If I wanted something neat, I guess I would have remained in my boring ass 9-5. Where there is a pretty clear line of demarcation between work and personal life.
But I didn’t.
I endeavored to be an ethnomusicologist. And now I stand somewhere in view of the precipice of my goal. The only things standing me between my terminal degree and me are two small enterprises called fieldwork and my dissertation. Right now, I’m so obsessed, entrenched, overwhelmed with the former that I hardly think about the latter.
Admittedly, I’m new to this whole fieldwork think. I’ve only been at it about a month. And unlike many of my brilliant academic predecessors and current classmates who opted to go somewhere far away from home. I opted to return to Atlanta, a place I lived previously for five years and a place four hours away from where most of my family currently lives. Doing research at “home” has its many blessings and curses. It’s really, REALLY damn difficult to separate me the “researcher” and me the “daughter/friend/relative/homegirl.” Both sides of the fence are incredibly messy and constantly bleed into each other in interesting and unnerving ways.
For lots of people their fieldwork is their opportunity to go away. In my case, my fieldwork is my opportunity to go home. And I ask myself about once a week “What the hell were you thinking? Why didn’t you just take your ass to China, Tanzania, or Luxembourg?” Why did you really feel so compelled to remain in the US in general in Atlanta in particular…to the point that you were willing to fund this study yourself?? (I don’t have a concise answer to that questions yet.)
The other disconcerting thing about doing fieldwork at home among people who really know you is that you feel like you’re constantly presenting your most academically intimate thoughts to people whose opinions and feelings about who you are and the work you does really count. And often I find myself at a loss for words, sheepish, and downright defensive when a friend says to me, “So tell me about your research.” When I thought about it more deeply, it’s not because I don’t know what to say, but it’s more because in the face of people who I’ve partied with, cried with, laughed with, sometimes I feel straight insecure about my research ideas and questions. After all, my dissertation is about Black people, music, and night clubs in Atlanta. So more often than not, the friend I’m chatting with is also my study object.
But what the hell is fieldwork anyway? Allegedly, I know something about it. I took two courses on it, did about three pilot fieldwork projects while I was a graduate student, and successfully theorized and waxed poetic about it in my qualifying exams. But right now, theory is smacking the hell out of practice for me.
I try to focus on the blessings. I’m fortunate enough to spend my days talking to people I like about issues, music, questions, I find incredibly interesting. (That beats the hell out of putting new covers on TPS reports every day all day.) But the cost of working where you play is that boundaries disappear. It’s hard to know when I’m just shooting the breeze with a friend or stumbling into a conversation that is resting on the touchstone of my scholastic inquiry. The line is nonexistent between being available and around because observation is a key part of my study and just straight bullshitting the days away.
Now, about that latter thing I mentioned, my dissertation. That’s the price of admission into Ph.D. land. And in order to write it, I need to have collected some data. So after weeks (yes, weeks) of looking for a spark, I accepted the truth that I will never be “prepared enough” to ask the “perfect research” questions, so I need to just start talking and collecting to get busy.
This is the nerve-wracking circuitous path to the end…and finally, I am on it.