Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing for Self-Discovery




Not that it matters anymore, at least for another year, but I am thinking much more seriously about a paper my colleagues assign: the autoethnography. I need to familiarize myself with it because it may be one of the best assignment for a freshman to attempt, for any writer getting to know oneself to attempt.

Like many writing assignments in English 100, the autoethnography comes from the field of anthropology. Anth is a natural match for developing writers because writing about oneself comes more naturally than writing in the abstract. So anthropology, which allows a writer to examine what it means to be human, works a bit like a bridge. For example, in Marianne's class we started the semester with a consumer artifact analysis. (Artifact analysis also comes from anthropology.) In writing this paper, our students usually started with something interesting about themselves, began looking at its meaning in society, segued naturally into analyzing society and viola, they were writing/thinking in the abstract, even as they were coming to know themselves better and moving toward more conscious living. It was an incredible process to witness, assist with and engage in.

I want to intern in a class where the autoethnography is taught so I can learn more about how to teach it. I think it has incredible potential. I realize it is what I was doing last night:

When I was writing about Roma yesterday in this blog, I mentioned Bohemian lifestyle and put a link in to a Wikipedia article on Bohemianism. As I did so, I realized I wasn't entirely clear on the concept, why was it called Bohemian, where is Bohemia? As I read, I realized Bohemian is the group I do belong to. I have been a misfit all my life; even in the alternate lifestyles I have chosen, I don't actually fit in. I lived a sort-of Deadhead lifestyle for many years, but I didn't really fit into that, not being as gungho on the music and the band as the others. Nor was I really ever a hippie entirely. Turns out it was the Bohemian aspects of the lifestyle I was attracted to, and the dissonances I felt led me away from it eventually. Likewise Humboldt County: I am attracted to the Bohemian aspects but at the same time I am turned off by its obsession with marijuana, which I don't share at all. When I was reading about Bohemianism last night, I realize that is the subculture I belong to, but sadly at age 45 I have never really managed to find my people. I have felt like an alien my whole life, to my detriment and to that of my family.

Maybe some of my students will have felt like aliens too, and an exercise like this can help them find self-knowledge early enough in life to do them some good.

That treasure-hunt aspect is what I love about research, what I love about being a scholar and a writer. One thing leads to another. Suddenly, there is a whole avenue of thought and literature open to me, Andre Gide, La Boheme, things I was only dimly aware of before but not actively interested in. Too bad the summer is nearly over. I think I will go to the bookstore today.


Sources about autoethnography.

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