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Defibrillators save lives. But their existence is not simple. In this nonfiction book, I trace the global origins of my ICD.
Defibrillators save lives. But their existence is not simple. In this nonfiction book, I trace the global origins of my ICD.
Defibrillators save lives. But their existence is not simple. In this nonfiction book, I trace the global origins of my ICD.
287 backers pledged $16,700 to help bring this project to life.

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Mountains In My Body: A Memoir

$16,700

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I am a cyborg. I cannot go through metal detectors or have MRIs. Every four to ten years I need my battery changed. I have “settings.” Sometimes I take electricity to the heart: 850 volts, in a paralyzing blast that feels like getting kicked by a horse. There is a wire, 2.3 millimeters around, that has grown into the tissue in the bottom of my right ventricle.

When I first passed out in a parking lot at age twenty-four, the decision to have an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD) implanted seemed obvious. Though my own case was on the line, my younger sister had already had multiple cardiac arrests. Our great-great-grandmother had mysteriously expired in 1899 at age twenty. We have Type 2 Long QT Syndrome, a genetic arrhythmia that can cause Sudden Cardiac Death--and I was afraid.

Still, from the beginning I felt strangely ambivalent about the computer in my body. And when my ICD went off for the first time in November of 2012, it was in error, due to a problem with the settings. On a brightly-lit soccer field in central Tucson, Arizona, my body was pumped with three searing jolts of electricity. As I lay on the ground, waiting for the paramedics and smelling my own burned tissues, I wondered what it had taken to create the powerful device inside my body.  I wondered if it was possible the ICD contained conflict minerals—gold or tantalum from the Great Lakes region of Africa, mined through slave-labor and used to fund armies that conscript children and engage in mass rape. I wondered if my life-saving device could have caused loss of life somewhere else.

Out of this moment, "Mountains In My Body" was born. The book traces the supply chain of my internal cardiac defibrillator backwards--from its laser welding at a factory in Silicon Valley to the mountains where rock became "ore," asking the question: if I say yes to another ICD when my battery runs out, what else am I saying yes to? 

The book attempts to wrestle with the contradictions inherent in a global economy, including the environmental costs of technology, the problem of corporate citizenship, and the fact that a life saved in one place may be a life lost elsewhere. But the core of the book is memoir, following my journey to understand my relationship to my body, the ICD, and in the end, death itself.

This Kickstarter project funds Stage II of the book project, which is focused around site visits and creation of a first draft. In Stage I, I received a Fellowship from the Writing Program at the University of Arizona to engage in more exploratory work. I spent the summer of 2013 reading health memoirs, writing about my medical history, and advancing my research on the supply chain. I went on to visit St. Jude Medical's manufacturing facilities in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Sylmar, California. More recently, I've launched into research about mining and smelting, trying to gain a nuanced understanding of these industries. What are the best- and worst-case scenarios for certain types of mines? Is it true that mining creates long-term development? What do progressive policies look like on the ground?

In Stage II, I'll follow these questions to a new nickel and cobalt mine in Madagascar, as well as to an ilmenite mine on the island's southern tip where locals recently rioted, trapping personnel inside the mining compound. I'll be comparing what I've read to what I see on the ground, asking locals to talk to me about village resettlement processes, infrastructure improvements, social impacts, and environmental impacts. Stage II will also encompass a visit to St. Jude Medical's factory in Liberty, South Carolina, and a trip to Hamilton, Texas, where my great-great-grandmother died, potentially from the family arrhythmia. Finally, Stage II provides significant cost of living support for this project, enabling me to work on a book draft throughout the summer rather than teaching full time.

Here is a rough breakdown of the budget for this project:

$7,000: Mining research in Madagascar for 4-5 weeks, including visa, passport fees, in-country travel, food, interpretation fees, etc.

$6,500: Income replacement for late May 2014 through August 2014 to enable full-time work on the project

$1,000: Research trip to capacitor factory in Liberty, South Carolina, during Spring 2014

$800: Research trip to Hamilton, Texas, during Spring 2014

$200 publication and contest fees (submission builds momentum for the project)

I have overestimated some costs in the assumption that costs tend to run over rather than under the estimated amounts. However, please note that I am thrifty, and will do my best to minimize costs in all locations. Any extra money raised or funds unused by the end of the project will be used towards Stage III-- revising, polishing, finishing and submitting "Mountains In My Body" for publication.

Risks and challenges

Whew! Writing a book is hard!

As with any creative work, it's hard to promise that the intended product will be the final product. There are moments, along the long road of creation, when an artist must shift directions, sacrifice concepts, or move into a new focus. While I've been working on this project long enough to believe its basic impetus will remain steady, evolution by the final draft is likely. I'm prepared to allow this flexing; as a funder of creative work, please allow the same!

Beyond this, the project’s greatest obstacles lie about a year from now, when I graduate from my MFA program.

By the time I graduate, I hope to have a strong publication record and a large chunk of the manuscript written. I'll be applying for supportive grants, residencies, and fellowships that would enable me to finish the book after graduation, and I'll be seeking the attention of publishers--but of course there are no guarantees. The timeline for this book could be longer than I expect.

If necessary, I'm comfortable running a second Kickstarter project to help fund Stage III to free up more time and space to finish the book.

Rest assured, though: Given time and space, I'll write the book. My past work demonstrates a high level of self-motivation and accountability. In 2006, as an undergraduate, I received the Colorado College Award in Literature ($3,500), studying natural sustained metaphors in Moose, Wyoming, and crafting a 64-page novella over the next year. That year, I also conducted original qualitative research on sense of place and natural gas fracking for my Sociology thesis. My research took me to Pinedale, Wyoming, where I conducted fourteen hour-and-a-half-long interviews, and synthesized my data into an 80-page thesis. And, as already mentioned, in 2013 I received a Writing Program Fellowship at the University of Arizona to work on this same memoir.

I feel confident assuring backers that whether I am working on fellowship, in a residency, or via Kickstarter funding, I am a highly productive and passionate writer, committed to finishing this project. Additionally, I have many mentors in the writing field, who have already begun steering me towards the conferences, agents, and publishers who can move my work forward.

Finally, I know that there are inherent challenges in international travel and study. My previous experiences traveling in Sierra Leone, Chile, and India make me confident that I am aware, at least, of the types of challenges I might encounter. I have friends in Madagascar who have already provided essential support, and I'm comfortable networking with the NGO community, as they often serve as gatekeepers between local populations and outsiders. Flexibility and a good sense of humor are essential to both travel and writing; I've got both.

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Funding period

- (21 days)