Conferencing With/In Pain

Patti Poblete has an awesome how-to conference post that’s practically canonical at this point, and I still refer back to it despite being a seasoned conference-goer at this point. Whatever the guide, though, I usually find myself having to modify it to accommodate chronicity and pain, and since I usually end up telling people in person what my strategies are, why not write it all up in advance this time?

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the exclusions always matter.

It’s the anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule, thus also the kairotic moment prompting me to finally collect my thoughts around a range of social media content appearing on my feeds lately, primarily around tourism and programs of study in Sri Lanka. I’m used to seeing ads encouraging tourism in Sri Lanka, and tourism is often deployed to boost a postwar economy, especially in countries whose “beauty” is extolled. In these ads and travelogues, I find a fairly consistent discourse of (ancient) exoticism, the (ancient) beauty of nature, an (ancient, mystic) spiritualism that leans Buddhist and New Age/self-help, attended by a rhetoric of healing. And all of this discourse is harmful, exclusionary, reinforcing and benefiting victors’ nationalist narratives and revised histories, of who the country really belongs to and how “Sri Lanka” as a country should be defined: as west, south, and center, neatly cutting out the Tamil-dominated north and east. I find abstract violence in this, but it’s one thing to see it in tourism ads, or the Twitter feeds of a couple of obliviously vacationing non-local (usually white) friends, colleagues, or distant acquaintances. It’s another thing to see it embedded and produced in/around study abroad programs whose aims and destinations don’t take “Sri Lanka” as a whole, and whose promotional and instructional materials seem to gloss over Sri Lanka’s grim post-conflict realities in favor of flowers, sunsets, energy, healing, celebration, and (especially) the importance of contemplating and recognizing beauty.

As a graduate student/newly minted FT faculty member, it still feels risky to publicize my reactions to established programs, instructors, directors, but. The idea that students become implicated or trained in this way of seeing, and that scholars I admire or teach respond positively to this way of seeing. That feels like actual violence. That’s what the educator-activist in me can’t let go.

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the syllabus i can’t give you.

Inspired by Sonya Huber’s (2014) Shadow Syllabus, written as a free-writing exercise for myself, with an eye to adapting it for use in my writing courses.

This is your map for getting an A. You’re the driver, and I call shotgun, making me your navigator. I’ll tell you exactly how to get to where you’re going, but over the lulling hum of your engine, you might have difficulty hearing me.

You are guaranteed to get lost.

When I was in college, I was always lost. When I reached grad school, I realized being lost is a luxury you will one day lose.

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sc&i honors day

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.

tell me again how paranoia won’t save me.

One week into tapering off Savella, which would not have been possible save for my paranoid hoarding of medicines I’m prescribed, death is not yet preferable but an ax would be. Or dismemberment by train. I am disjointed as it is, a slow drip of water sieved out of noodles, legs that periodically go missing, arms I can find, but don’t want to, because there is an ache deep in my shoulders and armpits like excavation gone awry. A long probing finger wiggles for purchase behind my breastbone, poking me tachycardic, 137 bpm at rest. Side effects. If there is nothing good in the world any more, I’m supposed to remember that’s a side effect, too.

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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.

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salting the earth with hypocrisy.

It’s the last week of classes, and my course announcements, as usual, have stacked up like this:

Hey class,
Due to travel hazards/laryngitis/an ongoing family emergency/my sick cat, I will be unable to attend class today. As such, I will record a lecture in advance of our meeting time and hang out in the chat room during class to field any questions you might have about the material. As always, you can email me directly with comments.
Best,
Prof. Mani

Also featured are stories of delays: #NJTransit and #PennStation have trended at least twice this month due to massive breakdowns, delays, and crowd control issues. After a NJTransit train derailed on Monday, April 3, damaging switches and rails, train delays and cancellations, platform crowding, and overflow trains infected the entire week, including the Tuesday and Thursday I commute to Rutgers for a 2:2 course load. At Penn Station, Amtrak, LIRR, and NJTransit were all affected. According to news reports and angry commuters on Twitter, the less crowded Penn Station’s platforms and trains looked like this:

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That’s hours of delays, jostling shoulder to shoulder on the platform, followed by a standing-room only commute for an hour on the Northeast Corridor.

