If this project were called “creative writing,” I wouldn’t question my instincts. Because it’s called “research,” I constantly feel the oppressive shadow of the Ivory Tower: Western, masculine, rational and orderly, demanding I leave my body and its (feminine, chaotic, threatening) intuition behind if I intend to progress further (Detienne & Vernant, 1974; Wilkinson, 1997; Metta, 2015). But the novelistic attitude and narrative inquiry exist on the same plane as ethnography. The use of fictional tactics like narrative plot, composite characters, and theoretical fiction are less alien to social science than (I think) I’ve been conditioned to think (Ellis, 2004; Gibbs, 2005; Spry, 2011; Smith, 2013). Footnotes and other radical citation forms abound in the writing of authors like Carolyn Ellis, Art Bochner, Anna Gibbs, Phil Smith, Aliza Kolker, etc., all of whom seem to recognize that parentheticals interrupt the narrative experience. The line that keeps recurring in my head is, Artistic integrity is a problem for you, but why does “research” mean I have to resist, or edit, or denigrate the forms that emerge as most effective for any project in question? Like Tanya Wilkinson (1997), who recovers her gut epistemology through dream analysis, I find myself asking all the time, Why can’t I bring my sick woman’s body and its particular brand of metis back?
In recent days I’ve tried. Through intimate photographs of reading and writing setups designed to get me through the “bad days.” Acupuncture treatments that look torturous but offer me an hour of pure, all-neurons-firing clarity. Transcranial direct stimulation, which is what I’ve been driven to as a last-ditch effort to manage fibromyalgia while pursuing this Ph.D. Audio recording of a panic attack brought on by reading the physicians’ notes from my appendectomy two years ago. In the time I’ve spent this summer reading and experimenting with writing and gathering materials for this project, I’ve learned things about my body I should have already known. I’ve learned that I am consistently well-appearing, well-nourished, well-developed, in no acute distress, regardless of my complaint. I waited 24 hours for that appendectomy, after living for months with perforation and 3 weeks post-rupture, because almost every physician I saw along the way saw what they wanted to see, and allowed that to trump any other form of sensory information.
All of this, I’m sure, informed the dream I had last night, which I had the presence of mind to log in my bullet journal this morning as free-form, stream-of-consciousness writing (though as I look at the draft, I left out a lot: its nightmarish fluorescence, the gritty tile, that I bumped every corner I rounded until my shoulder was a verdant garden of bruises, that the air was rough and sterile like a plane in takeoff, that I could tell from the places my scalp hurt how my brain would betray me during my defense: T3, T4, attention and insight. How even in the dream I knew how much it was wishful thinking that I could gloss over how painful this research process is, how tired I am of struggling to survive, and just be done. But that’s just the chorus of my chronic pain. When can I just be done.)
I post the dream log* here because it feels raw and intimate and embarrassing, and I need to increase my comfort with being publicly creative, multimodal, and bodied in “research” the way I am with creative writing. With my experimental field notes. With what counts as evidence or a narrative to be analyzed. With my novelistic attitude that readers are able to locate the common in the profound and resonant insights of autoethnography and autoethnographic fiction (Ellis, 2004). With the fact that it is at least partly directed towards a community unused to seeing this work under the aegis of “scholarly research.”
I don’t think there is a linear, rational, orderly way of understanding the experience of analyzing chronic pain, let alone living with it. I suppose this is the gauntlet, in one facet of a prismatic form of interpretation, that I’m planning to throw down.
*Accessibility note: Audio to be posted as soon as I have a chance to record it.