Picture Completion: An Experimental Autoethnography on Neurodiversity, Psychosis, and Anomalous Experience

2:58 PM (20 hours ago)

to me

Hi Faith,

I have reviewed your MA Project and I would like to discuss it with you. No problems – I just want to explore a few things. The document is remarkable in many respects. Could I call you tomorrow, Saturday, any time? Thanks, Bob
 
 

10:37 AM (4 minutes ago)

to me
I am willing myself to not be anxious about this phone conversation, and – really – I do feel fairly calm.
Perhaps there will be revisions requested, maybe a re-write. I don’t know if I will take something like that on, or if it is an option for me to take something like that on. I might not have to, for the purposes of the project in the immediate.
Eventually, I will need to re-write the entire thing, and – come to think of it – I am excited about the prospect of revisiting the work, not for the purpose of satisfying degree requirements, but for the purpose of refining the way I tell this story, which is the only story I have to work with, save for stories I might make up.
I may have to make up stories to tell parts of this story – give the characters fictionalized personas, different names, different places.
In working on this project, I realized a few very important things.
The most prominent of these, in my mind, is the understanding that, yes, I really was crazy at a few points. I was not aware of what I was doing in appropriate reference to the world around me, the other people in my life, my self and established identity. Further, I was inhabiting a reality that – while some elements were potentially actual – simply was not real, at least not in the details that I believed in.
I think, for a long time, my instinct has been to try to somehow prove that I was not crazy, or to somehow justify my craziness. In a lot of ways, my experience of psychosis was justified.
It wasn’t random. It was a result, a critical outcome.
I still am crazy, but I am also alright.
In working on this project, I have come to understand why my family was so concerned, so panicked. I knew, conceptually, that they were not seeing me clearly, and that they were worried and that it was hard for them ot know how to help me. In seeing myself here, as presented in this project, I understand a little more – in my heart – how terrible it must have been for my father to have that conversation with me in the parking lot.
I was being extremely weird, not stable.
Part of me whines about my right to be weird, to indulge in emotionally-driven and impulsive whims.
I don’t think, however, that my family should have to worry about me.
Why didn’t it matter to me that my father got worried when I talked about postmodernism? Why did my right to talk about things that I find interesting supersede his right to be communicated with in a way that wasn’t baffling and worrisome?
I have kids and three loads of laundry to put away. My geriatric pets demand a high level of care.
Yesterday, I got home from work at 7:00pm, a whole day spent at the state-funded recovery education center and on the road. I took care of dogs and ran interference between cantankerous and hyperactive pets and cleaned up after dogs until 9:30pm.
It was Friday night.
I got this message about a Phone Conversation, and I went outside to pull bindweed and kudzu. I discovered a new mimosa tree in the wild space between my neighbor’s house and mine.
I wrote myself email about killing kudzu, the beginning of an essay that I may or may not complete.
‎My arms are itchy and my hands are covered with small cuts and scrapes. The vision in my right eye is blurry and I can’t stop blinking. I can feel that there are small shards of broken trees and scraps of leaves in my shirt. I sneeze, and look around, a little dazed by the sagging heaps of biomass around me, mounds of tangled vines and sharp sticks, entire small trees, split from the earth at the trunk. I couldn’t find the hedge clippers. They had become buried in kudzu. 
It’s that time of year again, when you look up one afternoon and catch sight of the first few truly stretching tendrils of furred vine dancing out into the breeze, reaching for the next branch. You see that the top of the hedge has already been covered, the small trees at the back of the lot already tangled with secondary and even tertiary growth. It’s almost like it happened over night. One day it isn’t there, only the dried grey withered ropes of last year’s vines, and the next day it is, twisting up the remnant’s of its own old growth. 
We didn’t really even notice the kudzu when we moved in. It seemed to just blend in to the hedge, or it didn’t register with us, in our state of new-home-adoration, that, “Hey, that’s a ton of kudzu, right there. Growing up onto the house.” 
It clung to the windows, and snaked up the siding, leaning over from the old skeleton of a hedge, now a sinewy mass at least five years thick, the oldest vines crumbling to a thin dust at the very core, the outer vines still showing green, last year’s first year growth spawning this year’s production, the season’s accumulation. 
We thought it would be easy at first, to kill it, to clear it off.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.
____________________
I looked at this project again. My God, the glaring errors. Where was my mind when I was working on this?
For the most part, work on this project has taken place in fits and bursts, long trudges of staring at screens and scrolling pages past 10:00pm, my eyes literally crossing from fatigue, dogs chewing their hindquarters on the couch beside me, because I still don’t have a proper workspace for writing and art, because of the conundrum of time and energy to maintain and energy to create, to change, to clean my desk and paint my room.
I have tried so hard to build a life, and it’s all just jumbled and overgrown.
There is a therapeutic element to this project, but I never wanted it to only be about me and my healing, my sense-making.
On Friday morning, I woke up ‎to a message that my friend, who is only briefly here, in this project – but, who was such a massive part of 2011 and onward, until – only recently – they were not…that my friend is in jail.
This person was, at one time, the most brilliant person I have ever known, genuinely gifted and golden. Over the course of the past 5 years, this person has lost a brother to suicide, and survived multiple encounters with compulsory psychiatric care, because they have had an increasingly difficult time modul‎ating their realities, and are prone to alcohol-exacerbated foibles and foolery in public spaces. The last time I talked with them, they thought they were someone else, this person who – for a time – was my best friend, my true friend.
Now, this person is in jail, a detention center in a place named Rancho Cucamonga, and I just can’t help but to wonder if something had been different in my friend’s life, if they would have known more joy, more freedom?
Well, yes, of course if something had been different their life would be different. It might have turned out worse than it did, but what might have improved the odds of a favorable outcome?
So, this is not only about me and my healing, it is about all of these other people, friends and people I never even met who have gotten lost and hurt and who have died because of who they are and how they are and what happens in the space between their minds and their hearts, and the world.
The treatment of psychosis is important. I do not think that compulsory mental health treatment is helpful. Helping people to understand themselves and to understand how their mind works, how it puts together realities and sensitivities, how to heal from dark trauma…helping people to contextualize these experiences and to not be isolated in them…these are things that I believe are helpful.
‎I have to keep trying to gain the skills to be able to help change ideas about what psychosis is and how it is best treated. There is so much amazing work that is happening around the world. The Hearing Voices Network and Open Dialogue and first episode psychosis programs and psychosis-specific peer respite programs – all of these things are shifting the practice and theory that surrounds psychosis.
There is also an enormous amount of research being done on the neurophysiological processes associated with psychosis. From what I have seen, there are some murky relationships of causality in this body of research. For example, in National Institute of Health-funded research investigating epigenetic markers for schizophrenia, it was found that there is a shared epigenetic trait among people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention-deficit disorder, and major depressive disorder.
National Institute of Mental Health, (March 1, 2013). Five major mental disorders share genetic roots: Overlap blurs diagnostic categories – NIH funded research. Science News. [online report]. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2013/five-major-mental-disorders-share-genetic-roots.shtml.
Is it possible that perhaps this is not a marker for mental illness, but a marker for a variation in being human, or an epigenetic change caused by atypical antipsychotics, which are well-known to be heavily prescribed across these five diagnostic categories?
I wonder if there are epigenetic markers for certain forms of cognition, sensitivity, and intelligence?
I am interested in surveying the literature pertaining to the intersection of cognitive and sensory processing styles, creativity, and psychosis. I want to learn about practices and theories that integrate understanding of tendencies in thought, conceptualization, and experience through awareness of individual variance in cognitive/sensory processing.
As for my own cognitive processing, working on this project helped me to see that – whoa – I am slipping, at least that is the assessment that could be made, based on chaotic and errored assemblages, sloppy referencing, unfinished thoughts.
I think that working on difficult projects is best done when one is well-rested and clear-headed, not when one is addled by dogs and long drives and dinner and dishes to be done.
In this next chapter, this next phase of this long project, which probably started – very quietly – over 1/2 a decade ago, possibly earlier, I am going to explore my capacity and ability to write coherently, and to use referencing and citation correctly. I might have to learn the Chicago Manual of Style format, because another thing that working on this project taught me is that I cannot stand APA style. Parenthetical referencing is intrusive and clunky-looking.
I can’t stand the aesthetic of it. It disrupts my thoughts, both in writing and in reading. It is a craft, I know. It is bothersome to me when the demands of the craft utilized for conveyance usurp and distract from what is being conveyed. ‎I like footnotes. I want to use them.  Referencing with the Chicago Manual of Style may be more compatible with how I interact with information and with how I would like to relate my work to references, with slight expansions and additional notes as to why the specific reference is relevant.
Because I struggle with organization of data, both cognitively and concretely, I have not cataloged the figures or images contained in this project, as it stands.
That would be a nice project. Straight-forward, direct, adding captions, making a list of figures, notes on each one, adding more.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.
_______________________________________________
Here is the project, as it stands…a mess, in ways that are both intentional and unintentional. Parts of it are extremely problematic. This is not a six month project, this is a multi-year project. I feel like I have pulled together a tremendous heap of story and description, much of it not necessary, a great deal gratuitous.  The project at this point exposes a great many shortcomings in skill and flaws in logic.  My immaturity astounds me, when I am able to get a little distance from myself.
“What was I thinking?”
Now, I am thinking that it is very important to me that I take care of my thinking, that I continue to work to figure out my strengths and vulnerabilities in thought, so that – maybe – someday, I can be understood in what it is that I am trying to say, and understood in a way that matters, that has some impact, that changes the outcome.
[pdf of project will be added soon]
The past few months, working in earnest on this project, have been grueling and strange. It has been a difficult project. I almost left school, quit in the eleventh hour. I even wrote the message and looked at the withdrawal form.  It is hard to face one’s limitations, and to see one’s assumptions and errors in thinking and presentation laid out there, right on the page. It is easy to think about writing a book, but actually showing something that you’ve written to another person, to try to read one’s words through different possible perceptions…well, it is harrowing and, in many ways, humiliating.
“Humiliation is good/ It means you believe in something” – Bill Callahan, Smog, Fool’s Lament
I don’t know if that is true. Maybe humiliation is good because it gives us clues as to what we believe about what is dignified and respectable, and can inform us as to how these beliefs work in our sense of self and our determinations as to whether or not we’ve failed, or done something we can be proud of.
Addendum:

