Category Archives: Introspection

#Biohacking Part I: Thoughts on Dietary Practice

When I find myself drowning my instinct is not to surface, but to swim deeper. I tend to operate at full capacity: three different undergraduate courses in two different states; drop-in tutoring on what would have been my off day; that god-forsaken memoir that accuses me every day of having given up what makes me truly happy. In theory, my dissertation proposal. In practice, an aggressive self-care regimen that, over a month in, appears to be working, and has gotten me thinking quite a bit about biohacking.

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In which I reflect on Fall 2014 and ASP 2014.

The effects of airplane turbulence aside, I’m feeling more like myself and realizing how much I’ve been meaning to write about. The surreal nature of being classified in the ER. The progressively decreased emphasis on quality of work in favor of quantity of interpersonal drama on Inkmaster. Something about Crossed‘s Cindy or Crossed: Family Values‘ Adaline and/or her Mom for a CFP. And, for months now, my recent experience teaching first-year writing in Columbia’s summer bridge program for the second time, as it has kept me afloat through a rocky semester of teaching in which I had to power through the pain and fog of recovery in order to make money to survive, and simultaneously ignore the nagging feeling that, maybe, I shouldn’t have had to.

Mark Strand once wrote: “We all have reasons for moving./I move to keep things whole.”

As I faced the pale shadow of myself, floundering in my work load and trying to find my way back to the teacher I knew I used to be, the memory of ASP 2014 sustained me. As professors we talk warmly about students “getting it,” and I knew, whatever my pedagogical lapses as I recovered, I had helped those students “get it” and, as dark as my map had become, that was a place my teaching could return to.

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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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“Depression drives me to gaze into abysses.”

I’m quoting Jake Jackson, from this article at phdisabled, which I skimmed when it was published but read more closely yesterday, on the subway, legless and crawling before the realities of health care. Again it brought me to the edge of tears, as words do when they tell my experiences back to me in a form I was previously unable to grasp.

This is my current abyss.

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NYT Room for Debate: Uncut

I published a solicited opinion piece in The New York Times Room for Debate in response to questions about Internet trolls, anonymity, and 4chan. The word limit was 300. Of course I initially submitted something more like 400, which was then cut down to 300-ish, but I was asked to write more to clarify and not worry about the word count. So of course I ended up with 800-ish words. The top editors then cut it down to 230, and after some back-and-forth with the editor who had solicited me (and who worked hard to preserve the integrity of the original), we settled on a version that was 311 words, that didn’t alter factual meaning, that retained the gist of the earlier drafts, and that still seemed to contribute substantively to the discussion.

As a side note, I find it both flattering and terrifying to have my headshot and bio alongside greats like Gabriella Coleman, Whitney Phillips, and others whose work I frequently cite in my own scholarship. It’s one of those “Have I arrived? No, probably not” moments where I’m straddling others’ assumptions about my expertise in, well, anything, and my own infamous self-deprecatory and cautious sense that I will never be expert in anything because expertise is unachievable. There’s always something more to observe and know.

I’ve worked with editors before on both creative and scholarly publications, but never a mass media outlet, and the differences are striking. I’m blessed to have only had to revise and resubmit a scholarly article twice, once just to make the material more accessible to a layman audience, the other time an overhaul of a couple of sections. Both times, even where sections were slashed to the bone or sentences were ghostwritten as an example of what they wanted me to do, the editors were careful in their use of language to leave my original meaning intact. With regards to creative work, my edits tend to be few and have thus far boiled down to negotiations over a handful of words. We’re talking a back-and-forth for ten emails to figure out a more accurate word than “screaming.” There was a deep respect for what I had already produced.

I’m good with fast turnaround–I had about a day after being solicited to draft the Times Room for Debate piece–but the edits initially threw me into panic mode. I’m lucky to have been solicited by an editor who cared about preserving the meaning and factual accuracy of the piece, albeit within the limitations imposed on her from above, because the round of edits from Above (capital A) not only stripped sentences of accuracy, purportedly in the interest of accessibility, but also were grammatically incorrect. (I believe there’s still a pronoun without an antecedent in the final copy.) Maybe it’s because I’m a writer/editor and I’ve developed a particularly obsessive eye for fine details, but in a few minutes my agent and myself figured out what from the old draft needed to be retained

I’m posting the old draft after the jump, for multiple reasons and readers. For readers of the Room for Debate piece who might find their way here by clicking on links in my Rutgers profile. For former students who stalk me online, and possibly for future students, because there is a teaching moment embedded here in the transformation across drafts: namely, this is what radical revision looks like, and your professors have to face it too. And to assuage my own feelings of having ever-so-slightly sold out, although the published piece is something I can live with (and had I not been able to live with it, I was prepared to rescind it).

So, without further ado:

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I’ve sewn you up, I’ve set your bones, but I won’t bury you.

Within hours of receiving the breaking news alert that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I commented to my sister that I wasn’t surprised, that I had sensed before I explicitly knew that he was depressed. I was at a loss to explain myself when she asked me why. A day later I spoke with a friend who has bipolar disorder and she immediately grasped where I was going with this. For her, the signal was that manic energy. For me, it was the freely associative quality of his genius. For both of us, these signals were intensely personal, because they were personal to us. It made terrifyingly perfect sense to simultaneously wish he hadn’t done it and forgive the impulse. I say “impulse” but the language is wrong; suicidal ideation, like depression, isn’t a fleeting sadness but a chronic, gnawing desire, a void in the gut that whispers and speaks by turns. The verbiage should be less about “battle” than Sisyphean endurance in the face of being slowly hollowed out. As others have stated, depression is the absence of feeling, the beast on your back sapping the meaning from everything, visible only to those who are similarly weighed down.

