Bucket of Eels: Conger conger

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Welcome to today’s bucket of eels. I’m Rose. Let’s pull out some eels, shall we?

Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the European conger, or Conger conger.

The European conger is the heaviest eel, maxing out at 9 feet, 10 inches long and a whopping 240 pounds. Two hundred and forty pounds! That is more than two of me! European congers are found in the Eastern Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Like many eels, scientists know little to nothing about how the European conger reproduces. They’re pretty sure they mate in the Sargasso Sea at depths of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, but other than that they really have no clue. People do hunt these eels for food — although I’ve read that because of their sharp teeth and strong bodies, they put up a real fight. Here’s a video of Gordon Ramsey fishing for one. I also read several accounts of them being fed and lured as tourist attractions. “Feeding live Congers in the wild, while diving, can be fantastic experience,” wrote one person. “Just watch out - very sharp teeth :)”


Current status: It’s 2019! Do you have resolutions? I know it’s not cool to have resolutions, and evidence suggests that traditional resolutions don’t really work. But I love resolutions, evidence be damned! Here are some of my goals for the year:

  • Use social media less

  • Do morning pages every day

  • Go see more art near me

  • Find and support up and coming writers/creators (recommend me some good people!)

  • Say “no” more

  • Workout 5 days a week (even if it’s just sit ups at home!)

  • Climb a V5 at the bouldering gym

  • Make three new friends near me

  • Make six creative physical objects

  • Go hiking at least once a month

Also! If you’re in SF, I’m going to be performing at SF Sketch Fest this year as part of the Dale Seever (aka comedian James Bewley) live show. Tickets here!


→ → → A reminder: Soon, the free version of these emails will stop here! Paying subscribers will get the stuff below. You can upgrade your subscription any time! ← ← ←


On Emotional Memes: For a while I toyed with turning this into a proper essay about this idea of “emotional memes” but I’m not quite sure where it goes, so you’re getting a bit of it.

“We may properly distinguish weeping into two general kinds, genuine and counterfeit; or into physical crying and moral weeping. Physical crying, while there are no real corresponding ideas in the mind, nor any genuine sentimental feeling of the heart to produce it, depends upon the mechanism of the body: but moral weeping proceeds from, and is always attended with, such real sentiments of the mind, and feeling of the heart, as do honour to human nature; which false crying always debases.” -- Man: A Paper for Ennobling the Species, 1755

2016 was a really good year for crying. There was lots to cry about: the death of legends like Prince, David Bowie, Nina Simone. The spike in hate crimes both in the United States and abroad.

But 2016 was also the year that crying really came into its own as a kind of personal brand.

Eve Peyser had a newsletter to inform subscribers of every time she cried. Entries include crying over the death of a friend’s dog, being catcalled, and a more general “life is hard.” Writer Helena Fitzgerald’s Twitter bio read “non-fiction, fiction, public crying. blah blah internet. taller in person. will never calm down.” Anna Borges, a former health reporter at BuzzFeed’s Twitter bio included the line “Probably crying right now.” Science editor Rachel Feltman’s noted that she “cries over space robots.”

2016 was also the year of the crying meme. Phrases like “I’m not crying there’s just something in my eye,” “It’s really dusty in here,” and “What is this moisture on my face” all spiked in popularity in 2016.

Two years later, there is still plenty to cry about in the news cycle (more, really, in my opinion) but we no longer see this kind of signaling. None of the women I listed earlier still list crying as part of their Twitter persona.

2018 was the year of rage instead. At the beginning of the year, Ijeoma Oluo wrote “As rich and powerful men are seeing their lifelong careers crumble to dust at the feet of angry women, men around the country are struggling to find a way to contain and deflect this new female rage.” Huffington Post declared 2018 “The Year Women Found Their Rage.” One paper about crying from 2011 reported that “individuals living in more affluent, democratic, extraverted, and individualistic countries tend to report to cry more often.” Given the changes in the state of American democracy between 2016 and 2018, perhaps that’s fitting.

I’ve been thinking about this shift recently, and the way a whole swath of (mostly women) online have changed their emotional branding. Can things like “anger” and “crying” rise and fall in popularity the way that a color or a trend might? Can emotions, or at least the public representation of emotions as a piece of a personal brand, live and die like memes?