May 26 (4 days ago)

to me
‎Several days ago, I had a conversation with the professor who supervised/signed off on this project. I did not receive much supervision, nor did I ask for much supervision. In fact, I somewhat avoided it.
It was a difficult project for me to work on. I didn’t know what I was doing. Rather, I knew enough about what I was doing to know that I wasn’t doing it right. I could conceptualize – with a sense of almost gestalt clarity, totality of detail – a quality data analysis methodology for a project such as this, but I could not carry out the methodologies that I could imagine.
In this work, I confront my current limitations in producing quality academic work, and consider my experience of anxiety in relation to these‎ constructs of desirable formatting and conveyance of ideas within rubrics of measurable relevance.
So, I mostly kept to myself, muddling through the significance of my difficulty in producing quality, coherent academic work, drowning in a sea of self-produced narrative data and grandiose intentions, humiliating evidence of previous selves and worldviews.
I didn’t quite know what to expect in the conversation, though was calm and able to speak fairly confidently and with relative ease, remembering names.
The call came in at exactly 4:00pm, on the dot.
“Hello, Faith…” A man’s voice, that I connected with my recollection of his face and posture, his gray hair, a kind countenance, standing there in the preposterous lobby of the Westin, of all places to go to a school conference. ‎Drinking strawberry lemonade, talking about autoethnography.
“Hi, Dr. _____.”
[brief small talk, how are you?
 hope you’re well, etc.]
I sounded overly confident, “So, how do you want to…”
I stammered with the phrase “use this time”…because it sounded like something a therapist might say.
“What…do you to get out this…are, um, there any, you know, particular things you want to talk about?”
“Well,” the man’s voice said, “I just want to address a few questions and thoughts about the project and talk a little about your…future…little things…”
I laughed a little, and was surprised that I did, “Oh, yeah, little things like my future?”
“Yes, yes,” the man’s said, sounding friendly, “so…first, I want to ask you why you chose to do this particular project‎, why this project?”
“Okay…I…”
I was looking out the window, in the blue room at my parents’ home. It was sunny outside and everything was green and gold and blue, warm.
“I had considered several different potential projects, coming into this. I do a lot of community organizing and community building type…work…here, and so I thought about maybe putting together a participatory action research type project, and went so far as to design a potential project around organizing mental health dialogues as part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health.”
I paused, remembering what the question was.
“I didn’t even learn about autoethnography until maybe this past Fall, Fall of 2014, just a few months before I started this project. I learned about the methodology through…a community group that I have been a coordinator of for the past couple of years…well…the group has been working with a researcher, Erica Fletcher, from the Institute of Medical Humanities at the University of Texas, who is doing ethnographic research, and using some autoethnographic methods in her process of analysis and reflections. ‎I learned about the methodology through her and…when I learned about it, I felt a strong resonance, an inspiration.”
I stood at the window, and looked at the woodgrain of the sill. “You know how when you come across an idea or a theory or a practice and it just…resonates…?”
I remembered that, in the project, I written quite a bit about my relief when I learned about autoethnography, and that I had spoken with the professor about how powerful it was for me to learn about these methods  of inquiry. In fact, I had written about this relief by relaying that very conversation.
I didn’t need to go on and on about it.
“I don’t know why I didn’t just do an expanded literature review or…I really probably need to do an expanded literature review, that would be a good thing to do. I need to spend some time reporting on the formal literature and developing stronger skills in referencing and citation…I…I think I might look into learning the Chicago Manual of Style method of citation, as I think it would be more compatible with how I interact with information. I have a difficult time working with the American Psychological Association style of referencing…”
“Don’t get into it, Faith.”
I told this to myself as I walked back over toward the window.
“I wanted to experiment with using autoethnographic methods, and I found myself compelled to address this particular topic of personal experience because…well, I wanted to honor the experience, and – also – I work as a peer and have been involved in…human rights and mental health advocacy movements…and I know that a lot of people experience what could be clinically called psychosis and…everyone’s experience is different…but, I…have a personal and professional interest in this topic and as an area of lived experience, it felt important that I spend some time with it….and, you know, I have all this…self-documentation, all this data…so…I wanted to explore autoethnographic methods and…”
I was pacing in the room. It was easier to talk if I was moving around, standing up.
I paused, “So…”
“Okay, yes…”
[unrecalled portion of conversation. I was standing at a bookshelf, looking at the spines of my son’s old fantasy novels, colorful and shiny…]
I paced a little bit.
“What’s your motivation for getting an MA degree? Career? Are you interested in…what? What are the benefits of ‎getting this degree for you?”
“Well, I work as a peer in a state-funded setting. I’m certified as a peer and as an Associate Mental Health Professional, according to state-criteria. If I get my MA, I might be able to be a Qualified Mental Health Professional, and that would give me a bit of a pay increase…which would be lovely. Also, I have – ever since I was pretty young – respected higher education and been interested in…I just have always wanted to earn an advanced degree. It’s just something I value for some reason. I actually have a little bit of a…this showed up some in the project…a little bit of a conflicted relationship with the idea advanced degrees…and there might even be some resentment toward…”
I made myself stop talking.
“So,” the man’s voice asked, “why did choose to do this degree at _______?”
“I appreciate the Humanistic tradition as a branch of psychology…and_______ was actually recommended to me, by Dr. Michael Cornwall, who is a private practice therapist, but who is involved in advocating for alternative approaches to psychosis. I know some people who went there, Dr. David Lukoff and Dr. Paris Williams. I knew that I would be most successful in an interdisciplinary program, than a…hardcore empiricist…”
I fumbled, “I don’t know the words for it…” I realized that I had just said “hardcore empiricist” and that I did, in fact have the words for the sort of program that I knew I would struggle within.
“I’m interested in qualitative research and methodologies like autoethnography and narrative analysis. I felt like ______ would be a good fit…”
I walked across the room.
“I, you know…I am a little bit of a non-traditional student. I think the first graduate program…yes, the first graduate program that I was enrolled in was in 1999-2000. My education has been…um, disrupted by various life events, and so…I am learning a lot as I go along, and have some significant growth edges as a student…but, I feel like I could potentially work well in interdisciplinary programs, and in certain methodologies. I mean, my life trajectory was…derailed a few times and so…here I am at age 38, still building some occupational stability.”
[I may have added some there at the end, now – as I recollect the conversation.]
“Yes, okay…”
I waited for him to speak.
“I’d like to share some thoughts with you about your project, the project, and…”
“Okay,” I said, feeling suddenly nervous.
