current needs (no health insurance, of course.) I still have dreams of accomplishment, but modest expectations. We'll see what happens.
But beyond saying goodbye, what is different about this new age of old age I'm entering? Roszak tells me to remember the dreams of my generation, the power of our numbers, and the natural impulses of getting older than can help make a better world. Hillman agrees, and adds that this Act III in the theatre of my life is itself a fulfillment, of character.
"Character traits include vices and virtues," Hillman writes. "They do not define character. Character defines them." Character is our uniqueness, as we express it and as it is seen in the world. "Character is presentational."
Character is the shape of soul. Without the inflation of early ages, we are forced to accept ourselves, good and bad, with consequences pleasant and painful. We are no one's ideal. "I walk through life oddly," Hillman writes. "No one else walks as I do, and this is my courage, my dignity, my integrity, my morality, and my ruin."
There are characteristics that come with becoming an elder. We must take responsibility for the past and we feel the responsibility of the future. In the role of grandparents (actual or metaphorical), we set our sights on the future we will not see.
"Before we leave," Hillman writes, "we need to uphold our side of the compact of mutual support between human being and the being of the planet, giving back what we have taken, securing its lasting beyond our own."
"In later years feelings of altruism and kindness to strangers plays a larger role...Values come under more scrutiny, and qualities such as decency and gratitude become more precious than accuracy and efficiency."
What we say goodbye to as we age also reveals some hellos: hello perhaps to some sharper memories from the distant past. Hello to insights as well as embarrassments. Hello to other worlds. "Discovery and promise do not belong solely to youth;" Hillman insists, "age is not excluded from revelation." Indeed, if the theatre is any guide, Act III is when it's more likely to happen.
Act III is not just the end, it's the resolution. But there's something else about it that's important: the character has lived through Acts I and II. We carry our history and the history we've experienced, not only in the weight and reference of our words, but in ourselves. I am all that I am, including the heroes of my youth, and those that gave me the imagery of my middle years (like the fourth Doctor), and those that inform me now. (Captain Picard, I presume.)
Meeting the Future
Something else happened in the past decade that is making a difference in my life and work: the digital revolution, the Internet.
As a writer I am no longer dependent on others to get my work out of the room of its making, into the world. Digital on-demand publishing enabled me to re-publish my book after it was out of print, and will provide me the option to publish new books when I'm ready. The Internet, the blogosphere connects me to an audience and to communities. I don't need distant experts whose judgment is wrong most of the time to give me permission to have my say. I've got the key. There's probably no money beyond the door, and it doesn't necessarily lead to anything else. It is what it is. On my time, I work to improve myself and the rest of humanity.
So in my modest life, I can express myself and offer whatever I can to younger generations as well as to my own. I can be myself and let the words fall where they may. In my modest life, I can advocate for the kind of future I envision, my synthesis from the work of wondrous others, including those who came before me.
My name is Captain Future. I'm here to save the world.