Sunday, June 9, 2013

No retreat, no surrender

Now it can be told. The new publishing venture that I mentioned in my last infrequent update, the one that Noel is helping to launch (and his first salaried, non-freelance job in decades) is The Dissolve, a new film site from Pitchfork Media. Right now they're just a placeholder site, a Tumblr, and a Twitter account, but the first real content will hit the streets next month. (And notice how cleverly I titled that last post, before the name of the site had officially been announced.)

Noel is energized and feeling creative, both doing administrative thinking like mapping out how the DVD reviews will be assigned and scheduled, and writing essays and reviews that will start appearing when the site goes live. It's a terrific place for him to be in his early forties: starting a new venture that builds on all the experience and expertise he's developed in the past twenty-odd years of critical writing.

And me? Well, I'm almost as happy as he is. Happier, maybe. I set out with some trepidation on my first research trip last month, to Hartford, Connecticut. This was the acid test. Could I find prayer shawl knitters to talk to? Would they want to talk to me, if I found them? Would my questions elicit the kinds of information I needed to know? I was elated by the result. I talked to 15 people in 8 interviews over the course of 6 full days in Hartford -- mostly in the surrounding area: Windsor, South Windsor, Farmington, Stafford Springs, Vernon. They were generous with their time and with their organizational energy, helping me get in touch with other members of their groups. And they seemed to appreciate the questions I asked, both the prosaic ones that allowed them to explain how their ministries worked, and the more unusual ones that asked them to reflect on what it means. I came home with about eleven and a half hours of interview recordings. And with some new ideas, too, about what themes might be present in this subject matter and in these women's experience that I hadn't hypothesized. That's how qualitative research is supposed to work; you continually reshape your hypothesis and redirect your investigation based on what you find as you explore. How relieved I am to find that it's happening here!

In a couple of weeks I head to Seattle for my second research trip, and my calendar for the six full days I'm there is already chock full of interviews. I'm trying to push myself to make maximum use of my time in the field, but I know now from experience that doing these interviews is hard work. I was glad in Hartford for some downtime, an empty morning or afternoon here and there (my evenings were almost all taken), to be alone and rest from the effort of connecting with other human beings. I was glad for flexibility in my driving schedule, so I could head out early if need be to avoid rush hour traffic and the frequent heavy rain that blanketed Connecticut while I was there. Knowing I was not so tightly scheduled was important for my peace of mind.

I've also used my freedom while on sabbatical to think about my mid-life crisis, to examine my reactions to this research activity and to being free of administrative duties, and have some preliminary thoughts about what I want the rest of my academic career to look like. Just preliminary; every time I follow them too far down the road to prospective action I get cold feet. But I'm remembering what led me into this life in the first place, and what fed my fire in those early years. I'm different now, but it's still useful to ask the question of what I would most regret not accomplishing twenty years in the future, based on what I wanted to do when I started out and what I've found that I have to offer along the way.

More to come, of course. Meanwhile. bookmark The Dissolve, and if you're in the Seattle area, let me know so we can cross paths while I'm there.