Fieldwork already a piece of the past

I've realized that when I'm in the field (actively), it feels painful and drags and I can't bear it sometimes. While that's happening, I have a clear recognition that it's important to stay present, be in the moment, and not fixate too much on the time after (post-fieldwork). But I don't think I've been successful at that. It's too hard much of the time.

Now that I've left LA, fieldwork feels distant and remote, and I can barely remember my life in LA. I feel so completely disassociated from the experience, and I have to write about it, and think about it critically, but it feels like a dream or a movie or another person's life. I think it's because fieldwork feels kind of traumatic to me. Separating from home (whatever that means these days), throwing myself into other people's lives, depending on and needing my research participants so much, and the need to be fully attentive to all sorts of everyday details, are all intense and overwhelming. It is an incredibly active and engaged way of working, which I think many people don't do in their day-to-day lives, but it's also so very emotional and physical and intellectual. There's no way to hide or disconnect from "being in the field".

When I came back from Morocco, I really feel that I suffered some kind of post-traumatic stress reaction. It was coupled with some major drama at my university, that just made everything worse, but I literally couldn't speak about what had happened to me. And the thing is, it sounds so very overwrought to equate my time in Morocco with trauma, when there are real world violences that happen every day, but I do think there were significant traumatic elements.

Los Angeles was more slow-burn -- because I was in my own country, and some of the isolation that I felt in Morocco simply wasn't present -- but at the same time, trying to see one's own world and culture critically is painful, too. A week ago, someone asked me how LA had been, and I felt as though that were another lifetime, not a month ago. Eight months somewhere doesn't really seem as though it can be synopsized, and the weird fluidity between quotidian (being in the States and somewhat familiar with the world around me) and the foreign made it neither distinct enough to be commented on nor familiar enough to feel at ease.

I'm trying to sit down and write something -- anything, damnit -- about my research, and I'm just not there yet. I'm not able to articulate how all the bits I threw into the pot as a form of analytic framework actually come together. I have (perhaps overexaggerated) a fair amount of faith in the logic of my own strategies and even when things seem meaningless and incoherent, that they have an internal structure that I should be able to access somehow. But writing about it stakes a claim and staunches thinking, in some ways. It feels that I have to be logical and committed to a direction, when I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. I find thinking about one vaccine specifically is just incredibly slippery. The minute I try to pin down a series of problems and reflections on the vaccine, it opens up a bunch of other directions of thinking. And I am convinced they're all connected and relevant, but I'm not sure how to make them seem relevant in a larger picture. Why should we care about this thing in particular? How does its particularity inform more universal/generalizable concepts? I am increasingly compelled by finding the universalizable -- which freaks me out, as a product of the school of 90s poststructuralist/postmodern/phenomenological/feminist philosophy.


Pace, misanthrope**

I biked home today writing this post in my head, but more than half a bottle later of the lovely and amazing Unibroue beer, Maudite (meaning Damned, in French), and two phone conversations with both also lovely and amazing EKT and CDG, I've mellowed out about the day's events a bit more.

I'm spending the next two and a half weeks at this summer institute, all about teh sexxx. Ok, really it's about sexuality, but I realize that I occupy this strange position (or perhaps want to over-vaunt my position, but whatever, it's my blog, and I'll boast and self-import if I want to) of being post-sexuality theorizing. Arrogant...I know. I appear as a white, heterosexual, upper/middle class, and over-educated (all of these labels are actually problematic, and I would say that I don't identify with most of them, except maybe 'over-educated' -- but I'm talking about the superficial so why not use superficial categories to convey my point? I'm not even at-ease with racial/ethnic category, as I've tried to figure out how my family's time in Latin America places me, who grew up in NY)...it's hard to sympathize with my boredom. I know that to most of the people in the institute, I read as "white, straight," aka, boring as hell. Yet, I identify with the queer community and feel frustrated that I get pigeonholed. And among people who have had to struggle to protect themselves and claim their sexuality, my kind, at least superficially, is exactly the world from whom they're trying to reclaim power. It's difficult for me to be constantly reduced to stereotypical het and to find that my sense of queerness has no place at the table. It's a weird circular tension of who gets to have a voice and whose experiences are considered legitimate.

Still, a possibly apocryphal story my dad likes to tell is about my being 3 years old, and after a dinner with my father and his partner's friends (two men, as well), I asked about whether Bob and James were married -- or whether they live together (as stories go...it's always hard to get precise language on these things). My dad explained, some men love men, some men love women, and some women love women. I apparently looked bored and said, oh, okay. And returned to coloring or whatever engrossing task kept me busy. In other words, sex and sexuality have always seemed pretty matter of fact to me.

This doesn't mean that sex and sexuality are intrinsically easy or uncomplicated for me, but it's just that I'm a bit disinterested in theorizing or debating much around it all. And so much of these sorts of institutes become "processing" sessions. I know that for many of the people involved, these opportuntities are rare and important. Further, most people who come to sexuality studies have had a coming out process, or have felt oppressed or silenced in their lives, and this opportunity is liberating and a very personal process. It is important to have the conversations about the proliferation of sexualities, to engage with the race and class issues that are tied into imaginations about sexualities, and to reflect on the extreme challenges of making this a more public discourse, but...like with the proliferation of sex blogs, it's sometimes incredibly mundane to me. Maybe if I'd grown up into a more non-normative sexuality (I had a phase of feeling confused about why I wasn't a lesbian, since at 15 or so, I spent a lot of time with radical lesbian feminists at the NY NARAL offices, and felt a bit funny as a straight daughter of a gay man), if I felt that I could claim an identity politics position, I'd be more excited about this whole endeavor, but I just don't...

