As Social Creature

 

Jan 23 (6 days ago)

She stood in the bulb-lit bathroom, looking at the circles under her eyes and smiled because ‘haggard’ looked alright on her. The tiles on the floor rattled under her feet; she’d need to re-grout them when she got home from the trip. She didn’t feel worried about traveling, or coming home. She felt completely calm, save for a small tightening excitement in her chest.

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When she thought about it, the way that she had figured out – finally – what it was she ought to set out to do, she felt a little like weeping. It was a relief to feel certain about something.

The day was rainy and cold. The mountains in January were grey and brown, dark winter green, and the rain felt like ice, but wasn’t freezing. It wouldn’t snow today. Her flight would leave on time.

The day before, she had told her co-worker, her favorite co-worker, that her life would be “different” when she got home, that she would be “different.”

“In what way?”  Her co-worker cocked his head.

“Well, I will have been talking with people about ideas and expression for almost a week. I will be working on my project.”

The plane is taking off.

A long time ago, as the engines frantically accelerated and the wheels lifted off of the ground, she would have touched the stations of the cross on her shoulders, her head, her chest, genuflecting.

She wasn’t Catholic, but she had been to Catholic school for a year, when she was 10, and had learned that the motion of lightly making those geometric lines over herself, anchored in the shape of a half-kite, a triangle, the points of a cross with her heart in the center…that it was comforting, that it was a prayer, even if it was a prayer to a God she didn’t believe in, a prayer for or about something inspecific, a kind of generalized hope.

Jan 25 (4 days ago)
to me

‎This morning, I woke up at 3:00am, and laid in the dark for a minute, knowing exactly where I was, listening to the elevator run up through walls just once in the very early morning. The sheets felt tight and crisp, a little like money.

There were at least six pillows on the bed, pressed in around her and not feeling anything at all like the dogs back home. The pillows had no weight, no warmth. They seemed to rattle, a whispering and sliding rattle, a rustle, every time she moved.

“Hmmm, that’s odd,” she noted. ‎”I’ve slipped into the 3rd person.”

She does this sometimes, and she wills herself not to. She wants to speak from the ‘I’, but sometimes it feels more comfortable to be in third person, to write herself ‎as a narrated character.

She doesn’t like to admit that she isn’t sure what’s true about herself.

I don’t think that’s true.

I woke up in a hotel room, at 3 o’clock in the morning. My roommate made the smallest snoring sounds, snuffles and light snorts. It was not an unpleasant sound. I laid there until 5:15am, and I didn’t think much about autoethnography as I tried to be quiet in the dark, but I thought about writing, about making note of what it was that I was doing, how I was experiencing my existence, what sense it made or what sense I made of it, how odd it was that I was there, in that room…

Jan 25 (4 days ago)
to me

‎Regularly, she sits on the porch and stares at her phone. The paint on the white rocker is dry, almost dehydrated and the edges of the armrests are still sharp, not sanded by hand or time, they were cut fast in mass production.

She is typing, the small sound of the tiny keys being pressed sounds like a staccato code, a small pressing and popping, pausing and resuming, pausing and resuming. She prefers the porch and her phone for writing, as a matter of habit and accessibility. The hedges, Russian olive, have long since grown into trees, and the house sits atop a small hill, back from the street. Nobody can see her up there unless they look. Still, if they could, it would look as if ‎she were just sitting there, not even rocking in the rocker, only staring at her phone, smoking cigarettes and listening to the wind. She is emailing herself,  because she can say anything she wants to herself.

*but, not really…

Jan 25 (4 days ago)
to me

This is what happens:

I sit down to issue more fodder for my project proposal, in the hope of adequately conveying the details and relevance of my project as it has presented itself in my mind, and also encouraging an appreciation for how ‎important it is for me to a) do this work and b) find the appropriate supporters for this work.

I am intending to draw a graphic representation of the anticipated themes that will be explored within my project. I pull my clipboard out of my bag, and fumble around to find the microphone case that holds my pens and pencils. I take out a micron, archival ink, quality.

Then I see the person walking up and down the sidewalk. I want to talk with them. I want to call over, “Hey, come hang out with me.” I had seen them with a friend of mine the other night. I was curious about who they were, what they do and are in the world.

