Catalyst Fall 2011

Page 1

FALL 2011

C ATA — LY S T VOL. 18 NO. 1



47 BRIEF LOOK AT THE C. NEKROS Jinaabah Showa ’12 NON-FICTION 7 \’NĀ–CH   R\ Steph Yin ’12 E

19 MORGELLONS Natalie Tarr ’14 37 THE UNSEEN: SCIENCE AND SUPER STITION Jean Mendoza ’12 51 TURKEY TEST Lee Stevens ’12

POETRY 9 SPRING CLEANING Cara Dorris ’15 13 FERNS Cara Dorris ’15 17 SECRET COMMANDER Alexx Temena ’15 25 WHY I WEAR A HAT Dan Blaustein-Rejto ’12 31 F=? Zach Ballard ’13 43 HOLD ON TO YOUR BREATH Dan Blaustein-Rejto ’12



Throughout the semester, writers, artists, scientists, and readers alike would ask, “What exactly does the Catalyst publish?” Though a seemingly simple question, our usual response —we’re looking for pieces that bridge the gap between the sciences and humanities through an artistic lens— would often elicit a tentative nod or smile. It sounded good and interesting enough, but what did it really mean? What exactly were we looking for? While the sciences and humanities differ in topic, approach, and method of study, what they share is the level of attention that they give, not only to aspects of human experience, but also to their search for truth in the realm of the unknown. For this semester’s issue, we found ourselves drawn to work that not only touched on pertinent scientific topics but, more importantly, also gave insight into the human experience and the process of uncovering deeper truths. Some selections are rooted in the everyday experiences that spice our existence. Adela Wu’s “A Diary of the Senses and Senselessness” pinpoints the five senses, exploring each one’s influence on our daily lives. “Turkey Test,” by Lee Stevens, directs our full attention to the methods by which the author forces turkeys onto a treadmill in the interest of scientific progress. “Ferns,” by Cara Dorris, and “\'nā-cher\” by Steph Yin, pose questions about the ways in which e




the people and other species in our midst shape our existence. Other pieces deal with the mystery of the unknown. Jinaabah Showa’s “C. Nekros” and Natalie Tarr’s “Morgellons” tantalize us with the arbitrary task of drawing a line between the real and the fictive. They lead us to question usual modes of veracity; for example, can a disease be legitimized even in the absence of scientific evidence? In “The Unseen: Science and Superstition,” Jean Mendoza travels between spiritual and physical space to explore geographic and temporal truths, from the Philippines, where spirits are alive at every step, to New York, a city of concrete that “no spirit could possibly penetrate.” Alexx Temena plays with the notion of free will in the poem “Secret Commander,” which explores an unconscious so precocious that it stunts the subject’s own ability to make independent decisions. The intersection between the sciences and the humanities pulses with the possibilities for exploring truth in all the senses of the word—scientific, emotional, and spiritual. Through prose that challenges, poetry that evokes, and artwork that captivates, this issue makes one aware of the myriad ways we perceive and search for such truth. We invite you to explore its pages and immerse yourself in the experience.


\'NĀ–CH R\ prevent it from spinning wildly out of control. I have imagined cities unraveling in the absence of humans. In these scenes, nature storms its way across the landscape, and savage wildness consumes the built environment. Tall grasses and vines overtake our painstakingly manicured lawns, creeping insidiously over our fences. Geometric neighborhoods revert back to thick, boisterous deciduous forest. Refrigerators become breeding grounds for bacteria—the milks curdle; the vegetables entertain new molds and fungi. Insects, squirrels, deer, and coyote ravage our neat rows of crops. Order gives way to chaos. These scenarios pin humans at odds with wildness. We seemingly control the chaos—carving the environment into linear patterns that make sense to us. It is our nature to build, to create, and to carefully appropriate resources for our own benefit. We plow fields and homogenize plant life; we fasten together slabs of wood for shelter. Without humans, apparent pandemonium erupts. In fact, if we were to disappear tomorrow, all of us—pack up our bags and leave for another planet nature would simply forget us, swallowing the spaces we have left, engulfing the emptiness. It would adjust and re-establish equilibrium.




Words, at times, seem inadequate to capture the grandeur of nature. How do you distill the concept of nature, the simultaneous container for and creator of the entire physical world, into words? To help us make sense of it, we juxtapose nature with man. We tell ourselves that nature excludes man, just as fast negates slow, and day precludes night. We associate nature with bucolic landscapes, pristine oceans, and the plants and animals inhabiting them. These images have no place for humans, and the structures, objects, and technologies we create. We’ve decoupled nature from anything human, pinning the natural environment against the built environment. The problem with this definition of nature is that it severs our sense of accountability to the natural world. If we are not members of nature’s kingdom, then we do not have to answer to its edicts. We have a diminished duty to care for it. Furthermore, placing ourselves outside of nature’s realm opens up the possibility for us to dominate it. Instead of viewing ourselves as a part of nature, we view nature as our toolbox. This definition of nature, by excluding all things human, allows us to fancy ourselves masters of nature, whose duty is to contain nature’s insubordination, and to

\'NĀ–CH R\


This seamless transition into a new steady state, if humans suddenly ceased to exist, would reflect our insignificance. It would relay that we actually occupy only a tiny fraction of nature’s tapestry. Indeed, within the decay of our constructed environments, we would be forgotten. Eliminating the dichotomy between humans and nature might allow us to re-think our relationship to it. If we begin to see ourselves as part of nature, rather than exempt from it, then we would understand that it behooves us to care for it, rather than exploit it. We serve not only the human community, but also the community encompassing all of

Earth’s organisms and landscapes. It is when we regard ourselves separately from nature that we think we can claim its resources as our own commodities. We might begin to accomplish this task by reframing our definition of nature and realizing that nature grows, evolves, and achieves balance on a scale that transcends the human domain. Our interdependence on and connectedness with all of nature calls upon us, as humans, to expand our sphere of accountability to the entire natural world – through the animal kingdom, across the continents, and into the soil horizons of the Earth.