“Okay,” the man sounded good humored enough. I listened.
“Your project has a lot of different…pieces…there’s a lot in it, and…some of it stronger than other parts, but it’s…remarkable in many ways.”
[I am struggling to remember exactly what he said. It is easier for me to remember what I said, though I recall the basic gist of what was said to me, mostly in segments.]
“Your project could be cleaned up, and edited…parts of it could be published…it’s not in a format that is publishable now…but, you could continue to work with it and refine it.”
“Yes,” I interjected, in a slight pause, “I’ve already begun to think about how I could approach refining parts of this project and have done bit of editing already. There is a lot that could be done to strengthen‎ it.”
My voice felt quiet, “It was a very difficult project in a lot ways. There a few different approaches I could have taken.”
“This concept of neurodiversity…you really could have spent more time on that…I mean, I think I have heard the term, and I have a vague idea of what it means, but…in the table of contents, you have this section that is about 10 pages long, but in that, you don’t spend much time o‎n the idea of neurodiversity…”
“Yeah, I know…I caught that. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t explain that at all.'”
I looked down at the grass outside of the window, a full story below. I saw a cardinal fly into the bramble at the edge of the yard.
“The term came out of the autistic advocacy and activism movements…the idea that some people have different styles of cognition and sensory integration, but that these differences aren’t‎ necessarily a disease.”
“I’m interested in exploring how that idea intersects with the experiences of people who are diagnosed with…what would be called severe and persistent mental illness.”
“Yes, well, it would be good to say more about that, to look at some of the existing ideas and…use those ideas to strengthen this project. The idea of neurodiversity is presented as being a big part of the project, and you need to spend more time on it.”
“I’m excited to work on it more. The project ended up being a bit of a…process…and working on it helped me to identify what I need to research and what I need to…develop more skill around…”
“In addition to expanding the theoretical basis of the project, and connecting it to existing work, existing theories, you need to spend some time learning more about…autoethnography as a method, and different approaches to it. Now, you seem to have some idea about different ways that autoethnography can be approached.”
I walked out of the room, listening. I was going outside. “There are lots of different approaches…some people may take…now, you take a more evocative approach, maybe drawing on the work of Ellis and other…”
I walked down the wooden stairs from the porch, a long flight of stairs, down to a juniper that cramped the walk, thinking about the passages that had most inspired me, that had most reassured me of the legitimacy and purpose of this work.
“Or you could take a more analytical approach…and people interpret these approaches in various ways, and sometimes make up new approaches…and that’s how all science works, how things grow.”
[I am growing weary of reporting on this conversation as a series of exchanges and orientation to my physical surroundings as I talked with the supervising professor. So, I am shifting to a different means of reporting on the conversation.]
The woman sat in her car, a late model import, hatchback and black, banged up a little and covered in pollen. She found the ignition key in the cupholder by the gear shift, with a cigarette lighter and a plastic fork. She turned the key to roll down the windows, and then put it back in the cupholder. It had broken off of her keyring over a year ago, and she still hadn’t lost it. Rolling a cigarette, she listened as the man spoke about the potential for her to get a Ph.D. “Some students, they are able to apply some of their MA coursework to a Ph.D. and come into the program at essays…it might be worth
It to explore what your options might be to continue this work.”
“I might take a little time off…the August residential conference…it comes at a bad time, every year. Both my children have birthdays around that time and they start school…and maybe when they’re older…I mean, they need me less now, but my youngest child is starting middle school this year and…”
“Yes, well, the RC comes at a bad time for students who are getting their Ph.Ds and teaching at other schools and, for years, we just haven’t found a way around it.”
“It’s not a good idea to take too long of a break, because you know…you take a break and then life…happens…”
“It’s possible that a Ph.D would offer you a lot more in the ways of opportunities to teach and publish and, sure, there are a lot of different ways to go about anything, and you’re going to be a lifetime learner, no matter what, it just doesn’t stop, but academic work could offer you a…sort of ‎container in which you could pursue your curiosities and also contribute to literature around your area of interest.”
“Yes,” the woman said, getting out of the car and sitting on the grass, “that makes a lot of sense.”
“So, are you familiar with the work of Gregory Bateson and double bind theory?”
The woman made an affirmative sound: “Um hmmm…” She felt herself get excited, “Yes! Of course, double bind theory. That had something to do with all of this. This whole thing could be looked at in terms of double binds as a driver in my experience. Yes…”
She listened. “Well, when I was doing my dissertation…Gregory Bateson was my mentor and I spent quite a bit of time with his work and…are you familiar with…probably not, it’s a small book, among his first, and it’s…it’s called Percival’s Narrative and it’s the work of this man…back in the late 1900’s, who experienced what we would now call a psychotic break and he basically wrote his way through it…and…”
“That’s sort of what I did…” The woman said this quietly, feeling – suddenly – a little incredulous that she was having this conversation, with this person who seemed to understand what she was saying, what she had been trying to say. She sat in the grass beside the car and jammed a stick into the ground, digging up under the grasses.
“Yes, yes…well, Bateson looked at this man’s work and narrative and then wrote about it. You should look into getting that book…”
The conversation began to take on a lively feel, her own excitement blooming in her mind. “I could read that book and think about how it connects to this work, and write about that. I want to read that book. I want to see how Bateson approached this person’s narrative. I want to read this person’s narrative.”
She thought about how long ago the late-19th century was. “Not so long ago.”
“So, yes, you need to spend some time reading some of the work that is out there around this topic…and other people who are doing memoirs and autoethnography. There are a number of people who are doing writing about, you know, their experiences of being in the mental health system and what not and people approach it differently. One of my favorite writers who talks about their experience with, I think it was mostly severe, really tremendously difficult depression, is this person, who is a therapist and who does clinical work, but who also writes about their experience, this person Lauren Slater, who is I think in the Northeast, and she really does a wonderful job of writing about her experience. I have all her books…I’m looking around, what is the title of that one…anyway, there are a lot of people writing about these sorts of things and you can just find the styles and approaches that make sense to you, that you enjoy reading and…”
He paused, “You’ve really devoted quite a bit of attention to your experience and have spent a lot of time considering your own experience and…it’s good that you have that record, that’s something you can use and also something that other people can make use of and potentially learn from…but, it’d be good to spend some time with some of the other work that has been done in this area.”

