55. The Author Draws a Blank

Video credits: Dr. Jack Bratich. Due to the element of chance in cutting the garment, and its resulting destruction, this was a one-time performance that couldn't be replicated.

A Tamil woman delivers a creative-critical performance in an auditorium with a mauve crushed velvet curtain behind her. She wears an open-back black dress without a bra; a white support harness over it; and over that, a net of notecards woven together with needlework, awl-punched holes, and knotted twine. Each notecard contains an email fragment, a quote, a theoretical idea, or a claim. As she reads, she randomly cuts the threads of the notecard garment, reading one notecard aloud before discarding it and fumbling for the next, in an attempt to visually represent the weight and entanglements of chronic pain, amplified by microaggressions and academic expectations, and the experience of composing with fibro fog.

Not pictured: Jack filming this video at my spontaneous request, making tangible our relationship as observer and observed, "one who sees within a prescribed set of possibilities, one who is embedded in a system of conventions and limitations" (Crary, 1996, p. 6), and one whose gaze is meant to reproduce academic structures and values. Bourdieu (1984/1988) describes the thesis advisor as a senior academic with social influence and institutional prestige who perceives in the structure of the field an ideal itinerary for the academic career and reproduces it through directing students through or towards the same: the qualifying examinations, the proposal defense, the dissertation defense, the tenure-track appointment, the tenure review, promotions to assistant professor, associate, full, emeritus (p. 87). Jack's gaze is an interested one, in the common definition and the Bourdieusian sense of "being there," participating, attributing importance to the social game, recognizing the game and its stakes (Bourdieu, 1994/1998, p. 77). However, in the act of observing/recording this creative-critical performance, Jack reproduces a misabled academic habitus, the habitus of the non-apparently chronically ill academic.

Describing academic microaggressions in this conference space while Jack films feels riskier than disclosing my pain in the clinic — even though he is as accepting an advisor as I might have hoped for, even though I suspect he has a penchant for radical work. The game of academia is made for nondisabled, neurotypical players. With every notecard I stumble through, I expose myself as lacking in the very areas that Jack will ultimately judge to decide if I am worthy of advancement.

Note: I used "blindly" during the Q&A when I should have more clearly explained that the process of writing, cutting, arranging, and stitching the materials for the performance was so painful it induced trigeminal neuralgia and visual snow; I had to rely on tactility, the prick of the needle against my thumb, to finish sewing the notecard garment. And in retrospect, I dislike the appeals I make to others' capitalistic self-interest. The nondisabled shouldn't care about disabled people because disability is an inevitable part of aging or accident, but because it is natural and human.

In my qualifying exams, I wrote: "In another view, according to Malabou (2012), the expectation of accident is the expectation of the arrival of a new form of being, a new subjectivity, a subjectivity that is unrecognizable even to itself. It is inherently inassimilable by virtue of being unrecognizable. Identification as being is contingent on the recognition that being is a matter of constructive plastic formation and is subject to the possibility of destruction. Destructive plasticity begins with the exhaustion of possibility, the refusal of what is in favor of what could be (pp. 89-91)."

I have been through a series of debilitating drugs. Presently I take one that comes with bouts of nausea, mini-vomiting, loss of appetite, reflux, dizziness, frequent urination, issues with occasional stutter, but it's all worth it because these drugs let me endure gravity, and I can think, write, present.

This isn't a show but a presentation, not a presentation but a cemetery of invitations to an exhibit that hasn't taken place or is always taking place, not an exhibit after all but a goalpost emblazoned "DEADLINE," the one we're all stretching ourselves thin to tag.

To be a real academic, I learned to ignore my body. I came back to teach one week after my appendectomy, still relearning to walk and breathe, and I continued to teach for months in the throes of withdrawal from meds I am dependent on to live.

Forget impostor syndrome. Savella withdrawal incites a new ontological anxiety. I ramble and forget words, sources. I say "I'm burned out," which at least is an authentic academic experience, garners more sympathy than "I'm so tired of neoliberal conformity I've forgotten how to make myself do it." What can I do anyway about the brain fog resulting from the ontology of academia?

At dinner a woman says, "I think people who rely on drugs are weak." It's the pushpin center of another spiral in the corkboard spooling out to kiss the corollaries: I'm weak for relying on drugs to think; my career, a profession that relies on thinking, is one I'm not fit for; my degrees an ostentatious illusion that I'm capable of thought. In the moment, I can't think fast enough to respond, but somehow I've changed the charge of the atmosphere. She looks at me as if to say, "You're different. Don't make this about you."

