Art and Science (a love story)

Bunny, Pip, and I are in Louisville visiting my sister and I thought that I would take this opportunity to post this piece about her that I wrote for a competition called Write Club (a literary blood match where two opposing writers are assigned opposing ideas and 7 minutes exactly to make their case.)  I was assigned "Art" and my opponent was assigned "Science" and this is what I wrote.
Sure, you could call it cheating...or laziness.  That might be fair.  But she especially loved this piece and I like to think I am HONORING her.  See? 

Semantics.

When I was given this assignment of ART over SCIENCE, I immediately connected.  I am an expert.  I have always, for as long as I can remember, known I would be some kind of artist.  I have always performed.  I have always loved to sing and act and write and direct.  I got two degrees in that stuff – cause one degree in theater isn’t expensive or useless enough.  I have two.  I have few other skills, actually.  That’s fact.  I am almost completely unemployable in the real world.  I’m so proud.

My mother was an actress and my father was an actor and a comedy writer.  They were thrilled with my choice to become an artist.  They were endlessly supportive with praise and financing.  They were my biggest fans.  My father had a green recliner in the family room of my childhood home that he sat in all evening, every evening.  Dad’s chair.  And above dad’s chair was my “wall of fame.” Framed photos of me – headshots and publicity photos from college shows and professional shows – me in The Sound of Music. A Christmas Carol. The Wizard of Oz.  The Miss Firecracker Contest.  Into the Woods.  Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.  Easily 20 or more.  Just me on that wall.  All me.

I also have a sister.  You wouldn’t have known it to walk into our family room and look at that wall but I do.  She was around for 7 years before I even showed up.  She was a fixture in that home as well.  Just not on that wall…or any wall.  There was one framed item – in a room we never used except as a conduit to a friendlier, warmer room we might actually hang out in – on a bookshelf in the corner – propped up behind a large ceramic statue of a clown.  It was the signature page of her dissertation.  She’s a PhD in Neuroscience.  She is a Neuroscientist.

Fuckin blacksheep.

8 years ago she won some kind of big science award I don’t know the name of.  The president gave it to her and shook her hand.  But, you know, it was Bush so pfffft (shrug.) That photo of my sister with the president…of the United States…of, you know,  AMERICA…got stuck on the fridge under a large salt dough magnet made by Girl Scout troop 451.

It was art v science in my house all the frickin time and art always won.  And why wouldn’t it?  Art is so FUN!

I have sung back-up on two acoustic punk CDs.  Everybody got one for Christmas.  I have short plays published in two anthologies.  Everybody got one for Christmas.  I wrote a musical and produced an original soundtrack recording.  Everybody got one for Christmas.  That’s fun stuff.  You know what my sister had?  A published article entitled:  Epithelium overexpression of BDNF and NT4 produces distinct gustatory axon morphologies that disrupt initial targeting.

What the hell is that?  If she wanted us to know about that she’d need to sing it…and she’s tone deaf…and none of that shit rhymes so….

Art wins.  Bam.

For years and years and years art won out in that house.

But I cannot badmouth science.  I know that’s a standard at Write Club – badmouthing the subject your opponent has been assigned.  There’s good strategy in that and, normally, I’m all over it.  But in my life, Science is Robin.  Robin is Science.  And I adore my sister.  And when our father was diagnosed with cancer, my scientist sister was working at a medical center with a top-notch oncology guy who did her a personal favor and saw our dad immediately.  And when my son was gravely ill with a rare disease, my scientist sister had access to medical journals that helped us fight through medical bureaucracy to get him the care he needed.

And there are scientists everywhere…right now…scientists with goggles on - squirting some kind of something into a test tube and then putting it in something called an enclave or some such and it’s gonna heat up or spin around or do whatever it does and they are learning important sciencey things that will help them, I hope, learn to grow human livers in petri dishes for the next time my son needs a transplant.  And they are figuring out, please, how to repair holes in the ozone and how to reverse damage done to the brain by alzheimers and how to cure cancer and how to clean the oceans.  I’m a science fan.

So do I concede to my opponent?

No.  Fuck that.   But I wasn’t sure how I was gonna bring it back around and then I found a book on the floor of the hallway of our condo.  Something my daughter bought at the Scholastic Book Fair when I was out of town and unavailable to help her make wise book choices.  It’s an Earth Science book.  It’s called The Cutest Nature Book Ever (exclamation point ladybug.)  It explains that you should get outside into nature – as long as you put down a blanket so you don’t get your clothes dirty.  And you should investigate bugs – but not real bugs cause those can be “icky and scary” – but you can MAKE some with pipe cleaners and google eyes.  And bird feathers are wondrous things to examine– but not ones found in nature cause they might have germs and it might be illegal to pick them up.  But you can buy them from the craft store in bulk in a plastic bag and that will help you get your nature on.

And I was gonna write a little feminist diatribe about the dumbing down of science stuff for little girls cause that book is crap.  But whatever.  A book like that isn’t going to keep my daughter from being a scientist.  And a great science book with actual science in it (while it would be preferable to that cute nature crap) probably isn’t going to turn my second grader into a scientist.

So what will?  How did my sister, in a home full of artists, become a Neuroscientist? We used to joke that she was switched at birth or that something went horribly wrong in utero.  But we knew that wasn't it.

In truth, she was raised by an actress who taught her that a person can transform herself into whomever or whatever she wants to be.

She was raised by a writer who put a premium on good, original ideas.

She was raised by two people who believed firmly in the idea that you should do what you LOVE in life – what truly fulfills you – and not what is most likely to give you the most money.  And it turns out that true art and true science have distinct similarities in the amount of money you absolutely will not make but in our house that was A-OK.

She was allowed to be different.

She was encouraged to explore and create and to not be afraid to get her hands dirty.

She was taught that sometimes you have to break the rules and eschew the norms - cause that’s what artists do.  And it’s what scientists do, too.

She was taught to think freely and boldly and creatively - to have big ideas and to try them out and she did.

She was taught to dream her biggest, best self and then BE it.

So she was raised to be a scientist.

And that, my friends, is an ART.

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Tags: art v science, Write Club

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