Recently I read an article about hypothermia, one of those adventure pieces in which an adrenaline junkie/ author/journalist decides to see how long he can endure a dip in the thirty-five degree Arctic Ocean. Our intrepid writer – whose cajónes I admire but who, I must say, seemed to lack the macho charisma of Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe – promptly submerged himself in Prudhoe Bay and proceeded to give us a poet’s laundry list of details describing how his body was responding to the shock. (I say a poet because I imagine most people would just let fly a healthy dose of expletives, while this guy recorded not only his visceral reaction, but also some artfully imagined portraits of ice-clogged machinery, wintering bison, and the like.) Being a thorough journalist, he alluded to his research into the body’s freezing process, especially the phenomenon of “cold crazy,” wherein hypothermia victims on the edge of death engage in utterly nonsensical acts, such as removing their clothes. Our half-frozen author reported the medical term for this bit of insanity: “Paradoxical Undressing.” No one knows why exactly people doff their clothes in such dire circumstances, maybe because they’re hallucinating or because they experience some kind of phantom burning sensation, or maybe because it just feels good.
Interestingly, the writer didn’t talk much about euphoria, despite the fact that one often hears of people entering a euphoric state just before a near-drowning event or in the grip of hypothermia. (Thank goodness the body has the sense to shoot us up with a few feel-good endorphins before the end.) Strangely, there was, however, in this very same periodical, a brief mention of endorphins’ role in the new social networking culture. Twitter, Facebook, etc. Evidently some scientists have concluded that every time we get a call, text, IM, or tweet, it’s like crack. We get a little taste of euphoria, until we get addicted.
There may be some truth in that, at least from where I sit, perched for hours in front of this little blue screen. You see, I’m engaged in some paradoxical joining. So what, you may wonder. But understand -- this is definitely crazy behavior for me, the misanthrope. After all, it was only six years ago on the day I received my MFA that a fellow graduate, one of only ten or so in our small low-residency program, looked at me like I was one of those “prawn” aliens from District 9, and asked me, tactlessly, I thought, how exactly it was that we had never met. I, who perhaps might be the most anti-social person in this Red Room – and I can say that knowing that writers on the whole are generally not the most garrulous bunch – am now dipping my toe into the Arctic Ocean of Social Networking. Not Twitter – thank heavens! – and not yet the Unholy Grail of Facebook, though if my agent and editor have their way, that will be next. But, in the span of one week, I have joined three organizations. Me. A person no one remembers from college (because I was self-exiled in my dorm reading Milton and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) am now a proud member of the AIAW and even an author over at Goodreads, offering my thoughts on people’s bookshelves and trying to get total strangers into Zusza Bank’s The Swimmer. And now I’m here in the notorious Red Room, with Susan Orlean and Amy Tan and Merrill Markoe and Dorothy Allison! (And why does the Red Room make me think inappropriately about Red Shoe Diaries?)
Anyway, I’m not sure if my newfound cyber-sociality will cause any phantom burning or hallucinations – not to mention disrobing – but I do know that any club that would allow me in the company of Salman Rushdie is alright by me. Talk about an endorphin rush! Besides, thankfully we’re all in the sanitized world of the Red Room, where I can’t excitedly jump up and down in the proximity of Peter Coyote and Nahid Rachlin and spill drinks on them, as I undoubtedly would in real life. Who knows what the future will bring, now that a self-described recluse has opened the door of paradoxical joining? For now, all I can tell you is that the pleasure receptors are firing with abandon.
Causes Elizabeth Eslami Supports
Willamette Writers, The Association of Writers and Poets, The Association of Iranian American Writers