Category Archives: Autoethnography

Consider this a warning.

I want you to know you’re killing me.

You always were. It isn’t news. But assume your postures of defense if you think I’m wrong. Tell me you’re protecting the economically disadvantaged in dire straits, stripped of health care because they can’t afford it, and what could I possibly know about that; and I promise, I promise, I won’t tell you in return how I teach a 4:4 load, tutor four hours a week, do freelance editing, and still have to ration out my doctor visits with a careful hand and weigh the costs of medication against the costs of my next meal. I won’t tell you how before ACA I had to ration physical therapy visits because of lifetime caps per body part and condition, or that I suffered pain like slow implosion for years before accepting a prescription that made life livable, because I couldn’t afford it. I won’t breathe a word about how all the proposed cuts, if I choose to live with them, will leave me with the kind of debt you can’t breathe through, like what ought to take your breath away, but won’t, the knowledge that millions like me or worse are imperiled by you.

Today you’re everywhere with your circle-jerk applause and sound-bite rhetoric you can easily repeat. Some kind of Yes, calm down, you’ll be fine, there are protections in place you know but really, you should know better, you should have taken better care of yourselves, eaten better, exercised more, stayed away from treatments your insurance wouldn’t cover, stopped getting sick, stopped aging, stopped having babies, having sex, moving, breathing, stopped your beating heart, if you knew you couldn’t pay the price.

What’s left that we can afford, but suicide, or murder.

You make it our civic duty to go off our meds and buy guns we’ll gleefully wave at anyone who is or isn’t there. Drown our unwanted in the bathtub like feral kittens. Put our dependents on the streets when they become too expensive. Die at our desks of chronic illness, cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke, pneumonia, the flu. Decay into our landscapes. Hang ourselves high, where the warlord can see us and count us part of his triumph.

This is what we’re calling the new normal, or at last, a victory. That death is less ruinous than what you propose.

You know who you are. You are the ones who will denounce the above with apoplectic rage, but just tell me how it’s anything else. You know. You aren’t stupid. You exist to be unaccountable. You are the waterproof bandages with which we seal our outcry. You fashion greasy casual nooses and jeer as we walk by, all righteous fury because the world isn’t deepening the divisions you need. White/black. Able/disabled. Rich/poor. Living/not worth keeping alive.

You like it this way.

But we aren’t stupid, either, and we are not resigned. You’ve always been here, knives out and aimed at our guts, but it’s not for nothing that we’ve survived this long. We have learned how to outlast, with all our wits about us, we know that the kingdom you are building to map the heavens is habitable by monsters alone, that the closer you come to this 1:1 reflection the more you reveal that the gods as you spell them are ugly and false. Try to stamp us like cockroaches to primordial ooze, but we’ve always been oarfish, swimming vertically and forever, the messenger you are always killing before we expel even a breath to recount the error of your ways.

There is no heroism in murder.

Wield your signing pen against us like the Reign of Terror’s guillotine, and I promise, I promise, you will breed a nation of dissidents, a pantheon of deities rising from below, where we hail from in all our diversity, too far down the ladder for you to ever grasp.

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Anamnesis with 15 Cites.

How to work when the pain is so great it slows even time? Indefatigable voice curling around and in on itself in the gut/womb space where I’ve put it down, you rise when and where I deny my body most: in the clinical waiting room; at the doors of the academy. [1] You are more familiar than I can say of my own touch on my own skin, as unpredictable a receptive surface as it is. A long time ago I knew that the point of my elbow will nervously caress the back of my throat, my right leg laid horizontal is a spire of tattoo ink run into my big toe.
The institution would have me call it “burning,” “aching,” “swelling,” “throbbing.” The same staple words of bad erotica, turned sterile to suit the bodiless worlds of hospital and university. [2] A carefully crafted, scientistic semantic field that wrongs patients, experts, scholars alike.
Really the institution would say I must be confused, because pain doesn’t typically refer like that.

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“Artistic integrity is a problem for you.”

Dream Log: 8/21/16

If this project were called “creative writing,” I wouldn’t question my instincts. Because it’s called “research,” I constantly feel the oppressive shadow of the Ivory Tower: Western, masculine, rational and orderly, demanding I leave my body and its (feminine, chaotic, threatening) intuition behind if I intend to progress further (Detienne & Vernant, 1974; Wilkinson, 1997; Metta, 2015). But the novelistic attitude and narrative inquiry exist on the same plane as ethnography. The use of fictional tactics like narrative plot, composite characters, and theoretical fiction are less alien to social science than (I think) I’ve been conditioned to think (Ellis, 2004; Gibbs, 2005; Spry, 2011; Smith, 2013). Footnotes and other radical citation forms abound in the writing of authors like Carolyn Ellis, Art Bochner, Anna Gibbs, Phil Smith, Aliza Kolker, etc., all of whom seem to recognize that parentheticals interrupt the narrative experience. The line that keeps recurring in my head is, Artistic integrity is a problem for you, but why does “research” mean I have to resist, or edit, or denigrate the forms that emerge as most effective for any project in question? Like Tanya Wilkinson (1997), who recovers her gut epistemology through dream analysis, I find myself asking all the time, Why can’t I bring my sick woman’s body and its particular brand of metis back?

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I don’t yet have the tools to make you understand how normal this moment really is.

I’ve wanted to say for weeks now that there was a day, while teaching, that I lost my legs, and I completed my seminar with the podium in a death grip to spare myself the added pain, and shame, of falling. That day, I wanted to write that I shuffled like an infant or a drunk down and up subway stairs, because cabs are a luxury reserved for real emergencies and I already felt guilty for even wanting to use it. That day, I was in too much pain to write, but as I stumbled towards my apartment, pausing to rest on strangers’ stoops, a man stepped in my face and tried to take my elbow, saying, “Hey, baby, you look like you need help, let me walk you home.” I said no. He followed me for 4 blocks, insisting, laughing, “Let a real man take you home.” I’m sure he thought I was drunk. Uninhibited. Easy pickings. When the truth is, I couldn’t run. It’s the recurring nightmare I have, playing out in real time, that when they come for me I will have nothing left, not energy, not physical ability, to protect myself, not from street abduction, home invasion, assault, robbery, rape.

To think this is called running out of spoons.

The flare-up, like all flare-ups, is gone now. I haven’t bothered to say anything to a doctor because experience has taught me how they’ll read it as acute pain, an isolated episode, because I’m all better now, I’m not army crawling through my apartment, and my body is already forgetting it the way we shed winter’s mortal cold when faced with summer sun (Morris, 1998). In the cold and bright rooms of the hospital wards they tell me the story of my pain in quantified measure, evacuating it of meaning (Morris, 1991). So there I linger, at 145th Street, at Deleuze’s convergence of critical and clinical as an opportunity for mutual learning, at a free clinic where I stand out as too rich and not sick enough, alienated from everything and myself (Malabou, 2012), waiting for the threat to pass, waiting to be thrown out on my ass to face it, because only the thin line where earth meets sky is where the wastebasket diagnoses, like me, belong (Bowker & Star, 1999).

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