Monday, March 2, 2015

Leonard Nimoy: In memorium

A great light has gone out in science fiction.

I cut the quasi-chevron shape out of the cardboard as best as I could, trying to prevent jagged edges. With a felt-tip marker I drew my best approximation of the science officer's insignia and then colored in the interior with a yellow highlighter. Godawful as my sewing skills were, I fastened gold ric-rac around the sleeves of a blue, long sleeve shirt made of a plush fabric like velvet or velour. The Starfleet emblem went over the shirt's embroidered fox, the pointed ears went over my given ones, and a slash of my Mom's mascara gave my eyebrows an uplift.

I might've been 13, but at that moment...I was Spock.

It's not often that celebrity deaths get to me. I mean, yes Lou Reed was a tough one. But the death of Leonard Nimoy has hit me in ways for which I was unprepared. The man was a great artist and contributed much more to the world than simply his iconic character. Actor, writer, director, photographer, painter. Nimoy's artistic achievements are worthy of a blog post in and of itself and I will provide one in the coming weeks. Tonight though, I'm just trying to feel my way through this loss. To do so, I need to contemplate how I came to know him: as Spock.

As is the case with many geeks, Star Trek became constant companion to me. In all of its incarnations up until the 1980s...the original series, the animated series, the movies, The Next was there for me all those weekends I spent by myself. The bridge crew of the original series became almost a second family to me. They were the source of innumerable bits of parodies, artwork, and random acts of geekery between my me and my friend, Brad. Most any product of science fiction can provide escapism. This experience with Star Trek, however, was much more. It provided a means through which to see the universe, a code of conduct and thinking to aspire to, and an unabashed optimism for humanity's future.

A big part of that was Spock and who he was. He was...well, logical. I was not. I was a teenage tempest just starting to learn about depression. And yet...and yet...I found myself subconsciously attempting to emulate him. The episode "Amok Time" from the original series showed a Spock revealing his savage side during the time of "pon farr." It also featured him regaining mastery of his emotions and allowing reason and cool-thinking to prevail. Seeing this, I began to think that I could gain control over my emotions, to rule them and not the other way around. Also, I knew I just wasn't good looking enough to be the "space stud" that Jim Kirk was. But I did happen to have a bit going on upstairs. Maybe, just maybe, I could be Spock.

Then in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Spock attempted Kolinahr, the Vulcan purging of what vestigial emotions remained. Without giving spoilers, I'll just say all did not go as planned. A connection to something greater called to Spock, something that sought meaning and completion (yeah okay, it was V'Ger.) This seemed to set Spock on a road to realization, of reconciling his Vulcan side with his human half. My lesson in that was one need not "purge" all emotion, but seek balance and harmony. You could take the best qualities of Vulcan...logic and scientific reasoning...and temper them with the best of humanity...compassion and community. Later in college I would learn this Spock-ian principle to be very close to Aristotle's "doctrine of the mean."

The more I think about it, the more I realize how much Spock trickled down into my psyche. When I would find myself confronted by a difficult math or computer problem...which was pretty much all of them for someone like me...I would channel that approach of pure logic that served Spock so well. When bullied or teased, I began to offer calm responses that came laced with sly and cutting wit.

In short, I grokked Spock.

More important than any of that, I hoped to mimic the character's steadfast loyalty ("I have been, and always shall be, your friend.") As a Vulcan, Spock had no agenda. He did not actively seek command or advancement or riches or any of the chicanery I find myself dealing with humans over most days. In fact, it seemed he had but two ambitions: 1) to continually gain knowledge 2) to serve. I can't help but think that those two aspects of Spock's character were extensions of Leonard Nimoy himself.

None of this could have happened without Leonard Nimoy. He breathed life into that character. Yes, Spock was created by Gene Roddenberry and I would never minimize the contributions of the many writers involved with the franchise. That said, to truly create such an indelible and iconic character, one that would become so ingrained in our culture, that takes a special actor. In this case and with no disrespect to Zachary Quinto, it truly took Leonard Nimoy. Because of him, Spock became a living, breathing being.

Geez, this post is already twice as long as a typical one...and I haven't even gotten to Nimoy's role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and of course In Search Of. Yeah, that last one is going to take a whole post on its own. Guess I'm rambling and still rather in shock.

What else can I say that others haven't already? I'm hurt by this loss. Leonard Nimoy was amazing. He was an inspiration. He was a truly wonderful human being and although I never knew him or even met him, I miss him. I have been...and always shall be...your fan.

May your legend live long and prosper.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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