Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Going to the EQRC! A Rhizomatic Comedy

“A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On: the PD Narrative Project”


JUNE 6-8 2013

WELCOME TO THE RHIZOME: This word pops up repeatedly in this post, so allow me to explain it a bit: a rhizome is a particular kind of logic that uses the metaphor of the shallow surface roots of a spreading plant (think crabgrass and irises) where there is no beginning or end (no cause, no cure – sound familiar?), and that ceaselessly combines referents from everyday life, science, pop culture, and so on. It’s indiscriminate and spontaneous. It’s a perfect metaphor for PD, too, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

Preparing for an academic conference is a taken-for-granted process that, especially for someone with Parkinson’s Disease, entails a lot of planning, reliance on a team of supporters, and crazy luck. The stress can be considerable. The team members mentioned in this post include graduate students from my Qualitative Research class who are presenting their very first conference papers, which is a very big deal – there is a rigorous review/selection process at EQRC:

Jen Bell, whose research is on the British TV show, The Inbetweeners and its US remake;
Mohammad Ala Uddin, from Bangladesh, on breaking gender stereotypes in BBC Janala’s English-language program;
Benedine Azanu, from Ghana, on media depictions of African women leaders;
Karim Farhat, from Lebanon, on images of terrorism;
Danielle Echols, from Chicago, on how history gets re-written;
Kelly Choyke, on paranormal romance readers, and
Yan Zheng, who’s been my assistant on The PD Narrative Project since 2011.
Other players in this post are Sam and Ben, the newest undergrad members of The PD Narrative team. 

Anyway, here's what went wrong happened (nothing goes “wrong” in a rhizomatic chain of events; things just happen) on the way to Cedarville (about 3 hours west of Athens, over by Cincinnati).


Sam has half-assed the PowerPoint revisions for the conference, promising to get them back to me by 2, then 7, then 9pm with an inexplicably photo-shopped cover slide with “Parkinsins” and “Micheal J Fox” misspelled.  I am somehow unable to fix this.  Alarmed by Sam's carelessness, I am reminded how much I rely on the team members I’ve come to trust.

I arrive at the office at 10AM and Ben is there. This is his second meeting. He can’t fix the PowerPoint, either. Relieved that my media illiteracy is not the problem, I text Sam, then call him. It gets fixed. Consider the rhizome.


Exchange my little red car for a behemoth university vehicle, and go shopping for provisions in a massive downpour.

Ali (my husband) urges me to abort scheduled evening voyage because of thunderstorms, darkness, traffic and PD-anxiety. My relief is palpable when I finally agree, and text the crew about revised departure plans. There’s a twinge of guilt, as every PwP knows, but that’s the way it goes.

Of course, the weather clears up immediately! I spend the evening fine-tuning the presentation, adding notes and rearranging slides (maybe a little executive dysfunction goin' on?); everything’s on the flashdrive (cleverly named NO NAME), ready to go!


One last PowerPoint remix and we’re off to Cedarville! 
Pick up Ala from Grad Lounge and Yan from River’s Edge. 
An hour into the 3-hour drive, Yan and I decide to practice the PowerPoint in the car. 
“Won’t this be fun,” I think, “driving and dictating.” 
Rhizome-in-motion at 70 mph on Route 50 West.

As we wax semiotically about the various designations for USB/external/thumb/flashdrives, the actual referend refuses to appear on my laptop. Or maybe the referend is there, but its signifier isn’t. 
It doesn’t appear on Yan's laptop, either.   Or Ala’s.
Yan calls Ali, who step-by-steps its recovery:
“Scroll down til you see No Name.”
“Ok! There is no No Name.”
“You found it?” (everyone's kinda shouty now: speakerphone syndrome plus stress...)
“No, No Name is not on the list of icons!”
“But is there a No Name . . .”
You get the idea: Who’s on First.
At any rate, NO NAME is NOWHERE. 
All (data) is lost. 

What the fuck happened? An irrelevant question at this point.