SPRING CLEANING Alone in the warm basement without windows, looking for a yellowed photo album, I could still feel the sky deepen and the clouds inhale.

But when the rain came nobody was ready. It left her magazine peeled open, grocery list half-written, slippers still toe-indented, and something ripe and unsaid, whatever it was, bursting at the windows.

Her urine was still in the catheter when I found it and let it go into the grass, with no one to tell.



I’d felt the storm coming for weeks. Life raged under her tongue - she wanted the photo albums found, the house cleaned. She put the fish back in the stream and scrubbed the filter out.



FERNS I. School taught you they’re sad plants. The only tissued ones to never seed or flower, never bloom. You waited for the fern flower every year.


II. 1993. Ivan Kupala Day. Your Russian grandmother says fall into the soil still wet with rain. Your fingers rose and dug in their broken chord arpeggio, but your arms were left dirt-spattered. Cold fingers shook for what you couldn’t find. III. In spring - with all its fast and surging urgency you watched

that girl who sang by the pool. You waited for your spiny-leaved chest to snap, to tear, to

IV. You waited for your fingertips to itch for breasts and mouth to crave pink lips. The tongue like burnt honey or guilt.


heave against the rock inside it. In spring you tried to love him less.



I. I smack a garlic clove hard with the flat of the blade, crushing it, releasing its pungent and savory aroma. I breathe deeply, inhaling the rich tanginess of tomato sauce sitting and sizzling on the stove. Fragrant rosemary and basil. The earthiness of dry, uncooked noodles and pasta. Fresh, strong, acrid, why didn’t I realize before there were so many words for smells?

cacophonous cymbal symphony, yearning for and relishing the ringing and throbbing sensations in my ears. Bang. Zing. Clang That evening, I was embarrassed to say that my parents found me acting like a madwoman, drumming the spatula and salad tongs hard against the granite kitchen countertop.

II. This morning, I cut a wedge of lemon, meaning to use it to spritz my water. Instead, I bit into it, tentatively. I had chapped lips, and the sourness burned. My tongue was lead, a stone caught between my teeth. I chewed another piece of the lemon fruit, feeling its pulp burst in my mouth. At the back of my mouth, I could feel the bile rising up, as if my body knew how to protest. I dry heaved a few times and cut myself more slices of the lemon. I bit and chewed, waiting for the sourness. I could feel my stomach roiling and churning, but my mouth, my tongue, nothing.

IV. I bring my hand up close to my face—palm almost brushing the tip of my nose. One finger becomes two, two becomes three, becomes four, a blur. I blink. I spin around and around— and the carpet, the furniture, the trees, the clouds, the faces of my family and everyone else I love bend and tilt and meld and blend. Afterward, I collapse in a heap, holding my head with both hands, because I can’t tell which way is up and which way is down or who these people are or even who I myself am. I blink. And the whole world could go black.

III. Tink, tink, tink—or at leas it should be. I press my head closer as I rap the fork against the wineglass. I bash the metal ware—pots and pans in a

V. Standing by the window, I touch the tip of my nose, the corners of my downturned lips, the feathering lashes of my eyes, thumbs, pinkies, the lobe


of my left ear, in solemn prayerlike succession. It is winter now, and, late last night, the first snow had fallen. I drift outside, not bothering to change out of my slippers. I leave a furrow trailing behind me. The blanket of snow is the same as the blanket about my shoulders. The sky is as white as the crystals around my ankles. I am in a cocoon. Cocoon. And I shiver. Not because of the chill.



i guess you could say we were best friends, but not the porch-swinging, ice cream parlor type friends not the you tell me your secrets, i’ll tell you mine or the i’ll meet you at my place let’s have a bottle of wine not even the kind who fight and make up and love each other when they wake up because i told my secret commander once, with my eyes shut so tight that the wrinkles of their outer edges made two shooting stars that would collide above my nose if i kept them closed too long, that i had enough all at once the responsibility to choose was mine; when to feel happy, or hungry and i figured out how not to feel pain, how to stay awake all day and sleep only on long flights to rhode island and recalling a memory, of what i ate for breakfast, perhaps required eliciting just the right neural pattern so i’d wink my left eye, curl up my little pinky toe and repeatedly press my pointer finger against my other palm as if i were entering a password to access my memory safe ­—right, a bowl of oatmeal with cranraisins and honey

suddenly every bodily function was voluntary, inhale, exhale, blink, digest, i’d sometimes forget to breathe when distracted by the rhythm of blinking and the breakfast in my stomach

1 A reference to Cordelia Fine’s “A Mind of Its Own.” Fine refers to the unconscious as the “secret commander” that mysteriously preempts a decision even before the conscious mind is aware of the decision, contributing to the delusion of “free will.”


so just when i thought that i had enough, my friend, of that silly delusion it’s just too much to choose


