The feeling I brought back from my initial interviews was how much of grad work is done in the spaces between our normal lives. My cohort knows the reality of taking on a full time doctorate on top of …well, life I suppose. We’ve struggled with deadlines, negotiated our inevitable absences for family commitments and furtively checked work emails during lectures. We are all tired, maxed out and scraping by–it’s normal. Doing the actual research bit, talking to other busy humans and relying on their friendship and generosity as I asked them nosy and intrusive questions, that was a whole other level!
I had badgered my participants with emails, consent forms and FaceBook messages ahead of time – trying to explain that this wouldn’t just be one meeting and done. At a very conservative guestimate I told them it would take up at least 10 hours of their time. Two face to face discussions, reviewing the transcripts, commenting on the transcripts, looking at my interim texts and working with me to shape a coherent and (hopefully) engaging story from their three individual narratives.
To further complicate things, I’ve never done this before. I feel like I am making it up as I go. It’s hard to project a feeling of authority and confidence when I really have no idea what I will expect of them two months from now, nine months from now? More emails? Phone calls? Skype? Individually? Together? My results section will be this co-joint narrative – but as I slog through the hours of transcription I still have no solid idea what that will involve.
So, I was working in the spaces that are left, full of the uncertainty that I have –at the coffee shop interview at the end of the shift, the room found at the busy conference just behind the registration desk with the loud air conditioning, the friend’s house with the borrowed tea and cookies and more. My friends, my participants, made space for me – they drove miles to talk to me, rearranged meetings to spend an hour sharing coming out stories and arranged child care. I was acutely aware of their lives outside the coffee shop or the living room – they were all juggling prosaic day to day appointments with emotionally demanding major life events. Before the tape was turned on, and lingering after we had finished, we reflected on how young we had been when we first met and we shared our battle scars.
It is always an honour and a responsibility to hear and share stories doing research, but a humbling realisation to begin to confront the issues that enrich and complicate working with friends. Lisa Tillmann-Healy (2003) places relational ethics and “friendship as method” as a feminist practice with its belief that “the personal is political” and commitment to empowerment and social change. Friendship as method involves hope, caring, respect and justice. This kind of research is intensely personal, done with love, I didn’t really understand that before but I realise it now.
Image: Church Street (Toronto) cross walk