[As I write this, sitting on the cool concrete step outside of the Airport Westin, under the sign that proclaims that the “Hotel premises and propert contain hazardous chemicals known to the State of California…” I am aware of a powerful sense of deja vu…a feeling of distinctly remembering having thought about what it is that I am about to write, as if it were a remembered dream, a dream that I thought was silly or unlikely at the time. In the recalled occurrence relating to what it is that I am about to write, I got in trouble for writing what I am about to write.)

I rolled some leaves together with other leaves, and watched the person – tall, thin, with seagrass hair in a sharp edged cap – walk away.

A minute later they were walking up to me, and I told them that I had just been about to ask if they wanted to hang out. “Oh,” the person said, “I was just thinking that I wanted to come talk to you.”

“Well, cool then…I guess I sent you a telepathic message.”

Because of the scope and depth of the brief conversation, really only a 1/2 hour in regular space and time, it’s impossible for me to relay the verbatim entirety of the communication that ensued and what it represented to me at the time.

I do know that when the person said, very plainly and matter of factly, that they really did prefer to be alone, and that much of their time was spent reading, and incubating what the person referred to as ‘brain babies,’ I understood why I had wanted to talk with them.

The person, apparently, used to study the geometries of cancer cells in a pathology laboratory. “If people could see what was happening within their bodies, in the meat suit, they could be shown and supported in seeing those cells as beautiful, doing what they are doing…living and dying…”

“They misbehave, they cause problems, but they are not inherently bad.”

The person noted that Hodgkin’s lymphoma grows in what is called a starry night pattern.

“We can learn to see things differently, and can learn how things work…how they live and die, how they grow, at what point they change…and we can use all this…” <the person, sitting in the sun, gestured in the air around their head, apologizing for not having other words for what it is that they were gesturing in reference to> …”to change what is happening in all this.” <gestures in sweeping motions over the legs and torso, denim and plaid>

At some point in the conversation, which I will need to cease in making note of, due to needing to make a phone call to my children, and then trying to print a few pages of information to support my developing project proposal…

I said…

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Jan 28 (1 day ago)
to me

I’m sitting here in the dark, outside, with the big white-lit hotel name shining through the trees, the silhouettes of trees like veins across the ‎letters, which are flat black during the day, lit white at night.

A few minutes ago, I finished typing up another revision of my project proposal. The scope just shrinks and shrinks.

People seem pleased by this. They tell me that it is a good thing to do, to “narrow my focus.”

“It’s just a Masters,” they explain, “you don’t need to be exhaustive.”

I understand this, and know that they are right, that an overly complex project could easily swallow me up.

“I’m can be a little ambitious.” I leaned over and poured myself more lemonade into a tiny plastic cup.

“Well, you’re a ________ student.” The man I was speaking with was dead-pan in his saying this, and I laughed a little, drank my small cup of lemonade in one silent gulp.

We were standing at a table in the lobby of the hotel because we’d all sat too long that day. We talked eye-to-eye about my project. I probably said ‘autoethnography’ about 15 times.

It was wonderful, to be able to speak excitedly and clearly, the word rolling off of my tongue like it had been born there, the melding of all the words that sound out its syllables and name its meaning.

As I write this, there are thoughts flitting about, tense with the sound of the planes taking off. I am reminding myself that I need to go upstairs, that I can’t just sit here in the dark, 1/2 shivering and typing into my phone. ‎I am thinking about my porch, at home. The dogs bustling around, the children upstairs, the press of ideas and voice, voice, voice, all quiet in my mind, snaking out in shivers and – in the summer – sweat, as I push the words onto this screen, almost imperceptible little clicks, buttons being pressed.

My back is hunched and the planes just won’t stop taking off. I’m going to have to get out of here soon. It sounds like a wartime I have never known, ‎the air itself shuddering, recoiling and reverberating, the planes themselves screaming into the sky. It’s really terrible, this airport noise.

I was about to say, before I said all those other things, I was about to say that lately, when I write about autoethnography, I feel a great surge of something almost like love, a pure exaltation, a great hope, as if my voice had found a home, a place where it could speak.

This afternoon, standing and talking with the man who would surprise me by offering to supervise my project, I was caught off guard as I relayed the sensation of having been so overtaken with joy and relief and gratitude that this practice they call autoethnography exists. I was about to tell him that tears had come to my eyes, when my eyes filled again, my chest flooded with that same sense of awed relief that I have found a place for my voice.

