A first contact story begins with some mystery. 


Is there communication happening? How does anyone know? What counts as communication? What is communicating and is it directed or broadly-cast or inadvertent? 

Is information at stake? Is life at stake? Is everything just quotidian? Are circumstances merely mundane? Are we …afraid?

© Columbia University Medical Center: Human gastrointestinal cells from patients were engineered to express insulin (fluorescent green) in the lab.


My body is expanding. Over several years "it" (or is that me?) has gotten larger. 

The other day my mother looked at me in disgust as I wolfed down food compulsively. Of course she and the rest had refused to stop to eat for too many hours in the car. I asked and asked, and, as I was not driving, everyone's feelings for who (and what?) was in control was at stake. 


"Since we don't have a first-phase insulin production to cover a meal, our blood glucose gets too high immediately after eating, which stimulates a really big load of insulin later… much later. All this extra insulin coming in several hours after eating only makes us hungrier and makes us gain weight." (Bierman, J, Valentine, V, Toohey, B. 2008: 93)

I am not hungry until I start eating really, and then, about 2/3 though the meal I am suddenly RAVENOUS. 

What Gut Feminisms abide here? What choreographies of diseased embodiment communicate? 


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Anthropologist, ethologist, systems thinker Gregory Bateson keeps re-inspiring me to PLAY in order to think well. I keep re-remembering, affirmatively (re)writing my memories and his commentary and teachings. I re-experience how many playful realities we continually join as we move with spacetime in a tangle of recurring Bateson kin. (Bateson, G. 1972 [1054]; Bateson, N. Forthcoming)


My SF author friend Lucy invited me to go to FOGcon, a West Coast Bay Area conference for Science Fiction folks writing stories. Although I had not known about this con in the past, another facebook friend amazingly had just then inquired if I would consider being there this year, mentioning two of the guests of honor as a good reason to participate. So I went! 

One guest of honor was fabulous feminist theory storyteller and trickster Donna Haraway, whose latest book, entitled Staying with the Trouble, deals with Experimental Futures and is due out this September. In it she opens up a world-building multi-collaboration weave of stories, in which her contribution, offered in the new book, describes a multi-species generational story of Camille. A keeper of memories, Camille is a recurring being whose adventures and lives are imaginations of just what it means to make kin, today and in days to come. As one of the children of compost, Camille exemplifies a path deliberatively not coincident with the term posthuman…. Haraway talked about Camille at the con, together with an invitation to interested SF authors to share pointers about what it takes to write speculative fiction out of strongly felt ecological urgencies today. 

Another guest of honor was Welsh-Canadian science fiction author Jo Walton, who won the 2014 Tiptree Award for her book My Real Children. That book and Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, are two of the most recent boundary-challenging novels that have dramatically altered my own transcontextual tangles of thinking, feeling, making, sharing. (Fowler's book won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award.) Walton is also a trickster thinker and storyteller. At the con she read from the beginning of her current fantasy trilogy, The Just City, unexpectedly able to attend to issues of rape, ethics and power, in a way that was a mix of the profoundly moving and the compassionately humorous. A tour de force. 


At FOGCON I attended Walton's author workshop on character shaping and world-building. I was prompted to come to the workshop with a character in mind, ready to begin a process for creating a speculative world and a story. I immediately imagined an SF (science fiction, speculative feminisms, string figures per Haraway) story that would need …not exactly characters but ...actants. What about a first contact story? Traditionally these describe first contact between sentient beings in what is either an explicit or implicit story of settler colonialism. And what if the actants here are human gut microbiota and, and among, the distributed being/s making up a diabetic posthuman?

I was excitedly laying out the characters and the setting in the hallway with a friend when another woman came up behind me and showed off the hook-up for her insulin pump, saying, That's the kind of story I want to hear about!

What I am proposing here involves playing among various stories as matters of concern, and I share an early prototype of a story making game imagining a first contact story of human gut microbiota and distributed beings among infrastructures….


What sort of communication, with what kinds of vocabularies, cues, signals, are symptoms? Which are the symptoms and are they …directed? If they signal, which actants are signaling, which are being signaled, which ARE the signals? 

Just how thoroughly entangled can our communications enact and describe these? Some examples ….

>this recent scientific study reports on symptoms as different signaling strategies used by birds, plants, fish, humans and more. Such strategies serve more than one function simultaneously, and at different ranges and distributions; for example, they could disgust those who might catch something, repel attack while vulnerable, or elicit help when needing aid, while simultaneously also engaging interior immune systems for repelling infection or even overreacting and cascading into another dis-ease. 

