Thursday, February 21, 2013

Social Allergies

"Stripes" Jessica Parker, 2011


According to the Mayo Clinic Staff

"Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, bee venom or pet dander.

Your immune system produces substances known as antibodies. Some of these antibodies protect you from unwanted invaders that could make you sick or cause an infection. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as something harmful, even though it isn't. When you come into contact with the allergen, your immune system's reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.

The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to... life-threatening emergency. While most allergies can't be cured, a number of treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms."



"Night's more comforting to me than day. Quieter, cooler, seemin smaller & more intimate. What day rejects, night extends" I tweet from my phone on February 8th, 2013.

The signal from my phone relays to a server that posts it on Twitter, which relays to Facebook where it posts as a status. Later that morning I get a reply on Facebook:

"Must second that. More serene, more personal."

This relays into a text conversation about night. I admit how I like how much quieter & emptier it makes the world feel. This closing down allows for me to open up (literally, through my breathing passages, my eyes, ears and neurons).

"It's not that I don't like things or people, but during the day, when the streets are flooded with bodies and the sunlight makes mold, pollen, and other tiny things rise on hot air and invade my body; I become overwhelmed and undone. I like this in theory, but in practice it knocks me down and leaves me incapacitated with anxiety and sinus attacks so extreme I move between icing my face and vomiting."

I like a lot of things, I can even like people, but I can like them better in certain doses and certain numbers. You can call it anxiety, but that sounds so abstract --so mental -- this is physical, biological, a material limit that my body sets on how much I can engage with the world. I have a real social allergy.


"Train Performance" Jessica Parker, 2011


Laying sideways in the backseat of my mom's van, I close my eyes to try to make the world stop spinning. I am six.

For a minute the pounding under and behind my eyes lets up and I think that I can try sitting up again. I really want to read my book; or draw; anything to make time go quicker until my sister's little-league game go faster. Pulling myself up, however, sends a lurch through my stomach and I want to throw up.

Taking deep breaths I close my eyes tighter. I rub them with my mitt. I wish they'd pop out, they feel too big for my skull. I wish I could just unscrew my whole head and put it somewhere until I was able to handle it again.

The side door slides open. I am back on my back, my arm over my brow, another hand pinching my nose to try to stop the pain at its source. My mother peeks in.

"Sorry to bother you. Your allergies still hurt? Here is some Ibuprofen and some water, sit up, take them, and you'll feel better soon. Come out if you get lonely."

That was here answer for everything, I thought, as the door closes, causing the car to rock back and forth. Taking my medicine I look through the tinted windows at the baseball diamond. The girls vanish in clouds of dust made of sand, grass, and probably a zillion kinds of pollen.

My mom left me the car keys, so I turn the engine on and start the AC. The sound of the air blowing through the filters give me the calming impression of existing in a clean little bubble, but my face is still aching.

"I hate nature." I flop down on my stomach this time, holding my breath to try to stop the pain at the source.


"Taped to Wall" Jessica Parker, 2011


From the rafters I can see every body, every thing going on down below. Tied onto the bars which run the stage lights some several stories above the auditorium seats, I lean up against a concrete structural support. All the noise and bustling around down below sounds like a clean murmur from where I sit.

We are putting in the gels tonight, to make the row of 30 odd some lights glow with different kinds of whiteness: warm, cool, and my favorite, "natural white" which is created when red, blue, and green are mixed perfectly. Right now though, they need the stage to finish up rehearsals for our high-school musical, the Wiz; so I am told over the inter-comm slung around my neck that I can just sit tight.

It's just me up in the rafters, but I can hear the murmur and the chatter over the inter-comm; I can see and hear it all, connected to it, but am separate from it, invulnerable, invisible. I make little doodles in the dust that lines the metal bars that support me.

"Okay, they are about ready to finish," I faintly hear over the head-phones, so I move them from my neck back to my ears. "Get ready to check the blues." Extending one leg out from the concrete, I find my footing on the cross-bar and with my arms pull the rest of my body over. Grabbing hold of the light on the far right (stage left), my fingers tingle as it turns on, brightly illuminating a square of the stage.

Moving sent up a cloud of dust into the air, causing me to sneeze and making the metal bars I am perching on sway slightly. I wait for the boat-like rocking to stop and then listening to instructions over the headphones, adjust the lights so the different colored squares match up on the front of the stage.

This will take many hours and I will be up in the rafters until around 11 PM, just me, the technology, the dust, my mentor on the radio, and a few friends building set pieces down-below. Down-below, where somewhere far away my dad is unpacking in his new house and my mom is trying to figure out what condos she can afford now. Down-bellow I feel like I'd be eaten alive, but from here, on my perch, I can be present but at my own distance and in my own time.


"Fishing Line" Jessica Parker, 2010


Perching on a chair in a corner of the class-room, balancing on my 6-inch heels, I am listening to my colleagues in our Environ Body Object Veer seminar ( talk about their physical engagement with the space and how it forms their world. We had been walking in circles and wandering for some time, before my feet started to hurt and I found my perch.

The room is dark (we turned off the lights) and it gets quiet. After a moment, my voice wanders out from my corner:

"I usually sit up front of class-rooms, when possible, because I feel more comfortable when I can see as little as possible. If what is in front of me is just a few people, a dry-erase board and a few books, I can relax better. It makes my world smaller. It's not that I don't know or like that the rest of you are there, but when I look at a crowd, I can't help by observe all of it, in minute detail and begin to analyse all of it. I get overwhelmed and will just shut down. Voices on the air or turning to look at the speaker I can deal with, but a whole room of people is just too much for me; too much."


For more artwork on Anxiety & other topics visit


I shuffle a handful of lined papers in my hand, covered in hand-written letters, as I stand in front of my third-grade class. My teacher, one of my all-time favorites, was a regular reader of my short-stories (mostly mysteries with some fantasy mixed in; right now I was mostly reading the "Clue" books based on the best-selling board-game). An actress and an artist, she encouraged us to share our work. Her excitement became my excitement, and I kept on going.

This story, she said, was particularly good, and asked me if I wanted to share it with the rest of the class. I said okay. It was weird reading my writing out-loud, but once I got going I found it to be very easy. Something about the class being there, listening, and me being here, reading what I wrote, made them less frightening. Even afterwards, when they were there speaking, and I was here listening, I found this to nice too. There was a logic to this and roles to play. Far from being overwhelmed, I felt I could suddenly connect with my peers in a new way.

I liked my peers better after that day and I think they liked me too, because we could better understand and relate to each other. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by my social-allergies, this format of writing and public speaking opened up a world to me. In a sense, by being a kind of bubble that emphasized my smallness and particularity in a big daunting room, I no longer felt that I had to interact with everything all at once. I could just play my role, read my lines, perform my part, and in turn the end they would get more from me and I could get more from them.

There is a kind of magic to writing and performance, as a prosthesis. The paradox of engaging us as broken and particular, limited in some senses, allows us to open up, wander, share, relate and expand our lives in so many other ways. Social allergies blind me to certain ways of the world and in turn open up other ways of knowing and existing.

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