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Messaging Priorities 

The following two e-mail messages from strangers came within minutes of one another and provoked me to two different responses. The first became an exchange, to the second there was no answer. Any readers who can tell me why win a drink from me at Molly's if I'm there after you read this. Here they are:

Dear Professor Codrescu,

Wikipedia credits you with the poetic near-truth that the sea squirt larva has a brain, but that when it finds its perch it has no further use for it, and eats it. I am thinking of using this example in my writing, and if I do so I will want to acknowledge it correctly.ÊSo please tell me if the Wikipedia account is essentially correct, and, if so, where in your work I can find the story.

Sincerely,

Paul Braterman, Regents Professor (retd) of Chemistry

University of North Texas

Dear Professor Braterman,

Not very good with Wiki, and using dial-up in the woods besides, but the information is accurate. I did say that in an NPR commentary at some point, but it'd take an army of grad students to dig it up. I'm also not sure where I dug it up myself, so if you credit the truth I can't help you, but if you credit the metaphor I'll take it.

Andrei Codrescu

Paul BratermanÊto me:

So something like "has no further use for its brain, and, in the words of the poet and essayist Andrei Codrescu, eats it" would be acceptable? This all relates to a very serious point; the close evolutionary relationship between notochords like the sea squirt, and vertebrates like you and me, and the way that developmental genes kicking in at different points in the life cycle can dramatically affect the outcome.

Andrei CodrescuÊto Paul:

Absolutely acceptable. Your work does sound very serious indeed. Do you think it possible that we are devouring our brain right now by "amusing ourselves to death," for instance, or that there is a point at which we are literally going to go notochord? I know I'm asking you to speculate way outside your research, but what would make such a gene kick in? Why do they kick in (or back) like that anyway? Don't have to answer these. I just can't help essaying.

Paul BratermanÊto me:

I think you can have a lot of fun with these ideas. To be technically accurate (I am a chemist, not a biologist, and had to look it up)Êyou should say "go tunicate." The notochord is actually the structure similar to a backbone, present in immature sea squirts.ÊSo in a sense (and in this idea I would like to retain my own intellectual property rights) we are all sea squirts that never grew up.

If any of this sees the light of day, ever, I will make sure you get a copy.

SECOND MESSAGE

Andrei:

I am a Producer for Starz Entertainment and we are having our annual Fear Fest event on Starz Oct. 27, 2007, and all month long on Starz On Demand. This year the theme is Haunted America, and we will be down in New Orleans July 30-Aug. 1 and were very interested in your participation in discussing the vampire lore. I will be scouting New Orleans this Friday June 20, 2007, and was wondering if you could meet. My flight leaves in the morning, so please call me on my cell phone blah-blah 807-8599 today or tomorrow and we can talk further. I hope this works out.

Scott Hays

Senior Producer

Starz Entertainment

To this there was no answer from "me."

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