I met Ana in a community garden. We shared a plot—full of Cuban oregano and cherry tomatoes and bamboo. She walked around our garden barefoot with unshaven legs, and danced as she talked—about political activism, gays’ rights, tree sitting and veganism. Her friends let their kids run around the park naked and had roosters in their yards. I could see myself as Ana when I got to college: a radical activist who surrounded herself with interesting and passionate people. So when she invited me to Detroit to attend an activist convention, I couldn’t say no. I wanted to see how she would act among other radical people. Follow her around. We were going to take a 24-hour bus ride to Detroit from Miami—the cheapest transportation we could find. We were going to sleep on the floor of a church for seven dollars a night—the cheapest housing available. We were going to listen to inspirational leaders speak, go to rallies, ask questions, and make music. But a week before we were supposed to leave she sent a mass email to her closest friends, including myself. “I’ve just learned I have Morgellons,” she wrote. “It’s a chronic infectious systemic parasite characterized by immensely-itchy open legions that grow fibers and

shed things that look like grains of sand. NO SHIT.” She went on to explain how she found worms in open wounds on her body and was going to see a Morgellons doctor. She wanted us to read about Morgellons on the Internet, but didn’t want us to report what we found. (It was too depressing.) She felt grateful for her family’s support and asked us for ours. After reading this email, I googled “Morgellons” and read about the disease. The Center for Disease Control called Morgellons an “unexplained dermopathy.” “Persons who suffer from this condition report… crawling, biting and stinging [skin] sensations; granules, threads, fibers or black speck-like materials.” I tried to find out if Morgellons was contagious, but on most sites (like the CDC website), I found, “At this time, scientists and doctors do not know what causes this condition and there is not enough information to determine whether or not this condition is contagious.”1 Morgellons sounded and looked serious, and I was scared to go on the trip. There are currently 15, 623 families registered with Morgellons disease, according to The Morgellons Research Foundation website.2 But these statistics are self-reported and the maps of disease incidence





are based on “U.S. families who felt they fit the criteria for Morgellons disease” (not diagnosed patients).2 In fact, many doctors believe that the disease isn’t real. Morgellons has been compared to a disease called “delusional parasitosis,” in which people “believe, mistakenly, that they are afflicted with a parasitic infection or infestation with bugs…”3 Patients often refuse to get psychological help and instead bring samples of their “parasite” (pieces of skin, hair, etc.) to prove their condition is real. This behavior is called the “Ziploc bag” sign and is similar to Morgellons patients’ behavior. Other doctors think Morgellons is a variation of an already-known skin disease like eczema or scabies. “It’s not that people aren’t suffering; they are…It’s just that [I] think they have something else, such as scabies…for which there is no good treatment…People with very itchy skin have scabs, which ooze and tend to pick up threads from the environment, from dogs, cats, air filter, car upholstery, carpet,” said Jeffrey Meffert, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Texas in San Antonio. The disease gets its name from an illness described with similar symptoms in 1690. It was given

this name by Mary Leitao, whose two-year-old son began to have “fiber-like” things emerging from his skin. One day, as she applied cream to his rashy body, she found “red and black and blue [fibers] that fluoresce[d] under the proper light.”5 Leitao, a biologist, first looked at the fibers under a microscope at home. Not recognizing what they were, she brought them to a lab to be tested. Eventually, after months of doctors visits and additional tests, during which no conclusions were reached, she named the disease and made a website to find others suffering the same symptoms. Some scientists think that Leitao made Morgellons up. “According to the medical community, Morgellons originated not as a stand-name for her son’s unknown infectious disease, but as a possible manifestation of Leitao’s own psychiatric illness, Munchausen’s by-proxy,” writer Brian Fair writes.6 Perhaps it hadn’t been her son who was sick, but Leitao herself. A whole internet community has sprung out of discussion of the disease’s origin. Some people think it was caused by “poisonous chemicals produced by the government and spread by jet contrails [vapor clouds produced by aircraft].”4

emerged contesting the existence Morgellons disease: Furthering Morgellons Internet obsession, people conversed on the website’s blog, refuting Morgellons existence, and citing articles to prove it was made-up. Perhaps Morgellons is simply an “Internet disease.” That because of rapidly spreading Morgellons information, we have created a new Internet obsession, based not on scientific fact, but on rumor and semi-related facts. “Clearly, as more and more of our patients discover this [Morgellons Research Foundation] site, there will be an ever greater waste of valuable time and resources on fruitless research into fibers, fluffs, irrelevant bacteria and innocuous worms and insect,” quotes Caroline S. Koblenzer, MD.8 She goes on to explain how doctors should be aware of “this phenomenon” and “develop an effective way to work with these patients”.8 Treating Morgellons as an “Internet disease” raises some interesting questions: How has the Internet affected our obsessions and medicine? Would a similar Morgellons “panic” have happened in the 1500s when information wasn’t as easily spread or accessible to large populations? (It seems likely, because


Aliens, artificially intelligent nanotechnology, and genetic engineering have also been blamed.4 The Internet makes it easy for “nearly any sufferer of nearly any condition [to] type his or her affliction into a search engine and electronically connect with a group of fellow sufferers,” writes Brian Fair.6 Information about Morgellons is readily accessible through the Morgellons’ website, which “provides links to political tools, a means of collecting research donations, a newsletter and access to numerous…newspaper articles and television transcripts,” writes Fair.6 The Internet community enabled people to find others claiming to suffer from the same symptoms. “I felt so relieved. I found all these people talking about the same thing I was,” explained one person who claimed he had Morgellons.7 Perhaps giving the skin condition a name made it less scary. But with all this un-fact-checked information spreading around the Internet, there emerged a sort of paranoia about Morgellons, based on people’s ignorance. And with so much information, it would be easy to diagnose oneself with something one doesn’t really have. In response to the Morgellons’ website, a contradictory website


the farther one gets from the true “facts” the more likely myths are to be made. Think: voo-doo dolls, blood letting, leeches.) To stop the spread of these Internet diseases, maybe the medical community needs to start accepting that they might be real. Maybe doctors will have to start calling what they see as delusional parasitosis Morgellons disease—to please the patient. And perhaps more lab work needs to be done on the disease. Already, because Morgellons has generated a high amount of concern, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have agreed to fund “an approximately $500,000 multi-year Morgellons research project” (according to Fair) to be carried out in California.6 I’m still not sure whether or not I think Morgellons is real. My friend Ana seemed like a mentally stable person—not someone who just thought she had been infested with bugs. She was a bright student who held jobs, wrote papers and coordinated university functions. She wouldn’t be making a disease up. Besides, I had seen an area on her collarbone where black threadlooking things seemed to be coming out of her skin. But it’s possible that the black threads had come from Ana’s

