Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Way the Autoethnography is Writing Itself

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I woke up this morning with every intention of writing a post around the theme of turning points that influenced my own view about Virtually Connecting. Some of those moments involve other people directly telling me things; others were more self-reflective, I think. I wrote down a list of things so I would not forget to mention them, and decided to center my keynote from July last year on Challenging Academic Gatekeeping (how I saw VC last year) and use the tweets in that keynote to comment on how each of them influenced how I see VC. I started doing this, but then I got distracted by the images from VC sessions I had used in my slides, and I veered into a completely different project. I abandoned my initial blogpost into draft mode, and started Google slides of @vconnecting in pictures using pics from that keynote and a few more here and there. I ordered them chronologically and used the images to bring out memories from that moment, then to extend into memories around that moment or that event, and it was a really emotional experience and grew into something much more than I was expecting it to become.

In any case. I published that this morning and tagged some people, asking them to comment. I was expecting people to comment directly on the slides, but instead I got comments on my blog and on Twitter (which my blog also collects via webmentions). Folks on Twitter also seemed to sense an emotional connection, mentioning seeing joy in the photos or remembering their own joy in those moments. Someone mentioned intimacy. I realized that the photos evoked emotion more than memory of any intellectual conversation. And it reminded me that despite the learning and intellectual value of VC, its real value, what those who never tried it don’t know…its real value is in intimacy and community and emotion. I remembered now that people had mentioned this in focus groups in 2017 (will get exact quotes later if needed) and others had said this sense of community, while beautiful, can be intimidating to those outside it. But as I looked at the people commenting on the slides, they were a wide range of people with different distance from VC, from the early VCers, to people who had been guests once, to people who watched from afar. People who had known us for 4 years and 1 year. So clearly, this community was not a closed-off one. Not for everyone, for sure, but open to more people for whom it can make a difference.

I reflected while in the Twitter chat about something. But before I say that something, I wanna say that throughout this week I’m slowly reading Carolyn Ellis’ “Ethnographic I” and she was just talking about how the Autoethnographer need not reflect only on her researcher self, but also on her whole person. I knew getting into this autoethnography my mother self would enter into it.

Now my moment on Twitter was this: I suddenly realized that yesterday, I had been showing my kid videos of her as a baby because she mentioned something about babies being cute and I wanted to show her herself as a baby. It was nostalgic for me and rather disturbing for her. Anyway, I think this put me in a visual mood, and I think it’s why today the images on the slides distracted me – or rather, attracted me – from the tweets. I went from distracted to attracted because I realized that I didn’t really have an agenda set by anyone else but myself. And so I could take this autoethnography whichever way I wanted. If one approach attracts me I can follow it and see where it takes me.

And I felt that what happened today related to the nature of autoethnography as a story that gets told and evolves in the process of writing it…and also the nature of the internet as non-linear and allowing this branching out and how interaction with people enriched the product and made me reflect on the whole thing, more than the value of creating the slides. Though that brought me joy, too. LOTS of it. But of course the images portray smiling people. That’s why we reuse those. But they also evoked memories that were less happy at those same events. I haven’t written about those yet. They’re going into that draft post I haven’t yet finished. Because, of course, doing the joyful thing is more fun. Doing the morose thing is difficult. As it should be. I’ll get around to it soon because my deadline is looming…

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