i am some goddam tourist


This is Madeleine and she has her face paint on. She has little reason to be here, other than I like her company and she finds the idea of studying for exams as yawn inducing as I do. She is very keen to distract me. She also reminds me a little of Julia, author of the blog Five Fairies and a Fella on which I am basing my research. They have a similar taste for bold sartorial choices that I, to misquote Jane Austen, do love and ardently admire.

Kerry has sent me a list of a few resources on narrative research that he thought might be helpful*. Thank god, because I have had seven library books arrive last week that were a little random in their selection (i.e. I liked their titles) and likely unhelpful. He also advised not to read too much about narrative theory itself, in order to avoid confusion and overwhelm, I expect. But I’ll likely read too much. I likely always do.

I have been in contact with Julia, letting her know what I was doing. Her reply was brief but positive; sure, go ahead, or words to that effect. I feel slightly unsettled, perhaps a little bit voyeuristic, conducting research on the blog of someone with terminal cancer. Voyeuristic isn’t quite the right word. A little bit like I’m intellectually scavenging off the misfortune of others. Which begs the question, why do it? I’ve answered that a little already, but here are some more answers: I want to do it because I think the stories we believe are powerful contributors to the actions we take and as a society that matters for all of us; I think interesting stories deserve an interested audience; I fervently and wholeheartedly believe in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s warning about the dangers of a single story. It’s important to me to contribute to disseminating as many different narratives of as many different lives to as many different people as possible, in order to guard against that danger. If the Fates so allow. I also think the discomfort I am feeling is a good thing. I shouldn’t be taking the generosity of Julia’s stories lightly.

I am reading Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (because it was a Booker Prize winner and I am a literary award groupie, and I am so very not ashamed of that). I came across a scene this evening as I waited for my daughter to finish her dance class that I thought was important to remember in light of the above. An American journalist is talking to a young Jamaican woman he has just met and he says, aw, come on, don’t bust my balls like that. It’s not like I’m some goddam tourist. I know the real Jamaica. She replies, Good for you. I’ve lived here all my life and haven’t found the real Jamaica yet.  I want to remember it because when it comes to the meaning we make from the experiences we live, none of us have found the real Jamaica. It is not there to be found, or put another way, there are many real Jamaicas. And it’s worse than foolish for any researcher to believe, for me to believe, that our ideas and theories and pontifications of other people’s stories have more meaning than the stories themselves.

And now I had best start studying for those wretched exams before I fail the lot of them and render all of this moot. God bless the day I write the very last sentence on the very last one.

*The list:

  • Catherine Kohler Riessman (2008). Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences
  • Andrews, M., Squire, C., Tamboukou, M. (Eds) (2013) Doing Narrative Research
  • Mannay, Dawn. (2015). Visual, narrative and creative research methods: Application, reflection and ethics
  • Smith, B., & Sparkes, A. C. (2006). Narrative inquiry in psychology: exploring the tensions within. Qualitative Research in Psychology
  • Vannini, Phillip (Ed.) (2012). Popularizing Research: Engaging New Genres, Media, and Audiences

an introduction

You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labeled bones. – Margaret Atwood

I opened my research proposal with the above quote. I’m quite sure Ms. Atwood wasn’t thinking about the whole yawning qualitative versus quantitative methods debate in social science when she wrote it – and by quite sure I mean not sure at all except why on earth would she? – but it captures my feelings on the reasons I have chosen narrative inquiry to conduct my research rather than anything else. There is a point and a use to labeling bones (muscle, tendon, nerve) that no amount of staring at a living bird is going to accomplish. I get that. I agree with it. I even bought the t-shirt. Nevertheless, it’s that voice, that wind, that bird that I want to capture, even if I know before I start that I will never, not wholly, accomplish such a thing. It’s still worth the effort to try.

Today was meet the supervisors day. I have two, and I’m not quite sure how that happened, it just did. Lucky to have either one, let alone both. I was more nervous than I had a right to be before our meeting and spilled the tea I was drinking all over the carpet as I dashed out the door of my house, desperate not to be late. I yelled at one of my teens to please clean it up for me, promised her extra brownie points in heaven for being kind to her mother. She took the deal. I parked too far away, hit the wrong lights when I needed to cross the road, arrived late. V. offered me tea; this I didn’t spill. Did manage to forget I was a grown-up and served them ill-thought out answers to almost every question, because AWESOME. I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what I think about anything. Get me to write it down and I’ll probably think better. After eight edits. Maybe. Neither supervisor kicked me out the office and told me to come back when I’d grown a brain, so we’ll call it a success. I even have two jobs to do. I don’t really like jobs.

So here we are.  Hello. It’s a pleasure to be here, and welcome to my bloggy research blog.