Leonard Nimoy and Infinite Creativity in Infinite Combinations
As anyone who knew me as a youngster can attest, I grew up in a haze of solitude and nerdiness. Not this nouveau nerdy, the kind where a person as attractive and as popular as Kaley Cuoco claims to be a huge geek because she likes The Big Bang Theory. I was honest-to-goodness, all-my-time-alone-in-my-room nerdy. Many of my early memories that have survived the defense mechanism wipe I’ve done on my brain relate to Star Trek in some way. I love The Next Generation and how “The Drumhead” taught me lessons we’d forget completely after 9/11 and still haven’t rediscovered. I loved reading the tie-in books and someday dreamed that I could write those books. (Those dreams have not come true.) I loved reading about the science fiction fandom that transpired before I was born, spending countless hours reading and re-reading the whitewashed Gene Roddenberry biography popular at the time.
As a young person, I had only a hint of what I would love most about Leonard Nimoy. There was no Internet, but the science fiction fan magazines often mentioned Mr. Nimoy’s side projects: his photography, his stage work, the films he directed. Mr. Nimoy possessed a quiet dignity that radiated through the screen. Behind that dignity, I think, was Mr. Nimoy’s ultimate truth: he loved human creativity and exercised his own in ways to which few of us can aspire.
We should all aspire to follow Mr. Nimoy’s lead and to manifest our creativity in the ways suggested by our Muses.
Mr. Nimoy did all of the following (and more) in his eighty-three years on Earth:
Directed feature films of the Star Trek and non-Star Trek variety.
Spent over 60 years in acting, from the near-infancy of television and the insanity of Hayes Code Hollywood to working on The Big Bang Theory and in video games.
Released music when he darn well felt like it.
Now, don’t feel bad if you don’t have the same kind of insanely broad ambitions. I am one of the people, however, who admires that Mr. Nimoy was curious about working in all kinds of forms and with all kinds of stories. I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Nimoy would be happy if contemplating his death inspired someone to write a song for the first time. Or to take up photography. Or to perform any creative act that they had previously avoided as a result of self-doubt or fear of what others would think.
Mr. Nimoy gave his audience what they wanted while remaining true to his artistic impulses.
In 1975, Star Trek was in syndication and its cast was in an interesting position: they were part of American pop culture, but weren’t exactly raking in the big bucks. The first Trek movie wouldn’t come out for a few years. It must have been an interesting and frustrating time for many of these folks. Mr. Nimoy published a book entitled I Am Not Spock. The book was not a repudiation of the role, but an affirmation of the author’s own identity.
Though he was frustrated by the typecasting he did receive, Mr. Nimoy understood that there are worse things than being beloved by millions of fans and respected by your professional acquaintances. Leonard Nimoy walked the line between art and commerce in way few have managed. What’s the balance between selling out artistically and selling enough to provide for oneself and one’s family? Mr. Nimoy gave us what we wanted: Mr. Spock, Three Men and a Baby, countless appearances at Trek conventions, In Search Of… He also gave us what we didn’t know he wanted: a Kabbalah-inspired photography project, Leonard-Nimoy-in-Equus, books of Nimoy poetry.
I worry that the “literary” community needs to do a better job at this balancing act. I hate the need for money as much as the next writer, but cash makes the world go around. Mr. Nimoy understood the audience principle and that if we fill enough seats with good work that is also popular, we can keep doing the good work that isn’t as commercially viable.
Leonard Nimoy made himself a part of every creative endeavor of which he was a part.
Like I said, I was a big-time nerd. I learned long ago that Mr. Nimoy accessed his Jewish roots when required to devise a Vulcan salute. The incredibly familiar hand gesture is derived from a blessing performed by kohanim. Don’t you find it beautiful that an ancient tradition will last in perpetuity, brought into the popular consciousness in an ambitious narrative that reflects mankind’s desire to explore the universe?
I don’t happen to be Jewish, but I love that Mr. Nimoy made use of what was familiar to him while helping to create a work of art that was not completely his own. How does your own work reflect who you are? Not necessarily in terms of easily defined categories or the obvious manners in which you identify yourself by group, but in the specificities of your past? Do you have a character who speaks like your long-dead great-grandmother? Have you written about shoemaking, the profession of an even more distant relative? What are we but a collection of stories; how do your long-buried and secret stories relate to the narrative of you and those you produce?
Mr. Nimoy and I are very different artists; I’ve never had ambitions to act and I have no delusions that my voice could earn me a place behind a professional microphone. But I’ve always wanted to live the kind of life that Mr. Nimoy enjoyed: an existence packed to the brim with expression, filled with creative people and dedicated to examining the endless wonder to be found on Earth and beyond.