clothing. Her constant itching may have been a more common skin disease, like scabies. I decided to still go on the trip, but I insisted that instead of sleeping on the floor of the church, we get separate hotel rooms. I told her I was going to take a plane to Detroit instead of riding the bus—I didn’t want to take any chances. At the convention, Ana wore long-sleeves and pants—even on the hottest days—and covered her lesions in band-aids, like scabies patients did. She went through three boxes in one week. I spent the entire convention torn between fearing Ana’s disease and thinking that she didn’t have it at all. We never sat next to each other or shared hugs. After we came home I sent her an email thanking her for the wonderful trip. I felt terrible for not being a warm, gushy, huggy friend in Detroit—for putting space between us. But I didn’t want to take a chance. We took trips to the beach and the park, roller-skated and cooked dinners—but our friendship was never quite the same. She would play with small children at the park without telling their parents about her disease. She would give new people she met hugs and shake their hands. I couldn’t under-

1 “Unexplained Dermopathy (also called “Morgellons”),” Centers for Disease Control, Dec. 2010 <>. 2 Morgellons Research Foundation, Dec. 2010 <>. 3 “Parasites and Pestilence,” Stanford Univer sity, Dec. 2010 <>. 4 Brigid Schulte, “Figments of the Imagina tion,” 2008, The Washington Post, Dec. 2010 <>. 5 Chico Harlan, “Mom fights for answers on what’s wrong with her son,” 2006, Pitts burgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 2010 <http://www.>. 6 Brian Fair, “Morgellons: contested illness, diagnostic compromise and medicalisation,” 2010, Sociology of Health and Illness, Dec. 2010 <>.

7 Andrew Lustig, et al., “Morgellons Disease as Internet Meme,” 2009, Psychosomatics, Dec. 2010 <>. 8 Caroline S. Koblenzer, “The Challenge of Morgellons Disease,” Dec. 2010 <http://www.>.


stand how she could do that when she didn’t even know if Morgellons was contagious. Ana never did see the Morgellons doctor she planned to see. (She was afraid if she sat in the waiting room, she might actually contract the disease.) But she did see regular doctors, contact other Morgellons patients, and spend hundreds of dollars on new ointments and herbal remedies, special bath soaps and bizarre diets. Recently I asked Ana how her Morgellons was doing, and she said she probably never had it. That it was probably a strange skin disease she had for a while that eventually went away.



This box…this box, this box… this box holds splattered facts against mirrored walls. Innumerable unforgettable studied and strung up and dripping down condensed into hands cupped seamlessly like 34 inches of Venezuelan raindrops that drip down modified tubular leaves – a pitcher in countless pictures of a Pitcher Plant. Heliamphora Tatei, Genus – Species – Tatei, Okay. like Sierra Nevada snowmelt running off into distant L.A. in 1913 through Owens Valley Aqueduct. San Francisco in 1923 through Hetch Hetchy Valley

Dam. Collected for people to drink of. Damn.

and so I wear a hat, mirrored throughout inside, when I go out. When it leaks I catch some in my hands. Most runs through, but it’s better. I couldn’t take the walls along.


But outside boxes, entropy vanishes raindrops as vapor and cupped hands spill facts in commotion. No pitchers no dams.



















33 33









THE UNSEEN: SCIENCE AND SUPERSTITION Our household awoke in the dead of night by a loud, insistent pounding. We found our neighbor at our door in tears, begging my father to help her sister. Too upset, she never explained what the emergency was. We stayed up all night waiting for him to come home. My mother prayed. Little was said. As a four-year old child, I fell asleep on my mother’s lap. Her rosary count was broken at last at four in the morning by the return of my father, tired but wide-eyed with a fear he could not hide. Each witness of that night left with a different account, retold and rehashed in that Philippine town for years to come. But they all started the same way: our neighbor’s sister was possessed. She had been sick for some time, but that night, her fever grew violent and her body began to writhe in pain. A chill descended on her sick room, the kind that raised the hair on one’s back and made one feel as if one was being watched. Her family immediately called friends, a priest, and an albulario, a healer-soothsayer who commonly made sick calls in the Philippines. They all chanted the “Our Father” in an unbroken chorus as the priest sprinkled holy water. After a long time, the devil was finally exorcised from her body.

Less than two years later, another person in our town became possessed—this time, a close family friend whom I called tita, or aunt. I was her favorite. She once bought me a big, chocolate-colored rabbit and often braided my hair in our playground while singing me a lullaby. All of a sudden, her visits stopped. I was five and I could not understand why my tita did not want to see me anymore. It was not until later that I learned that her body had succumbed to cancer, and to the devil soon after. Her exorcism was not successful and she passed away a week later. It was said that when she died, a chill was lifted from her room. Filipinos are a superstitious people. Bodily illness is not the work of a glitch in a biological machine, but of a spirit or monster seeking revenge. Growing up in the Philippines, I was often lectured by my mother, who would say things like, “Don’t drink water while you’re tired. Your heart will float in your chest” and “Don’t stand too close to the hot stove. The flame will eat away at your stomach.” I heeded my mother’s warnings without question. I said, “Excuse me, please” whenever I walked around small hills to pay respect to the dwarves inhabiting them. I was care-

