Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

The Undiscovered Country

(Note: while this post is called “The Undiscovered Country” and is inspired somewhat by the Star Trek movie of the same name, it is not a review or even really a discussion of said movie. You can either stop reading now or breathe a sigh of relief and continue on, based on your reason for being here.)

Recently I watched an online review of Star Trek VI (yeah, I know I said this wasn’t going to be about Star Trek, but I have to start somewhere) done by Internet reviewer Chuck Sonnenberg, also known as SFDebris. His reviews of both Star Trek and other sci-fi franchises, such as Babylon 5, Farscape, Doctor Who, and even Red Dwarf are excellent and highly recommended. Anyway, he discusses the title “The Undiscovered Country” and what that means in the context of the film. The title originates from the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet, where Hamlet is discussing whether he should kill himself or not, but decides against it because whatever awaits after death might be worse. To quote that specific part:

The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

In the film, which is basically a big “end of the Cold War” allegory, Chancellor Gorkon (pictured above), who is a transparent Gorbachev stand-in, comments on this speech, but uses it to refer to the future, rather than death. This explains a lot about the other events of the movie: how perfectly rational people on both sides ended up working together to preserve the war; that is, working together for a chance to work against each other. Not only that, it explains why otherwise moral people (such as the Vulcan Valeris) were willing to go to extremes by assassinating several people, getting Kirk and Bones arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on an ice planet, and other heinous acts. They would rather live with the reality they were used to, however flawed, than face something new and entirely unknown (in this case, a galaxy where the Federation and Klingons were at peace). This completed the Cold War allegory and the uncertainty of the early 90’s after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. Heck, there were even comedies made on the subject, such as Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little, which featured some Brits and Russians working together to try to restart the Cold War to restore their lives to something they were used to.

But let me go back a bit and repeat a line I said: They would rather live with the reality they were used to, however flawed, than face something new and entirely unknown. One more time: They would rather live with the reality they were used to, however flawed, than face something new and entirely unknown.

Using the allegory that an unknown future was as frightening as what lies beyond death (you know, without a religious context) gave me a whole new perspective on several issues I’ve been struggling with, both recent and long-term. As pretty much anyone who reads this blog would know, I am single. Extremely single. And it’s been getting worse, if that’s even a possibility. I’ve been living at home, where I’m lucky if I have a conversation with my parents once a week. I’m fairly isolated in my ward, where most people don’t even know who I am beyond “the redheaded guy I don’t talk to.” And now I’ve been working a job at the Little America hotel doing audio/visual work. This basically means setting up and taking down microphones, lights, projection screens, etc. whenever groups come in to use the hotel’s conference rooms. It’s a solitary job, especially since my only A/V co-worker works a schedule opposite mine, and even in the hour we overlap he doesn’t talk much. About the only friend I have left who lives within a 40-mile radius and hasn’t passed through the social wall of being married is Josh Reese, and while I do hang out with him on occasion (probably about once a month or so), it isn’t exactly socially stimulating, considering what kind of person he is. Other than that, the only social things I do mostly revolve around Annelise and her family, and even then we’re usually talking shop about murder mystery stuff.

In other words, I’m not just single in the married or dating sense. I’m single in a social sense. I’m single in an emotional connection sense. For the vast majority of my time, I’m single in a physical sense (i.e. not in the presence of other people, or at least interacting with them other than a nod as we pass in the hallway). If it wasn’t for this job, I could go for nearly a week at a time without seeing another soul (which did happen several times before I got hired back in June). There may be others in my type of situation, but even so they’re all isolated from each other by nature.

I stand alone.

It’s a sad story, you may be thinking, but what has that got to do with the Hamlet thing? Or you may be thinking, “Well then, go out and make some friends! Nobody’s forcing you to stay by yourself!” I suppose that’s true, though I could justify it by saying that I don’t have the opportunities due to my schedule, or that my ward keeps scheduling activities I have no interest in, or living in my parents’ basement hardly provides opportunities for me to meet people my own age. However, I think that, while these may be obstacles, the root cause runs much deeper.

A couple of weeks ago in a sacrament meeting I did try to jump-start my social life. I sat next to a girl with whom I’d had a short, small-talk conversation the previous week. However, the entire time I was extremely uncomfortable and when the meeting was over I politely excused myself and left (the room, not the church). She didn’t do anything wrong or particularly cold but putting myself in those kind of situations activates a “fight or flight” response in me for some reason. (It also didn’t help that she was nearly a decade younger than me, but I think her being closer to my age wouldn’t have made a big difference.) Why the fear? I’m obviously not happy with my life. Getting to know people leads toward a potentially brighter future, one with marriage, kids, or at least something to do on Friday nights other than play Heroes of Might and Magic III by myself or watch Internet reviews of Star Trek again. What kind of future would be in store? A world of possibilities! An “undiscovered country,” if you will! Ah, you may now see where I’m going with this.

