DJERASSI DAY 3 – Childish

By Eathan Janney
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It is not childish to live with uncertainty. To devote ones self to a craft rather than a career. To an idea rather than an institution. it's courageous. And it requires a courage on the order that the institutionally co-opted are ill-equipped to perceive. They are so unequipped to perceive it that they can only call it childish and so excuse their exploitation of you. - David Mamet, from True and False
I passed my PhD thesis defense just a handful of days before coming to Djerassi. When I did, my wife Christi and my friend Valeria Lombo came to my lab and presented me with a mask as a gift. This mask—made in the image of an Australian pied butcherbird head—was a giant hit: I had spent six long years up to my ears in song recordings of this species. This gift idea was so perfect that when my wife met with our friend Anthony Villanacci to tell him of it, she found out he had the same idea! Anthony—being an industrial designer—got to work right away on the construction and completed it masterfully in one late-night session. Christi and Valeria gave it life with paint. It is magical. All my lab mates and my mentor loved it. Everyone enjoyed putting it on and goofing around. With permission from all who made it, I decided to leave it in the lab as a mascot. Just days after receiving this mask I lost it! This was seriously devastating. The devastation stood out as very significant against the backdrop of my general indifference toward material things. Losing the mask reminded me of what it represents. It represents the memory of celebrating with my friends and collaborators. It represents friendship and collaboration...and fun. On day 3 of this residency I was working on constructing a crude cardboard mask. I wondered what would come of this childish impulse to which I had committed. I wondered if my colleagues would shun me for the immature gesture. Last night at the open house we asked ourselves who was more obstinate towards collaboration: artists or scientists. But really there are two types of people—those who can play together and those who can't. The people who are able to play together can be artists, scientists, or anything else. But collaborative play is not often given the respect it deserves. Although we expose children to a wide range of subjects in school early on, we shun broad interests later in life: the process of becoming an adult is the process of specializing. Thus, those who have multiple passions, or defy categorization are often considered childish. It's a shame. In this residency I feel childish in the best sense possible—playing along with other children: wonderful, curious, smart and courageous.