so many bodies and buildings and cars that the thought of the world of the dead intersecting with so much life seemed absurd. Halloween seemed almost a caricature of All Souls’ Day. American children taking the guise of their favorite monsters made light of the fears of my childhood. Quickly enough, I adopted these new rituals myself and grew to dismiss superstitions as the product of the Filipino imagination and the vestiges of ancient religious traditions. I traded old wives’ tales for scientific jargon, creating a world different from the one in which my mother raised me. In school, I was taught to question everything. Never accept anything at face value. Assess the evidence, search for holes in the interpretation. Science, above all, exemplifies this doubtful scrutiny. At its most basic level, science is the questioning of everything. Natural phenomena are contained in test tubes or observed under a microscope to discern whether a pattern or principle is at work. Cycles of cause and effect seemed to operate almost everywhere in nature, from the human circulatory system to the global carbon cycle. Everything finally made sense: a change in a single object acted on infinite others, whose


ful not to point my finger in the dark for fear of offending a fairy. And whenever I hiccupped, it meant that I had just walked through a ghost. I lived in a world of spirits, witches, and dwarves. We spoke of the white lady, the floating ghost of a woman in a white dress. We told stories about the mananagal, a witch-like woman who detaches her upper torso from her body and flies around during full moons to devour the fetuses of pregnant women. At night, we walked in fear of the kapre, a man-beast who smokes thick cigars on treetops, waiting for a passerby to cast an evil spell on. On All Souls’ Day, families would flock to the graves of their deceased relatives, bringing food and pitching tents to keep their departed loved ones company for the night. On the same day, the news would report sightings of any one of these various creatures, often featuring an image of a kapre found caught midflight on a telephone wire. To Filipinos, these beings are real. We feel their presence, see them, are haunted by them, even if they are often just fragments of our imagination, products of our fears. When I was seven, my family moved to New York, a city of concrete that no spirit could possibly penetrate. The streets buzzed with


consequences in turn reverberated into everything else. The world ticked to this endless domino effect. To this day, my mother refuses to shed her beliefs, despite my best efforts to offer scientific explanations. The latest findings in medicine cannot sway her. Even if I were to one day become a doctor or scientist, my mother would still contest the principles of my field. Yet the more I learn, the more I too struggle to believe in science at times. If science is the investigation of doubt, I find myself doubting this very investigation. In college, I met a professor who firmly stood by Filipino superstitions. He grew up in the Philippines and went to college in the states. Listening to anecdotes of my professor hiding behind his bed post at the sound of the rustling of a kapre’s wings in the Philippine provinces, it was hard for me to believe that a person with so much training in math and science could embrace the same superstitions as my mother’s. Like my professor, I inherited these beliefs like a vestigial organ I can never truly be rid of. Someone once told me that biology is based on chemistry, chemistry has its foundations in physics, and physics is ultimately the science of math. I have long been

fascinated by the two ends of this scientific spectrum—biology for its supreme practicality and math for being the purest and most irreducible of the sciences. I fell in love with math at an early age, admiring the order and simplicity underlying its immutable laws and equations. I then chose to study biology in college because of its immediate applications in medicine and technology—its relevance to human lives. The daunting challenge of finding logical solutions (the goal behind the perfect abstractions of math) to the chaos of human problems which face biology struck me as noble. When it comes to chemistry and physics, however, I have a harder time wrapping my mind around such abstract concepts. Despite years of classes in these subjects, chemistry and physics are shrouded in a mystifying aura that I just cannot seem to access. I have long struggled with the idea of electrons. The ambiguous explanations of their properties— their elusive location and velocity, floating between the blurry line of solid masses and massless waves—seem to run counter to Occam’s razor and the very nature of nature itself. It seemed more probable to me that the theorists got it all wrong, piling one uncertainty

While I appreciate its endeavor to see the world in rational and empirical ways, science does not have the answer to everything. There are some things we will never know. Humans can only see a narrow band in the spectrum of light— entire worlds of ultraviolet, infrared, and gamma rays remain hidden from us. No matter how many machines and devices we build to detect these wavelengths of light, no human eye will ever actually see them. This world of the unseen haunts us all, when pieces are missing from the domino chain, when we wonder why people have to die. The superstitions and tales of my childhood echo back to me and I see in them now, not irrationality or a denial of science, but a ring of comfort in the face of the unknown.


after another and calling them a scientific principle. Gravity is another concept I struggle to break down, suspicious of forces I can neither see nor interact with in everyday life. What is this force that claims to hold the universe together? The idea of an invisible power supporting the very fabric of my being both frightens and amazes me. How can one quantify the force of attraction between objects on Earth to exactly 9.81 m/s2, no more and no less? Newton’s laws of motion state that an object moves only if it is moved by an outside force and that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Looking back on my childhood, I see now how it may be easier to view this outside force as a spiritual one and to define Newton’s latter law as simply karma. To this day, the melody of the song that my tita had sung haunts me. I realize now that no doctor could have saved her. Our prayers provided her more comfort at the end of her life than chemotherapy ever could. Despite my dismissal of Filipino superstitions, I still have trouble denying that my tita had been possessed. Who knows? Perhaps, that night, the devil really did exist.








HOLD ON TO YOUR BREATH the emerald city was the empty lands concrete labor the impeccable pavement fresh, brushing ladybugs and footsteps, rebels, the immaculate pavement whisping invisible into clean air smell its freshness of workers, of trusting pressing fingers in ooze prints in pavement catching the breath hold on hold the smooth concrete and there cracks. fossilized costs buried beneath surfaces tripping in potholes we surfaced pavement grips a makes us hold our


the ladybugs don’t fly out– beneath smoothness beneath the present. of city systems coughing dust up hold on the breath and hold onto our



built by hand were cleared. worked and pured bubbled once. against all capturing spiders and weeds. bubbled once sulphonates whipping throats burning tracts whippersnappers when its molding resisting the hand it scratches. to your breath when it’s steaming under here