Fabian Cannizzo (2017) finds we use narratives of self-authenticity, passion, and survival, "we" being academics. The practices we dive deep into mean something to us and others. Our academic labor is freeing and fulfilling because it draws on the wellspring of our core desires. We are attached to academia as a workplace of flexibility, independence, innovation. This is given to us as a shrink-wrapped gift of empowerment, but you don't need to skin it much to see that our core desires, career trajectories, ability to innovate are shaped by and dependent on managerial imperatives, which depends on being able to think.

"Hi Vy, it seems that most things have me right in thinking it might be a restriction along your radial nerve path. You shouldn't be sitting at a computer desk for so long. There is medial nerve, cervical cords, supraclavicular nerves and a few other things. Watch it and if it does not get better or go away you should have it looked at. Try to keep as good alignment as you can as finish up the grading. When possible, rest your thumbs and whole grading posture."

I used to hit myself with the blunt end of a hammer for moments of clarity. Who cares about the bruises. Academic fitness requires an unaffected brain . . . and I went off my meds for two days to finish my qualifying exams, because I needed to sleep eight consecutive hours a night or risk brain fog and stutter. I fasted for clarity. Dutifully, as others advised, I stayed up to write and edit, and I sobbed every night. My field notes indicate it wasn't pain I cried over, but I didn't record what it was.

I've always dodged being called on by calling myself "cripplingly shy" or by allowing the racialization of cognition to protect me. From college through graduate school, I sat silent because I didn't know if I could keep up, and when I did speak, likely because I was a model minority, my associative eclectic leaps were praised as insightful alternatives, as Mel Chen (2014) puts it (p. 173). I've been penalized letter grades and called out by my peers for my failure to participate, but I never once explained to a professor or colleague I'm too slow to process class discussion and participate in a timely fashion too. The model minority gets to be shy and esoteric. It's a kind of privilege I eagerly seized. The trade-off: that some members of my cohort felt my silence was born of conceit.

9/25/2014, the same week I nearly died in the ER because people didn't listen to me about my appendix having ruptured months before: "We are lucky to have you here with us."

When I'm working and my mind goes, I take excessive masturbation breaks, not because it feels good, but because it doesn't feel bad.

By which I mean the appearance of academic rigor.

In Academic Ableism (2017), Jay Dolmage writes: "The ethic of higher education still encourages students and teachers alike to accentuate ability, valorize perfection, and stigmatize anything that hints at intellectual or physical weakness. Academia powerfully mandates able-bodiedness and able-mindedness as well as other forms of social and communicative hyper-ability, and this demand can best be defined as ableism" (p. 3). Academic ableism insists certain bodies and minds do not have the right to be here. The body is provisional and so is the mind. You are not safe either. You might as well learn.

A friend who I once thought was a good friend says, "My aunt who has MS had to have her foot amputated, and she was back to work the same week." This is because I honestly answered "how are you" with "I can't eat without pain since my surgery and hunger is making it really hard to think, and somehow I'm supposed to teach and work on my diss." She also says, "I get it. I just got diagnosed with an ulcer [edit: due to possible ulcerative colitis]." We're on the narrow slanted stairs in Annex A. She tells me about all the projects she's close to completing, and I nod along. I'm supposed to feel envy. I could fall at any moment, but both falling and asking to move to level terrain would make me the failure she's waiting for.

And what are the temporal dimensions of daily survival? Brain fog is a crip departure from normative time, certainly from the pace of academic deadlines, and the prerequisite to work is figuring out how to meet the deadline in standard timeliness. As Rosalind Gill (2016) has said, it's one of the many injuries of neoliberal academia.

Sianne Ngai (2005) on envy: feminized, laden with class associations, aligned with hysteria, "unhappy self assertion, unhappy possessiveness, or a negative relation to property" (p. 130). But we're talking about property that could be lent. How about class and social intellectual rank? In the academy, degrees distinguish class. The brain earns degrees. Envious imitation becomes my formation, my reinforcement of the same academic identifications that disavow me. The important thing to know is that envy complicates admiration, attacking the cognitive qualities that the academy idealizes while recognizing their "culturally imposed desirability" (p. 162).