Autoethnography 6: The Importance of Analysis

Draft of a mini-zine (32 1/8th sheet pages) that I am constructing for the purpose of collecting a sampling of current main points and initial resonant ideas.

CORRESPONDENCE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE PROJECT

[letter to supervisory faculty, who sent encouraging feedback and helpful articles this afternoon]

Hi Dr. _________ –
 Thanks so much for the document review and helpful feedback. The Autoethnography: An Overview document is a great article. One thing I love* – so far – about autoethnography is that it is identified as a postmodern methodology, and that it is – in “fact” – a postmodern methodology.
(*feeling slightly stunned by how excited I feel about this project and autoethnography in general…and appreciating the ‎feeling of almost being passionate about something, the way that this sense/feel/tremoring of intense fascination and jubilation that a thing exists can cast a new light on the imagined life.)
 The references are a great source of additional literature leads. I have been amazed by the well-maintained reading and reference lists that come up with Google searches of ‘autoethnography.’ It’s like a gift, these lists of links.
I will get access to Tessa Muncey’s Creating Autoethnographies and look forward to checking it out.
‎I do recall you talking with me about ___________’s dissertation, and I would love to read it if possible.
I think reading more autoethnographies in their entirety would be a good thing for me to start doing. The articles and essays I have read (informally) so far  seem fairly diverse in style and presentation, but working within the self-in-the-context-of-larger-culture framework.
I appreciated that the Bochner, Adams, Ellis overview stressed the importance of analysis.
Below, you’ll find an additional reflection/update, which I wrote as an additional response to your email. I will probably use portions of it as content for notes and updates.
If I am only using my words, and any identification of the recipient of correspondence is stripped away, that is alright, huh?
I will follow-up with you if I have any questions, concerns, or updates. I appreciate you sharing articles with me.‎ There is no need to read or respond with any immediacy, but let me know if you have any questions/concerns.
Hope the weekend is good, and thanks again,
F. Rhyne
‎Update:
I have a tendency to be over-ambitious in a lot of life areas. One of the hallmarks of my experience of clinical psychosis was a conviction that it was thoroughly possible (and necessary!) to impart a proof of God through presenting evidence of iconic and symbolic compositions ‎in the geometries and relational aesthetics of cloudforms and the leaves of trees, patterns in nature, numinous structures of pattern and recognition, elemental language and code for something holy.  I am still not entirely unconvinced that such a proof may be possible. A great many things are possible.
In any event, the outline as posted is a representation of my most recent concentrated thinking about the ‎general landscape of ideas/information/sub-parameters that this project exists within. It is a framework of a version of my current general understanding of what definitions, criteria, practice, and experiences provide anchor points, a non-exhaustive scope.
I could be more ambitious. I don’t think I even mentioned ecosystemic consciousness, social justice, or modes of cognition?
One of the ways I want to challenge myself is to effectively express an expansive reality in as few words as possible, while still allowing for a modulated effusivity when protracted articulation may support the conveyance of a sense of absolute wonder and bewilderment within which new worlds are possible.
‎However, it is very important to me that I finish this project and complete my MA. Moreover, I want to enjoy working on this project, and be successful in this work.  So, I am developing a vision of this project that will be both expansive and efficient in telling a story and analyzing why it is the story that it is, what happened within that story, and why those things – for better or for worse – may have happened.
Autoethnography strikes me as unavoidably vast  because of the reality of our lives’ complexity, the ways that it is impossible not to mention history and economy, the ways that some minds and ways of being are more valued than others, what that has to do with colonialism and capitalism, which is measurably impacting species, habitat, and ideas.
‎I am looking forward to seeing what happens with this project.
I think I am going to try to approach working within the outline, and see what evolves from that introductory framework. It would be a good exercise for me, because that segment/aspect of the project relies on formal research and literature review processes, which are skills I need to exercise.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.
[letter to myself]

9:21 PM (3 minutes ago)

to me
‎In my earlier thinking about this project, thinking that occurred a few weeks ago, in the now hazy January, early February…
I read the article sitting on the front porch with the yard covered in ice, and I didn’t know if I would remember the moment that I looked around, the sky now blue, and felt what a pretty day it was, with the birds singing in spite of the cold.) 
(…and I wondered, briefly, if time and event seem to have taken on a quality of being segmented, quickly ‎relegated to disconnected memory, separate and disjointed in relation to today, right now…if maybe this experience that I now have of memory, my sense of distance, was caused by a difference in how I now experience emotion, the emotionality of events,  if – perhaps – my amygdala and hippocampus have changed their working relationship.)
In earlier writings about this project…
(several hours have elapsed. Those hours contained business negotiations with children in the matter of cleaning the car, sorting the books on the shelves. The house was an overwhelming hustle of bins and piles, a flurry of questions, piles of objects accumulating where there were no objects before, detritus, bags, a copy of Don Delillo’s The Names torn in 1/2, its binding split…)
(…and here we have an example, a moment of knowing, remembering that it was that book, The Names, that I took with me, only broken then, not split in half, when I checked into the Residence Inn for a night and marveled that the maintenance man, who I spoke with at the side of the building, where I sat and smoked a cigarette, waiting for my father to pull into the parking lot, was from Moldova. Just months before, a friend’s sister had sent a package containing pumpkin seeds from Moldova. ‎These things seemed like small miracles, connected signs, unlikely threads that link story and place. ‎My friend had stayed at the Residence Inn.  There was some defeated sadness in my going to stay at that place, because my friend, who was – for entirely understandable reasons that nonetheless hurt –  no longer my friend…my friend had stayed there. Even at the time, I was a little ashamed to be doing such a sad and quiet thing as wanting to be where a friend had briefly been.
