Bucket of Eels: Monopterus albus

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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.


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.