After four years of teaching as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, as I prepare to transition into a new full-time job, the Journalism and Media Studies department surprised me with the 2018 Roger Hernandez Memorial Part-Time Faculty Award! Maybe even better than winning the award, though, was how I was introduced: with metaphors about corpse shrouds and eclectic, glowing student comments across all of my evaluations.
Written for and performed at Affect Theory Conference: Worldings, Tensions, Futures, “The Author is in Pain” is a project I consider my first foray into performance art scholarship, as part of the conference’s “Wreck the Format” stream. It is the first fully realized expression of my experience in the emergency room a little over a year ago, peppered with experiences in and out of medical and academic institutions. Inspired by scholars and artists including Elaine Scarry, Brian Massumi, Mel Y. Chen, Lisa Blackman, Ann Cvetkovich, Margaret Price, Petra Kuppers, and Leslie Jamison (in addition to being saturated with Foucault), this piece is intended alternately and all at once as a confrontation, an interrogation, a confessional, a demand for accountability, a request for aid in finding new ways of seeing and speaking with regards to invisible pain. It is my hope that this destabilization of typical perception can be extended to other forms of “passing disability,” and that it may serve as my own (if not others’) entry point into the dream of a language more common to us all, one only achievable if we recognize and work towards it together.
I am indebted to my close friend Sara Fuller for serving, sometimes simultaneously, as massage therapist, painter, photographer, and video editor for this project; without her, I wouldn’t have been able to realize this series of provocations as well as I have. I am also grateful to fellow Ph.D. student Fredrika Thelandersson for filming the presentation when it was delivered at the conference in October, which is why you’re able to access it now.
Let it speak for itself.
The transcript, with elements that do not translate to oration or visual performance, can be found here.
As I belatedly discovered, “The meaning of a machete” was included among other “Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2014” in Best American Essays 2015.
The things you discover when you Google yourself!
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.
Been watching this unfold in my inbox on WPA-L all day. As one such adjunct, I have not the words yet, but eventually I expect I will, once the anger dies down about how the people who are actually entitled, or lucky enough to be secure, or secure enough to not have to recognize that sometimes there are no other options, are always going to exist, say shit like this, and completely ignore the fact that if all adjuncts had other (emotionally, physically, etc.) viable options? The machine, sans cogs, would stop working.
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:Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
I defended my qualifying exams this afternoon and passed “with flying colors” despite the whole ordeal being a relatively traumatic process. I’m a little more aware of my ability (and limitations) to think and respond under pressure, on medication, and in pain; conference Q&A’s had already taught me that I need time to kick my brain into working, but where conferences seem fairly routine now, quals were terrifying. I’m not alone in this experience, I’m sure, and the point is to teach me to keep thinking, to point me in directions I’d ignored or overlooked, to recognize my shortcomings as well as my successes, and to help me rationalize my choices.
I think the most compelling lesson I learned is that I can no longer rationalize my choices on the spot, and that I will always feel tugged toward the humanities side of things.
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.Continue reading