Fiction: I’ve recently tried to start writing some fiction in earnest, something I’ve loved doing for a long time but never thought was accessible to me. In many ways the fictional scenes in Flash Forward came from an urge to slip some fiction into my life, under the guise of reporting. To practice, I’ve been writing short stories pegged to slides I bought online. Here’s one such story.

The Allied Genetics Conference (TAGC), April 15-19, 2043

Thank you all so much for coming. I’m going to start my talk with this very embarrassing slide, just to get it out of the way. [laughter] This is my sister and I, which you probably guessed. Can you tell which one is me? Yeah, the frumpy one with the frizzy hair. Isn’t it funny how different we are? Caroline was always… well… like that! Big wide stance, bright yellow skirt, smooth hair, smiling. She always had that way about her, you know? You wanted to play with her, as a kid, you wanted to talk to her at the party.

This photo was taken before our parents told us anything about our genes. We had no idea. We just knew we were twins.

How our parents kept this from us, and from everybody really, is still a mystery to me. Whatever secret keeping genes they both had they did not think to give to me or Caroline. [laughter] But they managed to keep this whole thing under wraps for sixteen years. More if you count the years before we were born where they were working on it.

The irony here of course, is that the secret is still not totally revealed. Caroline and I know we were genetically engineered using a technique called CRISPR. We know that our genes were snipped and fiddled with extensively by our parents in their lab. But when we were sixteen, our parents disappeared. We came home from school, and they were gone. The whole lab was empty. Everything had been cleaned out. It was like a movie or something, we couldn’t quite believe it. I still can’t quite believe it, if I’m honest.

They did leave us a note. Three sentences, straight and to the point, the way I’ll always remember my parents being. “You and Caroline were both created using germ line genetic editing in our lab. We’ve tried to give you the best possible life. We’re sorry.”

So that’s my super hero origin story. [laughter]

Caroline and I spent the last fifteen years working together trying to figure out exactly what our parents did to our genes. It’s not that easy. There’s no revision history in our cells, we don’t have a Track Changes option. And our parents’ lab notes are gone, wherever they are.

As many of you know, Caroline died last year of breast cancer. For all their editing – and at this point we’ve identified about 125 changes they made to our genes – they didn’t think to take out our BRCA2 genes. I may never forgive my parents for many things, but that one takes the cake for me personally.

Anyway, personal grudges aside, today I want to talk to you about some of the recent work my lab has done on identifying genetic edits without a paper trail.


I have a question about: What are the best vegetarian recipes you know? I need to expand my repertoire!

Internet hole I most recently fell down: I’ve recently started watching a BBC show called Fake or Fortune and I can’t stop talking about it. I’m fully obsessed. Art history! Fraud! Rivalries within art houses! Science! Archival research! I love it so much.

Best thing I read this week: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation

Upcoming eels (aka what’s in the pipeline for this newsletter):

  • How the FDA might regulate spider milk

  • The rise of the defensive parenthetical

  • The tyranny of photography in marathon history

  • My blog posts are haunting me

  • Deactivation and power

Happy eel wrangling!

Rose

Bucket of Eels: Monopterus albus

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Welcome to today’s bucket of eels. I’m Rose. Let’s pull out some eels, shall we?

Today’s eel: Every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the Asian Swamp Eel, aka swamp eel, aka rice eel, aka white ricefield eel aka Monopterus albus. They generally get about 40 inches long, and according As its common name suggests it is native to Asia, and it’s pretty widely distributed there all the way from India to Malaysia. Today, however, they’re invasive to many parts of the United States, arriving first in Hawaii around 1900 and then in the Southern U.S. in the 1990’s. One cool thing about the invasive eels in the U.S. is that recently scientists have used genetic analysis to figure out that there have been multiple introductions of the eel, and the invasive populations are all originally from different places. “The Atlanta population is from Japan or Korea; Florida populations in Tampa and North Miami are from Southern China while the population in Homestead is from Indo-China, the Malay Peninsula, or the East Indies,” says USGS. The less cool thing about them is that when they were first introduced people were really worried that they’d cause problems in these new ecosystems, especially in the Everglades. One paper from 2009 says, “the swamp eel in Florida is best described as an illegally introduced, opportunistic and successful predator that feeds on a variety of small prey.” But the paper also does say that despite earlier fears, the Asian Swamp eel seems unlikely to “perpetrate major ecological or economic disturbances.” Live on my little eels! Image: Paul Shafland, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission


Current status: The end of the year is a weird time for everybody I think. I find that it’s especially brutal for freelancers who are often chasing editors and sources who aren’t yet technically away from their offices, but very much are mentally. Those folks are also doing chasing of their own too.  

