The medium or the message?

One of the conundrums of my work with this women's health organization (a minority women's health organization, I ought to say), is the way in which the director is eager to correct my information. As I wrote to a fellow anthropologist friend who is in the field:
it's also interesting to experience this weird struggle with her, because I do feel that she's testing me in some way or challenging me. It's like she's ambivalent about my presence, and she wants to see how far she can push my comfort zone, as well. I can't very well say to her, well, all these things you've criticized that I've done, are actually taken verbatim from your own materials -- which is tempting to say. I guess that's what's so weird about the whole thing -- I've not actually generated any new information at all, but it's information that I've "created" in her eyes, and I sort of think that she's challenging the fact that I've created it. Which then is confusing me further, because then it's about me and not about the material itself.

The danger, however, of this interpretation of the dynamic is that then the research is about ME, me, Me, and not so much about the nuances of the communication or the issues at hand. I want to think about this dynamic as being a bit larger than just two people struggling over knowledge. I do think it's representative of something beyond just our interpersonal differences.

After I looked up their claim that Detroit had passed this really racist law, I was telling a friend about my fact checking. He asked me if I were going to correct them the next time I went in to the office. I tried to explain to him why I wouldn't, why it wasn't my place to go in and "educate" them about this information. There are so many reasons why this would be inappropriate -- not the least of which is the fact that the organization is guided by a strong criticism of health institutions as being racist and oppressive -- how could I, over-educated by one of the most well-known health institutions, come in and correct their information? His ignorance about how problematic it would be to do so was also enlightening in its own way, and explaining to him why I wouldn't do such a thing was a good exercise for me to remind myself of why this is all very tricky but also what's at stake when I get impatient or want to revert to my 8-year-old-know-it-all self (not so different, really from the 29-year-old-know-it-all, either).


In other news, it's been hot as hell in L.A. A dear friend came up to visit me, and we acquired an armchair for my apartment at the Rose Bowl. It's been 6 months, and I finally found a chair that suited the space. It seems silly to work on making it more comfortable here, since I'm already counting down (or pretending to, anyway) the months till I'm gone. But domestic space is really important to me, and it's been hard to live in this temporary space. The apartment is pretty small, and there's almost no storage. I hate living with piles of papers and magazines and books everywhere, but it's kind of inevitable. I also hate feeling like I'm living somewhere with the attitude that it's only temporary. It all makes me uneasy. Here is the cat sleeping in the new chair -- apparently he approves. [I never thought I would be a person who photographed her cat, much less "shared" it on the internet. Slippery slope....]

Do not go see the film "Smart People," if you are at all inclined to do so. It was painfully terrible, kind of offensive, and not worth the $4.50 we paid in matinee price. The only redeeming value of the 90 minutes was that we were so hot and needed to escape the oppressive heat, so we did a tried-and-true east coast summer trick, and ducked into the movie theater. Perhaps if we had napped there it would have been a better use of our money.

I'm feeling sanguine about the work in general. I've done a number of good interviews last week. I feel like the pace of the work is just right. As a friend who recently returned from the field reminded me, it's silly to spend time thinking about leaving and not being here. It's a privilege to have the time and space to do this research. I do have a bad habit of getting distracted by frustrations and desires for the next thing. So mainly, I'm working on being a little more appreciative and positive about the time I am spending here. And I feel a bit shame-faced about the last curmudgeonly, whiny post. This may not be the city for me, but I am happy to have left Baltimore. I miss that city, in a predictably nostalgic way, but I am glad to be doing something new. And there are a lot of things I do like about L.A. As the visiting friend reminded me, some of my frustrations and feelings of isolation are not really L.A. specific, they're just part of living in a new city. I haven't really had to do that in a long time. And NY, which to most people is the epitome of hard city living, will never feel that way to me, since it's home and my family (extended and immediate) is there. So here I am, trying to be a little more Pollyanna than usual. Let's see if it sticks.

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