Choosing Artistry In A STEM World

I chose to be an artist.

I could have been anything: I had privilege, I had opportunity. Two degrees and a well-rounded education.

I live under the poverty line. I have student loans I can’t pay. I freelance, writing when the work is there. Painting, hoping someone will pay me for it. Writing plays that are read, but not produced. At this point in my career, I cannot support myself and I rely on others to get by.

I could have been anything — and I chose this.

A month ago, my dog’s spine crumbled out from under him — intervertebral disc disease. Confronted with the $5,000 bill to save his life, I suddenly felt the full scope of my choice: I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford his life. I couldn’t afford mine.

My boyfriend is a working engineer, and a kind one, so the dog came home just fine. Me, I left a little heavier, a little weaker, a little worse for wear.

“Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men.” When I’m down, this is the statistic that runs through my head. Maybe it’s because I live with an engineer, and I know that it’s true. Maybe it’s that I’m good at what I do, and I can’t make a penny doing it. Maybe it’s jealousy. Maybe it’s just regret.

I don’t know if I could have been an engineer; I wasn’t great at math. I loved biology — I spent six months assisting at a veterinary hospital. I took a college class in coding and got an easy A. If I had applied myself and found the right tools, motivation and support, I think I could have made 33 percent more, too. If I were in STEM, I tell myself, I would be OK.

We live in a world divided in half. By hemisphere, gender and two sides of the same brain. We mean well, lifting one side up, but what happens when the whole world is leaning to one side of the scales? Things get shaky. The backbone that holds everything — it crumbles out from under us.

I want to love the push for women in STEM, because we deserve it. We deserve 33 percent more. We deserve equal pay and equal rights. We deserve respect. We deserve a pursuit to happiness in whatever career we choose.

“STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation.”

Every day, I wake up, make my tea and stare at my canvas. Sometimes it’s a painting, a computer screen or a page in a journal. So long as it’s creative, I bustle with kinetic energy. With ideas. With potential. I am buzzing, because every day, I am discovering something. Every day, I am working. And every day, my thoughts, my art, my choice — all of these things push me further than I ever thought possible.

We push the arts down the same way we do women. In creating initiatives like Women in STEM, we empower one set of girls, but disengage another. As a creative, is my possible contribution to society less than those in other fields? Should I abandon my calling? The career I have always been sure of — the one thing I have, for whatever reason, always been confident about? In a world where women spend much of their adolescence having their confidence slowly eroded, I know I have to hold fast to what I know. Inside my own realm of discovery and innovation, I know I am an artist.

And don’t artists deserve a pursuit to happiness, too?

“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Leonardo da Vinci said this; the artist, the sculptor, the inventor, the engineer. The Renaissance man relies on not just one area of knowledge, but many. He practices and perfects multiple talents. The Renaissance man, a creative engineer, uses both sides of his brain to discover, to innovate, and to make change.

As women, we are on the edge of a great pool of possibility. The louder we speak, the further we climb, the harder we push, the more change is probable.

There is so much more than 33 percent at stake. So I think, why can’t we let the imaginative and the logical coexist? As artists, as scientists, as creative engineers — as women — can we do what the patriarchy has never done for us? Can we lift each other up? Can we be Renaissance women? Could the initiative be for both sides of the brain to survive?

They say you choose the right career, and you never work a day in your life.

I chose this.

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