Approaching the one year mark, this PhD idea feels like a wild animal hunt – possibly a Woozle. I haven’t quite seen my research question yet, but I know its size and can guess its shape. I’m tracking its codes and categories through dense woodlands, sneaking up on it from downwind. I have research themes, of course, and my usual bucket of interests and aversions, but so far when someone has asked “what are you studying” I haven’t known what to tell them.
It’s all writing, writing. In the methodology, things go alarmingly meta. Analyzing codes on field notes means writing about stuff I wrote about stuff I wrote about stuff I saw – when I realized that I had to go lie down. The writing is field notes, or reflective diaries, unless they’re memos. Sometimes it’s in my ordinary diary. I read and write about professional selves, personal selves, but it feels increasingly like I’ve got one self living in a constant baffling static of thoughts. Thank goodness for fieldwork, which provided one early problem and victory: how to take notes, in a setting where water fights happen nearly constantly? After much experimenting, I hit upon black Sharpies and ziplock bags, with a white index card inside. The card would move around inside the bag, and around it black words crossed over each other and behind.
All this looping around of words has made me realize how intertwined the processes of thinking and writing are. I don’t really know what I think about anything, until it’s put into words. Often the direction those words take surprises. In the middle of all this thinking, I have the image of a earthworm, moving through that ‘dirt’ of firsthand experience. Reflection can feel like eating dirt sometimes, like humbly taking what was in front of us inside. We push it down, through ourselves before we can leave it behind. We progress slowly, in little bites.