I'm somewhere on a white line that runs from desire to antagonism, acknowledging you as exemplary, while resisting proper assimilation but wanting to, but there's no point to destroying you for it. Unlike in Single White Female or The Talented Mr. Ripley, I can't steal your neurotypicality.

Mel Chen (2014) asks, "Who gets to begin in the eyes of others with a body, and who gets to begin in the eyes of others with a mind?" (p. 176). I'm a successful cognitive impostor, with all the advantages of being a model minority. My unabridged CV is 10 pages long, headed by Ivy League degrees, 10 lines for refereed articles and chapters, seven for published literary work, four for teaching awards, two for literary mentions, three for invited readings, 18 lines for conference presentations, 19 if you count this one, which I have yet to add. It sounds like a boast, or it sounds like armor, but it's a mechanism of survival, proof I can think on days when I can't. I've called it "impostor syndrome," but I think I have no idea what an expert is because when I am taken on my own terms, I never get to be one.

May 6, 2014. "I know how you feel. Like a walking accident or car crash but with no obvious wreck. This is not your fault and we will continue to discuss and hopefully make it better and get more help with doctors if there isn't any improvement and if they don't start listening to you. With love, S."

Let me do this how I do this.

"Hi Vy, I haven't heard from you in two weeks. Are you feeling any better? Should I be worried? Are you okay? How's the grading going?"

Mott and Cockayne (2017), in their analysis of knowledge cartels and disciplinary silences and geographical scholarship, say: "Citation is taken as an assumed proxy for measuring impact, relevance, and importance, with implications not only for hiring, promotion, tenure, and other aspects of performance evaluation, but also for how certain voices are represented and included over others in intellectual conversations" (p. 955).

September 26, 2014, after I recovered in the hospital. "Vyshali, thanks for the update which sounds scary but much better to have gotten through the worst perhaps. Not knowing and taking resting as seriously as the doctors advised, but more understanding of what you must do to get back to complete your health and get back to teaching class. Thanks very much for preparing modules already. It's good that you've had the online experience from other teaching assignments, but I very much hope you'll be able to teach the balance of the semester face to face!"

I'm not a performance artist or a photographer, videographer, poet, doctor of philosophy. I have neither the body nor the brain.

Terry Caesar (1992): "To write a dissertation I think above all is to subject yourself to the process of writing a dissertation. It is not or not simply the writing. From such bondage comes freedom, say for more mature scholarly tasks to come, now yours rightly, demonstrably, to aspire to, in some cases yours manifestly already. The fact that this does not necessarily happen, the fact that more often than not the process only succeeds in using up the knowledge and the skills it putatively serves both to validate and to free, the fact does not matter. The great thing is to go through the motions. The dissertation exists as something to have done" (p. 135)

I carry my head like it hangs back from a slit throat. It's an afterthought. I need what's in it, but I can't reach back and in. I can't reach.

What I submit to you, when I submit to you, font change is my final step. 12-point Times New Roman is all the dominant logics that reject me as malingerer or accept me on the premise that I'm normatively capable. The visual frame for the legacy of masculine, colonialist, "civilized" epistemology. It's a font that creative-critical scholar Ames Hawkins (2018) notes is "created to be efficient and powerful, a type with the capitalistic intention to decrease the physical size of the newspaper and fit more words on the page" (p. 164). It's about authority, clarity. It's about Western heteronormative linear ableist knowledge production, a sensibility that doesn't tolerate me.

I just want to be believed.

Let me believe that good enough is good enough.

I think from within/from a perpetual mess of nettles. I have no choice but to compose like this.

September 22nd, 2014. Email exchanges from the hospital. "To answer your teaching question, yes the screening and discussion forum is completely acceptable. You're doing all the right things to ensure course continuity while you're recovering. Great job! I'm well aware of your dedication to teaching and your students, so none of this impacts your job. Remember to care for yourself as you care for your students."

That same day from a friend: "Jesus fuck are you just using OTC pain meds to try to make a dent in the pain? Is there anything else you are taking or anything else they're willing to give you?"

I compose much of this with a pen taped to my forefinger and arm, insects skittering across card after card, or typing in bondage, crying.

You know what refusal means, and I know better than to believe.

My acuity is sharpest with starving or when flexed in torture. Sometimes the fog dissipates if I fast. I'm writing this after not eating for two days and undergoing physical therapy and I feel terrible but my mind is alive. A hungry brain is a quick brain, but the housing begins to slow. Which is okay. Academia is about nourishing the body, not the mind.

