magnetism

Yesterday I struck my magnet while opening my fridge door and felt it shift like an intruder in my flesh. I’ve only had it for a couple of months, after all. There was no noticeable change in my finger, but my nerves were sounding an alarm so loudly my other arm began sparking too, never mind its dead nerves. It kept me up all night but seems to have resettled, even if it feels a little more magnetically sensitive. I’m not sure I could pick up razor blades before, and paper clips are jumping to my finger across greater distances. All of which has renewed my thinking about the relationships between pain and enhancement/capability. I’m sure it means something that a slight tissue injury on my left arm has reminded the dead tissue in my right arm that it can still speak.

I’ve been playing around with Scrivener, which may be the most beautiful powerhouse of a writing tool I’ve ever come across. Thank you to all the Computers & Writing attendees who recommended it to me! The above image displays some of its organizational functions, along with a poem from the MS I’ve imported into it. Once I get around to Ph.D. work, I imagine it’ll be an incredibly useful tool for writing the proposal and dissertation as well.

In other news, my overly ambitious summer plans include streamlining the MS under submission, drafting my proposal, and teaching two courses, one a hybrid and the other F2F. I’ve also seriously fallen off the self-care boat, as tends to happen when I begin writing creatively, so striking a balance between the two may be a lifelong project starting imminently.

And finally, Computers & Writing, as always, was a fantastic conference. I always attend and present expecting to leave revitalized, and this year my faith was rewarded tenfold. More thoughts about the conference forthcoming, once I’ve digested the experience enough. In the meantime, if you’re curious, you can read all about it via the hashtag #cwcon.

in media res: war without witness (original formatting)

My piece on mobile phone testimony and Sri Lanka’s civil war, “War without witness: Mobile phone testimony in preserving memory and truths,” is now live at In Media Res, a space for experimental, multimodal scholarship alongside video curating. Given that I’m more used to writing about the conflict with a creative stylistic eye, I wrote in the vein of the memoir I’ve been shopping around. I was hoping the site would preserve my original formatting and spacing, but it wasn’t to be.

If you want to see it in its original glory, I’ve posted the original version as a PDF.

we are always asking the world if we do in fact exist.

A while back a friend of mine proposed the following theory: I’m actually a Saiyan, but because my body isn’t taking enough damage in battle to level up as it ordinarily would, it has to take the initiative to fight itself so I can achieve my next power level. I wouldn’t say I’m over 9000 by any stretch of the imagination, but.

But like always I’m using humor to minimize how far this situation spiraled out of control.

One month and one emergency surgery later, I’m healing well and readjusting to basic movement and day-to-day living, and my mood is so improved that I can only think my exacerbated depression lasted so long not because of Lyrica withdrawal, but because for three weeks my body was struggling to inform me that it was dying.

To summarize:

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regression is realizing there is no escape.

Last year, a 20-year-old man named Michael Israel committed suicide after battling addiction to painkillers. His father, Senator Tim Kennedy, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman blamed the system, ultimately proposing a legislative package to “Save the Michaels of the world.” Thus, in an effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse, namely over-prescribing on the part of physicians, New York State enacted the I-STOP (Internet System to Track Over-Prescribing) Act one year ago. It takes effect on August 27th, along with its Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), which apparently insecurely records, tracks, and transmits patients’ medication histories, dates of attempted and dispensed refills, and so on.

Somehow I missed this memo until yesterday, when I was confronted with the ugly reality that, thanks to I-STOP, I can’t get a refill prescription until after the new system takes effect.

In its overzealous quest to save the Michaels of the world, the State has blatantly chosen to ignore the undue burdens placed on those who medicate responsibly, and with all the hardships it already places on patients and providers, why am I surprised?

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“what you think of pain is a shadow. pain has a face. allow me to show it to you.”

In my life as it was prior to my diagnosis, in the course of my usual exploration of the Internet, I came across the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It is an imprecise but admirable attempt to catalogue and describe the pain caused by Hymenopteran stings. I possess an amateur fascination with entomology and herpetology and with Schmidt’s original paper, which assigned a perhaps inexact number to each sting but accompanied each with a refreshingly creative description of the pain. An entomologist, Jason O. Schmidt was inadvertently stung by several members of Hymenoptera in the course of his research and realized the the potential uses of quantifying pain. Though it wasn’t his primary research, he didn’t waste the data; instead, he created a five-point scale from 0-4 to classify the kinds of pain one receives from being stung (The Straight Dope). Archetypal representatives are listed below:

  • 0: Imperceptible. The stinger doesn’t penetrate the skin.
  • 1-range: Sweat bees (light, ephemeral, almost fruity); fire ants (sharp, sudden, mildly alarming); or the bullhorn acacia ant (someone has fired a staple into your cheek).
  • 2-range: The bald-faced hornet (mashing your hand in a revolving door); or the yellow-jacket (hot and smoky, like W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue).
  • 3-range: The red harvester ant (bold and unrelenting, like someone is drilling your ingrown toenail); or the paper wasp (caustic and burning, with a distinctly bitter aftertaste: like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a papercut).
  • 4-range and higher: The tarantula hawk (blinding, fierce, shockingly electric, like a running hair dryer dropped in your bubble bath); or the bullet ant (pure, intense, brilliant pain, like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding in your heel).

In my life post-diagnosis, this scale has taken on new meaning.

Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), a chronic systemic pain condition that is especially heightened by pressure, can range from a 1 to a 4+ on Schmidt’s scale but rarely, if ever, is it a 0. The symptoms are unique to each sufferer, but in my experience the pain has ranged from acute and persistent, like clasping a lit electric bulb between your bare hands, like blades sunk deep in a flexing muscle, like pricking, itching needles, noisy on the skin, like a sweaty fist working your heart, like vivisection, no sleep agent, no anesthesia.

This piece is for those medical professionals who wrote me off as healthy because I was professionally dressed, “I looked too good to be unwell,” or who asked me, point-blank, “And you’re sure it’s not all in your head?” It is for the people who tell me, with a tired, tolerant patience they don’t deserve to have, that “pain is largely psychosomatic, you know? Just stop thinking about it and it’ll go away.” It is for the countless, awkward Schmidt 4.0+ days I’ve had to dodge a well-meant hug, or flinched at a touch I couldn’t avoid. It is for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has conferred upon itself the godlike ability to decide whose pain is deserving of extended outpatient treatment. (Hint: mine no longer is.) It is for the people who sympathize but do not or cannot understand because I appear more or less functional. It is for the Schmidt 1.0 days, when I lull you into thinking I’m “better,” or the predominant and tolerable 2.0-3.0 days, when controlling my outward response can be performed through sheer will.

Mostly, though, it is for all the times you have not seen me break down and cry, on the subway, in line for a bus, on the NJ Transit stairs, on the walk from the train station to campus or from one classroom to another or in the bathroom during class breaks. It is for all the times I couldn’t take it, and you never knew.

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literary agent unlocked

After years of hunting, I discovered my ideal literary agent had been right in front of me all along. I’m now represented by fellow writer and close friend Mary Krienke of Sterling Lord Literistic. She’s interested in literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and realistic YA, and since I work primarily in the first two genres–and her edits and comments always evince a deep respect for the integrity of the work–this agent/client partnership is a perfect match.

Follow her on Twitter @MaryKrienke.

Digital Dead Drops: Public P2P File-Sharing

Public, offline, anonymous file-sharing, now available in crevices near you:

Berlin-based media artist Aram Bartholl started the Dead Drops project while working as an artist-in-residence in NYC in 2010.  Dead Drops functions as a P2P file-sharing network in public spaces, such as this one, where anonymous users can plug their laptops in and out of USB sticks secured in walls, holes, and other nooks and crannies with cement.  The database lists locations of and directions to USB drops worldwide, installed and maintained by anyone who wants to become involved.  The idea comes from traditional “dead drops,” points where information is exchanged between two intelligence agents without them ever meeting face-to-face.  This becomes more unwieldy on public city streets, where information could potentially be shared between thousands of people, making private drops difficult if not impossible (more thoughts on this below).

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The Nemesis Project: Art/New Media as Protest.

20 May 2011, 10:30p.m. @ Chinese Consulate in NY:

Cuban artist Geandy Pavon, a self-professed “idolator who suspects images,” has dedicated his Nemesis project “to Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has been jailed by Chinese authorities.

The performance consisted in [sic] a projection of a video using sunflower oil as a medium that reflects the face of Ai Weiwei on the facade of the Chinese Consulate in New York City” (Pavon).  Weiwei, who had been speaking out against the Chinese government, has been under arrest since 3 April.  An exhibit of some of his work can be seen @ Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan.

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bearing witness.

This month marks the first anniversary of the bloody end of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

On 2009 May 17-18, depending on how you look at it, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (தமிழீழ விடுதலைப் புலிகள்), also known as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, were routed by the armed forces of the primarily Sinhalese government. The war, which was the product of years of ethnic tension between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority, lasted 25 years and was marked by the ruthlessness of both government military and paramilitary campaigns and guerilla warfare and suicide bombing employed by the LTTE, both with little regard to the cost of civilian life. We saw this magnified in the end stages of the war in May 2009, when the LTTE brought over 80,000 civilians with them into a tiny spittoon of land in the northeast, using them as human shields and impressing them into service (“Sri Lankan Government and LTTE Must Heed Demands from UN Security Council”), and the Sri Lankan army indiscriminately shelled the shrinking warzone, as it had hammered designated no-fire zones such as hospitals, bunkers, and other areas in the Vanni with a known civilian presence in flagrant disregard of the laws of war (“Sri Lanka: Repeated Shelling of Hospitals Evidence of War Crimes”).

In May 2009 my sanity was eroding and I cried almost every night, barely slept, was made numb by President Rajapaksa’s victory speech. People celebrated in the streets of Colombo and throughout the country. Like many others, most of whom were Tamil, this victory felt hollow and strange. Thousands upon thousands of civilians died in the months leading up to May 17. And while I personally condemn the actions of both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, I didn’t know what to think when confronted with the news of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s corpse. On the news segment his forehead was covered. There were flies. I wanted to see the bullet hole for myself. Wanted proof. Felt like a part of my life had ended. At that point I hadn’t lived my life outside of the shadow of Sri Lanka’s war.

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born to write

“She’s more than a college student; she’s a force of creative nature.”

Also, infamously, this article in Dartmouth Life publicized my penchant for rolling out of bed and attending class in my pajamas even in the face of Dartmouth winters. Former professor and dear friend Brenda Silver softened the blow by adding that “Whatever she does, she does intensely and well.”