This seems to be something that happens to me, when I talk about autoethnography, when I think about it, when I write out the letters that hold so much possibility for me…aut.ethno.graph.y

Which brings me to what I sat down to write, what I needed to say. I just sent out the message that contains a link to my proposal. I changed it, again. Pulled in the scope. This afternoon, with the reframed scope already in mind, I sat across a table from a woman who I had never talked with before, not really. I remembered the talk she gave a couple of years ago, about sex trafficking and prostitution, and the presentation she’d given. I remembered saying, in my real voice, “They aren’t  buying sex.”

I’ve since rethought that, but at the time it led to a good discussion of power and victimization, the ways that victims become perpetrators. ‎I think now that, sometimes, it is just sex, or some form of it.

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Jan 28 (1 day ago)
to me

I was sitting across the table from this woman who I’d never talked with much before, this woman with dark brown hair and progressive-therapist sensibility in her style, when I found myself saying, “I lost legal custody of my children because of mental health stigma.”

She really seemed to mean it when she said, “I’m sorry that happened.”

I liked her.

When I had explained that I have a tendency to be extremely self-aware and conscious of the perspectives and experiences of me that others might have, I felt like she understood. I learned to experience things in this way where I am always aware that other people see me differently than I see myself, that they have opinions, and motives, and power, that I am somebody to them, even if I’m nobody. I always have to know that what other people might make of me matters, because I am a person who lost legal custody of her children due to mental health stigma.  Not taking things personally is a helpful practice for not caring what other people think, but I feel like it is important to acknowledge that what other people think does matter, in some situations more than others and to some people more than others, for reasons rooted in privilege and oppression. I don’t have to internalize other people’s perceptions of me, but if a person or group has power to do things like sever the State’s recognition of my maternal rights, I have to be mindful of how I present to them and interact with them, who I am out in the world.

“I think I learned to be this way as a survival skill.”

“It’s a _______ gift,” the woman said.

(I actually don’t remember, as I write this, what sort of gift the woman said it might be. Painful? Burdensome? The word Lonely comes to mind, but that’s not it either.)

She asked me how much of my motivation in doing an autoethnography about my experiences within mental health paradigms was rooted in a desire for personal healing. “I don’t know,” I felt a little muddled. I remembered that I was sick of mental health.

“For a while, I was very involved in the psychiatric human rights movement, the consumers/survivors/ex-patients movement, and then I realized that, as a psychiatric survivor, constructs of mental health still dominated my life and identity. I had just changed my relationship with mental health, but it was still very close to axis of who I was. When I was communicating and telling my story within the context of the movement, that was all people knew of me. That was all I was. The short version was, “Faith Rhyne, first diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder at age 12, hospitalized at age 13, lithium toxicity at age 16, more hospitalizations, more psychiatric drugs, a college-educated highschool dropout, a suicide attempt survivor, a woman who had lost legal custody of her kids…”

“There was nothing but my lousy mental health history in that presentation of myself and my story. Where is the interior of my heart and the worlds in my mind?”

My mental health history, the survivor version, doesn’t say anything about who I am and what I love. It only tells what happened to me, what bad things happened to me, and only tells what happened to me within the mental health system. The survivor-version of my story even manages to edge out the few complex positive aspects of being a person diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness – people I have met, experiences I have had that have helped me to grow, ways that the insults heaped upon me through my treatment within mental health systems helped – ultimately – to galvanize what is most real in me and pushed what is vital in me to learn to fight.

When I was working on the revised, narrow-scope petition to register for PSY9200, my mind felt slow. “I don’t want to write about this. I don’t want to write another mental health narrative.”

I knew that my story would not be ‘another mental health narrative.’ Nobody’s story is the same.

Still, I didn’t feel certain as I sent the message. “Really? You’re going to do this Faith? You’re going to relegate yourself to your mental health history, putting it back at the axis? You’re going to use this opportunity to write about…your mental health history?”

Ugh…

When I was sitting outside, with the big white letters and branches behind me, I realized that there really was nothing stopping me from doing an autoethnography on my relationship with clouds.

I could explore this relationship through a lot of different lens, all of which are a) fascinating, b) beautiful, and c) important.

