gratitude, mental health, science, social justice

It helps to know that these stories are out there.

The research, the work I am doing for my thesis, can be incredibly disheartening. Diving in deep with the realities of a life scientific for Women, knowing that so many of us are dealing with the same issues fifty and sixty years later that pioneers like Rita Colwell, Barbara McClintock, Anna Berkovitz, Barbara Barres, Alice Huang, and so very very very many others did, it’s enough to break down even the most calloused individual. This work is breaking. But it is so vitally important.

So I keep pushing. I keep reading. I keep talking with Women like myself each with our own stories of what it is like in university science departments. So many stories… so so so many stories. It gets hard to breathe at times.

Drowning in this sea of sexism and racism, of a science not built to be inclusive, of a science built only for white men of a certain affluence, sometimes I have to remind myself to come up for air. It is too easy to get pulled into a horrifying current that would leave me bleeding out upon the rocks. So I remind myself to stop. I remind myself to breathe. I remind myself to find the sun. And how do I do that? Picture books.

This last year I’ve found many glimmers of hope in picture books. These books did not exist when I was a child. Books full of strong, amazing, intelligent, Women willing to fight for themselves and for all of us who would come after them.

It’s too easy to get lost in the dark sea that is the stories of these Women when told for adults, told for my fellow scientists (too few who have cared to read them, to swim with them, to hold space for them in their hearts and minds). The realities of their stories can very quickly leave you split open. …but these same stories are being told in heartening and inspiring ways for children.

Yes, when told like this, the stories are stripped of the horrifying details. But sometimes that’s what we need if we are going to move forward. Sometimes we just need to know that these Women existed, and persisted, and did such amazing things. Sometimes we need to hear their stories presented in a way that lets us believe we can accomplish magick.

Today another picture book arrived for my tiny but growing collection, and just in time. I have had a rough week. Too much heartbreak, too many times being dashed against the cutting corals in this cold sea… and yes, I may be beating this metaphor to death, but damn, it’s one I hold to because of how desperately my heart clings to the memory of warm Caribbean oceans.

Today I read about Eugenie Clark in picture book format. And it reminded me again of why I am so determined to continue this work, even though it so completely tears me apart. Because, as Colwell confides in her incredible autoethnography, A Lab of One’s Own; One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science, “Although we all felt less alone after telling one another our personal stories, I was eager to do more than just share sad and futile anecdotes. I wanted action”.

Thus I do what I can to heal my heart between the deep and terrifying dives, so that I have the strength left needed for that action. And that means reading picture books. Books that didn’t exist when I was a child. Books then show people like me doing amazing things. Things that my wild child self didn’t know were possible. Things that inspire the “I can.”

So thank you to all the Women who fought so hard before me. Thank you for your courage and your strength. I borrow yours when mine is lacking. Thank you for giving me the fight I need to keep going, thank you for inspiring me to dive into these cold waters where I too can swim with sharks.

photograph of the picture book by Jess Keating (author) and Marta Álvares Miguéns (illustrator), Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist.

5 thoughts on “It helps to know that these stories are out there.”

  1. This is the very reason that I collect children’s books! I am a Pre-School Teacher, working with kids from 1974, until there was a confirmed case of Covid-19 in my classroom last year. Children’s Literature, not only offers some of the most incredible Art, but is also written from a simple perspective that explains the who, what, where, why, and how of the subject matter. Beyond that, it is written with the intent to inspire, and often does so by way of a story of how the main character came to be inspired. When I read this as an adult, I can feel that intrinsic motivation that we all need to act on. It is especially important to nurture this very personal curiosity in our kids. Ask them questions, allow them to play it, offer them more of what they are interested in, don’t dumb it down to cutsey, keep it real, and let it be fun, stop when it is not. Follow their lead. This is the best way to nurture a child, to allow them to find what they love about the world, more often than not they will seek logic, science, truth, It is better to be drawn, than driven.

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    1. 100%
      I often think about how much better we would all be if we could cling to that childlike wonder… not just as scientists, but as people in general. That desire to do more, to push harder, to learn bigger. It is incredible, and we have the ability to help children now hold onto it all by allowing them to lead and simply following them where it takes you. We have a lot to learn about being human from watching children.

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  2. The Mom in me feels compeled to say, hang in there, filter out the nay sayers the best you can. You are preparing to fight the good fight, and fighting it at the same time. Take as much time as you can to wallow in the things you love.

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