Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the European conger, or Conger conger.
The European conger is the heaviest eel, maxing out at 9 feet, 10 inches long and a whopping 240 pounds. Two hundred and forty pounds! That is more than two of me! European congers are found in the Eastern Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Like many eels, scientists know little to nothing about how the European conger reproduces. They’re pretty sure they mate in the Sargasso Sea at depths of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, but other than that they really have no clue. People do hunt these eels for food — although I’ve read that because of their sharp teeth and strong bodies, they put up a real fight. Here’s a video of Gordon Ramsey fishing for one. I also read several accounts of them being fed and lured as tourist attractions. “Feeding live Congers in the wild, while diving, can be fantastic experience,” wrote one person. “Just watch out - very sharp teeth :)”
Current status: It’s 2019! Do you have resolutions? I know it’s not cool to have resolutions, and evidence suggests that traditional resolutions don’t really work. But I love resolutions, evidence be damned! Here are some of my goals for the year:
Use social media less
Do morning pages every day
Go see more art near me
Find and support up and coming writers/creators (recommend me some good people!)
Say “no” more
Workout 5 days a week (even if it’s just sit ups at home!)
Climb a V5 at the bouldering gym
Make three new friends near me
Make six creative physical objects
Go hiking at least once a month
Also! If you’re in SF, I’m going to be performing at SF Sketch Fest this year as part of the Dale Seever (aka comedian James Bewley) live show. Tickets here!
On Emotional Memes: For a while I toyed with turning this into a proper essay about this idea of “emotional memes” but I’m not quite sure where it goes, so you’re getting a bit of it.
“We may properly distinguish weeping into two general kinds, genuine and counterfeit; or into physical crying and moral weeping. Physical crying, while there are no real corresponding ideas in the mind, nor any genuine sentimental feeling of the heart to produce it, depends upon the mechanism of the body: but moral weeping proceeds from, and is always attended with, such real sentiments of the mind, and feeling of the heart, as do honour to human nature; which false crying always debases.” – Man: A Paper for Ennobling the Species, 1755
2016 was a really good year for crying. There was lots to cry about: the death of legends like Prince, David Bowie, Nina Simone. The spike in hate crimes both in the United States and abroad.
But 2016 was also the year that crying really came into its own as a kind of personal brand.
Eve Peyser had a newsletter to inform subscribers of every time she cried. Entries include crying over the death of a friend’s dog, being catcalled, and a more general “life is hard.” Writer Helena Fitzgerald’s Twitter bio read “non-fiction, fiction, public crying. blah blah internet. taller in person. will never calm down.” Anna Borges, a former health reporter at BuzzFeed’s Twitter bio included the line “Probably crying right now.” Science editor Rachel Feltman’s noted that she “cries over space robots.”
2016 was also the year of the crying meme. Phrases like “I’m not crying there’s just something in my eye,” “It’s really dusty in here,” and “What is this moisture on my face” all spiked in popularity in 2016.
Two years later, there is still plenty to cry about in the news cycle (more, really, in my opinion) but we no longer see this kind of signaling. None of the women I listed earlier still list crying as part of their Twitter persona.
2018 was the year of rage instead. At the beginning of the year, Ijeoma Oluo wrote “As rich and powerful men are seeing their lifelong careers crumble to dust at the feet of angry women, men around the country are struggling to find a way to contain and deflect this new female rage.” Huffington Post declared 2018 “The Year Women Found Their Rage.” One paper about crying from 2011 reported that “individuals living in more affluent, democratic, extraverted, and individualistic countries tend to report to cry more often.” Given the changes in the state of American democracy between 2016 and 2018, perhaps that’s fitting.
I’ve been thinking about this shift recently, and the way a whole swath of (mostly women) online have changed their emotional branding. Can things like “anger” and “crying” rise and fall in popularity the way that a color or a trend might? Can emotions, or at least the public representation of emotions as a piece of a personal brand, live and die like memes?
Fiction: I’ve recently tried to start writing some fiction in earnest, something I’ve loved doing for a long time but never thought was accessible to me. In many ways the fictional scenes in Flash Forward came from an urge to slip some fiction into my life, under the guise of reporting. To practice, I’ve been writing short stories pegged to slides I bought online. Here’s one such story.
The Allied Genetics Conference (TAGC), April 15-19, 2043
Thank you all so much for coming. I’m going to start my talk with this very embarrassing slide, just to get it out of the way. [laughter] This is my sister and I, which you probably guessed. Can you tell which one is me? Yeah, the frumpy one with the frizzy hair. Isn’t it funny how different we are? Caroline was always… well… like that! Big wide stance, bright yellow skirt, smooth hair, smiling. She always had that way about her, you know? You wanted to play with her, as a kid, you wanted to talk to her at the party.
This photo was taken before our parents told us anything about our genes. We had no idea. We just knew we were twins.
How our parents kept this from us, and from everybody really, is still a mystery to me. Whatever secret keeping genes they both had they did not think to give to me or Caroline. [laughter] But they managed to keep this whole thing under wraps for sixteen years. More if you count the years before we were born where they were working on it.
The irony here of course, is that the secret is still not totally revealed. Caroline and I know we were genetically engineered using a technique called CRISPR. We know that our genes were snipped and fiddled with extensively by our parents in their lab. But when we were sixteen, our parents disappeared. We came home from school, and they were gone. The whole lab was empty. Everything had been cleaned out. It was like a movie or something, we couldn’t quite believe it. I still can’t quite believe it, if I’m honest.
They did leave us a note. Three sentences, straight and to the point, the way I’ll always remember my parents being. “You and Caroline were both created using germ line genetic editing in our lab. We’ve tried to give you the best possible life. We’re sorry.”
So that’s my super hero origin story. [laughter]
Caroline and I spent the last fifteen years working together trying to figure out exactly what our parents did to our genes. It’s not that easy. There’s no revision history in our cells, we don’t have a Track Changes option. And our parents’ lab notes are gone, wherever they are.
As many of you know, Caroline died last year of breast cancer. For all their editing – and at this point we’ve identified about 125 changes they made to our genes – they didn’t think to take out our BRCA2 genes. I may never forgive my parents for many things, but that one takes the cake for me personally.
Anyway, personal grudges aside, today I want to talk to you about some of the recent work my lab has done on identifying genetic edits without a paper trail.
I have a question about: What are the best vegetarian recipes you know? I need to expand my repertoire!
Internet hole I most recently fell down: I’ve recently started watching a BBC show called Fake or Fortune and I can’t stop talking about it. I’m fully obsessed. Art history! Fraud! Rivalries within art houses! Science! Archival research! I love it so much.
Best thing I read this week: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation
Upcoming eels (aka what’s in the pipeline for this newsletter):
How the FDA might regulate spider milk
The rise of the defensive parenthetical
The tyranny of photography in marathon history
My blog posts are haunting me
Deactivation and power
Happy eel wrangling!