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12:18 AM (20 hours ago)
to me

It really did come down to a matter of ability…how many people am I able to talk with before my communicative prowess begins to weary and falter, how much humanity am I absorb and be present with, how many ideas and perspectives am I able to consider in the span of an afternoon, how many realities can I inhabit, what are the limits of involvement in other people’s stories, other people’s lives…?

6:37 PM (2 hours ago)
to me

I just got home a few hours ago, and so far all I’ve done is slept. By the time the flight from Charlotte lurched and wobbled its way out of the sky and onto the runway in Asheville, I was almost in tears.

Throughout the day, cramped into seats next to people, I had been reading from Carolyn Ellis’ (2004) The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel About Autoethnography,, and thinking about my life and the lives of other people, who I am and what I mean to other people, in relation to them. I guess that from socially extroverted ‎(in the sense of orienting one’s attention toward others, the world external) perspectives, this sitting and thinking about my life may be a little…

I don’t even want to write the words ‘self-absorbed.’‎ The vast majority of my thoughts are centered around other people. I find that problematic, actually.

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Do other people experience this sort of challenging relationship with the roles of friends and work and collaboration? Is anyone familiar with the conundrum of being an asocial/low-social/needs-interest person in a world that, unless one is lucky enough to escape into blessedly isolating arts and technology industries, demands that we be social, in a web of species that pulls us together, binds us inherently to something larger than ourselves, a species?

I have social needs and social joys, social motivations, but they don’t seem to be congruent with other people’s expectations of me, Faith Rhyne, as social creature.

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I don’t know how many of those expectations are generated by those external to me, or to what extent they all may be spun from my own projection…a deep felt sense that I need to show up for people, and that I need to want to show up for people, to spend time with them…that it is vital for me/of me/in me to be in community with people. I think the tearfulness of Gate E33, CLT and of the clattering suitcase across the departures drop off/pick up lane at Asheville, I think that I was lonely, reading Carolyn Ellis’ writing about her relationships and her work. I don’t know what that’s like, to be in relationship with somebody in that way, that way of allies and catalysts and close-writ collaborators.

I don’t know what it is like to have a solid career, a community of those who share in your work, an esteemed identity. I read about autoethnography, and I absorbed all these images of the dinner served, the classroom rattle, the self-consciousness of those in dialogue, the internal pull to not speak, to hold back until one was feeling less defensive, the tension of knowing that the room is getting restless.

Of course, all of those things were imagined through my own reservoir of memory, image, and sensation…and probably have nothing to do with any of the actuality of anyone else’s experience. I imagine Ellis writing her version of what transpired in the lesson, what it evoked and unearthed, and in spite of the mediated fallibility of any story told, I was again certain of why it is that I am drawn so powerfully to do this work, to engage in this practice.

[I couldn’t picture Ellis. I don’t know what she looks like, though figures at desks and in offices and in classrooms bumbled around, a mix of lamplight and fluorescent, the heat of South Florida. Sweat. Air conditioning. I don’t know. ]

I could feel that the people sitting in the waiting area at SFO did not like that I was sitting close to where their phone was plugged in, charging. When I moved, even slightly, shifting my shoulders, opening my book, I caught that they emitted, in their quick sideways glance, a strange sort of territorialism in regard to the outlet where my phone was plugged in charging, right next to theirs.

Plane rides make me feel lonely these past couple of years, these last few trips.

I am sitting at home in front of the pellet stove, feeling a hundred thoughts, though focusing in, remembering who I am and what it was that I was doing, why…

The other day, the person who came over to talk with me after I wanted them to come over and talk with me, a person with whom I felt a friendship when they said they’d really rather just be left alone…we discussed the integral travesty of the academy being based on normative modes of expression in the canons of science, that formal and officialized ‘knowledge’ and advances in thought and understanding are generated by industries that are inaccessible to those with variations in ways of knowing, the ability or inclination to formulate, frame, and express one’s ideas and research in ways that are divergent from the modern-traditional 12pt font, double spaced, linear rubriced and referenced format of valid scientific thinking.

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All cloud/sky pictures in this post were taken near SFO on January 27th, and 28th, yesterday and the day before.

3 thoughts on “As Social Creature

    • Thanks, Chrys – It was good to step back from this space for a minute, but that left me just walking around with all of this in my head. Thanks for keeping up the good fight over in Scotland and beyond. Hope the day is beautiful for you…

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