How William Shatner Saved My Life and Other Lessons Learned Over a Vodka Tonic

buell theatre denver shatner's worldI stood on my deck last night at 10PM gazing up at the stars. Orion’s belt was to the West and surrounded by a gazillion twinkling points of light, reminding me of how criminally lucky I am to live in Colorado. It was kinda like a galactic Tour of Lights at Christmastime. It also reminded me that my Christmas tree was laying by the back gate in desperate need of disposal/mulching/beaming up to another planet.

Not an hour before, I’d sat in the Buell Theatre here in Denver with tears in my eyes, watching a show with a similar backdrop as the night sky draped above me. The day coming to a close was the official release date of my first book. But incredibly, that wasn’t the most memorable part of my day.

What I’ll remember most is that William Shatner made me cry.

Commence Overpriced Vodka Drink Sequence

Along with my friend Mary, I walked into The Buell last night with tickets in hand to see Shatner’s World. A long-time fan of his spoken word albums and viewer of every episode featuring Captain James T. Kirk ever made, how in the world could I miss this? It’s William. Fucking. Shatner, for all that’s holy. After a glance by the bar that netted us each a vodka tonic plastic cup filled with ice, lime, and tonic with vodka flavoring, we took our seats. We were 19 rows back from center stage and had I suffered from Marfan Syndrome, it’s possible I could have reached out and touched him.

I took a moment and looked around — the theatre was full. People of all ages. Guys with guys. Gals with gals. Couples. Kids, even.

They were all here to see William. Fucking. Shatner. And that made me smile.

The lights dimmed, the laughter began to roll, and nearly two hours later I had cried not just once, but twice.

Captain James T. Kirk Isn’t Supposed to Make Me Cry

First, he’s 80-years-old. Yeah, you read that right. 80. So what’s your excuse for not getting out there and living a life that you’re going to love when you’re 80? You don’t have one. So knock it off with the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas. I sat for two hours and listened to Captain James T. Kirk tell stories about his life. The exhilaration of playing hooky to catch burlesque shows, how he understudied for Christopher Plummer in Henry V and got to go on at a moment’s notice in the largest speaking role in classical theatre…

But what I didn’t know in all of my Star Trek nerdery is that Star Trek only ran for three years. A mere three.

The Simpsons has run for twenty-three seasons and American Idol for nine. And then came the first time Captain Kirk made me cry.

In a wildly animated sequent recounting the Star Trek years and the recording of a documentary called The Captains, he’s describing a moment where he’s interviewing Patrick Stewart. Also a classically trained Shakespearean actor, Stewart’s talking about the roles he’s played on the British stage and then comes to his role as Captain Picard. And he simply states that, if he died at that very moment, it’s likely he’d be remembered not for all of the incredibly important and acclaimed performances of his classic stage career, but as Captain Picard. And that was okay.

Shatner got this look on his face and yes, he stammered a reply to Stewart. One of thanks. As Shatner felt he’d been given a gift at that very moment, as he’d realized that if he were never remembered as anything but Captain James T. Kirk, it would be okay, too.

What’s Okay With You?

So I cried — as it occurred to me at that very moment that this was what the unpopular path was all about. It was a moment I shared with hundreds of other people in a sold-out theatre in Denver, Colorado. My moment of asking, “What will you be okay with, Erika?” I was sitting 19 rows away from a man who was told by his father that he didn’t want his son pursuing an acting career, as he’d only ever be a “hanger-on.” And had he listened to his father, what would our culture be today?

What would my yesterday have been, never having seen his one-man opus?

And for anyone reading this post or reading the book who’s ever feared that something might fail, that they might have the vicious point of an I-told-you-so pointed in their direction, who feared pissing someone off — all on account of taking the leap to pursue what you love.

Captain James T. Kirk says to shut the hell up.

I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed seeing someone you admire in the act of doing what they love — but last night, I did. And that’s what’s okay with me — living a life doing what I love, as that theatre full of people was evidence that it’s possible. And not just possible, but probable for each of us to achieve.

And Then Captain Kirk Makes Me Cry. AGAIN.

Here’s the part where I get to insert that in two hours of showtime, Shatner dropped more f-bombs than I did in the whole book (to which many of you have already expressed disappointment). But that’s not how he scored a second cry out of me on what was one of the best days of my life. Captain Kirk started riffing on love.

The nerve, right?

Its power. The ability of love to fuel whatever it is we need to achieve, conquer, overcome, get through. How it makes us feel.

Watching love in motion — that’s what I saw last night. Shatner took me on a two-hour journey that on the surface might appear as a narrative on his life and career and all of the funny things that happen on the way to the forum. But underneath, it was one giant story about love. You saw him light up, his step get a bit lighter, when he talked about being on stage. How he felt when he saw the original pilot for Star Trek. His unfathomable loss when he came home one day to find his wife dead. The wings his heart grew when he met his now-wife of 12 years. The sense of humor he kept through it all. From the day his father offered a safety net of shelter should his pursuit of the hanger-on lifestyle not pan out to the moment he stepped foot on a stage in Denver, Colorado on March 20, 2012.

Captain James T. Kirk made me cry because I realized that everything I believe about love is true.

On the day of the book launch in Austin just over a week ago, I was asked by a man in the audience: What keeps you awake at 4 in the morning?

My answer was love. For my audience, friends, and family. The people in my life who are honest with me and in turn keep me honest. The love I feel when I remember the day I walked away from corporate America’s crazy payday to pursue my Must. Such an unpopular decision, but I chose to leave what was for me an unlikable path and get on one that would leave me at age 80 saying, “This is okay.”

