There’s a moment in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the best of the Star Trek films, if you ask me) when Spock offers Admiral Kirk command of the Enterprise. Spock has captained the ship as a teacher of cadets on a training cruise. If they’re going into combat, though, Kirk should take command, Spock says.
Kirk demurs, but Spock gently and logically persists. Eventually, he says it was a mistake for Kirk to accept promotion to the admiralty:
“Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else… is a waste of material.”
This line is one of two that has stayed with me since I first saw the movie in 1982. (The other line, also from Spock, is: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” I don’t always agree with that one, however.
(Have I mentioned that I’m a huge nerd? Huge. MASSIVE. You may not have caught that yet.)
Anyway, many moons ago, I was talking about the topic of best destiny with a photographer friend of mine. He understood the tension between what we do to make a living and what we do that really drives us.
I know what my best destiny is, of course. (Writing. It’s writing. Do I EVEN have to point this out?) But it’s also what I don’t spend the majority of my time doing. I have a day job, a good one. It’s enjoyable, I work with good people, and it lets me add to my skills—I don’t ever want to stop learning new things—and it provides a safety net in unsettled and uncertain times.
A day job, though, means that Monday through Friday, your days and your time are spoken for by someone else. I’m also a creative writing teacher, which takes up another ten or so hours a week. (To be honest, that’s an underestimate.) Between those two things and all the mundane tasks that go into everyday life, I look at the vanishingly small amount of time leftover for writing and wonder: How do I keep working toward that best destiny?
Something else I know about me, though: I get more creative when I have to operate within constraints. Having to find the narrow windows of time where I can write has reminded me of this. I think of it like the poet working within a form, meter, and rhyme scheme, or the painter working within the dimensions of a canvas. If I have a time limit, I will get things done within that.
Time constraints also remind me of something my former boss Elizabeth told me: The perfect is the enemy of the good. I could tinker and tinker and rewrite something endlessly if I wanted to, but I’d never finish anything.
If we think of our best destiny as a destination, we can’t always take the direct route to it. We have to make compromises, defer things, choose a detour when there’s a roadblock in the way, like real life.
When we know what our best destiny is, though, we can’t ignore it. We can try, but that really doesn’t work for long. I think at heart we know that anything else is a waste of material.