Know that this can't be the same show twice. Disability can never enter through the front door, especially at the university.

March 18th, 2018, after a fibromyalgia flare-up and consulting with friends. "Yes, cancel class, I think you have been through a lot and need to rest."

A cat I knew, arthritic, never said anything about it. He stopped jumping on the counters. Just sat on the floor waiting for someone to figure it out.

Sometimes the cognitive symptoms are more disabling than the pain, even though that's the cause. I let a year drag on between each of my Ph.D. milestones (practicum, quals, proposal), and what have I really drafted of my dissertation? To my cohort and colleagues I say they're medical setbacks — not the same thing, but more acceptable than cognitive dysfunction.

Think of chronicity as a threshold between work and can't/don't work [eylum/eylaathu], as something to be learned anew each phase in a constant cycle of being annihilated and becoming-anew. Surviving, which is different from the common meaning of surviving, because as Maia Dolphin-Krute (2017) says, it is a surviving that is unendingly repetitive. Surviving leaves you affectively different than you were before you survived. It's like Margaret Price (2011) says, that "the personal critical divide that persists in academic discourse, with an added twist by way of mental disability, if one is seen as having decreased intellectual potential then one's writing must be only personal, or merely personal, rather than a critical commentary" (p. 215).

I wonder what you're thinking about me right now. The conference Q&A, FYI, is more stressful than the presentation. It's an agonistic space of spontaneous exchange where I'm at risk of revealing I can't keep up. You never let me forget that error in the academy is analogous to death.

In graduate school, a white male straight professor stressed that reading off a paper for a conference presentation was laughable. We presented a paper as part of our final grade. I spent a month rehearsing. That was also the class where I was inadvertently mocked for being glazed over on morphine, using the chalk tray as a headrest because, somewhere along the way, I lost my neck.

In strangers' houses, I realize just how stupid I am. All the special requests I make: yoga mats, cervical rolls, immersion blender and coconut oil, every mug and bowl too heavy, designed for aesthetics and a stronger hand. In doctors' houses, it's worse. Wearing athletic tape and support braces is a calculated risk; "who told you that would help," the accusation. Even worse, that I, Ivy League graduate and doctoral candidate and scholar, cannot immediately replicate the basic directions my host tells me: how to use a blender, how to run a dishwasher, unable to recall the spatial arrangement of an unfamiliar kitchen where everything is a pullout. It's experiential alienation, an excess anchored to my body which can't process.

One of my students, a freshman says, with compassion shining in her face after class, "I didn't have a name to give it, but most days I could see there were layers you were pushing through."

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

February 4th, 2015, on being resistant to canceling class in an email exchange with a friend: "I would do the stay-home plan and email everyone tonight. Just plan on it. You need to rest. If the bleeding doesn't stop and the pain doesn't get better you should also go to the doctor tomorrow."

Foucault (1975/1995) in Discipline and Punish: "Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up" (p. 202).

The academy re-produces able minds in its sociology, procedures, formats, exit examinations. Neurodiversity is not welcome, or welcome only within certain parameters. One-size-fits-all document design, headings and subheadings that depict what Mel Chen (2014) calls the "disciplined cognator" (p. 178), able to name, retrieve, taxonomize in service to the aesthetic of Western masculine rationality. Jay Dolmage (2012) says, "How we shape writing on the page may indeed shape norms for the bodies that write these words" (p. 117) in accordance with the academic biopolitical imperative to govern the body. My preoccupation with form isn't petty dislike, it's resistance to eugenic erasure.

Brain fog is actively suppressed in academic spaces despite the fact that the potential for spontaneous agonistic encounters in these spaces exacerbates fogginess. In these spaces, cognitive difference or disability represent the unthinkable. For academics, speed is of the essence. It's a bloodletting if you stumble. When I'm reluctantly forced to cop to brain fog, I say it like a dismissal of self or an apology to others, with that pervasive polite attitude that accepts and forgives the university's structural discrimination against neurodiversity and the crip time that goes with it, and I hate myself just a little bit more.

