To Early Influences
I was born in 1988, so my childhood was saturated in that sort of crappy 1990’s TV that was so indicative of the times. It’s a sad statement of our times that TV is a big influence on early development, but thankfully for my well being, there was some TV then that didn’t rot my brain. In fact, as I look back on those early years, there were a couple of shows that played a large part on making me who I am.
The first of which is Reading Rainbow, hosted by none other by Levar Burton.
I watched this show obsessively as a kid; I am certain it was this shows highlighting of books within my reading level that jumpstarted my lifelong love of reading (I was reading at a 2nd grade level in kindergarten) . I even went as far as write Levar in my best 6-year-old prose expressing my sincere admiration for him and what he did. To my infinite delight and surprise, he even wrote me back! I got an autographed photo and lots of cool swag from the show, which made me the envy of my class, and certainly remains one of the highlights of my youth.
Levar also starred on a little known show called Star Trek: The Next Generation as the (blind) ships pilot, and later the chief engineer. I specifically recall the episode of Reading Rainbow where he took us behind the scenes on the Paramount set as my favorite. The joy at discovering those swooshy doors were man-powered, the mystery of the transporter beam being revealed as stirred glitter and water and many other revelations were amazing to my young mind. But Levar’s part was also important to me in a different way: his portrayal of a young, passionate engineer was something I’d never seen before.
I come from a long, proud line of engineers, with them being in three generations of my family on both sides. Let’s face it though, most people think of Dilbert when they think of engineers, and they are consistently portrayed as old eggheaded losers. Geordi Laforge was different- he was young, cool, and really passionate about the workings of the ship. Best of all, he was accepted into the community for who he was. I tell you, I’m a nerd (see: blog name), and Levar’s onscreen depiction showed me that my engineering inclinations could be valuable, as opposed to stigmatized. Levar’s role model was always in the back of my mind, growing up, and now I’m in Montreal, getting a Masters in Civil Engineering.
Levar is in town now for a new project he is working on, and he is hosting a tweetup tonight which I’ll be attending. I don’t like gushing to celebrities in person, they get enough of that everywhere they go, so I wanted to get my thoughts out so I don’t come off as an idiot in person.
So THANK YOU, LEVAR BURTON! You’ve inspired generations and you made small, but real differences in my life.