Autoethnopathography: 3, Messy Texts

February 7th

The challenge of telling any story truthfully is to be open about which parts of the story will not be told, which perspectives will be left out, which details will be omitted. I have tried, on a few occasions to record every aspect of my subjective experience as I move through an entire day, but I often ‎only manage to write my way through a small segment of morning, thousands of words to describe a seemingly uneventful drive to work, a woman in her car, listening to the radio as the sun comes up over corn fields, felled to jagged stalks in the winter frost, and the fog hugs the mountains like ghosts.

There are always parts of the story that are left out.

(…I am sitting in that old white rocker, with a cigarette between my fingers, typing with my thumbs, holding a phone while the black and white dog walks around down in the yard that we need to clean up, we need to clean up. My hair is mussed and I can see it around my face, brown and gold, a lot of sun this morning, I am not yet old, but my mouth is sour and I don’t feel especially young, or healthy. I remember, this morning, I thought for a moment that I might be getting cagey with this project in an effort to avoid the reality of how much I am still struggling to find my way back to a life in which I can feel at ease, a life that I am able to be myself. I still wonder sometimes if I should, after all, just let it go, tuck it into a seldom-mentioned past, sever that part of myself that believed so heartily, so thoroughly in the beauty of the world, the miracle of story. How can I do that? Why should I do that?)

I flipped through Appendix I, in Carolyn Ellis’ (2004) The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel About Autoethnography, which includes a number of lessons and exercises in the context of Ellis’ autoethnographic story about teaching a class on autoethnography. Guidelines for Personal Writing Papers.

“Hmmm, seems to be a lot about coherence here…”

I felt my doubt rise, the increasingly familiar fear that maybe my mind doesn’t work so well as it used to, that I am not as able to think as clearly I could, hold so many different things in mind, communicate with such seeming ease, or – at the very least – less effort than is currently required in simply having an everyday sort of conversation.

Sitting on the old red couch, I made a slightly audible sound of wry amusement – “Heh.” – reading through the guidelines. I could have saved myself a lot of squinting and agonizing, thousands of words, had I read these appendices a few days ago.

30. Think about the ethical issues in doing your project. Protect the identities of your characters, where appropriate. Use pseudonyms when necessary. Get consent if possible. Be aware of ethical issues involved in writing about people who don’t want to be written about. (Ellis, 2004, p. 367)

I don’t think I have admitted that I am scared, that this project intimidates me, challenges me. I don’t know why I am nervous; I guess I know that this project is important, even if I can conceptualize a reality in which this project and the stories that will be told through this project don’t matter at all, not in the slightest. I can imagine a possible world for myself in which I am able to forget what happened, think more slowly, settle into a life of little storytelling.

It would not, at this point, take much for me to disappear entirely from the consciousness of the networks that I am a part of, become an only occasionally remembered figment, a partial self, poorly recalled, confused with other people who had come around for a while, people who had been momentary bright spots in a constellation, folks who had faded after a few seasons, disappeared.

I could just work at my job as a peer in a state-funded recovery education center in the western region of a southern state, over in the mountains, and spend time with my kids, only talk with family and work on learning how to make better hats, paint pictures and know that I don’t need to post them on Facebook in order to prove my existence.

I know that I don’t have to do this project. I don’t even need to finish my degree. It’s just something that seems like it would not be a particularly terrible thing to do, something that might be useful and offer some resolution to my heretofore unending status as a graduate school drop-out. It wouldn’t be particularly bizarre for me to accept that I could not/did not finish my degree, that I tried multiple times, but that it just didn’t happen; I just couldn’t do it. I dropped out of highschool, too, after genuinely trying to tolerate it and to learn something that I couldn’t learn anywhere else, other than how to put up with daily aggressions and assaults upon one’s consciousness, body, and senses.

I think that I will be able to finish this degree, if only because autoethnography exists.

Today, I picked up the copy of Denzin’s (2014) Interpretive Autoethnography, and found myself on page 39, which includes the following passage:

“A deconstructive autoethnography problematizes the writer’s authority and all-knowing presence in the text, We seek de-authorizing devices, such as messy texts, shifting counter-voices, voices talking over or past one another, split texts, stuttering voices, repetitions, silences, mimicry, exaggerations, mischief-making talk that disrupts and disguises itself.”

“Well,” I thought, “thank god for that.”