Chen (2014) reminds us that the university's insistence on always-sharp, always-on acuity not only excludes the disabled but also pretends the able-minded never experience cognitive fatigue. Writing a conference paper, a journal article, a dissertation demands a display of what Chen calls a "comprehension," a word that suggests both finality but also a "wholeness of grasp" (p. 172). I don't remember the last time I had this. I compose in fragments, symbols, puzzles as a way of working with and along my cognitive style, because linearity is difficult for me and revision lets me reorganize in a way that makes sense to everyone but me. The product conforms. As Davis (1995) says, success erases disability (p. 9).

Dolmage (2017): "We cannot understand academia until we interrogate it from the viewpoint of disability" (p. 43).

Mott and Cockayne (2017) say, "Those who are othered by disciplinary mythology elevate a particular kind of knowing, of conveying knowledge, and of occupying intellectual space" (p. 960), but it never does enter through the front. That's my task. To get through.

Disability drift, as Dolmage (2014) puts it, is the idea that certain disabilities — that is, physical ones — are better than other ones — like cognitive ones (p. 46). It's the stigma that drifts all over, used to imply inferiority, revoke privilege and limit social and intellectual mobility.

If you haven't guessed, this show or presentation or cemetery is a simulation of what it's like for me, daily, to manage and compose and produce. I write in fragments and look for the strings that make them make sense. I cry, I scream, I peel my clothes off like skin when they start to hurt, which they always do. In being made and unmade daily, I have to have blind [edit: unconditional] faith that something will emerge. This is that topology or topography made manifest. I can never remember which one I mean. I think the difference is whether or not the system of constituent parts is alive.

My cervical spine and upper traps have needed since June a coddling I can't give. I'm a connoisseur of athletic tape from the resulting acts of daily survival. Bear witness. Every time I take a break from writing, no matter how small, I forget everything about what I'm writing. When I wrote my first scholarly publications as an independent researcher I blocked out whole weekends and locked myself in my room with my laptop. I barely ate or slept. I broke my body, but I got published. Writing about being in pain funds my capacity for being in pain and attenuates my ability to convey my pain to you.

Shrouded in fog, someone keeps moving the line, or painting more.

September 20th, 2014, shortly during and after the ER. "Vyshali, I'm so sorry that the effects of the injury continue to be so awful for you. I thank you for working out a way to hold class this week, as Monday would be the only class this week for your class. Friday classes meet on Tuesday, there are no classes from Wednesday through Friday due to the college holiday schedule. I suggest that if you are able to do so you post a PowerPoint or other content with accompanying discussion questions by Sunday evening and that you announce your plan for the Monday class. Set a Monday or Tuesday deadline for a portion of the work to be completed, then or before the next class meeting, but don't do more than you should. But it's important given the holiday to get the word to your students on your absence, set deadlines and expect work ready by Monday wherever you happen to be. Thoughts and prayers."

Later that month, "Oh I'm so sorry the injury is ongoing. I had no idea you were thinking of dropping the course and didn't let me know before. I thought you were committed and offered the other course just in case this one didn't run. I'd really like you to stay with it as we worked hard to get the second course and nurse it until filled. Please reconsider. Thanks and I hope your healing progresses well."

Academic citation practices from lengthy literature reviews to excessive footnotes and parenthetical pileups to oppositional critique of every source exacerbate the imposter syndrome that fibromyalgia has given me. I repeat these practices to prove I know my shit, but I know the names will be gone as soon as I finish drafting. My drafts are full of blank parentheticals because I lack the lightning recall we're supposed to have. Instead, my composition practices are marked by periods of staring at physical bookcases and digital reference managers, trying to remember on my own, to stave off failure.

One year and one surgery later, while I waited outside my advisor's office, a former professor passed me in the hallway. She asked how I was doing. I said, "I'm hanging in there," because no one really wants to know. She said she was recovering from mononucleosis, which I've never had, but I imagine would be the last whack-a-mole straw. She said with a face full of sympathy, wonder, and ultimate understanding, "I can barely accomplish anything right now. I can't even imagine how you do it." Translation: as the conversation went on, I can't imagine how, with eternally compromised focus, you manage to be an academic. I said something like, "Yeah, it's hard, sorry you were sick, glad you're getting better." I choked on it. I didn't say that fatigue and brain fog are features of my existence, not glitches. She got better. I won't. I'm not always sure I want to opt out, but it's not like I have a choice.

I used to be a cutter, and in a momentary relapse, triggered by the stress-induced haze of my qualifying exams, I realized: wounding delivers clarity too. Imagine what comes next.

