purplefringe: Amelie (Default)
So, I met Jewel Staite yesterday.

As predicted, she was completely gorgeous and delightful in person; at her Q&A she came across as relaxed and funny and smart and just as sweet as everyone says she is.

Also as predicted, when I came face to face with her, I was utterly tongue-tied. It was all I could do to stammer a rather pathetic ‘thank you’ when she signed my picture, and when I tried to think of something – anything! – else to say, my brain crashed entirely, and needed to be force-quit and restarted once I was out of her sight. I’m always the same at these things: unless I have planned something very specific to say in advance, my ability to function like a regular human being fails entirely and I come away feeling exhilarated that I have met one of my favourite actors, and a tiny bit disappointed that I wasn’t more scintillating, or funnier, or less awkward. Normally this doesn’t really matter. I know I’m hardly the only person who gets like this (in fact, I imagine that the people who have coherent, interesting and non-awkward conversations in those situations are probably in the minority, right?), and so far I am very lucky to have had the pleasure of meeting a whole bunch of awesome people, including all four of the current Doctor Who cast, John Barrowman, Mark Gatiss, Mark Sheppard, Joe Flanigan and Freema Agyman.

And whilst I am, in my fannish way, head over heels in love with all those people for a huge variety of reasons, and some of them for a very long time, none of them have ever played a character I look up to quite as much as Kaylee. And I do really wish I could have told her how much Kaylee means to me. Jewel said at her Q&A that she always enjoys it when fans come up to her and tell her how much they like her work, because it’s always great to hear that something you do for a living has a positive effect on people. So I wish I could have told her why I love Kaylee.

I wish I could have told her that Kaylee is an inspiration to me as a person, and probably to many other people around the world. Her hope, her determination, her kindness and willing to see the best in people. The way she radiates warmth and brings joy to those around her. The way she tries to draw out the goodness in others. The way she cares, deeply and sincerely, about everyone she loves and even people she’s only just met. She is completely non-judgemental. I could fill a whole essay just with examples of these traits, but if you’ve seen Firefly you’ll know what I’m talking about, so I don’t need to. These are all characteristics that everyone instantly associates with Kaylee, and they are charateristics for everyone to aspire to.

But Kaylee isn’t a cartoon character – she isn’t all goodness and light all the time. She can be nervous, insecure (‘Wash, tell me I’m pretty’), she can be socially awkward (when faced with people who don’t understand her – see ‘Shindig’), she can, occasionally, get sulky or petty when things aren’t going well for her (mostly when Simon is being emotionally incompetent), she can sometimes freeze up in a crisis, at least until someone gives her a gentle nudge. She is incredibly brave, but sometimes her courage can fail at the last moment – when Kaylee finds herself unable to take the plunge and actually shoot anyone in ‘War Stories’, I always kind of want to cry, because I recognise that – a lot of my favourite fictional ladies are badass and awesome, the Zoes and Rivers of the world, who can kick ass and wield a gun with ease and save the world and be amazing at it. But there is more than one way to save the world. And I will never be like Zoe. I admire these heroes with their guns and martial arts and bravery, but I don’t see myself in them. I know I would be like Kaylee. And I love her for that. I love that she is brave enough to try, and to not always succeed. When it matters, when it’s all down to her, she can do it. She risks her life to save Wash in ‘Heart of Gold’ without even thinking about it, and at the end of the movie she finds something worth shooting for. But she is not perfect.

These things make her human, make her recognisable. I love her all the more for these little flaws.

I love her because she is playful and mischievous – she has a great sense of humour, she is not afraid to fight dirty in basketball, and she plays with River like a little sister, capering round the ship after her apple and giving River the childhood experiences the Academy denied her. She skips down the corridors, even when nobody is watching. She gets a wicked glint in her eye when plotting a heist (provided, of course, that they have the moral high ground), and clearly knows how to use her brain as well as her hands when it comes to ‘doing crime’. She can think on her feet. She knows when to keep a secret, and when to give it up, however hard that may be. She is not afraid to express her opinions. She is relaxed and happy in the company of Wash, her partner in grime, and equally comfortable with Zoe, Book, Jayne and especially Mal, despite the difference between them in both age and life experiences. I am particularly fond of her relationship with Mal, as she tends to bring out the best in him – the caring nature he sometimes seems to switch off. In Simon, conversely, she sometimes brings out the awkwardness, in her simple search for affection. Yet their relationship, full of stops and starts though it is, is honest and sweet to watch. And, of course, Inara – her confidante, role model, best friend, (or girlfriend). I’ve said before how much I adore that she and Inara get to have this beautifully uncomplicated, mutually supportive friendship, with no barriers of jealousy or misunderstanding between them. This is not common enough in television.

I love Kaylee because she is a beautiful mass of opposites, which is not the same as contradictions. She is unashamedly girly in her love of pink frilly dresses and fancy parties, her need to decorate her living space with flowers, the obvious enjoyment she derives from baking and feeling pretty. She is sensitive, maternal and nurturing and likes to give others gifts. She clearly prefers having her hair brushed and sharing secrets with Inara to tidying up ‘terrifying space monkey’-esque mess in her engine room. And yet, she loves her engine room. She has a hammock there, so she can sleep close to Serenity’s beating heart and feel close to her. She understands machines and sees their complexity as beauty, as a language she can speak intuitively. Being a mechanic is such a narutal part of Kaylee’s existence, she is more than happy to get dirty, to plunge her hands (carefully) into Serenity’s soul to fix whatever needs fixing. The engine room is where she goes when she needs to think, to be alone, to concentrate. Few things make her angrier than people insulting her ship. Kaylee the genius mechanic and Kaylee the frilly dress wearer are complementary parts of the same glorious whole.

The same can be said for the way she thinks about sex. At first sight, Kaylee seems very young, innocent, childlike even. This is simply because the goodness and honesty that radiate from her are more usually associated with children than with adults, hardened by life experience. But there is more to her than that – she is not as naïve or as unworldly as people first believe (or want to believe). She is not ashamed of sex – of having it, of enjoying it, of talking about it. She is not embarrassed to mention masturbation, or to flirt with people she finds attractive. She chats with Inara about her work – the ‘how many of them fell madly in love with you’ comment showing that she has an active imagination and a love of flights of fancy, whilst also being completely practical and down to earth about sex and everything else. She is a lot less coy than Simon, and is the driving force of their relationship without being domineering: ‘With me? You mean to say, as in…sex?’ This healthy, comfortable attitude towards sex is a wonderfully refreshing thing to see on screen. Especially as she has her limits – whilst casual and cheerful about sex (‘they have boy whores! How thoughtful!’) she does not perceive every person she meets as a potential sex object, and is clearly hurt when, in the pilot episode, Jayne implies her only thoughts about Simon are lewd fantasties. It is wonderful to see a woman on screen who has this sort of attitude without ‘sexiness’ being an integral driving force of their character. It’s just part of who she is, and she is well rounded enough that she can think like this whilst still maintaining a childlike joy in the world.

I love Kaylee, because she is proof that there is no wrong way to be a girl, and that makes her a Big Damn Hero.


So, those are some of the things I would have liked to say to Jewel Staite, when I met her yesterday. On reflection, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t get to say them, or I’d still be there.

No wrong way to be a girl )


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