The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of

Fear of an uncertain future is such a driving force that it drove otherwise rational people to kill in order to preserve the status quo (in the movie, anyway). I have no idea what dating will do to my life. I’ve never had a successful relationship before, and even the unsuccessful ones I’ve had either never got off the ground or didn’t last longer than a month. And that’s only been with two girls ever, one of which got into the relationship because of a “what the hell, I’ll give it a shot” attitude. How do I conduct myself? What’s the difference between the way you treat a girlfriend and the way you treat, say, a sister (besides the obvious physical things, I mean)? Will I still be able to play Heroes? Will that even matter? Where’s the line when it comes to how much of my own life, habits, and customs will I need to change to keep a woman? Do I even need emotional support? I’ve gone a long time without it, and I’m still alive, right? Wouldn’t it be better off for the ladies in the world to end up with someone who doesn’t have these issues? There are probably about a thousand questions I haven’t even thought of on this topic! This puzzles my will! I’d rather bear those ills I have than fly to these others I know not of! At least I know how to set up a 16-channel mixer with several lavalier and handheld Shure mics, along with an SM-58 or two for the lectern, combine them through a Kramer VGA switcher to output on three separate screens, while hanging some parnells to provide a nice podium wash, etc. etc.! Or failing that, write a rock song about cooking! I have no idea how to sit next to a girl in church without it becoming so awkward that I consider fleeing after the sacrament has been passed and spending the rest of the hour in the bathroom! It seems my native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought!

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.

Fear of the future can drive some to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. It also can paralyze those who should do something. I could go on more dates. I could talk to more people. Heck, even Josh goes on more dates than I do. Looking back on my life, it seems every time I’ve been successful socially it has been due to others taking an interest in doing it for me (usually relatives, or Steve Porter). And when that person leaves my life, or at least leaves my daily life, then all the sociality seems to disappear as well. Back at BYU I used to host a game night every week, and we had quite a nice bunch of people show up every week, at least until Steve got engaged. Then it dropped to the five guys who were just into gaming. I moved to a different apartment and set it up again, and once again we had a pretty good turnout until two of my roommates got engaged, at which point it dropped off. But the main reason I held game nights was because that was where I was comfortable socially!! I don’t know how to approach girls at a dance, or at some social dinner, or whatever. But when I’ve got a set of Bang! cards or whatever in front of me I know exactly what my job is. I’m playing this game. I’m making sure everyone else knows how to play. I’m making sure that everyone gets a fair chance to play. I’m trying to make sure everyone’s enjoying themselves. I honestly don’t really care if I win or lose, as long as everyone played fairly. (This behavior, by the way, is somehow wrong? I guess? A lot of people seem to resent it, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why. When playing with family, I’ve noticed Mickey is just as much of a stickler for rules yet seems to catch a lot less flak for it. Maybe I’m just an ass.) My point is there are very few situations in which I am socially comfortable, and they are often ones in which others do not thrive socially. So it’s obvious that I need to step out of my comfort zone in order to progress in life, especially socially. And it’s obvious I’ve got to do it, because there’s nobody left to do it for me, and no girl is going to suddenly call up and ask me out.

I believe I am capable of learning. I believe that if I put my mind to it, I could learn to like dancing, or basketball, or small talk, or whatever, if it served the greater good of meeting people, social support, and dating. But it frightens me. What kind of person would I turn into? Would I be recognizable as me? Would I be betraying everything that currently makes up who I am? Does that really matter? How can one really betray one’s past self, anyway? He’s not going to know. Continuing as I have been has been producing diminishing returns, to the point where, as I said before, I stand alone. But being alone is an ill I know how to bear. Thus conscience makes a coward of me, and I sit alone in the back of the chapel, or at home on weekends.

Marriage, dating, life: all enterprises of great pith and moment. But paralyzed by the fear of the future: with that regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action. Thus this weekend I will be playing computer games.


