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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

phd candidacy unlocked!

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.

let’s see you grit those teeth II

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.

Continue reading

let’s see you grit those teeth I

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

the omega point.

My oral defense is on Monday, and because I’m terrified of revisiting my comps answers, I’m (productively?) doing nothing and letting my thoughts about each question settle. I’ve got a few irrelevant problems overwhelming my brain, and I thought I could clear my head by thinking through them here, which will hopefully enable me to face my own writing. First, my theoretical positioning; second, the body as a technical assemblage; third, what the hell am I doing with my life.

Continue reading

“we were never making sense.”

If I am always thinking about dismantling our binding webs of signification. Do we begin here, in the moment of crisis, by realizing that kill is kiss, sample a color, understanding the pillar on which power rests its laurels, understanding that we were never making sense the key to disturbing power itself?

a cry from hell.

Somewhere between life and academia lies a sinkhole comparable to what is, in Internet parlance, produced when you divide by zero. That is where I have been. Qualifying exams are looming; conferences are impending; creative pieces are demanding to be sent out; and I am simultaneously on the hunt for a teaching position to get me through my dissertation year. Despite the chaos, there have been some bright spots. My paper analyzing the logic underpinning misogynistic practices on 4chan’s Random – /b/ board was recently published in Fibreculture. That Joker chapter is going to press. And I have creative work forthcoming this spring in Consequence literary journal, and, with a slightly longer wait, in DIAGRAM. I’ll be teaching two classes this summer and am thrilled at the prospect of being back in the classroom. It’s been three long years and I miss FYW more than I can say. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Composition & Rhetoric position for at least 2014-15 AY.

Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading

too much coffee, too little time.

This was my overarching impression of my first year as a Ph.D. student: too much reading, too much coursework, too much busy work, for any real reflection outside of class sessions. Forget integration with preexisting or current research, or time spent with the subject of research. There was too much insistence on fast turnaround and constant production, the same old reliance on the inescapable “publish-or-perish” adage, with the added pressure to present at conferences, seek out internships and future funding opportunities, collaborate, research, endure.

This is what I found so startling, this emphasis on endurance over enjoyment, on gritting your teeth through coursework to reach the relief of quals and the dissertation process, what should ostensibly be the most depressing, isolating portion of the Ph.D. experience. But the most repeated (and dare I say soundest) piece of advice I received all semester was the vague encouragement that “it does get better.” I’m still not convinced.

Continue reading