Thursday, March 5, 2015

Growing up with Mr. Spock by Robin Janney

This past Friday saw the passing of Leonard Nimoy.  He was a man of many talents: an actor, a poet, an author, a father and stepfather and grandfather, film director, photographer, friend and I’m sure there are even more items that could be added to his list.  He was also a member of the US Army Reserves back in the 1950’s.  When you live to be 83, you have many chances to wear many hats like he did.

Spock and Isis from TOS Assignment Earth
For many of us, the role that immediately springs to mind when we consider his career is that of Commander Spock of the USS Enterprise.  A role that spanned decades across two different series, and a whole bunch of movies.

I myself was not even born when Star Trek The Original Series aired in the sixties.  And the ironical part of my love for almost all things Trek is, the first time I caught part of an episode on our local PBS station…I hated it and refused to watch it.  In my defense, I was not even a teen yet…and the episode was By Any Other Name in which the aliens were able to reduce a human life form into a gray block of protein matter which was only reversible if the block remained undamaged, and I had the unfortunate luck of having tuned in during the scene where one of the aliens crushed the block of Yeoman Leslie Thompson (the only female redshirt to have died during the series).  Needless to say, the disturbing murder upset me and I vowed to never watch Star Trek again.

Which lasted until I hit my teens and caught an episode of the spinoff, Star Trek The Next Generation.  I was a teen girl…and Wesley Crusher was cute.  From that one episode, a love for this universe grew.  Oddly enough, I can’t tell you which Wesley centric episode it was…it may have been Coming of Age when he was trying out for Starfleet academy for the first time, or it may have been When the Bough Breaks.  I just know it was an early season episode where Wesley was wearing that awful grey jumpsuit.

Needless to say, as I watched more Trek, TOS, TNG and DS9 as a teen, my crushes changed.  TOS I flip-flopped between the three main stars until finally settling on Mr. Spock.  I know that several of my creative writing free writes in high school were Spock centric, with my very own “Mary Sue” character as his love interest.  Hey, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I was a teen practicing my writing and escaping reality at the same time.  I did all the clich√© things to my stand-in too, gave her a better body, made her a human-alien hybrid which I understand is fairly typical, gave her epic alien powers cool enough to rival Q’s.  She’s come a long way in my imagination, and if nothing else, she’s taught me a lot about all the characters I create.  I think I’ll leave that for another post.
Spock was and is a character of depth.  You could count on him to be the calm, steady voice in the midst of a battle.  He rarely raised his voice, unless it was just too loud on the bridge or under the influence of pon farr or being taken back to a time before Vulcans began to utilize logic.  He was not a warm character, but many shows gave us glimpses into the tightly controlled emotions and passions he had.  It wasn’t that Vulcans have no emotions, but that they chose to not allow their emotions to rule their decisions.

For all that Gene Roddenberry created the series and the initial character of Spock, it was Leonard Nimoy who made Spock who he is and indeed, the Vulcan race.  From the Jewish roots of the Vulcan hand greeting and phrase that goes with it, to the famous Vulcan neck pinch (Nimoy felt Spock was too logical to punch an adversary.)  So even the character of Spock that we see in the Trek novels counts as Nimoy’s creation.  My favorite is Vulcan’s Heart, which is as close to a Romance as Trek gets.  The Pandora Principle, Saavik’s origin story, though not considered ‘cannon’, is my second favorite.  I prefer the Vulcans over the Klingons who became so popular during The Next Generation time.  And that comes from my deep loyalty to Spock and the man who made him.

If it hadn't been for my fanfiction concerning both Star Trek and Star Wars during my youth, I’m not sure where I would be today.  My strongest memory of growing up with Spock and the gang were watching the episodes on our local PBS station; they started coming on around 10 or 10:30 and they showed 3 episodes back to back.  With no commercials, fundraising seasons tended to drag though.  In my imagination, we were friends and with them I was accepted and admired –something I had not experienced in my youth.  Trek especially kept me sane with their vision of a future where all people were accepted for who they were, regardless of their religion, their appearance, or their personality quirks.  We won’t talk about how Lt. Reginald Barclay in The Next Generation struggled with being…different.  That’s another matter entirely and served to drive home how easily it can be to ostracize someone without meaning to.

Sadly, before Friday I could have told you more about Spock than I could have the man who portrayed him.  Since Leonard’s death, I have learned he was one cool cat.  He supported his friends He fought for equal pay for one of his Star Trek costars and in the previous article he even championed for their very jobs when it came time for the animated series.  He included full bodied women in his photography.

Leonard Nimoy was someone who had always been there, and even when he announced his fight with COPD I kind of always expected him to be around.  I wonder if they will include his death in the next Star Trek reboot?  Or if they will properly let his character fade into the background?  He has truly left a lasting legacy, on many different fronts.  From epic quotes both as Spock and as himself, to countless people like myself who have been touched even indirectly by his life’s work.  He will not be forgotten.

Live long and prosper.

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