We’re not in Silicon Valley anymore, Dorothy. Finding beauty in the arts.


I was late for class because I prioritized and decided to eat the fluffiest pancakes with strawberries yesterday. Good choice? Y.U.M.

Something that’s really surprised me about Duke is the arts community. Durham has a bustling underground music scene, and small artists regularly play free shows at the Duke Coffeehouse (Anna and I call it CoHo as a tribute to our dear friend Stanford). There’s weekly jazz performances at the Mary Lou William Center for Black Culture. Really talented muralists gathered at the Arts Annex for Mural Durham and there was lots of paint and it was a great time.

Who knew that the tiny speck of Durham, North Carolina, has so much culture to offer? I could call it hipster or artsy or whatever, but the best thing about it is that I don’t think we try to be any of those things. We just are, and everyone is really attracted to that. I mean, famous people in the arts community also regularly show up. Not a bad perk.

Last weekend, I watched Birdman while Antonio Sanchez, the drummer who composed the film’s music, performed a live score. Hands down one of the best shows I’ve ever attended. Duke really pulled through with this one, because I don’t think I blinked once during the entirety of the movie. The last time that happened was when Straight Outta Compton came out and I got sucked into rap music. So if you wanna rap Poetic Justice with me…you know…hit.me.up. Anyway, while the ending credits rolled, Antonio just improv’d for twenty straight minutes and it was electric.

The weekend before that, JUNOT DIAZ, aka New York Times Best seller, Pulitzer prize winner and Dominican powerhouse writer, came to campus as part of Duke English department’s Blackburn guest speaker series. The lecture hall was crowded when Junot limped on stage, shoulders hunched. There was this brief second where I was thinking, Oh my gosh, is this author I’ve been obsessed with gonna be lame? and all those people who say, “Don’t meet your idols,” were about to be right. Then he started talking. He was not lame. I won’t be the first to report that Junot Diaz is one SASSY person. It’s kinda weird meeting someone you’ve religiously stalked online. The person’s less unicorn-like and magical, but Junot had plenty of character to write over all the blanks I’d filled about him in my head. I also was that person who asked him a question in front of everyone. It was something about originality and writing, and he replied like a STRAIGHT SAVAGE. Of course. Day made.

Here’s the thing: I’m studying to be an engineer. I’m from the Silicon Valley. I live a few minutes from Facebook and Google and Apple. I have an intense appreciation for technology’s role in the future and I want to be a part of it. But it’s also refreshing to be immersed in an environment where tech is not at the forefront of everyone’s attention. Next year, Duke’s multi-year plans for a new arts building will finally be done. We’re not building a new engineering quad or chemistry lab, we’re building a new recreational arts center where the radio station and studio space and film equipment will live.

Validating my interest in the arts has always been slightly uncomfortable. My friends in high school who were talented fine artists or writers had two very distinct science and art identities. Most of the time, they would pick their sciency-selves because, “I’m going to be an engineer/computer scientist because I also like science and it happens to be more practical.” The overwhelming sentiment in the Valley is that tech is substantial and gets you places. But I’m not in Silicon Valley anymore, and that means I have to confront the idea that the environment I grew up in has played a large part in choosing my science identity over my art one. I go to a school that places so much value on art and the humanities, and I’ve spent the last few months thinking about ways to mesh my two identities in this elusive intersection between art and science. Lots of people have no idea how to answer when I ask them how engineering and art intersect. But there have been a few who live in this in-between space and have given me their perspectives. And that’s all I have right now. Not gonna lie, still pretty confused. But I’m not in Silicon Valley anymore. This yellow brick road isn’t paving the way to the Land of Oz or anywhere. I can do all the classic life-figuring I want.

In the meantime, catch me at the CoHo.


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