Route 50 is flat now. There is no cruise control on the university vehicle.
We go into hyper-drive, scouring and scavenging from previous versions of the Prezi that Yan has saved, thanks to Ala finding us internet access via my phone, which I clearly do not have the semiotic resources to use properly. We congratulate ourselves on our collaborative capabilities.

Note to self: do not jinx the rhizome by turning its tactical function into strategy.

We stop at the Country Diner, the waitress clearly bemused by our requests for no meat, no ice, what are “hash browns”?

Double-take on Ala; he doesn’t know this yet? A first-year MA student from Bangladesh is probably not brunching it at the Bob Evans on a regular basis.

Never mind, he knows more than we do.

We talk about how eggs are prepared/served/eaten in China, Bangladesh, Morocco, Vietnam.

I invoke Claude Levi-Strauss’ The Raw and the Cooked for good measure, because I can.

So we get misdirected somewhere on I275, I71, Rt. 52/72; it’s now become a 4-hour tour (CUE Gilligan’s Island music) and Ala’s presentation is scheduled to begin in less than 30 minutes.

We call Ali again, who recommends different directions from those that the conference has provided. When faced with the choice between oral suggestion (from my husband) and visible printed map (from conference organizers), I choose the latter.
Note to self: never do this again. 
We pass by our hotel in Xenia (no change of clothes for you, Ala!) and end up doing a circle on Route 42; Ala is reporting all of this from the backseat with the GPS app.

We finally arrive. Ala checks the room where he will be presenting.  There is no internet access, and the conference organizers categorically refuse to allow it, on the grounds that its absence enables us to “concentrate on our presentations.” LOL. Given what we’ve been through, that’s patently absurd. 
We are living in parallel universes.
I have now abandoned my “mentor” job description, and explain to Benedine (on same panel as Ala) that I am unable to attend because of technical difficulties of my own. I feel guilty, but the show must go on!

Yan and I sequester ourselves in an alcove and review our PowerPoint choices. Each one has a different emphasis, goes off in different directions; we finally choose The Video Game version, and make some changes. 
Ok, done! We’re finally ready!

I check the conference program description of my paper.
               -- double-take -- what the fuck?!
I promised a paper about the ethnographic process of making the PD Narrative videos? Not the mainstream media representations of PD?
When on earth did I write this?
It doesn’t matter, because the presentation is scheduled to begin in 5 minutes. 
I throw up my hands and surrender to The Rhizome (and probably some executive dysfunction).
Yan and I arrive in the presentation room to discover that the audio is not working, which is sort of the whole point of the videos. While two tech people try to solve this, Presenter #3 graciously agrees to go first. Presenter #2 is a magic no-show (thank you!), which give us 15 minutes to kill while another grim-faced techie is called in.
So I answer questions about -- get this -- something the audience has not yet seen, which is so rhizomatic that I have to mention it when someone asks what rhizomatics is.

The moderator tells some jokes.
I consider re-enacting the video with sock puppets.

And consider the rhizome.

The audio blasts from the speakers; it’s working! I talk about how we made “Jenny’s Radar” and “Chuck’s Truck.” No PowerPoint needed after all, heh heh. It’s a rousing success! People are interested in learning more about PD, about video ethnography, about Chuck!

I am so happy.

Everyone else’s presentations go well, too. I am proud of everyone for rising to the occasion and doing something that, back in February, they thought was impossible.

We have a communal lunch with the other 150 conference participants.


The return drive to Athens is much shorter; isn’t there some existential temporal rule about this phenomenon?

Yan asks if she can put the hours she’s spent with me on the payroll.

“Of course!” I say, because really, what would I have done without her? She rose to every challenge, assisted me without complaint or condescension.
Yan will disappear (aka graduate) at the end of this month.
Just like Camilo disappeared at the end of May.

And countless others before them.

The rhizome reminds me, again, of the bottom line, 
of becoming rhizomatic.


  1. Everyday heroes. :-). Wonderful reporting! Thank you.

  2. It was so much fun reading our story! The ending sounds a little sad though. I am not disappearing :-D...I will always be there for you and the team, Jenny! :-)))))