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Working in the art and science

March 2, 2011

I was in a contemplative mood as I reassess, as I am bound to do periodically, how far I’d come and how far I’ll go. Keeping blogs helped in that, and revisiting an old blog I’d stopped writing in since early 2008 had me thinking about doing the things I wanted to do, some of which I did, some of which I never got around to doing.

I was always a person of ideas. Lots of ideas. Alas, I was not exactly the person to follow through my numerous ideas through, mainly because I had too many ideas to follow through and no one practical partner that I could rely on to keep me grounded whenever I had those crazy ideas.  One of the crazy ideas I have had for quite a while, probably since late in 2002 or early 2003, was doing work in the intersection of arts and science. Now, this idea is pretty common now and we see many writers, artists, academics, media practitioners and even scientists venturing into that (this is something that I will be blogging about soon for the FHI blog).  But, in 2002/2003 and still living in Malaysia, I had no one or knew no one to turn to in relation to this interest. As a new graduate while also at the beginning of my masters in English Literature in the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, it is ironic that my place within the ivory tower would not make it easier for me to explore this creative intellectual life. However, I am grateful for the library. Not a very good library but enough to get me started.

It was at the same time that I started my own website, after saying I would do it forever since I was an undergrad but never managing to get my lazy ass to it (of course, the lack of consistent internet access as an undergrad made it difficult for me to maintain a website, since I tend to spend the most time online when I was having my finals, not the most conducive time to make a webpage. This was before the age of broadband in Malaysia), and through this website, I was able to trawl the net and researched my interest, archiving whatever links of interest that I found. Sadly, the site is no longer around since I’d not paid for the server in ages (so it’s been taken down now).  Then, I hit on the brain wave of doing a sort of seminar series on the arts and sciences, and even began drafting a tentative syllabus for it. I was at that time reading up on everything I could find about consciousness whenever I had time (I saw A&S as lying within its intersection), literature and science, cognitive science, philosophy, stylistics, popular science and even science textbooks! However, life took over (including my MA thesis work), my series of part-time jobs and later full-time job, and of course, not having a space at that time to conduct such a class (or not knowing how to organize such a space, being a lousy organizer that I was). At the same time, I realized I knew insufficiently much about my subject, and no amount of reading books about creativity will give me enough confidence to go ahead with an idea that complex and which I’d never tried before. Of course, the lack of a sustaining partner to urge me along and be the bouncing board for ideas also stalled the idea.

However, I never forgot this interest. Come 2004, I decided to approach it differently. I am going to attempt to do creative non-fiction writing using my interest in these two areas. I wasn’t successful i getting the piece published in places I was interested in but I got encouragement to continue writing and developing in this field. . Then I had to give it up for a short while towards the end of 2004 as I had to concentrate my energies to researching for my MA thesis after doing nothing for more than 6 months (other than procrastinating) because I found myself unable to continue along the lines of science and literature I had imagined I could do (I went from wanting to work on the gothic to abject theory and psychoanalysis as my closest connection), lacking the desired supervision and advise from anyone from the department.  But that did not stop me from continuing to read, write small articles and thinking about this field.

After completing my MA in 2005 and a brief hiatus where I took a break from academics to start reading fiction again and also trying to concentrate on my career in advertising (ironic as it sounds, I took up brand design/advertising writing because of my curiosity at how many had referred to advertising as an art and a science of craft). But by the middle of 2006, I was back at it again. I realized then that nothing can separate me from my interest in this (if what I am doing fulltime now is proof of that).

2006 and 2007 were the years I begin applying for grad schools, reading and writing proposals that will showcase my interest in this area. I didn’t get into any grad school of my choice in 2007, got really busy too that year juggling a teaching job and writing/research/interviewing/copyediting jobs. But it was also then that I came up with an idea for a book. A book that had its idea originally in a column I wrote back in 2005 and parts of 2006. I wanted to do a book on cultural studies in Malaysia in the Malay language, and dedicate a section on the sciences, the arts, and the combination of both. Couldn’t get a publisher interested (then got too busy to look for other publishers).

In 2008, in the midst of my busyness with work, I found out I got into a grad school of my choice!  I know my dream to do what I want became clearer than ever before. It is also around this period that I got into the interest of studying the intersection of arts and sciences in my region. For the longest time, I was lost. Now I know what to do.  The seminars, discussion groups and book project will be revived again, but probably in forms I never envisioned them to be! And beyond these channels…

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