Why S.T.E.M. Shouldn’t be More Important than Shakespeare

Days like today make me wonder if I’ll ever be able to calmly navigate the process of trying to get published. It seems like I’m constantly moving through the same circuit of extreme emotions, starting with giddy nervousness at completing a big submission and waiting for a response and moving on to devastation in the face of callous rejection. Peppered between these extremes are periods of guilt over the fact that I should be writing/submitting/revising more than I am. Occasionally, this writerly cycle of masochism is interrupted by a brief period of elation upon receiving an acceptance letter. However, the whole thing is exhausting.

There are, doubtless, writers out there who are much more well-adjusted than I am. I’m sure they have fewer panic attacks over query letters and don’t get sick to their stomachs every time they log into their email accounts. However, it also occurs to me that the reason why I’m so spastic over my writing is because it matters to me. In many ways, the extremity of my responses is a measure of my dedication, and I’m not convinced that this is a problem. Arriving at this conclusion makes me wonder why I’d be feeling abnormal about the whole situation in the first place.

I don’t know that I necessarily have a good reason yet, but I have pieces of one. These stem around the idea that it’s somehow socially unacceptable to be excited or upset about artistic pursuits. It’s okay vent about being passed over for a promotion, but not about being passed over for publication. Or exhibition. Or production. (Please note that this is not to say that communities of artists are not tremendously supportive, because they are. My gripe is with the general public and “normative” society.) Is this because art is viewed as a frivolous and inconsequential vocation? If this is the case, I find it unacceptable. The implications of this potential problem are far reaching, to say nothing of the increasing marginalization of the humanities in education. Smarter people (who probably have fewer panic attacks about the publishing process) have written extensively about them, so I’m not going to even attempt my own analysis here. I will say that the bottom line seems to be this: If we continue marginalizing the arts in our society, BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.

I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t even know how to fully define it. All I know is that I wholeheartedly support anyone’s right to be neurotic about the things that matter to them. If you want to blow a gasket about the stock market,your comicon costume, or the fact that you got cast opposite a complete dolt in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” that’s cool with me. I’d appreciate the same consideration, but until then, I’ll be here, climbing off this soapbox and waiting impatiently for my latest rejection letter.

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2 responses to “Why S.T.E.M. Shouldn’t be More Important than Shakespeare

  1. This controversy over the treatment of the humanities vs. the sciences in higher education, societal value, and perceived social “applicability” or “usefulness” of the arts has always fascinated me. I grew up living and breathing higher education, and now that I’m in college I’m surrounded by these issues of education, decisions of following one’s dreams (i.e. “should i follow my artsy passion or do just be a doctor/engineer/banker”…), and of course administrative funding. One of my grad student friend’s Philosophy department just got their funding gutted, and many Ph.D. students may have to wait years or even leave the country before getting their degree.

    One the one hand, I’m a biologist and thus a scientist first, but then again I love film and the arts and believe they have just as much to offer to society as the most lucrative STEM field.. Moreover, much of biology (and all science for that matter) is dependent on good writing, theses, grant proposals, general public education, and so on. It’s communication, the language we speak! I’ve said many times that these hard-science grad students I meet who can barely write or speak English worry me given how pertinent the spoken and written word is to science, and how critical writing (particularly in English) is to doing good science.

    To that end, people need to stop viewing (and teaching) arts from a sort of vague, corny, 15th century Renaissance mindset and see it as someone that reflects, responds to, and directly influences popular (and not-so-popular) culture constantly.

    • I really appreciate getting a perspective from a scientist! My POV is admittedly biased by the fact that I work and play in the humanities, so I’m particularly interested in the points of view of people working in other disciplines. I agree that public and scholastic perception of the arts is not truly reflective of their cultural importance.

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