Draft one of my autoethnography

I’m publishing draft one of my autoethno so i have a clear perspective about my journey. I quite like this one so far.

My journey to research. 04/01/10

“You were such a clever little thing” says Mum.

I always had my nose in a book, from when I was very young. I’m a fast reader, too. Sometimes I miss important or pivotal phrases in the books I am reading because I skim read. I am plot driven. I want to know the result, to get to the end, to resolve the conflict. But often I read the book again to understand the language, to work out how the author did it, how they created this world which held me captive. I read one hundred pages an hour, or thereabouts. I haven’t timed myself specifically, but this is what I discover when I think – I’ll just read for a minute. One hundred pages and an hour later I surface, bleary-eyed, into the real world, pushing away the tendrils of phrases which still twine me in their grasp. My husband often says – when I begin a new fiction novel – “see you tomorrow” as I have been known to read into the early hours of the morning. Reading is my solace, my comfort, my wonder. It was always this way. I used to invite friends over to play but I would often disappear and be found half an hour later in a corner reading a book.

I don’t need people for company. Too much time in company actually wears me out. I need to retreat into my thoughts. I daydream. I have an internal dialogue, although it is often silent. I need to stay mentally active. When I lived in Melbourne I would buy The Age every day. In this newspaper are a number of word puzzles. Cryptic crosswords; word anagram games, that sort of thing. I learned how to do cryptic crosswords in my twenties – some clever friends taught me the basics and I worked out the rest. When I need a real challenge I do The Times cryptic crossword, which is full of British references and much harder. I can never get more than half a dozen clues of The Times, but I can usually finish The Age crosswords. When I’m really bored I do the Quick crossword.

“You use such big words, Jess. For goodness sake, can’t you just use smaller ones?” says my sister.

I smile. I like big words. However, it is not a conscious decision to use big words when talking – I just get used to them in my reading. Much of my understanding of big words is purely contextual – I’m not always sure of the exact meaning. This is very me. I generalise, I skim, I use big words. I am not rigorous. I am not exact. I am not neat or refined in my thinking. At times I cannot verbally articulate my thoughts – sentences come out all garbled and questions are adrift in poor syntax. I have been accused of generalising without foundation. Well. This is me; it’s my mum; it’s much of my family. We make sweeping statements about the way of things. But I am beginning to tire of this. It makes me seem silly and uneducated, when, actually, I have read something somewhere that backs up my assertions – I just can’t remember where I read it.

“When you set your mind to something, Jessie, you just put your head down and do it. It’s extraordinary, the focus you show” says Mum.

In 2007 I complete my Masters at Monash Uni. It is not a great experience – the course coordinator never responds to emails and I eventually have to shout a lot to get answers to simple administrative questions. But I am loving the learning. I want to be immersed deeply in the research. I find, too, that I am quite good at it. I do my Masters part-time on top of a full time load at work. It’s not always easy. I struggle in my final year too with competing demands of wedding preparations, opera role learning and an isolating work environment, but my last subject mark is the highest of the lot – 93%. I submit my last assignment early. I have finally learned how to do this study thing, after years of stumbling about, procrastinating, hating Schenkerian analysis or music theory, not handing in work, stopping and starting my undergraduate studies, angry at the world. I love the rigor of study and the clear end goal. I can feel my mind expanding. I feel like Neo in the penultimate scene from The Matrix, where he flexes his muscles and the green computer generated world expands around him, accommodating his new found ability.

“You’re very goal focussed, Jessie” says Mum.

I am in Queensland, away from my beloved Melbourne. I struggle with the heat, the absence of wog life, the lack of strip shopping which is such a feature of Melbourne. I miss the trams. I miss The Age. I have given up trying to do the cryptic crossword – I hate the local newspapers. I am struggling with my disappointment about the amateur-standard quality of the Queensland Opera and my lack of opportunities with them. I am struggling with this hick town. I feel displaced. Overheated. I have few friends here. In truth, I have no friends here other than those associated with my husband. I don’t mind at all, but I am already introverted. I need people to engage me with community life. I am teaching, singing and doing some piecemeal lecturing. In this Northern state, though, I feel slightly lost and without purpose or identity.

My husband and I head overseas on our honeymoon in July 2009, visiting England and Italy. Our last week is spent at a world music conference, in Bologna. I have a wonderful time there. I am interested in many of the papers, workshops and presentations, especially those on singing. One presentation in particular appeals to me: it is called “The role of the singing teaching studio”. I sit and wait for revelation as three presenters proceed to NOT tell me about the role of the singing teaching studio. I am angry. Many assertions are made about the “obvious” efficacy of the one-to-one singing lesson, without reference or research to back up such a claim. I talk with my husband about this after the presentation. We are walking along one of Bologna’s famous porticos in the mid afternoon. It is hot. I say “you know, how do we know that one-to-one singing teaching is effective? I mean, I reckon it is, but how did she get away with saying this without backing up her statement with research?” He agrees with me and says “You know there is no research in this area.” “Well, someone should do some then!” I retort. “Yes, someone should”, says he, quietly. There is a long silence. “I think I have an idea. I think I have found my research topic. I need to go. See you later.” I race to the apartment, and immediately, almost frantically write down my initial thoughts. I am filled to the brim with ideas.

I have found a new goal.

“Ultimately, using self as subject is a way of acknowledging the self that was always there anyway and of exploring personal connections to our culture.” (Wall, 2006, p.11) The personal narrative above tells the reader about just a few aspects of me and my journey to doctoral studies. In the narrative I recount the influence of my family on my intellectual life. I alert the reader to my introspection, my ease with aloneness, my love of reading and my need for intellectual stimulation. I do not tell of my love of singing, my musical development or my early education. Why not? My musical education has a strong bearing on my chosen study. My early education provided me with the tools with which to tackle post-graduate research. My love of singing has determined most of my career path to this date, and continues to be a forward focus of my life. However, the facets of my life that have determined this research path can be traced from childhood, before singing became my primary focus, before formal education bothered me, and before I was required to really socially engage in the world. The inquirer in me, the explorer of books and ideas, the lover of language and concepts. These things, I sense, are what drive me today in my doctoral studies. Can I cope with lots of reading? Tick. Can I cope with solitude? Tick. Can I cope with intellectual stimulation? Hell yes. Do I like firm goals – an end point? Why, yes, yes I do.

These aspects of my literary self are what led me to post-graduate study and what continue to nurture my love of study. These aspects also reveal something of the way I think, and help to shape my research identity. What are my epistemological beliefs? When I consider my plot driven reading style, I see me needing certainty. I need answers. I need to get to the end. But when I consider the reading material itself, I can see an affinity with narrative, with an unfolding of drama. My need for answers takes me away from post-structuralism – I am not interested in pulling theories apart without putting them back together. I have a personal distaste for critical theorists, mainly because I get irritated by the didactic and at times strident moralistic tone of much critical theory. Am I post-positivist then? I slide close to this leaning, but through my love of fiction I realize that I thrive on narrative, on story telling and on the possibilities of the life-world. I don’t really like generalizations in novels, even though I use them in life while trying to avoid them. I guess that leaves me with constructivism. Hatch writes that “constructivists assume a world in which universal, absolute realities are unknowable, and the objects of inquiry are individual perspectives or constructions of reality” (Hatch, 2002, p 15). I like this.

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