High Strangeness: Spock: Teenage Outcast

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spock: Teenage Outcast

I'm going to take a short break from writing about UFOs to write about something that's a little bit different. This morning I received a tweet on my phone from Huffington Post that simply said: "Another Reason to love Spock and "Star Trek."

I can always use another reason to love Spock and Star Trek, so I clicked and found this story on the quite brilliant blog, "My Star Trek Scrapbook" about a 1968 exchange between a teenage Star Trek fan and actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the original TV series and most of the ST theatrical movies. The fan was a young mixed-race woman who was having a hard time fitting in, and who drew comfort and inspiration from Nimoy's portrayal of Spock, who was half-human and half-Vulcan.

She wrote to Spock that she was the child of an African-American mother and Caucasian father. "The Negros don't like me because I don't look like them," she wrote. "The white kids don't like me because I don't exactly look like one of them, either. I guess I'll never have any friends."

The young woman, who signed herself "F.C." sent her letter to fan magazine Fave, and the editors of Fave reached out to Nimoy and asked him to reply. The fact that he responded at all is kind of amazing, when you realize that the actor had grown to hate the Spock character during the course of the 1966-1969 TV series--he even hinted around at his true feelings about the character when he titled his 1975 autobiography "I Am Not Spock."

But apparently responding to F.C.'s letter was the only logical course of action, so Nimoy channeled his inner Vulcan and penned a lovely note to the young woman...

"Spock learned he could save himself from letting prejudice get him down," Nimoy wrote to F.C. "He could do this by really understanding himself and knowing his own value as a person. He found he was equal to anyone who might try to put him down--equal in his own unique way."

Nimoy drew a direct comparison between F.C.'s plight and the struggles young Spock faced growing up on the planet Vulcan. "So Spock said to himself: 'OK, I'm not Vulcan, so the Vulcans don't want me. My blood isn't pure red earth blood. It's green. And my ears--well, it's obvious I'm not pure human. So, they won't want me either. I must do for myself and not worry about what others think of me who don't really know me.'"

It's a pretty amazing letter, and I want you to go to "My Star Trek Scrapbook" right now and read it.

Seeing this today reminded me of a moment last summer when my own Star Trek connection brought about a similar encounter. A friend of mine, Jxxx, teaches at an acting summer camp for 8-12 year-old kids in Chicago, and last summer he invited me to give a talk to his students about writing for Star Trek. It sounded like fun, so I accepted. When the day came, I found myself facing a huge, unruly mob of kids, but once I started talking and giving them science fiction writing exercises it all came together. The kids were wonderful, charming, loud, goofy, curious, brilliant, as all kids are, and the hour went by so quickly I thought I was caught in some kind of temporal anomaly--

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
The Spock family portrait: uptight, logical Vulcan dad; inconsistent, emotional human mom; screwed-up half-breed kid.
After I gave my talk, a kid who was on the older end of the scale for this group approached me to say hi. He was overgrown and awkward and looked like he spent a lot of time in comics shops--he wore a hilarious Star Trek t-shirt that said something about how quickly James T. Kirk would have kicked Wesley Crusher's ass off the bridge of the Enterprise, and I liked him instantly.

He thanked me for my talk and said, very earnestly, "I just want to tell you that Star Trek has played a huge role in making me the person I am today." I smiled and said, "Me too!" We both had a good laugh, I complimented him on his shirt, and then he had to go on to the next class. Nothing more needed to be said: Star Trek, created by the visionary Gene Roddenberry, had made us both better, smarter, more confident, more tolerant, a little less screwed-up people, just like it did Leonard Nimoy and F.C.

It's a good bunch to be a part of.

Oh, one more thing. After thinking it over for a while, Leonard Nimoy wrote a second autobiography. He called it, "I Am Spock."

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