I told the desk clerk my name, spelling it out and looking around the lobby, down the hall. My friend had been there. It was not my home. My friend had been there, too. I did not want to be at home.
I was losing my mind at home. I was exhausted at home.
I don’t remember what room I checked into.
At the time, I felt like it was appropriate that I should take some time away from the house, for just a couple of days…to be able to step out of my life, and re-group. I packed my toothbrush, the broken-binding copy of The Names, and a biography of Amelia Earhart published for young readers. I told people where I was going. Left my phone at home, and the back door unlocked for a reason I wasn’t sure of, but felt strongly about. It was late summer, hot.
I called my kids’ father, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I am staying at the Residence Inn…just to get a break from the house, you know…and they have a pool here, if the kids wanted to come swimming.”
I looked at the hotel-market impressionist landscape above the bed and breathed in the smell of the room. There was a scent in it, something safe and pleasant, clean.
I was told that my children could not see me, that they would not be able to come swimming with me. My parents had told him that I had gone to the hotel, that I had left the door unlocked. He said, coldly and with a disgusted edge, that he had “to leave work” to call the neighbors to come lock my door, as if it were a serious and urgent problem that my door was open.
Something in me quietly crumbled and then howled.  I went outside to smoke and wait for my father to get there, because he wanted to talk with me.
That was where I talked with the Moldovan maintenance man, there on the side of the building, sitting just out of the shade, in the sun on the curb, smoking. He seemed to think I was a nice enough person.
I noticed that it was very quiet, that there were no cars, not even distant sirens. The Residence Inn is on a busy street, but there were no cars. The cars slowly came back, and then ceased again, a broad rhythm of silence and motors, the background non-noise to the conversation about the weather, the heat, that this man was from Moldova, that I was from S. Georgia.
The cars, and the lack of cars, felt like a signal. The silence was delicious, numinous, like a sigh from the earth, no cars, no sirens, just sporadic birds, a distant barking dog, the sun beating down, the thread of smoke.
The maintenance man went back to work, the cars returned. I understood that something had happened. My children could not come swimming, my father was coming to talk with me.  I had just spoken with a man from Moldova at this hotel where I had decided to come stay for a couple of days.
I knew that days such as that day can have significant impact on one’s life and relationships. I hadn’t yelled at anyone. I hadn’t brandished a weapon. I hadn’t expressed an intent to harm myself or anyone else. I felt excited, because I was seeing the world differently than I had seen it in a very long time, and it felt as though I was remembering something important. I was feeling myself burst out from my bones. My mind was full of ideas, strung together and well-articulated, gestalt after gestalt after gestalt, all interlocking in theme and detail.  The world was intricate again, magical…powerful.
I looked at the trees on the other side of the road in between the passing cars. Their leaves rustled and swirled around, settled and then swirled.  There was a partially decomposed shard of what appeared to be styrofoam in the scraggly summer grass.
Everything was beautiful. My life would be okay. Things would settle down, settle down.  I’d figure it out, maybe get the medication I was taking for anxiety and depression changed, talk with my doctor, stop drinking energy drinks, get some sleep. I was, I thought, already working on getting some rest. That was why I checked into the hotel.  I needed some space to think and sort through some feelings, some ideas.
My father pulled into the lot, parked. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He was being strange. I didn’t understand that I was being as problematic as I was being. I was, in my mind, “going through a lot.” Moreover, I was – at the time – convinced that I had observed something important, and the ramifications of my observation were walloping me, undoing my psyche, dredging up everything I thought I had forgotten and rewriting my future and identity moment by moment.
Standing in the parking lot, talking with my father, I was astounded by the dismissal of my state as being inappropriate. I was calm. I felt lucid. I understood that my children could not come swimming and that I should not do anything that might be construed as “crazy,” like check into the Residence Inn.
I also understood that it really wasn’t such a big deal, and that it could easily be understandable, if people chose to understand.  Standing there with my father not looking at me, I began to get the impression that people were definitely not understanding.  I began to get the impression that everything was taking a peculiar turn, in which I ceased to be who I was in the eyes of others and that people were seeing me like I was out of my mind.
My previous life, in which children could come swimming and my father looked at me, was deteriorating with each and every conversation, any action or non-action spurring on the pulling apart of who I was to people who I loved and who loved me.*
A rift in perception and reality was occurring.
Standing in the parking lot, talking with my father, him not looking at me, and me keeping my voice calm while the sun beat down and cars drove back and forth, back and forth, I casually explained that I was a “hidden driver” – which was an idea that I thought I had made up, based on the name of a production company and also the basic mechanics of catalytics and kinetic operation. How was I hidden? What was I driving? As I was speaking, I realized that I did not know.
My father sounded exhausted when he asked, “What’s a hidden driver, Faith?”
I knew that he thought that anything I might say would be crazy.
I didn’t answer him.
“Nevermind,” I said. “I’m fine, I just need to rest.”
I spent the afternoon in the room I had checked myself into, reading a few pages in The Names, which I could glean enough from to know that the story was about a post-time, a future time, a different time, of character operatives and influencers, traveling in a damaged world, a world reduced to archetypes, markets, and memories.)
So, here, this morning, I cannot take a broken book up to my room ‎without being reminded of the time I checked myself into the Residence Inn.
In my earlier thinking about this project, I was gripped by insecurities, fears about the quality of my mind, my ability to convey what I want to convey. My early conceptualizations of this project were bound up in reference to the mental health/psychiatric paradigm, framed with awareness of these ideas, these lenses for understanding and qualifying the human condition.
My voice felt stilted, fumbling and uncertain, wheedling through all the barriers and hang-ups.