A range of distributions take up signaling strategies…. Communications…. For example, 

>public relations for labs take up such reports moving about communities of practice on the internet, themselves aiming to marshal the sorts of status and resources the report itself details as among the benefits of symptom signaling among animals as well. ( )


>news cycles of catastrophizing motivate attentions and intensities organisms require, such as claims on others for aid. Or motivate curiosity, disgust, or denial, say to those feeling infested by fibers in Morgellons, or those refusing to vaccinate their children. 

While also…

>popular culture jokes, such as one included in this very report, play upon and offer up various affective attachments. (This one uses dialogue from episode 7, 1993's season 5 of Seinfeld to open up the report for multiple audiences). 

And we find

>outstanding science journalism so effectively arousing that, say, speaking of Morgellons, it activates the readers' empathies, skin itching sensations, and worries…. ( )


>memes circulate to signal group membership, to share experience, to offer recognition and meaning; here for those with diabetes hunger behaviors. 

These and more entanglements today are illustrated, dare I say signaled, by thoroughly mixed genres PLAY, genres of intra-becoming-action.


>game arts and citizen science such as those video gamers who used FoldIT to solve the structure of an enzyme involved in reproduction of HIV (

>bioart such as performers Leila Nadir + Cary Peppermint's EcoTechArt project Os Fermentation, a social sculpture of edible ecologies (

>crowdsourcing microbiome sequencing American Gut enlists you as both subject and funder in its research projects to compare gut microbes of thousands of people in the US and around the world ( )


There is a lot to play around with in companioning entanglements with gut microbiomes, that 

"… aggregate of human gut microorganisms with all its bacteria, archaea, viruses and fungi."

As another Press Release puts it: "For a long time, it seemed far-fetched to think that the microbiome could also be responsible for processes outside the digestive tract. Recent for example that microorganisms in the gut are even capable of influencing behaviour.”

“[It] consists of up to 1,000 different types of bacteria and of about 100 trillion cells. As such it has ten times as many cells and 150 times as many genes as the human genome [and] co-evolves with its human host in a symbiotic relationship. [Its] development depends on ...whether and which microorganisms a person absorbs from [a] mother's birth canal at the time of birth; whether a person is subject to antibodies; what food a person eats; infections; stress and genetic predisposition." (European Academy of Neurology 2016)

It offers lively opportunities for boundary object-oriented feminisms and storytelling rituals
on the edges of perception, awareness, emergence, coming into being. 

I think we should call this FUN -- fun with devices and beings that think and think WITH. 


Tiokhin's Signaling report gathers together so much under the umbrellas of symptoms and signaling that some might respond "if it means everything, it means nothing!" But elegant parsimonies of explanation only do their work sometimes. We also need other, say, multitaskings, among beings, cognitions, infrastructures, wordings in intra-becoming-actions. We also need what some STS folks have participated in as fuzzy studies, for example Law and others' methodologies of syncretism and non-coherence, as well as those properly decisive experiments and their elegant beauties advocated in popular writing written by scientists and medical doctors. (Tiokhin 2016, Law 2013, Orr 2016, Sparrow 2016) 

Sensation, perception, cognition, embodied sensitivities and attunements…. These become perceptible on the edges or breakdowns; in other words, symptoms, as that term offers itself for a variety of signalings. Indeed what Tiokhin's Signaling report locates as self-harm, Margaret Price has talked about as a very agency of sensory integration, what a person as multiple apparatus finds themselves doing in a solution to overwhelming sensation, temporarily worth ensuing consequences within and without. (Price 2013) 

How to think WITH these? To participate in signaling realities? We play with boundary object-oriented feminisms…. 

"Boundary objects are those objects that both inhabit several communities of practice and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them. Boundary objects are thus both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use and become strongly structured in individual site use. These objects may be abstract or concrete.... Such objects have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting communities.” (Bowker & Star 1999: 297-8)



For the rest of my time, I will talk through elements of a game I have been thinking with. First there are the issues of how story structures and transdisciplinary assemblanges might befriend each other. 

After that, I will go through the cards which can be used for a variety of games. We might discuss how later. The cards can be downloaded for our use! 









I will offer one rather humorous idea for a game board, and, if there is time, describe the tokens for gaming that are intended to semi-randomly add alternate perspectives from various political things while telling stories and laughing! 




  • antibiotic 
  • chicken 
  • space lab 
  • quantum memory 
  • communities 
  • planet