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.