Notes

When I was there, at the Residence Inn, a conference was taking place – non-speakers and miscellaneous women and children with lupus and cancers, all people who possess energetic, intuitive power. This is what the woman pushing a child in a wheelchair told me. I wondered if, in addition to the conscious wanting to be in a neutral/positive place that reminded me of a friend who had played a vital role in helping me to understand that I am an artist who is fueled by laughter, if maybe I was drawn to the crowd at the hotel, if I knew that they were there somehow, all those people who do not speak and instead communicate through radiance and nuance.
In the shower, I ran the water as hot as it would get, let it scald me. My legs would not stop itching, deep in the muscle they itched, up and through my skin, the long red scratches I had made, trying to ease the itching. The scratches did not bleed, except under the skin, where small spots of dark purple bruise speckled my thighs.
*The word ‘loved’ is used in past tense not to indicate a lack of current love or to suggest that I no longer love the people I am referring to. I am simply emphasizing that I loved them then, too.
[Later, I would tell my mother, as we drove to the grocery store in the early winter, when – still – my children could not see me, that I would not be able to forgive people for what they had done. 
 
(I have since forgiven them.) 
 
‎”People pay thousands of dollars to go through what I went through, they spend their whole lives trying to find a sense of meaning and connection within the world, trying to find God, and then when your daughter unwittingly goes through a legitimate existential and spiritual transformation, you call her crazy and say she’s not being “responsible” – as if I am not allowed to go through processes of redemption and reckoning, as if that is not for me?!”]

Brief Autoethnography 5: Outline of Outset

iProposed Outline of Developing Content Areas

I. Overview of autoethnographic practice and theory (non-exhaustive)

A. Review of Ellis, Reed-Danahay, and Denzin, et. al

1. Discussion of the interdisciplinary nature of autoethnographic practice

2. Discussion of autoethnography as a tool and practice in creating transformative social change through facilitating critical reflection on the factors and forces which impact human and ecosystemic life in the 21st century

a. liberation psychology

b. decolonization praxis

c. cultural narratives, epistemic knowing and identity

B.  Roots in symbolic interactionism (sociology) and practices of ethnography (anthropology), also expressive arts

C.  postmodern overview of postmodern (Baudrillard, Debord, others) perspectives on self, truth, and reality

1. self and simulacra

a. representational, reflexive, relational crises of existence

b. the compulsion to document as a means of proving one’s existence

c. the pathos therein

II. Reflection on researcher’s motivations in working with autoethnography

A. Summary of the researcher’s personal relationship with narrative writing as a life practice

1. letters, emails, writing-to-self

2. public writing, depositing private writings in public, online spaces

3. Purpose and motivations

a. visibility

b. vulnerability

4. impact of writing and self-presentation/writing on life experiences and circumstantial outcomes

1. pathos stories (define pathos)

2. reality stories (define reality)

3. Difficult choices and things I will not write about in ways that are public

B. Reflection on the process by which the research came to realize that they were powerfully motivated to work with autoethnographic practices within academic, vocational, and personal pursuits

1. Specific autoethnographic practices and methods that the researcher will be utilizing for the purpose of this inquiry

a. a layered account

b. narrative analysis

c. multimedia presentation

C. Discussion of potential outcomes, personal goals, and disclosure of known anticipated experiences

                           

[All of this is subject to change.]

