It isn’t any surprise that Mr. Spock was an influence in my life, just look at the URL for my blog. I was barely 6 years old when Leonard Nimoy first went on TV with the flat hair cut and pointed ears. The fact that my dad liked the show made it an early influence in my view of being a geek or a nerd. There was always Mr. Spock to look to.
Mr. Spock didn’t fit in with his childhood peers, either. Being only half-Vulcan in a society that rigidly viewed all other races and cultures as inferior, he found it necessary to step out of the boundaries of his society to blaze his own trail. Even in the marriage his parents arranged for him, his betrothed rejected him both because of his mixed heritage and the high degree of notoriety he held. The only place he ever felt completely free to be himself was on the Enterprise.
Except for the fact that I never have found my “Enterprise”, I can fully relate. My mother was such a staunch Democrat that she even at one point was the Committee Chairperson for her county. My dad, on the other hand, is a devout Republican who is the current NRA Election Volunteer Coordinator for SE Kansas. You can’t be more opposite. Both think that their views are the only ones that are right – and the only thing they agree on is that I’m somehow wrong for rejecting Christianity.
Mr. Spock always seemed to have an answer for everything – but often his answer was “We don’t have enough data to support that conclusion.” In other words, “I don’t know.” He was honest, always did everything he could, and was brilliant. With an IQ of 149, I didn’t fit in with my peers either – and my parent’s civil war was even more well known in our small Kansas town than it was within our home – so my peers already had reason to set me apart.
I spent a lot of my childhood reading books in the backyard – alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to make friends – it was that I didn’t want the pain of trying to make a new friend and ending up being their punching bag after a week or two. I was reading Agatha Christie in 3rd & 4th grade; Conan-Doyle in 4th grade; Asimov & Clarke by 5th grade. There were many other authors along the way – I went through at least 100 novels every summer.
Reading wasn’t the only area I had advanced abilities in, either. In 2nd grade, while the class was working to understand 2 column addition and subtraction, my father was taking a college math class. He had a classmate he got together with once a week to do homework and study with, and due to lack of babysitting he took me and my brothers along. We were expected to play with his classmate’s kids in a bedroom while they studied at the kitchen table. One night I overheard the most fascinating conversation – about an alternate system of measurements and how to convert from our system to it. It was the Metric System. The next day in school, I asked my teacher about the things I had learned by listening to that conversation. I went up to the board and wrote out what I remembered. It took exactly 2 minutes to realize I knew more about the Metric System at that point than she did. She was the first teacher to tag my report card with the phrase, “Not performing up to potential” – but not the last. Lebo never had a class after that which challenged me – except to find ways to cope with boredom. While I never excelled at any one musical instrument, I learned to play 12 different ones – reading music – before the end of my Sophomore year of high school.
There I was – barely 16 – and I’d already done more than many adults do if they live to be 80. I had a bright future – or so we thought until I applied for admission to my equivalent of the Vulcan Science Academy.
The music teacher from Lebo High School (way back then – he isn’t there any more) had worked out a full-ride scholarship for me to study music at Emporia State University. It was a very big deal. Except for one problem – or actually two. The math teacher I worked with at Emporia High School (where I actually graduated) had worked out a full-ride scholarship for me in the Mathematics Department at Emporia State University, and the Creative Writing teacher at EHS had also worked out a full-ride scholarship for me at ESU. When I talked to the admissions office about my application, they were thrilled that I would consider ESU (to be honest, Julliard and MIT weren’t options because my family couldn’t afford them). I just needed to declare my major before we could get me enrolled.
How does a 16 year old kid who’s never had a friendly peer group decide what his entire life’s future would be? I took a page out of Mr. Spock’s book – turn your back on the Vulcan Science Academy and join Star Fleet. Or, in the real world, I walked away from Emporia State University and joined the US Army.
Thank you, Mr. Nimoy. You’ve done more for me than you will ever know.