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Entries in #objects (3)

Thursday
Nov102016

The Brown Dog, Part I: Vivisection and the Body as Object

The weight of vivisection is contained neatly in its root words: vivi, "alive," and "sectio," cutting.

I only encountered dead dissection subjects in biology classes, including the cats that we hacked apart with woefully inadequate tools that more closely resembled the x-acto knives we also used in newspaper. Though I'd read about Anti-Vivisection Societies, my assumption was always that the word was an archaic holdover, nothing other than dissection as it was once more commonly described. 

But no, and it really should have been obvious: this is cutting into something that is currently alive, to see how it works.

The photographs of this process make me squeamish. I am not a vegetarian. I take full advantage of modern medicine. I find the history of science fascinating, and I see the logic of needing to make these sorts of incursions into the bodies of other beings in order to better understand us all, human and otherwise. And yet, the photographs.

"Surgical training on a live animal (pig)," via Wikimedia Commons

I eat pork. I hope, when I remember to consider it, that the pork I eat comes from pigs who live a reasonably contented piggy life. I hope that they don't know what their end will be until it arrives. Thoughts to the contrary, though, have not stopped me, nor altered my diet in much of any way.

Yet, when I see the pig in this photo, rather than an agriculturally-raised animal that I'm happy to treat as an object when it comes to my own satiation, I see a nearly-human body. 

Perhaps it's the intestines, though I am not loath to eat them as casings. I think, more accurately, it is the feet, and the restraints.

I once was a guest during a surgery, probably completely illegally, so I won't say where or how or with whom. What I remember most, to this day, was how quickly the patient became an object. As he slowly passed into unconsciousness, the nurses and doctors stood over him, smiling and speaking softly, easing him into the darkness. 

And then, as soon as he was out, the entire atmosphere of the room changed. We were no longer in a chapel; we were in a bus station, and there was work to do to keep it all moving. The patient was lifted, shifted, and intubated. The business of cutting the body open and threading things into it began. 

This was an incredibly professional team. This was an incredibly well-respected hospital, one that does a lot of good in both its own community and the world. But standing there, as a layperson, I could not get over what I knew even then was an attitude and atmosphere completely necessary for successfully completing the job at hand. The patient, when he awoke, would certainly not have thanked me for allowing my queasiness and sense of violation, both on his behalf, to interfere with what the surgical team was doing. 

I've heard it said that one of the most interesting characteristics of modern urban societies is how willing we all are to go about our business day to day, surrounded by millions of people whom we've never met and have no real social connection to, without much in the way of active fear. There are clearly many, many exceptions to this statement, but most of them don't prevent any given person from ordering a cup of coffee from another, and getting it. To some extent, even if only superficially, and even if only in specific situations, we extend each other a mutual trust.

Surgery, at least as I experienced it, completely consciously and yet not as a medical professional, is the ultimate in handing over trust to another human being. Medical care, more generally, is a category only slightly less extreme.

In so many ways, however, this trust can be misplaced. The power differential is astounding--necessarily so. But this leaves a lot of room for bodies, and objects, to become interchanged.

 

 

Wednesday
Nov092016

Facing the World

On a strange and distressing day, an old method for moving forward.

Work by Anna Coleman Ladd, via NPR.

Injuries aquired during WWI trench warfare frequently came from a basic miscalculation: how quickly someone could peer up and over the abyss vs. how quickly the bullets from a machine gun flew.

As one wounded soldier put it, "It sounded to me like some one had dropped a glass bottle into a porcelain bathtub."

So what then? Plaster, tin, and clay.

Masks did not hide the fact of damage, but they obscured the extent. They prevented the involuntary moment of shock and revulsion.

It was an imperfect solution for many reasons. Just one expression was possible, for starters, and sculptors, no matter how talented, were subject to the light. Balancing skin colors was a fine art, but no one could impose chamillion-like abilities onto artificial skin. Perhaps their greatest success is precisely how we see them now: in photographs, without movement. But no one, even today, can completely undo what a bullet to the face does, though the patient may well be lucky enough to continue limping along in this world.

There is probably a metaphor here. But for me it's enough, at least for today, to allow objects to be literal.  

Monday
Mar172014

A Question of Loyalty: What is your teapot?

Inspired by the recent Helen Oyeyemi interview that I enjoyed so much, I posed a question to the women writers who have contributed, or plan to contribute, to The Loyalty of Water:

What is your teapot? That is, what is the object that you must have with you when you write?

In no particular order, here are the answers that I received:

  • A Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball pen in blue ink, fine point. I like to think of it as my light saber, sonic screwdriver, and wand with a dragon heart-string at the core all rolled into one. 
  • My talismans are practical: my laptop for work, and my cellphone because I’m neurotic and God forbid I’m without it. (I hate talking on the phone, though – go figure.) Headphones are also very useful!
  • Boy, I wish I had one object. Most often, it's just keyboard and mouse, sometimes Mimi, our cat (not helpful) and sometimes a cup of coffee, which sometimes gets cold.
  • There is no single object that I must have with me in order to write. But I find music tremendously helpful to transition my brain from the daily grind of "must get done" to the world of my novel. So I put together a playlist for each new piece I'm working on. Since my novels have tended toward historical fiction, I use music of the era to set the mood. If necessary, I will keep listening to the same song over and over again while I write a particular scene -- picturing the music floating in an open window near my characters, the song getting stuck in their heads.
  • I have a lumberjack scented candle that I keep on my desk since lumberjack fable runs through my manuscript and also gives me a little taste of Colorado while I'm in the bay.  I also have two quotes on index cards taped above my desk for this project:  Faulkner's: "The past is never dead.  It's not even past" and Henry Miller's:  "The happiest people, it is said, are those which have no history."
  • I always have a photo of my Nana and a cork-board with pictures, maps and quotes that pertain to the book.
  • When I am on a residency near home - a place to which I can drive - I pack a little gnome figurine, a Mexican blanket, a selection of poetry books, and my journals.  The poetry books change as do the journals, but the little gnome figurine I've had since I was in college.  I don't remember where or when I found him.  He doesn't have a name, but I've placed him in window sills or near doorways for years.  He's always faced the outside as a ward against evil spirits.  Once and only once did he face the inside of a room; I found him that way in my office after my house had been robbed years ago.  It was as if he had been watching the intruder... (continued)
  • ...As for the Mexican blanket, I've had that since I was about 13.   My mother bought it for me near temple ruins on a family trip we took.  I don't sleep well in new places generally, so the first few nights in a place, I will often wrap myself in the blanket.  It smells like home and allows me to ease into new surroundings.  It opens up my dreams to creative focus, rather than focusing my creativity on the sounds of the night. 
  • I have a Flat Eric stuffed animal that sits on top of my computer screen. He's like a lucky charm. This is Flat Eric...