Carol A. Hand
An excerpt from a work in progress – 35,000 words so far but many more to go…
Thursday, November 19, 2015
As I read through these fieldnotes fourteen years later, I realize that I like the person I was then. But there are things I wish I could tell her. “Don’t worry and don’t be so hard on yourself. Everything will work out. You’ll finish and even be briefly recognized for the significance of this work. More importantly, your life will forever be enriched by what you learn from people here. Please cherish these moments of honest curiosity and respectful innocence.” Of course, I can’t tell my younger self those things.
And sometimes the notes I took just aren’t worth editing for others to read. I did rush off to the elders’ center right after Mr. Wilson shared his stories. I was grateful to him for allowing me to take notes while he was speaking, but when I arrived at the center, I stuffed them in my briefcase and locked it in the trunk of my car for safe keeping. Without even taking a moment to breathe and clear my mind, I rushed in to the dining room.
When I reread my fieldnotes these many years later, what I saw was clearly described but what seemed most significant today were the things that were missing. Looking back I remember the intense pressure I felt to “succeed.” It was such a narrow perspective – “to collect as many stories and experiences as I could, as fast as I could.”
I didn’t take any time to reflect on Mr. Wilson’s story, or my conversations with Maurice and Thomas earlier in the day. I just went rushing from one encounter to the next. It didn’t occur to me then how important it was to take time to debrief and prepare in between ever-changing situations and perspectives. The intensity of deep listening required for an individual interview doesn’t work in a chaotic social setting.
Thinking about the significance of attention and focus reminds of trying to take photographs. Adjusting the lens to capture the details of a flower or honey bee omits much of the surrounding environment from the photo and blurs that which remains to as a way to frame the object of interest. But shifting focus in the context of naturalistic research is much more than this one-dimensional mechanical focus. Good photographers recognize this. They’re emotionally present. Someone who works with people needs to be mindful that even entering a room affects the quality of social interactions. I didn’t take time to consider my state of mind as I walked into the dining room on this day.
Thursday, October 4, 2001 (Continued) …
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