Three years ago I finished a dissertation that almost took me out! Trying to marry my personal world with the world of academia was HARD. And a lot of that came out in my dissertation and led me to my current approach to racial and personal justice through storytelling and self-study. Recently someone emailed me and told me they’d read part of it and found it powerful. Nothing like a good stroke to the ego to get you moving for a moment. I’ve been wanting to do something with my dissertation but honestly, as anyone who has ever written one can attest, it’s not for the faint of heart and revisiting the scene of the crime isn’t exactly high, medium, and maybe not even low on a list.
But as I’m preparing to shift gears with Justice For All Everyday, in a way, I will be combining what I’ve been doing with coaching teams with the heart of my dissertation—self-study. So I want to share some pieces and reflections from both spaces in the next few posts to get you ready.
Readers, please meet a compiled excerpt from my dissertation...
Preparing the Canvases
I am almost ready to begin the first portrait [portraiture is a research method that seeks to blend the aesthetics of art with the rules of science], but first I must explain why painting is a responsive metaphor to my lived experiences and this process. A couple of years ago I started going to paint and sip events with my friend Suzie. An artist creates an image using acrylic paints on a canvas while participants follow along creating their own versions. The canvases and paints and other materials are set up in advance so essentially, you show up and paint. I’m pretty sure that every time I have been I have heard the artist make the claim, “there are no mistakes because you can always paint over or turn it into something else.” Well, that’s a lie. Once when Suzie and I went, I messed up the background, the very first layer! I kept looking at it thinking, it just looks off. I stood up and stood back. It still didn’t look right. I asked the artist and she said, “it looks fine” and you can paint one of your wine glasses over it.
A few layers of detail later I was still unhappy with this one area of my background. So I tried to change it. Big mistake. It looked worse and I became visibly frustrated. It affected my entire mood for the rest of the session. I couldn’t get the shape of my wine glasses to curve just right. I couldn’t mix the color for red wine right. I was over that painting! But, I made myself keep it and took some paint I had at home and added the words “embrace imperfection.” Painting is a process that does not come easy to me, but I enjoy. It demonstrates my willingness to embrace discomfort within myself and that is truly what the self-study process is like.
That painting is so symbolic of this self-study process. I created layers and went back and changed them and it turned out very messy. It was only through cycles of writing, reflecting, analyzing, writing, reflecting, analyzing that clarity began to ensue. This makes sense because humans are complex beings and rarely do our lives unfold fluidly. This is why literary devices like metaphors are useful in cultivating cohesion in storytelling. My use of the painter’s metaphor serves that purpose here. In each phase of writing I created a layer that consists of one of my story/memories, analysis, kindred spirits, and tool for creating your own self-study portrait.
I recently started painting on my own at home. I bought canvases, acrylics paints, various brushes, sponges, scrapers, chalk, an easel, and a bunch of paint trays. I navigate to YouTube and find a painting I like and looks at about my skill level and then I start. I am to the point now where I can guess that I won’t be able to do something well and choose a different, more elementary technique. For some of these materials I use them every time, but sometimes a painting requires something special, like a sponge to add texture in the way a brush cannot. Organizing materials is kind of like thinking about, if I know what I am trying to paint, what materials does it make sense to use? How do I begin to lay out my researcher template? What methods should I use to create this vision that I have? I had to begin to think about which stories—what colors, in what combinations, shapes and sizes—would I need to tell the story and create the portrait?
The story of my methodology.
Imagine walking down the street and you bump into a younger version of yourself. You look at yourself and see that strange familiarity. Certain features are the same but angled differently from age. Maybe older you has a slightly slower gait and your hands are slightly wrinkled.
You recognize you. It is the interplay between these roles, the intimate space in between them, where transformation in research (and teaching) can happen. It is as if all of my selves are walking down the street towards one another, but they do not notice one other until the precise moment when they pass. In that moment the researcher is able to see the researched seeing her researcher self. And the participant is able to see how the researcher has come to see her. And it is this moment of seeing another self that the self is challenged to engage with her whole self and grow. It is a continuous revolving and evolving process…kind of like the beginning being the end but really the beginning. And that moment when they meet is what this research is about. The Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods explained triangulation as, “[combining] data drawn from different sources and at different times, in different places of and from different people” (Flick, 2011). Because my data are essentially my memories of experiences, I used triangulation guidelines as presented in duoethnographic methodologies. Duoethnography is a collaborative form of autoethnography in which individuals undertake self-study simultaneously, and engage with each other throughout the process to share multiple interpretations of given phenomena, or to create a new, transformed collective perspective.