The clinical definition of brain fog is that it encompasses "mild degradation of cognitive functions" though it's yet to be recognized as a medical or psychological condition. It's the "subtle impairments to memory, attention, decision-making,and the speed of cognitive processing. From patient anecdotes and physician reports, it seems the primary issue is speed of processing, possibly affected by the systemic inflammation particular to Celiac, Crohn's, MS, fibromyalgia, and patients undergoing chemotherapy that damages or irritates, permanently, neural fibers in the brain" (Yelland, 2017, pp. 90-92).

Mott and Cockayne (2017) suggest citation is a problematic technology that reproduces the scholarly thought of the cis white heteronormative nondisabled masculine Western intelligentsia. It's how we do citation that's the problem. The names we value, a litany to recite, with lightning recall. It reifies the hierarchy of knowledge production, of "legitimate" practices of thinking and writing, leaving no room for scholars like me, who take circuitous paths through brain fog.

September 24th, 2014, from a friend in response to the email I received from my boss about holding class. "You know what I'm going to say. You can't push yourself. You need to cancel class and heal yourself. Your health is more important than anything else."

Yes, let me believe I was born to manufacture knowledge like a machine manned by the ghosts of philosophers who came before, met the deadline and, entrenched in neoliberal habits, never left. Do it for the love. Do it for the hunger. Say you'll kill for it. Say you surrender. Say you'll meet the deadline.


Thank you. So I don't know what time we're at now, but if we have time for a Q&A or if people have questions about the process that was behind this or anything that was said, I'm happy to talk about it. [Inaudible comment] That's fine too. I empathize with that.

Spectator: I do have one question. Was the way that you chose the note cards random or did you have a plan?

Vyshali: No plan, no plan. This was written across multiple media and document forms as fragments, so those fragments were then printed and taped to note cards and sewn together sort of blindly, and anyway, I picked up the whole thing when it was a mesh, I couldn't tell how it was going to fall. I guess if there was a method, it was whichever part was bothering me most physically in that moment.

Jack: Can you say something about the other objects?

Vyshali: Yes — so what I was wearing in doing this presentation, I did throw out my entire upper back, so it is killing me to be here, let alone present, so I needed to put it on, but I thought since I needed to anyway, it's a good thing to present what I'm doing behind the scenes. This is sort of a physical manifestation of my dissertation (and other academic project) process, photos, drawings, tactile objects; there is also a space if you choose — if you can't come up with a question at the moment — to, if you have a thought, "fill in my blanks," if you would like to do this. This is the "can always tape record," and it is a terrible, terrible thing to have to ask somebody as surreptitiously as possible "Can I record your lecture," "Why? You don't have paperwork," and then the whole issue of having disability accommodations paperwork comes into play, which is hard enough for our students at the undergraduate level but as a graduate student can become 10 times more fraught because of what you're expected to produce. And I believe I used these at one point, but if you want you can try them out, you lie on them, spine between them, and you just roll on the floor, and it's murder. It's murder. If you pop in on tomorrow when I do this presentation again, since I can't do the same show exactly the same, you may hear me on these screaming as I present, so if you'd like a demo, that will happen.

Other questions or contributions? Otherwise we can call it.

Thank you for coming.

In 2015 and 2018, this conference included a "Wreck the Format" stream, which opened a space for me to experiment with disciplinary conventions in an arena where disciplinary gazes would be, ostensibly, altered themselves, prepared for something creative. I could perform the specific form of illusio that I had developed within the illusio particular to the academic field: that of the graduate student/adjunct professor with chronic pain and chronic fatigue. This performance felt like an essential intervention. My Ph.D. advisor and "inside" dissertation committee members have been my accomplices and co-conspirators — defending my (slow) progress and financial pressures to administrators, offering me door-to-door carpool rides, granting extensions whenever I asked — but they haven't lived my embodied experiences and can't instinctively grasp, in flesh and spirit, the pressures of being a disabled academic; they can't intuit my anxieties, the vagaries of daily survival and crip time, the emotionally exhausting hours spent on the telephone or at the clinic, the financial and social expense of an accessible life in the academic field.