And I really never thought I'd say this, but I kind of wish there were more theorizing. I know the personal is political, and that many of us come to sexuality studies because of our own experiences, but there are times when the institute feels like a therapy group. There's also a big commitment to advocacy and activism, and the truth is, though like a sense of social failure of not turning out a big dyke, I've made peace with my inability to be a true activist, and that I'm more comfortable in the realm of abstraction. (Ok, that's not totally true, I'm comfortable-ish with my academic status.)

**is it legit to use Latin and Greek in the same sentence? I'm having a language-obsession lately, trying to only update my facebook status, for example, with descriptors and no verbs at all. I'm not sure what that's about, but I've been enjoying the way words fit together much more than in the past.


Psychedelics getting research attention

A few years ago, my university sent out a press release announcing that one of its researchers had conducted a study on psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in friendly fungi. It was amazing how science-y the press release made the whole endeavor sound, reducing it to a sterile scientific study with few flicks of the wrist. The study explored religious experiences and the effects of psilocybin on long-lasting religious belief. The press release stressed that this study was conducted under the most rigorous scientifically controlled environment, and that its results ought not be duplicated by the casual "dabbler".

In junior high school, we passed around the book "Go Ask Alice," which traumatized me with its horrific descriptions of a young girl's "descent" into drug-addled irresponsibility and eventual death. The book was presented as an actual girl's diary, which revealed the dangers of LSD. I found out in college that it was pure propaganda. Like the Covenant House "books" that came in the mail about runaways and children living in the streets (see the new Maritime Hotel on 9th avenue...which used to be a Covenant House and would freak me out whenever I took the bus past it -- it has portal windows, and I was convinced that bombed out abused and runaway children were hanging themselves in desperation, now it is an expensive hotel, which I simply find unacceptable on so many levels), the early 80s depended on a lot of mass hysteria and invisible threats (such as the word on the street that acid tabs were being handed out to innocent children with cute cartoon characters on the blotters). I recently discovered that my junior high school friend, who teaches in the New York schools, has "Go Ask Alice" available at her school. I am deeply disturbed that this is considered acceptable literature -- at least, without its disclaimer that it's a work of fiction and not a true (and totally ludicrous) story. The narrator dies at the end, even though she's renounced her drugging and sexing ways, because her friend-enemies lace the bowl of popcorn (or nuts or whatever) at the house where she's babysitting.

I tell this nonsequitur seeming story to actually direct your attention to the Alternet article about psychedelics. Although the piece can get a little preachy, the article raises some interesting questions about addiction in American society. In addition, the article points to the vested interests that want to prevent access to and use of psychedelics, even though they may provide important benefits. I once had a student who tried to explore pharmaceutical companies capitalizing on plants and indigenous medicines by re-packaging and distilling the naturally occurring compounds into packaged and processed, and costly, drugs. Though her paper quickly went off the rails, it was an interesting and important question to ask. And the corollary is whether we want to formalize/legalize/sanitize the power of certain compounds that are freely available (or at least, available without the cost of R&D, marketing, litigation and doctors' kickbacks all neatly embedded in the price we pay at the pharmacy). Similarly, the renewed interest in psychedelics concerns me a bit -- pharma is so untrustworthy, and if they can get the FDA to approve dosing everyone, for a solid buck, they will do so happily.


Intellectual fatigue

I realize that I have not offered up much in the way of 1) fieldwork, 2) anthropology, or 3) research, but I am suffering from the malaise of an undirected malcontent.

The usual frustrations with my academic support system continue -- though perhaps they've never been fully articulated here. But more than anything, I'm just tired. That doesn't really seem like a terribly compelling argument to leave academia, but it is awfully tempting. I feel that my methodological approaches to my research are seriously limited, and it's kind of damn late in the game to be doubting foundational bits like methodology.

The main problem with my work is that the topic I'm most interested in -- vaccines -- is designed to be forgotten. Further, it's a one-time (or a few time, given boosters, increased adolescent vaccinations, and the emerging adult vaccination market) event, that's hard to capture in its emphemerality (is that even a word?!). As my advisor pointed out, vaccines have actually radically changed mothers' roles as parents, since the role of nursemaid has been significantly reduced by the fact that many of the more serious childhood illnesses no longer occur (in the U.S., at least). Vaccines have actually altered the types of care mothers have to give their children and demands on mothers' time. So here I am, trying to figure out how to study a thing that exists primarily in its absence.

My primary focus, on the STI that no one knows about, also raises questions of absence. The vaccine created a demand without widespread knowledge about the very thing it purports to protect against. Really, brilliant in terms of marketing -- framing an object that no one even knows they need to be protected against, even though it's incredibly ubiquitous. The virus is something that is very common and can lead to cancer, which in turn can lead to death, but the way in which people are (halfway) learning about it is through the pharmaceutically produced lens.

So in the course of studying one vaccine -- I found lots of absences and disconnects. People didn't know much about it, and what they did seem to know did not reflect any actual knowledge about the virus, only awareness about the vaccine. And now that I'm moving into broader generalities about vaccines, I'm finding it so hard to figure out how to study what is designed to be forgotten.

And, I guess, I'm not even sure if I am comfortable with the rarefied nature of academia. In some ways, I think I'd feel better about working in a field that I don't care terribly about, but at least pays the bills. I'm just not sure that I'm willing to go the full distance with academia. I'm not good at abandoning my whims and fickle nature to the long-haul of academia.