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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Leonard Nimoy's Passing

It's pretty cool lately to shit on the idea of mourning a celebrity's death.  "You didn't know him," the general argument goes, or, "It's not like they were really a part of your life."  I could probably write a whole blogpost on that subject, but the short point is that's kind of a jaded outlook.  If there's ever an appropriate time to celebrate someone - especially someone we perhaps take for granted - it's probably in the wake of their death.  At a minimum it makes sense because you can judge their entire body of work.

Leonard Nimoy, perhaps more than any other recent celebrity who passed away, has been a ubiquitous presence in my life since...well, since I was born.  Honestly, that's fair to say of almost anyone who's been born since 1966, with varying degrees of accuracy.  I've watched Star Trek since I was old enough to turn on the TV.  I've seen probably every episode of every series, as well as the movies.  Spock's presence, and by extension Leonard Nimoy's performance, looms heavily over all of it, and as a result, over my childhood, and as a result, over my life.

Leonard Nimoy isn't just Spock.  He was a writer, director, host, actor, and, by all reports, a genuinely decent human being.  Honestly, I haven't seen an outpouring of such unironically detached love and affection since Mr. Rogers's death.  No, Leonard Nimoy wasn't just Spock, but Spock was his gift to posterity.  If he hadn't been a genuinely good person, we might be more conflicted about his legacy, but since he was, we have this: a universal sadness at a great man's passing and a universal joy at his positive impact.

This all sounds rather lame, doesn't it?  It's 2015.  We're all very...jaded.  We all survived the Bush years, the Great Recession, two Kafkaesque wars.  We all kind of hate one another.  We don't trust anyone.  We don't believe anyone will shoot straight with us.  We certainly don't trust the entertainment industry, who have long been purveyors of pap and never thought anything of manipulating our emotions to sell candy and soap.

If I was a different person, I could try to take you back to 1966, or 1982, and try to tell you how things were different.  But I'm me, and I can only take you back to the '90s, and what it meant to be someone like me back then.  I was a nerd.  A geek.  Whatever you want to call it.  Today, nerd culture is so ubiquitous (not to mention profitable) that there's no real social stigma attached to being a nerd.  You hear supermodels talk about what nerds they were in high school.  Yeah, sure, Kate Upton.  I'm sure you were all about the Mercedes Lackey novels and shit.

Nerdy is chic now.  Thor is a sex symbol.  People know who Ant-Man is, for Christ's sake.  But in the '90s - and I'd be willing to bet for quite a few decades before that - being a nerd meant being ostracized.  It meant if you were lucky you would find a few other nerds to hang out with.  But most of your time in public was spent feeling out of your own skin.  I didn't go to the kind of school where kids got beat up for being different.  It was kind of a wealthy school, and like I said, it was the '90s so it wasn't like I was a Jew in Catholic school in the '30s or something.  But you could still feel miserable non-stop for being different.

And we didn't have the internet back then.  Or we did, but it was nascent.  It wasn't like today where I could find out about every zombie movie ever made if zombies were my thing.  Discover little subcultures of nerddom was often a very solitary pursuit.  If I was reading WORLDWAR or playing Warhammer, I was probably the only one in my group doing that.

There were a few universals, though.  Every nerd had to know inside and out about a few things: "Star Wars," LORD OF THE RINGS, "Dungeons and Dragons," and..."Star Trek."  Sometimes, even today, nerds are portrayed as having these rival fandoms.  Fantasy fans will go to war with sci-fi fans, or "Star Trek" fans will go to war with "Star Wars" fans.  That was never my experience, and I'd be willing to bet it was never anybody's experience.  You might fight until your face turned blue about minutia, but it wasn't like "Dungeons and Dragons" players laughed at Trekkies or something.  I dunno.

I feel like I'm veering off course, but here's where we come back to it.  Leonard Nimoy - Spock - was just like me.  And by "me" I mean all of us.  He was out of his skin.  He was half-Vulcan, half-human, and welcome in neither world.  He had problems with his father, he had problems with his co-workers.  Hell, when the Enterprise met Romulans for the first time, his crew practically turned on him.

He didn't wear glasses - the eternal sign of the nerd - but he was physically different.  His pointed ears were the mark that he could never get rid of, the outward trait that proved he was different on the inside.  Nimoy's portrayal of Spock was a lot like how nerds felt about themselves.  We stuck out.  We couldn't hide our physical differences.  We often felt like we were thinking on a whole other plane than the people around us.  We were unappreciated, despite being clever or wise or whatever.

Spock was naturally endearing for all those reasons.  And a funny thing happened as time went on.  As the movies progressed, Spock began to become...chill.  He was still funny, peculiar, awkward, and smarter than everybody else.  But he had learned to accept it.  He rockets up the mountain in Star Trek V to save his friends.  When McCoy tries to trade barbs, we understand they're toothless at a certain point because they value one another.

Spock goes on to become a captain in his own right, and an ambassador, and to try to do the impossible: to reunite Vulcan and Romulus in "Star Trek: The Next Generation."  Spock never changed, but the world around him did.  Marching to the beat of a different drummer for however many decades had been painful - he had been the object of ridicule, when not outright having his loyalties questioned - but ultimately it had paid off.  Later Spock was proof that being a nerd didn't have to end horribly.  You could be a nerd forever and ultimately just end up appreciated.

Leonard Nimoy brought all of this to people like me - millions and millions, judging by the outpouring of support - over the years.  As I said, Nimoy was not just Spock, but Spock was his enduring gift to the world.

Last year, I went to the Shore Leave Star Trek convention in Baltimore, MD.  Leonard Nimoy was supposed to be there, but he was already suffering from lung cancer.  Well, no doubt he had been suffering from lung cancer for many years, but this was the first time I had heard about it.  He couldn't make it, and had to attend via video teleconference.  I could have gone - depending on the ticket price and the time.  But I ended up working my table all day, trying to sell copies of my books.  "Another time," I thought, "And when he's here in person."

Well, I guess that day will never come now.  It's very sad to lose someone who feels like a friend, even if you never met them, not even once.  And some friends and even family come in and out of your life.  Leonard Nimoy is someone who was never really absent from my life.  How far was I ever really from an episode of Star Trek?  A week or two?

So it might be nerdy, or even worse, it might be lame, but, yes, I will miss Leonard Nimoy, even though I never met him personally.

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