This autoethnography thing has me scared and I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s a very late stage – I’m almost finished the bloody thing and I’m getting a physical sensation – that I have only recently learned to associate with anxiety – whenever I write these “evocative” bits. If I really think about it there are a couple of particular things that freak me out.
The first aspect that scares me is whether I am actually doing it to the level required. This might seem like an obvious thing – everyone has to learn new techniques after-all, and there is a certain anxiety attached – but that’s not what I mean. I mean “do I have really the capacity”, as in “can a man who’s deaf in one ear discuss stereophonic sound”?
Autoethnography is clearly more than a writing technique. It is all about “empathy” and “knowing yourself” and “relating the self to society”. (Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Ellis, 1999; Ellis, 2004; Holt, 2003; Muncey, 2005; Reed-Danahay, 1997). Well I’m here now to tell you something – these are the very things that I’m really not good at, that are part and parcel of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Explore this document and you are going to read a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome but I’ll give you the heads-up right now. Three fundamental aspects of my cognitive profile are:
This means it is very difficult for me to:
1. Spontaneously recognise how I feel about things without significant spontaneous effort
2. Spontaneously understand and respond to the feelings and emotional states of others without significant conscious effort
3. Spontaneously put myself in “another person’s shoes” without significant conscious effort
These sentences are deliberately self-contradictory -significant conscious effort is the antithesis of spontaneous. This is because I can do these things to some level if I’m concentrating on my physical reactions. It’s complicated – you’ll read about it later. Point is the really stupid thing is that I have lived most of my 42 years without even realising what was happening. For example, one of these important realisations that I’m going to flag right now is that I have quite recently understood that, while most people’s primary response to music appears to be at an emotional level, followed by the intellectual, mine is the other way around. Emotions come later, if at all.
So where does that leave me in terms of writing evocative autoethnography? Screwed, really, but I’m doing it anyway. But you should not expect dramatic dialogue that reads like a script for the next Aspie charactered movie or stage play, or worse – a laboured re-enactment of a coffee conversation (Ellis & Bochner, 2006) . Don’t expect me to move you to exultant peaks with my narrative of triumphant musical moments – I don’t exalt much (Shuler, 2007). Don’t expect me to give more emotion.
Expect lots of “I think I feel” statements. Expect to find lots of evidence of that significant conscious effort. Expect me to be a bit too cognitive – maybe treading the thin line between the evocative and analytical schools of writing (Anderson, 2006; Atkinson & Delamont, 2006; Ellis & Bochner, 2006). Expect to be just a little bit shut out – there is a divide of sorts between us and it’s not going to just disappear with my story telling. Expect me to sound a bit fractured, and a little bit frustrated – that’s a feeling I do recognise.
Also obvious to me is the fear of exposure. Not so much exposure to others (although that is a factor,) as exposing myself to myself. I keep finding things I’m not so happy about. Carolyn Ellis constantly talks about re-evaluating the lived experience – I could cite pretty much any of her texts here – but I’m a bit sick of re-evaluating my life. In fact it has made me sick. The last two years has been a constant battle with depression that I sometimes greatly fear losing. The diagnosis has me looking at everything from a new perspective, the condition itself makes me over-analytical and know I have to “go deeper” all the time. So I’m scared that my ability to strip back the layers of self protection and challenge myself is compromised. Hey, I know it’s a bit late to get cold feet, and you are reading this right at the beginning of your encounter, but it really hads to be said.