I’m an artist, I work in the murky world of inspiration, intuition, myth...but I know my life is vastly improved by the advances that science has given us.
And, as I heard someone say years ago, I don’t have to know how electricity works to turn on the lights.
Growing up there was a clear divide between those who were artistic and those who were scientific. That divide was a product of my adolescent mind, I see now. For though the approaches are different, aren’t science and art both aiming at the truth? Science approaches that by dealing in facts, the arts approach it by searching for authenticity but truth is the goal.
One day while I was in rehearsals for Midsummer with SITI company, the director came in and started talking very excitedly about mirror neurons--that group of neurons that activate when we perform an action or when we see an action being performed.
Mirror neurons are essential for imitation which is key to the learning process. But there’s a different aspect as well:. Mirror neurons mean that the act that is being observed is felt by the observer.
Imagine the implications of this. While watching a dancer perform, your body is having that experience. Watching theater, you’re experiencing the conflict and relationships playing out on stage--not just in your brain but in your body.
MIrror neurons are crucial to our ability to be empathetic. We can feel what others are feeling because, in a sense, we’re feeling it, too.
This knowledge makes me want to watch extraordinary things--I’ve never been a sportsfan but I have an increased appreciation now, especially seeing those teams last week striking for racial justice--but what if my body is experiencing olympic skiing? And no wonder people love ballet. To feel that lightness in our bodies.
Bobby and I have gotten into watching a lot of crime procedurals over the years. I’ve started thinking they may not be great for the psyche. The repeated messaging of crime and punishment, the stark portrayal of good and evil. The glorification of force, the fetishizing of law enforcement. On some level it must be impacting us, right? Does it make us more compliant? More docile in the face of oppression? I wonder.
We’re living with a ridiculous amount of not only information but activity--the onslaught of corruption. It’s important to remember that hopelessness and despair are part of a strategy, to keep you from feeling engaged. This is why it’s so important to seek joy, to seek inspiration--listen to great music and dance around the house. Read a great novel, get lost in the lives of the characters. Make something, get inspired.
During our hiatus I could feel my mind wanting to dwell on how bad things are, I felt pulled toward negativity. I’m not advocating living in denial--toxic positivity is real and it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of bad stuff is happening and people are suffering. And yet, to stay in the day, to remain engaged, to remember that we have a choice about how we spend our day. It’s so good to know the ways that we can do that, the things that keep us here.
At the start of my freshman year of high school I had to return to the hospital for a surgery on my parathyroid gland, the small glands that surround the thyroid. I had a tumor on one and it was messing with my calcium levels causing me to have kidney stones. The surgery meant that I missed the first week of freshman year of high school. You know that thing about missing the start of things, especially when you’re young, how it can lead to always feeling like you missed crucial information and you’ll always be trying to catch up.
Well, everyone was cool about it except for one teacher, Mr. Hoff, my science teacher. He really gave me a hard time. As if I’d missed the foundations of scientific thought. Mr. Hoff was small in stature and wore heavy horn rimmed glasses, a mustard cardigan and a short beard. He resembled Lenin and wreaked of cigarettes. I felt he always looked at me as if I didn’t belong there. I spent the entire year in a hellish relationship with science--I never got my groove, not with the lab work or the tests. Then one day during a test, I remember looking up from my paper, feeling that dread of not knowing the answer and wondering how to best fake it when I noticed Mr. Hoff standing in the open doorway, leaning against the open, looking out at the courtyard beyond. He was smoking a cigarette and snapping his fingers, his lips moving slightly; as if he were singing along to some imagined song. I saw him for a moment, out of that place, in some jazz club, swinging, maybe he was cool outside of that context of high school, where he had to teach something he may not even have cared much about to kids who didn’t much care about him. For a moment, I felt for him. I, a 14 year old who didn’t want to be there either, suddenly imagined a different way of being, a different way of living and someday maybe one of us would get there.