The pious and the pious are no longer strangers to me. This conclusion may be unconventional (and, if you’re still really drawn into the whole debate on “faith or science,” discouraging) that you drew from writing about science, but this is the truth I’m revealing – I have to believe there’s something I can see and say for me to see and say something. It’s the same as feeling beautiful or falling in love – you have to believe that beauty exists to be revealed. À la poet and songwriter Daniel Johnston, “true love will eventually find you, but only if you seek will it find you.”
The first scientific concept to be launched bioluminescence, production and emission of light by a living organism. Like many, I found him as a high school biology student, in the corner of a textbook page. Still, my obsession soon grew into internet wormholes, articles, and YouTube videos (or if you prefer their pseudo-intellectualized name, “video essays”).
But it was more than watching the light shine underwater, more than the biological basis for glowing in the dark bones for Halloween, more than an organism that ignited itself which fascinated me. I was attracted by the way the process took place – the factor that bioluminescence in organisms is not an organism at all, but billions of bacteria that live in it. The beauty of an organism is made up of its natural processes from within, those that happen every day. What is ordinary.
I always thought ordinary things were pretty nice. Moreover, I am attracted by the connection between the two – ordinary and beautiful, as they depend on each other. There are so many beautiful, ordinary things in the world, small and big: reasons, names, grains, hope, types of fish, ways to love and be loved. The list is as endless as the ocean is blue.
The more life I experience, the more time pushes forward, the more I turn back, thinking about how what happened will shape what it will be. Like a whale that breaks through to free parasites from its tail, spotting these things is a necessary act of survival. If for no other reason, I need to know what drives me to be able to move at all. The purpose of my interest in all this, I must clarify, is not to find answers – I am not a psychologist, thank God – but to ask questions. I am less interested in creating the meaning of things, and more in noticing patterns, symmetry and asymmetry.
At the end of the winter quarter, I had the opportunity to go whale watching along the shores of Monterey Bay. Four hours on the water, sandwiched between two mammoth blues, the sky and the ocean in search of the sight of a raised tail or fin (or anything that points to a whale, that ocean mammoth). Basically, me and a bunch of other ocean tourists were trying to do a miracle in the Pacific. The guides tried to live up to our expectations, they told us we were expecting one, maybe two sightings. Somehow there were five or six of them. And not only whales, but also orcas, which is why even guides pulled out their cameras.
I learn to observe the creative process and the scientific method alternately: observe, record, remember, and let the rest do its magic. Observation is the beginning of a full life, in art and beyond. Even gratitude is colored by a judgment of joy. If I can simply notice, and nothing else, when I write on a page, then the images and observations will speak for themselves. For me, it’s a matter of making myself porous to the world, allowing myself to stay open to an environment that affects me. Or at least, allowing the possibility of such a thing.
Faith is fragile, but I discover that there is faith in everything. In every text, in every laboratory, in every corner of the natural world. There is a belief in waking up and collecting water samples from an ocean larger and older than human history, a belief in putting a pen on a page to tell a story no one has heard before; faith in spending years noticing how rain falls the way it falls, and faith in spending years wondering why; the belief that, in spite of everything, what you observe and what you say will make some change will mean anything.
As we were returning to the harbor, the phone rang in my pocket. My mother. I answered, but I decided not to on FaceTime when I told her everything about what I saw because, as she joked, I would have to see it to believe it. But that’s not all, mother. We also have to believe in it to see it.