Thousands of commuters were doing this, so I couldn’t say it wasn’t doable. But I didn’t do it. I cancelled my Rutgers classes that week, citing only my concerns that I wouldn’t arrive on time, and we wouldn’t be able to hold class anyway.

This was true, but it wasn’t the real reason.

Coincidentally, after I returned to campus I heard from a former student that I have a reputation for canceling, and I’ve been trying to dismiss my concerns about it because I’m not sure I get to be defensive. Like a good faculty member, I am dishonest with my students about my reasons, despite insisting they be honest with me about theirs. I lie because, as long as I can power through without dying mid-lecture, the truth sounds like an excuse. I’m in pain. I’m exhausted. I just can’t.

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fibromyalgic reporting in

#disabledandcute

Here I was yesterday, in my office, feeling cute, feeling my invisible pain acutely. I’m drafting this today, on my phone, on my commute back from physical therapy. Today, I have none of the feeling I did yesterday. Yesterday, I had none of the confidence to contribute to the hashtag #cuteanddisabled, which I saw on Twitter and badly wanted to be a part of. It was a moment of visibility for a community I identify with, but one that is frequently socially determined by visual assessment. According to the eyes of our dominant culture, I pass for able-bodied. I have the privilege of being normatively cute with presumably minimal effort. When pain shatters the illusion, normate society recoils, cute suddenly synonymous with espionage, the cover of a less-than-functional human stealth-walking among you like I belong.

No one has to tell me I don’t, I know by our emphasis on vision that I belong nowhere.

Let me deconstruct.

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sri lankan american writers on shaping an emerging literary identity #awp2017

A combination of Winter Storm Niko and a resulting spike in chronic pain has left me housebound in New York and unable to make it to my own panel today. However, since fibromyalgic brain fog compels me to draft remarks even for the most informal of speaking engagements, I’d already written an informal talk that I’ve decided to post here, in lieu of contributing in person.

Panel details and my five- to ten-minute remarks (including comments based on a structured question format) are after the jump. For purposes of accessibility, and because of my abiding faith in the power of multimodality, I’ll add an A/V link at the end as well.

My own recent publications pertaining explicitly to Sri Lanka may be found here, and here is a link to an interview conducted by my literary agent for r.kv.r.y magazine that might also speak to the panel theme.

Finally, many thanks to SJ Sindu for coordinating the panel, which I feel is especially timely given Sri Lanka’s history of ethnic strife and the current political climate enveloping a large part of the West.

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breaking radio silence.

Today, I stand inside my apartment, in front of a closed door, as I have done each morning since Donald Trump became president-elect. The last time I had this much difficulty breathing, I was fresh from an appendectomy that excised the organ but couldn’t repair months’-long internal damage. My anticipated full-recovery date was November 13, my thirty-first birthday. This weekend, I turn 33, what some call the Jesus Year, the year we are meant for greatness. Three days ago, I watched the election results in the throes of a terrible cold that refused to let go, without surprise, with a rising mixture of feelings akin to what I felt during the climax of Sri Lanka’s civil war. I vomited once, and later that night, coughed up bloody phlegm. It felt as real as anything else, meaning it didn’t feel real at all.

Fibromyalgia means any bout of illness destroys me, physically and mentally, but for once I am grateful for this cough scraping the flesh from my throat, lungs, diaphragm, energy reserves, because it legitimated canceling my classes, it allowed me to stay in bed for days, to let my apartment go to shit, to utterly lose momentum on my dissertation, to wear the same pajamas day and night, through sweaty night terrors and takeout stains, and call all this something other than depression.

I can’t work up the courage to step outside.

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