A Scientific Quest

Questing is great fun. Whether you quest for love, dinner, adventure, sales or memorabilia – even the word is awesome. Take, for example, a conversation that recently happened in the house of AlwaysLiz:

Husband: “How was your day?”

Me: “Really great. I quested for science courses today.”

Husband: “Very good.”

While I’m aware the conversation sounds mundane, it is greater than the sum of its parts. My husband is perpetually considerate enough to ask about my day, and I usually have some snippet to share. His response is “Very good” if he can tell that the information I’ve shared is positive. In this particular case, it was “Very good,” followed by “Are you taking a class this summer?”

The quick answer is no, I am not. The longer answer is yes, yes I am. I am undertaking the most lovely of scientific quests: a review and continuation of the science I learned over 30 years ago when I was in high school and knew everything. Now that I’m on the other side of 50 and cruising along, perfectly secure in the conviction that I don’t know everything, I realize that anything worth knowing is worth relearning if I’ve forgotten a thing or a plenty along the way.

This brings me to my strange, sometimes antagonistic, relationship with science. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes, but I didn’t go to Science-land when I went to college. I went to hang out in Humanities town, with some business classes and French tossed in because why not? I took a math class for fun, and a physics class to get the science credit – and it was in that physics class that I realized I hadn’t paid much attention in high school. Not that I disregarded the whole notion that the universe is an amazing place made up of incrementally smaller parts, little Matryoshka dolls of atomic and subatomic particle-ness stacking within each other with ever-expanding and no-edge type limitlessness.

No, I found the universe to be compelling and quite harmonious but freaky as crap. I do not apologize for this. I am at heart a dreamer, and there’s nothing quite like the notion of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth at a skamillion miles per hour (that really needs to be a word) to give me the heeby-jeebies. Further, in a less universal (ahem) notion, there’s diseases on Earth to obsess about. Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, and so forth are absolutely fascinating, and under a microscope quite lovely, but again there’s that whole nightmare-inducing component. It’s kind of like when a student gets lice, we all get itchy. Just saying.

Enter my daughter, who has impressed me time and again how awesome science and math are when one approaches it with a sense of humor and a certain method. Those of you who are science-y call this scientific inquiry, but I am still not invited to the science-people party even though I window shop occasionally, listening to my daughter tell me stories of experiments gone awry and other experiments gone well and ruminations on nature and global warming and things that People Should Really Care About. Because I do care, I am now embarking on my science quest. I started today, with Biology Crash Course. I have been a fan of John and Hank Green via Vlogbrothers and the Crash Courses of History and Literature but I have stayed away from the science courses because, again, I have felt uninvited to the party, an intelligent layperson who is content to listen rather than participate.

As Hank Green was talking about covalent bonds and the octet rule, I started laughing. Leave it to the brothers Green to write and present information in a way that would resonate with me: gossip, happiness, and the fundamentals of life. The whole episode started off with a presentation of how carbon is a tramp. Brilliance. I am no closer to being able to participate in a science-y conversation of science than I was 15 minutes ago, but I am on a quest and my adventure is a productive one.

When my husband comes home from work tonight, he will ask me about my day and I will be able to tell him that I started my science quest. He will respond, “Very good,” — and it will have been.

Getting Your Geek On

I come from a family of scientists. That I am not a scientist by trade is more a matter of my stubborn streak than anything else. My siblings studied science, so I merrily skipped on over to the Humanities to hang out. I eavesdrop extremely well, though, and whatever they were interested in studying I was interested in listening to. My reality has been shaped by a hunger to understand, appreciate, and celebrate the living crap out of, well, everything. I am a captain of the geek squad, proud to serve in my unbridled enthusiasm for learning about A Thing … and then social enough to share with anyone who will listen.

 

It was a pivotal day in my time as a mom when my daughter came home from school extolling the virtues of trigonometry. To her, trig was breathtaking, astounding even. At that moment, she joined the ranks of the people I admire most: the people whose desire to learn is fueled by an appreciation of something greater than themselves. She’s in good company. Neil deGrasse Tyson, my current reigning sexy-man-of-science, has said that the universe for him is poetic. Phil Plait, my big brother of science, has the wit and intelligence necessary to take the urban legends of astronomy and give them a whuppin (check out Death from the Skies). Bill Nye, my favorite goofy man of science, has made science fun for all of us, even as his message is drop-dead serious: There’s science going on all around us, and we’d do well to learn about it.

 

I have been a begrudging participant in the familiar debate of who is smarter: sciency people or artsy people. I strongly suggest that a debate like that is missing the point. We need the artists every bit as much as we do the scientists. When we are passionate about A Thing we are more fully alive, more than mere spectators in the drama of life unfolding around us.

 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a painter or a poet, a chef or a chemist, an astrophysicist or an accountant, there’s room for you to do Your Thing, whatever that is, and make sure to share it. We all benefit from it. This goes above gender, culture, and socioeconomic status. This goes into the heart of what being human is all about. Whatever that Thing is that makes you excited, especially if you have more than one thing, get on it. Learn about it, talk about it, share it, and celebrate it. It’s time to get your Geek on.