BRIEF LOOK AT THE C. NEKROS The horrible screeching of the Cephalopoda nekros is just one distinction that sets this species apart from other octopuses. It is found only in the remotest corners of Florin, a series of lakes and ice floes in the nether regions of the Arctic Circle. Though it can survive the harsh climate of the Arctic Circle, no live specimen has been successfully kept in the comfortable conditions of a lab aquarium, puzzling scientists over and over again. Once captured, the lifespan of a nekros in captivity is limited to four days. Upon entering captivity, the nekros exhibits a sort of “depression.”1 For the first three days, “the C. nekros wails as a banshee of Irish lore” 2 and “displays a lack of motivation to live” on subsequent days, never surviving for more than four days and two hours.3 Over twenty years of continuous research has been done on the nekros, which has raised more questions than it has answered. The cruise ship Ice Maria reported the first on land sighting of the nekros, putting the scientific community up in arms; they had not expected this seemingly marine creature to be functional on land. Though the muscular makeup of the nekros suggests that it could

live on land, there is no obvious reason to why it would do so. Survival on the Florin ice floes is vastly less attainable (to mammals and non-mammals alike) than survival underwater, even with the turbulent undercurrents. Complied into a few meager academic papers, information on the nekros is limited to quick or nocturnal sightings – when the nekros is most active (on land or otherwise). The nekros is always described as aesthetically revolting, as one passenger on the Ice Maria stated, “one of the ugliest, foul, and nauseating visual pieces I will ever encounter.”4 Spikes that seem threatening, but are flexible and soft upon touch, riddle the nekros’ body. Each of its eight tentacles possess bluish-black suction cups with tiny barbs lining the edges, and three protrusions emerge from its main body. These protrusions are hardened like horns, yet appear to fall off and re-grow like antlers. Their exact purpose is unknown, but many scientists speculate the protrusions are involved in reproductive behavior. Coating the main body is a mucous membrane, making it look “as if tumors had sprouted and pustules bursted.”5 Scientists hypothesize that the mucous protects the nekros from

on land the nekros storm simply produces an odd melody, the pitch is slightly within human hearing and slightly beyond. Until the winter of 2009, nekros storms existed only in stories. But then the Hans Intrepid, a scientific vessel studying marine life in the Artic Circle, was trapped in the first modern-reported nekros storm. After leaving their boat to destiny (and to their unconscious captain), the crew of the ship attempted to wait out the storm in the hull of the ship. But, due to the vibrations of the nekros storm, the crew was forced into the captain's quarters (above the waterline) until the storm broke. Members of the crew reported that the vibrations in the lower decks “pounded our eardrums with invisible hammers”8 and that “we could not survive the vibrations even if we covered our ears.”9 After inspecting the lower decks, the crew found the wooden floor planks splintered and the actual hull of the ship covered in pockmarks. Whether the nekroe themselves had caused damage to the ship or the sound vibrations caused the damage remains undetermined. After the assault of the Hans Intrepid, scientists began consider the lore surrounding the nekros more seriously. In fact, the begin-


the harsh Arctic weather when it ventures on land. The most extraordinary anatomical feature of the nekros is its larynx. Laryngesa are uncommon for sea animals, typically limited to sea mammals, so the existence of a larynx in a cephalopod is quite astounding. The first dissection of a nekros led to the discovery of one larynx, but the third and fourth dissections revealed the existence of a second, smaller larynx. It is hard to understand the function of two larynges, but it is thought that the nekros uses the larynges to make two different frequencies bounce off each other, creating undetectable reverberations. En masse, these reverberations are so potent that the existence of a “nekros storm” was dismissed as colorful myth for twenty years. The fanciful tale, often writtenoff as Viking folklore, was set in mid-to-late winter, when the mating of the nekros is at its peak (nekros mating season is still unclear). As the story went, groups of nekroe6 gather and initiate loud calls that spread across Florin. The calls are completely underwater, yet the pitch of the sound waves is strong enough to cause massive waves and “break the hulls of ships within moments.” 7 Though


nings of nekros research began with the late Rupert Canary Sr. studying archaic accounts of the Vikings and Eskimo people, the only cultures that have managed to survive and explore Florin. Many sailors or hunters from these cultures when crossing into the Florin lake region have documented tales of the strange and eldritch octopus. The northeastern Eskimos, the Unkalahh, tell of a “spectacular beast” which resides “above and below land and above and below universes.”10 The nekros is believed by the Unkalahh to be a spiritual creature, using its ability to live on and off land to bridge both the water world and the land world, and can then extend its supernatural powers to bridge the tangible, or “skin world,” with the twayk.11 The nekros acts as a bridge to the two latter worlds, using its eight legs in the skin world to connect with its eight legs in the twayk. Until the observations from the Ice Maria were made available into the scientific community, the claim that the nekros was a creature of both the land and of the sea was seen as largely mythic. As touched upon before, the Vikings had similar stories associated with the nekros, though their perception of the creature was more

wary. The nekros storm phenomenon was supposedly the cause of many unfortunate vessels’ demise (both warring and trading vessels alike), especially during the winter. The Vikings tell of wooden boats splintered by nekroe calls, putting the crew at the mercy of icy waves or the pounding of the storm’s pulsations when emerged in the water, as exhibited by the Hans Intrepid. As both these mythologies show, there is truth within the lore. The scientific community has yet to fully trust accounts of the nekros from native peoples, but there is a hint of rising interest. The Victoria Institute of Ocean Science has headed the studying of the nekros, inviting scientists from across the globe to arrange expeditions for the study of the mysterious cephalopod. This overview was made accessible by the generous support of Victoria Institute of Ocean Science.