For me, at the end of every year, I start to panic. What did I just spend the last 12 months doing?! What have I really accomplished? What do I have to show for myself? In the midst of this panic, my brain manages to gather up all the actual work I did get done (professionally and personally), shove it into a corner and wrap it up in and invisibility cloak. Looking at it, my brain does the Westworld equivalent of Bernard’s pitiful line: “doesn’t look like anything to me.”

To combat this, I try to make a list of everything I’ve done in the past year, as a reminder that I did not in fact spend the entire year staring at a blank document even if that’s all that I can really remember doing. So, here’s my list for this year. Is this self-aggrandizing? Yes, that’s the point. But also, you might have missed some of my work this year, and perhaps you want to revisit it.

→ Went on tour with Pop-Up Magazine, performing a live choose-your-own adventure style game about the future of senior care.

→ Produced 20 episodes of Flash Forward, ranging from why we don’t live underwater, to what might happen if we got pregnant in space, to whether a pill could ever replace exercise.

→ Co-edited an anthology full of the best writing about the future from 2017. A book! A real whole book!

→ Guest edited the fall issue of VICE Magazine, commissioning four really smart pieces about power, privilege and education.

→ Continued to write my Design Bias column at Motherboard, including entries on an innovative menstrual cup, the ways mammogram machines can exclude disabled folks, and why conference organizers should think more carefully about their chair selection.

→ Joined WIRED Magazine as a columnist. Here’s my first piece about why Google Glass is actually an inspirational story.

→ Published a short fiction piece about virtual reality, memory and trauma.

→ Wrote features I’m proud of including:

→ Snowboarded a black diamond.

→ Moved across the whole damn country.

→ Climbed a v4 at the climbing gym.

→ Got two big new tattoos by an artist I really love.

→ Taught a MOOC course.

I’ve also got a few things that are in the works right now that I’m really excited about, but can’t talk publicly about yet. I feel like I’ve been saying that all year, about these projects, and in some ways I have, but they are moving along I promise. And I should be able to include them in this newsletter soon.

A reminder that this is where the unpaid newsletter will stop most of the time. If you want to get the other stuff that goes into these, it costs just a tiny amount of $.


Fiction: I’ve recently tried to start writing some fiction in earnest, something I’ve loved doing for a long time but never thought was accessible to me. In many ways the fictional scenes in Flash Forward came from an urge to slip some fiction into my life, under the guise of reporting. To practice, I’ve been writing short stories pegged to slides I bought online. Here’s one such story.

CW: this story contains references to a child’s death.

Tahlequah

Tahelquah carried her dead baby for seventeen days, perched and floppy on her nose as she swam. Wafa read the story in the paper. “I have never seen that kind of grief,” a whale researcher said. Eventually, the orca let her dead baby go. Or she fell off and she lost her. Nobody knows. Wafa put down her paper and looked out the window. It was the end of summer and everything was brittle, including the air and the sky and her insides. Her coffee was too hot to drink when she had started reading about Tahlequah in the paper and now it was cold. The sun had moved in the sky/ She walked over to the microwave and put her cup inside.

Seventeen days. There were only 75 of those orcas left, in that pod. They’d had no calves survive for three years. She carried her floppy dead calf around for seventeen days. Wafa had forgotten to start the microwave. The sun was coming through the windows now, giving the air that look of particulate thickness. The only way she knew time hadn’t stopped completely was the way the sunlit bits of dust floated through the air.

Out the window by the microwave, which she finally remembered to turn on, she could see the lake. Along its banks, little docks, and little boats. Nobody was moving around. The truly committed had already set said for the morning and the joy riders were still sleeping. It was the perfect time to visit her dock. Her dock.

