Biotech’s Recent Headlines, Reimagined In Verse and On Stage

Xconomy National — 


Dear Theranos,

I noticed recently that you’re looking for a writer to work in your Palo Alto office. Please don’t tell my bosses at Xconomy, but I’m throwing my hat in the ring. In your job posting, the final requirement in particular made me think I’d be a good fit:

Bold experimentation in different styles of writing and communications are a must.

Perhaps this is a coincidence, or perhaps ineluctable kismet (hey, writers gonna write!), but I’ve recently been crafting all my Xconomy stories two ways. First I write them in plain old English with lots of explanations of all the scientific and business stuff. My editors post those. But then I write them using various styles of—how else to say it—bold experimentation. (My editors don’t post those.)

So just between you and me, I’m sending a few samples. Here’s hoping they’re enough to put me in the running. I’ll start with a brief excerpt from a four-part series in terza rima I hope to call “Digital Health Inferno.” Unfortunately, all four parts are still in editorial purgatory.

O Apple Watch, O brushed chrome health accessory,
The next-day Prime deliverance of a data driven life
Fulfilled by artificially intelligent technology
That bestows efficient joy; no more the strife
That plagues the unconnected for gloriously quantified me.
I just shelled out two grand. Don’t tell my wife.

Next up…

There was once a young bro named Shkreli…

Kidding! Limericks are so Jay Leno. Theranos is so Samuel Beckett, right down to the turtleneck thing. I’m sure this mini one-act play with a post-war existentialist bent is right up your alley. (It’s about drug pricing.)

The Chair (struggling to pull off his boots): Nothing to be done.

The CEO: Insufficiently powered, my dear friend?

The Chair: Jackals. If only they could be made to understand.

The CEO: You haven’t tried everything.

The Chair: I lead the charge! I resume the struggle! (Pulls at one boot again.) Reminds me of those who would limit us. You know.

The CEO: Think of the innovation there wouldn’t be.

The Chair: Blown out like a match in the winter wind. It boggles the mind.

The CEO: And yet they howl. Listen. (Both turn to face the audience.)

The Chair: This is harder than going to Mars. Don’t they know?

The CEO: Without us, they might as well be on the moon.

The Chair: If it’s war they want… (Both men sit and let the thought sink in.)

The CEO: (Jumps up.) Let’s go! On to phase two!

The Chair: Phase two?

The CEO: Phase three! (They stand still.) What?

The Chair: We can’t. We’re waiting for Soriot.

The CEO: (despairingly) You’d make me laugh if it wasn’t prohibited.


This one’s with apologies to Wallace Stevens….

Six Ways of Looking At CRISPR

Among the famous academic labs
The only moving thing
Were the lawyers whispering “CRISPR.”

The CRISPR experiment was of three cuts.
One on target. Another on target.
The third was not in the glow of the lamppost.

A man and a woman are one.
A man and a woman and a CRISPR
Are creepy.

When the CRISPR flew out of sight,
Many smart people began to fight over specificity.

He walked through Cambridge
With broad strides.
Somehow no fear pierced him
That he mistook
The presence of his entourage
For the history of CRISPR.

Icicles filled the lab window
Like 21-base-pair guides.
The shadow of the CRISPR
Cleaved the mood,
Double stranded,
An indecipherable cause.

I’m not just about words. I want people to connect through all kinds of creative communication. For example, I re-enacted Martin Shkreli’s recent day before Congress using the silence and power of mime. Unfortunately, Xconomy demanded that I destroy the video. Something about “embarrassing the brand.” But I still have the script:

<Tiptoe into room. Pinch fingers, make ziiiiiiip! motion across lips, wink at cameras.>


<Do classic startled double-take at members of Congress.>

<Furrow eyebrows, make Trump-like ducky face, push hand at them as if to say, “Oh, please, girlfriend — stop!”>

<Stand, legs shoulder width apart, bend down and pretend to lift, with great effort, a huge weight.>

<Drop weight on head of colleague who has already taken her seat. Make mischievous “oops!” face and cover mouth with hand.>


<Turn to face Congress, yawn. Yawn again. Squint in their direction, as if just realizing someone is talking.>

<Cup hand over ear and make old man “Eh? What’s that?” face.>

<Crack up!>

<Yawn again. Slap thighs, stand up, and stretch.>

<Do a sun salutation.>

<Pretend to be a DJ, ear to shoulder, one hand on an invisible turntable, and mouth “wika-wika-wika” scratching sound.>

<Jam hands in pockets, turn up jacket collar, light invisible cigarette, head for the door.>

<At the door, turn and give everyone the finger.>

<Raise hand for silence. Turn back to room, pull out phone, take selfie, tweet.>

<Once outside, run after black car. Return to sidewalk because it’s the wrong car. Whistle a Wu Tang song distractedly.>

The oldest medicinal pitch in the world, it seems, is longer life. Every generation, every decade, has its efforts, its programs, its products, and the press trips over itself to report the latest. After all, who doesn’t want to live longer? Here’s one way to frame the coverage:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Defy old age, perhaps one pill away;
A combo or (for connoisseurs) a flight.

Wise ones ask us if we think it right
To scratch out desperate fistfuls more of days
Run through with tubes and therapeutic blight.

Then siren calls of stronger knees and sight
Keen again, youth’s fountain on its way,
And you’ll dance against the dying of the light!

We all wish to wind down with joy not fright,
Our instinct to consume what they purvey.
But eye askance, let questions hold the day,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Thanks for your attention and your consideration. If you do want limericks, I can always whip up a few. References available upon request!