I’ve been mourning Robin Williams along with the rest of the world. I don’t want to rehash any of the pieces I’ve read, which alternately touch on suicide contagion; the Academy’s problematic tweet; the romantic notion of Pagliacci; the comforting narrative of depression (along with terminal illness) as something that can be “fought” or “battled”; the slow emptying-out of the word “depressed” itself, which is used interchangeably and wrongly with being sad. Instead, I’d like to address something I haven’t seen yet, which is the other comforting narrative that (re)productivity and accomplishment are enough to “defeat” depression, the implication being that if a (re)productive, accomplished individual is unable to pull themselves up from the dark place, they were too fragile for this world anyway, or else they were afflicted with some other disorder preventing them from recognizing that the answer to “What’s the point?” lay in their spouses, offspring, curriculum vitae. It’s a false narrative, linked to capitalism or social control or the biopolitical regulation of bodies, but ultimately it’s meaningless to the ones at which it’s aimed.

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Consolation prizes.

My to-do list is a mile long, so obviously I’m updating my blog. In my absence, I’ve been publishing creatively—check out my pieces in r.kv.r.y and DIAGRAM if you haven’t already followed all my buzz about it on Facebook or Twitter—reworking my novel for the final time, and teaching three courses, while attempting to read a book or two for that dissertation proposal I have to write, probably sooner than I’d like to. Besides all that, I’ll break down my life like this: Fuck you, American healthcare system; and fuck you, American system of education that accepts the semi-hazing process of working yourself to the bone to simultaneously finance a higher degree and survive; and fuck you, government standards of disability that indicate that if you are at all functional, you’re not in enough pain to qualify for anything.

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Did you forget? This is the drill that will pierce the heavens

Yes. I did forget. In fact, I may still be in the midst of remembering. And oh yes: I passed with flying colors.

It seemed only right to begin with this clip, as it a) continues the Gurren Lagann theme of my recent quals-related posts, and b) it enfolds triumph into the singular traumatic event in the series, which c) correlates to the trauma of the entire qualifying exam experience and which also  d) happened to be the subject of my first real conference paper, which I presented as an adjunct/independent scholar. That was the conference that solidified my decision to pursue a Ph.D.

Note how I keep searching for patterns, even when they don’t matter to anyone but me. It has been my preferred method of sense-making ever since I started attempting to make sense of my vicarious experience of the Sri Lankan conflict, the problem of accepting that I’ve survived something when that something feels like nothing at all.

There’s a connection to be made here too, but I won’t beat the dead horse.

I realize I’m not alone in feeling like the qualifying exam is a traumatic experience, which simultaneously makes it seem better and worse. That is, I’m glad to be in good company, but if we all know this is how it is then why does it have to be this way? Maybe that’s just my natural inclination to dismantle all of the things, including institutional codes. But it’s something I’ve been wondering about. There’s already an excellent post about the experience of Ph.D. feedback here. All I can do here is do my best to build on it given my own experience.

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Let’s see you grit those teeth (version Simon)

I realize now I’ve titled these posts by puncher, not by target, when maybe it should have been the other way around. Am I subconsciously thinking of myself as the one capable of administering the blow that brings the other to his senses? I think I always feel more like the target, the one desperately in need of that punch to remind me that things are possible, I am capable, and TMJ notwithstanding I can still grit my teeth. And maybe it’s related to the purpose of this post, that I rely so heavily on narratives as sense-making making devices, as new ways of understanding not only my subject position but also those of others. That I am interested in the semiotics involved in manipulating the cognitive processes that transpire in the space between eye and text object, whether they pertain to our methods of reading and looking or our understandings of visual-verbal combinations: what W. J. T. Mitchell called”image-text” relations–that is, relations between the image and the word: namely, the “imagetext,” or syntheses of visual and verbal elements that accord and/or amplify meaning; the “image/text,” in which the synthesis is dissonant and visual and verbal meanings undermine, contradict, or elide each other (p. 89). This was, after all, my method of analysis in my paper on the simulation of PTSD in the visual-verbal juxtapositions in Gurren Lagann, which in retrospect might have made for a more controlled case study. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Let’s see you grit those teeth (version Kamina)

I don’t even know why this happened but it is so stuck in my head and I want it out. Video unrelated. Or maybe, given her sheer absurdity and zaniness (I refer you to “PONPONPON” if you’re not already familiar with it), I can actually make Kyary relevant to something I’ve worked on, if I have the brainpower and willpower to do so.

Not sure I have either after that.

Still, because I can barely remember my own name through this fibro-fog, and because my last post really cleared some things up for me, I’m going to take the time and space here to (ethically) reflect on everything I need to be thinking about for the oral defense portion of my qualifying exams: i.e., as much as I can without revealing anything about my questions or answers. tl;dr version: I feel like this is the worst piece of writing I’ve produced in my entire life; I’m ashamed that it ever saw the light of day; but I suppose it got me thinking above and beyond the question and I’m going to attempt to record those threads before they, like my name, escape me too. And in an ideal world, that’s the real goal of the exam, right?

Here is a story before I delve into my quals woes. I get into a psychotherapy debate with my therapist. My therapist kills it by noting, Maybe the real question is of a higher order than this. If you know this much about the profession and its techniques, why not indicate to me that you have this knowledge?

Well, I say. What do I know? I’m no expert. I have no right to challenge those who are.

It always boils down to this.

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