I am not sure of the precise moment when I understood that I had begun to change my relationship with formal research and reporting, reviews of the literature and APA citations. For some reason, I have developed an attitude about formal reporting that  could be assessed as being immature, disrespectful, or wise, depending on how my views of the legitimacy of expectations placed upon participants in the production of knowledge, rhetoric, and culture were seen, what quality or character of the attitude was amplified or diminished, over-looked or hyperbolized. It’s possible that my conflicted relationship with academic endeavors, the culture and economies of higher education, the abitrers of ideas and policy, is simultaneously immature, disrespectful, and wise – all at the same time.

Since being challenged by the rubrics and linearity of graduate studies at the turn of the century, just prior to several absurdly tragic and dangerous years, I have thought/believed that the rigors of academic reporting and legitimacy of thought rooted in referencing are basically a tool of oppressive systems of knowledge bound by modernist privilege and prerogative in establishing systems of exclusion that relegate the production of knowledge to people who know how to use proper citation format.

I think – at this moment – that, very real politics of privilege and exclusion in knowledge production aside, my attitudes toward solid works of academic relevance and significance has been a little immature.

I struggle to maintain attention to linear coherence and my inattentiveness to tasks and processes of research. It’s odd that I should have a troubled relationship with research, because what I have realized over the past two days is that I love research, I love theory, I love putting together solid ideas. It feels good to me. It makes me happy. It is hard for me to work within rubrics and my coherence is subjectively variable, so it is intimidating for me to face work that carries these formalized expectations of performance and participation.

I have told myself, a number of times, “Forget it! Who needs to dally around in all that academic-ish work? I don’t need to do that. People have lives of deprivation, who am I to go to school?”

I have, believe me, tried to not finish graduate school, quitting programs and changing programs for over a decade – fraught with dissonance over privilege and education, muddled in purpose, confounded by how hard it was to re-recite knowledge in writing that was not remotely interesting or exciting to me, going through some life upheaval or another.

I have been finding myself feeling excited about constructing a well-researched and dynamically contextualized and told story, an autoethnographic project. I actually love reading about autoethnography, and postmodern theory/anti-theory, stories about telling stories.

This is not a project that I ‘have to’ do. It is not an opportunistic project, or a perfunctory project. This project is – in a lot of ways – my dream. It is an extension of so much that I have already been doing, a natural and – no matter how much I downplay it – hard-earned assertion of the part of me that will not let go of the importance of telling one’s story and exploring how it is that story comes to take such shape in the mind and heart, why we are who we believe ourselves to be, how history and imagined futures have shaped identity and outcomes within our lives.

However, I have never been so great at “reports,” at “research.”

It is going to be hard for me to complete this project, because my mind has become so willful and unwieldy in how I express myself, or how I feel I should express myself, and what I then feel about how I think I should be expressing myself. I have developed a chip on my shoulder in regard to other people’s theoretically possible perspectives and estimations of my voice and/or expression.

My perception of my own voice as written is pretty unreliable. Half the time, I know that objectively a great many of the words I have written are utterly superfluous, foolish even. I know this and then issue the words anyway, sometimes out of sheer defiance, and sometimes as an act of self-destruction. I am certain that I have – on one or two occasions –  put words together in a way that does something, enacts something, conveys something in such a way that the phrase or pause becomes a mechanism, almost a code. I know this not by the words, but by the feeling that I sometimes get when I am writing, a fluidity, a pleasant urgency, a single-minded clarity and rhythm in communication, soliloquy, like singing.

I know that, in order to begin the segment of my project which defines my chosen methodology and offers an initial contextual framework and scope of inquiry…

  • I need to write down an extensive list of all the reference resources I have identified and made note of
  • I need to begin to write down excerpts I may want to include in reporting, as well as further clarify my theoretical and practical girding in regard to this project at its outset.
  • Continue to remind myself that I am able to change my ideas and interaction with research processes and procedures, that – lately – working on this project has felt amazingly good, that I feel good about myself when I work on this project.

…My goal is to have a reference list completed by the end of this week, 02/21/2015

…I will utilize free-writing time to begin creating content according to the outline above.

OUTTAKE:

When I was 16 years old, I dropped out of high school and went to community college on the campus of a military installation in S. Georgia. I moved to the mountains, took a Western Civ. class in a modular pod, another community college. Finally, I transferred to Portland State University. I took my first sociology class and understood that I was a sociologist. I took long walks and discovered I was an artist, because I noticed things that nobody else seemed to notice, and saw them as beautiful and significant. I wrote letters to a friend, and found out that I could use words to make things happen.

Autoethnopathography: 4

9:15 PM (1 hour ago)

Today, without ceremony,

sans sentiment

I tore down the Hand of God

(untitled)

or at least started to anyway,

I left the frame

for another day,

another afternoon,

unremarkable,

just cleaning up

an old mess I made

broken glass and the rust

of a yesteryear righteousness

the chicken wire

drawing blood

the hardware cloth

the nails

in a skeleton

of rotted wood

there in the Northwest corner

of my yard

which was,

years ago,

a beautiful place

and is still a beautiful place

though in a different way

a far more wretched way.

Today, without ceremony,

without a single photo,

I peeled away the splintering waves

and

I pushed the boat from where it sailed

atop the frame

and felt pleased

when it shuddered and cracked

upon hitting the ground

tearing a limb from the maple

as it fell, as it fell

a great feat

reversed.

I pushed down

what I had once pushed up

and the children were just as delighted

to see it destroyed,

as they were when I raised it from the ground,

over my head,

and pushed, pushed,

up toward the sky.

 

“This is fun,” my son called,

as he smashed the boat apart

there on the muddy ground,

without ceremony.

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.”

Autoethnopathography: 2, The Validity of Voice

I am not saying that I wasn’t mad, nor am I questioning the matter of my having met diagnostic criteria, as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, IV-Text Revision, for w/ psychotic features.  I am saying that there are many different words that could have been applied to my experience. The term psychosis is a problematic word, because it doesn’t do what words are supposed to do, which is offer explanatory and definitive information about a state, place, or thing.

Psychosis indicates or suggests the experience of states of reality that are non-usual and disruptive of cohesion with consensus reality. That tells me very little about the actual subjective state of the individual, what the individual is actually experiencing, and what it feels like to be within those uniquely, deeply personal experiences, what their world is like.

Because this word – psychosis  – is attached to me – the researcher – in medical records, in writings, in quiet-voiced conversations about who I am, what my story is, I feel like I have a right to question this word, to put it into quotations, to place qualifiers and excluders around it, to reinforce, again and again, that this is the word that was applied to me, that this word does not necessarily say anything about me.