Wafa left her coffee in the microwave and pulled on a sweater. How long had it been since she’d visited? More than seventeen days. She was trying to stop going so much. The researcher’s words echoed in her head – he had never seen that kind of grief before. She felt bitter. Perhaps he hadn’t known any women. He was talking about whales, she knew, logically. He meant he had never seen that kind of grief in whales before. But she had heard these things too. Seven boys, four years, all dead. People had never seen that kind of grief before. No one woman should handle it all, they said. “It’s not surprising that she was grieving to the degree that she ways,” the orca researcher said. No, Wafa was not surprised.

Down at the lake, she walked along the hodgepodge of planks and slats and old doors that made up some kind of boardwalk, connecting everybody’s docks. Around the bend, away and disconnected from them all, was hers. There hadn’t been a boat attached in years. She walked through the sand, her sneakers sinking a little, crunching the shells below. And there they were. All seven of them. Always standing in the same positions on the dock. Her seven ghosts. Arvin always in the front, staring at her, her head on. Hamid and Dana never looked, always turned away, gazing out into the water. Vahid’s little white legs only visible through if she looked close. Dana always with his head cocked to the side, peering at her like she was the ghost. The twins, Bijan and Amir, in the middle, lanky, having never grown into their bodies. If she could have carried each one around in her arms for seventeen days after they died, she would have.


I have a question about: Now that we’re treating our pets like children, is there more and better animal health research? Why can’t dogs eat grapes?

Internet hole I most recently fell down: There are not nearly enough GIFs from the movie GATTACA on Giphy so I spent some time trying to find them on Tumblr which is harder to search than it should be.

Weirdest thing I googled this week: “witch” in google scholar, just, to see what comes up. I found this: Percy Shelley’s Hermaphroditus: Queer Nature and the Sex Lives of Plants in The Sensitive-Plant and The Witch of Atlas and promptly texted it to my favorite queer plant loving friends.

Upcoming eels (aka what’s in the pipeline for this newsletter):

  • The short reign of crying as a personal brand

  • The rise of the defensive parenthetical

  • The tyranny of photography in marathon history

  • My blog posts are haunting me

  • Deactivation and power

That’s all for this one. I’ll be back in January with the next edition. May your eels be slimy and bright.

Bucket of Eels: Anguilla rostrata

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Welcome to this newsletter. Let’s start with an FAQ? Side note: have you ever thought about the way we use the acronym FAQ? It’s a total lie. Nobody has asked me any of these questions, and certainly not frequently. But it’s a useful structure to answer questions you might predict, or perhaps even want people to ask so you can answer them. Most of the time FAQ’s on websites should be called “Useful Rhetorical Questions To Help Explain This And Make It Seem Interactive” but URQTHETAMIS is really unwieldy. Anyway… on with the farce.

What is a bucket of eels?

Good question. I wrote about it here. If you don’t want to click on that link here’s the tl;dr version: I read a book about art making that asked me to imagine my creativity as some kind of spiritual and divine force, a “Great Creator.” I was having trouble with that. I tried thinking of other things, other ways people had described creativity, and vaguely remembered a story about a poet describing writing like “catching a tiger by the tail.” So maybe, I thought, the “Great Creator” was just a giant container of tiger tails. This image was delightful to me — a snooty old-timey banker standing in front of a vault that, when opened, is fully of writhing tiger tails. This image made me think of eels, I guess because tiger tails, unattached from their feline bodies, are quite eel like. And because I am never one to shy away from an extended metaphor, I ran with it. Now, when I’m struggling with the idea of creativity, I try to imagine reaching into a bucket of magical eels, and pulling one out.

That is what this newsletter will be like. Some of the eels in here will be tiny babies, some will be old and tired, some will be well trained and others stubborn and slimy and possibly slightly zappy. You never know what might come out until you reach into the bucket.

What’s the deal with the free/paid thing?

Some newsletters will go out for free (like this one), but the good stuff will cost a tiny bit of money.

Stuff you get for free: updates about what I’ve published recently and links to work I love.

Stuff that costs a small number of dollars: original fiction, behind the scenes stuff about the projects I’m working on, essays about everything from grapes to media ethics, cartoons, pictures of my dog, and other ephemera. You might even get to vote on what my next tattoo should be (sorry mom).

This one is free, to show you what I mean. Let’s begin, shall we?

Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter will be named after an eel. Today, it’s the Anguilla rostrata, or the American eel. Both American and European eels spawn in the Sargasso sea in the United States, but American eel populations have been declining rapidly since the 1970’s due to over fishing. Fun fact: the breeding cycle for American eels is ridiculously complicated and we still don’t actually know every element! Second fun fact: American eels can live more than 50 years in the wild! Wow. (Image: Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp)

Current status: I’m not one who generally subscribes to the efficiency industrial complex. The endless books and Medium posts about squeezing productivity out of every single moment of the day ooze dystopian capitalism, in my opinion. But there is a concept in a book called Getting Shit Done (which, to be clear, I have never actually read, I’ve just been told that this comes from this book) called “open loops.” The idea is that any and all unfinished tasks are open loops, that drain your energy even when you’re not working on them. In the back of your mind, they exist like little open vents, taking little sips of attention every time you think about them. Right now, my life is full of open loops and waiting. They’re all exciting things -- projects I’m super stoked about, and can’t wait to tell you about. But they’re all in various stages of waiting: waiting to hear back from various people with money or contracts or edits or notes. Endless “just checking in on this” emails. It’s making me, a person who is already fairly neurotic, a complete nightmare. I started a screenplay to pass the time! I’m not kidding.

Fiction: I’ve recently tried to start writing some fiction in earnest, something I’ve loved doing for a long time but never thought was accessible to me. (In many ways the fictional scenes in Flash Forward came from an urge to slip some fiction into my life, under the guise of reporting.) But I’ve recently realized that I’d like to actually try writing fiction properly (see: screenplay above) and to practice, I’ve been writing short stories pegged to slides I bought online. Here’s one such story.

Red

Patricia had petitioned for some other color. Why did it have to be red? Of all the colors out there, red was certainly one of the worst they could have chosen. She understood, begrudgingly, why the rule existed. They labeled all the GMO fruit at the grocery store, why should GMO children be any different. But red? Couldn’t they have picked a color that didn’t scream “stop!”

Henry was too young to really notice his wardrobe. A whole closet full of little red sweaters and socks and shoes. Henry loved clothing with hoods, he loved to pull the soft sweatshirt fabric up and nestle his head into it, wiggling side to side and cooing. Besides the monochromatic outfits, he was a mostly normal kid. Not even mostly normal, she corrected herself, normal. Totally normal. Variation was to be expected in every child, but any time Henry deviated from the very center of any bell curve there was a new question: was it chance, or was it something else?

Patricia’s earlier child, Winona, has developed slowly. But she was a normal baby, and everybody assured her it was normal for babies to go at their own pace. People said that about Henry too but then they’d always pause a bit. It was normal for normal babies, but little Henry, dressed perpetually like some kind of poisonous bug, wasn’t a normal baby.

Every afternoon, she watched Henry playing out in the side yard. Henry loved to swing out there for hours. There was a little rez dog that liked to come up to the fence and say hello. This was partially why Henry loved to play out there of course, swinging on the swing and making all kinds of noises, hoping the little dog would notice and come say hello. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to come in contact with dogs yet, he was too young and the doctors worried about some contamination or some such. But Patricia rolled her eyes. If they wanted to use this community and this land for their little experiment, they were going to have to figure out how to deal with rez dogs just like the rest of them. And if they really cared all that much, they could give her extra money to fix the fence.

Some afternoons she would day dream about Henry running away with the little dog. Some genetic instinct, accidentally unlocked in the tinkering would kick in and he’d scrabble his way under the fence and off into the woods. Years later they’d find him, still somehow wearing red sweatpants, the dog now wearing the red hoodie. She could already see the headlines: “Little Red Riding Hood’s Revenge.” Until then, though, the little red boy was her responsibility, and he needed new pants.

I sent this very excellent drawing to an artist show what I was thinking for something. It’s unrelated to anything else in this newsletter.

Thoughts: I’ve long been interested in the placebo effect. (I’m a big fan of it, for the record. Long live the placebo effect!) And recently I’ve been thinking about the placebo effect in the context of pop psychology. You know the stuff: power pose, left brain/right brain distinctions, the marshmallow test. Most of these have been, if not completely disproven, at least significantly complicated by follow up studies. Psychology is in the midst of reckoning with a replication crisis. A recent study found that only half of psychology studies can be repeated.

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