A space to reflect on my readings and musings, scattered and rescattered


Reflecting on Writing (about) Others

I am today finishing a presentation to give this weekend on an experience with a young man who participated in an oral storytelling project of which I am a part. I find myself fighting so hard to represent this focal youth well that I can (and do) easily push myself into a debilitating, self-loathing stuper, one where I do not want to represent this youth because I worry about how this reprentation will be received--for its insights into both who he is, the story he has to tell, and for my weak assertions about how his story can help inform educators, researchers, and educational policymakers. And then there's the part that I don't feel ready to write (about) him based on our 2 short experiences of interaction, but he has a story to tell, a story that he told very well. And I know that I should share it, but how? And with my misgivings, I am also wondering, how long is long enough (or how well is well enough) to know someone before a social scientist can/should tell the story?

In my writing procrastination, I stumbled back through old computer files to a presentation where I had done a meta-analysis on my experience writing about recovering women for an academic purpose--a course and then conference presentation. This was the last group I'd tried to represent and what I found was that I hadn't moved an inch in negotiating with myself how to do this.

Here are my words, three years hence about that paper:

"I found that truthfully relating my experiences [in an academic essay] somehow felt like betraying the women I’d worked with, trying to put my experiences on paper with the sort of control and conclusiveness expected was more than a challenge. I struggled to use my personal experiences as evidence in the essay, because these women and their testimonies weren’t “evidence” to me. Most of all, though I worked to speak authoritatively about this new community, in which I had only gained tangential membership—to enter the unfamiliar discourses of psychotherapy and addiction and recovery was difficult to do so quickly. As I wrote, I felt like an outsider pretending to be an insider. And after months of pouring over psychology texts trying to figure out how to write about my experience in light of its true identity—a therapy facility—I acknowledged defeat."

And maybe I'm selling myself short to say that I haven't moved an inch. I have. I've enrolled in a social science doctoral program. After a hiatus, I am presenting at conferences again, and I'm trying (fighting with myself) once again to figure out what it means to represent someone else's story in ways that are honest, in ways that do not reinscribe his life story inappropriately as is so often the case in representations of adolescents; I do this in part by reminding myself that is is important to find a space for his knowledgable, playful, loyal voice to be heard. The story I will share tomorrow is of a young man retelling a deeply personal story, one of goals and passions, the kinds of stories that we don't always ask for or recognize in young people.


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