This word, attached to me, communicates that at some point, in someone’s perspective, I possessed a mind that does not hold well to the agreed upon and socially acceptable reality, a mind which may become unreliable. This suggestion has the propensity to functionally undermine my validity as a thinker in the formal realms of thought.

I am able to imagine that I can imagine the perspective of a traditionally (c. 1950-recent past) trained psychiatrist, as such perspectives have been placed on me many times. I cannot seem to get those psychiatric perspectives out of my head and so I think I know what the anonymous they, the generalized they, the un-nuanced they, might think.

“Here is a person, oh unfortunate and delusional person, so clearly intelligent, but – oh – you can see the effects of the illness in the expression. Can you believe that this person thought such things, thought in such ways? The loose association is apparent, the evidence of delusion. This person is caught in the illness. This person needs treatment. This person should be on medication, these symptoms are not desirable. A person cannot exist with such illness unabated. It is too dangerous.”

Okay, maybe I went a little over the top there at the end. That’s been known to happen, to bound from reasonable surmise to hyperbolic alarmism, the current of fear that pushes the perspective, compels the lens.

Are some thoughts dangerous? Is it dangerous to inhabit certain realities?

I am not suggesting that it is not, I am asking if it is.

I am not suggesting that my thoughts are not always ordered in the usual way, and that my attentions are not always attuned to the things that people would like my attentions to be attuned to. I am not saying that I am not prone to experience somewhat altered states of consciousness and ruptures of reality.  I am saying that I don’t think that tendency in my ways of being necessarily discredits my voice or diminishes the value of my experiences as part of my own story and also as part of larger social and cultural phenomena related to sanity and stigma.

Part of the complication of telling one’s story in a way that is going to be remotely representative of anything real about a person is that there is – at the end of the day, as in the beginning, driving to work – simply too much to tell, some of which I have no right to tell. So, my current state of confoundment as to how to proceed with this is not only a matter of doubting my own mind, my own ability, both out of stigma and due to the reality that I genuinely am troubled by my seeming inability – without great effort and discomfort – to write a coherent narrative of self and intent, a simple overview, an outline, a list of references.

Autoethnopathography: 1, A Subject Unto Itself

This digital presentation functions as a depository for notes and developing content related to an exploratory autoethnography project, in which the researcher (that would be me), delves into the researcher’s (me, again) experience of a state of circumstance and reality that was clinically diagnosed as being ‘psychotic,’ examining and reflecting on that state in the context of larger cultural norms, ideas, and realities.

This work will draw from the researcher’s personal writing and correspondence, which has been collected and archived over the past 5 years. New text-based and multimedia narrative content will be generated to support cohesion within and between project elements.

Consideration of the researcher’s experience of working with autoethnographic practices will be included in the project’s methodology.

January 27th, 2015

I’m sitting here in the dark, outside, not-quite cold in January, here by the Pacific. The big white-lit hotel name shines through the trees, the silhouettes of branches like veins across the ‎letters, which are flat black during the day, somehow bright, glowing white at night.

A few minutes ago, I finished typing up another revision of my project proposal. The scope just shrinks and shrinks. People seem pleased by this. They tell me that it is a good thing to do, to “narrow my focus.”

“It’s just a masters,” they explain, “you don’t need to be exhaustive.”

I understand this, and know that they are right, that an overly complex project could easily swallow me up.

“I’m can be a little ambitious.” I leaned over and poured myself more lemonade into a tiny plastic cup, swallowed it in one silent gulp.

I talked with a man about my project. I probably said ‘autoethnography’ about 15 times.

It was wonderful, to be able to speak excitedly and clearly, the word rolling off of my tongue like it had been born there, the melding of all the words that sound out its syllables and name its meaning.

As I write this, I am tense with the sound of the planes taking off. I remind myself that I need to go upstairs, that I can’t just sit here in the dark, 1/2 shivering and typing into my phone. ‎I am thinking about my porch, at home. The dogs bustling around, the children upstairs, the press of ideas and voice, voice, voice, all quiet in my mind, snaking out in shivers and – in the summer – sweat, as I push the words onto this screen, almost imperceptible little clicks, buttons being pressed.

My back is hunched and the planes just won’t stop taking off. I’m going to have to get out of here soon. It sounds like a wartime I have never known, ‎the air itself shuddering, recoiling and reverberating, the planes themselves screaming into the sky. It’s really terrible, this airport noise.

I was about to say, before the planes distracted me, that lately when I write about autoethnography, I feel a great surge of something almost like love – a pure exaltation, a great hope, as if my voice had found a home, a place where it could speak.

This afternoon, standing and talking with the professor who would surprise me by offering to supervise my project, I was caught off guard as I spoke about the sensation of having been so overtaken with joy and relief – gratitude!- that this practice they call autoethnography exists. I was about to tell him that tears had come to my eyes, when my eyes filled again, my chest flooded with that same sense of awe, a pearline feeling that I may have found a place for my voice, a way to tell the stories I want to tell, the stories I need to tell.

I just sent out the message that contains a link to my proposal. I changed it, again. Pulled in the scope.

February 8

I decided to, for the time being, put that free-write from January 28th here, at the beginning. It will be helpful to me to remember the feeling of autoethnography being new and full of possibility.

For the past two weeks, I have been poring over texts relating to the body of methodologies and practices that autoethnography encompasses. Sitting in front of the fire – the pellet stove, our only source of heat in this house that over a century old, full of ghosts and drafts, bad seams between the inside and the outside – I squinted into my phone, my chest compressed as I pounded out a disjointed stream of words about what I will and will not include in this project. I agonized over the impossibility of only telling my own story, grew anxious about the ethics of omission and inclusion, acknowledgement and secrets.

I tried to write an outline, and ended up drawing a picture of a baby with a cacti growing out of its head. I made a collage of pages from old textbooks, painted over the images of brains and lightwaves with white acrylic, a damp paper towel, smearing the paint. I drew an image of a woman in a cardigan holding an egg. I painted over her face, and the next night I surrounded her with alligators, with black bars rising up over the space where the egg was. The bars stretched up toward where the woman’s face was, they end in jagged lines. They look like trees that have been burnt.

I still don’t have a proper outline.