And When the Vodka is Gone…

The curtain comes down — but not before you see Shatner with a closed-lip smile staring up at a screen filled with images from his vast career flashing by. We laugh, we offer a standing ovation. I spent two hours feeling. Two hours entertained by someone who made me feel something.

And that’s what unpopular brands do — they make us feel. We don’t like to care or admit that we do, but William. Fucking. Shatner made me feel and goddamn him for making me cry. I actually cried three times but I’m not telling you about the third — you’ll have to see the show for yourself.

So if you think that you don’t want to build an unpopular brand, you might want to think again. I’d spent two hours in front of a man who followed a path unpopular with his father that netted him a remarkable brand. No one will ever be Captain James T. Kirk again. Priceline’s Negotiator? Love him or hate him. But if we took this business thing a lot less seriously than all of the buzzwords, we might find that it really is about people. And yes, there is risk and things will fail. But you can’t get where you’re going alone and without trying.

And wouldn’t it be epically kickass to get YOU where you want to go — and stop wasting all of your time trying to be someone or something that you think people will like better?

As Shatner might tell you (and I might confirm after last night), there’s no success in an empty theatre. And the only thing that fills those places up?

You got it.


51 replies
  1. relik01
    relik01 says:

    I  have had a similar experience attending talks given by Captain Kirk’s best friend and first officer, Leonard Nimoy. I have seen him three times since I was 16, and each time he reaches me with some new insight. 

    My one encounter with Shatner was unfortunately during his “Get a Life” phase at a Trek convention, and it was not nearly so pleasant. He and I both seem to have matured (or at least mellowed) over the intervening years, and I think I’d definitely like to have a drink with the man. Will have to see if his show is coming to Houston anytime soon. 

  2. KarenMWinkelman
    KarenMWinkelman says:

    Wow! Thanks, Erika. This was an excellent post. I, too, love Captain James T. Kirk (he’s a force of nature!). And you made me cry, twice 🙂 I love your stuff, and the banner you rally the rest of us black sheep around. Keep on flying your “unpopular flag” — it moves people and changes lives. Love to you, Karen

  3. Erica Stone
    Erica Stone says:

    Sometimes we forget that we’re human. That we need that conviction, that drive and that passion to propel us onto greater things. Oh and my inner (okay it’s not well-hidden) geek is so in awe that you had this revelation from William Shatner. Seriously. It doesn’t get more awesome.

  4. Theresa Ortega
    Theresa Ortega says:

    I loved this post a year ago, and I just re-read the whole thing again today! LOVE LOVE ♥  ♥ ♥ you AND WILLIAM. FUCKING. SHATNER. FUCKING AWESOME. Thank you! (Did he really beat your F-bomb numbers? I’d forgotten you’d said that!! Stellar…..!)

  5. MichelleGillies
    MichelleGillies says:

    He is truly one of Canada’s treasures. He can often bring me to tears. Sometimes from laughter and sometimes just from emotion. He always seemed to get better with age. Some of his Denny Crane moments (from Boston Legal) were shear brilliance. I envy you your 19th row seat. Thanks for sharing.

  6. RonCallari
    RonCallari says:

    He was much more than than that guy up on that screen, because it was hard to separate him from Ray Bradbury’s fictional character, i.e. a country philosopher who just happened to head up a star fleet: “We’ve got to risk implosion. We may explode into the biggest fireball
    this part of the galaxy has seen, but we’ve got to take that one in a
    million chance,” said Fucking Shatner! Gotta love the guy!

  7. Sue Reddel
    Sue Reddel says:

    Great post Erika. I had the pleasure of attending a conference where the awesome Mr. William Shatner was the keynote speaker. He is a riveting yet humble speaker. Someone asked him his secret to constantly reinventing himself. His answer “it’s not reinventing yourself, it’s just another thing you do.” That struck me as so honest and authentic. He’s just being him. Such an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. DawnBarnhart
    DawnBarnhart says:

    Hi Erika, I saw Shatners show here in Denver last year and you’re correct – it was a gut-wrenchingly great. He was honest,  genuine and very, very funny. Glad you had the chance to see him – and how nice of him to comment too~

  9. CoachSherrill
    CoachSherrill says:

    So much awesomeness in this post, I can’t stand it.  Instead, I’m going to cry tears of awesomeness.  Thanks for wrenching my heart out where I can take a look at it, blood, guts and all 🙂

  10. DanitaClarkAble
    DanitaClarkAble says:

    Thank you for this post! I was told by many to change the name of my book, as it seems to imply something lurid. I’ve gone against the advice of friends and kept the title, because it felt right to do so. And because I love the title. So thanks for this ‘confirmation’ on my decision!

  11. KerryArmour
    KerryArmour says:

    This was just a flat out awesome piece. I mean that; no puffery here. I live in Santa Fe, NM. I get the star thing. I ran a way from corporate life to come live here and reinvent myself as an…umm, not quite sure yet… sort of a marketer/writer/teacher. I get that ‘gotta get outta here’ thing too. 
    And I adored ST as a kid. My dad would let me stay up late to watch, and the ‘where no man had gone before’-ness sparked something in me that I still hold on to. A willingness to leap into the unknown, I guess, a life-lust that I just now realize is probably love…for the all of it all. tonight, as I mix my usual vodka martini, very dry with olives, (natch) I’ll be toasting you. Thanks for a really, really great read. 
    I guess I need to get that book of yours now! I’m sure I’m going to love it.


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