wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

As I wrapped up my two-week session of interpretive research (and ethnography) this morning, here are my own ethnographic fieldnotes for today (in no particular order):

1. My kids are not wary of me at all. I tried the "disrupt personal space" activity (in order to get at the difference between "observation" and "participant-observation") but, instead, the person I was standing close to just smiled at me instead of moving (or, if it had been me, cringing) away.

I also mentioned that a way to get at social rules is to disrupt normal flows of social activities and mentioned my (ill-advised and unsuccessful) effort to start a Mexican Wave* during the Caps match. Any mantle of authority I had, at the beginning of the semester, has slowly seeped away as I give my sport-related examples and name my (weekly) "research tips" after Science fiction/fantasy authors.

2. I had a two-hour "coffee" session with a professor whom I'd not talked to much before. Apparently my comparative advantage as a lecturer is my accent. Considering I had nothing to do with acquiring it and it's a fairly regular Nepali accent, I couldn't see how this applied. Do we all need comparative advantages? Can I get a different one than my accent?

The conversation, at this point, went along the lines of:

Her: "Oh, Americans would like even a Cockney accent, as long as it's different"
Me: Having visions of myself teaching the next class with a strong Michael Caine/Joe Cole accent and saying "guv" while calling one of my kids a "berk"**.

3. Being the (only) representative for the International Politics and the PhD programme during TUWSNBN's Graduate Open House this evening. Did I volunteer? Well, no. Was I stupid enough to be the only person who was in the PhD office at that time and who was unable to a) come up with a good excuse and b) lie? Well, yes. So, there were senior faculty for the other seven concentrations and me for International Politics and PhD. Guess who had the biggest crowd. Actually, don't bother. I'll tell you--it was me.

As an exercise in the absurdities of life, it couldn't be surpassed easily. Get the token foreigner, who applied for the PhD programme because she didn't really want to work and who had pretty much no expectation of getting in to give a talk about how to do this. Perfect.

Oh, and wait for the really surreal bit:

Comment (by a very senior faculty person): Priya, I've never seen you wear lipstick before.
Me: Well, I tried to put on a good face for TUWSNBN and not let the team down.
Reply: I'm glad about that.

And my introduction?
"This is Priya. She is doing something about terrorists. She's from Nepal and so has a great subject of study right in her backyard."

At this point, I start imagining my dad's veggie garden (where he grows organic potatos, cabbages and cauliflowers, along with various exotic and unnameable plants which have a distressing tendency to die just when he's getting excited about them) being overrun by terrorist types, who lean on their shovels, spit wads of tobacco and acuse him of being part of the bourgeoisie and telling passers-by that their name's Dennis and that they are running an "anarcho-syndicalist commune" in our backyard. I also lose track of the conversation.

Overall, I reckon I did a fairly good job. I didn't point out the misery of having no future to look forward to at the end of your fourth year; I didn't write that professors whom you've never met slag off your research proposal as being "overambitious and unlikely to be completed"; I didn't mention the need to choose flunkie-ing (and earning $50, which is two weeks of grocery money) over interacting with a BigNameScholar; I didn't say I hadn't been home in two years or seen my sister for five years; I didn't talk about the constant worry of not having enough time to do what you were supposed to do;

Instead, I was shiny and happy and joyous. And, I drank lots of coffee.

What I did do was emphasise the flexibility of the programme (also called "abandon hope of help, all who enter here"); the accessibility of the faculty (also called "seek out knowledge or die"); the chance to interact with other PhD's in the area (also called "take classes elsewhere and avoid TUWSNBN"); the opportunities to study different research methodologies and different topics (also called "no one has any clue what is going on and that's a good thing); the opportunities for going overseas (also called "Outback of Denmark, here I come") and so on.

It's still rather amusing that, in the course of a day, my kids asked me how old I was ("38" being my answer. I was tempted to say "42" but I thought that may be pushing it and, since they never read H2G2, they wouldn't get it) as did Lunchtime Prof (I didn't lie that time); I represented TUWSNBN in two programme areas and didn't scare anybody off (including myself); and had comments made about how I looked and talked.

I have to admit that the lipstick comment made me feel rather uncomfortable--am I really that much of a slob at the best of times? Do people (especially older faculty) feel comfortable mentioning that kind of stuff to other (younger) faculty? It wasn't as if said person knew me well--after all the Guru and Security Guy mention teaching gear (and "comportment" issues) all the time and I joke around with them about it***. This, on the other hand, somehow felt different and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was because it combined with the "terrorists in her backyard" (public) comment. I'll have to think on it.

E, I'm sure you'll be highly amused by all this--imagine me representing TUWSNBN and being the public face of the PhD programme to a bunch of wannabe postgrads (and wipe that smirk off your face!).

* No one understood this--apparently, here, it's just "the Wave". I explained it's called that in soccer because it was popular during the 1986 world cup in Mexico and spread around the world (and across sports) from that time.

** Bit, imagine that, if you please.

*** and would have felt perfectly all right if it had been their comment.


At 10/29/2006 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

am rolling about the floor laughing @ the michael caine/joe cole comment, but especially the garden/monty python reference :) sounds like an endlessly entertaining day for you.


Post a Comment

<< Home