What’s More Challenging than an Empty Page?

Carol A. Hand

Today, I feel like procrastinating rather than facing the daunting task ahead. It’s no longer an empty page that I face as I work on finishing the project I began on November 1. Instead, here I am with a mere 5,200 more words to go to meet the NaNo goal of 50K. And I’ve only covered the first month of a nine-month study.

The transcript of the interview I need to edit today would easily put me over that goal. It’s 30 pages long, and over 10K words. This first interview with the director of a county social service agency began in a rather interesting way. As we walked into his office, before the tape recorder was running, he warned me that he wasn’t going to try to be politically correct. He was going to share what he thought honestly. “I really hate it when people talk about cultural competence. There is no Ojibwe culture anymore.”

Over the course of time and many follow-up interviews, his views did shift. Asking the right questions can sometimes do that. People have time to reflect in between the series of interviews. They have a chance to think about what they’ve said and question it for themselves. I remember how he ended our last interview. “I wonder how the tribe defines kinship. I don’t think it’s the same as the narrow definition in state policy.


Somehow, I have to cull the gems out of this long, often boring transcript. I do remember typing it out. It took me hours and days. I became truly annoyed with my voice and each question I asked. I remember repeatedly saying to myself, “Oh why can’t you just let it end? PLEASE shut up now.” But the interview droned on for more than three hours. And this is just the first long transcribed interview. But in many ways it’s the most important part of a critical ethnographic study. It’s the foundation for understanding the ways in which the child welfare system at the time imposed cultural hegemony.

Well, now it’s time to descend into the task before me, even though I’d rather work outside on this lovely, sunny November day. Before I do shift focus, let me wish you all a pleasant day.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

6 thoughts on “What’s More Challenging than an Empty Page?

  1. I feel overwhelmed for you, after reading this. I can’t imagine being able to do something like what you are doing here!

    Hang in there! People will be served by what you are doing here; some by being made aware, and others, those you are writing about, by finally being heard and understood!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol, so brilliant — to ask questions that lead to a person questioning himself — more effective than confrontation. Though I can hardly imagine how you kept your cool upon hearing the Ojibwe had no culture!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your comments, Diane. Remaining objective when dealing with offensive (ignorant) comments becomes easy after a while. It was a frequent occurrence in many of my jobs. It’s a skill I had many chances to practice and refine. Angry confrontations only make it worse and destroy one’s professional credibility. Qualitative research was the only place where it became easier for me to use questions as a way to encourage critical reflection (Freirian liberatory praxis) – it gave me the status and venue to be able to ask people questions over the course of a year and witness the ways their views changed.


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