Can the cold, hard, sterile, crystallized, absolute, incontrovertible, forbidding facts of (capital S) Science and the burning, divine, glorious, inexplicable fire of (capital C) Creativity exist at the same time in the same place in the same brain anytime after the year 1832 (which is, not incidentally, the year our friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe cashed in his eighty-two years worth of mortality chips)? This is the topic I will be discussing today. Just kidding. Obviously creativity and analytics can exist in a combinatoric creatolytical fusion, and no one wants to read yet another graphic exploration of the sexual tension between Art and Science. (Or do you? I won't judge.) To be clear though, science, especially basic science, where one hypothesizes about an unknown truth and then tests that hypothesis to determine whether it is correct, is a creative act—the generation of ideas where no ideas were. Alas, in science, one can create incorrectly, an experience that carries a unique sadness that is difficult to explain to someone who has never conceived of something that should be true, but isn't. But this collection of words thrown against a processor isn't about that either.
It's about guilt. Guilt and The Wars of Vocation. I chose science over writing. Science is one of those disciplines that doesn't like to share headspace and heartspace; the urge to further objective knowledge is supposed to leave room and time for nothing else, to burn like pyrotechnics in the hands of Jack Kerouac—hard and bright and as long as there's fuel to power the enterprise. And so it does. But it hasn't been able to kill my desire to write. Fiction. Stories. So here I am. Writing. And not about science. I feel bad about it.
Hopefully I haven't scandalized anyone with this admission of guilt. If you are scandalized, please know that I also feel guilty about feeling guilty, because my guilt seems to imply that I value science over art, which isn't true. I suspect that the guilt has its origins in the idea that I chose science in the me/art/science love triangle, and now I feel the need to be loyal. Taking time away from the enterprise of science is vocational cheating. But I can't help myself. I feel compelled to spend hours writing fiction. Compelled as in really compelled. Compelled as in I have tried to stop but I haven't been able to do so. Compelled as in writing has announced itself as a second vocation, or, more accurately, never knuckled under, given up the ghost, and gone home as I've moved through my scientific training. I have, therefore, had to make some effort to reconcile the urge to write with a career in science.
Reconciliation would be easy (would it?) if my writing took the form of explaining science to the lay public. There is a long history of eloquent scientists representing the best things about the scientific enterprise to the public. It was this collection of well-spoken, passionate people who convinced me science was the way to go in the first place. But the presentation of scientific concepts to the public isn't where my passion lies. I like to write stories. Not beautiful, clear, explanatory prose, but stories, dammit, that stand alone and don't exist to further scientific literacy. Stories that, admittedly, steal some time away from the test tubes.
Within science, excellent writing is highly valued. The ability to clearly explain a complex concept with well chosen words is a necessary part of the enterprise. But, in all honesty, I cannot say that writing creative fiction has improved my grant-writing skills. It has not. It has, arguably, made me an abuser of the subordinate clause, even the nested subordinate clause, in scientific prose that should, ideally, be free of such structural clutter. So that's out.
This brings me to the rationalization upon which I have settled, at least for now. I could tell you that writing creatively fuels my passion for science, and science fuels my passion for creativity and so they walk together into the sunset, holding hands. Alas, there is no sunset beach walk in this essay. I write fiction because I become incredibly unhappy if I don't. I do science because I'd feel like I turned my back on myself if I walked away from it to pursue writing. Balancing the two keeps my brain and life a conflicted morass from which new ideas seem to organize themselves and burst out of a cesspit of battling anxieties and priorities to ride me down. It's a great time, kind of.