There is something interesting about revisiting favourite films or television shows sporadically over the course of your life. It’s a growth chart of sorts. As your circumstances change you find yourself identifying differently with characters and situations. Sometimes it comes as a complete surprise when you find yourself on a completely different side of a story, rooting for a completely different character. You begin to think about where you were in life the last time you watched that show and all the things that have happened to change your perspective. You mentally pencil in a mark on the growth chart of life and carry on until the next time you come across it again.
I had an experience like that very recently. Some dear friends of mine introduced me to Firefly about ten years ago. Instantly, I fell in love with that universe (or ‘verse I should say). The aesthetic was gorgeous to a fan of Westerns and science fiction. I loved the use of language and the extrapolation that English and Mandarin would be the surviving tongues from Earth That Was. It was clever. It was intellectual. What’s more, the characters were real. They never felt scripted like so many television shows do where the characters know exactly what to say in every situation. These seemed to be real people; people who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances, but more often in ordinary ones. Needless to say, I ploughed through all fourteen episodes within a week.
The Me of Ten Years Ago instantly latched on to Inara. I recognised some of myself there and more of who I wanted to be. Years of dance had given me some of the grace and physical poise she possessed. I absolutely shared her love of fine things. I was never as measured as she was. I strove for that controlled, witty, playfulness wrapped up in a package of calm and elegance. I wanted that sort of polish and in certain social situations I even managed to achieve it. None of this is to say that I didn’t love the other characters and empathise with them to a certain point. In fact when asked I always said my favourite character was Mal (he still is actually), but I saw more of myself and who I wanted to be in Inara.
It has probably been about three or so years since I watched Firefly. It wasn’t because I stopped liking the show, but more because I’d get sad that there weren’t more stories. My empathy with Inara had mildly fallen away over that time, but she was still the one that I would identify with most out of the female cast. One night about a week ago, I just wanted to be back in the‘verse. I missed it and so I began watching again. I remembered why I had fallen in love with it and I laughed at the jokes all over again as if they were new and I got anxious whenever the crew was in a tight spot. I noticed a few new things about how I was feeling, too.
Up until I had moved abroad, I had always had a place to go to if I needed to, a place that was within two hours of wherever I was. I had a home. Living abroad, has given me a really different perspective. For one thing, while I may have campus housing, it’s only guaranteed through September. After that, me and all my stuff has to hightail it to somewhere else. Over here in England, I don’t really have a place to fall back on. I don’t have the security I had when I was home. Everything here is mutable. It is a subtle but powerful realisation and suddenly I truly understood instability feels like and some of the characters began to look and feel different to me.
As I watched the familiar episodes which were feeling so different, I began to recognise something else. I was getting rather annoyed with Inara. Honestly, why was the pretence so important? I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the things she would say and do. Not terribly often because she is still a well written character, but I just couldn’t agree with her. That was odd. Why was I not understanding her anymore? I was getting more and more frustrated with her for not being forthright with Mal. Of course, there is all that companion stuff, but is a job really more important than your happiness?
I realised two years ago that no job was more important than my happiness. I had floated from teaching job to teaching job, never feeling quite happy or fulfilled. Often I found myself completely at odds with administrators who put their own egos and desires above the needs of the students. I found myself in a job that was being vilified by politicians. I began to wonder why I was spending so much of my life doing something that was crushing my spirit from the top down. I suppose I kept going because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Losing my job two years ago changed me. I decided that I never wanted to work for people who so aggressive and egotistical that their solution is to remove as many people with different view points as they can. I never again wanted to work for people who didn’t value me as a human being and who didn’t value my perspectives. I would not allow a huge portion of my life to be spent feeling the way I felt that last year I taught. My life is too precious to waste on depression and anxiety. I decided I’d rather be unemployed than work in a job that stifled my spirit and creativity. It’s how I still feel. No job is worth your happiness.
As I reached the halfway point in the series I found myself identifying hugely with Zoe. This was a great surprise to me. When I was twenty I liked Zoe but for the most part she never really appeared on my radar when I watched the show. Now, as I watched I really saw her and she was me. Here was someone with no fixed place, just a ship in space. Here was someone who had been maligned by the powers that be and had fought to do what was right. Here was someone trying to carve out a life on her own terms. I also began to admire her interactions with Wash. Here (finally!) was a healthy television relationship where a couple actually talked (and argued) about how they were feeling. No more of the pretence and dancing around. Nothing perfect, just life.
As I finished watching the series, I began to trace the course of my life over the past ten years. I thought about the situations and relationships that I had had. I thought about how far I had traveled physically and as a human. Overall, I’d say I’m pretty happy being a Zoe. Much happier than I would be if I were still an Inara I think. Of course, I begin to wonder who will I be in another ten years.