One of the best classes I took in undergrad was an interdisciplinary seminar on science and science fiction. We read Orwell, Huxley, Atwood, and Gibson, watched movies like Brazil and Dr. Strangelove, and a handful of times during the semester, the English professor who led the class stepped down and had a different science professor talk about his or her field. It was amazing because we got to remind ourselves that the traits we loved in ourselves as readers and writers (curiosity, imagination, the desire to tinker beyond the world we knew) are the passions that drive scientists, too.
Flash forward several years and a graduate program, and I’ve fallen completely out of the habit of the interdisciplinary approach. Grad school concentrates; I don’t even have more than one or two literature classes because we’re focusing so intently on writing and publishing. That kind of immersion has its benefits, but lately I’ve been catching myself wondering, “What am I good at? What do I know about, besides the structure of a story?”
There’s no excuse for a writer not to know something about science. There’s no excuse for a scientist knowing nothing about art. There’s no excuse for a photographer not to understand math (“graph” is in the name of their profession, for crying out loud). Animals and atoms and poetry and music and numbers and psychology and dancing and history and stars and tomatoes and everything else you’ve ever seen or heard of in your life belongs together. (Except politics. Eff that.)
This doesn’t mean be an expert in everything, and it doesn’t mean spend five minutes every day dabbling in every discipline you can think of to check them off. It means that when you find something you love, you need to at least consider how other topics might fit into it.
I’m taking a quick break from fiction and getting my nose into some different things. First off is the 2011 edition of Best Science Writing. I’m reading a lot slower than I’d like, but I love the newness of what I’m reading–the influence weathermen have over whether we believe in global warming, or a mistake researchers made when studying estrogen supplements and why they have to start over. I feel like I’m peeking over a fence, and I’m trying to remember that the fence is something I only made up because I thought I was supposed to.
What are your reading (or thinking) ruts? How do you break out of them?