Selected work

Here is a selection of my published articles and essays, with links.

Brave New World of Avatars. Originally published in ASweetLife, Jan 21, 2010. Link.

While social critics like Annalee Newitz see Avatar as an expression of “old white guilt” and racism, I see the film more as a (perhaps unintentional) expression of ableism. The human and dour Jake mourns his body and what it prevents him from doing. As avatar, he is reborn: no injuries, no lack of physical power. When he gets the chance, he chooses life as an avatar and lets his human self die away. That scene is played tenderly, yet the transition from mere man to blue giant is framed by the plot as a triumph.

The film’s values about able-bodied supremacy are not startling, and this may be why no prominent critic or blogger is commenting on them: Avatar reflects our culture’s fantasies of being other — and fitter — than we are.

11 Things You Could Start Doing Today for the Benefit of Your Students’ Writing, with Lowry Pei. Originally published in Tomorrow’s Professor, Oct 25, 2007. Link.

Retire the red pen; stop copyediting your students’ work. Point out no more than 2 patterns of error, and leave it to the student to find a way to resolve the errors.When you copyedit a student’s work, many students will look at the marked-up copy and think “Oh, that’s been taken care of for me.” Rather than encouraging learning, it sends the message that correcting those things is the teacher’s job.

In the Waiting Room, A Dance. Originally published in ASweetLife, September 10, 2013. Link.

Nearest to me is a female pair, talking. I listen and occasionally look. The younger woman, in her 40s like me, is the daughter. The older woman, though not elderly, has the look my old aunts did in the last months of their long lives when their skeletons, long concealed under flesh, gradually asserted themselves. Her bent knees push at the fabric of her pants like fists. The skin of her face is pulled over the rock of her head, giving her a look that is alert and grim. Once pretty, she wears red lipstick and has tucked her graying straight hair over her ears. Her body holds itself still, without the fidgets and adjustments that impatient people make. “Keep sitting up” is what I guess she tells herself. She looks exhausted yet resolved.

Little Creatures. Originally published in P·M·S poemmemoirstory, 2009. Link.

One particular night, I lay face down on my bed in a posture titled, “Mother, Collapsed.” I have just washed and treated my own hair with whatever lice shampoo or lotion we own. It’s only eight o’clock or so, and the children are still awake: Eli, in his room doing homework, and Lydia and Grace, in our room lurking around me. Jimmy is tired and sits nearby reading.

The girls nuzzle into me. One sits up and puts her hand through my hair. “Do you want us to check you?”

For a long time, these two crawl their quick, little hands through my hair. It flops on my face and gets brushed away. Individual strands are picked at and tugged. Knees nudge my sides and the palms rest their weight on my back. I’m all meat, like a cat or a sow with her litter crowding around.

Tethered to the Body. Originally published in Bellevue Literary Review, Fall, 2008. Link.

During the weeks before I switched to the insulin pump, I thought more about sex on an hourly basis than I had since I was a young adult. Although I wanted a direct answer for what would sex be like, I wasn’t bold enough to directly ask a nurse, doctor, or even another person with diabetes my questions. The few books on insulin pumps that I found, and even the official literature from manufacturers of the device, shied away from or minimized the topic. There were no nearby friends, no other women with insulin-dependent diabetes, to interrogate. Who was there to ask? I turned, of course, to Google.

Ways to Teach Peer Writing and Response, in Any Course and Any Size Class, with Lowry Pei. Originally published in Tomorrow’s Professor, Apr 21, 2009. Link.

Collaborative writing and peer responding help to create the network of relationships that makes a class succeed. Informal writing and small group work varies the classroom experience and transfers more responsibility to students. Even in large lecture courses, in-class writing and response time fosters ideas, problem-solving, and playfulness and makes a space for everyone to say something to someone.

Wild Types, Ferrofluids, and Robots: The Challenges and Joys of Helping Scientists and Engineers Explain Their Work. MIT Technology Review/MIT News Magazine, August 21, 2012. Link.

I encountered the term “wild type” in my first semester as an instructor at MIT, in 7.02 (Introduction to Experimental Biology and Communication). To my mind, it seemed a great name for a dance. Not afraid to admit to what I don’t know, I asked the class of 15 students, “What’s the wild type?” They looked hesitantly around the table at each other, as though to signal Is she for real? Finally one student responded, “It’s the state of the organism as it exists in nature. Not mutated in the lab.” Her answer made me laugh out loud at my own naïveté, and the students laughed too. By now, I can list the procedures for an experiment on Pfu DNA polymerase almost by heart, but when I see the term “wild type” in a report, I still picture a single cell shimmying to music only it senses.

One thought on “Selected work

  1. Ah wild type, yes. Long ago at the Writing Center we had a guy we called the Ice Man (as in cometh…) who worked for the oil industry and was explaining how ice floes move a bit every year (which is bad if you have a really long pipe poking through one). This is called Itinerant Creep.

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