4 responses

  1. Marne'

    I really miss those game nights. I bought ‘Shadows over Camelot’ a few years ago. But I haven’t played it much. Mostly because there isn’t anyone to direct the game and make sure everyone knew what was going on. You were really good at that. And really, the only time I thought you were an ass was during games of Mao, but that game kind of demands it, so I won’t blame you.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:31 pm

  2. Donald

    It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my loneliness, and sad at the same time. So much of the sentiment which you have expressed could have been written by an observer of my own sad life. My friends have, with one or two exceptions, been friends of convenience, friends of the moment. Once we were no longer bound to work together, go to school together, or run into each other at the same functions our tenuous friendships dissolved and I was again left alone. I admit I could have done better at reaching out to others, but instead I remained solitary. I have always been hesitant, to say the least, of telling others just how important they are to me, for fear that if they knew the power they possessed over my emotional state they might exercise it to my detriment. I am no social genius, as you probably are well aware. I could, and have, blamed my stunted social growth on various forces which worked upon me in my early childhood. But though the blame game fills me with a sense of justification it sadly does little to nothing to correct my problems.

    The emotional distance which I keep between myself and those whom I think highly of only widens with members of the opposite gender, particularly those whom I am attracted to. I have watched my hopes dashed so many times due to my own inaction that it sickens me. Not too long ago I realized a fullness of despair. Feelings I had harbored for an individual had grown and deepened while I took no action to express them for fear that I would be crushed. But when the individual finally courted and married another I realized that I had not escaped that fate, but rather had only made my pain more acute. The years of angst, all the time in which I cultivated these emotions unable, and unwilling to act, resulted in more emotional discomfort than would have been felt had I acted while my feelings were in their formative stages. I vowed to myself that moment, “NEVER AGAIN.” This has become a sort of mantra to me.

    Though I am still single, still learning and growing, what few words of advice which I possess, poor as they may be, I now offer to you. You seem to fear, as I have, and do, developing formative relationships with the opposite gender. What has shown signs of working for me is realizing that asking someone out for an evening is not a profession of love, and will not be received by anyone, with sound judgement, as such. It is only a minor compliment. It is a statement that you enjoy their presence enough that you would like to spend an evening with them. You do not need to restructure your life to have one joyful evening with a girl who you may not even speak to again other than an occasional greeting. Further, only minimal restructuring is needed to set a goal for going out with one woman a month, no strings attached. Such activities, which may seems small to others, were massive milestones for me. This last year I had my first date after not going out for three years. It was awkward getting back into the dating scene. To cover my bases I made it a double with my little bro (man is he a ladies man) and that helped me ease back into things. The girl I was with had no idea the momentous milestone it was in my life, and I doubt I could have asked her had she. In essence what I’m trying to say is that a single date is an inconsequential thing, and that for some of us it’s hard to remember that. Once I remembered this I found myself growing closer to those around me, and less fearful of how they might respond to my reaching out.

    I know from previous interactions that I have had with ladies that I am a somewhat attractive man. And after seeing a few friends who have allowed themselves to remain in emotionally abusive situations I realize I am a better catch then a lot of guys out there as I would never treat a woman, much less one I cared about, that way. But all this knowledge is academic, in my heart feelings of inadequacy reign. If such irrational feelings haunt you I would remind you that though change is indeed death, it is equally birth. And as there must be opposition in all things the greatest rewards require us to take a modicum of risk.

    I apologize for being long winded. But if nothing else please know that even in your loneliness you are not alone.

    August 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm

  3. Kjersti

    I think maybe you should talk to someone (like a therapist) who is totally unbiased to discover how you can build confidence in yourself. Because, you need to learn to love yourself. And take the risk, you may end up hurt and alone… AGAIN (but you may not). Seriously though, I think talking to someone other than your crazy family would do you a world of good. (And just for the record the rule keeping in games that we rib you about isn’t because you are an ass, it is because we are teasing you. Mickey gets teased too, at least I have teased him. I get made fun of for dumb things I say, it’s just the way families tease, don’t take it personally) You are a great guy, it’s about time you started believing it. You don’t need to change the essence of who you are, just learn to love it- It’s ok and great to have your interests and you may not meet a girl with the exact same interests, but she will compliment you.
    You just need to believe it will happen and then take the necessary steps to make it happen. No use ruminating. Oh, and I believe in you. I understand feeling alone and hopeless and I know you can do it. But seriously, I think talking to someone might be a really good idea for you. Someone who won’t take what you have to say personally and will listen. I love you, kiddo! It will all be worth it! 🙂

    August 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm

  4. Ooh, a Star Trek Review! I can’t wait to read this post and…Hey! this has little to nothing to do with Star Trek 6! I want my money back!

    August 22, 2011 at 11:16 pm

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