Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Never quibble with the person holding the needle

It's hard enough to explain to someone outside my field why I'm doing research on garbage in literature, but when the person asking the question is holding a needle and trying to stick it into my arm, it's hopeless. "You're doing what?" she'll ask and laugh so hard that the needle will slide right through the vein and pierce my elbow joint and come right out the other side.

Why would I even want to talk to the nurse about my research while she's trying to insert an IV? My blood vessels are notoriously uncooperative so I ought to shut up and make things as easy as possible, but it all started when she got to the part on the pre-colonoscopy questionnaire about whether I'd been out of the country in the past 30 days. I had to think back to exactly when I was in Toronto, and then she wanted to know why I was in Toronto, and I told her I was giving a paper at a conference, and she wanted to know what kind of paper, and I said something vague like "a report on my research," and then she wanted to know what kind of scientist I am, and then I said I'm an English professor, and she said she thought research was something scientists did so what could it possibly mean for an English professor to do research, and what am I supposed to say to that? "I'm working on a project on the portrayal of garbage in literature"? 

So I told her about the two post-9/11 novels I talked about in Toronto, with their portrayals of the tension between repulsion from and attraction to the ash from the falling towers, the fear of being showered in bits of other people's bodies linked with the increase in status that can arise from closeness to disaster, and she said "huh" and "oh" and "interesting," and then she said, "You have an accent. Are you from Minnesota?"

And I said, "No, I'm from Connecticut."

And she said, "But where are you from originally?

And I said, "Connecticut."

And she said, "No, I mean what state?"

I was in a state, all right, but I wouldn't want to specify what kind.

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