Filming is a series of intentional, curatorial, visual choices. Jack records me with his iPhone, beginning with a master shot to establish the scene — me, draped in notecards, scissors in my hand, my blazer, shoes, support harness, athletic tape, and massage balls on the floor — before zooming in and out of closeup and medium shots, alternately focusing on my face and my actions. As he's watching this performance for the first time, his cinematography is impromptu, but deliberate: closeup shots on my face and hands as I cut apart the notecards, my feet as I kick materials out of my way, my hands as I wind athletic tape around my neck and struggle into my support harness. He frames the image so that I range from right-of-center to center, the hardwood floor and curtained wall in view. I appear more conscious of the fact that my advisor is filming me than I am of the general audience. I shoot furtive glances at the camera, angle my body slightly away from it. Every time I look, particularly when reading a line about brain fog, sex, my advisor or other academics, or lies I've told in the academy to get by, it's with a self-deprecating grimace. I expect the axe to fall. Once or twice, when I reference the dissertation process, I seem to seek reassurance. There are moments when the fourth wall is accidentally broken, like when his thumb partially obscures the camera when I say "resting our thumbs." The camera zooms in again at the end before panning over the floor during the Q&A, gently redirecting the viewer's attention to the items I'd strewn on the floor and subsequently forgotten.

Crary (1996) writes:

On one hand the observer is disjunct from the pure operation of the device and is there as a disembodied witness to a mechanical and transcendental re-presentation of the objectivity of the world. On the other hand, however, his or her presence in the camera implies a spatial and temporal simultaneity of human subjectivity and objective apparatus. (p. 41)

Jack's choices stage and preserve my body performing academic performance, exercising the disciplinary gaze of academic culture that, I think, isn't just a way of regulating me as doctoral candidate subject. There's care work here. His cinematographic choices don't override the immediate subjective evidence of my pain, though it's significant that my face is often foregrounded, as it reflects what's discussed elsewhere in this project: that faciality overcodes the rest of the body and the minor senses, becoming the locus of communicative acts, bodily rhetorics, affect transmissions, and/or sympathetic responses to pain. But his visual-auditory apparatus (eye-ear-brain-camera) also excludes the face to linger on my use of the scissors' handle to massage my neck and shoulders, or the hard flex of my feet as I kneel, the rustle of the notecards on my body and the floor. You can't haptically experience a video the way you can feel the weight and texture of a photograph album, but sight is distributed through the other senses through synesthesia (Arnheim, 1969; Sokolowski, 2000), so that the compression of flesh by scissors or hand, or the strangulatory winding of textured athletic tape around a neck, becomes an embodied experience for the viewer. Jack's camera pans and closeups are deliberate and steady, introducing edges and contours into the flow of vision, actively shaping the room and the objects and bodies in it, including mine.

I was diagnosed with FMS as a master's student, established a sustainable treatment regimen for it as a doctoral student, was misapprehended in the ER when my appendix ruptured post-quals and pre-ABD, and was officially diagnosed with ME and POTS (conditions I was informally told I had) as a doctoral candidate. I've never known graduate school without chronic illness.

The experience of chronic pain is conditioned in part by our experience of being with and being understood by other people. In my doctoral program, my professors (particularly Jack and Susan) were implicated in my perception of myself as a chronically ill academic. Having my advisor film this performance makes this relationship explicit, creates an additional layer of meaning in a social (co-authorial) and disciplinary (senior academic) context. But this moment is less a transmission from advisor to advisee than an expression about advisor-advisee relations. It's not care in the clinical sense of caregiving but taking care to understand and accommodate the chronically painervated advisee who in the end forgets to make meaning comprehensively without the advisor's intervention in the Q&A, like taking care to give the audience a taste of the thought and care I put into all the artifacts I included, to ease the room's oppressive hush and extend the performance.

If all fields require the formation of a specific illusio, the internalization of a specific habitus (Bourdieu, 1994/1998), then this moment sidesteps the usual rules and asks: What might we imagine in their place?

By asking Jack to film, I corporeally embed him in a project where reviewers are supposed to be visible only in the acknowledgments. Instead, his hands direct and focus the camera, and his voice is heard at the end, when he prompts me to talk about the items I'd strewn on the ground, because painervation made me forget to do so. I was staging for myself the opportunity to ask this: Can I really claim to have constructed my fibromyalgic graduate student subjectivity alone, if my advisor gave me permission to not kill myself for the stakes of the academic game?

For all the reasons above, I think the answer is no. But if you're an academic committed to the illusio of the field, you might interpret this to mean I shouldn't pass.

(–121. Prestige)