Rupert Canary Jr. Ph.D, head biologist of Victoria Institute of Ocean Science 2 Study of the C. Nekros: Unknown Octopus of the Artic Circle. Broaderhill Publications. 1999. 3 Longest living nekros in captivity lasted 98 hours, in which the crew of Hans Intrepid was stranded in Florin because of a wailing nekros storm, the nekros storm itself a confirmed discovery as of 2009. 4 Personal Correspondence, Lady Marmalaede Tosk 5 Personal Correspondence, Chuck Dowes 6 Plural form of nekros 7 Personal Correspondence, viking expert Ruby 8 Gary Dodge, crewhand of the Hans Intrepid 9 Jared Mann, research scientist of the Hans Intrepid 10 Legends of Northeastern Eskimos. Nunavut Press. 1983 11 An Unkalahh word not directly translatable into English, the twayk is that which sentient beings cannot see or experience, yet is a encompassing ‘power’ that controls or influences the very movement of objects against each other, using each other’s pull or repulse to create a smooth flow throughout the universe. It is not a spiritual force per se, but a force that simply is. The spiritual world is separate from the twayk, but more relatable to the skin world, as we can tap into the spiritual world from the tangible world with training and/or natural talent.




One of the interesting aspects of biological research is that the organisms you are studying would usually prefer that you didn’t. This thought occupied my mind as I followed the research assistant down the hall into the bowels of the biomedical building. As we passed other scientists, they looked us up and down, trying to decide where we were going dressed in canvas jumpsuits, goggles, and cloth booties. Few suspected there was a room full of turkeys just steps past their offices. After passing through an unusually heavy door and small antechamber, we opened a door to a room containing a chain-link holding pen. The floor was cement and covered with hay, and pacing agitatedly atop of this substrate were six fully-grown female turkeys. They were always females – males were too large and too aggressive. Females weighed a manageable 10 pounds and stood about knee-height. Their feathers, once iridescent and long, were clipped and buffed by the homogenous conditions to become dull and jagged. Each had a small colored band around its left foot; instead of having names, they had colors. Today, we were catching Black and Green.

Catching a turkey never required any hi-tech equipment; there were no ropes or nets. All I needed was a corner and an accomplice. Nevertheless, to an outsider, this process looked like mayhem. First, I approached the turkey slowly from the left, while the research assistant approached from the right, aiming towards a corner directly at the intersection of our respective vectors. The turkey ran back and forth, not wanting to get near either of us. They were better at running on the slippery cement than we were, so there was no use trying to chase them. Slow and deliberate- that was the way to win this game. And so we inched forward, as the turkey continued to dash closer towards the corner. Then, BAM! I sprinted ahead. Green leapt, flapping upwards, but her clipped feathers prevented flight. This too, was part of my strategy. As the turkey fell back to the ground, wings outstretched, I reached out my hands and caught her under the wings, closing my thumbs and forefingers around the humerus. She struggled, but my grip was immovable; even a wing to the face wouldn’t budge me. Once within reach of a plastic carrying bin, I lowered the strug-





gling bird inside and, in one movement, released her and snapped the lid. One turkey down, one more to go. I had received an email about this position from my TA: “Anyone looking for a lab to work in? Something involving turkeys and treadmills, but I don’t know the details.” I was intrigued. Though I always knew I wanted to study biology I wasn’t sure what aspect of it exactly. I had ruled out medicine. The word “turkeys” intrigued me. Maybe this, I thought. A few days later, after talking with the researcher running the project, I still didn’t know the details. I knew three things: I would start straightaway. I would not be paid. I would chase turkeys. The postdoc was not what I imagined a researcher to look like. He had an accent and big welcoming smile. He was a surfer, scuba diver, an adventurer, and he was in the frigid Northeast, talking turkeys. The research assistant I would work with was his wife. Congenial and pretty, she had also worked as a librarian. As for the project, they were studying the braking mechanism in the turkey foot by looking at muscle and ligament extension when the turkey ran at different speeds and

inclines. If you think that sounds complex, you should have heard how they explained it. Three weeks later, I still didn’t quite understand the research- but it didn’t matter. I had a routine. I knew my responsibilities, and I completed my own small list of tasks. The research assistant and I built mutual respect. No, scratch that- we were a team. The camaraderie within those walls was intense and, at times, overwhelming. Everyone knew my name, shared their research projects, and gave me advice on summer opportunities. At a lab potluck dinner, everyone complimented my choice of cheeses. I smiled and joked as if I’d been there for years. Yet when I passed them at their desks, completely absorbed in their data, I realized I didn’t know any of the science they were practicing. It simply didn’t concern me. The workroom was located in the back of the laboratory. Lit only by fluorescent ceiling strips, the room was mostly empty and the first thing you noticed when you walked in was a huge treadmill. Enclosed by Plexiglas on three sides, it had one end perched precariously on top of two carjacks. The research assistant and I barged into the room with our cargo, setting the boxes on the floor.

enclosed by Plexiglas on all sides but one. Some were smart, and figured out the system. If we weren’t close enough to the back of the treadmill (the only opening) there was a chance our turkey would start to intentionally hang back and stop walking, which would send it off the back end and into the room. Others panicked as soon as they hit the tread, and would run as fast as they could towards the front of the treadmill, bumping their face and toes against the glass. They would pant: their beaks would hang open and beads of saliva would collect at the tip, dripping down onto the tread. Green did not panic, but simply accepted her task. She continued to bob her head up and down, searching the seams of the Plexiglas for weakness, or maybe I gave her too much credit. Either way, this was one of the calmest trials we’d had in a while. To change speed, we adjusted it on the treadmill. To change the incline, we cranked the carjacks up or down. Our cleverest escape (by Blue) occurred during this time of transition. As we were cranking down the carjacks, one of them fell suddenly out from under the treadmill. The left side crashed to the ground, and then the entire tread-


I switched on the treadmill. The machine responded by prompting me to choose a workout, cardio or fat burning? I laughed every time. It had no idea it had been reappropriated for such a different task. Then again, neither did the turkeys. I picked up one of the bins and took it to the entrance of the treadmill. The research assistant came to help me wrench the lid free and shake the turkey loose. The bird by no means landed neatly, but soon it was walking on the path with its back to us, believing that by walking this direction it would distance itself from us. Splat. The “inaugural crap” as the postdoc liked to call it. The treadmill was speckled with evidence of previous markings of a similar manner. “Ok, so this is Green…” the research assistant said as she made notes. “She’s walking at speed one now?” I nodded. Speeds and inclines were standardized and numbered. I turned to focus my attention on the turkey. She was walking slowly, peering through the Plexiglas. I pulled the blinds down so all the turkey could see was the “open road” ahead. Each turkey was different in how they attacked this problem of being suddenly on a moving tread


mill began to tip. As I sprinted from my post to catch the falling treadmill, Blue seized the opportunity and shot out from the back of the apparatus, flapping as fast as she could. But the research assistant was faster. Before the turkey could hop to some unreachable location, she had apprehended the bird. Now, when I changed the speed, Green stumbled briefly. I instinctively took a defensive stance, expecting this to be a trick. But she reestablished her balance and transitioned to a run, one of her toes bleeding slightly. Still, she was calm. Her head bobbing less, she appeared to be concentrated on maintaining her balance and dignity for the remainder of the trial. The little red droplets of her blood flashed and then disappeared on the black tread. After the first round of experiments I began to grasp the scope of the project. There was the in vivo portion, where the turkey was put on the treadmill at different speeds and inclines, and was filmed at an extremely high frame rate. Electrode receptors were placed inside the leg on top of the actual muscle to measure activity and power, while markers on the exterior of the leg showed the distance the leg extended. The in situ portion involved hooking the

turkey’s leg up to an extender/flexor machine while the bird was under anesthesia and performing the same running and braking motions. “Do you do surgery again to get all of that stuff out when you’re done?” I asked. The postdoc hesitated, then said solemnly, “No, they have to be put down. They wouldn’t live after enduring all that.” I nodded. I believed wholeheartedly in not extending something’s misery. At the same time, I saw these turkeys in a completely different way than these scientists. What had piqued my interest were the turkeys, not the research. To me, this turkey was a wonder of life, and at times, intelligence. But to them, it was a body that held a muscle. To me, the turkey was a whole; to them, a sum of its parts. The rule thus far has been that getting turkeys out of a bin is easier than getting them in. Getting them off the treadmill was no different. As I slowed the treadmill, I assumed my defensive stance once again. Green had been calm so far, but when the birds sensed freedom, things tended to change. As expected, Green realized the treadmill was slowing, and began to jump and flap wildly. Not a good escape plan. Throwing myself into the treadmill, arms outstretched, I caught

asked me about my plans for future research. “I’m not really sure,” I said, shifting uncomfortably. “Why?” “Well,” he said with a smile, “we think it’d be a great time for you to start your own project.” He said this as if he knew this was what I wanted. I was silent and tried to look contemplative, but I felt unprepared for this. I had only been there a few months. It seemed too soon to be figuring out ”what I wanted”. His pleasant grin was expectant. I thought of the others in the lab. They thought I was smart. They thought I was interesting. They thought I was a great cheese-chooser. The knot in my intestines doubled. “Have you thought at all about a topic in our lab you might be most interested in pursuing?” He prodded. Images flashed through my head of the turkeys, but not of their muscles. Their hinting-at-iridescent feathers catching the white florescent light, their searching and calculating eyes flashing back and forth, the whole, the my head throbbed as I tried to diplomatically answer. When I opened the lids to release the turkeys back into their pen, there was a hesitation. It seemed that after being captured, released onto a moving path, then captured


Green squarely under the wings, and pulled her out triumphantly. I grinned. Miffed, the bird clocked me in the face with the tip of her wing. Once she was secured and out of the treadmill, we performed a quick checkup. The turkeys were obtained from a turkey farm, and for some reason this caused their toes to grow at weird angles. This led to toenails breaking, toes colliding, bumps, bruises, cuts, bleeding. Green’s toe was still bleeding a little. I continued to hold the bird by the wings while the research assistant covered the scratch with an antibiotic, and cauterized the wound. She then asked me to flip Green over so she could check her toe pads. This involved a somewhat complicated maneuver. I moved my left hand so it was holding both of the wings, slowly so that the bird would not notice my slackened grasp. Then, quickly, I grabbed both the legs and let go with my left hand so that she hung upside-down, wings outstretched. Usually this was followed with quite a lot of flapping, but Green gave up quickly. Perhaps she was tired from her exercise. “Looks like it was just that one toe,” said the research assistant. Crouching, she looked the upsidedown turkey in the eyes and grinned. One afternoon, the postdoc


again, the turkey did not trust my intentions. “Surely, this too is a trap”, they seemed to think as they glared at me from the depths of their bins. But the hesitation didn’t last. The familiar clucking of their companions and the sight of the wilted hay and cement walls eventually made their way to the turkey’s brain, and an explosion of feathers bloomed in the air as the turkey shot outward and into what it had come to think of as its home. Then, I made my exit. My presence was an added stressor to the turkeys, who would never understand that my intention was not to confuse or to hurt. I tiptoed out of the heavy door and away from the dusty antechamber. Later, when I left the lab for good, I left just as quietly, backing out slowly until I imagined I might have been forgotten.

EDITORIAL STAFF ART EDITORS Nic Baird, Brown ’14 Vivian Carlson, Brown ’14 WRITING EDITORS Tess Carroll, Brown ’13 Anna Gaissert, Brown ’13.5 Natalie Villacorta, Brown ’13 DESIGN Jon Lucas, RISD ’13 Tessa Modi, RISD ’13 EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Kara Kaufman, Brown ’12 Terry Kho, Brown ’12

COVER PHOTOGRAPH Christina Skonberg TYPEFACE Metric, Klim Type Foundry PRINTING Go! Graphics, Providence PAPER 80lb uncoated


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